Exhibitions: Spirit and Life - Aga Khan Museum
Aga Khan Development Network

Spirit and Life

The London exhibition displayed over 165 objects from the collection showing the diversity of artistic traditions in the Muslim world. Textiles, exquisite miniatures, rare manuscripts, ceramics, precious pages from the Qur’an, scientific medical texts, books of fables, and tiles and musical instruments were shown alongside some of the finest portraits of Ottoman sultans and Qajar shahs of the 19th century.

Spirit and LifeSpirit and Life
Running from 14 July through 31 August 2007, the "Spirit & Life" exhibition brought a number of rare manuscripts and objects to the The Ismaili Centre, South Kensington, London. Over 28,000 visitors came to the exhibition, drawn to take a rare glimpse at one of the finest illustrated manuscripts ever produced, the Persian epic Shahnama (The Book of Kings) and an extremely rare copy of the Canon of Medicine of Ibn Sina, which was used in Europe and the Middle East as the standard medical textbook for over 500 years.
The Exhibition was divided into two sections, "The Word of God" and "The Power of the Sovereign". "The Word of God" provided an insight into themes such as prayer, devotions and spirituality. "The Power of the Sovereign" showed some of the finest works of art from the major historical courts of the Islamic world. Displays devoted to "The Path of Princes" represented art of the medieval and early modern Islamic courts alongside scientific texts of medicine, books of fables, miniatures, tiles, ceramics and musical instruments.The exhibition also covered a geographical area stretching from India in the East to Morocco in the West and spans over a thousand years from the ninth to the 19th century.

Highlights included:

  • an extraordinarily rare and probably the earliest extant manuscript of volume 5 of the Canon of Medicine of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), dated 1052 CE. The Canon is perhaps the single most influential text in the history of medicine. Such was its usefulness that from its origins in the early 11th century in western Iran, it was used all over the Middle East and Europe as the standard medical text for a period of five centuries. The Canon formed the basis of medical teaching at European universities until the beginning of modern times.
  • A folio from the "Houghton" Shahnama, made for the Safavid ruler of Persia, Shah Tahmasp. The manuscript is decorated with 258 miniatures, attributable to almost all of the major Persian artists of the first half of the 16th century and universally acknowledged as not only one of the finest illustrated manuscripts of any period but also among the greatest works of art in the world. The Shahnama or Book of Kings is the Persian national epic by Firdausi, who spent almost 35 years composing the 30,000 couplets, finally completing it in about 1010 CE.
  • A page from the Blue Qur’an, one of the most extraordinary and most luxurious Qur’an manuscripts ever produced. Created for the Fatimid imam-caliphs ruling North Africa in the early 10th century, it is a wonder of Islamic calligraphy.
  • A dervish’s begging bowl made in the form of a boat. Such bowls were carried by itinerant dervishes. This refined and beautiful bowl is one of five important Safavid examples from the end of the 16th century and has a wide band of elegant inscriptions in Persian and several bands of floral interlace decoration.
  • An 11th century bird incense burner. A masterpiece of medieval bronze casting, it was probably made in the Islamic Mediterranean. Metalwork incense burners were made in a variety of shapes including animal forms such as lions and birds and the incense was emitted through the pierce-work decoration of their bodies.
  • A late 10th or early 11th century lustre jar. Produced in Egypt, the jar appears to be the only surviving example of this type that is intact. The beautiful decoration consists of knotting or braiding cables and foliated kufic calligraphy.
  • Albarellos (apothecary jar for medicaments) were popular in Syria in the 14th century, and such jars were produced in large quantities both for the home market and for export to Europe, especially Italy. This example has an armorial shield which is an azure on argent variant of the arms of the city of Florence.
  • A slip-decorated pottery dish decorated with geometry and calligraphy and produced in the eastern Iranian world in the 10th century. The organised polychrome decorative programme consists of a central interlacing strapwork pattern. Colourful abstract motifs are inserted between the vertical letters of the kufic inscription.
  • Three folios from the Akhlaq-i Nasiri, a philosophical treatise divided into three discourses, dealing with ethics, social justice and politics. Written by Nasir al-Din Tusi, a philosopher, man of letters and one of the great intellects of medieval Iran, the subject-matter of the Akhlaq-i Nasiri did not lend itself to illustration. However, this manuscript was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Akbar in the late 16th century and is uniquely illustrated with 17 full-page miniatures.
  • One of the most sumptuous and rarest examples of a complete robe from the Mongol period. The cut of the robe is typically Mongol, with its full skirt, its broad wrap-over, and the extremely long sleeves. It is likely that this robe originated in Central Asia in the late 13th or early 14th century.

For more information, please see the press release and speeches by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and His Highness the Aga Khan.

"Spirit and Life" catalogue
Format: PDF
Language: English
Size: 16.04MB
222 pages