His highness Aga Khan IV, KBE, CC, GCC, GCIH, Prince Karīm al-Hussainī, is the 49th and current Imam of the Nizari Muslims, the largest branch of the Shia Ismaili community. Not only does the 74-year-old man boast a bewildering array of decorative initials, lineage to the Prophet Muhammad, and the largest horse racing and breeding operation in France (who would have thought?) – he is also the proprietor of an Islamic art collection that spans a millennium. And now 200 of its highlights are being displayed for the first time ever, at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.
Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum sweeps visitors into the Islamic world: first with an array of ancient Qu’ran manuscripts, and then with exhibits filed under such headings as “Mysticism”, “Pilgrims’ Routes” and “The Quatar Dynasty”. It is, of course, impossible to get a full grip on a thousand years-worth of history and art in just a few hours, but the exhibition successfully relates the objects on display to the epoch from which they come.
The focus is mainly on the Qu’ran; on one striking, green-painted cotton cloth from 1130-32, the entire holy text is painstakingly inscribed in a miniature hand. Pilgrim flasks – one from 7th-8th century Greater Iran – and beggars’ bowls fit for kings transport the visitor back to the voyages of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca and Medina.
Other highlights include a fine ink painting, “Prince Visits Hermit”; an early 14th century brass candlestick; and a Golden Compass-esque “silver-inlaid brass planispheric astrolabe”. At the end of your journey, you are greeted by the Iranian ruler Karim Khan Zand who, kneeling on a rug with his shisha pipe in hand, is the very picture of relaxed Persian regality.
SCHÄTZE DES AGHA KHAN MUSEUM | Martin-Gropius-Bau, Niederkirchnerstr. 7, Mitte, U-Bhf Potsdamer Platz, S-Bhf Anhalter Bahnhof, Tel 303 245 860, Mon-Sun 10-20, www.gropiusbau.de