Hermitage Rooms, Somerset House 25 March — 22 August 2004

Islamic script

Our second exhibition with the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg opened on 24 March. Co-curated by Professor Dr. Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the Hermitage, and Professor Michael Rogers of the Nour Foundation, Heaven on Earth: Art from Islamic Lands, draws from the rich and distinguished holdings of Islamic art at the Hermitage and the Nasser D. Khalili Collection, London.

The Hermitage collection of Islamic art is not merely one of the most important in the world but is also one of the oldest, going back in its origins to the excavations of barrow burials ordered by Peter the Great. It is also exceptional among collections of Islamic art in consisting to a large extent of objects found or excavated in the territories which formerly were part of the Russian Empire: Central Asia, the Caucasus and Transcaucasia, Transoxania, and the Lands of the Golden Horde in the Volga delta. The history of the collection is thus exceptionally closely connected with the history of Russia.

The exhibition presents contrasting, but complementary, themes in Islamic art, and especially the arts of Islamic Iranian cultures, which might be characterised as, respectively, secular and religious. It gives, deliberately, a prominent place to the court arts of Islam in the 18th and 19th centuries, which have so often been regarded as a period of Westernisation and decline, but which assimilated and adapted foreign motifs and techniques no less successfully and with no less magnificence than in earlier centuries.