June 15, 2018 Comments off

The David Collection

THE HUMAN FIGURE IN ISLAMIC ART, The David Collection, Copenhagen

This issue has always interested and puzzled me.

There is still uncertainty with regard to attitudes about figurative art in Islamic culture. This exhibit in Denmark – now closed – tackled the delicate issue, together with a great catalogue. An article in May 2018 ASIAN ART by JULIET HIGHET and titled THE HUMAN FIGURE IN ISLAMIC ART explains what we know and what we do not know about figurative art. She reports that there is no explicit passage in the Qur’an forbidding figurative depictions of humans. It is the written traditions that are more critical on this subject; and three dimensional portrayals seem to be more objectionable than paintings because sculptures and reliefs express a greater reality of a divinely created world. We find human figures in paintings and we find and we see the Prophet’s partially hidden face together with his winged steed Buraq – often – with a female face. So what are we to believe? It might help to keep in perspective the world of politics during the early times of Islam, the Islamic revolt against Christian Byzantine symbolism, and the influence of Persian portraiture painters. Great art patrons like Akhbar and his son Jahangir and his grandson Shah Jahan all encouraged local and imported artists in their own traditions portraying more human figures. And it helped me to keep in mind that religious art and human figures in churches and temples played a great public role whereas figurative art in Islamic art was often developed for and in the private realm.

The author Juliet Highet is a writer, journalist and photographer who writes and publishes on a wide range of Arab, South Asian, East Asian and African cultures. One of her books is: Frankincense: Oman’s Gift to the World. Got to order this one….


human figure in islamic art


Water -harvesting system below ground………thousands of years old…….

The book THE VANISHING STEPWELL OF INDIA, by Vitoria Lautman, foreword by Divay Gupta, Merrell Publisher explores
75 subterranean wells throughout India. Stepwells serve a number of purposes in addition to providing a community with water – – they were civic centers, active places for worship as well as refuges from the challenging climate. Each successive subterranean level often was with beautiful Hindu and islamic influenced architectural pavilions providing shade. During the 19th century it is estimated that several thousands of stepwells were in operation. Over time they silted up and were filled in but recently an effort has started to reactivate and de-silt step wells to once again collect water.

vanishing stepwell of india


Courtesy Metropolitan Museum


Many of us have seen, appraised, bought, sold so-called Coromandel screens. Chinese lacquer screens often with red, brown or black ground with large landscape and pavilions scenes and often scenes of dancers illustrating Ming dynasty and earlier theatrical dramas. We call the screens Coromandels screens but the term came into use only at the beginning of the 20th century. Coromandel because the screens were shipped from China via India’s Coromandel Coast of southeast India. In China the term for these screen was and is kuancai – meaning that the artisans hollowed out, carved and incised many layers of dried lacquer and filled in the gaps with colored lacquer or silver or gold. A time consuming technique.

Not much is written about Coromandel screens and this article in The Oriental Ceramic Society’s May 2018 Newsletter by HE Feng, a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of East Asian Art History at Heidelberg University explains the history of these screens exported from China since the late 1700s.



Museum of Fine Arts, Houston until August 19, 2018…/peacock-in-desert-royal-arts-jodhpur…

Seattle Art Museum, October 18, 2018 to January 19, 2019

Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, later

The exhibition with splendid objects mainly from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and private collections of the royal family of Jodhpur focuses on lavish ceremonial objects, sumptuous jewels, intricately carved furniture, a silver howdah, a monumental 17th century court tent for a durbar, a collection of paintings, arms, jewelry (many pieces from the Al- Sabah Collection, Kuwait,), a stainless steel Rolls-Royce polished to look like silver, – all objects of exquisite taste collected over some five hundred centuries by the rulers of the Marwar-Jodhpur region and the Rathore dynasty that ruled for some 700 years. The exhibit shows physical treasures and also demonstrates the care of the Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur GajSingh II with regard to his inherited legacy – land, buildings and people.

Bought the heavy book catalogue with hundreds of photographs and a very welcome glossary !

Go and see!!



peacock in the desert

Lands of Asia

Until August 19th, 2018

Another very substantial Asian art exhibit in Texas- at the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth.

Between the Crow Collection Dallas, the Fine Arts Museum in Houston, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Asia Society Texas, Houston, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and most of all the Kimbell, Asian art lovers feel very fortunate in Texas.

Collected by Sam and Myrna Myers after they were posted in Paris in the mid 1960s, and eventually assembling some five thousand works of art including Asian, Roman and Greek antiquities. Driven by a passion for Asia, the Myers soon started to concentrate on East Asian pieces, particularly in jade, silk, porcelain and other refined materials.






Korean screen reaches $ 562,500

Korean screen reaches a record $ 562,500; sold by Lark Mason Associates of New York and New Braunfels!

This is what every dealer and auctioneer hopes for …. a “Chinese” large twelve panel screen attributed to the 18th century with scenes from the Buddhist paradise turned out to be a rare Korean screen – employing Chinese subject matters. The screen sold to a Korean dealer and returned to Korea after a long sojourn in the United States. I love this story!





The Good Heart

dalai lama

A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Wisdom Publications 1996, 2016.

An Interfaith Dialogue with the Dalai Lama and Father Laurence Freeman exploring passages from the gospels during the 1994 John Main Seminar; with special sections on Christian (Laurence Freeman) and Buddhist perspectives (Dalai Lama and Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s interpreter). The seminar is sponsored on a yearly basis by the World Community for Christian Meditation in memory of John Main, the Irish Benedictine monk who founded Christian meditation centers throughout the world.

What I found exciting and uplifting was the acceptance of the religious and spiritual focus in both Buddhism and Christianity, and the acceptance of the differences. The Dalai Lama’s reflections on the gospels and the explanation of Buddhist teachings, always based on his own experience, and about Buddhist and Christian saints, increased my understanding of both religions. I make this sound simple but the writing of the books is sometimes quite scholarly and academic and other times very down to earth- especially when the Dalai Lama is giving examples from his life. I am reading this book slowly and repeatedly.




Empress Cixi of China

February 27, 2018 Leave a comment

Somebody asked me about a book about Empress Cixi of China (1835-1908); Cixi had huge obstacles to overcome; she is much maligned but this 2013 biography by Jung Chang EMPRESS DOWAGER CIXI, THE CONCUBINE WHO LAUNCHED MODERN CHINA paints a somewhat different picture.

Empress Cixi of China


February 27, 2018 Leave a comment

Photo by Mark Edward Harris, Cooling off beneath the Gali Begg waterfall

Off to Erbil or Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan – where civilization goes back 5,000 years, where one finds one of the oldest Christian monasteries, Mar Mattai clinging to the side of a mountain where some 7, 000 monks once lived during the ninth century; where the Persian King Darius III “met” Alexander the Great, -a hauntingly beautiful countryside of high mountains and low valleys, by plane one hour and 40 minutes from Amman to Arbil – what is there not to like!!!! Tour operators are counting on more and more tourists if and when the war winds down.

Next time I am in Austria …….not that far away any more……

Read the article in NYT Travel section February 4th, page one and four.



Categories: Middle East, Uncategorized


February 27, 2018 Leave a comment


Through April 29th!

A free standing building with luminous windows -his final work was unveiled only this past weekend. It is also likely the most ambitious work the American artist ever made: a 2,700-square-foot building loosely modeled after a Romanesque church on the grounds of the Blanton Museum.

Go and see it soon.