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The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem opened in 1974. It is devoted to the collection, preservation and exhibition of art objects and archaeological artifacts that represent Islamic art across the ages, through conquests and regime changes, from the 7th to the 19th centuries.
In the more than four decades of its existence, the museum has earned a reputation as the home of one of the most important collections of Islamic art in the world, and the only one of its kind in Israel. The permanent display gives a broad view of, and a deep insight into, the artistic treasures of the Muslim world that extended over Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and India, and west as far as Spain. These treasures – ancient pages of the Qur’an; utilitarian items of pottery, metal and glass; and luxury items such as jewelry, ornaments and rugs – reflect the wealth of forms and styles that characterize Islamic art.
The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem was founded in the 1960s by Vera Bryce Salomons, a woman of vision, a patron of culture and art, and a scion of a British-Jewish aristocratic family. Her great-uncle and the family patriarch, Sir David Salomons (1797-1873), was an ardent advocate of equal rights for minorities, among them the Jews. He became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, and a member of the British Parliament. Following in his footsteps, Vera Salomons herself was the epitome of religious tolerance, and vitally interested in building bridges of understanding between Palestinians and Jews in Jerusalem.
The concept of the museum was to establish a showcase for Islamic civilization in general, and the Arab cultural legacy in particular. Vera Salomons dedicated the museum to her friend and teacher, the late Prof. Leo Arie Mayer, a renowned scholar of the archaeology and art of the Middle East, and a former rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He shared Salomons’ vision, and collaborated with her in planning the character of the institution. Prof. Mayer’s personal collection of Islamic art and archaeology became the core around which the museum’s permanent exhibition was developed.
Mrs. Salomons insisted that the museum remain financially independent, unsupported by public funding. She herself endowed the building fund, which was also made responsible for acquisitions and operational expenses, a role that it fulfills to this day. The building was designed by the prominent architect, Dr. Alexander Friedman, and construction began in 1965.
The first artifacts that Salomons acquired served to expand the original core collection. Later, she entrusted the acquisitions to Prof. Richard Ettinghausen (1906-1979), a renowned historian of Islamic art. He was chief curator of the Freer Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, a scholar endowed with extensive knowledge, impeccable taste, and a remarkable sense of where to find art objects.The superb collection is spread over six galleries, at the entrance level and on the floor above it. The basement level is home to a watch and clock collection, one of the most important in the world, that belonged to Vera Salomons’ father, Sir David Lionel Salomons. Apart from its permanent Islamic art display and timepieces, the museum mounts changing exhibitions of contemporary art that have some link with the subjects that engage the institution.
In addition to its visual attractions, the Museum for Islamic Art aspires to become a dynamic cultural center for a variety of communities, and a landmark in the local cultural arena. In collaboration with partners in Israel and abroad, the museum hosts innovative educational initiatives, develops cultural programs, and produces popular cultural events. Tens of thousands of visitors pass through its doors every year, Arabs and Jews, students, schoolchildren, and families enjoying a wealth of cultural and educational activities.
The Museum for Islamic Art strives to realize the dream of Vera Salomons and honor her family legacy by being a bridge between Arab and Jewish cultures. It sees cultivation of cultural dialogue as its primary goal.