The vast and varied Islamic world—at times stretching from Spain and northern Africa to India and Central Asia—produced an equally dazzling diversity of works of art. For the first time in years, the Art Institute is able to present a more comprehensive picture of this diversity with new galleries devoted to Islamic art, appropriately scaled for larger architectural works that help tell the complex story of Islamic cultural production.
A selection of key objects from different cultures and time periods introduces visitors to the history, religion, and artistic traditions of Islam. From this introduction, the installation proceeds both chronologically and geographically, with displays that contain, for example, early and medieval objects covering the full expanse of the early Islamic world in one section, while another section features the later great empires of Ottoman Turkey, Safavid Iran, and Mughal India. One display focuses on an especially rich area of the collection: art produced under the Mongols in Iran between the mid-13th and mid-14th centuries. Multiple themes are developed across sections, such as Islamic ornament, including the familiar arabesque; the art of the book; and the surprisingly widespread use of figural decoration.
The installation will be continually refreshed with rotating displays of painting, calligraphy, textiles, and carpets, and visitors will be gratified to see an emphasis on architecture and architectural fragments—tile spandrels from Iran, wooden doors and beams from Morocco—that are so characteristic of Islamic art yet are difficult to display. Works of art from the museum’s own holdings are augmented by important pieces on loan from a number of public and private collections, presenting the richest story possible of the amazingly diverse and robust world of Islamic art.