The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries will hold the first major exhibition on the history of the Koran in the US, The Art Newspaper has learned, bringing together more than 50 sacred texts from the Arab Middle East, Persia, Turkey and North Africa.
In something of a coup, the exhibition in Washington, DC, will feature major loans from the unparalleled collections of Istanbul’s Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, after an impasse on loans to other exhibitions in the US and Europe over restitution claims. The loans from Turkey include parchment Koran folios dating back to the eighth century, some of the earliest known parts of the Koran in existence and extraordinary examples of calligraphy illuminated in gold ink.
What will Donald Trump think? The exhibition is due to open in mid-October, weeks before the US presidential election; during the campaign inflammatory comments about Muslims by the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, made headlines around the world. The gallery’s director, Julian Raby, says: “It will give American audiences the chance to appreciate the reverence and artistic skill that went into the production of some of the most beautiful known examples of the art of the Koran. Visitors will also learn about the many different people who copied, commissioned and collected these works.”
According to a statement from the gallery, the exhibition traces the history of the Koran over 900 years, from eighth-century Damascus through “the flowering of the art of the book across the Muslim world” to elaborate 16th- and 17th-century Ottoman Korans. The exhibition will also include mosque furnishings, from a Mamluk lamp to Koran boxes and stands made of ivory and mother of pearl.
The catalogue will be edited by Massumeh Farhad, the chief curator of Islamic art at the Freer-Sackler. One expert predicted a “glorious and glitzy show, with lots of colour and pattern and gold”. Turkey’s Koç Holding, founded by one of the country’s wealthiest families, is the lead sponsor.
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, founded in 1914, contains a collection of treasures, including carpets and metalwork, from across the Ottoman Empire. Its extraordinary manuscript collection includes documents and early Koran fragments rescued when the Damascus Umayyad Mosque burned down in the late 19th century.