1044 GMT August 20, 2018
Aimée Froom, curator of the MFAH's ten-year-old Art of the Islamic Worlds Department, said the museum will reveal more about this significant holding in the near future but, in the meantime, just know that the never-before-seen-in-public collection runs so deep that the museum plans four more exhibitions over the next five years, houstonpress.com reported.
Those miniature paintings come from 'Shahnameh' (Book of Kings), which goes on record as the world's longest epic poem written by just one man, Persian poet (Abolqasem) Ferdowsi. Comprised of more than 50,000 couplets and mythical in theme, the national epic (written between c. 977 and 1010 CE) also serves as an account of Iran's ancient history.
"One [painting] is from what we affectionately call the small 'Shahnameh', and that's tiny," said Froom, adding that they are smaller than a piece of paper and meant to be held in the hand.
In contrast, one of the carpets on view is so monumental that it takes up an entire wall. "It's actually magnificent for me to see them on view. It's literally woven with gold, metal-wrapped threads around the silk cord," said Froom about the 17th century object.
"Originally the carpet shined, it was just brilliant, and it still has some shine."
Gold also was used as ink and rare pages from the Qur'an are included in this exhibit.
"It's probably one of the most difficult techniques for a calligrapher. Glue was applied, the text was written with the glue, the gold was added and the letters were outlined in black. Very laborious," said Froom about these samples of the Islamic faith's central text.
In curating this exhibit that contains more than 100 works of art from the 6th to the 19th century, Froom has identified four central themes: Faith and piety, banquets and battles, earth and nature, and love and longing.
"I wanted them to be universal to appeal to us all. Love is one of the most cherished themes in Persian literature, and world literature as well, and so is artistic representation. Both love and longing are of earthly nature, human nature, but also spiritual, such as the love and loving of Sufism."
She describes one lacquered mirror case decorated with a nightingale, representing the lover, with a rose symbolizing the beloved.
As for the portrait of the unibrowed Nassereddin Shah Qajar, it depicts the Persian king at the beginning of his rule in 1848. He held the throne for almost 50 years and was assassinated, but not before siring almost two dozen princes and princesses. The assassin's weapon of choice was an old and rusty revolver and, had the king worn a sturdier coat, he might have survived the assault.
'Bestowing Beauty: Masterpieces from Persian Lands' opens November 19 and runs through February 11, 2018 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.