News ID: 211115
Published: 0130 GMT March 05, 2018

Louvre brings 'unprecedented' show to Tehran

Louvre brings 'unprecedented' show to Tehran

Journalists flooded Iran's National Museum on Monday for the arrival of more than 50 artworks from the Louvre — the first major show by a Western museum in the country's history.

The show reflects France's determined use of cultural diplomacy as it seeks to rebuild traditional ties with Iran.

The doors were unsealed for journalists at the National Museum in central Tehran, which is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary, a day ahead of public opening.

President of French Louvre Museum Jean-Luc Martinez said that Iran's civilization and history, particularly the Cyrus and Darius eras, were highly influential in forming the current civilization of Europe.

The art historian made the statement in the press conference of the exhibition 'The Louvre in Tehran', noting that the museum was created at the request of the Iranians by the French archeologist and architect André Godard.



French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Jean-Luc Martinez inaugurated the exhibition.

"Relations between France and Iran are old and profound because France was a pioneer of archeological exploration here," Martinez told AFP.

"This completely unprecedented exhibition... allows us to make the link between this glorious moment and relations that date back to the 19th century."

The art historian said that today's exhibition is the result of a memorandum of understanding signed between Iran's Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, and Louvre officials in 2016. Its purpose is to introduce the history and culture of different countries to the people of Iran and marks the first collaboration in the history of the two museums.

He highlighted that two departments in Louvre Museum accommodate Iran's artifacts, adding that the heads of the two organizational bodies are present in Tehran.

The Louvre's Iranian holdings are currently on show in two departments: The Department of Near Eastern Antiquities for items dating from the 5th millennium BC to the 7th century AD, and the Department of Islamic Art for pieces dating from the beginnings of Islam to the 19th century.

One of the largest in the world outside of Iran, the Iranian collection in the Department of Near Eastern Antiquities occupies ten rooms, offering visitors a straightforward chronological itinerary.

Among the items shipped over by cargo plane were a 2,400-year-old Egyptian sphinx, a bust of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and drawings by Rembrandt and Delacroix.

"Some were definitely easier to transport than others," said Judith Henon, one of the experts sent by the Louvre.

"Our Iranian partners really liked the sphinx, but it weighs close to a ton and was extremely complicated to put in place."

The show marks the culmination of two years of work since a cultural exchange agreement was signed during a visit by President Hassan Rouhani to Paris in January 2016.

"France had priority on cultural questions in the late 19th century and was the only one doing digs in Iran," said Julien Cuny, one of the Louvre's curators for the Tehran show, and an expert on Iran.

"This exhibition reflects the shared ambition to bolster our relations. We want to say that Iran is coming back to international normalization," said a diplomat accompanying Le Drian.

The Louvre's archeological cooperation with Iran began in the 19th century, initially via permission to explore or excavate certain sites, notably that of Susa (modern-day Shush), dating from around 4200 BCE.

In 1884 a firman, or royal decree, authorized excavations at Susa by French archeologist Marcel Dieulafoy and the shipping of his finds to France. In 1888 new rooms were fitted out at the Louvre for the Iranian exhibits. From 1895 to 1927 France held a monopoly of archeological research for the whole of Iran.

In 1897 Jacques de Morgan replaced Dieulafoy at Susa and his discoveries brought the Louvre some of its greatest masterpieces, among them the Code of Hammurabi.

In 1928 the French archeologist and architect André Godard set up the Archeological Services of Iran, which he would direct until 1960, and the National Museum of Iran, which he personally designed. Until 1973 the Louvre's Iranian collection continued to be enriched on the basis of shared excavation finds, and from that date onwards by purchases and gifts.


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