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Islamic Art

Damascus Room

The Museum's collection of Islamic art ranges in date from the seventh to the nineteenth century. Its nearly twelve thousand objects reflect the great diversity and range of the cultural traditions of Islam, with works from as far westward as Spain and Morocco and as far eastward as Central Asia and India. Comprising sacred and secular objects, the collection reveals the mutual influence of artistic practices such as calligraphy, and the exchange of motifs such as vegetal ornament (the arabesque) and geometric patterning in both realms.

Now at the Met

In the Stars: Gems and the Indian Tradition

Courtney A. Stewart, Senior Research Assistant, Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In North America, we have a rather superficial relationship with gemstones. You may be aware that your birth month is connected with a gem—your "birthstone"—but what's the point of this connection? For most of us, the only gem we associate with any real symbolic value is a diamond, reserved for nuptial engagements as a symbol of commitment, but even this is a very recent affiliation stemming from a 1947 De Beers ad campaign "A Diamond is Forever."

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Now at the Met

The Architectural Ornament of Abbasid Samarra: Newly Released Depictions by Ernst Herzfeld

Matt Saba, Mellon Curatorial Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Friday, December 12, 2014

The Department of Islamic Art is excited to announce the release of new records from the Ernst Herzfeld Papers, part of the department's archival collections. Herzfeld was a German archaeologist and historian considered to be one of the field's founding fathers. The department began to publish records from the Herzfeld Papers online this summer; the records in this latest upload consist of Herzfeld's watercolors and drawings depicting fragments of architectural ornament he excavated at Samarra, the ninth-century capital of the Abbasid dynasty located in today's Iraq.

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Now at the Met

Looking Closely: An Unexpected Discovery in the Islamic Collection

Fatima Quraishi, 2014–15 Hagop Kevorkian Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, December 3, 2014

As a new curatorial research fellow in the Department of Islamic Art, I am becoming acquainted with many different aspects of museum life such as museum education and exhibition practices, but I spend most of my time researching our rich collection of Islamic art objects. I've recently been examining a large group of wooden panel pieces, many of which were parts of minbars (pulpits) in mosques in Egypt during the Mamluk period (1250–1517)—some of these are on display in gallery 454. In this group, I came across a rectangular panel (shown above) that is inlaid with carved ivory and bears an inscription in Arabic.

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Now at the Met

A Ninth-Century Miss Manners: Dining Etiquette in Abbasid Iraq

Julia Cohen, Research Assistant, Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2014

With the weather getting colder and Thanksgiving now upon us, my mind has turned to food. Hearty soups, roasted vegetables, and freshly baked bread warm my spirits during the winter months, and there is little I enjoy more than inviting friends and family to join me for meals.

Food and drink are central to celebrations throughout the world, and objects in the Islamic Art collection can tell us so much about people's lives. The tradition of feasting to commemorate important events dates back to pre-Islamic times, both in the Middle East and the rest of the world. The Islamic galleries are filled with serving dishes, storage jars, and drinking vessels that provide a window into the everyday life and celebrations of the many Islamic dynasties represented here.

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Now at the Met

Former Incarnations: The Secret Lives of Objects in Treasures from India

Courtney A. Stewart, Senior Research Assistant, Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Works of art at the Met are often presented in isolation to give the viewer an opportunity to examine them closely and appreciate their artistic merit, fine craftsmanship, use of materials, and other details. Because of these objects' (near) impeccable state when exhibited, I sometimes forget they have lived entire lives before arriving at the Museum and often have passed through many hands and traveled long distances. Indeed, the life of an object is so much richer, more complicated, and more convoluted than its shining presence in a display case can convey.

While researching the objects selected for the exhibition Treasures from India: Jewels from The Al-Thani Collection (on view through January 25, 2015), I was continually inspired by these histories and fascinated by the winding paths these works had taken before their arrival in our galleries.

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Now at the Met

Conservation Through a Gamer's Eye

Ashira Loike, Assistant Administrator, Department of Objects Conservation; and Beth Edelstein, Associate Conservator, Department of Objects Conservation

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2014

What happens when gaming students are let loose on the Met's collection? We found our answer to this question this past spring when staff from the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation collaborated with a group of intrepid and creative students at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). The students were supervised by their professor, Elizabeth Goins, in a course titled "Interactive Design for Museums," part of RIT's Museum Games & Technology Initiative. The students were tasked with communicating the inside information conservators gather from studying the materials and techniques of works of art through a fun and engaging game aimed at general audiences.

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Teen Blog

A Guard's Regard

Lizzie, Former High School Intern

Posted: Friday, November 7, 2014

A person can have an individual relationship with art, but at The Metropolitan Museum of Art there is often a third party involved when strolling through the galleries: the security guard. It didn't take me long to realize how wise the guards at the Met are: Many of these men and women are extremely curious about art and how it is perceived, and therefore take advantage of being in one of the world's greatest museums during their work day.

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In Circulation

The Ernst Herzfeld Papers at the Met: A Digital Resource Documenting the Study of Near Eastern Civilization

Matt Saba, Mellon Curatorial Fellow, Department of Islamic Art

Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2014

It is my pleasure to introduce In Circulation readers to the Ernst Herzfeld Papers, a new resource that will be developed as part of the Digital Collections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries. Ernst Emil Herzfeld was a German archaeologist, historian, and philologist of the Near East active during the early twentieth century. The Met acquired a portion of Herzfeld's personal papers in 1943, while a larger portion went to the Smithsonian Institution and another group deposited in the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin.

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Digital Underground

Media Lab Intern Spotlight: Exploring Algorithms in Islamic Art through Augmented Reality

Betty Quinn, Former Media Lab Intern, Digital Media; and Sarah Wever, Former Media Lab Intern, Digital Media

Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Department of Islamic Art's fifteen galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia are some of the most visually striking in the entire Museum. Located on the second floor of the North Wing, visitors are greeted by elaborate patterns carved and painted on many objects—from ceramic bowls to tapestries and arches. Tiles tessellate in repeating patterns across the walls, and in one room the ceiling is covered with intricately carved geometric patterns. With a collection of over twelve thousand objects, these galleries illustrate the fascinating diversity of the culture of Islam.

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Of Note

Exploring The Sacred Lute

Ken Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, August 11, 2014

The first time I heard the evocative sounds and exquisite poetry of classic Persian music, I was amazed by its simple and elegant beauty. I later learned the complexity and philosophical principals behind the music, and about the different genres and ancient regional traditions that still endure. After a trip to Iran to visit scholars, composers, instrument makers, and musicians, a friend introduced me to the music and life of the exceptional musician, jurist, and philosopher Nour Ali Elahi (1895–1974), also known as Ostad Elahi. The resulting new exhibition, The Sacred Lute: The Art of Ostad Elahi, examines Ostad's transformation of the art of tanbūr—his modifications to the instrument, its playing technique, and the elevation of its repertoire—as well as his innovative approach to the quest for self-knowledge and his personal transformation from a classical mystic to a modern jurist.

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