REPORT FROM THE EXHIBITION " CLASSICAL ART OF THE ISLAMIC WORLD OF THE IX-XIX CENTURIES. NINETY-NINE NAMES OF THE MOST HIGH"
K. V. MESHCHERINA
N. I. PETROV
Asia and Africa Today magazine correspondents
Key words: Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Marjani Foundation. classical art, islamic world
Who as a child did not read the fairy tales of the "Thousand and One Nights" and did not try to imagine the beauty of the Shah's palaces, the many colors of oriental bazaars, the glitter of jewelry on the clothes of dark-skinned girls of the East? As we grew up, we saw a lot of what we read about - in movies or visiting tourist markets in Antalya, Turkey, or Hurghada, Egypt. What to say - there and now you can find many beautiful things made by wonderful modern masters. But mostly they are souvenirs "for the use of foreigners": jugs inlaid with semiprecious stones and framed examples of calligraphic art are not intended for "everyday use" in their "homeland".
And where can you see and at least get a glimpse of real art? This could have been done in Moscow.
From February 20 to May 26, the Personal Collections Department of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts hosted the exhibition " Classical Art of the Islamic World of the IX-XIX Centuries. Ninety-nine names of the Most High." The main organizers of the conference were the Sh. S. S Foundation for the Support and Development of Scientific and Cultural Programs. Marjani*, Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.
An aura of oriental mystery was laid down in the very title of the exhibition - "Ninety-nine names of the Almighty". Few of its visitors knew in advance what these "names"meant. Meanwhile, everything is very simple: 99 exhibits were selected specifically for the exhibition - all masterpieces of world significance-according to the number of beautiful names of the Almighty listed by Muslims in prayers. If these prayers, according to religious dogmas, brought people closer to God, then the exhibition in the State Museum of Fine Arts definitely brought people closer to divine beauty, because, getting acquainted with the exhibits, sometimes it was hard to believe that such beauty could be created by human hands. At the same time, not all objects are objects of religious worship - many of them were used in everyday life, including, perhaps, not the richest people. But at the same time, they are definitely filled with faith and passionately want what they have done to please not only the men and women who live in the neighborhood, but also God himself.
Each of the three sections of the exhibition was dedicated to a specific historical era, which is usually divided into the history of Islamic culture.
The first section featured works of art from the so-called indigenous regions of the Islamic world-North Africa, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Central and Minor Asia. The craftsmen who worked there were mainly of Arabic, Persian and Turkic origin. The highest achievements of this period: painted chandeliers** and enamel paints (mina), as well as silver and copper inlaid bronze products.
We noticed that the longest visitors to the exhibition stayed at the most striking and memorable exhibit-a bowl made of double-layer glass, made in Syria more than a thousand years ago. Even then, it was very rare - such bowls could only be made in one Syrian workshop. Actually, the manufacturing technology-
* Shihabutdin Marjani (1818-1889) - Tatar theologian, philosopher and historian.
** Chandelier painting - painting with transparent mother-of-pearl paints, which are made by dissolving cobalt, iron, nickel or chromium salts. Gold, platinum, or silver salts are also used. By changing the ratio of these salts, as well as using other paints as additives, you can get almost any color.
The technology of double-layer glass was known in ancient Rome, and it is still used today. But this bowl is made according to some other, not like either the ancient or our modern technology. The secret of the ancient masters has not yet been revealed. At the bottom of the bowl is written in Arabic script of amazing beauty: "Power belongs to God."
The quality and aesthetic properties of the rarest work of art are beyond praise. An interesting fact is that today there are only 4 such whole bowls left in the world.
In this section there were also ceramic bowls, for their manufacture the simplest improvised material was used - clay. In the early Islamic period, apparently, it was not yet strictly forbidden to depict people, animals and birds on objects - these figurative images are organically included in some ornaments, although mainly as part of the plant "decor". The pattern on clay bowls of the IX-X centuries was applied by the method of chandelier painting.
In the shop windows you could also see sheets of handwritten books, of course, almost exclusively from the Koran, as well as various bronze objects-incense burners, lamp stands, candlesticks, inkwells. A real masterpiece is an incense burner in the form of feline animals (possibly lynxes), made in Iran in the second half of the XI century. The hinged lid of the incense burner is made in the form of a beast's head. Smoke escapes through numerous slits decorated with delicate ornaments.
The second section of the exhibition covered most of the geographical area that we now call Eurasia-from China to Eastern Europe. Strictly speaking, this territory - the territory of the Great Mongol Empire, which flourished in the XIII-XIV centuries - was not included in the "zone of Muslim art". But in numerous workshops of the empire, along with representatives of other religions, Muslims also worked. We believe that it was not without their influence, as well as under the influence of fascinating Muslim art, that three of the four Mongol dynasties that divided the empire after the death of its founder, Genghis Khan, converted to Islam.
Among the most interesting exhibits of the section is the headdress of a married Mongolian woman of the Yuan era*. This is a bocca-a complex "structure" made of gold-woven silk on a frame made of birch bark. "Geographically," bokka is of Chinese origin, but a number of experts note an "Islamic accent" in several details of the headdress made in the late 13th or 14th centuries. The mixing and mutual influence of Islamic and Buddhist artistic traditions became the norm in the Mongolian era.
In addition, samples of men's and women's outerwear of the Mongols were presented here. Silk robes (including funeral robes) and kaftans are decorated with intricate patterns. Especially impressive is the image of the phoenix bird and the dragon, as if "embracing" the curving flower stalk on both sides. An intricate composition on a woman's dressing gown of the late 13th century shows the extraordinary imagination of the artist.
Well-preserved belt set, also made in China in the Yuan era in the cloisonne enamel technique**, its only-
* Yuan Empire (in Chinese tradition - dynasty) - a Mongol state, one of the parts of which was China (1271-1368). It was founded by the grandson of Genghis Khan, the Mongol Khan Kublai, who completed the conquest of China in 1279.
** Cloisonne enamel is one of the most complex types of enamel technique, when enamel - a low - melting transparent colored glass-is not applied to the surface of a metal decoration, but fills through spaces in this decoration, often broken into separate parts by thin metal partitions.
only then began to master the masters of the Middle Kingdom. But the Mongols, probably due to the development of the art of Muslim masters, it was already known by that time. So here we are - a product, of course, Chinese, but, in modern terms, made "under an Islamic license." It is interesting that during the excavations, along with a belt set, two Islamic silver coins were found, one of which was minted in Shiraz in Iran in 1392.
Among other exhibits of the exhibition, attention was drawn to the phylacteries (tumor) in the form of a cylinder for storing prayer texts, as well as a mirror made in the form of a multi - petalled Chinese mirror, but using Middle Eastern decor-with Arabic script and a thin floral pattern. The product is provided with an Arabic inscription containing a good wish and bearing a poetic maxim.
The third section presented works by court masters of late Muslim rulers-Mamluks (1250-1517), Timurids (1370-1507), Sheibanids (1500-1598), Safavids (1501-1722/1736), Ottomans (1281-1924), Qajars (1779-1925). Apparently, because the last representatives of these dynasties are separated from us by very little time, many art objects of that time have been preserved; moreover, some of them still adorn the palaces of descendants of once powerful rulers, or the halls of state and public organizations.
Such, for example, is the prayer carpet woven on a silk basis with gold threads and woolen pile-it was made in the second half of the XVI-early XVII centuries. Several dozens of such carpets have come down to us, made in the shah's workshops of Safavid Iran in the second half of the XVI-early XVII centuries. Some of them went to private collections, but more than half of them are located in Istanbul, in the Topkapi Palace*. Ottoman sultans knew a lot about precious textiles and therefore, as a rule, almost did not use carpets for their intended purpose - as religious attributes, but carefully preserved them. Here is this carpet, "like new", as if yesterday it came out from under the hands of weavers-artists. On its field - all 99 names of the Almighty, which gave the name of the exhibition in the State Museum of Fine Arts.
In the same section, 11 pages from the Koran manuscript, created in Iran in 1430 - 1440, were shown. The text is executed on colored paper, and each sheet, in addition to the thinnest ligature of Oriental writing, also contains an image made with thin golden lines. This is a well-known list of the Qur'an containing images of living creatures-birds.
In medieval Oriental miniatures illustrating the works of great ancient poets who lived and worked in the territory of modern Central Asia, a person already becomes the central character. There are more than ten of these miniatures at the exhibition. Until recently, collections of copies of such miniatures were published in Dushanbe, Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand and distributed from there all over the world.
It is clear that richly illustrated handwritten books were also of exceptional value in the Middle Ages - only very wealthy people could own them. But among the exhibits of the exhibition was a drawing that somewhat resembled our Russian splint-it shows a traveling trainer riding a donkey and carrying a monkey on his shoulder. It is assumed that its author is the great Iranian artist Riza Abbasi, who worked at the turn of the XVI-XVII centuries. Surely copies of this simple drawing, made in "cursive", 400 years ago could be seen on the walls of homes.
And just a few decades later, another prominent Iranian artist, a student of Abbasi - Muin Musavvir-painted portraits of contemporaries with a clear external similarity and in an almost realistic (albeit somewhat stylized) manner. This is his "Musician", also presented at the exhibition. The young flautist is depicted at the moment of creative inspiration, which, as adherents of Islam believe, visits a person by the will of Allah.
A handwritten book that resembles a modern "business card holder" deserves special mention. This is an anthology of Persian poetry, including poems of religious and mystical content. Such books were worn on the belt or in the sleeve. This format was called safine in Iran and has been widely used since the 15th century. Times like izve-
* Topkapi Palace (translated from Turkish as topkapi - cannon gate) - the main palace of the Ottoman Empire and the residence of the Sultan (until the middle of the XIX century).
Of course, they are changing, but even now we carry modern sources of information under our belts, just as our ancestors did, however, in relation to their sources of information - our favorite books.
One of the most impressive exhibits is the double doors covered with the finest carved patterns and images of scenes of the court life of the Safavid shahs, as well as literary subjects. The artists did not leave a single millimeter free on the surface of the door. However, the color palette, as well as a set of parts from different times, indicate that they were made relatively recently-already in the XIX century. But this does not reduce its artistic value.
We asked the curator and curator of the exhibition, senior researcher of the Department of Ancient Oriental Art of the State Museum of Fine Arts K. A. Vyazovikina to tell us about the place of the exhibition "Classical Art of the Islamic World of the IX-XIX centuries" in the cultural and educational activities of the museum.
"This project reflects a new stage in the development of our museum, which consists in showing the best examples of world art at specialized exhibitions. The vast majority of such exhibitions are devoted to Western European and American art. (By the way, the State Museum of Fine Arts recently hosted a large and extremely interesting exhibition "1000 years of Inca gold", from the collection of the "Peru Gold Museum" in Lima.)
This exhibition, where we show works of Islamic culture , is not the first experience of this kind. So, a few years ago, our museum presented a unique "Golden Quran" - a copy of the oldest manuscript of the VIII century."Quran of Uthman". This gold copy was made in our time, at the Moscow Mint, from gold of the highest quality.
The exhibition you have just seen is another project dedicated to the traditional cultures of the world. In April 2011, we already held the exhibition "Art of Tropical Africa from the collection of artists M. L. and L. M. Zvyagin". We offer this new and interesting material to the audience and are confident in the success of our new artistic, cultural and educational projects.
I am also pleased that not only individual collectors show interest in the traditional cultures of the East, but also public organizations that attract highly qualified specialists to their work: historians, religious scholars, archaeologists, and art historians. Such is the Foundation for Support and Development of Scientific and Cultural Programs named after Sh. Marjani, whose collection is presented today. The Foundation not only acquires works of Muslim art, but also conducts extensive educational work - holds round tables and seminars, organizes lectures on various areas of Oriental art.
The never-empty halls of our exhibition, as well as the fact that almost all the most authoritative mass media paid great attention to it, are convincing evidence of the great interest of our people in the eastern branch of culture.
Our museum has collections of monuments from the Far East, South and South-East Asia. We hope that in the near future these works of art will be displayed in the halls of..."
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Many events in recent years-terrorist acts, crimes attributed in the overwhelming majority of cases to people from Muslim regions-create a distorted image of one of the world's great religions and those who follow its canons. The exhibition at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, in addition to purely art history tasks, also pursued certain political and educational goals - if possible, to correct these distortions in the minds of our people. We looked at the faces of those who walk through the halls of this relatively small, but extremely capacious exhibition. And they saw the expression of great curiosity. Someone looked at the bizarre ligature of lines from the Koran, someone admired the patterns on the clothes of Mongolian women. It seems that, indeed, many of them discovered Islam as a layer of a culture that was not too familiar to them. But the layer is interesting, bright, definitely humanistic and life-affirming.
Probably, the exhibits of this exhibition represent the real Islam, which can and should be treated with great respect. As he certainly deserves.
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