Life, Luxury & the Avant-Garde
Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), presents Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts from October 23, 2011 to January16, 2012. The show earlier opened at Los Angeles County Museum of Art on June 5, 2011.This international loan exhibition explores Islamic art and culture through the universal tradition of gift giving. Many of the most significant examples of Islamic art can be classified as gifts. Presents were a fundamental activity at the great Islamic courts for various purposes: to further diplomatic and political ambitions; as rewards; in celebrations and as expressions of piety, often associated religious constructs. Made of rare materials and commissioned from the best artists, these came in many forms. The show brings together a plethora of works including silk carpets and gold woven textiles; jewellery and objects fashioned of precious metal; jade containers, ivory, or rock crystal; illustratrous manuscripts and Qur'ans; enameled and gilded glass; carved wooden furnishings; and jewel-encrusted arms and armor. This program at the MFAH has four key components: presenting innovative exhibitions of Islamic art; building a permanent collection; advancement of interpretation of Islamic art. More than 200 objects spaning the 8th through 19th centuries and represent a rich variety of media from the Middle East, Europe, and East Asia. The show also incorporates a contemporary component: new work by three artists with roots in the Islamic world who have been commissioned to interpret the exhibition's theme.
The exhibition demonstrates the cross-cultural interactions between Islam and Byzantium, and western European and East Asian courts, as the exchange of luxury objects illustrates a central process by which artistic forms and ideas were circulated.
The famed Ardabil Carpet (153940), which was a royal gift to the Safavid shrine at Ardabil, in northwestern Iran, is the spotlight. Other works drawn from international collections include two dazzling pairs of oversize gold bracelets from 11th-century Syria; pages from a beautiful Mughal album given by an Indian prince to his beloved wife; a group of massive gold-embroidered textiles sent by Ottoman sultans to embellish the Ka`ba, in Mecca; and a fifteenth-century Chinese scroll depicting the gift of a giraffe presented by Sayf al-Din Shah of Bengal (r. 1410-12) to the Ming emperor Yongle (r. 1402-24) in 1414 includes in the highlights.
The Show is organized in three sections: personal gifts, pious donations, and state and diplomatic gifts. The first includes more intimate objects like jewelry, belts, and garments; pieces like vessels of gold, silver, porcelain, and jade; along with paintings, albums, and manuscripts. The second section highlights pious donations, spanning architectural elements, furnishings, and manuscripts of the Qur'an, the endowment deed itself, and other works. The third and largest section features diplomatic exchanges. The objects range from rock crystal pieces and courtly regalia to illustrations of embassies and ambassadors. The display also includes works of Sadegh Tirafkan, Shahzia Sikander, and Ahmed Mater.