Inventing Islamic Art (3) : The Museum of Arab Art in Cairo

January 25, 2014

On Friday 24 January 2014, the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art was severely damaged in a suicide car bomb attack that might have targeted the nearby State Security premises. The extent of the damages on artefacts is still unknown but reports describe the “indescribable” destruction of the building and display re-inaugurated in 2010 as many of the glass window panes were shattered as a result of the blast. It seems the museum was not a primary target but a collateral victim of a wave of terrorist attacks on the eve of the third anniversary of the 25 January Revolution due to its location.


The Cairo Museum of Islamic Art is a unique institution because of its very location in the Middle East, in the land of Orientalism. This location questions the reciprocity of the East-West relation of Orientalism: Can displaying Arab art in an Arab country constitute an “oriental” answer to Orientalism? 

The museum was founded in 1869 when the Khedive Ismail (r. 1863-1879) created a national museum in Cairo to coincide with the lavish ceremonies of the inauguration of the Suez Canal. This museum did not have a name or collection at the time; but in 1881, it became the Museum of Arab Art (dar al-athar al-arabyia), after a circle of European connoisseurs salvaged and stored artifacts from Cairo’s Islamic monuments. It was renamed the Museum of Islamic Art (mathaf al-funnun al-islamyia) in 1952, at the time of the Arab nationalist revolution headed by Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The museum was finally  re-inaugurated in 2010 after remaining closed for almost a decade. How does this institution reflects, confronts and contests the very definition of Arab/Islamic art?  Understanding how the museum’s collection was constituted and displayed will enable highlighting how the conceptualization of the Museum of Arab Art in 1881 influenced the Museum of Islamic Art in 2010.

This article was published in 2011 in François Pouillon & Jean-Claude Vatin (eds), Après l’Orientalisme, L’Orient créé par l’Orient. The book is being edited in English in a new version to be published soon. This article is the third step on a reflection on the invention of Islamic Art as an art of collection and exhibition. First step investigated the 1910 exhibition in Munich and its modernist ambition, the second article explored the relationship to the French Orientalist tradition.  This article is a tribute to the Cairo Museum of Islamic Art,  to those who have contributed to its construction back in the old days and who led to its re-inauguration in 2010.

 The museum of Arab art in Cairo (1869-2010): A disoriented heritage?

Orientalism and display

The concept of Arab art needs to be deconstructed to fully grasp the nature of an orientalist institution in the Middle East. The meaning of words themselves have evolved a lot during the period this article covers. The term Arab art was coined in the 1878 universal exhibition in Paris at the “Galerie Orientale” du Trocadero along with “Persian” or “Turk” arts, stressing racial definitions of these arts. The 1893 “exposition des arts musulmans” in Paris inaugurated a broader and transversal definition of the arts from the land “ruled by the law of Islam”.[2] This definition was confirmed by the 1903 exhibition in Paris that can be considered the foundation of Islamic art as a discipline. Its development is witnessed by the 1910 exhibition Meisterwerk muhammedanischer Kunst in Munich where the displayed artifacts were the same as in Paris, but the display aimed at breaking with the Orientalist schemes.

This reflection ought to be built from the debates on the historiography of Islamic art history that developed after 1990, in a moment when the discipline celebrated its centennial. It coincided with the renovation of museums of Islamic art around the world, in Europe, North America and in the Middle East. […] The making of the museum should be considered as a cultural process. The examination of the mediation between collections, institutions and public space thus allows the analysis of the political issues in the display of Islamic art. The basis of the methodology used below entails studying the artifacts and the collection rather than the discourses, it aims at dissecting the methods of acquisition and the way they are altered. The anatomy of a museum collection thus makes possible to disentangle sets and layers of representation within which this Orientalist institution is intertwined. It will demonstrate that the same collection could be ambivalent and serve the purpose of different kinds of antagonistic discourses. The history of Arab and Islamic art highlights the relationship of so-called centers and peripheries in the academic field of Orientalism: a conceptualization of Arab art that conformed to the academic models developed in Paris or Berlin, intersected with a local, Egyptian, knowledge and definition of this art.

Importing a tradition

The modernization and destruction of Cairo’s old city during the reign of Khedive Ismail and his successors inspired a movement of vehement support among connoisseurs of the Orient. In 1881, columnists Gabriel Charmes and Arthur Rhoné orchestrated a media campaign modeled on those conducted by Victor Hugo or Jules Michelet in Paris few decades earlier.[8] Rhoné and Charmes denounced the disappearance of the authentic city and the vanishing of its memory. […]

Plate from Emille Prisse d'Avennes, L’Art arabe d’après les monumens du Kaire depuis le VIIe siècle jusqu’à la fin du XVIIIe. , Paris 1877

Plate from Emille Prisse d’Avennes, L’Art arabe d’après les monumens du Kaire depuis le VIIe siècle jusqu’à la fin du XVIIIe. , Paris 1877

However, these distinctions were not as clear as it seemed. The concept of Arab art had been invented in the Universal Exhibitions and was associated with artistic modernity in Europe; amateurs conceived it as a tradition meant to inspire industrial arts. This was attested by the neo-Arab art and architecture wave that followed the publication of collections of ornaments by Owen Jones (1856), Emile Prisse d’Avennes (1869) or Jules Bourgoin (1889). In a sort of boomerang effect, the newly built neighborhoods of Cairo were influenced by this very idea of neo-Arab ornamental modernity. In Cairo, Western fashion seemed to mediate the ancient tradition and the imported modernity.

By 1870, the French archaeologist Auguste Salzmann (1824-1872) made a report on the conservation of Arab monuments in Cairo, in which he advocated the formation of an Arab museum and the creation of a curator position with the responsibility of preserving historical monuments.[9] Salzmann entrusted the architect of the waqfs (pious endowments) administration, the Austrian Franz Julius (1831-1915), to find a space to store the valuable artifacts collected from the ancient mosques of Cairo. Nothing materialized until 1880, when an embryo of an Arab museum finally emerged thanks to the efforts of Western amateurs and collectors who resided in Egypt and worked for the French-English Dual Control (1879-1882).[10] They installed a small collection of objects in the courtyard of the then-abandoned Fatimid Mosque of al-Hakim (990-1013) and proceeded to collect remains from every derelict monument that had escaped merchants and collectors.[11]

Décret khédivial de Fondation du Comité de Conservation des monuments de l'art arabe du Caire, 1881,

Décret khédivial de Fondation du Comité de Conservation des monuments de l’art arabe du Caire, 1881,

The museum was truly created in 1881 with the establishment of the Comité de conservation des monuments de l’art arabe.[12] The khedivial Decree of 18 December 1881 established the museum as one of the fundamental missions of the Comité which was (Article 2) to “…ensure in the archives of Ministry of Waqfs the conservation plans of all works performed and report to the department the remains from buildings that should be transferred, in the interest of conservation, to the National Museum”.[13]


The Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe : a cultural institution

The Comité combined a newly imported concept, the conservation of cultural heritage, with the ancient administration of waqfs following the trend of reforms and modernization of the Egyptian administration that had started at the beginning of the century. The formal relation to the waqfs solved the problem of inventing a legal status that combined national interest for art, history and private property.[14] In any case, the waqfs system was not a prefiguration of modern heritage practices; the relationship of the Comité with the waqfs was limited to technical management. The establishment of the Comité gave way to understanding religious buildings by labeling them with the function of historical and architectural monuments.

Ali Bahgat, Undated picture

Ali Bahgat, Undated picture

The Comité functioned as a scholarly society consisting of prominent cultural and political figures in Cairo, rather than a colonial institution. However, the colonial context was still omnipresent whilst a subtle balance was maintained between the different political forces. A distance was kept between nationals from European powers, French and British alike, and Egyptian members, Armenians, Copts, Arabs, Turks, etc.[15] Despite the wide network of members and their political affiliations, the Comité’s activities were carried out by a dozen active members working intensively in relation with other heritage institutions in Egypt, such as the Antiquities Service in charge of Pharaonic archaeology. Even though the members developed real expertise in Arab art, the regular duties of the Comité and the management of the museum were led by two internationally renowned experts in Arab art: Max Herz (1856-1919) and Ali Bahgat (1858-1924). Herz was an Austro-Hungarian architect who succeeded Franz Pasha in 1890, and he was appointed museum director (nazir) in 1900.[16] Bahgat, his assistant (wakil), was an Egyptian linguist and epigraphist, a member of the Institut d’Egypte, and allegedly related to nationalist circles. Thanks to their skills and tenacity, the institution was able to gain international recognition.[17] In spite of a persistent rivalry,[18] the two men seemed to be united by the objective of their mission that was to enrich the museum’s collections as we will see in the next section.

Max Herz, undated picture

Max Herz, undated picture

Museum dynamics: collecting and purchasing

Inventories show the magnitude of the increase in the collections. Between 1880 and 1915, over 4,000 items were registered; more than 2,000 additional items were extracted from excavations in Fustat. The Museum of Arab Art was created by amateurs whose goal was to develop an exemplary public collection that would be unique and unequalled in the world. Nevertheless, the analysis of the nature of artifacts and their way of entering the collection (collecting, purchases, gifts, excavations) unveils the main paradox of this institution. As the definition of Arab art evolved into Islamic art at the turn of the century, both conceptualizations of the collection’s Arab and Islamic art coexisted. This duality reveals several types of collection and different levels of discourse that were understood differently by locals, tourists or collectors.

Arab Art museum in the courtyard of Al-Hakim Mosque (from E

Arab Art museum in the courtyard of Al-Hakim Mosque (from E. Pauty, 1931)

Collecting was the first drive of the institution created in the urgency to save the furniture and the decoration of destroyed mosques and ancient buildings of Cairo. This most celebrated characteristic of the institution constituted the basis of the collection. The development of the collection directly depended on the work carried out by the Comité on the waqfs monuments, whose juridical-religious inalienability is perfectly suited to the museum’s structure.[19] Between 1880 and 1888, nearly 1,000 objects entered the collection. These objects gave the collection one of its fundamental characteristics: architectural elements (wood, carved stones and glass lamps) overshadowed other media. By the end of the 1880s, the city as a source of artifacts dried up due to the efforts of the Comité, which had managed to stop the destruction of monuments. […]

Room dedicated to tomb stones and stone architectural elements, picture copied from the 1905 Catalogue

Room dedicated to tomb stones and architectural elements, copied from the 1905 Catalogue

The constitution of the museum’s collections was performed at the edge of safeguarding heritage and the antiquities business. The Khedive’s public works had resulted in supplying  the boutiques of the bazaar with valuable antiquities. Antique dealers such as Panayotis Kyticas, Michael Casira along with the Syrian dealer Elias Hatoun or the Armenian Dikran Kevorkian opened galleries in the late 1870s, away from the bazaar’s souvenirs shops. By 1900, these antiquarians had become real institutions and developed with the museum’s curators a relationship of reciprocity based on common interests: the valuation of the Arab heritage had increased the value of the artifacts – and vice versa. Nevertheless, the Comité had prevented these artifacts from being sold and exported to the art market by claiming the inalienability of waqf objects. By 1887, when there were no more artifacts to be taken from the waqf monuments, the curators had no other choice but to purchase items. As they were financially limited until 1908, the curators acquired objects randomly at the bazaar, looking for inexpensive and, as much as possible, rare items.[22]

Room dedicated to metalwares, copied from the 1905 Catalogue

Room dedicated to metalwares, copied from the 1905 Catalogue

A new period began in 1908 when the curators obtained credits from the Comité enabling them to carry out a policy of acquisition with antique dealers to restock their collections. Textiles, carpets, ceramics and weapons entered the collection causing the first disputes about the definition of Arab art between curators and members of the Comité. Herz and Bahgat, who participated to the Congresses of Orientalists and were connected to the milieu of experts and curators of Islamic art in Paris and Berlin, were up to date with the latest developments of the discipline. Rather than Arab art, they defended the concept of a Muslim art, as developed in the great exhibitions in Paris (1893, 1903) or Munich (1910). For instance, in 1909, they proposed purchasing a Syrian enameled glass goblet with Persian influence; the members of the Comité opposed it arguing that it was not Arab enough, while the curators argued in favor of its Muslim definition.[23] These differences of views about the definition of Arab or Muslim art revealed a gap in the relationship to the norms of Orientalism developed in Paris, Berlin and London. This gap became obvious with the rise of Islamic archaeology in Cairo.

Decentralising Orientalism: Archaeology and donations

Archaeological excavations raised contrasting interests that emphasized the difference between supposedly progressive positions in the center of Orientalism, and conservative in its peripheries. In this regard, the position of Cairo’s experts and Comité was ambivalent.

[…]  In 1910, Bahgat obtained permission to carry out archaeological excavations on fields located in Fustat, Old Cairo, in the south of the city. For the first time, archaeologists excavated a site known as exclusively Islamic. Lacking financial resources, Bahgat imagined an ingenious system: he leased the land to sebakh (natural fertilizer) extractors who used to dig in this area. The museum controlled the harvest in order to recover the artifacts that were then transferred to the museum. Thousands of fragments of pottery and coins were discovered, but soon afterwards Bahgat was accused of various charges.[26] Firstly, his understanding of archaeology was thought to be outdated by his European peers; since the excavations of Flinders Petrie in the 1880s, the goal of archaeology was not to collect artifacts but to record them in their stratigraphic context.[27] In this regard, Bahgat’s method was an anachronism because his main aim was to enrich the museum’s collection. Furthermore, Bahgat was accused of corruption and was forced to resign in 1919. However, he published two books on the excavations of Fustat that earned him a place in the history of Islamic archaeology.[28] He argued that his excavations had enriched the museum’s collections with a large number of objects, and that they had especially helped answer the question of the origins of Islamic art that had inspired his predecessors’ research.[29] This issue shows that the relationship between an Orientalist center and its periphery was scientific rather than geographic or based on race”; however, Bahgat was ousted by his peers because of his research.

1908 Postcard of the Khedivial Library and Museum of Arab Art (DR)

1908 Postcard of the Khedivial Library and Museum of Arab Art (DR)

The gap between the center and the periphery was also a matter of taste as revealed by the donations made by the Egyptian elite to the museum. Contrary to European museums, donations had a small part in constituting the  Museum of Arab Art’s collections. As was the case with the purchases, donations multiplied as the museum became more visible. They peaked in 1904 at the inauguration of a brand new palace in Bab al-Khalq, one of the finest neighborhoods of Cairo. Numbers increased after 1908, possibly as a response to the curators’ repeated calls.[30] […] European collections, composed primarily of wood, stone carvings, enameled glass and metals, reflected the conceptualization of classical Arab Cairene art as represented in the museum. Egyptians’ collections consisted of later Islamic objects, such as weapons, firmans, kiswa (curtains covering the Kaaba), souvenirs and diplomatic gifts related to the memory of the Muhammad Ali dynasty, in place since 1805. It is precisely these 19th-century artifacts, influenced by Western styles, that were excluded from the scope of Islamic art as defined by the exhibitions held in Paris (1903) and Munich (1910).[31] Their acceptance within the museum’s collection marked an important turning point in the conceptualization of Islamic Art. This aspect of the collection was to be highlighted on two occasions: a failed exhibition project in 1914, and the new edition of the catalogue that was interrupted by WWI. An alternative conceptualization of Arab or Islamic art was being developed in the Museum of Arab Art, an institution acknowledged by its location in the center of Orientalism, to the normative concept promoted in Paris or Berlin – its meaning was contextualized as its definition extended to include objects that dated to almost to the then-present time.

To sum up, Arab art was a European Orientalist invention and the museum in Cairo was its exhibiting space. The development of the collections through different means – collecting, purchasing, excavating, donating – showed how the concept of Arab art had split in two: an Egyptian concept (Arab art) and a European one (Muslim art), which came together within the museum displays. This duality of the collections contributed to their redefinition, as demonstrated by the issues raised in the search of a legal framework to protect Arab/Islamic antiquities in 1913.[32] A draft bill which was only voted in 1919 extended the limit of Arab Art “…to the contemporary epoch until today”[33]thus opening the gap between the understandings of Arab/Islamic art in Egypt and in the West, where Islamic art was considered finished at the end of the 18th-century.[34]

Arab nationalism and Islamic art

In 1919, Egypt obtained legal independence; it would however have to wait until 1952 and the Free Officers’ revolution to reach actual independence. Several major changes occurred at that time that led to the rethinking of the institution without changing the structure of the collections.

In the 1920s, King Fuad (r. 1922-1936) appealed to Louis Hautecoeur (1884-1973) and Gaston Wiet (1887-1971) to reform the Department of Antiquities in charge of the conservation of Pharaonic, Coptic and Arab heritage. Wiet was appointed director of the museum in 1926 and remained in the position until 1951. In this period, the museum was placed under the authority of Ministry of Education, following the French heritage model, thus promoting a secular concept of Islamic art. The museum lost its structural link to the Ministry of Waqfs ,but the structure of collection did not change and was enriched with artifacts of Islamic art from other countries. Wiet published a series of scholarly catalogues ensuring the international recognition of the pre-existing collection.[35]

The Museum of Islamic Art in 1983 (source: MIA facebook page)

The Museum of Islamic Art in 1983 (source: MIA facebook page)

In 1952, the government of Nasser officially changed the name of museum to the Museum of Islamic Art “…due to the presence of objects of Islamic art produced not only in Arab countries, but in other countries such as Turkey and Persia, where Islamic art has had an overwhelming influence.”[36] Was it simply a belated update of the museum’s name almost fifty years after the concept of Islamic art emerged in Europe? Did the change of name reveal a shift from a reference to Arab culture to the umma islamiyya (the broad Muslim community)? In fact, the national Museum of Arab Art created in 1881 could be renamed because the nation it referred to was reconstructed: the museum was no longer an image of the Egyptian nation – the collections of a Museum of Islamic Art in Fu?ad I University created in 1945 assumed this role.[37] With the disappearance of the word “national” from its official name, the Museum of Islamic Art justified the presentation of the Egyptian nation as the heir of every art piece made in the name of beauty. It symbolically placed the Arab Republic of Egypt both at the forefront of the Islamic civilization and the arts, sciences and letters.

2010 Reopening: challenges, appropriations

The Museum of Islamic Art was re-inaugurated in 2010, after almost a decade of restoration. This was widely welcomed and celebrated by the national and international press. The reopening of the museum ought to be placed in an international context where Islamic art has been given a mediating role to counteract the impact of the theory of the clash of civilizations. In this perspective, displaying Islamic arts was supposed to bridge contemporary civilizations, museums intended to bring a positive and unified image of a so-called contemporary culture of Islam by highlighting the aesthetic qualities of a brilliant historical civilization whose artifacts functioned as ambassadors. Culturally, these events were based on certain historical reductions, together with some political opportunism.[38] The term Islamophile used to describe collectors’ curiosity at the turn of the 20th-century was supposed to neutralize the implication of Islamophobia, a neologism referring to the contemporary context of defiance intolerance towards Islam and Muslim societies. […] It seems that the demons of Orientalism that Edward Said was supposed to have exorcised are reappearing or, in fact, were always present.

The Museum of Islamic Art after its restoration in 2010 (DR)

The Museum of Islamic Art after its restoration in 2010 (DR)

This context derived largely from the events of 11 September 2001, brought about a particular investment in museums of Islamic art around the world. The reopening of the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin (2019) will follow those at the Louvre (2012), the Metropolitan Museum (2011), the David Collection in Copenhagen (2009), the V&A in London (2006) and the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon (2004). The opening of the museums of Islamic Art in Cairo (2010) and Doha (2008) complement these Western institutions. Some shifts in paradigms were expected to result from this intense architectural and museographic activity. Quite the opposite happened. Old clichés were recycled; for instance, the “luminescent” veil covering the new department at the Louvre is supposed to evoke a Bedouin tent or a flying carpet.[39] Architectural modernity is not able to hide a flavor of traditionalism. In the case of Doha’s museum, despite the architectural marvel and the self-proclaimed “…world largest collection of Islamic art in a Muslim country”[40] the museum design as well as the substance of the collections does not differ from any museum in Paris, New York or Berlin. Could Orientalist models be confronted? Was it legitimate to expect a renewal of the definitions of Islamic art by the museum’s curators or their ambitious Arab sponsors?

In Cairo, the problem seems more pernicious. The restoration of the museum was the result of cooperation between French curators from the Louvre and their Egyptian counterparts.[41] The cooperation in this regard was difficult as it seemed that both teams had rarely been able to communicate other than in confrontation, the French condemning the Egyptians’ incompetence and vice versa. The museum as it reopened bears the scars of this confrontation; for instance, the notes and explanations accompanying the artifacts are not the same in English and Arabic.


Glasswares, 2013 (DR)

The duality of the collection as seen a century earlier continues. The roles, however, have been redistributed. The 19th-century Arab art then promoted by the Egyptian elite has disappeared from the exhibition rooms. On one hand, Egyptian curators defended a certain vision of Islamic art by dedicating rooms to Iraqi Abbasid artifacts, which are few in number in the collection. On the other hand, the French curators wanted to highlight the Egyptian Fatimid art collection for which the museum is world-renowned, but their Egyptian counterparts could not accept the emphasis on the Shia dynasty. These two understandings of the collection opposed each other: the French considered the first collection of local Arab art as a linkage between the museum and the city of Cairo; the Egyptians defended the concept of a universal Islamic art. These two readings, unfortunately, reduce the potential of the display of the collection, which is exceptionally rich and raises a debate on the actual state of the museum. Inventories virtually account for nearly 100,000 items, but a proportion of these artifacts have disappeared following a fire in the storage in September 2005 and were deaccessioned from the museums’s collection and are now in other museums in Egypt. There were also reports of numerous acts of negligence and thefts. The museum of 2010 shows the decay of the aging Egyptian regime, the extent of financial corruption, and the mediocrity of the cultural debate. Even if the team who finalized the renewal tried to minimize it, the museum seems to attest the provincialization of Egypt on the international cultural scene.

The restoration and existence of the Museum of Islamic Art rends the appropriation of the Orientalist patterns as problematic as in the case of the Islamic Art museums in Europe; it reveals the lack of contestation of these models. The revolution of 25 January 2011 – described as an “Arab Spring” in an Orientalist outburst – did not reach the Museum of Islamic Art as it did for the venerable Egyptian Museum. During the occupation of Tahrir Square, its alleged looting became a propaganda tool of the regime.[42] Contrary to Pharaonic art, Islamic art does not show the image of an exclusive nation; the nationalist impulses associated with a more obvious Islamist discourse than the one seen before the revolution does not suggest a radical paradigm shift in this regard, and the question of defining Arab or Islamic art has not found a definite answer. However, the misunderstandings and the quid pro quos regarding the collections demonstrate that the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo, Orientalist institution in the Orient, reveals a reciprocal disenchantment.

Note: I am grateful to Clara Rivas Alonso for translating this article and to Iman R. Abdulfattah for editing and constructively commenting this article.

[1]          Marye, Georges, “L’exposition des arts musulmans au Pavillon de l’industrie,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, X, p. 491.

[2]        Arthur Rhoné, “Coup d’œil sur l’état présent du Caire ancien et moderne ?”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, , pp. 420-432 ; XXV, pp. 55-67, pp.144-153, 1881-1882 ; Gabriel Charmes, “L’art Arabe au Caire”, Journal des Débats, August, 2, 3, 4, 1881.

[9]          Mercedes Volait, “Amateurs français et dynamique patrimoniale : aux origines du Comité de conservation de l’art arabe ?” in Robert Hilbert, L’Egypte et la France à l’époque des khédives, Paris, 2002, p. 319-320.

[10]        See Volait, 2009, op. cit.

[11]        Max Herz, Catalogue Sommaire des monuments exposés dans le musée national de l’Art arabe, Cairo, G. Lekegian et Cie, 1895, p. III, translated in English in 1896 with an introduction by Stanley Lane-Poole : Catalogue of the National Museum of Arab Art, London, B. Quaritch, 1896.

[12]        Committee for the Preservation of the monuments of Arab art, hereafter referred as the Comité.

[13]        Bulletin, 1882-83, p. 9. The reference Bulletin refers to the publication of the usual works of the Comité which was the primary source of this research: Comité de conservation des monuments de l’art arabe, Comptes rendus et procès verbaux des séances, Cairo, Imprimerie Nationale up to 1898, Imprimerie de l’IFAO, 1881-1954.

[14]        Galila El-Kadi, “La genèse du patrimoine en Egypte : du monument au centre historique” in Gravari-Barbas M. et Guichard-Anguis S. (eds.), Regards croisés sur le patrimoine dans le monde à l’aube du XXIe siècle, Paris, Presses de l’université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2003, pp. 99-116.

[15]        Donald Malcolm Reid, “Cultural Imperialism and Nationalism: The Struggle to Define and Control the Heritage of Arab Art in Egypt”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 24, 1, 1992, pp. 62-64.

[16]        István Ormos, Max Herz Pasha (1859-1919): His life and career, 2 volumes, Cairo, IFAO, 2009. See also idem, “Preservation and Restoration: The Method of Max Herz Pasha, Chief Architect of the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe”, in Jill Edwadds (ed), Historians in Cairo, Cairo, 2002.

[17]        See travel guides e.g. Baedeker, Egypte et Soudan, Manuel du voyageur, Leipzig, Karl Baedeker, 1908 (3rd edition), or Gaston Migeon, Le Caire, le Nil et Memphis, Paris, H. Laurens (collection Les villes d’art célèbres), 1906. See also articles written by Herz and published in international journals: “Le Musée national du Caire”, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, .XXVIII, pp.45-59, 1902, pp. 498-505 et XXX, 1903, pp. 223-234.

[18]        For instance, in 1901, Herz opposed Bahgat’s nomination as director of the Museum. See Jean-Gabriel Leturcq, Entries “Bahgat Ali Bey” and “Herz Miska dit Max” in F. Pouillon (ed.), op. cit., 2012, pp. 39-40 and pp. 493-494.

[19]        The principle of waqfs also leads to the creation of the museum of Islamic Art in Istanbul, the Evkaf’ Islamiye Müzesi in 1914, thirty years after the museum of Cairo. See “Halil Edhem on the Museum of Pious foundations” in Z. Bahrani, Z. Çelik, E.Eldem (eds), Scramble for the Past: A Story of Archaeology in the Ottoman Empire, 1753-1914, Salt, Istanbul, 2011, p. 417.

[22]        Before 1892, only one artifact is purchased in 1887 by Artin Pacha. The budget allocated to purchase artifacts is limited from 1892 (125 LE) till 1907 when a budget is allocated by the governorate (1054 LE). In this period, annual expenses for a purchase did not exceed 170 LE in 1901 when the curators bought from Kyticas wood panels from the Mamluk Al-Maridani Mosque. Bulletin, 1901.

[26]        Bulletin, 1915-19, “Polémiques de presse au sujet des fouilles à Foustât, recueil et traduction de M. H. Farnall”, pp. 279-300.

[27]        Ibid. : Sayce, A.H, Egyptian Gazette, 30 May 1918.

[28]        Ali Bahgat, Albert Gabriel, 1921, 1928 ; Bahgat, A. et Massoul, F., 1930.

[29]        Bahgat ; Gabriel, 1921, “preface”, p. VIII.

[30]        Bulletin, 1918, “Rapport sur le Musée arabe”, p. 38.

[31]        About the 1903 exhibition in Paris, see Sophie Makariou,. “L’enfance de l’art: un siècle d’étude de l’art islamique”, in R. Labrusse (ed.) ,op. cit., 2007pp. 56-57. About the 1910 exhibition in Munich, see Kröger Jens, “The 1910 Exhibition “Meisterwerke muhammadanischer Kunst”: Its Protagonists and its Consequences for the Display of Islamic Art in Berlin” in Lermer and Shalem (ed.), op. cit., 2010, p. 71. et passim.

[32]        Bulletin, 1913, PV 199, 4/02/1913, “Projet de loi de 1913 sur la protection des monuments arabes”.

[33]        “Loi n°9 sur la protection des monuments de l’époque arabe et ses annexes” in Bulletin, 1915-19, pp. 241-249.

[34]        See for instance, Sheila S. Blair, , Jonathan M. Bloom, 1995 The Art and Architecture of Islam (1250-1800), Yale-New-York, Yale University Press: “The European conquests that end the period that volume covers are sometimes marked by precise events, such as Napoleon expedition to Egypt in 1798 and French seizure of Algeria in 1832.” p. 303.

[35]        For the multi-volume Catalogue général du Musée arabe, see Gaston Wiet, Lampes et bouteilles en verre émaillé, Cairo, Musée arabe, 1929 ; Les objets mobiliers en cuivre et en bronze à inscriptions historiques, Cairo, Musée arabe, 1932 ;See also Album du Musée arabe, Cairo, Musée arabe, 1930 ; Musée National de l’art arabe, Guide Sommaire, Cairo, Ministère de l’Instruction publique, 1939.

[36]        Nehad Khouloussy, “Musées Egyptiens : Musées du Caire”, Museum, 9, 1956, p.189. See also Mostafa, Mohamed, The Museum of Islamic Art, a short guide, Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, General Egyptian Book Organization, 1979 (1st edition 1953).

[37]        Paradoxically, the museum at the Fuad I University bears the name of Muslim art, although it displays only artifacts found in Egypt. See Muhammad Hasan Zaky, Moslem Art in the Fouad I University Museum, Cairo, Fouad I University Press, 1950.

[38]        David J. Roxburgh “After Munich: Reflection on recent exhibitions”, in Lermer and Shalem (eds.), op. cit., 2010, pp. 359-386.

[39]        This image was widely used in the plethoric coverage of the opening of the Département des Arts de l’Islam in November 2012. It appears as early as 2005 when the project was released by the Communication Department of the Musée du Louvre, July 2005 (cannot be accessed on the internet).

[40]        See their website: (last accessed 21/04/2013).

[41]        See Iman R. Abdulfattah, “The Museum of Islamic Art Revisited”, in Susan Kamel, Christine Gerbich (eds), Experimentierfeld Museum, Internationale Perspektiven auf Museum, Islam und Inklusion, Berlin, Transcript Verlag, 2013 (to be released).

[42]        Mohammed Elshahed, “The Case against the Grand Egyptian Museum”, 16 June 2011, (last accessed 21/04/2013)


3 Responses to “Inventing Islamic Art (3) : The Museum of Arab Art in Cairo”

  1. Rania said

    it is not called The Museum of Arab Art in Cairo, it is called the Museum of Islamic art in Cairo. there is nothing called arab art. the museum is an Egyptian museum of Egyptian I
    slamic art, or let’s say it was 😦

  2. […] A Disoriented Heritage” is the last issue of the study I started in 2002 and kept on following up since […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: