Islamic Art on Display in London
|Professor Tim Stanely
AUB’s Society of the Friends of the Museum last month hosted the distinguished art historian Tim Stanley, who gave a lecture entitled “Islamic Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum,” describing the collection of an institute where he currently serves as head Middle East curator.
The Victoria and Albert Museum was founded in 1852 as a corollary to the London School of Design. Stanley described it as “the very first institute in the world to begin to collect Islamic art in a systematic fashion.” Over the next century, the museum increased its collection through purchases both in Europe and the Middle East. Today it boasts the largest collection of Persian porcelain and
Umayyad carved ivories as part of its nearly 19,000 piece collection.
Stanley highlighted several pieces during his presentation, including a stunning tenth century rock crystal ewer from Egypt. Carved from a solid block of material, the intricate designs and delicate craftsmanship serve as testimony to the beauty of Islamic art. “The decoration was not illusory,” Stanley commented. “It respected the form of the object.” With only five others like it in the world, the ewer remains a proud jewel of the museum’s priceless assortment of Islamic objects.
First joining the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2002, Stanley found the collection impressive but the actual display lacking in impact. “We wanted various new ways of interpreting the gallery to the public,” Stanley recalls. Following a three-year renovation process, the Islamic art section reopened in 2006. The new space has over 400 pieces of various mediums, each organized around a massive centerpiece featuring the world’s oldest dated carpet.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the museum is its continuing dedication to promoting design. This year marks the founding of the newly established Jameel Prize, a competition recognizing Islamic design in contemporary art.
Nine short listed competitors have already been announced, including Lebanese designer Camille Zakharia. Stanley lauds these artists, citing their work as “evoking the past as something that has to be lived up to in the present.”