Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts

Resnick Pavilion
June 5, 2011–September 5, 2011
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Gifts of the Sultan explores Islamic art through the universal tradition of gift giving. Many of the most spectacular and historically significant examples of Islamic art can be classified as gifts, a number of which will be brought together for the unique purpose of this exhibition to demonstrate the integral and complex nature of gift exchange in the Islamic world. 

The exhibition spans the eighth through nineteenth centuries and includes 200 works of art representing a rich variety of media from three continents. These spectacular works of art are associated with the great Islamic courts from Spain to India, where gift giving was a fundamental activity. Gifts were intended to further diplomatic and political ambitions; as rewards for services rendered; to celebrate annual events like the New Year or more personal occasions such as weddings, and as expressions of piety, often associated with the construction or enhancement of religious monuments.           

The exhibition also includes a small contemporary component with new work by Sadegh Tirafkhan, Shahzia Sikander, and Ahmed Mater, who were commissioned to interpret the theme of the exhibition.

This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with support from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It was made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Camilla Chandler Frost. It was supported in part by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The Los Angeles presentation was made possible in part by LACMA’s Wallis Annenberg Director’s Endowment Fund. The publication was made possible by The Hagop Kevorkian Fund. Additional support was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Image: Sindukht Comes to Sam Bearing Gifts, Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, Iran, Tabriz, 1525–35, 18 3/8 x 12 3/8 in. Aga Khan Museum Collection, Geneva (AKM00496) Photo © Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Geneva.

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Turkey
Late 16th–17th century
Pair of Bracelets
Syria or Egypt
11th century
Cameo
India
17th century
Mosque Lamp
Italy, Venice
16th century

Rokh (The Rook)

The game of chess, according to the Iranian national epic, the Shahnama (Book of Kings), arrived in Iran with an envoy from India who threatened that the Raj would cease sending tribute to the shah unless he could figure out the riddle of the chessboard and its pieces. Watch the game of chess come to life in this 1974 film The Rook by director Ali Akbar Sadeghi.

Courtesy of Bidoun.

Artist Interpretations in Gifts of the Sultan, Part II: Q&A with Ahmed Mater

Ahmed Mater, from Abha, Saudi Arabia, is both an artist and a practicing physician. In his Illumination series, to which this beautiful diptych belongs, Mater draws inspiration from the Islamic arts of the book, in particular manuscripts of the Qur’an, whose pages were decorated with illuminated borders, headings, and verse markers...

Artist Interpretations in Gifts of the Sultan, Part III: Q&A with Shahzia Sikander

Shahzia Sikander trained in the traditional art of Indo-Persian miniature painting at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, and went on to receive an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Representing a fusion of East and West, this piece evokes the art of miniature painting but in an entirely original manner...

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