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09232012-1 In recent years it seems there is little love lost between Islamic and Western governments. Last week, tensions escalated and protests aimed at western embassies continued in response to a trailer for the overtly anti-Islam movie, Innocence of Muslims.

At one time, Islamic empires extended from the Atlantic Ocean in the west, to central Asia in the east. For 400 years, from the mid-ninth century through 1258, the Muslim world was an intellectual, scientific, and philosophical hub. During this Islamic Golden Age, scholars from many countries gathered in Bagdad.

09232012-2 With over a billion followers, nearly 1/5 of the world population, Islam is a major world religion. A billion followers are bound to be diverse, yet the view of Islam from the west is often simplified and lacks nuance. Although many westerners associate Islam with the Middle East, less than 10% of Muslims are Arab. Indonesia is home to the most Muslims, 203 million, followed by Pakistan (174 million), and India (161 million). This cultural and geographic range creates diversity within Islam that is often overlooked.

Fallen empires and cultural diversity have created a rich and diverse Islamic history. History’s artifacts now represent and preserve this rich history. Where do you expect you might find one of the world’s greatest collections of Islamic art? In Paris? Oui!

The Louvre Museum is synonymous with world-class art. It is home to one of the world’s most famous collections of paintings, sculpture, and antiquities; Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo both live at the Louvre. On Saturday, September 22, 2012, the Louvre Museum unveiled its newest building, galleries dedicated to Islamic art. Curators hope the collection will share the richness of Islamic art, bridge the cultural divide, and inspire new conversations about Islam and between people of all faiths. Come tour art’s newest building, learn more about Islamic art, and view a collection of Islamic masterpieces.09232012-3

What makes some art Islamic? A brief introduction to Islamic beliefs and Islamic art comes in handy. What fundamental beliefs do Muslims share? How do these influence their art? Muslim artists are especially known for their architecture, calligraphy, and carpet weaving. Why do these forms dove-tail well with Islam?

New at the Louvre

It is not only the collection of Islamic pieces that aims to impress, but the bold new building as well. The gallery’s architect explains the design of the building and how it reflects Islam. Watch how the space was transformed as the ‘veil’ was erected and why the museum director believes this is a daring architectural plan.09232012-4

A world renowned collection of art and antiquities takes time to acquire. The Louvre’s “Muslim art” section has grown slowly over the past century. Read more about the history of the Louvre’s collection. As you read, consider: Where was the original “Muslim art” section housed and why?  What are the two primary ways the Louvre has acquired pieces for its collection? Why is a dedicated gallery space important?


The new Louvre gallery will share with visitors an astounding 3,000 pieces, representing centuries of Islamic art. It may seem pieces arrived in perfect condition, ready to display. However, sometimes, the job of curator is a bit like that of an archeologist. Listen as the Director of the Islamic art department details the steps taken to acquire a Mamluk entrance vestibule. View two video sneak peeks of masterpieces from the Louvre’s collection.

09232012-5Perhaps someday you will visit the Louvre and enjoy its collection of Islamic art in person. Until then, you can view a previous exhibit of Islamic art. Tour Masterpieces of Islamic Art from the Aga Khan Museum. (Use the menu in the left margin to move through the gallery.) Read about the connection between Islamic art and Europe, then click on the five thumbnails to view the pieces. To fully appreciate what makes each piece ‘Islamic’ art and what makes each a masterpiece, click ‘more about’ under each image. Revisit the menu to: learn how Chinese art influenced Muslim artists, read about the ways Muslim artists included narratives and figures in their work, and view examples of Islamic calligraphy.