Hermitage Rooms Archive

Heaven on Earth: Art from Islamic Lands



Object: 17th century tray
17th century tray

Small table, signed by Situram
Small table, signed by Situram

Object: Aquamanile: Eagle 796-97
Aquamanile: Eagle 796-97

Photo of a ewer with stylised animal head terminals
Ewer with stylised animal head terminals

Enamel: Portrait of Muhammad Shah
Muhammad 'Ali: Enamelled portrait of Muhammad Shah

Miniature: The giant Uj and the prophets Moses, Jesus and Muhammad
The giant Uj and the prophets Moses, Jesus and Muhammad

Miniature: A page from the Gulshan-i ‘Ishq, c. 1710
A page from the Gulshan-i ‘Ishq, c. 1710

Miniature: Muhammad Qasim-i Tabrizi, Lady proffering a huqqa, c. 1640-50
Muhammad Qasim-i Tabrizi, Lady proffering a huqqa, c. 1640-50

25th March 2004 - 3rd October 2004

The most significant exhibition of Islamic art to be held in London since the Festival of Islam at the Hayward Gallery in 1976, this small but dazzling introduction to the art and artefacts of the Islamic world promises to be one of the cultural highlights of the year.

The theme of the exhibition is well expressed by the famous hadith : 'Verily, God is beautiful and loves all beauty', with exhibits drawn from the collections of The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and The Khalili Collection, London. Heaven on Earth: Art from Islamic Lands includes masterpieces representing the finest decorative arts of Islam - calligraphy, textiles, jewels, metalwork, ceramics and paintings, ranging in date from the 9th to the 19th century and covering an area stretching from Spain and the Arab world to Persia and the Indian subcontinent.

Islamic art has its roots in the ancient artistic traditions of Syria, Mesopotamia and Iran, and brings together a passion for luxury, countered with the harsh severity of abstraction. The former, reflecting the fabulous wealth of Islamic rulers, is an art which celebrates earthly majesty; the latter reflects the divine majesty of Allah and the holy language of the Qur'an.

The exhibition will be designed by Jasper Jacob Associates within the intimate galleries of the Hermitage Rooms at Somerset House. Each room will convey important aspects of Islamic artistic production, with key works of art set in context.

The first gallery will celebrate the majesty of God, highlighting the abstract art created in the service of the divine. The abstract beauty of calligraphy used as a vehicle for the Qur'an - literally the word of God - will be an important theme, from Qur'anic manuscripts to woven prayer rugs, and lustre tile panels from shrines bearing Qur'anic verses and rich arabesque decoration. In the next room, the displays will show how figural art was used in the service of earthly rulers, 'the shadow of God on earth', and will include a multitude of bronze and ceramic birds and animals, metalwork, stone relief carving and early Iranian silver. The central feature of this gallery will be the celebrated 'Bobrinsky' bucket from the Hermitage. Commissioned by a rich merchant of Herat in 1163, it is covered with dense decoration in silver and copper.

The corridor of the Hermitage Rooms will be hung with framed miniatures from Persian manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries, some religious in theme while others celebrate Islamic court life. The selection of miniatures will change half way through the exhibition for conservation reasons. The first group will be shown from 25 March to 8 June 2004 and the second from 9 June to 22 August 2004. The first group will be of works from The State Hermitage Museum, the second selected from The Khalili Collection. The works form a visual link to the two adjacent galleries, which present art created for worldly palaces.

Gallery IV will contain the famous jewels from the Mughal treasury, sent as a diplomatic gift to the Princess (later Empress) Elizabeth of Russia by Nadir Shah after he sacked Delhi in 1739 - boxes, dishes and cups, encrusted with rubies, diamonds and emeralds. The embassy bearing the jewels left Delhi in 1739 and, travelling by elephant, took two years to reach St Petersburg where its arrival caused a great stir. A large wall showcase will present richly embroidered robes while other fine silks will be displayed on the walls.

The last gallery will celebrate the interaction of East and West. A 10th-century rock crystal lamp, carried off by Crusaders and mounted in gold and enamels in Italy in the 16th century, will be shown together with sabers, daggers and other arms richly embellished with jewels. These will be complemented by oil paintings of Qajar rulers wearing such arms, and similar paintings of the ladies of their courts, in imitation of Western paintings and offering a curious blend of Oriental and European styles.

The broad range of exhibits, many shown in London for the first time, make this stunning exhibition a rare opportunity to view magnificent artefacts from a great cultural and religious tradition in the unique setting of the Hermitage Rooms, London.


The exhibition has been generously supported by:
The Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, Professor and Mrs Nasser D Khalili, Alex and Ella Krasner, The Lisbet Rausing Charitable Fund, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), Mr Tarek Juffali, NetJets, The Dr. Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, The Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation, Steven and Elena Heinz, The Suliman S. Olyan Foundation, Rashed Abdulrahman Alrashed & Sons, The Founding Members of the Walpole Circle, and others who wish to remain anonymous.

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logo and link to SABIC website

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