Qatari Foundation intervenes to prevent transfer of Islamic artifacts to Israeli museum



In October 2020, the Jerusalem Museum of Islamic Art (also known as the LA Mayer Institute for Islamic Art) postponed a planned auction at Sotheby’s in London after facing backlash for its decision to remove 255 items from its collection. Last week, the precious items were rescued from the cession with the unlikely help of the Qatari royal family.

On Wednesday March 10, Sotheby’s announced that Al Thani Collection Foundation, named after the ruling Qatari family, signed an agreement with the museum’s board of directors and Israel’s Ministry of Culture to provide the necessary funds to ensure that the pieces are returned to the museum.

The LA Mayer Museum for Islamic was founded by a philanthropist Vera Bryce Solomon Islands, a great-niece of David Salomons, London’s first Jewish Lord Mayor and Member of Parliament. The institution was established in honor of Leo Arie Mayer, professor of Islamic art and archeology at the Hebrew University. The museum, which opened in West Jerusalem in 1974, has a collection of over 5,000 objects. The 225 that have been offered for sale include a 14th century Mamluk Quran sheet, a 19th century Kazakh carpet, a 16th century Andalusian mosaic pottery tile, a collection of rare jewelry, 64 rare clocks and watches and ‘other valuables.

A large sheet of the Koran in muhaqqaq script, Egypt, Mamluk, late 14th century (courtesy Sotheby’s)

News of the museum’s intention to offer the objects for sale outcry by leading figures in the art world and Israeli politicians, including the President Reuven Rivlin, who asked the government to intervene in the sale.

Nadim Sheiban, the director of the museum, said in interviews with the israeli press that most of the works selected for the auction were either in duplicate or in storage. But museum professionals from the local branch of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the Israel Antiquities Authority have disputed Sheiban’s claim, according to the Art journal.

Under the terms of the agreement, negotiated by Sotheby’s, the Al Thani Collection Foundation will provide annual sponsorship to the Jerusalem Museum for the next 10 years (amount was not specified). In return, a medieval silver vessel from the collection will be exhibited for “regular extended periods” over the next decade in the museum space provided by the Al Thani Collection Foundation at the Hôtel de la Marine on Place de la Concorde in Paris. There will also be other loan swaps between the two institutions, according to the announcement.

Although Qatar does not share any diplomatic relations with Israel, an unofficial commercial relationship between the two countries dates back to the mid-1990s.

“The LA Mayer Museum of Islamic Art is a fascinating institution that has captured our imaginations,” a spokesperson for the Al Thani Collection Foundation said in a statement. Their founding vision, which has endured over the decades, shares so many of our ideals of open exchange between cultures. We are very happy to play a role in the survival of a unique institution that makes a significant difference to the communities around it.

Located in the former Palestinian neighborhood of Talbiyah in West Jerusalem, the museum is inaccessible to millions of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, who are barred from entering Israeli territory. However, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Hili Tropper hailed the agreement with the Qatari foundation as a “great tribute to the spirit of intercultural cooperation”.


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