Islamic art: Louvre opens new gallery

Islamic art has been collected all over the world for centuries. Now new Islamic galleries at the Louvre in Paris aim to foster cultural understanding while offering the public a chance to admire first-hand the fine materials and spectacular attention to detail in a collection of ancient pieces 

This month the launch of new galleries at the Louvre in Paris gives a permanent home to the Museum’s unrivalled collection of Islamic Art, the largest in France and one of the most important in the world. Thousands of objects, many of which have never been on public display before, denote the cultural heritage of Islamic civilisations between the seventh and 19th centuries.

The objects on display have been drawn from the Museum’s own extensive collection consisting of some 15,000 pieces but also include some 3,400 works on permanent loan from France’s other visual arts powerhouse The Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Their geographical range spans Spain to India.

“Our task is to reveal the radiant face of this civilization and its indisputable contribution to the world,” comments Henri Loyrette, President and Director of the Musée du Louvre. “It is a new way of looking at Islamic art.”

The galleries are housed in an iridescent glass pavilion by Italian architect Mario Bellini and make a bold architectural statement within the Louvre’s neoclassical building. Made from 150 tonnes of glass and steel and occupying a surface of nearly 3,000 square meters, the structure appears light and airy. The design is modelled on a silk scarf – a reference to the Islamic veil. Visually, it also functions as a unifying element between the existing collections and the new galleries at this, the world’s most visited museum.

“A ‘Golden Cloud’ floats airily over the museum exhibition space allowing visitors to see the facades of the courtyard outside,” comments architects Mario Bellini. “From inside, they admire the play of folds and undulations in the covering, which adds a poetic dimension to the overall effect.”

The Louvre in Paris is using art to build a bridge between cultures and the famous museum’s brand will go even further with a new outpost in the UAE. Poised for a 2014 launch, the forthcoming Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi will follow the architectural vision of Jean Nouvel.

Meanwhile, in the French capital, the opening coincides with the museum’s Contemporary Festival of Islamic Arts, encompassing music, film literature, fine art and photography. With participants including Senegalese singer Youssou Ndour, French-Moroccan photographer Yto Barrada and Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, the event will run until spring 2013. A fascinating worldwide journey of cultural discovery begins.