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Collections: Arts of the Islamic World


Number of objects: more than 2,200
Historical range: early 9th–20th century
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page from the Haft Awrang

The phrases "arts of the Islamic World" and "Islamic art" refer to a variety of artistic traditions that have flourished since the advent of Islam in the late seventh century across a vast geographic area ranging from southern Spain and North Africa to the islands of Southeast Asia. While different regions developed their own distinctive styles, they also share certain characteristics, such as the use of calligraphy to transform simple objects into works of art or the use of abstract designs to decorate works intended for religious contexts. The continuous movement of artists, patrons, and objects throughout the Islamic world has played a critical role in determining the dynamic nature of its artistic tradition.

The Freer and Sackler galleries have one of the finest collections of Islamic art in the United States, with particular strengths in ceramics and illustrated manuscripts.

Highlights of the collection include:

  • An important collection of ceramics from the 9th–13th century, representing a variety of shapes, techniques, and designs, primarily from Iran and the Arab world
  • Egyptian and Syrian metalwork from the 13th century, including two of the most important examples decorated with Christian imagery
  • A collection of 9th–19th-century Korans (intact volumes and detached folios) from Iran, the Arab world, and Turkey
  • 14th-century Syrian glass
  • A distinguished collection of illustrated and illuminated manuscripts from Iran and the Arab world, including the Divan (Collected poems) of Sultan Ahmad Jalayir, ca. 1400; Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones) by Jami, dated 1556–66; and the largest number of illustrations from the 14th-century Mongol Shahnama (Book of Kings), one of the most important illustrated texts of the Islamic world
  • Some one-hundred 19th-century Central Asia ikats from the Guido Goldman Collection