Body of Islamic art to shed new light on Muslim culture
Jun 10, 2009, 16:20 GMT
Berlin - The pocket-sized Persian book, dating from the 15th century, shows a group of horseback riders brightly dressed in colourful tunics.
Fine pen strokes capture the horses' expressions, and the scene is embellished with flashes of gold.
The book, which tells five epics by the great Persian romantic poet Nezami, is one of 1,500 items which a British collector signed over to Berlin's prestigious Pergamon Museum on Wednesday.
Edmund de Unger, a Hungarian-born property developer who lives in London, agreed to loan the Keir Collection for an initial 15-year period, to complement the Islamic art on display at the Berlin museum and make his collection accessible to researchers and the public.
An initial selection of objects is to go on display in December, in the museum famous for housing the bust of pharaonic Queen Nefertiti. The entire collection is to move to Berlin after de Unger's death.
Richard de Unger, who represented his father at Wednesday's formal signing, said Islamic art had an important role to play after the religion had received so much bad press in recent years.
'Through the study of Islamic art, which is a bridge between China and the West, we can see that the true traditions of Islam, the wealth, the peace, the knowledge, give another story - which I hope the public will explore,' de Unger said.
The general director of Berlin's state museums, Michael Eisenhauer, said the collection showed that 'Islamic culture and the Islamic world have for centuries been an obvious part of European culture.'
Edmund de Unger, born 1918, had initially followed in his parents' footsteps and collected rugs. As he explained, he would pile the carpets on top of one another in his old home, Keir House, until the doors no longer closed.
Around this time he discovered his love for Islamic artefacts.
In 1958, de Unger bought his first object in Egypt, and over the following decades he built up a collection including Islamic miniature paintings, ceramics, books, weavings and rock crystal artefacts.
De Unger sought out unusual objects, spanning 2,000 years of history from Spain to India, in markets or famous old collections. It was their colour, he said, that fascinated him most.
'Every single object that I was able to acquire tells a story, and every acquisition happened out of sudden passion or a gradually growing affection,' said de Unger.
'It is my wish to share the joy of the artefacts with other lovers of Islamic art,' the collector added.
Richard de Unger said Berlin was an ideal choice for the collection, which perfectly complemented the Islamic art already on display at the Pergamon Museum, situated on the Museum Island in central Berlin.
Not only did this guarantee that the Keir collection would go on public display, but it also brought about 'unity, a core to Islamic art,' de Unger said of their choice, formulated after a two-week trip to the museum in 1984, when it stood in divided East Berlin.
The 15-year loan, which could be extended a further 20 years, will also be an enrichment to scholars of Islamic art, as it fills important gaps in areas such as calligraphy and printed art.
Hermann Parzinger, the head of the Prussian Culture Foundation which runs Berlin's world-class museums, said the objects, 'were made to be exchanged.'
'The fact that they have wandered here is in the nature of the objects,' Parzinger added.