Since December 2017, to mark the fifth anniversary of the Louvre-Lens, the Gallery of Time has been displaying an exceptional group of ten national treasures that were recently acquired by the Musée du Louvre. So for the Louvre-Lens, the enrichment of the national collections is a central theme for 2018. The Glass Pavilion makes it possible to extend the discovery of this group to include four other major works that were acquired by the Musée du Louvre between 2014 and 2016. These textiles and graphic works are too fragile to be permanently exposed to daylight, so they are being exhibited here for the first time since entering the collections.
The four items
The four items are displayed in quiet, softly lit spaces that will make them easier to contemplate. Two ancient Egyptian textiles illustrate the preciousness of this type of historic artefact which, thanks to the dry Egyptian climate, are exceptionally well preserved. An Iranian celestial globe made at the beginning of the 18th century bears witness to the links between East and West in the field of science, while the huge panorama thirteen metres long, painted by Carmontelle (1717-1806) on transparent paper, could only be exhibited thanks to an inventive display designed by Agence AtoY. The exhibition is an invitation to continue the journey of the Gallery of Time through the most fragile and rarest of works from the Louvre’s collections.
A precious celestial object from the East
Most of the celestial globes produced in the Islamic world were made out of engraved and inlaid metal. Globes were also made out of wood and papier mâché, but only around ten specimens are conserved today, the oldest of which dates to the 17th century. Celestial globes are veritable movable, three-dimensional maps of the starry sky. They were used to make astrological and astronomical calculations, and for didactic purposes.
The celestial globes of the Islamic world originated in ancient Greece. In the 2nd century AD, Ptolemy explained how they were made and used in the Almagest. He also described the forty-eight constellations, which were subsequently copied in the Book of Fixed Stars written in Iran in the mid-10th century by the Persian astronomer ‘Abd al-Rahmân al-Sûfî, a treatise that was the source of most of the globes made in the Islamic world.
However, this globe is exceptional in that it features constellations that were not discovered until 1612 and were previously represented only on European globes. In addition, some of these constellations have forms that are far removed from the usual Islamic representations, suggesting that this globe was inspired by European sources. That is not surprising, for at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries, the period when it was made, Iran enjoyed a flourishing overseas trade thanks to the English and Dutch trading posts set up on its territory and the forming of links between India and Europe.
Textile treasures of ancient Egypt
Egypt, which had a dry climate that was beneficial for the conservation of textiles, is a region where exceptionally large textiles have been found, whereas damper regions sometimes provide no vestiges of the ancient art of weaving. Most of the examples of ancient Egyptian textiles were found in funerary contexts, close to the bodies of the deceased.
A map of the afterlife
Shielded from light in the tombs and sarcophagi that housed them, the inscriptions on the pieces of linen – bandages and more rarely shrouds – made to wrap the corpse reveal the Egyptians’ religious concerns and their vision of the afterworld. The large piece of cloth acquired by the Musée du Louvre is exceptional in several respects. It combines unique magic formulas intended to ward off snakes and extracts from the Coffin Texts, and in particular The Book of Two Ways, a veritable geographical guide for the use of the deceased. Vignettes laid out in horizontal rows illustrate certain parts of the texts.
Recreating a masterpiece
Much more recent than the shroud, this group consisting of fourteen coloured motifs and a fragment of red cloth comes from the Shawl of Sabina, an Egyptian masterpiece from late Antiquity that is renowned for the quality of its weave and the originality of the scenes displayed. Exhumed from one of the necropolises in Antinoe, the city founded by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, this shawl was discovered in 1903 in a masonry vault housing the grave of a certain Sabina. Displayed at the Musée Guimet following its discovery, it was then split up and dispersed between collectors and museums, under the supervision of the Lyon industrialist Émile Guimet, the excavations’ principal sponsor.
It belongs to an unusual type of textile in which the decoration was woven on the loom at the same time as the garment, which is exceptionally large, measuring almost three metres square. It’s execution was a remarkable technical accomplishment, requiring the collaboration of several weavers. The Louvre already possessed a major piece of the Shawl, which was complemented by the acquisition of these fragments in 2014. These vestiges today provide a glimpse of the richness of the clothes worn when they were alive and which accompanied the deceased in the tomb.