In Palaces and Tents: The Islamic World from China to Europe
On 14 February 2008, at the Nicholas Hall of the Winter Palace an exhibition is being opened which examines the contacts of the Islamic World with its neighbouring cultures of Europe and China. It is aimed at displaying the immense variety of Islamic art as represented in the State Hermitage Museum’s collections and proving the idea that the Islamic world has never actually been isolated from world culture but, on the contrary, has always remained deeply integrated into its milieu.
The exhibition includes more than 300 items coming from different parts of the Islamic World and consists of four sections. The first section is devoted to Islamic art from the origin of Islam in the 7th century to the time of the Mongol invasion (13th century). It is then that Islamic art as such came into being, having absorbed cultural traditions and achievements of all the nations which fell within the Caliphate’s influence. The second section illustrates subsequent developments in Islamic art from the Mongol invasion up to the 16th century. The influence of Chinese culture is specially emphasized in this section, an influence which the Mongol invasion served to intensify: the invaders having succeeded in conquering a vast territory from the Volga river to the realms of the Middle Kingdom formed a favourable background for the export of both Chinese goods and cultural and artistic traditions. The third section jointly displays works of art dating from 16th-19th centuries and originating from various Islamic countries. It is during the above period that their culture is strongly affected by European tradition. The fourth section deals with political (both diplomatic and military) contacts of Russia and the World of Islam. Among the exhibits are diplomatic gifts from monarchs of Islamic countries to Russian tsars and emperors and trophies captured by Russian soldiers in the numerous wars with Turkey and Persia. The tent from Bukhara which is actually a portable palace is surely the gem of the display. Furthermore, there is another tent which is to be set up in the exhibition hall that used to belong to a Turkish military commander. Having been seized as a trophy by Russian soldiers, it was used by the Russian army wagon train for some decades, before finally being delivered to the Court Stables Museum in 1842. Both tents are to be displayed at the State Hermitage Museum for the first time in history. Of special interest are works of Indian art, which consist of 69 exhibition pieces in total. Among them are the famous Nader Shah’s gifts which are masterpieces of Indian jewellery dating from the 17th - 18th centuries, which the Persian ruler gained possession of, to eventually giving them to the Russian emperor. Most of the items on display including fine fabrics, caskets and metalware have never been displayed before.
A number of authentic architectural details that once used to adorn the Alhambra Palace are similarly being displayed for the first time.
Works of applied art originating from the Kubachi village, Dagestan (mostly – dating from the 14th century) are grouped separately. They include, in the first place, reliefs and bowls decorated with figures of men and animals. Pieces by Kubachi craftsmen are highly original and unlike any other works of art coming from various cultural centres of the Islamic World.
The State Hermitage Publishing House has printed an illustrated catalogue featuring articles by leading researchers at the State Hermitage Museum and a number of topical booklets for the exhibition. Visitors will have the opportunity to see a film on the items on display (available in English and in Russian).
The exhibition’s curator is