Le département des Arts de l’Islam — Ouverture des nouveaux espaces


Ceramic, drawing, painting, sculpture

Le département des Arts de l’Islam
Ouverture des nouveaux espaces

Past: Friday, September 21, 2012

History of the collection

Since the founding of the Museum Central des Arts, the name given to the Louvre by the French revolutionary government at its opening in 1793, several Islamic objects originating in royal collections have formed the nucleus of the collection managed today by the museum’s Department of Islamic Art. But it was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that the pace of acquisitions increased considerably, at the urging of both knowledgeable art lovers and historians. In 1893, a “Muslim art section” was established within the Louvre’s Department of Decorative Arts, at a period when Paris was the nerve centre for the art trade and the capital of academic research on the cultures of the Near East. Following the first exhibitions devoted to Islamic art in Paris, in 1893 and 1903, the collection at the museum grew substantially, with Paris affirming its superiority as a magnet for lovers of Islamic art in the Western world. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Louvre thus acquired works of great historical interest, many of them commissioned by Islamic rulers and bearing their names. At the same time, the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs was amassing quite a different group of pieces notable for their brilliant aesthetics, the fruit of innovative technique and graphic style, which would often be looked upon as models during a period that would see the efflorescence of “industrial art.” Henceforth, these two collections complemented each other perfectly: that of the Louvre focused in particular on medieval Islamic treasures, while the art of Islam’s great modern empires, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, took pride of place at the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs. In particular, the latter institution was home to a large number of very beautiful textile works (fabric, rugs and carpets), key elements of Islamic culture. Although highly valued by art lovers and experts, this collection remained out of sight for many years and was entirely neglected in the plans for the redesigned and renovated Musée des Arts Décoratifs, which opened to the public in 2006.

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The Visconti courtyard Architectes : Mario Bellini et Rudy Ricciotti © M. Bellini — R. Ricciotti © 2012 Musée du Louvre / Antoine Mongodin

At the Louvre, a disparate collection of Islamic works lay claim to the Pavillon de l’Horloge from 1905, dominated by “Arab bronzes,” including the celebrated basin known as the Baptistery of Saint Louis (Syria or Egypt, 1320–40), but also enamelled glass, ceramic and carved wooden objects. Soon thereafter, the Salon du Dôme was to become home to an immense Persian carpet spanning the entire height of the space, known as the Mantes carpet since it once covered the floor of the collegiate church of Mantes-la-Jolie not far from Paris, acquired by the museum in 1912 and hung on the wall in the manner of a monumental painting. Up to 1914, this gallery would take on an even more distinctive character with the addition of new pieces, most of which resulted from gifts or bequests to the Louvre. Just before the outbreak of World War I, the museum’s collections of “Muslim art” were to be expanded considerably thanks to a major bequest from Baron Alphonse Delort de Gléon. The Baron’s will had stipulated that a new space be created at the museum to present these collections, but this renovation and redesign project understandably had to be postponed until the end of the conflict. Thus it was only in 1922 that a new, enlarged space opened to the public in the Pavillon de l’Horloge.

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Monzón lion Spain, 12th–13th century Moulded and engraved bronze coll. M. Fortuny y Marsal, E. Piot puis L. Stern ; legs Mme Louis Stern, 1926 © Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Hughes Dubois

However, in the interwar years, followed by the Second World War and the ensuing decolonization period, Islamic culture and the Arabic language increasingly faded from public interest. The collections were therefore relegated to the Chapel, a much smaller space allowing for the display of a far more limited selection of works.

By 1987, the full extent of the museum’s holdings could hardly be appreciated by visitors to the galleries of its Department of Near Eastern Antiquities. As part of the Grand Louvre project, new galleries covering 800 square meters (about 8,500 square feet) were opened to the public in 1993. This new space allowed for an initial, more extensive presentation of the works held by the museum, following a chronological approach, but still did not do justice to the richness of the Louvre’s collections. In 2001, Henri Loyrette, the Louvre’s president and director, launched an ambitious project motivated by the strong belief that the museum’s collections of Islamic art merited a space befitting their prominence, in a presentation that would also include the neighbouring and neglected collection of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Two years later, in response to a decision announced by French President Jacques Chirac, an eighth department dedicated to Islamic art was created at the Louvre.

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Ottoman wall ‘Ottoman ceramic wall’ reconstructed in the Louvre galleries Turkey, c. 1560–80 © Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Raphaël Chipault

This department now oversees the museum’s own collections, consisting of some 15,000 pieces, as well as the 3,400 works on permanent loan from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Both of these holdings are exceptional, including undisputed masterpieces brilliantly exemplifying the entire cultural reach of the Islamic world in all its geographical breadth, from Spain to India, and in its full chronological dimensions, spanning the seventh to the nineteenth centuries.

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The courtyard level of the department of Islamic Art, Musée du Louvre Verrière © M. Bellini — R. Ricciotti / Musée du Louvre © 2012 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Ruault

Today, the collections of the Department of Islamic Arts continue to be enriched through important purchases, gifts and bequests. The Louvre is home to one of the richest and most celebrated collections of Islamic art in the world.

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Palais royal, musée du Louvre

75001 Paris


Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre

Opening hours

Every day except Tuesday, 9 AM – 6 PM
Late night on Wednesday, Friday until 9:30 PM
Lundi, jeudi, samedi, dimanche : fermeture des salles à partir de 17h30

Admission fee

Full rate €15.00

D’octobre à mars : le premier dimanche de chaque mois, l’accès aux collections permanentes est gratuit pour tous.

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