Abu Dhabi: Knightly culture is the focus of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s brand new exhibition, which will open its doors on February 19.
Titled Furusiyya, the Art of Chivalry between East and West, the exhibit features more than 130 artefacts, dating from the 2nd to the 16th century. Monumental armours, treatises and manuscripts, as well as heraldic and decorative objects, depict the culture surrounding horsemanship.
“The image of the warrior mounted on a horse is a visual that transcends history and civilisations. With Abu Dhabi acting as a gateway between East and West, Louvre Abu Dhabi is the ideal museum for this comparative study,” said Manuel Rabate, director at the museum.
The exhibition, which will run until May 30, will be held in partnership with Musee du Cluny, a museum of the Middle Ages in Paris, and Agence France-Museums, a body trusted with connecting French institutions to Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Dr Elisabeth Taburet-Delahaye, former director at Musee du Cluny, said the exhibition shows how horsemanship, that developed in largely different styles in the East and the West, still share many common values and images.
“We hope visitors will come away with the message of mutual understanding and appreciation. Given the misunderstandings caused [by prevalent narratives of the Crusades], we chose not to focus on them but on the parallelism between cultures,” Dr Taburet-Delahaye told Gulf News.
Structure of exhibition
The exhibition is divided into three sections, with the first focusing on horsemanship or riding, the second on fighting on horseback, and the third on the life of a knight. It opens with two monumental horse armours, one an Ottoman horse armour from the late 15th century, and another a European horse and night armour from the 16th century, which showcase the majesty and power of riders.
Knights as riders
The first section focuses on the importance of riding as a skill of the powerful. A carved marble relief depicting Greek rider-God Genneas from 2nd century Syria is hard to miss, as is a 10-11th century ceramic bowl from Iran with a horseman painted on it. The emergence of a mounted elite – the Furusiyya of Arab-Islamic culture and the knights of the Middle Ages – is thus traced, and a 15th century Spanish manuscript, the Book of the Knight Zifar, offers a glimpse into the process of being dubbed a knight. A keen observer will also spot the funerary effigy of Geoffrey Plantegenet, Duke of Normandy, with the heraldic lions in crest that eventually became the leopards of England. A similar use of bearings in the Arab World highlights the adoption of heraldry during the same period.
Knights as warriors
In the next section, the fighting that lent purpose to the cavalry is highlighted, starting with a massive showcase that displays various blades from the period, as well as armour like turban helmets and greaves. Some of these pieces of armour belonged to prominent leaders, including a helmet of the Mamluk sultan, Barsbay, and a helmet of the Ottoman sultan, Bayezid II. Various manuscripts also describe the art and techniques of furusiyya and combat on horseback. A small corner makes mention of the Crusades, although the most fascinating piece happens to be an extensive travel guide by German clergyman, Bernard Breydenbach. It is also interesting to see the common use of religious inscriptions adorning fighting equipment.
Knights in everyday life
Because the culture of the Middle Ages also included pastimes like jousting, hawking, polo and chess, the final section of the exhibit focuses on these. The development of the romances in the West and sirats or tales in the East to glorify knights shows the cultural importance attributed to the horsemen.
A final massive display case contains a Mamluk harness and caparison seized by the French army during Napolean Bonaparte’s 1798 expedition to Egypt, and stays with the visitor just as the elements of knightly culture continue to pepper stories of heroism today.
Furusiyya: The Art of Chivalry between East and West
- Where: Louvre Abu Dhabi
- When: February 19 – May 30
- Timings: 10AM-8PM on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, and 10AM-10PM on Thursday and Friday. Museum is closed on Mondays.
- Tickets: Entry to museum allows complimentary entry to the exhibition. Dh60 per ticket for adults aged 23 years and older, Dh30 per tickets for visitors aged 13-22, and free entry for children up to 12 years old, individuals with special needs and their companions and ICOM or ICOMOS members.