Saudi billionaire donates EUR 17m to Louvre

27th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 28 (AFP) - The Louvre, once a royal fortress and today the world's largest museum, will get a new wing to showcase its vast collection of Islamic art thanks to a multi-million euro gift by a Saudi prince bent on mending post-9/11 ties between the West and Arabs.

PARIS, July 28 (AFP) - The Louvre, once a royal fortress and today the world's largest museum, will get a new wing to showcase its vast collection of Islamic art thanks to a multi-million euro gift by a Saudi prince bent on mending post-9/11 ties between the West and Arabs.

The museum's 10,000-piece collection of art from the Islamic world rivals those of the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but is rarely seen for lack of display space. Some pieces have not been shown for two decades.

Architectural plans were unveiled Wednesday for the 4,000 square-meter (43,000 square-foot) wing, to be built by architects Mario Bellini from Italy and Rudi Ricciotti of France and scheduled to open in 2009.

Nearly a third of the EUR 56 million project is being underwritten by Saudi Prince Al-Walid Bin Talal, whose EUR 17 million gift is one of the largest in France's history, French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said at a ceremony Tuesday.

"Your gesture is a testament to the generosity of the Islamic world," the minister said.

The French state and oil company Total will cover most of the balance, chipping in EUR 26 million and EUR 4 million respectively, with the rest coming from future donors.

The decision to create a new department of Islamic art in the Louvre came directly from French President Jacques Chirac, who is said to maintain very good relations with Al-Walid.

A statement from Chirac's office said the president was "particularly attached" to the project.

It will create a new space for this "exceptional collection" and reinforce the avocation of the Louvre -- which houses such priceless treasures as Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa' and is visited by more than six million people a year -- as a world cultural heritage centre, it said.

The media-shy prince -- who declined any comment during Tuesday's signing ceremony at the Louvre -- is one of the richest individuals on the planet, with a fortune estimated at USD 20 billion (EUR 16.6 billion).

More than an astute businessman whose taste for luxury led him to purchase some of the world's most elegant hotels including The George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York, he is a generous philanthropist who says his gifts total USD 100 million (EUR 83 million) a year.

In his ultra-conservative native Saudi Arabia, he has also promoted social reform. But the September 11 terror attacks in the United States brought a new imperative -- working to improve relations between the West and the Arab world, in his own words, "both publicly and secretly".

This latest endeavour, helping finance the Louvre's new Islamic wing, will allow the museum to showcase a much larger percentage of what critics have called one of the greatest concentrations of Islamic art in existence.

Only some 1,300 objects from the Louvre's Islamic collection are currently on display. It is the youngest department in the museum, created only in 2003 with pieces spanning 13 centuries and three continents, showing the spread of Islamic civilization from Spain to India.

The collection is especially strong in the areas of medieval Persian and Arab art and the Ottoman Empire and claims one of the world's most prestigious collections of ancient Oriental carpets.

It also has major archaeological holdings and a well-preserved archive of papyrus documents from the first centuries of Islam.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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