Cultural events

The art of illuminations in Islam – between abstraction and representation


  • Shirin bathing in a pool in The five poems (Khamseh) Nezami, 1622 – BnF, Manuscripts Department

    Shirin bathing in a pool in The five poems (Khamseh) Nezami, 1622 

  • Practical information

  • Richelieu

    Tuesday – Saturday
    10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
    Sunday: closed (Vigipirate)
    Closed Mondays and public holidays

    Full price: 9 €
    Reduced price: 7 €

    2 exhibitions
    Full price: 14 €
    Reduced price: 9 €

    FNAC Reservation: 0892 684 694 (0,34 €/mn all taxes included) and at

from August 8, 2011 to September 25, 2011 Richelieu / Mansart gallery

Is representation totally excluded from Islamic art as we often believe it? Swarming with characters and lively elements, the numerous miniatures that illustrate certain books seem to prove the contrary.

Presenting prestigious Arabic, Persian and Turkish manuscripts housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), the exhibition proposes to grasp how an original art based on geometry, arabesques and calligraphy, and far from figurative criteria, was born from the very beginning of Islam. Glorifying divine words, the art of illuminations that was early used in the first Korans, rapidly covered other fields. Miniatures, next to abstract illuminations, were widely used in secular, scientific or literary texts.

Images and texts from other works such as Kalila and Dimna - Indian tales - the Shah-nameh - the Iran’s great national epic - The Book of fixed stars by al-Sufî and major Persian and Ottoman historic chronicles are also on display to disclose the many facets of figurative elements according to time and places.

Actually, the unity of the Muslim world was built around a religion; consequently, it is particularly interesting to grasp its multiplicity and how, from east to west, the variety of cultural influences gave birth to an iconography that may be different in the Arab, Persian and Turkish worlds.

Exhibition organised with the support of the Total Foundation

Guided tours

Guided tours for individuals or groups. Fees, information and registration at 00 33 (1)  53 79 49 49  or

Educational activities:


Friday, March 18, 2011