Louvre unveils new wing dedicated to Islamic arts


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The Independent Online

The Louvre Museum is unveiling a new wing and galleries dedicated to the arts of Islam, marking the end of a decade-long project costing nearly €100m (£80m).

The new dragonfly-shaped building is the biggest development at the Paris museum since its glass pyramid was constructed 20 years ago. The Department of Islamic Art will exhibit many of the Louvre's 18,000 works. It is hoped that the galleries will also foster cultural understanding.

Mosaics from the Damascus mosque and a 15th-century Mamluk porch are among works spanning the period AD632 to AD1800. Donors included Morocco's King Mohammed VI and Saudi Prince Waleed bin Talal's foundation. The Louvre's director, Henri Loyrette, said the galleries are intended to showcase "the radiant face of a civilisation".

The wing is opening at a tense – though perhaps opportune – time. France stepped up security at its embassies across the Muslim world on Wednesday after a French satirical weekly published lewd caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed. Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed last year, claimed it was exercising its right to free speech. But some fear France could face the kind of backlash that has hit the US after an amateur video was released ridiculing the prophet; at least 30 people have been killed there in violent protests.

At an opening ceremony for the Louvre's new wing on Tuesday, President François Hollande called it a "political gesture in the service of respect for peace." Flanked by the Saudi prince and the President of Azerbaijan, he criticised those who "destroy the values of Islam by resorting to violence and hate. The best weapons for fighting fanaticism that claims to be coming from Islam are found in Islam itself," he said. "What more beautiful message than that demonstrated here by these works." AP

The Louvre opened a department of Islamic art in 2003, under former President Jacques Chirac. But its gallery could display only a fraction of the thousands of pieces of art from the Muslim world.