The Human Figure in Islamic Art - Holy Men, Princes, and Commoners
November 24, 2017, to May 13, 2018
The special exhibition The Human Figure in Islamic Art — Holy Men, Princes, and Commoners presents 75 masterpieces from large parts of the classical Islamic world to about 1850. All of them feature human figures.
Many people believe that it is not permitted to depict human figures in the Islamic cultural sphere. This is a qualified truth, however. While some Muslims have criticized and even destroyed human depictions, considering them to be idols, others have from the very earliest period commissioned works of art with human figures as an essential element. They appear on everything from utility ware such as ceramic dishes, inlaid metalwork, and textiles to architecture. Human figures are especially found, however, on the detailed miniature paintings that illustrate manuscripts or are independent works of art.
The exhibition focuses primarily on the different ways in which the human figure has been used in Islamic art, from an ornament and symbol to scientific diagrams, narrative illustrations, and independent paintings or drawings. The exhibition’s works of art were mainly made for the highest social strata in the Muslim world, and a dominant theme is “The Prince and the Court,” which features both actual portraits of rulers and depictions of the princes’ public and more relaxed, private life.
“The Religious Sphere” presents depictions of many of the men and women that Islam has in common with Judaism and Christianity, for example Noah, King Solomon, and Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The Prophet Muhammad is also found on several paintings, as are the many people who in later periods dedicated their lives to God.
The exhibition features themes such as “Depictions of Women” and “Exotic and Supernatural Beings,” and in many cases it is striking that there is not a great difference between how depictions of the human figure appear in the Islamic world and in the West. The theme “Love” thus presents examples of infatuation, unrequited love, erotic desire, and love of God.
All of the works on exhibit are from the museum’s own collection. Several are new acquisitions and are presented here for the first time.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the David Collection has issued a richly illustrated catalogue in collaboration with Strandberg Publishing. See the link to the press release here. The authors are the David Collection’s director, Kjeld von Folsach, and its senior curator, Joachim Meyer. The catalogue moreover features a chapter by Professor Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, University of Copenhagen, who considers the human figure in the Islamic world from a modern perspective.
The catalogue can be purchased in the museum shop for DKK 300. The shop also sells an exhibition poster for DKK 40 and a number of post cards with motifs from a selection of the works on display.
The exhibition will be open from November 24, 2017, to May 13, 2018.
Admission to the museum and the special exhibition is free.