Louvre Abu Dhabi Stories: Immortal Figures, showcasing art from different civilisations, to open at Manarat Al Saadiyat

We deconstruct the relevance of four acquisitions that are part of Immortal Figures, the second in the Louvre Abu Dhabi Stories series that opens at Manarat Al Saadiyat on July 28, 2015.

The Renaissance-era bust of Saint-Pierre Martyr is at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Jonathan Gibbons / Louvre Abu Dhabi
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Continuing its practice of showcasing a fast-growing permanent collection, Louvre Abu Dhabi ­today launches Immortal Figures, the second Louvre Abu Dhabi Stories exhibition to open at Manarat Al Saadiyat's Gallery One this summer, this time with four new artworks.
"We aim to involve the public in our process of acquisitions and give them a snippet of what will be in the museum, in the narrative of the museum," says Emirati artist Alia Lootah, the researcher and curator of Immortal Figures. "We specifically chose pieces from different civilisations to tell the story of the Louvre Abu Dhabi."
Following on from Louvre Abu ­Dhabi Stories: Al Qalam, which displayed seven objects from a range of disciplines, including philosophy, poetry and religious studies, Immortal Figures focuses on the human form, a common subject in visual art, as a representation of the different civilisations through history.
"Louvre Abu Dhabi will be a universal museum that links all civilisations," says Lootah. "The four pieces that are part of the Immortal Figures collection are an example of that - they are all created by different civilisations, but they complement each other through their composition, style and representation."
The four represent a celebration of art and sculpture from across the world: there's a carved wooden Uli statue from New Ireland; a classical Nepalese gilt-copper figure of the Buddha of the future, known as Maitreya; a bust of Saint Peter Martyr from Florence; and the cornerstone of the selection is an Egyptian funerary painting known as the Portrait of Fayum, which was also part of Al Qalam.
The Uli statue
This wooden sculpture with polychromy - paint on wood - comes from New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, and from the 18th/19th centuries. Used for the funerary rituals of chiefs of the Madak tribe, Uli embodies the essence of the male and female. Through the physical form of this figure, attributions of power, procreation and death are emphasised.
"There are 255 Ulis in public and private collections around the world," says Lootah. "It is a tradition that no longer exists. It is difficult to find many Ulis in such a good state and to have even the paint on the Uli still exist."
The Maitreya figure
The Maitreya from Nepal is made from gilt copper and dates back to the 12th century. The classical Nepalese figure was produced by Newari artists of the Kathmandu Valley in the Middle Ages. According to Lootah, its worshippers believe it represents "the Buddha of the future who spreads enlightenment", while conveying the law of dharma, manifested in the physical form to fulfil a purpose.
"It's rare to find different Buddhas so this is a special one for us," says Lootah. "It is also a great example of Asian art for the Louvre Abu Dhabi. It is really elegant and aesthetically very pleasing."
The Saint Peter Martyr bust
Considering the rarity of Renaissance artwork in general, says Lootah, "it's such a plus point to have the bust of St Peter, created by the Florentine artist Andrea della Robbia and dating back to 1490".
"I am very happy that we have a sculpture of this kind because the Renaissance period is represented in the most important museums in the world, and it was very important to us to find artwork like that."
The artist's role in the Renaissance was to portray a natural, realistic representation, which is easily identified in the bust. "We can see it in his face, we can see detail in the paint, the light, the expression in the eyes," says Lootah. "It is very interesting to tie these works together and show that these figures are immortal and here with us today as artistic examples of what life was once like."
Portrait of Fayum
Part of a distinctive series known as Fayum mummy portraits, of which approximately 1,000 have survived to this day, this is a fine example of an Egyptian funerary painting that would traditionally have covered the faces of bodies that were mummified for burial.
"Our portrait dates back to 225-250CE, so it is an ancient painting, but looking at it today, it feels modern," says Lootah. "It has three important qualities: the aesthetic, the conservation state which is magnificent, and the composition." This ­particular artwork, says Lootah, reveals ­extraordinary expertise and skill in presenting a lifelike appearance - especially of note are the wide shoulders and large eyes. "It combines two civilisations: the Greco-Roman aesthetics with ­ancient Egyptian culture all in one work of art. It reflects the idea of the Louvre Abu Dhabi as a place of cross cultures; a universal ­museum."
. The Louvre Abu Dhabi Stories: Immortal Figures exhibition opens at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, on July 28 and runs until August 30, from 9am to 8pm. Entry is free. Visit www.louvreabudhabi.ae