Abu Dhabi: A tour of the Louvre Abu Dhabi galleries starts at The Great Vestibule, which stresses the interconnectedness of humanity through one of its first displays — three ewers, one each from India, China and Turkey.
“The arrangement is deliberately chronological, meant to create a dialogue between pieces from different cultures,” Jean-Francois Charnier, scientific director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News.
On the floor here is a map of coastal cities from around the world, with their names written in a variety of scripts.
The story moves to The First Villages, featuring exhibits from the earliest known civilisations, including an ancient figurine of a Bactrian princess and a terracotta figurine from Syria that is on loan from the Louvre Museum in Paris.
In The First Great Powers, items from the first great cities, which developed in Mesoamerica, China and the Mediterranean are displayed. Included are early samples of writing and narration, and artefacts imported from other cultures by rulers who lived in the current geographical location of the UAE.
The third gallery, Civilisations and Empires, shows political power being cemented by the earliest rulers, and features statues and sarcophagi. There is an unmissable wooden sarcophagus from Egypt dating to 900BC, as well as a statue of the Egyptian Pharoah, King Rameses II.
The entrance to Universal Religions, one of the most memorable galleries, is enlightening. A mosque lamp is displayed next to a figurine of a future Buddha, which is placed beside a stained glass window from France that depicts a Christian saint’s life. Nearby, a 16th century statue of the Virgin Mary with Child is placed next to a Syrian Quran opened to the first revealed verses. The gallery also exhibits other sacred books, including the Torah, as well as Jain and Buddhist texts.
Asian Trade Routes, a colourful gallery, shows how cultures and knowledge began to be shared more frequently, with the Islamic civilisation at the centre of the trade routes. This trend is evident in the next gallery too, From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Here, a once-automated bronze lion from 12th century Andalusia is hard to pass by.
In an interim section, humanity’s deepening interest in exploration and astronomy is detailed, and Charnier highlighted a nautical treatise that shows how Arabian cartographer Ahmed Ibn Majid helped European sailors in their voyages. A massive 17th century model of a globe from Italy also draws one’s interest.
The World in Perspective gallery shows the European Renaissance, and the developing focus on geometry in the Islamic world. Holding pride of place is Italian master Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, La Belle Ferronniere, on loan from the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Further ahead, intricate paintings adorn the Magnificence of the Court gallery, which also features an Ottoman turban helmet and a Chinese armour suit in adjoining cases.
Eighteenth century modernity, including items built for nobility and paintings of leaders like Napolean Bonaparte, are featured in A New Art of Living gallery.
In the next section, A Modern World?, Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait is hung next to the famous portrait ‘Whistler’s Mother’ by British painter James McNeill Whistler. Photography is also introduced here, which began to revolutionise artistic creation.
In the penultimate gallery is the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s first acquisition, a 1922 oil painting by Piet Mondrian titled ‘Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black’. It hangs next to the 1928 masterpiece by Belgian artist Rene Magritte’s ‘The Subjugated Reader’.
As you head towards the exit in A Global Stage, a glittering piece built with 10 Chinese chandeliers depicts an unbuilt Utopian Soviet monument. In an interesting juxtaposition, a Saudi Arabian piece with blackened pots hangs on the wall, opposite a series of photographs of human faces and complexions.