Daniel Fulco, Ph.D.

Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator, WCMFA

This summer, visitors have the opportunity to see exceptional works of art from Iran, India and the Mediterranean, which are part of the permanent collection of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

On display just outside the Groh Gallery as the “Collection Connections” (look for an icon on the labels) related to works from the special exhibition Allure of the Near East: Treasures of the Huntington Museum of Art (until to August 24), these examples of Near Eastern art are predominantly Islamic.

They include manuscript pages, miniature paintings, ceramics, glass, and a papier-mâché lacquer box.

This exhibition builds on a tradition of displaying Near Eastern arts at the museum, which reflects the worldview of its founders, Anna and William Singer, and which began in May 1933 with an exhibition of Persian art on loan by the American Institute for Persian Art & Archeology (New York), Parish-Watson & Co., Inc. (New York) and Dikran G. Kelekian, a renowned collector of Islamic art.

Since many of the works currently on display are light-sensitive, they can only be displayed for a limited time – so be sure to come see them soon.

During your visit, appreciate the fine details and intricate decoration of these objects, some of which require close examination. Like some of the examples on display in Allure of the Near East, some of the works in the collection are both decorative and utilitarian. They would have been used by people to store liquids and personal items as well as for aesthetic pleasure.

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Broadly speaking, the Near East refers to the lands wrapped around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing Asia Minor (Turkey), Eastern Thrace, Palestine, Egypt, Transjordan, Mesopotamia, Iran, Transcaucasia and Arabia. In relation to these geographical locations, our presentation begins with the oldest pieces, the ancient Roman unguentaria (perfume bottles) and the sprinkler bottles (1st-2nd centuries AD).

Used to store and dispense liquids as well as powdered substances, these pieces were free-blown or cast and spread widely throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Later in history, the shapes, colors and decorative patterns found in these examples greatly influenced the production of glassware in the Islamic world.

Like Roman glass, Iranian ceramics met the needs of ordinary people. A Safavid-era terracotta vase depicting an abstract blue peacock and floral decoration on a beige background, donated to the museum by Anna Singer in 1949, is believed to have originally been found in the home of a private individual of modest means .

In contrast, an ornate papier-mâché lacquer box, probably commissioned by a wealthy patron, contains animated scenes of court life on the top and inside of its lid. While various courtiers (probably an aristocratic couple) are seated in a palace garden pavilion on the top of the cover, men on horseback are depicted hunting deer and other wild game within. Each of the scenes idyllically depicts the pastimes of the noble society of Qajar Iran, a place where vegetation, food and joy abound.

While viewing these works, be sure not to miss a group of remarkable Iranian manuscript illuminations as well as a page (on display at the Groh Gallery) from a book of Sufi (mystical) poetry, possibly written by Rumi or Hafez (two renowned poets). This sheet is beautifully rendered in black ink and detailed with gold leaf, gold borders and arabesques that enliven its appearance.

The exhibition continues with several portrait miniatures showcasing the exceptional talents of Indian artists.

A series of extremely detailed portraits depict four great Mughal rulers of India. The two larger ovals represent Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal, while the smaller images represent his grandparents Akbar the Great and his wife Mariam-uz-Zamani. Jahan is best known for commissioning the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, a tomb for his wife which remains one of the most renowned monuments in the world.

Finally, two paintings most likely made in Mewar (a region of south-central Rajasthan in northern India) depict aristocrats and were likely part of a series depicting notables of the ruling Rajput caste (social class). , including Raja Singh, one of the Maharana (kings) of the Sisodia dynasty of Mewar. The artist who created both examples was particularly adept at capturing the details of his subjects’ faces and their elaborate costumes, including embroidery, jewelry, and headgear.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Go to www.wcmfa.org or call 301-739-5727. follow us on Facebook, instagram and Youtube.

*All works are from the collection of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts