Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts
November 8, 2015–January 31, 2016
The great Mughal, Safavid, and Ottoman empires flourished during a time of rapid change and artistic innovation in the Islamic world, as people, ideas, and technologies spread across Europe and Asia. At the heart of the empires' courts were networks of individuals—writers, poets, artists, craftsmen—who produced extraordinary works of art for the ruling elite. From November 8, 2015, through January 31, 2016, the Walters Art Museum will present Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts, the first major exhibition to focus on these influential and often charismatic individuals.
The free exhibition features more than 120 works including paintings, calligraphy, textiles, ceramics, and jeweled luxury objects. Dating from the 16th to the 18th century, these exquisite works of art were created in historic India, Iran, and Turkey, a vast geographic area that extends from the Bay of Bengal to the Mediterranean Sea.
The exhibition was organized by the Walters Art Museum in partnership with the Asian Art Museum, and will be on view at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco from February 26 through May 8, 2016.
Pearls on a String introduces visitors to three fascinating individuals: Abu'l Fazl (1551–1602), a prolific writer, visionary historian, and intimate at the court of the third Mughal emperor Akbar in India; Muhammad Zaman (active ca. 1650– 1700), an imperial artist at the court of Safavid ruler Shah Sulayman; and Sultan Mahmud I (ruled 1730–54), an Ottoman ruler and active patron of the arts and architecture. These figures also inform the exhibition's poetic title: viewed independently, each is a gleaming "pearl," yet collectively they constitute an even more vibrant "string of pearls."
The exhibition provides visitors with a rare glimpse into their long-private worlds. Come peer over the palace walls at Abu'l Fazl, who was the most powerful voice in defining Akbar's policies of political inclusion in the context of a demographically diverse empire. Meet Muhammad Zaman, who radically changed the course of Persian painting by introducing farangi-sazi, a European style, into the Persian tradition. And admire the glittery gadgets that most delighted Mahmud I, a once-forgotten sultan who commissioned fanciful jeweled objects as well as lavish libraries and mosques that define Istanbul's skyline to this day.
"The aim of this exhibition is to bring forth stories about people that are often absent from presentations of Islamic art," says Amy Landau, associate curator of Islamic and South Asian Art, who curated the exhibition. "Pearls on a String seeks to broaden public engagement with the cultural histories of Muslim societies by demonstrating how human imagination and collaboration can ignite extraordinary artistic creativity."
Explore the richness and diversity of the Islamic world beyond the reaches of the great empires highlighted in Pearls on a String through our world-renowned collection of Islamic art. Largely formed nearly a century ago by the museum's founder, Henry Walters (1848–1931), the Islamic collection now features more than 1,200 wide-ranging objects that date from the 7th century onward and hail from a territory stretching from present-day Spain and North Africa westward to India.
Among the many not-to-be-missed Islamic masterpieces at the Walters are a 7th-century hammered silver bowl depicting an enthroned Sassanian king, a glistening mihrab tile from the 13th-century lusterware workshops of Kashan, and a splendidly illuminated 17th-century Qur'an. Our collection of bound illuminated Quranic manuscripts is one of the largest in a North American museum.
These remarkable objects can be enjoyed both in our galleries and online, where you can zoom in to savor every exquisite detail.Begin Your Journey
Complement your visit to the exhibition with an engaging film, gallery tour, panel discussion, or art-making workshop related to Pearls on a String. Don't miss the opportunity to hear Persian poetry recited in the galleries or to enjoy a new-mixed media work specially commissioned by the museum to mirror the themes of the exhibition. Mark your calendar for a free Islamic Arts Family Festival featuring dancers, storytellers, musicians, and more. Members receive exclusive opportunities and free or discounted tickets!
Join the Walters Art Museum today and get even more out of your next visit. As a member, you will be invited to special events, such as exhibition previews, and receive exclusive benefits, including subscriptions to our Members Magazine and monthly e-newsletter; discounts on parking, at the store, and on a wide range of programming; a drink voucher on Thursday Nights, when the museum is open late–and more! Come enjoy the exciting events related to Pearls on a String and then return soon to experience our full array of offerings.
Our members play a vital role in furthering the museum's mission to "create a place where people of every background can be touched by art." Thank you for your support.
Located in Baltimore's historic Mt. Vernon Cultural District, the Walters Art Museum is open Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday). General admission, which includes special exhibitions, is free. Our Visitor Information section covers details regarding hours of operation, how to get here, and accessibility for visitors with special needs, as well as amenities and tours. Additional information for planning your visit is outlined in our FAQs.
Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons,
and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts
$54.00/ Non-members $60.00
This richly illustrated book, written by leading scholars of Islamic, South Asian, and Chinese art and social history, complements and expands upon the Walters’ exhibition. Seven essays treat the exhibition's themes in depth, covering a territory extending from Muslim Spain to Central Asia and a period ranging from the 10th to the late 18th century.
Published in association with University of Washington Press.
The exhibition was organized by the Walters Art Museum in partnership with the Asian Art Museum, and will be on view at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco February 26 through May 8, 2016.
The Pearls on a String exhibition and related programming have been generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating Fifty Years of Excellence; the Institute of Museum and Library Services; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Gary Vikan Exhibition Endowment Fund; Ellen and Edward Bernard; Douglas and Tsognie Hamilton; the Herb Silverman Fund; the Maryland Humanities Council; and anonymous donors. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.