Mulling About the Met

To close off our new Islamic wings visits, we’re hopping across the pond from London’s Victoria and Albert Islamic Wing to NY. In 2011 The Met opened 19,000 sq feet (1770 m) of space devoted to Islamic art (the formal name of which is so long I’m not going to bother with it here). They haven’t had a new wing devoted to Islamic art since 1975. Worse, still, that was closed in 2003 to make room for the expanded Greek and Roman wing (which is utterly divine, by the way). The irony being, of course that this decision was made 2 years after 9/11, the very same year Chirac was ordering the Louvre’s Islamic collection. At the time plenty of critics pointed out that the west was being given priority so literally over the middle east.


Mistakes aside, the Met’s made right and after nearly a decade of debating has invested 50 million dollars to showcase their 12,000-piece strong Islamic collection. Construction started in 2009, in the midst of economic hardship, and this past November opened their 15 rooms.  I would like to have a brief visit with the naturalist painter, Mansur, a fine Indian included in the permanent collection, but just a quick aside:

The Met made an interesting decision to include a 16th century illuminated manuscript folio of the Prophet Muhammad. Thomas Campbell, de Montebello’s replacement, said “we hope that does not become a lightening-rod issue.” I don’t much care for Campbell (basically because he’s not Philippe de Montebello. When I was at Vanity Fair and fearful of losing any cultural education, I volunteered at the Met often, which is when I fell in love with the cadence of de Montebello’s voice and fine lemon-lipped accent. He could be telling the room the sky was blue and I’d find it sublimely insightful), but I respect Campbell for saying that the reason Muhammad is included is because they didn’t want to be accused of ‘ducking’ the issue.

There are tons of pieces to choose from, among them the Damascus Room, an 18th C wood-paneled reception chamber entirely intact, but for now I’d like to have a small visit with this blue bull, Nilgai. It is a page or leaf from the Shah Jahan Album (aka the Emperor’s Album or the Kevorkian Album).

Ink, opaque water color and gold on paper, he’s painted by the “Wonder of his age”, Mansur. During Jahangir’s reign (1605-1627) in the Mughal Empire, the painter Mansur accompanied the Emperor everywhere in order to paint page after page of natural phenomena. I suppose one could argue that Jahangir would have surely been a blogger, because as a copious diary keeper, he also insisted on having drawings to enhance his stories. And nature was his muse. This finely framed, delicate-legged bull antelope is taxonomically correct apparently. I wouldn’t know I haven’t ever seen an antelope, let alone a blue-tinged bull antelope. But there’s something sweet about the fellow. Here’s a real one, though he doesn’t look so blue to me, nor so sweet with those sharp horns.

a real blue bull,

Perhaps I was struck by Mansur’s gentle soul because he reminded me of an old friend at the Louvre, Pieter Boel: Another 17th Century naturalist painter, who has made plenty of appearances in plenty of THATLous. Hmmmm. Thoughts for the next post are already bubbling!

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