A total of 41 depictions of manuscripts of Islamic art are on display in Amman, which take visitors on a journey into the world of Islamic and oriental culture.
Organised by the Netherlands embassy, the exhibition is held at Amman’s Ras Al Ain Gallery with the aim of highlighting the “richness of this art and to expose the Jordanian public to this important kind of art”, said Luit Mols, curator for the Middle East, West and Central Asia.
The depictions are important to Jordan, she said, because they originally came from the region and stayed for 400 years at Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands.
“Now they return for a brief time to the region to acquaint people with them,” she said in remarks to The Jordan Times during the opening ceremony of the exhibition.
“People are invited to study them if they want, so if students from Jordan, for example, want to study these manuscripts, they can do that at Leiden University,” added Mols, who is also an assistant professor at Leiden University.
This year Leiden University celebrates the 400th anniversary of the study of oriental languages and culture. It was in the year 1613 that the chair of Arabic was founded, which makes it one of the oldest in Europe, according to a statement included in the exhibition’s booklet.
The reasons for studying Arabic are numerous, it said, from an academic interest in the Arabic language and civilisation, to the need for religious dialogue, to the fostering of commercial and diplomatic ties.
The tradition in oriental studies is reflected in the wealth of the library collections at Leiden University, the statement added, noting that currently Leiden University holds 4,000 Arabic manuscripts, and 2,000 manuscripts in Persian and Ottoman Turkish.
“These manuscripts deal with different topics. For example Koranic calligraphy, which is very important because of course, it is the most important kind of the Islamic art and Leiden University has very old copies of the Koran, some coming from Indonesia or India and this is also quite special,” Mols said.
She noted the role of manuscripts in cultural exchange between the East and the West.
“They show that there has been a cultural exchange between the Middle East and Europe and it is always very important to emphasise this exchange that we had in the middle ages, and it has been there up to the present day,” she noted.
The manuscripts’ original copies were not brought to Jordan because they were “too fragile due to frequent use”, which shows that there has always been a lot of interaction, interest and exchange between the different cultures, Dutch Ambassador to Jordan, Paul van den IJsselI, said.
“And nowadays we see it is very necessary to have more exchange, understanding and interest in each other,” the Dutch diplomat added.
The exhibition, dubbed “The Islamic Art Exhibition — the Art of the Islamic Book from Leiden Collections”, runs until October 12.
This exhibition, held under the patronage of HRH Prince El Hassan and organised in Amman is important, Mols said.
“In Leiden for example there was a very special exhibition on Jordan two years ago about Petra and for me it was nice that Jordan came to Leiden and now Leiden comes to Jordan,” she said