Masterpieces of Islamic art at National Gallery

Ottoman and Safavid dynasties are showcased

Arts: Museums, Literature

August 26, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The threat of terrorism inspired by Islamic fundamentalism has focused Americans' minds as never before on the politics and philosophy underlying the youngest of the world's three great religions.

Yet for centuries Islamic civilization was one of the great stabilizing forces of the world, and its culture produced a flowering of magnificent and enduring artworks.

Now that achievement can be seen in Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Victoria and Albert Museum, a stunning exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The show presents more than 100 masterpieces of Islamic art, many of them exhibited for the first time in this country, which demonstrate the richness and depth of Islamic civilization and the mastery of its artists from the 10th century to the 18th century.

The show includes beautiful examples of Islamic calligraphy, textiles and ivories as well as religious objects fashioned from precious metals and stones that were created by Islamic artists for both mosques and Christian churches, reflecting the religious tolerance that traditionally has characterized Islamic culture.

The exhibition focuses on two royal courts that flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries - the Ottoman dynasty that ruled much of the present-day Middle East from its capital at Istanbul, and the Safavid dynasty in Iran.

Both were enlightened patrons of the arts whose literary, artistic and architectural legacy rivaled that of the Christian West.

The show also examines the vibrant commercial and cultural exchanges that took place among Islamic, Chinese and European societies, which led to a process of artistic cross-fertilization that immeasurably enriched the arts of all three civilizations.

This is an ambitious and beautiful show that promises to be one of the highlights of this year's fall season.

The exhibition runs through Feb. 6. The museum is at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., in Washington. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free. Call 202-737-4215

For more arts events, see Page 35.

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