With its rich art and archaeological collection, the Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum of Islamic Art) is one of the world’s leading research institutions dedicated to the material culture of the Middle East and neighbouring regions. Our manifold research, conservation, and exhibition projects amount to an especially probing investigation of the urban legacies of the Near and Middle East. The collection’s artefacts of most relevance to this particular area of research stem, for the most part, from various large excavations. The excavation of the famous caliphate capital of Samarra in Iraq (undertake in 1911 and 1013) is considered tio be the birth of Islamic archaeology, and was further sepplemented by finds from the Sasanien capital Ctesiphon in Iraq, the Abbasid capital of Raqqah in Syria and the Mongolian summer palace Takht-e Soleyman in Iran.
More than fifteen external scholars and research assistants are currently busy working with our own staff on various projects associated with the museum’s collections. These research endeavours cover such areas as scholarly interpretation and contextualization, technical analysis and materials, restoration and conservation, and documentation. An overarching goal for all research endeavours is the visitor-oriented display of artefacts and information when the new permanent exhibition opens after renovation work on the Pergamonmuseum has been completed. Interdisciplinary collaboration with various project partners is absolutely essential for research in these areas to be successful.
The Museum für Islamische Kunst is a member of:
- the DFG-run Excellence Cluster Topoi (Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations), specifically: 'Ctesiphon – mediation of archaeological research in the museum, based on the architectural traditions in the Sasanian and Islamic period', project C-3-1);
- 'Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe', a research programme run by the Forum Transregionale Studien formally by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Fritz Thyssen Foundation, and Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin;
- 'Connecting Art Histories in the Museum: The Mediterranean and Asia 400–1650', a research programme run by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence, the Max-Planck Gesellschaft, and Staatliche Museen zu Berlin;
- 'Episteme in Motion' (Objects of transfer – approaches to raising awareness in the museum context of transfer processes that occurred between the Middle East and Europe in the pre-modern era) run by the DFG/Freie Universität, Berlin;
- the Zentrum Transkulturelle Studien 'Art Histories – history of art and aesthetic practices'; a research and fellowship programme initiated by the KHI Florenz (Max-Planck-Institute) in cooperation with the art history departments and the museums in Berlin.
(Inter)cultural education is an important part of the process of developing social competencies and fostering integration. It enables children and young people to knowingly encounter other cultures, to break down personal reservations and makes a lasting contribution to fostering appreciation and understanding between cultures. The pilot project 'Cultural Tales from the Museum für Islamische Kunst' is aimed at children ages ten and eleven.
Based on a national survey with intensive practical fieldwork (interviews, questionnaires, workshops) and the close cooperation of teachers and educational institutions, a range of new educational formats have been developed for use in the museum: The 'cultural tales' constitute five journeys which take pupils back through time to visit various countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Persia, or the regions of the Silk Road. Each highlights the centuries-old tradition of exchange between cultures and religions, illustrated through objects from the museum’s own collection.
Project management: Güven Günaltay
Project team: Dr. Andrea Becker, research associate, Dr. Stefan Weber, Director, Museum für Islamische Kunst
Funding: The Commission for Culture and the Media (Germany), Freunde des Museums für Islamische Kunst im Pergamonmuseum, Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul
Duration: 2012, extension in 2013–2014 (focussed on extracurricular training)
Approaches to raising awareness in the museum context of transfer processes that occurred between the Middle East and Europe in the pre-modern era
Sub-project of SFB 980 'Episteme in Motion', Freie Universität Berlin
Concepts are developed in partnership with the Freie Universität Berlin to lay bare and communicate, within the museum context, processes of knowledge transfer. The project aims to counteract the narrowing of the concept of ‘Islamic’ art, which has, over time, evolved within the museum and academic context to apply to a cultural region, by highlighting the close ties to other cultural contexts. As a result, the project aims to communicate the complex history of transcultural relations to a wider audience.
Project management: Dr. Vera Beyer, Freie Universität Berlin
Research associate and coordinator: Isabelle Dolezalek, Museum für Islamische Kunst
Research associate: Sophia Vassilopoulou, Museum für Islamische Kunst
Museologist: Cornelia Weber
Exhibition design and programming: Marlene Kettner, museeon, MindTags
Funding: DFG German Research Foundation, Freie Universität Berlin
Duration: November 2012 to July 2016
At the monastery of Deir al-Malak in Naqlun, Faiyum oasis (Egypt), conservation and excavation work has been ongoing since 1986, led by the University of Warsaw, Institute of Archaeology, the Department of Egyptian and Nubian Archaeology and Department of Papyrology, in conjunction with the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities and the Polish Archaeological Institute in Cairo. Overseeing the excavation is Professor. Dr. h. Włodzimierz Godlewski. Representatives from other institutes from other European countries are also involved in the endeavour.
Representing the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Gisela Helmecke has been taking part in the excavations since 2002. She is responsible for handling small finds, in particular the reading of Arabic inscriptions. This core aspect of her work mainly concerns textiles and coins, but also includes tombstones, ceramics, metal vessels, and papers. The textiles in particular give rise to important findings relating to the interpretation and assessment of similar or corresponding artefacts in the Museum für Islamische Kunst.
Gisela Helmecke is also a founding member of 'Textiles from the Nile Valley', an international research group set up in 1996. The textile objects from or found in Egypt range in date from approximately 100 CE to 1,000 CE. In addition to special topics relating to the history of textiles, the group publishes new archaeological findings every two years. Participation in this project allows for an intense and extremely fruitful collaboration with specialists from other institutions as well as giving us a better understanding of how to treat textiles at the Museum für Islamische Kunst.
Partners: University of Warsaw, Institute of Archaeology, Department of Egyptian and Nubian Archaeology, and Department of Papyrology; Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale (IFAO) in Cairo; University of Leiden, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden Institute for Area Studies, SMES Egyptologie; Museum für Islamische Kunst – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Contact: Gisela Helmecke, curator at the Museum für Islamische Kunst
Mediating archaeological research in the museum, based on the architectural traditions in the Sasanian and Islamic periods
Ctesiphon is located 32 km south of Baghdad, on the direct fringes of the old Seleucid capital of Seleucia. Under the Sasanians, the site, which was already populated in the Hellenistic period, grew to become the capital. The city fell to the Arabs in 637, who referred to it as al-Madā’en (the cities) due to the topography of the site. The ancient city of Ctesiphon initially remained the seat of a governor, but rapidly declined in importance after the founding of Baghdad (in 762 CE). The famous ruins of the great palace complex with the magnificent Iwan of Khosrau (Tāq-e Kesrā) have, for centuries, remained embedded in the collective memory as an icon of ancient Iran. The iwan (the vaulted audience hall, walled on three sides and open at the fourth) became one of the most important features in the Islamic architectural vernacular.
The Museum für Islamische Kunst (E. Kühnel), the German Oriental Society (1928/29, E. Reuther) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1931/32) were involved in two excavations at the site in the 1920s and 1930s. They unearthed several iwans and stucco ornaments, as well as numerous other finds in houses from layers of occupation from the late Sasanian through the early Islamic periods. The stucco ornament laid the foundations for later stylistic developments in Samarra. Many of the stucco works are now found at the Museum für Islamische Kunst and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Current research projects
The project aims at replacing the objects into their context and at developing adequate communication strategies to mediate archaeological research to a broad audience. The ever more specialized nature of research, interdisciplinary methodologies, and the widely varied nature of findings require visitors to have an uncommonly good grounding in many disciplines for them to be able to make sense of the information gained as a result, which in turn makes the task of communicating such findings to an interested public even more difficult.
Using as a starting point the architectural fragments and other objects from the site currently held at the museum, the project will retrace the thread that leads from research conducted on the objects themselves to their mediation and display in the museum setting. A best-practice model highlighting the connection between research and the museum will be made using a concrete example.
A closely coordinated research programme will link the basic analysis of the material from the standpoint of the conservator with the question as to both its historical context (represented in simulations) and the search for how best to display the object in the museum, in a process involving an exhibition designer and a museum researcher. The goal is to devise an exhibition which not only places the objects on display but which also lays bare the background issues mentioned above.
Partners: Freie Universität Berlin, Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin, Brandenburgische Technische Universität (BTU Cottbus), Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Project management: Prof. Dr. Bernhard Graf, Institut für Museumsforschung; Prof. M. Knaut from the programme in conservation and restoration programme at the HTW Berlin; Prof. D. Lengyel, BTU Cottbus; Dr. St. Weber, Director, Museum für Islamische Kunst
Project staff: Lori Steinmüller (conservator), Christine Gerbich (museum research associate), Youssef El-Khoury (historical building researcher)
Research associates: Dr. Jens Kröger, Head curator emeritus Museum für Islamische Kunst, PD Dr. Ute Franke, Deputy Director, Museum für Islamische Kunst, Stephanie Fischer, conservator, Museum für Islamische Kunst; C. Toulouse, BTU Cottbus
Funding: DFG, Topoi Research Project C-3-6
Duration: November 2012 to 2016