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Chinese and Islamic worlds at Louvre Abu Dhabi

A new ground-breaking exhibition at Louvre Abu Dhabi unearths the long cultural and artistic exchange between Chinese and Islamic civilisations from the 8th to the 18th century. Through a display of 240 masterpieces, the exhibition explores the remarkable and little-known history of these cultural exchanges.

Writing case with Arabic inscriptions China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen, Ming dynasty, reign of Zhengde (1506–1521) Porcelain, underglaze cobalt decoration, Paris, Musée National des Arts Asiatiques–Guimet Photo credit: © RMN-Grand Palais (MNAAG, Paris) / Daniel Arnaudet


Dragon and Phoenix – Centuries of Exchange between Chinese and Islamic Worlds includes over 200 artefacts from two worlds rich in culture, arts, and sciences: China (the dragon) and the Islamic world (the phoenix). The exhibition explores the connections, artistic influences and untold stories of more than 800 years of exchange through land and sea trade routes, between the 8th - 18th century

When the Dragon and the Phoenix met, who could have predicted the impact on trade, art and history?

Journeying from the Mashriq and the Arabian Peninsula through Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, and to China and Vietnam, the Dragon and Phoenix reveals a long and rich history of mutual admiration and influence reflected in both material and immaterial exchanges.

Vase with dragons and clouds China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen, 14th century, Ming dynasty (1368–1644) Photo credit: © RMN-Grand Palais (Limoges, Cité de la céramique) / Tony Querrec


Highlights from the exhibition include a rare Yuan dynasty gold Cup with dragon-shaped handle from China, some of the best luxury silk fabrics ever created, a “Fabulous animal” (potentially a dragon) chiseled on gilded silver, plus drawings, manuscripts and ink paintings.

Cup with dragon-shaped handle China, Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) Hammered embossed gold with chasing, Louvre Abu Dhabi Photo credit: © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. Photo: Ismail Noor / Seeing Things


The exhibition reveals the aesthetic and material riches that resulted from the centuries of cultural encounter and exchange, fostered by the terrestrial roads of the Silk Road as well as the maritime trade routes that developed over time.

A system of trade routes that grew over millennia to support the export of a single, lustrous commodity, the Silk Road linked the markets and peoples of China and Central Asia with those of the Levant, the Mediterranean, and the Arabian Gulf. A dynamic intellectual and cultural network, these terrestrial and maritime routes exerted a particular influence on the Islamic world, as craftsmen from east and west Asia looked to each other for inspiration, sharing ideas, materials and technologies in the process.

Dish with hatay flowers inscription, Turkey, Iznik, c. 1480 Fritware, slip, cobalt blue underglaze paint, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Department of Islamic Art Photo credit: © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Raphaël Chipault


These mutual influences are visible in material culture, such as the use of blue cobalt in China or the introduction of paper after the battle of Talas (751). Chinese art production influenced the Islamic world and triggered the production of pseudo-celadon and pseudo porcelain in the region, and inspired certain Iznik productions. At the same time, not only did the Islamic civilisation supply China with materials such as metal and glass, but also shared its discoveries in science and technique, as can be witnessed by the artworks exhibited.

Dragon and Phoenix also features the ‘alliance of the two pens’, the brush in China and the reed pen in the Islamic world. Thanks to a superb selection of drawings, manuscripts and ink paintings, the exhibition shows the similarities and the spiritual value placed on the two calligraphic traditions.

The five sections of the exhibition

Visitors are taken on a journey organised in five chapters, through both land and sea trade routes, to explore the connections, artistic influences and remarkable untold stories. ‘The Islamic world’ references the regions that include countries, cultures and ethnic groups, who shared their affiliation to Islam during this period, such as the Mashriq region, Eastern Africa, Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and South-East Asia.

Fragment of fabric embroidered with peacock and peony motifs

China, 15th century, Ming dynasty (1368–1644) Paris, Musée National des Arts Asiatiques–Guimet. Photo credit: © RMN-Grand Palais (MNAAG, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier


The first section takes visitors on a journey between the 8th and 10th centuries, when regular contact between these two civilisations was established through terrestrial and maritime routes.

Funerary figure (mingqi): caravanner on a camel, Northern China, 7th century Tang dynasty (618–907) Terracotta covered with slip and polychrome Paris, Musée national des arts asiatiques–Guimet Photo credit: © RMN-Grand Palais (MNAAG, Paris) / Thierry Ollivier


The second section moves on to the Song and Seljuq aesthetics (11th – 13th centuries), describing the encounters between two emerging dynasties.

The third section is dedicated to the artistic interactions that took place under the Mongol dynasties (13th – 14th centuries) and their influences on the Islamic East.

Throne carpet with battle of fantastic animals, Iran, mid-16th century Silk Paris, Musée du Louvre, Department of Islamic Art Photo credit: © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Les frères Chuzevill

Dish with throne scene, Iran Late 12th century – early 13th century Fritware, low-fired decoration and gold highlights on glaze Paris, Musée du Louvre, Department of Islamic Art Photo credit: © Musée du Louvre, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Harry Bréjat


Aptly named the ‘Gallery of Harmonious Exchanges’, the fourth section analyses the mutually influenced artistic exchange taking place in the 15th- 17th centuries.

The exhibition concludes with a fifth section dedicated to manuscripts, poetry and calligraphy from the 8th to 18th centuries. The art of calligraphy is one the most highly regarded artistic mediums of these two incredibly literate civilisations.

Ata–Malek Djoveyni (1226–83), Târikh–e Djahângochâ–ye Djoveyni (History of the Conquest of the World): Guyuk Khan gives a feast in the countryside before opening and distributing his treasure Iran, Shiraz, 1438 Paint on paper, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Department of Manuscripts. Photo credit: © Bibliothèque nationale de France


Sophie Makariou, President of Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet, said,

"This exhibition tells the story of two civilisations - the Islamic and ancient Chinese worlds. The long history of exchange between these two cultural centres began in the aftermath of the Quranic revelation, with the establishment of Damascus, and continued unabated after the formation of the Islamic caliphate. Until the 15th century, the trade routes, coined by Ferdinand von Richtofen as ‘The Silk Road’, were arduous but essential conduits of exchange between people, ideas, culture and products. Dragon and Phoenix – Centuries of Exchange between Chinese and Islamic Worlds tells the stories of these cultural exchanges which took place over eight centuries.”

Dish with dragon handle Central Asia or Iran, second half of the 15th century or early 16th century. Black jade inlaid with guilloché gold, Paris, Institut de France, Musée Jacquemart–André. Photo credit: © Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André - Institut de France ©Studio Sébert Photographes


Dragon and Phoenix: Centuries of Exchange between Chinese and Islamic worlds is on show at Louvre Abu Dhabi from 6 October - 12 February 2022

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.


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