Tour The Louvre's Brand New Islamic Art Wing, Opening Amid Uproar Over Mohammed Cartoons

Islamic Art Wing facade, Louvre, Paris

Photo: © M. Bellini – R. Ricciotti / Musée du Louvre © 2012 Musée du Louvre / Philippe Ruault

France has long had a conflicted relationship with Islam, to say the least. Last year, former President Sarkozy banned the burqa and just recently, French interior minister Manuel Valls stated that France would ban all Muslim protests over a series of controversial Mohammed cartoons that were just published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Yet despite, or perhaps because of, all of this strife, the Louvre—one of the most popular museums in the world with about 8.8 million visitors each year—is getting ready to unveil a new Islamic art wing. The new wing will open tomorrow, in the midst of a very tense time between the West and the Muslim world.

Click here to jump to photos of the new wing >>

The $125 million project, which has been 10 years in the making, was funded by the the French government, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia (who gave the Louvre $20 million toward the galleries, according to The New York Times), corporations like oil company Total, and the governments of countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Morocco, Kuwait and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The new galleries, which will be housed in a bold modern building topped with an undulating glass and gold roof, will have about 30,000 square feet of exhibition space and will display about 3,000 works of Islamic art from the 7th to the 19th century.

The objective of the new gallery is “to present the luminous aspects of a civilisation” and “its impact on a richly varied humanity, by way of a broad and inclusive panorama presenting very different cultures (Andalusian, Mamluk, Ottoman, Persian, etc.),” according to a press release. The gallery seems to be a way to attempt to forge an understanding between the Muslim world and the Western world.

Sophie Makariou, head curator of the Louvre’s department of Islamic art, hopes the new wing will teach lessons about tolerance and diversity, according to an AP story.

“I like the idea of showing the other side of the coin,” Makariou said in the AP story. “We are talking about a diverse world that goes from the Atlantic, Spain and Morocco to India. It brings complexity.”

“We are suffering from simplistic views on the Islamic world,” she continued. “(Some) would make us believe that there is just one Islam, which is just not true.”

At one of the tensest times in recent history, perhaps this new art gallery is exactly what the world needs.

The futuristic new wing was designed by architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti. It's a bold and modern design that's the most controversial addition to the Louvre since I.M Pei's pyramid, which was built in 1989.

Source: Louvre Museum

The $125 million project took about 10 years to build and was financed by the the French government, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, the governments of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Morocco, Kuwait and the Republic of Azerbaijan, and corporations.

Source: Louvre Museum

The glass and metal roof allows natural light to filter into the galleries below. The roof is comprised of glass panels flanked on each side by metallic gold mesh sheets. The exterior mesh layer filters daylight and the interior mesh layer serves as the ceiling for the galleries.

Source: Louvre Museum

Source: Louvre Museum

Source: Louvre Museum

The new galleries, which span two floors, have about 30,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Source: Louvre Museum

On the upstairs level, works are displayed in clear glass cabinets that allow the art to be seen from all angles.

Source: Louvre Museum

Downstairs, where there is no natural light, carpets and manuscripts are displayed.

Source: Louvre Museum

The Louvre has a collection of over 18,000 pieces of Islamic art, including ceramics, sculptures, textiles, glassware, metalwork, manuscripts and more. However, only 3,000 works of art will be displayed at a time.

Source: Louvre Museum

The gallery will display works of art from the Ottoman era, such as this Iznik ceramic dish with a peacock, dating from about 1540.

Source: Louvre Museum

More than 3,500 pieces of art have been meticulously restored, including ceramics, metal, wood, rugs, carpets and textiles, stone, glass, stucco and works on paper.

Source: Louvre Museum

The stone Mamluk Porch was painstakingly restored and reconstructed. The porch, which was once part of a home during the Egyptian Mamluk dynasty, was assembled from about 300 loose stones which were fit together like puzzle pieces.

The porch was studied for years before drawings could be made and researchers could begin to reconstruct it.

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