Back last weekend, when the Art Gallery was available to the people of Sydney, David and I went to see the Arts of Islam exhibition. It was truly stunning. Beautifully painted Korans and other books, luscious textiles and carpets, delicate glass, beaten and spun and inlaid metalwork... it was just a feast for the eyes. I filled several pages on my sketchbook with motifs and patterns for my textile work.
I don't want to wax lyrical for too long about it, so I'll just mention some things that really intrigued me. Korans which, although works of art, were clearly also working books, marked with the hands of users over hundreds of years, and sometimes annotated by different hands in the margins. And the one with such large print, it had to be delivered to the palace in a wheelbarrow! The intricate woven textiles, with extra weft threads making complex patterns. These incredible daggers with jewelled handles and scabbards. The excerpts from a pilgrim's manual, a sort of Baedeker or Lonely Planet Guide for the 17th century pilgrim, including street maps of the towns and detailed illustrations of what the pilgim might find there. One page showed "Other Sights to see" - things in the Mecca area that weren't part of the hajj but might be of interest to the discerning pilgrim. And "the book of postal routes and kingdoms" dating from around 700AD, showing rivers, mountains, towns and, most important, the routes the messengers should take to deliver the mail. Just amazing, all of it.
We also had a look at a much smaller exhibition of Chinese jade. These pieces dated from Palaeolithic to modern times. It's easy to forget that when the Egyptians were still figuring out how to put one stone on another, the Chinese already had a complex culture. The pieces really illustrated the history of jade work in China - how they learnt to work the stone, and how to produce a rich red colour by heating the jade - first as a piece and then later selectively, so small areas of the designs were highlighted. And the development of jade inlay. The works were just so intricate! The crowning glory was the Jade Throne and lacquer and jade screens of the Emperor. I imagine it would be pretty hard to remain unimpressed when you were brought before the Emperor as he sat on this throne with this incredible jade all around him!
We also looked at the scupture work of a man called Mackennal, whom I'd never heard of, but he's famous, being the first Australian admitted to the Royal Academy and the first to be knighted. He produced the equestrian statue of Edward VI and many works for George V, including coins, medals and postage stamps. Plus lots of portraiture and works based on mythological themes. He was on the cusp of the huge changes in art at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, so his themes are classical but the works have the detail and drama of the pre-Raphaelites. They were very interesting works. However, I think we were not quite serious enough, because we are Doctor Who fans. The most recent episode featured aliens that masqueraded as statues to attack people, and the trick to outwit them was not to blink. David and I saw his life-sized statue of Circe, a famous work but she has her hands held out in a rather menacing way. We both said simultaneously, "Don't blink!" and cracked up. Some other sculture lovers glared at us, clearly thinking we were not treating the great man's work with due seriousness, so we had to slink away into another room !