Collecting Displaying and Appropriating Islamic Art and Architecture in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries – Al’orientale Edited by Francine Giese, Mercedes Volait, Ariane Varela Braga
COLLECTING DISPLAYING AND APPROPRIATING ISLAMIC ART AND ARCHITECTURE
Contributions of this volume were originally sent- ed at the international conference A l’Orientale in May 2017, organized within the framework of the SNSF project “Mudejarismo and Moorish Revival in Europe” directed by Francine Giese at the University of Zurich.
It has been an honor to host a part of the conference at the Rietberg Museum. Our institution is owned by the City of Zurich and Switzerland’s only museum for non-Western art.
It houses an internationally renowned collection of Asian, African and South American artefacts, including some excellent miniature paintings from the Persian Safavid and Indian Mughal periods, as well as several Qajar textiles and costumes.
For the first time ever, the conference’s round table, organized by Francine Giese, Mercedes Volait and Ariane Varela Braga, brought together the directors of four of the most important museums and museum departments for Islamic art in Europe—Stefan Weber from the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin, Kjeld von Folsach from the David Collection in Copenhagen, Yannick Lintz
from the Louvre in Paris, and Tim Stanley from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London—and it certainly comes without saying that this meeting in Zurich therefore was of major significance for the Rietberg Museum as well.
Represented by our curator of Islamic art, Axel Langer, we participated and contributed to the fruitful discussions that came up during the round table on the first day and continued during the following two days of the conference.
It has been a true pleasure to realize that Zurich has become a significant center for Islamic Art History capable of attracting experts from all over the world.
Our collaborations with the Department of Art History at the University of Zurich, and especially with Francine Giese’s team, allowed us to support and promote this hitherto underrepresented field of study here in Zurich.
I hope that in the future the city and its university will stay important references for studies in Islamic art history, and that all the efforts made in the past years will eventually contribute to a better understanding and recognition of Islamic arts in Switzerland. Zurich, June 2019 – Albert Lutz, Director of the Rietberg museum
Introduction: Islamic Art and Architecture Exposed
This collection of essays presents the outcome of the international conference “À l’orientale. Collecting, Displaying and Appropriating Islamic Art and Architecture in the 19th and early 20th cen turies,” held at the University of Zurich, the Riet berg Museum and Charlottenfels Castle in May 2017.
Conceived in the framework of the Swiss National Science Foundation (snsf) project “Mudejarismo and Moorish Revival in Europe,” the aim of the conference was to emphasize the significance of Islamic art and architecture for the artistic renewal in the West during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as to trace back the beginnings of the collecting of Islamic Arts and their private and public display.
Contrary to most conferences on the topic, the focus was not only laid on major European collections and interiors but also on lesser known examples from Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia and the Islamic World.
Divided in four sections, the present volume reflects this thematic spectrum, starting with contributions assessing the curiosity and taste for Islamic arts in the West, which later on lead to different modes of appropriation oscillating between reuse and eclectic recreations, with the latter being the topic of the second section.
The same processes are also observable in the sphere of museums and international exhibitions treated in the third section.
Here, the suggestive pavilions and evocative mu seum displays helped create fictitious and globally diffused notions of the East. Finally, the last section is dedicated to the importance of nine teenthcentury collectors and their international networks, and it is in this context that it becomes the most apparent how much the relevant actors of this international phenomenon lived in an in terconnected world, wherein East and West met in cultural and artistic ways that often were not balanced equally.
Due to a growing Islamoscepticism, museum departments dedicated to Islamic arts are becoming ever more important as mediators between the Islamic World and the West.
The challenges these departments face today and their respective counterstrategies were further talking points.
During a roundtable that involved the participation of curators from the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Berlin Museum für Islamische Kunst and the David Collection Copenhagen, we had the opportunity to discuss and learn about the different devices and methods used by each museum for enhancing the awareness of the history of Islam and the visibility of each collection.
For instance, the participants exchanged their views on the increasingly important role digital technologies and communication media play today, and how they have become an essential element in curatorial practices.
Another related issue was how to adapt display strategies to new audiences attracted by Islamic art collections because of their Muslim culture and identity.
And finally, the complex issues of provenance and repatriation were discussed thoroughly, as well as the importance of transparency in respect of the history of collections.
That such exceptional exchange would take place in Switzerland might surprise at first, given that the country is rarely associated with important Islamic art collections.
However, it actually is home to an outstanding private collection of Islamic art, most of it assembled during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by the Swiss Henri Moser Charlottenfels (1844–1923), a famous traveler to the Orient.
Born to a wealthy Swiss industrial in St Petersburg in May 1844, Henri Moser is considered one of the pioneering amateurs of Islamic art in the nineteenth century, who during extensive journeys became well acquainted with the East. However, contrary to most of his
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