Islamic Art at the Louvre


The new Islamic art wing of the Louvre is the largest addition to the museum since I. M. Pei’s iconic glass pyramid. The new section, located in the Denon wing, measures approximately 3,000 square meters over 2 levels, almost tripling the amount of space that was previously given to works of art originating from the area made up of modern-day Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

This new addition to the Louvre provides ample space for the museum to rotate its 18,000 pieces of Islamic art, one of the best collections of its kind in the world. Many of these object have been in storage for decades and are now finally getting the chance to be on display. Highlights of the collection include several Arab bronze vessels, very important in the history and history of art in the region, as well as many well-preserved carpets and pieces of textile.

Entering the new wing, we were first struck by the amount of natural light, something that is not often found elsewhere in the Louvre. The space was created by covering the Visconti courtyard with a large, flowing golden screen that has been described by many as similar to a silk veil waving in the wind. The screen, supported only by 8 narrow pillars, is punctured with thousands of holes to allow light through. On display on this level are many different works of colorful pottery and elegant stone carvings. The Louvre rejected the idea of displaying the works chronologically, giving the exhibit a sort of disordered feel. However, each object is given ample space to be reverently admired in its glass case or on its pedestal.

In contrast, the lower level of the exhibit is much darker, in order to help preserve the textiles and carpets shown there. Large pieces of mosaic floors, lifted from their original spaces, are displayed at ground level to give the illusion of being installed in the floor of the Louvre. One of our favorite sections was the tiled wall made from hundreds of different ornately decorated ceramic tiles. Illuminated in the dark space, the tiles seemed to glow in many different colors.

With major funding coming from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia as well as the government officials of Oman, Morocco, Kuwait and the Republic of Azerbaijan, the opening of this new wing is seen by many as a diplomatic step forward in relations between France and these countries. It is symbolic of how they can all work together towards a common cause. Even if this new exhibit cannot repair all the problems between the West and the Middle East, it represents a major advancement in the art world and the way that works from non-European countries are displayed.

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