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Islamic art at the V&A and British Museum

posted on 24/07/19

Observing both the finer details and the bigger picture, lecturer Professor James Allan shares how the intricacies of Islamic art and design are explored through different mediums on this intriguing London Day.

We are privileged to have two of the world’s greatest collections of Islamic art in London. Our forthcoming London Day starts at the V&A where we are introduced to the world of Islamic art through small displays of calligraphy, geometry, the arabesque and digital art. These are themes which will help us to renew our acquaintance with a world of art and design very different from our own.

The V&A’s collection of Islamic tile work, especially (and very unusually) of central Asian tile work, is unique, and we shall enjoy looking at it in some detail. It is complemented by a sumptuous collection of carpets and textiles, along with beautiful examples of art in other media (ivory, inlaid metalwork, woodwork, ceramics and glass) from different periods.

Images: Low relief sculpture from Persepolis, engraving 1803. Islamic tile decoration, wood engraving c. 1880.

The new Al Bukhari gallery of Islamic art in the British Museum, which we shall visit in the afternoon, is arranged in a different but equally informative way, with large cases telling the chronological story, and smaller cases dedicated to thematic displays. The latter include religion, calligraphy, trade, and archaeological sites, to name but a few. The Al Bukhari gallery also greatly enriches our appreciation of Islamic art through displays of miniature painting, ethnographic material from areas as diverse and distant as west Africa and Indonesia, together with contemporary works of Islamic art.

This is a great opportunity to relive the MRT tours to Iran or Uzbekistan, and to bring back to life an appreciation of one of the world’s great visual cultures. I very much hope you will be able to join us and look forward to seeing you again.


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