Thanks to Covid, international travel is not an option at the moment, so when an international exhibition comes to town its a matter of great excitement. “Splendours of the Ancient East: Antiquities from the Al-Sabah collection” opened at the National Museum of Qatar in October and runs till the end of the year. If you live in Doha and have even a passing interest in antiquities, ancient history, art or design I encourage you to plan a visit!
The Al-Sabah collection began as the personal hobby of Kuwaiti Sheikh Nasser Sabah al Ahmed al Sabah and his wife Sheikha Hussah Sabah al Salem al Sabah. The collection soon outgrew their house and is now at the Kuwait National Museum. The entire collection has grown to over 20,000 objects, and I’m told that it is regarded by international authorities as one of a small handful of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the world.
Around 170 objects were selected for the Doha exhibition, which range in date from the third millennium BCE to the fifth century CE. They include: jewellery, household items, figurines, ritual objects and decorative elements. Every item is well labelled in Arabic and English, and several videos run continually adding to the understanding of some of the more significant pieces.
Here are a few photos of some of our favourite items in the collection.
Copper alloy stand in the form of a Markhor goat supporting an elaborate superstructure Mesopotamia, Early Dynastic I . 2900 to 2700 BCE
Silver pouring vessel with handle and double spout in the form of two bulls Elamite, southern Iran. 7th to 6th century BCE or earlier.
Stone sculpture of a lioness demon Possibly southeastern Iran. Mid 3rd millennium BCE
Pair of Silver Plaques depicting a man holding a staff, wearing a belted robe with zigzag pattern and a seated woman wearing a striped dress. Southeastern Iran, early 2nd millennium BCE Silver inlaid with gold and copper.
Copper alloy censer in the form of a seated man with a basket on his head. Mesopotamia, ca 2650 to 2550 BCE
Limestone or Calcite Kneeling Man with inlaid eyes of shell and lapis lazuli. Southeastern Iran, Mid 3rd millennium BCE
Limestone or marble head from a composite statue with inlaid eyes of shell and lapis lazuli. Mesopotamia ca 2550 to 2350 BCE
Stone sculpture of a seated female with finely carved features. Bactria-Margiana, Late 3rd to early 2nd millennium BCE
Copper alloy cosmetic flask in the form of a stylised woman. Bactria-Margiana, Late 3rd to early 2nd millennium BCE
Spouted silver bowl decorated with entwined serpents. Southeastern Iran Mid 3rd millennium BCE
Silver plaque with court scene. Probably Assyria or northwestern Iran. 8th to 7th century BCE
Gold plaque fragment with scene of winged heroes and sphinxes. Babylonia, southern Mesopotamia, 7th to early 6th century BCE
Silver Pouring Vessel in the form of two lions. Western Iran, late 7th to early 6th century BCE
Silver vessel in the form of a lion attacking a bull. Western Iran, late 7th to early 6th century BCE
Silver drinking vessel with handles in the form of wild sheep standing on lions’ heads. Western Iran, late 7th to early 6th century BCE
Silver calf’s head drinking vessel with lapis lazuli horn buds. Assyria, northern Mesopotamia, 7th century BCE
Gold torque with hinged clasp and panther terminals, inlaid with turquoises
Two silver cosmetic flasks in the form of crowned ladies. Iran, Achaemenid period, 5th to 4th century BCE
Silver dish with gilded bust of Dionysos. Bactira, Hellenistic period, 3rd to mid 2nd century BCE
Gold plaques with enamel decoration framing the bust of Heracles. Probably belt strap fittings Central Asia or Black Sea region, Hellenistic period. ca. 2nd century BCE.
Gilded silver dish with mythological scenes. Eastern Iran, Sasanian period 5th to 6th century CE
Fragmentary wool pile carpet with the mythical griffin. Bactria, Sasanian period, ca. 265-315 CE
You will have to go to the exhibit to find out the details of this piece.
Bronze Statue of a Lady, Iran, 300CE
The museum has implemented several covid safe precautions. Timed tickets must be purchased online in advance, your temperature is checked on entry to the museum and the exhibit, and of course your Ehteraz* app must be green. So if you are in Doha, get down to the National Museum before this exhibition ends. Tickets are only QR10 for residents (free if you have the Family Culture Pass), so what are you waiting for?
PS. If you are worried about covid and crowding, here’s a pic of one room of the exhibit:
Temporary Exhibition Space, NMoQ
*Ehteraz means precaution in Arabic, I’m told. It’s the contact tracing app we all had to install. Unless your QR code shows green you can’t enter any public buildings.