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Museum of Fine Arts, Houston doubles gallery space for precious and exquisite Islamic art

MFAH doubles its gallery space for precious and exquisite Islamic art

Rudaba’s Parents Converse about her Love for Zal Museum of Fine Arts
“Rudaba’s Parents Converse about her Love for Zal,” folio 77v from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Fans of art from the Islamic world now have an expanded showcase in Houston, thanks to a 15-year initiative by the city’s leading arts museum. The Museum of Fine Arts will double its galley space for art from historic Islamic lands, with new galleries opening in early 2023.

These new galleries will reveal hundreds of additional works, including paintings, manuscripts, ceramics, carpets and metalwork spanning more than 1,000 years. The pieces will reflect the breadth of historic Islamic lands: present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Iraq,  Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, and Morocco, the museum notes.

With this expansion, the MFAH can now present its permanent collection, enhanced by a significant selection of Persian masterworks from the collection of Hossein Afshar, as well as objects on loan from The al Sabah Collection. This partnership with the Afshar collection is the second initiated by the museum; the first was in 2012’s agreement with The al-Sabah  Collection, Kuwait — considered a landmark partnership at the time.

As for the galleries: The new spaces will be sited on the street level of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Caroline Wiess Law Building and will boast nearly 6,000 square feet of space, including an adjoining garden. Plans for the outdoor space include a fountain and landscaping inspired by Islamic gardens. 

Highlights of the inaugural installation, per the museum, include “Rudaba’s Parents Converse about her Love for Zal,” folio 77v from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. This work from the 1520s is attributed to ‘Abd al-‘Aziz under the  direction of Sultan Muhammad (both Persian, active first half of the 16th century.) A work of ink, opaque watercolor, gold, and silver on paper, this folio is from the celebrated copy of the Shahnama prepared for the Safavid ruler Shah Tahmasp (1524–76). The now-dispersed manuscript once included 759 text folios and 258  paintings of the highest quality.

Other precious pieces include a Moroccan Qur’an manuscript in Maghribi script, a 17th-century Iranian silk carpet, and a mid-17th-century huqqa base from India displaying intricate landscape artwork.

“Ten years ago, we established a landmark partnership with The al-Sabah collection to share with the MFAH their extraordinary holdings of art from Islamic lands,” said Gary Tinterow, director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH, in a statement.

“These new and expanded permanent galleries devoted to Art of the Islamic Worlds are made possible by a new partnership with Hossein Afshar, creator of perhaps the most extensive collection of Iranian art in private hands. We are immensely grateful to Mr. Afshar, who has endowed a gallery for the Arts of Iran and placed his collection on long-term loan in Houston so that we may enhance our effort to reflect the city whose many communities we serve.”