• gerard van weyenbergh

Qatar Foundation saves Israeli Museum. Sign of new Spring in the Middle East?

The Leo Aryeh (LA) Mayer Museum in Jerusalem, Israel's leading Museum of Islamic art, sparked outrage after trying to sell some 270 artifacts from its collection in a sale organized by Sotheby's. Due to the health crisis, justified by financial difficulties, but strongly condemned by conservatives and academics, the controversial sale will ultimately not take place. An agreement was reached on March 10 between the Al Thani Foundation, funded by the Qatari princely family, and the Museum allowing the Museum to escape the financial crisis while saving the collection.

Thus, the Al Thani Foundation offers ten years of financial support to the LA Mayer Museum in exchange for the loan, for an equivalent period, of one of the objects from its collection. A richly decorated tenth-century silver jug, discovered in northeastern Iran by art collector Ralph Harari, will be on display at the Hôtel de la Marine in Paris, where the Foundation has an exhibition space-exhibition of more than 400 m² .

The agreement, facilitated by Sotheby's, resulted in the cancellation of the sale. The auction house, for comfortable compensation, agreed to return the items, estimated at several million dollars, reveals Al-Jazeerah. Among the lots is a 15th-century Ottoman helmet inlaid with silver calligraphy, a 12th-century cup depicting a Persian prince, and a collection of antique watches, including three designed by the famous watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, collected by the Salomons family, founder of the Museum.

Initially scheduled for October 2020 in London, the sale had been suspended for several months by a decision of the Israeli Supreme Court, at the Hashava Foundation's initiative, an Israeli organization for the prevention of the theft of works of art. For Meir Heller, its founder, this sale represented a "flagrant violation" of Israeli laws governing museums and antiquities. Parting with this "rare and precious collection" would have been a great loss to the public. Gideon Avni, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority's archeology section, described the sale as "very unusual and disturbing," reported The Times of Israel .

The Hashava Foundation initiative has won the support of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Israeli Culture Minister Hili Tropper. Tropper also praised the "generosity of the Al Thani Collection, a great tribute to the spirit of intercultural cooperation". The latter declared that he was "very happy to play a role in the survival of a unique institution that makes a significant difference for the communities surrounding it".

Israel and Qatar do not officially maintain diplomatic relations, although the two countries have established contact since 1996. However, the multiplication of their relations, whether geopolitical, with a plan to aid the Gaza Strip Qatari-funded or cultural, like this agreement with the Museum of Islamic Art, is a clear sign of normalization.

The Museum, named after Leo Aryeh Mayer, a prominent Middle Eastern scholar, was founded in Jerusalem in 1974 on Vera Salomons' initiative (1888-1969). She exhibited there the collection of her father, Sir David Salomons, an avid collector of Islamic art and Bréguet watches. The Museum, which aims to be a bridge between Arab and Israeli cultures, now houses thousands of Islamic art objects from the 7th to the 19th century. © Le Journal des Arts