Doha: For the first time in the United States, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art presents an exceptional group of 17th century textiles and full-length oil portraits of Safavid Iran (1501 – 1722) on loan from the Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).
Fashioning an Empire: Safavid Textiles, presented from December 18, 2021 to May 15, 2022, is part of the Qatar-USA Cultural Year 2021, an annual international cultural exchange designed to deepen understanding between nations and their peoples.
Complemented by some of the finest illustrated handwritten paintings from the National Museum of Asian Art, the exhibition highlights the importance of silk in the social, economic and religious life of 17th century Iran and its role in positioning the empire at the heart of a dynamic exchange world.
In addition to fueling economic prosperity, textiles served as powerful intermediaries for new artistic ideas and spurred a dynamic new Safavid pictorial language.
“It is very meaningful to have this collection on display in Washington, DC, so that the public outside of Doha can see these precious Safavid textiles and full-length portraits for the first time,” said Dr Julia Gonnella, director of the Museum of Islamic Art.
“These exquisite brocade rugs and textiles are a testament to the importance of Persian silk to the country of Iran as an export to the Ottoman Empire and Europe. And their details are also attractive in themselves.
MIA, one of the world’s premier Islamic art institutions, is currently leading a facility improvement project to relocate its permanent collection galleries to provide a more accessible, engaging and educational experience. The reinvention of the collection’s galleries will introduce a comprehensive tour route, create expanded interpretive material to help contextualize the masterpieces, and provide new mobile and child-friendly resources to make the museum more accessible to families and to young visitors. Many newly acquired and curated works of art will be exhibited with a large percentage displayed in the permanent galleries of MIA for the first time, alongside the masterpieces for which MIA is known internationally.
“We are delighted to welcome visitors to this historic exhibit which tells such a poignant story of global and artistic exchange,” said Chase F. Robinson, Museum Director Dame Jillian Sackler.
“We are particularly proud to bring to the public the rich artistic traditions of the Safavid Empire, which ruled for over 200 years and under which Persia became a great cultural center. Painting, ironwork, textiles and carpets, as well as architecture, poetry and philosophy reached new levels of excellence under Safavid patronage.
“In organizing the exhibition, I sought not only to evoke the remarkable cosmopolitanism of 17th century Iran, but also to communicate the power of textiles as one of the most effective vectors for conveying new artistic ideas between East and West, ”Massumeh said. Farhad, chief curator and curator of Persian, Arab and Turkish art of the Ebrahimi family at the National Museum of Asian Art. She is currently Senior Associate Director for Research.
Shah Abbas I (reigned 1589-1629), who ruled Iran from his new capital Isfahan, turned silk into the empire’s most lucrative export commodity.
Transported by land and sea to Europe, Russia and the East, silk brought great wealth and prosperity to Iran. Fabrics were fashioned into clothing and used as indicators of status and wealth; they played an equally important role as furnishings, upholstery, blankets and curtains.
“It has been a great honor to work with the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art on Shaping an Empire: The Safavid Textiles of the Museum of Islamic Art,” said Aisha Al Attiya, director of cultural diplomacy, Qatar Museums.
“Over the past year, as part of the Qatar-USA Cultural Year 2021, we have had the opportunity to introduce Qatari culture and traditions to the people of the United States. We are happy to share important works from the famous collection of the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar Museums with the American public and we are delighted that this exhibition is open to the public on December 18, Qatar National Day. It’s a great way for us to close our 2021 program. ”
The Qatar-USA Cultural Year 2021 saw a wide range of exhibitions, festivals, bilateral exchanges and events in Qatar and the United States throughout the year, including the opening of Jeff Koons: Lost in America at QM Gallery Al Riwaq, Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech at the Fire Station, and the US edition of JEDARIART, a public art initiative of Qatar museums, which has seen Qatari artists leave their mark on the city walls of several cities in the United States. Qatar-U.S. Culture Year 2021 is sponsored by ExxonMobil.