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Harvard Art Museums present exhibition of Norma Jean Calderwood's collection of Islamic Art
Bowl with inscription and birds, Iran, Nishapur, Samanid period, 10th century. Earthenware covered in slip and painted under glaze. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, 2002.50.92. Photo: Harvard Art Museums, © President and Fellows of Harvard College.
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- The Harvard Art Museums present In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, a special exhibition that showcases some 150 objects from the Persian cultural sphere, including luxury glazed ceramics of the early and medieval Islamic era, illustrated manuscripts of medieval epic poems, and lacquerware of the early modern era. The works in this little-known and largely unpublished collection represent 30 years of committed collecting by Mrs. Calderwood. In Harmony is on display January 31–June 1, 2013 at the Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 485 Broadway, Cambridge, MA.

The exhibition is curated by Mary McWilliams, Norma Jean Calderwood Curator of Islamic and Later Indian Art, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art, Harvard Art Museums. An accompanying catalogue, edited by McWilliams, offers illustrated entries and nine essays written by distinguished scholars and conservation scientists from a broad range of specialties.

“In the decade since the Harvard Art Museums received the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, our gratitude has only increased for this magnificent gift,” said McWilliams. “Our research on the collection has inspired an even greater admiration and respect for Norma Jean’s knowledge and achievement. With this exhibition and catalogue, we hope to share with a broader audience the understanding we have gained of this beautiful and thoughtfully formed collection.”

“There has been exponential growth in the study of Islamic art in recent decades,” said Thomas W. Lentz, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard Art Museums, “and Harvard University and the Harvard Art Museums have been at the forefront of this movement, with faculty, curators, students, and celebrated collections providing fertile ground for the field. The Calderwood Collection is a lasting contribution from a collector who understood the heart of our educational mission.”

The Calderwoods
Norma Jean Calderwood devoted much of her life to studying and teaching Islamic art and the complex of cultures in which it arose. She pursued graduate study in Islamic art at Harvard University, where she specialized in Persian manuscripts, and taught for many years at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and at Boston College. A gifted lecturer, she was also an intrepid traveler, crossing North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia to study the art and architecture of Islamic lands. For three decades beginning in 1968, she systematically acquired examples of the artistic tradition that captivated her.

Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood were energetic and generous philanthropists in their adopted city of Boston. Institutions that have benefited directly from the Calderwoods’ generosity include the Boston Athenaeum, Boston College, the Cambridge Art Association, the Harvard Art Museums, the Huntington Theatre, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the MacDowell Colony (Peterborough, NH), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and public broadcaster WGBH. Their private art collection was the most tangible and personal expression of the Calderwoods’ lifelong involvement in the arts, but also the one least known to the public.

The Calderwood Collection
The Calderwood Collection covers more than a thousand years of artistic achievement in the Persianate world during the Islamic era, principally through the media of ceramics, works on paper, and lacquer. The majority of objects were produced between the 9th and 19th centuries in Iran, Iraq, and parts of Central Asia. Initially attracted to luxury ceramics, Norma Jean Calderwood amassed 57 examples within a decade before shifting her attention to works on paper—illuminated and illustrated manuscript folios as well as single-page compositions. A handful of lacquer objects rounds out the collection. The collection was gifted to the Harvard Art Museums in 2002, and a subsequent exhibition of 46 objects, titled Closely Focused, Intensely Felt: Selections from the Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, was held August 7, 2004–January 2, 2005 at the Sackler Museum. That exhibition marked the first public showing of a major portion of the collection.

In Harmony
To convey to her students the effect of a Persian painting, Norma Jean Calderwood said that its many visual elements “united to form a harmony.” The theme is eloquently expressed in some of the finest works in the Calderwood Collection, as well as in the total assembly, with objects resonating through contrasts and connections. This exhibition celebrates the scope of Calderwood’s achievement and the harmony of purposes that led to the gifting of the collection to the Harvard Art Museums.

To reflect the collection’s breadth and variety, the exhibition is ordered along a flexible chronology, beginning with earthenware from the 9th and 10th centuries, and closing with lacquerware from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Interspersed are several thematic clusters, as well as groupings of folios from four illustrated manuscripts that Mrs. Calderwood endeavored to reassemble when they were dispersed on the art market.

Highlights of the ceramics on view: Bowl with rooster and fish (Iraq, Basra, 10th century), is decorated with luster painting, the greatest contribution of Islamic potters to the history of ceramics. Bowl inscribed with sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and ʿAli ibn Abi Talib (Uzbekistan, Samarkand, 10th century), a superb example of epigraphic wares, bears Arabic inscriptions attributed to two of the most important figures in the history of Islam. The decoration of arabesques and interlaced lines on Bowl with radial interlace design (Iran, Kashan, late 12th–early 13th century), is created in the polychrome mina’i technique—a costly and complex overglaze process that required multiple firings. The colorful decoration on Bowl with inscription and birds (Iran, Nishapur, 10th century) is carefully composed and laid out in three registers: an Arabic word meaning “harmony” (al-wifaq) occupies the middle, and above and below it are long-necked birds with outstretched wings.

The works on paper include illustrated manuscripts of medieval Persian poems, most notably the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Firdawsi, and the Khamsa (Quintet) by Nizami. A painting of great importance is Afrasiyab and Siyavush Embrace, from one of the most celebrated illustrated manuscripts in Islamic art—a large-scale and lavish copy of the Shahnama that was created in Tabriz, Iran, c. 1520–40 for Shah Tahmasp I, the second ruler of the Safavid dynasty in Iran. This brilliant painting illustrates a rare moment of harmony between the warring peoples of Iran and Turan. From another manuscript of the Shahnama comes Solomon Enthroned (c. 1575–90), one of the Calderwood Collection’s finest examples of painting from the Iranian city of Shiraz, which for three centuries was a major center for the production of illuminated and illustrated manuscripts. This painting depicts the famously multilingual King Solomon presiding wisely over an incongruous retinue of humans, demons, angels, and animals. The rising importance of single-page compositions is reflected in Young Dervish (Iran, Isfahan, c. 1630) which shows a comely youth sporting the domical wool hat and staff of a dervish. Signed by Riza `Abbasi, the most influential artist of 17th-century Iran, the painting demonstrates his calligraphic draftsmanship and subtle sense of color. Midway through the exhibition several of the works on paper will be rotated. Those works will be on view beginning Tuesday, April 9, 2013.





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