The History and Collection of Louvre Museum’s Islamic Art Department

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The Musée du Louvre has several curatorial departments, one of which is dedicated to Islamic Art. This department of the museum house thousands of objects, which records a history spanning 1300 years and across three continents, from Spain to Southeastern Asia. Visitors get to see a treasure trove of historical artworks and objects when on a Louvre Museum tour.

The museum has devoted a curatorial department each for Paintings, Sculptures, Prints and Drawings, Decorative Arts, among others. All these make the former royal palace turned national museum a must-visit during your Paris tours.

The Department of Islamic Art’s History

The Musée du Louvre created the first section devoted to Islamic Art in 1893. Although, the first room devoted to Islamic collection was opened inside the Decorative Arts Department in 1905. The museum expanded that collection under two curators, most notably Gaston Migeon.

Baroness Delort de Gléon’s donation of objects, from the collection of her husband in 1912 enhanced the Islamic Art collection further. That eventually led to the creation of a new hall in the Pavillon de l’Horloge in 1922. A decade after that, the Louvre created the Asian Arts Department and it housed the Islamic collection there.

After the Second World War, the Louvre Museum transferred works from the Far East to the Guimet Museum, and the section of Islamic Art collection was integrated into Near Eastern Antiquities Department. Precisely, they were first displayed in a pavilion and then in two rooms at the said department’s end. In 1993, the Louvre Museum was renovated and the Finance Ministry’s departure from the museum’s Richelieu Wing made space to house the collection in a 1000 square meters exhibit floor.

The Department of Islamic Art was created in 2003, and the galleries of the department were opened to the public in 2012. To exhibit the collection, the museum used the space in between Cour Visconti’s restored façades. The courtyard with palatial grandeur has been one of the best architectures of the Louvre Museum, alongside the I.M. Pei designed glass pyramid at its entrance.

Those on a Louvre Museum tour can also admire the glass veil of Cour Visconti, with gold metal covering and a wavy form, resembling a dragonfly’s wing.

The Collection of the Department of Islamic Art

The Islamic Art department houses thousands of objects and artworks from the museum of decorative arts and design, which is situated in the Louvre Museum’s western wing. The collection reflects the breadth and wealth of art from Islamic lands. The museum’s first displayed Islamic objects, which came from the royal collection, following the Museum Central des Arts’ creation in 1793. That was the national museum’s previous name. Who would have thought it would go on to become the world’s largest museum, housing over 35,000 artworks and 380,000 objects?

You cannot see all these at once when on a Louvre Museum tour, but if you are interested in any particular type of fine art or artworks from a region, it is best to visit the departments devoted to that. If you count the Islamic Art Department alone, it only adds up to a fraction of the objects displayed at the Musée du Louvre. The collection comprises ivory and stone objects, ceramics, metalwork, carpets and textiles, glasswork, manuscripts and so forth.

Encompassing architectural aspects, these objects displayed in the department give an overview of the origination of Islam from the seventh to the nineteenth century. They highlight Islamic Art’s homogeneousness, and creativity with respect to artistic themes expressed all through the centuries.

Notable objects comprise a Syrian inlaid basin called the “Baptistère de Saint Louis” from the fourteenth century, and jade bowls from the Ottoman Empire that once belonged to King Louis XIV. The collection also includes works from Saint Denis’s royal abbey, such as an eleventh century Egyptian ewer made up of rock crystal.

From the Old Times to the Present Collection

From the late nineteenth century to the First World War, Paris city was a locus for Islamic art’s creation. The Louvre Museum owes many of its acquisitions, such as Mughal Empire miniatures bequeathed from the collection of Georges Marteau and candlestick featuring ducks donated by Charles Piet-Lataudrie, to donators or public of fine art lovers cum collectors. Apart from these gifts, the museum collections were enhanced thanks to acquisitions like that of Mantes carpet and Mughal miniatures.

Even after the end of World War I, the museum received donated objects, a movement which subsided after the 1930’s. It would take the Islamic Art Department’s formation in 2003 for the Louvre to receive more donations. For instance, the Parisian museum received more than 100 works of art in 2009 from the collection of Pantanella-Signorini, which the museum considers the most important since the donation from Count François Chandon de Briailles in mid 1950’s.

A continued acquisition policy and collections of Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the west wing have enhanced the exhibited items. The Islamic Art exhibits now include works from Mughal India and Maghreb empires.