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Morgan Library in NYC shows 90 Islamic items.


The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City has for the first time put on exhibit its impressive collection of Islamic manuscripts and miniatures.

The exhibit opened October 21 and will run through January 29 at The Morgan Library & Museum at 225 Madison Avenue at the intersection with 36th Street. The Museum is in the library that was built beside the Manhattan home of the financier J. Pierpont Morgan, whose name remains central to the financial world today in the modern successor to his firm, JPMorgan Chase

Morgan became a huge collector of art and is most famous for his collections of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts. Less known is the Islamic art that he collected and that now is on display for the first time. What's more, several of he books have been disassembled so that visitors can see all the pages and not just two, as is the norm. Altogether, almost 90 items are on exhibit.

"Pierpont Morgan, the museum's founder, was interested in art of the Middle East," said William M. Griswold, director of the Morgan. "He collected ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals and tablets, which are now exhibited in the recently restored McKim building [adjacent to the library], and later began to acquire manuscripts from the Islamic period.

"The works on view in this exhibition are extraordinary examples of illumination and calligraphic expertise and demonstrate an artistic sophistication of the highest order," Griswold said.

The earliest illustrated manuscript in the exhibition is a late-13th Century treatise on animals and their uses, Ibn Bakhtishu's Manafi-i Hayavan (Uses of Animals) that was regarded by scholar Richard Ettinghausen as one of the 10 greatest Islamic manuscripts. The miniatures reflect the then-new naturalistic Chinese style that was introduced by the Mongol invasion.

Another manuscript is one of only two known copies of a Turkish translation of Aflaki's life of Jalal al-Din Rumi, the great Persian poet and mystic, who even today is one of the most widely read poets in the world.

The translation, by Darvish Mahmud Mesnevi Khan, was made in Baghdad in 1590 and was commissioned by Ottoman Sultan Murad III. It includes material not found in the Persian original and is the more richly illustrated copy. The other is in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.

Because it is disbound, visitors will be able to see for the first time a wide selection of its fascinating miniatures--one even depicts the Prophet, his face veiled, reading the poetry of Rumi.

Another richly illustrated Turkish manuscript is a treatise on astrology, wonders of the world, demonology, and divination made about 1582 for Ayisha Sultan, the daughter of the same Ottoman Sultan Murad III who commissioned the translation of the Aflaki life of Rumi.

Nearly two dozen individual miniatures come from two disassembled albums.

The Persian Album was assembled by Hossain Khan Shamlu, governor of Herat from 1598 to 1618, who, after Shah Abbas, was probably the most powerful man in Persia at the time. Many of its miniatures were made in Herat. Especially remarkable are paintings of secular subjects, including a young lady reclining after her bath.

The Mughal Album is particularly rich in depictions of Mughal rulers, such as Babur (1526-1530), founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, and some of his successors, such as Akbar (1556-1605), Jahangir (1605-1627), and Shah Jahan (1628-1658), builder of the Taj Mahal.

A gigantic luxury Qoran takes center stage at the front gate of the exhibition. The work, originally in one volume, was made in Shiraz about 1580. Although its historical first destination is unknown, in 1719-20 it was presented by Sultan Ahmed III to the mosque of Jerrah Pasha in Dikili Tash in Istanbul.
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Title Annotation:Culture: From then and now
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Oct 28, 2011
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