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Ink, Silk and Gold features approximately one hundred great works of Islamic art from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Never before presented in a dedicated exhibition, this collection covers virtually all aspects of Islamic art in almost all media, ranging from the eighth to the twenty-first century and from Spain to Indonesia. Through silver inlaid metalwork, Qur’an pages inscribed with gold, brocaded velvets, luster-painted ceramics and more, it offers a window into many different facets of the dynamic and complex artistic traditions of the Islamic world. More than 130 years after the MFA began collecting Islamic art, the objects presented in Ink, Silk and Gold are being comprehensively studied, restored and presented to the public for the first time.
The exhibition, which is accompanied by a catalogue, is arranged chronologically and regionally to introduce viewers to the rich world of Islamic art. Within this frameworkthe exhibition emphasizes the material aspects of the objects,proceeding from the notion that meaning in Islamic art is rooted in the substance of an object – its color, shape and texture. Drawing upon the results of state-of-the-art scientific analyses and conservation treatments currently in progress at the MFA, the exhibition encourages visitors to explore the unique and expressive material presence of Islamic art.
Three major sections constitute the main body of the exhibition. The first includes objects created between the eighth and tenth centuries throughout the Islamic world. Glass and metal vessels demonstrate the artistic debt owed to the Byzantine and Sasanian empires, while parchment Qur’ans and glazed ceramics inscribed with pious blessings illustrate the birth of new art forms in this early period.
The second section explores art created between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, subdivided into the diverse traditions that emerged by the beginning of this period. One grouping presents objects from Egypt and Syria, including a monumental Mamluk pulpit door inlaid with ivory and ebony. Another grouping dedicated to the arts of Spain, southern Italy and North Africa brings together fine examples of silk lampas with Maghribi Qur’an folios and Hispano-Moresque ceramics, while the final grouping – devoted to Iran and Central Asia – includes exquisite examples of Persian painting from the period of the form’s genesis.
In the third section the exhibition presents art of three great Islamic empires: the Safavids, Ottomans and Mughals. The Safavid section draws upon the MFA’s deep holdings in Persian paintings and textiles, featuring magnificent carpets and velvets made for the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp. Ottoman objects include masterpieces of Iznik ceramics such as a tile tympanum from the palace of a sixteenth-century Ottoman admiral. Among the Mughal treasures presented are a page from the monumental Hamzanama manuscript produced for Akbar the Great and the renowned Ames carpet woven with scenes of Mughal court life.
The exhibition closes with works from the nineteenth century onward, from a steel gourd damascened with gold made in Qajar Iran to a sculpture by Monir Farmanfarmaian, an artist living in Iran today. In these final objects, the traditional materials and techniques of Islamic art give way to the new media of global contemporary art, raising important questions about what the term “Islamic Art” means today.