Trade Goods and Souvenirs: Islamic Art from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
21 April until 4 September 2011
The more than 170 works of art in this exhibition represent an array of Islamic cultures and come from Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. This little-known collection includes several masterpieces of Islamic art and many objects that have rarely, if ever, been exhibited to the public before.
From the Collection of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a highly varied collection of Islamic art, ranging from opulent ceramic vessels from medieval Iran to rare textiles from Spain and miniatures from Iran and India. In Trade Goods and Souvenirs, these objects illustrate the profound attraction of Islamic art over the years for Western merchants, art dealers, collectors, and museums. Many items entered the Amsterdam collection more or less by chance, as trade goods or souvenirs, and they often reflect the historical ties between the Netherlands and the Islamic world. For instance, the Dutch were trading Oriental rugs as far back as the 17th century. A few especially impressive carpets will be on display in Leiden, along with embroidered Turkish letter cases that belonged to Dutch diplomats and the Algerian sabre once captured by the renowned Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter.
On show in Leiden
At the exhibition Trade Goods and Souvenirs, the Amsterdam collection is complemented with pre-Islamic art from the National Museum of Antiquities. The objects from the Leiden collection will include colourful perfume flasks and glass dishes, Coptic textiles, bronze weapons, and a unique shield from Iran decorated with a hunting scene. These archaeological finds vividly demonstrate how much the Islamic tradition inherited from earlier cultures, such as those of classical antiquity and the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires. At the same time, the objects demonstrate the originality and uniqueness of Islamic art.
Two collections, one exhibition
By illuminating the historical ties between the West and Islamic cultures, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden aim to influence the image of Islamic art and culture in the West. The two museums also hope that Trade Goods and Souvenirs will draw attention to issues of researching and displaying Islamic art in the Netherlands, thus contributing to recent public debates.
The term "Islamic art", widely used by art historians, is actually problematic. Objects are often referred to as Islamic art because they come from cultures in which Islam is the leading faith and Arabic is a common language in the religious sphere. Yet many of these objects were not made for religious but for secular purposes. In this exhibition, the term ‘Islamic art' is used because in the 19th and 20th centuries the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam used that category when collecting many of the objects in question.