So after this bout of considering the Near Eastern Antiquities (from the oldest piece at the Louvre, to huge gentle Lamassus, fearsome Persian griffins and big bulls), what’s more logical than to turn my attention to the Louvre’s imminent Islamic Art wing in the Visconti Wing? It’s been in the making for quite some time. Back when Chirac and his adorable nose were leading France, the NY Times ran a piece on one of the major donors to construct the new wing. Apparently Saudi Prince Walid bin Talal’s donation of $20 million was the largest gift ever made to a museum. Though Prince Walid owns 17% of the not so successful Eurodisney, he also has several luxury hotels in Paris (among them the George V). More interesting to finance people, he’s also Citigroup’s largest single shareholder, so I suppose a $20 million gift is a drop in the bucket. At the 2005 unveiling of the plans for the wing, the French gov’t pledged $31 million, and Total, the French oil company, coughed up a measly $4.8 million. Anyway, pennies aside here’s the photo the Times ran:
For more than 25 years the Louvre has kept most of its 17,500 pieces of Islamic art, ranging from the 7th to the 19th Centuries, in storage. It has one the world’s most important collections of carpets, as well as Ottoman empire art.
So in 2003, when Chirac was pitting France against its Anglo allies (god bless him – and let’s not forget de Villepin for his delivery to the UN. Have just thrown in a snap of this silver fox for good measure. I hear pretty faces sell) in the debate over the war in Iraq, he ordered the opening of an Islamic Art Department.
Architects Mario Bellini (Italian) and Rudy Ricciotti (French) won the competition to create the 3,500 meter squared space in Denon’s Visconti Courtyard. The glass and steel structure is the most dramatic change to the Louvre’s neoclassical architecture since IM Pei’s pyramid entrance and inverted pyramid were unveiled in 1989 and 1993, respectively.
The Guardian quoted Mario Bellini in 2008 as saying “the roof is only supported by eight very narrow tubes which are leaning and dancing together and which support the weight of the veil to the bottom of the foundations”, two levels below. Ricciotti has described the 150-ton structure as a “golden cloud”, a more diplomatic description than Bellini’s “headscarf blown in by the wind”, which he said when Sarkozy laid the first stone in July 2008. One does have to wonder if Bellini was taking a small stab at the French for outlawing Muslim headscarves in public schools with such a visceral description.
The Louvre recently announced in a press release that the €98 million wing would open this summer, but Le Figaro reported that the Louvre still needs to raise €10 million. Previously the Visconti Cour was slated to open in 2009, 2010 and now this, so we’ll see. Whenever it does open, getting a glimpse of the nearly 18,000 pieces will be a treat.
In the coming days I might linger on new Islamic wings in other museums, such as the Met’s November 2011 unveiling of their 12,000 Islamic works or London’s V&A, which opened the Jameel Gallery recently. I’m straying a bit from THATLou in these posts, and my training is based exclusively on Western Art (Baroque Roman architecture to be specific), but who knows perhaps one day I’ll send people on a THATVA at the Victoria and Albert, and this December we already had a wonderful THATMet in my hometown. If you’re going to a major city and would like to be sent on a museum treasure hunt, contact me at email@example.com and perhaps I can cook something up!