The Doha, Qatar Museum of Islamic Art: A Museum of Masterpieces
The City of Doha, Qatar, is a modern and beautiful city rising from the desert sands surrounding the Persian Gulf. It is also home to one of the biggest and most important antique Persian rug and Oriental carpet collections in the world. The collection of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha Qatar is housed in a beautifully designed, modern building with breathtaking architecture.
Visiting the Museum of Islamic Art Collection in Doha Qatar
The building that houses the Doha museum’s collection of Islamic art is four stories tall and has an open, modern floor plan. The first floor contains the reception area, gift shop, auditorium, cafe, special exhibitions gallery, library, and both male and female prayer rooms. On the 2nd floor, you can find calligraphy, sculpture and figure, pattern, and science rooms. The 3rd floor houses historical collections including early Islamic art of the 7th through 12th century and art from Iran and Central Asia from the 12th through the 16th century.
The Qatar museum also has collections from Egypt and Syria from the 12th through the 16th century. Later collections include pieces from Iran from the 16th to 19th century, India from the 16th through the 18th century and Turkey from the 16th through the 19th century. The 4th floor houses temporary exhibitions.
For our purposes, it is the 3rd floor that is of the greatest interest because this is where its exquisite carpet collection is kept. The collection includes antique textiles and carpets, some of which date before the 16th century. These are some of the rarest and priceless items in any museum in the world.
History and Acquisition of the Doha Qatar Museum of Islamic Art
The Doha Museum of Islamic art opened in 2008 and has spent the past decade continuing to acquire some of the rarest and exceptional Islamic pieces in the world. Much of the collection was already in possession of Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani, the chairman of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage before the opening of the museum. Most were purchased between 1997 and 2005. Many of the carpets were obtained from private collections and public auctions.
When Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani first conceived the concept of building the museum, he decided that he did not just want a collection of artifacts, he only wanted masterpieces. Before beginning construction on the museum, Al-Thani met with private collectors and owners of some of the rarest and most exquisite pieces in the world. Owners of these treasures saw an excellent opportunity to bring them to the rest of the Arab world and recognized the importance of the collection.
Prior to opening the Doha museum, the collection already contained over 90 antique textiles that included tribal carpets, kilims, and textiles from the 14th to 18th centuries. It includes some early carpets that are considered masterpieces of the carpet world as much as a Leonardo da Vinci painting or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The antique carpets in this collection are some of the finest rugs in the world and represent the history and talent of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires. The collection showcases rare carpets that are world treasures and are part of the global heritage.
The collection also contains one of the most comprehensive collections of carpet books in the world.
Masterpieces of the Doha Museum of Islamic Art Collection
The result of these efforts to acquire some of the greatest carpet treasures in the world resulted in the creation of a museum of masterpieces. The breathtaking collection includes both religious and secular pieces. It has one of the largest collections of carpets with the mihrab or prayer niche designs in the world. It also features intricately detailed silks in both pictorial and classic designs. The focus of the collection is decorative and sacred items from Muslim territories, beginning with the rise of the faith in the 600’s to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s. Its metalwork and carpet collections are considered the museum’s main strength.
The intention was to build a Islamic museum of masterpieces, and looking at the collection, one would conclude that they have in fact succeeded.
Here are some of the pieces that are the most important ones in the Doha Islamic Art Museum’s collection and a sampling of what you might see on a visit:
Paradise Park Carpet at the Qatar Museum of Islamic Art
One of the most famous pieces of note is known as the Paradise Park Carpet. This carpet includes a brilliantly colored garden with various animals and plants. The Paradise carpet housed in this museum is only one of few of these carpets in the world. Only two similar carpets are known to exist in the world. One is located in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The other is the Mantes carpet found in the Louvre. These carpets were produced in the 16th century and would have been commissioned by members of the upper class and courts. One of the most remarkable aspects of this carpet is its bright colors that have remained vibrant since the 16th century.
Ashtapada Carpet at the Museum of Islamic Art
Another outstanding carpet in the collection is the Ashtapada carpet. Ashtapada is a board game played in India that predates chess. The Qatari National Council acquired this carpet for Culture Arts and Heritage (NCCAH) in 1997. It worked with bright colors and has a high silk pile. It an outstanding piece in terms of its preservation. The unique design includes an eight square by eight square gaming board in the design.
Doris Duke Silk Isfahan at the Museum of Islamic Art
The Rothschild small silk medallion carpet is a famous carpet that was formerly in the collection of Doris Duke, a tobacco heiress. The piece was woven in Isfahan in the mid-16th century. It is believed that the carpet was originally from the Court studio of the Shad. This piece was more than likely stored in the darkness nearly untouched because it is in impeccable condition. It is one of the best-preserved carpets from the period. This antique carpet sold at Christie’s auction house for $4.45 million in 2008.
Hyderabad Carpet at the Qatar Islamic Art Museum
The Hyderabad Carpet is another impressive piece in the collection. It is an enormous runner rug that is 10’8″ x 52’4″ and covers an area of approximately 550 square feet. It is more than likely a commissioned Court piece because few others would have the funds available for the labor and materials. It was produced in India during the 17th century. It is an awe-inspiring piece.
The carpet collection sheds light on the trade and economic exchanges throughout the history of the Islamic world. Other notable pieces include a three star Holbein carpet from Turkey, a small silk Muslim prayer mihrab design rug that was dedicated to Safavid Sultan Murad in the 16th century, and the Franchetti Tapestry from the 16th century. The collection also has an unusual round Egyptian Mamluk rug from around 1575.
The collection at the museum is impressive. Care is taken to preserve these treasures for future generations. Conservation actions include keeping the lighting low, performing regular inspections for pests that could harm them, and occasionally rotating the display to give the carpet a period of “environmental rest.”
Planning Your Trip to the Doha Islamic Art Museum
If you are planning a trip that will include the museum, the hours are Saturday and Sunday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. On Fridays the museum is open from 1:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The adjacent park is open all day and night, every day of the year. You will need to check on special hours for the gift shop and library before planning your visit.
We hope that you have enjoyed this small glimpse of the collection at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. If you are planning a trip to the area and love carpets, this is a place that should be at the top of your list. The pieces in the museum are amazing, and if you are in New York, be sure to stop by our gallery to view our selection of beautiful carpets. You can always search our rugs online as we do get in a rare historical piece, and the best part is that you have the opportunity to take it home with you.