The Louvre museum in Paris has opened a new, $131 million Islamic art wing with 3,000 precious artifacts dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries - including the oldest love letter in the Muslim world.
Paris's famed Louvre museum on Saturday opened to the public a new wing of Islamic art in a bid to improve knowledge of a religion often viewed with suspicion in the West.
Costing nearly 100 million euros ($131 million), it is funded by the French government and supported by handsome endowments from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait, Oman and Azerbaijan.
In pictures: Islamic art at the Louvre
The Louvre museum in Paris has opened a new wing of Islamic art in a bid to improve knowledge of a religion at times viewed with suspicion. Some 3,000 works dating from the 7th to the 19th centuries are on display.
"It’s about showing Islamic civilisation, rather than religion," explained Sophie Makariou, the director of the Islamic Art department.
"We wanted our approach to be wide and inclusive, to bring together a variety of worlds" including the Andalusian, Ottoman, Mamluk and Persian civilisations, noted Henri Loyrette, president of the Louvre.
Art director Makariou wanted to avoid offering a simplistic representation of Islam. Included in the exhibition is a jade wine cup, as alcohol is permitted by Sufism.
French President François Hollande was present at the opening of the new wing, which he hailed as "a political gesture in the service of ... peace".
"We must give back the word 'Islam' its full glory ... and not leave it to the jihadists to tarnish it," Makariou told the press.
The new wing is partly financed by Saudi Arabia from the foundation of Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, as well as by Morocco, Kuwait, Azerbaijan and the Sultanate of Oman.
About 3,000 precious works from the seventh to the 19th centuries are spread across 3,000 square metres (33,000 square feet) over two levels of the former palace.
Inaugurated by President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, the new wing holds 18,000 treasures from an area stretching from Europe to India and includes the oldest love letter in the Islamic world.
Denise Spacensky, one of the first visitors Saturday, said the opening came at an opportune time "with everything that is happening in the world", stressing that the exhibits show "Islam as a refined, peaceful civilisation".
"I hope it will open Westerners' minds to the passionate past of Islamic civilisation, but also to the complex of Muslims who believe they are not understood," said the retired teacher of Chinese art.
France is home to at least four million Muslims and leaders of the community say incidents of Islamophobia are on the rise against a background of confrontation with the authorities and rising suspicion of Muslims.
The Louvre opening comes as demonstrations are sweeping Muslim countries to protest a crudely made Internet video shot in the United States mocking Islam, and French cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
Sophie Makariou, the head of the department of Islamic arts at the Paris museum, said the aim of the new wing was to show "Islam with a capital I."
"We must give back the word Islam its full glory... and not leave it to the jihadists to tarnish it," she said at a press preview earlier this week.
Set in a courtyard of commissioned in the 18th century, the new wing is housed under a giant undulating gold-coloured aluminium canopy pierced with tiny holes to let daylight filter through and change the mood and the ambience with the sun's rays.
France 24 report from Le Louvre museum
The artifacts from the Louvre's own collection and other private ones include Moghul-era carpets from India, miniature paintings from Iran showing depictions from the Thousand and One Nights and an astounding silver and gold inlaid basin from Egypt or Syria and dating between 1330 and 1340.
The basin was was used for the baptism of France's King Louis XIII and bears the inscription "Work of Master Muhammed ibn al-Zayn."
The collection brings together pieces from Spain, Egypt's Mameluke "slave" dynasty, the Moghul empire in India, Persia and Central Asia.
It also recreates the grandeur of Baghdad, the founding of which in 762 was a major event in urban planning history, with a reproduction of two huge mosaics adorning the Grand Mosque there.
There is also a teak door from a palace in Samarra on the banks of the Tigris with an Art-Nouveau-style fan-shaped motif ending in a lobed leaf.
A myriad of calligraphic styles are also on display with stunning turquoise and white tiles from Central Asia, bejewelled ornaments and ivory objets d'art and enamelled glass objects -- an art form conceived and perfected by Muslims.
It is the latest modernisation project after the glass pyramid in the Louvre's main courtyard by Chinese-US architect I.M. Pei which was commissioned in 1984 and completed four years later.
Date created : 2012-09-22