A rarely-seen collection of about 100 art objects from the Islamic world is on display at the Ringling Museum of Art.
On loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, “Ink, Silk and Gold” spans more than 1,000 years of history and countries and cultures from Moorish Spain to Indonesia with artworks in textiles, paintings, ceramics, metalwork and manuscripts.
“It’s a really rare opportunity to have this type of material here for our community,” said Chris Jones, assistant curator of exhibitions at the Ringling. “This is one of the best collections to give a coherent, meaningful survey of Islamic art and to explore the concept of what it means.”
The exhibition is organized both chronologically and regionally, with artworks from societies where Islam was the dominant religious faith and cultural force. Some of the objects are religious, while others are secular and reflective of people’s lives.
“The exquisiteness of some of these objects is just absolutely stunning,” said Jones, noting in particular a Mamluk pulpit door from 14th- or 15th-century Egypt, made from wood with ivory and bone.
“It’s fascinating because it’s an amalgam of different time periods, different decorative elements that have been brought together in this door, designs that go back over a couple of hundred years. It shows that abstract design detail work that we’ve come to associate with Islamic art.”
The hardcover catalog that accompanies the show was written by MFA Boston curator Laura Weinstein, who will be in town this weekend for a ViewPoint lecture Saturday morning at the museum. In the catalog’s introduction, she notes that the concept of “Islamic art” originated in the late 19th century among European scholars who were studying the literature, archaeology and coins from the countries of the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and India.
“Studying manuscripts, pottery and ancient coins, they became curious about other objects Islamic societies had produced,” wrote Weinstein. “Their interest was further propelled by a desire among Europeans for new sources of inspiration to rejuvenate Western industrial arts and manufacturing.”
The museum, said Jones, is one of the outstanding museums in the world, “so when they go out to collect, they collect the finest instances they can. Some of the best ceramics, the best textiles.”
The textiles range from a woman’s heavy silk velvet ceremonial robe from Uzbekistan, on display in the first gallery, to a mid-16th century velvet roundel from an Ottoman tent, decorated with human and animal figures.
The exhibition’s title comes from the significance of the materials used to create them, said Jones.
“Ink is particularly important because writing was one of the most important aspects of Islamic culture,” he said. “Because representational art was seen as being disrespectful, writing, calligraphy, became an important form of artistic creation.
“Silk was at the heart of trade, but also as decoration and was a significant way of demonstrating satus or wealth.
“And finally gold, as a universal material, used as an adornment.”
Like most touring exhibitions at the museum, “Ink, Silk and Gold” was scheduled several years ago.
“I think it’s really great timing to have a show like this,” said Jones. “It helps people engage with Islamic culture in a venue that can support a lot of discussion and dialogue. It’s showing Islamic culture in a way that’s accessible to viewers.”
Ink, Silk and Gold: Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Feb. 5 through May 1 in the Searing Wing, Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Special programming includes ViewPoint lecture by Laura Weinstein, MFA Boston curator, “Ink, Silk and Gold, Medium and Meaning in Islamic Art” at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 6 ($10, $5 members); and Gallery Walk and Talk tours at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Feb. 25, April 14 and April 28. Museum admission $25, children $5. 941-358-3180; www.ringling.org.