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Dragon and Phoenix : Centuries of Exchange between Chinese and Islamic Worlds

6 October 2021 – 12 February 2022

Two worlds rich in culture, arts and sciences: China, and the Islamic world. Reaching far beyond their horizons, this is the untold story of how China, ‘the dragon’, and the Islamic world, ‘the phoenix’, exchanged ideas between 8th – 18th century.

When the Dragon and the Phoenix met, who could have predicted the impact on global trade, art and history?

As a museum with a universal viewpoint, Louvre Abu Dhabi explores stories of cultural connections. In this exhibition we see a new perspective on the meeting of two great cultures, and in this story, Europe is not the central character.

From Arabia and Africa to the far reaches of Asia, along ancient trade routes - on both land and sea - people, technology and luxury goods travelled for more than 800 years. Through a display of 240 masterpieces, we explore the remarkable and little-known history of these cultural exchanges.

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Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi / Photo Thierry Ollivier
Basin with the name of an officer of the sultan al–Malik an–Nasir Muhammad ibn Qala’u,n Egypt or Syria, Late 13th – early 14th century, Mamluk dynasty, Copper alloy inlaid with gold and silver, Louvre Abu Dhabi, LAD 2018.003

Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi / Photo APF
Ewer decorated with signs of the zodiac, Aghanistan, Herat,. 1220,Copper alloy and silver, Louvre Abu Dhabi, LAD 2013.053

The exhibition begins in the 8th century, as the Islamic world gazed towards China, a great source of technical advances and objects of beauty. Chinese porcelains and textiles were prized by caliphs and were given as diplomatic gifts, which inspired Islamic local production in turn. Later, Chinese emperors invited artists and craftsmen from all over the Islamic world to renew certain styles and ideas. The Islamic world was an important source of inspiration for China and a supplier of luxury products, including the cobalt blue used in Chinese blue-and-white porcelain.

There is a long history of using dragons and phoenixes in these two artistic traditions. In this exhibition we will find them on porcelain, silk, jade, in paintings and crafted into precious silver and gold objects. One of the highlights on display is a rare gold cup with a dragon handle. This masterpiece of Louvre Abu Dhabi’s collection may have been used by a nomadic Mongol dignitary journeying from China. Also on show are some of the most spectacular textiles ever created: Panni Tartarici are Chinese silks woven with gold, a union of Chinese traditions and those of the Near East and Central Asia.

Dragon and Phoenix also highlights the ‘alliance of the two pens’, the brush in China and the reed pen in the Islamic world. Thanks to a superb selection of drawings, manuscripts and scrolls, the exhibition shows the similarities and the spiritual value placed on the two calligraphic traditions.

Featuring works from the collection of Louvre Abu Dhabi and 13 lending museums and institutions, discover a meeting of two great cultures, and its importance for the world.

Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi / Photo Ismail Noor / Seeing Things
Cup with dragon-shaped handle,𠊌hina,
Yuan dynasty (1279–1368),
Hammered embossed gold with chasing,
Louvre Abu Dhabi, LAD 2019.025

Dragon and Phoenix cultural programme

Cultures have more in common than we know. Inspired by our new exhibition Dragon and Phoenix, we will be screening a series of films for the whole family around the long history of cultural exchange between the Islamic world and China, bringing ancient myths and legends to life. Join us to watch a collection of short films, folktales from around the world, followed by different feature films on 19 November, 26 November, and 10 December. Awaken your childhood memories in the Kayak Cinema Show while watching a special screening of the family saga ‘The Arabian Nights: Adventures of Sinbad’ from your kayak projected onto the museum walls. You can also embark on a dragon boat and row together in time to the drum beat through the waters of Saadiyat and experience a spirited part of Chinese culture first hand.

Dragon and Phoenix Masterclasses
Dragon boat experience around the museum

Young Visitors' Guide

Dragon and Phoenix
Centuries of Exchange between
Chinese and Islamic Worlds
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