Louvre Abu Dhabi's new exhibitions and loans, from a 10th-century pyxis to African royalty

The museum is set to unveil work from the department of Islamic Arts at Musee du Louvre

Carved out of elephant ivory, Pyxis in the name of Al-Mughira will be the next highlight loan at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: Musee du Louvre
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As Leonardo da Vinci’s Saint John the Baptist nears the end of its time at Louvre Abu Dhabi, another masterpiece will travel to the UAE to become the museum’s highlight loan.

Saint John the Baptist will be returned to Musee du Louvre by the end of the year. The French institution lent the 16th-century oil on wood painting to Louvre Abu Dhabi in November 2022, in celebration of the museum’s fifth anniversary.

The painting is notable for its youthful depiction of Saint John, who was portrayed as a gaunt figure up until Leonardo's work. It is considered to be one of the Italian polymath’s key works and a prime example of his genius. The artist carried the painting with him and ceaselessly worked on it until his death in 1519.

The painting is dense with historical and artistic merit. However, the work that will take its place is just as impressive. It is older and has connotations closer to home.

Pyxis in the name of Al-Mughira will be displayed at Louvre Abu Dhabi in November. It will be on loan from the department of Islamic Arts at Musee du Louvre.

Originating from Spain's Umayyad period in the 10th century, this small ivory container showcases intricate carvings that push the boundaries of the material used. Indeed, the ivory is carved so thinly that certain parts of the container become almost translucent when held up to the light.

“There’s some kind of magic when you take one material and, because of the treatment, you push it to its maximum,” says Manuel Rabate, director of Louvre Abu Dhabi. “When you get an opaque material to become transparent, it’s because you’ve treated it [expertly]. You go too far and you break it.”

Rabate adds that it requires a high level of technique, precision and elegance to be able to take a material such as ivory and make it translucent. The container was made in a workshop within the fortified palace city of Madinat al-Zahra, near what is today Cordoba. It was created as a present for the son of Abd al-Rahman III, the Umayyad Emir of Cordoba.

The inscription running across the base of the lid reads: “Blessing from God, goodwill, happiness and prosperity to al-Mughira, son of the Commander of the Faithful, may God's mercy [be upon him], made in the year 357 [Hijri]”.

The engravings on the pyxis feature motifs that symbolise the power of the Umayyad Caliphate. These include falcon nests, palm trees and images of fighting bulls and lions, perhaps taking inspiration from the story within Kalila wa Dimna. An exhibition surrounding the collection of fables by Ibn al-Muqaffa is currently on view at Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Inside the permanent galleries of Louvre Abu Dhabi, Pyxis in the name of Al-Mughira will have its own dedicated room, featuring scenography designed to accentuate the intricacies of the artwork's craftsmanship. It will be surrounded, Rabate says, with “architectural elements” that aim to convey the time and context in which the work was created.

Pyxis in the name of Al-Mughira, Rabate says, sustains Louvre Abu Dhabi’s mission of highlighting human creativity and cross-cultural understanding. In fact, this objective resonates throughout the three exhibitions planned by the museum for the upcoming season.

Louvre Abu Dhabi Art Here 2024 and Richard Mille Art Prize

The fourth Richard Mille Art Prize, an annual initiative organised by Louvre Abu Dhabi in partnership with the luxury Swiss watchmaking brand, will revolve around the theme of Awakenings.

In a first, the prize will be expanded to include submissions from North Africa, alongside its usual GCC participation. The expansion comes as part of a vision by the prize’s curator this year – Simon Njami is a curator, art critic and lecturer who has overseen several international exhibitions dedicated to spotlighting African contemporary artists.

“It’s going to be stimulating,” Rabate says.

As with every year, shortlisted artists will have the opportunity to present their site-specific works at the Art Here exhibition in Louvre Abu Dhabi. A winner will be chosen by a panel in December 2024.

Art Here 2024 will reprise an element it introduced in last year’s exhibition – that is, displaying the shortlisted works in the outdoor area of the museum. “We're doing it again outdoors,” Rabate says. “Because it was a success last year. Really pleasant.”

Art Here 2024 will run from September 20 to December 15

Post-Impressionism: Beyond Appearances

After a 2022 exhibition at Louvre Abu Dhabi explored the significance of the impressionism movement, Post-Impressionism: Beyond Appearances will delve into the years that followed and the intense artistic experimentation after 1886.

The exhibition will be hosted in partnership with Musee d’Orsay. It will be co-curated by Jean-Remi Touzet, conservator for paintings at Musee d’Orsay, alongside Jerome Farigoule, chief curator at Louvre Abu Dhabi, with the support of curatorial assistant Aisha Al Ahmadi.

Post-Impressionism: Beyond Appearances will bring together several notable works from Europe as well as the Middle East. These include Vincent van Gogh’s The Bedroom, a legendary work that depicts the Dutch painter’s bedroom and studio in Arles. From the Arab world, meanwhile, two key paintings by Egyptian artist Georges Hanna Sabbagh will feature in the collection – The artist and his family at La Clarte (1920) and The Family; The Sabbagh in Paris (1921).

The exhibition, Rabate says, aims to demonstrate the global impact of the post-impressionist period. “You see how from one starting point, which is the sort of breakthrough, many schools [came about] and we saw masterpieces from each of them,” he says. “Most of the energy was happening in Paris, and around Paris, but we also see what it meant for people from around the world.”

Post-Impressionism: Beyond Appearances will run from October 26 to February 9

Kings and Queens of Africa: Forms and Figures of Power

Next year, Louvre Abu Dhabi is aiming to deliver an impressive exhibition of African art and history explored through the lens of the continent’s royalty. Held in partnership with Musee du Quai Branly, the exhibition will have more than 300 objects on display that delve into several facets of African culture and traditions that interlaced with the lives of the continent’s kings and queens.

The exhibition will be curated by Helene Joubert, head curator of the African Heritage Unit at Musee du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. Joubert will be supported by two associates, El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, curator of Dakar’s Theodore Monod Museum of African Art – one of the oldest art museums in West Africa – and Cindy Olohou, an independent curator.

Mariam Al Dhaheri, curatorial assistant at Louvre Abu Dhabi, will also lend her support to the project. One of the highlights of the exhibition will be Ife Head from Nigeria.

The exhibition, Rabate says, is currently being developed in collaboration with African institutions and partners.

“We could not only do with our relationship with French museum. Of course, it’s more diverse than that,” he says. “We'll use the exhibition as a moment to be again a place of reflection, to discuss what is happening in Africa, which is a very dynamic continent.”

While the three exhibitions and the arrival of Pyxis in the name of Al-Mughira are highlights of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s upcoming season, they are by no means the sole attractions scheduled for the next few months at the museum. These include talks, activations and programmes curated for children.

Kings and Queens of Africa: Forms and Figures of Power will run from January 29 until May 25

Updated: May 09, 2024, 12:06 PM