SPLENDOUR AND BLISS at the Gemeente Museum, The Hague

The number of wonderful objects dazzles, the exotic displays overwhelm but poor layout meant visitors, when I was there, weren’t sure where to go or what was part of the exhibition or what wasn’t. Some, being under the impression there were more rooms, wandered off.

The official opening was only a few days before my visit yet the booklet which is available in the exhibition and accompanies it, was already tatty with loose pages. This booklet is available in English and Dutch. It contains a floor plan, as well as thumbnail photos of all objects with explanatory texts but often does not provide much insight beyond bare facts. However, using the booklet is strongly recommended. Even if one only wants to look up one or two objects or make sure one has seen everything.

The exhibition is arranged according to themes. The floor plan tells visitors there are five rooms. Unfortunately, some themes seem to have separate rooms where they share space. Other spaces work like one large room, but are treated as three. Small wonder, visitors end up bewildered and find themselves in the permanent exhibition on Delft Blue – or elsewhere.

Themes, according to which objects are displayed, include “geometry”, “calligraphy”, “plants and animals” plus several others. Within these themes, the objects displayed are not shown in any chronological, regional or material order. Consequently it is difficult to form a cohesive impression. The nearly 300 objects were collected during the 19th and 20th centuries, but date from the 7th. They originate from various places in the Islamic empire which “… at its height, extended from Spain to China.”

Here are beautiful manuscripts and books, candle sticks, musical instruments, complete doors with posts and windows, pottery, lamps, tiles, rugs, astronomical instruments – and more. Materials ranges from cloth, wool, leather, copper, glass – and more. However, after several attempts trying to discover some logic or order, I simply gave up.

A visit to this exhibition is almost as bewildering as a first visit to an teeming bazaar in Egypt, Morocco or anywhere else in the Islamic world.

I have visited other exhibitions on Islamic art which were better organized and at least introduced some of the objects by showing, illustrating, explaining, teaching while covering developments or pointing out differences between regions or countries. In these shows the splendour was impressive, the visit sheer bliss. They created appreciation, admiration and an interest in Islamic art. Not so, with this one, which simply was too chaotic, too overwhelming, too irritating.

Sad, for it does contain many wonderful objects including a manuscript showing a map of the Mediterranean, beautiful samples of calligraphy and miniatures, enchanting tiles and rugs, as well as impressive painted glass ware and fascinating musical instruments. These are all wonderful objects for which, along with vast amounts of knowledge, we have to thank the Islamic world.   Kate Den    26th September 2018


Splendour and Bliss at the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag continues until 3rd of March 2019.

Photo courtesy of Gemeentemuseum Den Haag


Splendour and Bliss at the Gemeentemuseum in Den Haag continues until 3rd of March 2019.

Photo: Gemeentemuseum Den Haag