Based on the concept of the traditional space of learning, discussion, dialogue and sharing present in every home in the Arabian Gulf, The Majlis – Cultures in Dialogue is presented for the first time in Malta under the Patronage of Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta, His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar and the Maltese National Commission for UNESCO with the endorsement of Valletta 2018 European Capital of Culture.
Persian carpets featuring the Virgin Mary, mystic artifacts shared from Africa across the Arab world to India, Chinese Qurans, mosque lamps made in Vienna… these selected artifacts are a testimony to the beauty that has resulted from centuries of intercultural dialogue. They are at the core of fascinating stories that cover the full range of human experience, referencing events from different religions or holy books, relating conceptions of the world and the universe, illustrating matters of power and politics, and narrating tales of love, war, and peace.
12 masterpieces from the exhibition
Begging bowl (kashkūl)
CARVED FROM HALF OF A SEA COCONUT. INDIA, 19TH CENTURY. FBQ.3
This begging bowl (kashkūl) was used by Muslim mystics for collecting alms. Its function is reflected in the inscriptions (Quranic verses and blessings) that decorate it and in the scene depicting a man giving a contribution to a Sufi holding a kashkūl similar to this one. Kashkūls were typically used by traveling dervishes. This example has been carved from half of the shell of a coco de mer palm nut (coconut of the sea palm). There are also kashkūls made of various materials such as bronze (FBQ. 384 and 385). Kashkūls are held or hung from the shoulder by a rope or a metal chain fixed to the bowl by two loops, and can also be used as drinking vessels with spouts.
Carpet depicting Jesus and Mary
WOOL. KASHAN, PERSIA, 19TH CENTURY. FBQ.324
This carpet depicts the Virgin Mary (Maryam al-'azrā') and Jesus Christ ('Isā/Issa) outside the city of Bethlehem where, according to the gospels of Saints Luke and Matthew, Jesus was born. The palm tree depicted close to them represents, according to the Quran, the tree which God (Allāh) advised Mary to shake and then to eat from its freshly ripened dates. In the background, there are dwellings of Bethlehem and overhead the angels who announced the birth of Jesus, as described in Luke. The entire scene is headed by the name of Mary in Russian, while the Arabic text in the carpet’s frame refers to her and Jesus. The other figures depicted are most likely people associated with the event. **Connections:** Virgin Mary - Jesus Christ - Bethlehem - Quran - Bible
Carpet depicting famous people from various realms of the world
WOOL. PERSIA, EARLY 19TH CENTURY, FBQ.344
Carpets made in Kerman, Iran, have long been considered among the finest in Persia. This extraordinary piece, from the early 19th Century, celebrates the 51 greatest eminences of their ages, without regard to religion, ethnicity, culture or geography. The carpet is headed by an inscription in the top frame, “Stay Alive the Great Eminences of the Universe”. The pediment of the pillared building below, in the style of classical Greece, reads: “You are the greatest living beings of the world”. The figures and faces shown in the carpet’s central panel include the prophets Moses, Solomon, and Jesus, as well as historical names from Arabia including “‘Umar” (associated with the term khulafāʾ, most likely the right-guided caliphs who ruled after the Prophet Muhammad) and other figures from the East, such as Genghis Khan and Confucius. They are pictured side by side with Western eminences including Romulus (the founder of Rome), Socrates, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Christopher Columbus, Napoleon, Frederick II of Prussia, and even the first American president, George Washington.
Multi-faith carpet displaying Hindu gods
WOOL. KERMAN, IRAN, 19TH/20TH CENTURY. FBQ.354
Shiva, the third member of the Hindu Trinity, is the god of destruction, with power over life and death. Depicted here without the usual crescent on his head or third eye, his hair is considered the source of the River Ganges in India. The god’s damru and trident are shown on the right, while a kashkūl appears to his left. The angel-like figures above might represent Christianity, as there is no concept of angels in Hinduism. Vishnu is also depicted, preserving the universe with his wife Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) while lying on Sheshanaga (the Universal Ocean). A peacock, a symbol of patience and luck associated with Lakshmi, stands above Vishnu. Under Shiva is Brahma, born from a lotus flower that is believed to have grown from Vishnu's navel. Vishnu is crowned with a seven-headed snake, an image of meditative awareness. Vishnu's avatar Krishna appears as a child in the top left section, and as flute player in the center. **Connections:** Hindu Trinity – peacock – cow – Shiva – Krishna – Vishnu – Lakshmi - Brahma **Credit:** Multi-faith carpet displaying Hindu Gods. Wool. Kerman, Iran, 19th/20th century. FBQ.354.
Fatima hand with eagles and lizards, probably of Jewish origin
SILVER. TANGIERS, MOROCCO; 19TH CENTURY. FBQ.58
This palm-shaped amulet represents the so-called “Khamsa-Hand of Fatima.” It consists of two pieces: the big hand typically fixed at a house’s front door, and the small hand for knocking on the door. The Fatima hand appears in different cultures and different faiths, particularly the Middle East and North Africa. The Arabic number Khamsa (five) refers to the five fingers of the hand, believed by some, predominantly Jews, Christians and Muslims, to provide defense against the evil eye. This style of khamsa-Fatima hand was made in Tangier, probably for a Jewish community as it differs from other Khamsa-Fatima hands of Muslim cultures with the depiction of animals and birds (lizards and eagles). The scene depicted most likely symbolizes how the farsighted eagle responds to evil, in the form of lizards. **Connections:** Morocco – Judaism – Fatima Hand **Credit:** Fatima hand with eagles and lizards, probably of Jewish origin. Silver. Tangiers, Morocco; 19th century. FBQ.58.
Porcelain rosewater bottle
STONE PASTE CERAMIC. UNITED KINGDOM, 19TH CENTURY. FBQ 366
Porcelain bottles such as this one were typically used to contain rosewater. The long neck and handles of the upper part are decorated with tiny gilded floral motifs of Moresque style. Historically rosewater has been used for religious purposes throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, especially in rituals, religious celebrations or weddings. It is used by followers of Islam, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. The essence of distilled rose petals, rosewater is also often used as a flavoring for food, and as a component in some cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. **Connections:** UK - Porcelain - Middle East -Hindu **Credit:** Porcelain rosewater bottle. Stone paste ceramic. United Kingdom, 19th Century. FBQ.366.
Carpet with world map surrounded by scenes from three stories
WOOL. KASHAN, PERSIA, 19TH CENTURY. FBQ.369
This Kashan carpet shows a world map surrounded by scenes from two of the most dramatic pre-Islamic romantic tales: Shirin and Khosrow (in Persia) and Layla and Majnūn (in Arabia). The third story on the carpet depicts the Prophet Joseph and the wife of the Pharaoh, al-‘Azīz (In the Quran) or Potiphar (in the Bible). **Connections:** Geography – Quran – Persian poetry **Credit:** Carpet with world map surrounded by scenes from three stories. Wool. Kashan, Persia, 19th century. FBQ.369.
Two Quran volumes
RICE PAPER. CHINA, 17TH-18TH CENTURY. FBQ.381.1-2
Two volumes of the thirty ajza’ (partitions) of a Quran made in China. The calligraphy script is Timurid Naskhī, demonstrating the skill of Chinese artisans at imitating Arabic calligraphy and gold design. **Connections:** Mecca – China – Egypt **Credit:** Two Quran volumes. Rice paper. China, 17th-18th century. FBQ.381.1-2.
Glazed and painted ceramic plate
PERSIA, 11TH CENTURY. FBQ.405
A delicate garden romance occupies the center of this piece, with wistful male and female figures flanking a small tree surrounded by decorative hearts. The plate is made of natural clay glazed with glass white slip to imitate Chinese white porcelain, introduced to the Middle Eastern region during the Abbasid period. The background of the scene has floral leaves executed in cobalt blue and copper turquoise. **Connections:** China - Abbasid period - romance scene - Middle East **Credit:** Glazed and painted ceramic plate. Persia, 11th Century. FBQ.405.
Carpet with portraits of Kaiser Wilhelm II and family
WOOL. RAVAR, PERSIA, EARLY 20TH CENTURY. FBQ.408
A delightful formal portrait on a Persian carpet of Kaiser Wilhelm II and his family. These personalities are set amidst dense floral designs and figures who may be Shahs or other royal administrators. **Connections:** Germany – Persia – floral motifs **Credit:** Carpet with portraits of Kaiser Wilhelm II and family. Wool. Ravar, Persia, early 20th Century. FBQ.408.
Bedouin saddle cover with stylized horse pattern
WOOL, SHIRAZ, PERSIA, 18TH CENTURY. FBQ.415
Saddle covers for the backs of horses or camels were used for the protection and comfort of the rider. This fabric cover was most likely intended for a horse saddle, as it is decorated with a stylized horse pattern. Such a pattern illustrates the prohibition against the use of naturalistic images of living beings—one of the main features of the Islamic and Jewish artistic traditions. In certain periods, Christian iconoclasts also practiced a kind of prohibition against the making of images. This precious object resembles the traditional saddle covers used by Bedouins for their horses. The earliest known saddle equipment, fringed cloths or pads, were made in ancient Egypt and Assyria. **Connections:** Bedouins - Judaism - Christianity - Islam **Credit:** Bedouin saddle cover with stylized horse pattern. Wool, Shiraz, Persia, 18th century. FBQ.415.
Wooden crate with soft drink bottles, used by outdoor vendors
WOOD AND GLASS. QATAR, DATE UNKNOWN. FBQ.420
Wooden crate containing 24 small bottles of different soft drink brands, including Pepsi and Coca Cola. **Connections:** Coca Cola – globalization – East-West integration **Credit:** Wooden crate with soft drink bottles, used by outdoor vendors. Wood and glass. Qatar, date unknown. FBQ.420.
THE GRAND MASTER’S PALACE
/ 28 October 2018
The Grand Master’s Palace has been the administrative center of Malta for almost three-and-a-half centuries. The original structure functioned as the seat of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John of Jerusalem and later, during the British colonial period, as the Governor’s palace. Up to April 2015 it also housed the House of the Representatives and today it is home to the office of the President of the Republic of Malta. Ever since the time of the Knights Hospitaller, the palace housed an important collection of artworks, some of which still grace its walls. A number of these expressly commissioned for the building form a part of its historic fabric. Others were acquired, transferred or presented at different times throughout its storied history.
Under the patronage of:
Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca
President of Malta
His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani,
Emir of the State of Qatar
Maltese National Commission for UNESCO
In partnership with:
UNESCO Doha Office
Qatar National Committee for Education, Culture and Science
Qatar Shell Companies
Malta Local Sponsors:
Refalo & Zammit Pace Advocates
Valletta 2018, European Capital of Culture
THE GRAND MASTER’S PALACE
Republic Street, Valletta
VLT 1191, Malta