The collection contains works of art, cultural artefacts, and archaeological finds from Islamic peoples and societies that range in date from the 7th to the 19 century. Its exhibits stem from an area that extends from the Mediterranean region (Southern Europe, North Africa and Western Asia) all the way to Central and South Asia.
As such, the museum’s exhibitions interrelate, both geographically and culturally, to the displays of classical antiquities in the Antikensammlung and of ancient Near-Eastern art from the Vorderasiatisches Museum, also on show in the Antikensammlung. Visitors to the Pergamonmuseum can thus gain a comprehensive insight into the art and cultural history of these regions, spread over more than a millennium.
The tour through the Museum für Islamische Kunst’s collection is chronological and follows the successive dynasties of various epochs and geographic regions. The exhibition begins with the early Islamic period and the great empires of the first caliphs (7th to 10th century) that emerged against the wider backdrop of the pre-Islamic cultures of the ancient world and Iran. An impressive example of this is the relief ornamentation on the monumental façade of the Mshatta desert palace. The early caliphates were connected with the then known world via trade relations. Something that is brought to life by the lavish furnishings of the palaces and residential dwellings in a metropolis like Samarra in present-day Iraq. In the caliph’s palace, Chinese porcelain, teak from South Asia and marble from the Mediterranean were all standard components of the ruler’s luxurious lifestyle.
The Middle Period (11th to 15th century) was characterised by interconnected cities with wealthy populations made up of merchants and tradespeople. Fine ceramics or metal vessels inlaid with gold and silver became affordable for the urban elites in this era, and their production experienced a boom. The blossoming of these trades produced masterpieces, like the glazed prayer niche from Kashan in Iran, the niche from Konya in Turkey, which is decorated with mosaics made up of countless ceramic shards, or the intricately carved wooden ceiling from a domed tower in the Alhambra in Granada.
The items in the famous Berlin collection of carpets, with its eventful history, largely range in date from the early modern period (16th to 18th century). It was also in this period that the Aleppo Room was crafted, with its ornate, painted wooden panelling. The figurative ornamentation and inscriptions provide striking evidence of the multicultural and multi-religious urban societies of Syria in the early 17th century.
The museum is home to one of the most extensive specialist libraries dedicated to Islamic art, archaeology, and material culture, where items can be inspected on the premises. The museum is furthermore internationally active as a research facility, cooperating with universities and museums, particularly in regions from where the objects in its collection originate.
In the public discourse on Islam, the Museum für Islamische Kunst sees itself as a mediator of a culture of great sophistication. Its exhibitions uncover the history of other cultures, something which in turn helps foster a better understanding of the present. This lends the collection its sharp political relevance, both within Germany and abroad, as a cultural storehouse for Islamic societies and peoples.
Wilhelm von Bode created the first department of Islamic art in 1904 in what was then the newly opened Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum on the Museumsinsel, which is today named after him as the Bode-Museum. Von Bode was also responsible for the impressive donation of colourful carpets, which were gifted by the Turkish sultan to the German Kaiser together with the façade of the Mshatta desert palace, forming the original holdings of the Museum. Later, this was joined by parts of the collection of Islamic handicraft belonging to Friedrich Sarres, the first dedicated director of the department, as well as numerous artworks originating from excavations. In 1932, the department moved into a more suitable space in the newly completed Pergamonmuseum.
With the outbreak of the war in 1939, the exhibition had to be closed. Despite being removed from the premises and placed in safe-keeping, numerous valuable carpets were burned, and the left tower of the Mshatta gate was hit by a bomb. After the reconstruction of this important artefact of early Islamic architecture, in 1954, the Islamisches Museum was reopened inside the Pergamonmuseum. At the same time, the objects that had been stored in the Western occupation zones were handed over to the museum in Dahlem, where they were displayed until 1967. From 1968 to 1970 they were exhibited in a temporary display at Schloss Charlottenburg. In 1971, the permanent exhibition of the “Museum für Islamische Kunst” was opened in a new building in the Dahlem museum precinct. The 1958 return of artworks that had been taken to the Soviet Union at the end of the war and the restoration of the Aleppo Room (acquired in 1912) together with that of the two prayer niches meant that a significantly more extensive exhibition could be featured at the Pergamonmuseum up until 1967.
After the two museums were unified in the wake of the fall of the Wall, the show that had been on display at the museums in Dahlem eventually moved out in 1998. In spring of the year 2000, the merged Museum für Islamische Kunst was opened with a redesigned collection display in the south wing of the Pergamonmuseum. Beginning in October 2023, the collection will be closed to allow for extensive refurbishment work in the Pergamonmuseum, before reopening to audiences in 2027 in the north wing, featuring new forms of audience-focused education and interaction.
The Mshatta Room will be closed to visitors from 21 February 2022. The Façade of the Caliph’s Palace of Mshatta, the centrepiece and audience highlight of the Museum für Islamische Kunst, will be restored as part of ongoing renovation work at the Pergamonmuseum. The restoration will be carried out at a publicly viewable construction site in the future.