The collection of the arts of Islam at the Yale University Art Gallery reflects the chronological depth and geographic breadth of this global religion. Works range in date from the seventh to the twentieth century and originate from the Middle East, Iran, South Asia, Indonesia, Africa, and Europe. As part of the Gallery’s 2012 renovation and expansion, the Mimi Gates Study Gallery has been installed with a selection of highlights from the collections, which will support the broad range of teaching related to Islam at Yale. Included are the arts of the book, ceramics, textiles, metalwork, coins and medals, and architectural elements. The works have been selected from the museum’s departments of African Art, Asian Art, Coins and Medals, and Indo-Pacific Art.
The Department of Asian Art has the greatest number of works made by Islamic peoples or bearing Islamic content. The strengths are in textiles and ceramics from the Near East and Iran. The textile collections were given by Mrs. William H. Moore in the 1930s and 1940s. They had been assembled by Phyllis Ackerman and Arthur Upham Pope, and many were included in their monumental publication, A Survey of Persian Art (Oxford University Press, 1938–39). Some of the ceramics were also gifts of Mrs. Moore, but many came from other donors, including Wilson P. Foss, Jr., PH.B. 1913, and members of his family. The collection is especially rich in Mina’i ware. The Foss family was also important in building a collection of early illustrated manuscripts for the Department of Asian Art. In addition to Timurid period manuscripts and later Persian miniatures, the department has strong holdings of Mughal period Indian miniature painting.
In the Department of African Art, most prominent are objects from the Maghreb through the Sahara to the Sahel, bearing import from Arabic, Jewish, and Berber traditions. Some objects come from the Swahili East Coast, and there are also a number of objects from the rest of black Africa exhibiting Islamic motifs. The textiles were again the gifts of Mrs. William H. Moore. Labelle Prussin, PH.D. 1973, has donated a significant group of silver jewelry from North Africa and the Sahara.
The Department of Indo-Pacific Art is rich in textiles that display Islamic content, particularly of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These textiles are from the Collection of Robert J. Holmgren and Anita E. Spertus, and are promised gifts of Thomas Jaffe, B.A. 1971. There are instances of local forms and traditions being reinterpreted in an Islamic context with, for instance, the appearance of crossed swords or ancestor figures with Islamic-style turbans.
Coins are especially important as documents of the spread of Islam throughout the world. The installation in the Mimi Gates Study Gallery includes an Umayyad coin struck in 714 C.E. in Damascus, representing the earliest dynasty of Islamic rule; a dinar struck in Seville, Spain, under the reign of the Almoravids, a Berber empire that originated in the Sahara and spread across the Maghreb to al-Andalus in the eleventh century; and a coin from the reign of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in India in the seventeenth century. Two medals made in Germany commemorate the Venetian doges who fought the Ottoman empire in the 1680s. The collection includes many more Islamic coins, a rich resource for historical research.