|Media only: Irene Nemitsas: 202.633.0521
Barbara Kram: 202.633.0520
Public only: 202.633.1000
Media Preview: Tuesday, May 4 at 9 a.m. R.S.V.P. (202) 633-0519Boldly painted ceramics, sumptuously patterned textiles, medieval maps and navigational instruments; finely illuminated Islamic, Christian and Jewish manuscripts and gold and silver coins are some examples of the enduring artistic and cultural legacy of Islamic Spain (known as “al-Andalus” in Arabic) that will be on view from May 8 through Oct. 17 at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “Caliphs and Kings: The Art and Influence of Islamic Spain” presents 89 rarely exhibited objects from the collection of the Hispanic Society of America in New York—considered to be the finest holding of decorative arts from Islamic Spain in the Americas—with key additions from the Freer Gallery of Art and the National Museum of American History.
“This exhibition highlights the extraordinary artistic inventory produced during the great civilization that flourished in medieval Spain,” says Freer and Sackler director Julian Raby.
“The Mosaic Foundation of Washington is delighted to be the principal sponsor of ‘Caliphs and Kings;’ the centerpiece of the Mosaic Al-Andalus Festival celebrating a period in history when extraordinary accomplishments sprang from harmonious interactions between people of diverse religious and cultural viewpoints” says Nermin Fahmy, Chairman of the Al-Andalus Festival.
In the early eighth century, an army led by Berber allies of the Umayyads (661–750)—the first Islamic dynasty based in Damascus—conquered most of the Iberian peninsula. For the next seven centuries, a succession of Muslim rulers governed this fertile and economically strategic region. Inhabited by Christians, Muslims and Jews, al-Andalus flourished into the most sophisticated culture in the Mediterranean, and became one of the principal centers for the dissemination of Islamic literature, sciences and the arts throughout medieval Europe.
Throughout their rule, the Muslim rulers of Spain withstood continuous attacks from both their Christian neighbors to the north and Muslim rivals to the south. By the mid-13th century, their territory was confined to the southern kingdom of Granada. In 1492, King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella finally defeated the Nasrids (1232–1492), the last Muslim rulers of al-Andalus and the patrons of the celebrated fortified palace of the Alhambra, reuniting the Iberian peninsula under Christian rule.
The Muslims who remained in Spain, however, continued to contribute to its artistic, literary and scientific legacy. Transcending social, religious and political boundaries, Christian kings and nobility, as well as the Church, remained enthusiastic patrons of Mudéjar (Muslims living under Christian rule) artists and craftsmen, and later of the Moriscos (Muslims converted to Christianity) until their expulsion in the early 17th century. The works on view at the Sackler bear witness to the enduring creative interaction that took place between Muslim artists, Jewish scribes and their patrons in medieval Spain.
This exhibition marks the centennial of the Hispanic Society of America, which has never before loaned in a significant way to another institution. The Society’s collection was assembled by the American scholar and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington (1870–1955). The unusually broad variety of objects on view, some of which are described below, fall into five categories:
“Caliphs and Kings: The Art and Influence of Islamic Spain” is made possible by a generous gift from the Mosaic Foundation. Additional support has been provided by the Latino Initiatives Pool of the Smithsonian Institution, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Spain, the Embassy of Spain, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, General Motors, Lockheed Martin, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Riggs National Corporation, Saks Fifth Avenue, Saudi Aramco, Shell International, and The Boeing Company.
BOOK: a color-illustrated, 178-page book by Heather Ecker accompanies the exhibition. Published by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution and distributed by University of Washington Press, the book is available from the museum shop at asia.si.edu
For additional information about the Mosaic Foundation’s Al-Andalus Festival, which will be held in Washington, D.C. from May 7 – May 18, go to www.mosaicfound.org
The Freer and Sackler galleries together form the national museum of Asian art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day. Admission is free. This summer from June 24-July 29, the galleries remain open on Thursday evenings until 8 p.m. for “Art Night on the Mall.” The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the special, exhibition-related section of the galleries’ web site at asia.si.edu.