Art of Islamic culture in Dutch Collections

Brass basin before 1959 Sumatera, Indonesia, The Museum of the Tropics Amsterdam


The Art of Islamic Culture in Dutch Collections project aims at an Inventory, processing, evaluating and cataloguing a selection of the art from Islamic culture, which is currently stored away from public view in the depots of various Dutch museums, churches and libraries. A printed publication and an on line review as well as eventually an exhibition featuring the results of the survey in the Kunsthal Rotterdam will make these unique art treasures visible to the public.


Up until now, the Netherlands has lacked any qualitative assessment or consistent presentation of Islamic art. There are clear gaps in both our museum provision and our knowledge of our cultural heritage, in addition to the obvious lack of any high-quality, structural presentation of either historical or contemporary art from Islamic regions. In the Netherlands, art collections of Islamic cultures are stored in the depots of various museums, churches and libraries. There is no comprehensive list of these collections, because no inventory exists at the national level. In some cases, institutions have little or no knowledge of the Islamic art treasures in their own collections. It is known that high-quality objects are present in storage, but they are barely visible to the public. The University of Leiden, for example, owns valuable manuscripts and miniatures among others from Persia and the Ottoman Empire, the depot of the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam houses a Persian carpet (from the Safavid dynasty) of the highest quality. Not to mention the complete collection of Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, found in the depot of the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden. In 2002, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW) and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) made an attempt to bring “heritage from Islamic cultures” into focus. It emerged that Dutch collections are surprisingly rich in objects relating to the Netherlands’ historical relationships with the Islamic world. The research has yielded a quantitative inventory, but unfortunately there is still no list with descriptions of individual objects from the various Dutch museums and institutions.

The Messis Foundation is therefore taking the initiative to realize a survey and full description of the selection of Islamic art in Dutch collections and to present the results in an in-depth publication. The objective of this publication is to further knowledge and insight into the ways in which art of the Islamic cultures has inspired and enriched Dutch cultural heritage over the centuries