Monday, November 28, 2011

The Splendors of the East

We also walked through the Met's newly restored Islamic Galleries, which are fresh, impressive and beautiful. I was particularly taken by an Andalusian silk curtain of dating back to the 15th century. Only four examples of such curtains remain, but they must have been a pervasive features of the great palaces, rippling in soft breezes. 

I never knew such things existed. When we saw the Alhambra in Granada earlier this year, there were no fabrics or carpets in the main halls, of course. The original appearance must have been very different.

 It often happens that way. In the frieze of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo from the late Roman Empire in Ravenna, the colonnade of the Roman porticoes is filled with beautiful hangings, rather than just the severe white marble piillars of our own imagination.  And the bare walls of medieval castles had their lavish tapestries. 

All mostly lost.  Just the bare stones remain.

It is often the small things that make a difference. 

I also was amazed by the illustrated leaves from the Tahmasp Shahnameh, a remarkably illuminated sixteenth century version of the Persian epic. 

At the same time, the sheer dazling profusion of intricate luxury art in the Islamic wing leaves one wondering what happened to the average Iraqi or Egyptian peasant. The fabled riches of the East lie, at least in small part, here for view. But only as museum pieces. 

The wealth and vigor of Abbasid Islam has gone, replaced at best by Dubai shopping malls. 

I did get sufficiently intrigued by the script to try to learn to make out a few arabic letters. It makes it feel that more intelligible. 

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