Chivalry in age of Islam on show in Paris

2nd October 2007, Comments 0 comments

2 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - Jewel-incrusted suits of armour, scimitars and cutlasses: a Paris exhibition on the art of war in Islam offers a journey back to an age of mediaeval chivalry, far from the suicide attacks and snuff movies of today's Islamic "Holy Warriors."

2 October 2007

PARIS (AFP) - Jewel-incrusted suits of armour, scimitars and cutlasses: a Paris exhibition on the art of war in Islam offers a journey back to an age of mediaeval chivalry, far from the suicide attacks and snuff movies of today's Islamic "Holy Warriors."

"We wanted to show that conflicts were fought in a spirit of chivalry and respect for the opponent, unlike the current mindset of terrorism," said Eric Delpont, curator of the show "Furusiyya," which means "Horsemanship" in Arabic.

Spanning 10 centuries of Islamic history, from the eighth-century Abbassid dynasty to the Ottoman Empire, 400 artefacts gathered from India to Persia, are on display, loaned from a friend of the Saudi royal family.

"In the Islamic world, there is no art for art's sake. Art takes shape in everyday objects," explained Bashir Mohamed of the Liechtenstein-based Furusiyya Art Foundation, which manages the rare collection.

Swords, sabres and daggers, chain-mail, archer's rings, helmets and horse armour: each piece is a jewel in itself. Gold, jade and emeralds glisten on the protective thumb rings worn by Moghul archers when tightening their bows.

Arms are incrusted with delicate patterns showing animals, flowers or verses from the Koran, using the finest materials -- jade, ivory, cristal, leather, velvet and wood.

Daggers, designed for body-to-body combat, are ornate goldsmith's works with diamond-encrusted or sculpted ivory handles, stylised blades and intricately patterned sheaths.

A 17th-century Ottoman archer's shield is a light disc of steel coated with arabesques of red, white and green woven silk.

From the same period, in Iran, a bronze helmet is split into segments bearing the name and attibutes of the 12 divinely-ordained Imams of the Shia Muslim faith.

"The pieces in the collection, however beautiful, all had a use. A beautiful object, defines your status, your power. It also gives you a duty to be worthy of it," said Mohamed.

"War is not just about defeating an enemy but about finding a spiritual path in life," he said.

Battle armour bears Koranic inscriptions designed to bring the carrier luck -- such as a talismanic shirt designed to be worn under a chain mail suit.

Numerous split swords allude to the mythical Zulfikar, one of the oldest symbols in Islam, which according to legend was given to the Prophet Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel during the Battle of Badr in 624.

Visitors explore the show to a backdrop of marches from the Janissaries, the soldiers of the Ottoman Empire -- "both rich in military rythms, and delicate as whispered poetry," in Mohamed's words.

"The Western public still has a lot of respect for the mediaeval period and the spirit of chivalry," Delpont said. "They see the pieces as works of art, not tools of war."

The show, at Paris' Arab World Institute on the south bank of the River Seine, runs until October 21.

AFP

Subject: French news

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