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Power and Protection: Islamic Art and the Supernatural at the Ashmolean

PUBLISHED: 15:35 25 October 2016 | UPDATED: 15:43 25 October 2016

Oxford's Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaelogy (c) Ron Ellis /

Oxford's Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaelogy (c) Ron Ellis /


Sandra Smith visits the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaelogy’s Power and Protection exhibition

From every day humble objects such as bowls and jewellery to gold coins, swords and talismanic shirts, the Ashmolean’s Power and Protection exhibition explores the many facets of Islam relating to the human desire to safeguard oneself from forces beyond our control.

Covering three galleries and including objects originating from Morocco to China and borrowed extensively from across the UK including the British Museum and V&A, this exhibition has been three years in the making.

Some of the themes may not surprise. Astrology, for instance, has long been favoured by those yearning to know their destiny. The Horoscope of Prince Iskandar, made when he was 27, may have been manipulated to tie in with the Prince’s political aims but is still a beautiful work of art demonstrating skills of calligraphers and gilders.

One of the most fascinating pieces in the first gallery is a brass with silver and gold geomancer. A 13th century version of a Mac, this delicately engineered ‘computer’ allows a series of dials, arcs and dots to predict or answer questions.

The main gallery contains a stunning display of ceremonial objects and military equipment. Large banners adorn two walls and cabinets showcase decorated talismanic shirts worn for safety in battle though a small version is thought to have been intended to shield a child from illness.

Emblazoned with rubies, emeralds, diamonds and pearls, the Hand of Fatima is one of several sophisticated objects in the final room where octagonal miniature Qur’ans, engraved gemstones and amulet cases reveal the numerous ways people sought to protect themselves.

This is a colourful and informative exhibition bringing a new dimension to both Islam and the supernatural whilst once again revealing the Ashmolean’s wide ranging agenda and ability to showcase history, religion and culture in an accessible way.

Until 15 January 2017 at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Beaumont Street, Oxford: 01865 278002.

Sandra Smith is a freelance writer based in Buckinghamshire, www,


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