If you live within regional public transport distance of Paris you can visit the Louvre the way you would explore a town or, if that is more to your liking, a shopping neighbourhood: just agree on a meeting place and time and decide on the spot what to do.

This is a great privilege. Feeling down? Go to the Louvre. Seeking inspiration? Go to the Louvre. It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon and your summer holidays have just begun? Go to the Louvre. It is adviseable to go among friends if you have compatible museum-visiting styles, for otherwise you will always want to drop by the departments you visited before, all too aware of how much you have missed.

This, then, is what a friend and I did yesterday. We were heading vaguely towards French 19th-century sculpture, which I am not particularly interested in but my friend had not seen yet. But before getting anywhere close, we drifted into the temporary Islamic Arts exhibition. And what a stroke of luck this turned out to be. It was an outstanding, sublime, glorious experience. It blew my socks off. Not chiefly due to the presentation: we could have found a few points to criticise (e.g. the lighting, which produced a lot of glare on some of the glass-paneled cabinets, the lack of written notes elucidating the various periods and styles; the fact that it was the first Sunday of the month, when admission is free, didn’t help either). But we didn’t feel like quibbling.

I have always snubbed Decorative Art. But we all have to eat our words at one point or another. Those artists achieved a level of artistic expression I would not have imagined possible. I am talking about crockery and other household items, paneled surfaces, lamps … Starting from the 9th century, they were able to produce blown-glass vases and lamps of prodigious delicacy and craftsmanship. As for science, just look at this mid 12th-century engraved and silver-incrusted celestial sphere and tell me you are not speechless.

Owing to the crowd of people, I tired out quickly, and we stayed for only just over an hour. I’m definitely going back with my camera this week. The Louvre, thankfully, allows photography.

You can see a very small number of the exhibits through the Louvre link above (choose “Selected works”) or in this slideshow. The image file of the panel depicted there – the photo is very far from doing justice to the original – was subjected to a quick and dirty gimp job to create this site’s present background. Yes, it is a sacrilege and clashes with whatever design idea I may have had in mind. (Feel free to steal, change and use it, or leave a comment if you want me to send you the file.)

President Chirac demanded last December that the Louvre open a permanent Islamic Arts department, so we are going to get one in 2009. It might be the only time I say this, but he has my unqualified approval. The temporary exhibition runs until April 2005.

2 comment(s) for 'Louvre: Islamic Art / Arts de l’Islam'

  1. (Comment, 2004-07-06 20:23 )
    #1 — be

    kewl blog u got here

  2. (Comment, 2004-07-06 23:50 )

    well, thanks, i guess.