The new Islamic galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art should become one of the mandatory stops on any visit to the place. The sheer beauty on display sugars the pill of understanding that's also on offer: The galleries' variety proves that there is no such thing as a single "Muslim culture"; Spanish objects teach how substantial, and mutually profitable, Muslim-Western contacts have been; figurative imagery gives the lie to the idea that Muslims don't paint people; secular objects, by the hundreds, combat any notion of Islam as puritanical and ascetic. The new suite of galleries "helps expand a story that is often overly polarized," says Thomas Campbell, the Met's director who was profiled in the last issue of Newsweek. "It will help our visitors understand the cultural richness, and the interconnectedness, of these parts of the world, historically, with non-Islamic countries around them."
This image shows one of the stunning high points in the new spaces: A grand chamber roofed with carvings from 17th-century Spain, overlooking the Ottoman carpets–some of the greatest objects ever made by man–on view below.