Religious wars are not caused by the fact that there is more than one religion, but by the spirit of intolerance…the spread of which can only be regarded as the total eclipse of human reason.
—Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, Persian Letters
Last week the Louvre opened its new Islamic Arts pavilion, a 50,000-square-foot space that cost $127 million and took four years to build. Designed by architects Rudy Ricciotti and Mario Bellini, its golden glass rooftop has been likened to a sand dune, a magic carpet or a fluttering veil. Ricciotti said in this past Sunday’s New York Times that his design — the first modern change to the Louvre since I.M. Pei added the pyramid in the 1989 — evokes Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, which is about two Persian noblemen trying to make sense of Parisian life. At a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is high in France, Ricciotti has created an elegant space that could (or should) spark discussion about multiculturalism in the country.
The Louvre has been exhibiting Muslim art since 1793. Most of the pieces it showed were from royal collections. Among its treasures: Ottoman jade bowls that belonged to Louis XIV, an inlaid metal basin made in Syria in the fourteenth century and various textiles. In the late nineteenth century, some well-off Parisian families collected their own Islamic pieces (which were in vogue at the time) before eventually donating them to the Louvre. By the time the museum established a formal Islamic Arts section in 2003, it had more than 14,000 items in its possession. Three thousand of those works are currently on display, representing some 1,300 years of history from Spain to Southeast Asia.
Other stories about the Louvre’s new Islamic Arts pavilion and Islam and in France: