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Between the Musée du Louvre and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs: two prestigious collections for the three modern Islamic Empires

Textiles and carpets: apogee of the decorative arts

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs collection is particularly well-provided with textiles: more than four hundred pieces, the vast majority of which are Ottoman pieces. The textile collection was begun by Jules Maciet (1846-1911) who in 1884 donated two Ottoman cushion covers. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs rapidly undertook a purchasing policy: at the Dupont-Auberville sale in 1885, at the Goupil sale in 1881, and perhaps more surprisingly, in 1878 objects were purchased from one of the big Parisian department stores, the Bon Marché. The beginning of the twentieth century saw the acquisition by Jules Maciet of the famous Safavid lampas signed by the naqshband Ghiyath, as well as the donations by the art dealer Dikran Khan Kélékian in 1903 and again in 1907 – the same year that the collector Octave Homberg donated an ensemble of thirteen pieces.
As for the Louvre collections, the first rug – a small sixteenth century kilim illustrating episodes from the story of Leyla and Majnum – was not acquired until 1904. In 1912 the Louvre made the important acquisition of a big Safavid carpet from the Collegiate Church of Mantes. In 1914 the rare and highly prestigious silk carpet attributed to Kashan, which had been previously owned by Joanny Peytel, entered the Louvre. In the 1980s, several good quality pieces were added to the collections.

Ottoman ceramics and the development of the “Turkish taste”

Put together, the collections of Ottoman ceramic tiles and vessels now in the Louvre and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs form an absolutely breathtaking ensemble.
The first donation of Ottoman ceramics made in 1856 – a dish with a “four flowers style” decor – came from the Sauvageot Collection. In 1909, following the Charles Piet-Lataudrie bequest, the Louvre was able to exhibit a number of extremely fine pieces, such as a blue and white dish with epigraphic decoration, two tankards, and a quite remarkable bowl decorated with carnations on an entirely red slip. Prestigious pieces continued to enrich the Louvre collections in the twentieth century, beginning with the donation in 1912 of two major pieces from the collection of the Baron Delort de Gléon, which were exhibited in the Louvre in 1922. A number of very fine pieces entered the Louvre in the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to the bequest by Claudius Côte, a collector from Lyon, and the donation by the Parisian art dealer Jean Soustiel.
The final prize piece of the collection of Ottoman ceramics is the superb dish (sahan) with saz decoration acquired by the Louvre in 1994. It belonged successively to the prestigious Kelekian, Macy and Gutnayer Collections, and is one of the great masterpieces of the art of Ottoman ornamentalists.
Very fine Ottoman “pieces” were purchased by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs from the art dealer Beshiktash in 1889 and 1894: a Baba Nakkas bowl and a blue and white dish with geometric decoration. Along with a very fine bottle offered in 1903 these were the most important acquisitions before the entry of a splendid collection of vessels and numerous tiles assembled by the Whitneys and bequeathed in 1932.

Paris, hub of the art market

During the last decades of the nineteenth century, Paris became the nerve center of the art market for objects from the East. Many art dealers were also donators: Dikran Kelekian (1868-1951), the Indoudjian brothers, Raoul Duseigneur (1845-1916), Clotilde Duffeuty, Léonce Rosenberg (1877-1947), Charles Vignier (1863-1934) and many others. Among the most distinguished donors to both the Louvre and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs we should mention in particular Gaston Migeon, and Raymond Koechlin (1860-1931), a curator at the Louvre and Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs.
The latter was to acquire the most famous of all dishes made at Iznik, the celebrated peacock dish. He first saw this masterpiece of Ottoman ceramics in a shop window in the Rue de Constantinople (sic) in the Europe quarter of Paris, but as he had to leave Paris urgently, he asked a friend to buy the piece for him.
On his return, he discovered that his friend had not purchased the dish – and that the magnificent piece had disappeared. When he finally traced it to London it was in the hands of an art dealer who quickly sensed how much his client wanted the piece and only let it go on condition that Koechlin buy a number of other pieces as well. The dish finally entered the Louvre in 1932 as part of the Raymond Koechlin bequest.
In 1932, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs collections were enormously enriched by the Whitney bequest mentioned above, a collection of pieces from the last centuries of the Islamic empires, among which thirty-eight Ottoman vessels, a considerable ensemble of tiles, and a vast number of Iranian pieces then known under the generic name of Kubachi.

The reign of Iran: Maiolica and miniatures from Persia

The Louvre collection of “Persian miniatures” is largely due to the magnificent bequest by Georges Marteau: ninety-one of the 103 works from this bequest are Iranian and Mughal paintings and drawings. Georges Marteau was an eminent collector and connoisseur of the arts of the book, who, with Henri Vever, organized the first exhibition of Islamic arts of the book in Paris. A number of major works was recently added to the collection, in particular six Ottoman pages, of which three are from the Siyar-i Nabi (Turkey, 1594-95), as well as a prestigious posthumous portrait of Mustafa II painted by Levni – a work the Louvre was able to obtain thanks to the generous patronage of the Sabanci Foundation. The portrait of Shah Abbas I painted by Muhammad Qasim in 1627, the only portrait made during the Shah’s lifetime, entered the Louvre in 1975. In all, after 1916, the Louvre collections were augmented by a hundred or so pieces, including the eleven paintings and drawings of the Koechlin bequest (1932).
The collection of the arts of the book began as early as 1882 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, when Maciet acquired a number of Mughal pages. It was in 1887 that a famous page from the Timurid anthology of the first third of the fifteenth century was purchased, which illustrates the meeting between Humay and Humayun. In the same year a superb page from an unidentified work in Persian and a page attributed to Reza-e Abbasi were purchased from the art dealer De la Narde. Four high quality album pages of the Bukhara School were offered by Gaston Migeon in 1930. At the Sevadjian sale in 1960, three pages were bought, including one representing a bird by the painter Sheykh Abbasi, the son of Reza. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs also has a small but excellent collection of book-bindings, some of which are still associated with their original manuscripts. Several formed part of the bequest made in 1914 by Piet-Lataudrie.
The Musée des Arts Décoratifs showed particular interest in sixteenth and seventeenth century pieces, but few acquisitions were made except for such objects as a luster bottle over a lavender blue glaze bought in 1894 from Beshiktash, and several objects purchased in 1895 from Beurdeley, notably a bowl decorated with carnations. The Union Centrale made several excellent purchases at Paris sales in the 1890s. A number of important donations completed these acquisitions: the Filippo gift in 1908 (Iranian tiles), and most important of all, the gift made in 1905 by Raymond Koechlin of a unique piece, a large dish decorated with a rosette. Finally the Whitney bequest brought to the Louvre a large number of pieces of similar type, known at the time as Kubachi wares.
Whereas both private collectors and museums centered all their attention on Ottoman ceramics – incorrectly known at the time as “ceramics from Rhodes” – Safavid ceramics were somewhat less favored and acquisitions at the Louvre were spaced over a number of years. In 1893, the antique dealer Clotilde Duffeuty donated the first Safavid ceramic vessels; in the same year the museum acquired one of the most beautiful luster bottles of the collection, depicting humped cattle in a landscape. A small group of mainly monochrome and luster pieces was acquired between 1893 and 1895, and then between 1895 and 1930 about ten very beautiful pieces were added. The massive purchase in 1981 of eighteen Iranian ceramic wares filled an important gap and radically changed the Safavid collections of the Louvre.

Mughal India

Mughal India, one of the great modern Islamic Empires, occupies but a tiny place in the Louvre collections which in no way reflects the remarkable artistic production of the Indian sub-continent of the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
The core of the collection is a fine ensemble of paintings and drawings acquired in two major ways. Some were seized during the Napoleonic conquests and originally formed part of the Musée Napoléon collections. These include eighty-one pages of varying quality – mainly eighteenth century pages, with several from provincial Indian schools. Others come from the Georges Marteau bequest – an ensemble of forty Mughal pages of calligraphy, paintings and drawings of quite exceptional quality. One example is the celebrated portrait of Jahangir holding the portrait of his deceased father Akbar, painted by two great Mughal artists. It was moreover in 1893 that the Louvre acquired the first pages of Mughal “miniatures” from Clotilde Duffeuty.
To complete the picture, we need to mention a fine collection of arms and armor, which still remains little known and for the most part unpublished. The first Mughal arms entered the Louvre in 1903 with the donation by Raymond Koechlin; in 1922 a number of pieces from various bequests were added, and finally there was the bequest of the Baroness Salomon de Rothschild, which included pieces of armor.
The Rothschild collections also comprises an ensemble of inlaid gems, one of the favorite types of objects commissioned by Mughal patrons, notably an ensemble of thirteen precious objects, including powder horns and bowls, mirrors and trays.
Over the last few years we have tried to restore India to the place it rightfully owns in the panorama of the last Islamic empires. For this reason acquisitions have been concentrated in the areas of architectural decoration, ivory, and ceramics.
The quest for the perfect collection is never-ending, never totally achieved. Since the 1980s the Louvre has taken every opportunity to acquire those objects which were almost totally absent from its collections: Indian bidri, Ottoman metalwares – still far too rare – and book-bindings.