Ornament and Tongue: Bookbindings from the Islamic World

13.12.2013 to 16.03.2014

In the Islamic world, book art is an art form of the highest stature. In Islam, great importance was and is attached to 'the word’, as the bearer of revelation in the Koran. Leading on from this, figurative representation in art was traditionally avoided, and as a result, the written word and ornament attained an elevated status in Islamic art. Not only was the text itself enhanced through the art of calligraphy and manuscript illumination with ornamental designs and miniatures, even the bookbinding itself and its designs became important parts of book art.

Like its European counterpart, an Islamic bookbinding consists of two book covers, connected by the spine. However, unlike a European manuscript, a fore-edge flap was attached to the lower cover. It folded over the bottom of the pages and was tucked under the top cover. In Arabic, this flap is referred to as the 'tongue’ (لسان).  The design on the outside of the tongue is usually the same as or very similar to the pattern on the cover.

The large cover of a Mamluk leather bookbinding featuring stunning geometric and calligraphic designs is on display in the museum’s permanent collection display. Visitors can now see for themselves the astonishing diversity in bookbinding designs in today’s temporary exhibition which features a wide selection of exquisite bookbindings. The exhibition reveals how bindings from a particular region or period display similarities in style and contain visual references to other fields of Islamic art. And from the museum’s rich collection of Indian album leaves of the Mughal period, several sheets have been selected in which books are depicted, serving to illustrate the historical importance of book art overall.

James-Simon-Galerie, Bodestraße
10178 Berlin

partially wheelchair accessible
Please note: Pergamonmuseum is exclusively entered through James-Simon-Galerie!
Site plan: Entrance to the Pergamonmuseum and Neues Museum (PDF)

All groups meet at the information desk at the upper foyer in James-Simon-Galerie, entering by using the big stairway.
Advice for group visits to the Pergamonmuseum an the Neues Museum (PDF)

Due to a technical issue, the lift is out of service until further notice, meaning the Museum für Islamische Kunst is not currently wheelchair accessible. The major architectural exhibits – such as the Processional Way, featuring the Ishtar Gate and the Market Gate of Miletus – are still accessible to people with mobility issues. 


U-Bahn: Museumsinsel (U5)
S-Bahn: Friedrichstraße, Hackescher Markt
Tram: Am Kupfergraben, Hackescher Markt
Bus: Staatsoper, Lustgarten, Friedrichstraße

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