Better Broken

Islamic art curator Navina Haidar extols the implications and aesthetics of the broken or incomplete.

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We live in a world of half-completed things or damaged objects, but I had never articulated to myself that in fact there were times quite often that I preferred the objects that way.

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  • Navina Haidar
    1280852
  • Fragment of the face of a queen  |  New Kingdom, Amarna Period, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 b.c.  |  Egypt, Middle Egypt, el-Amarna (Akhetaten); inc. el-Hagg Qandil  |  Yellow jasper  |  Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1396)
    10961024
  • Fragment of a terracotta amphora (jar)  |  ca. 540–530 b.c.; Archaic  |  Greek, Attic  |  Terracotta; black-figure  |  Rogers Fund, 1920 (20.259)
    1280994
  • Bowl  |  late 9th–early 10th century  |  Iran, Nishapur  |  Earthenware; black slip and white slip decoration under a transparent glaze  |  Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.40.118)
    10321024
  • Pair of eyes  |  5th century b.c. or later  |  Probably Greek  |  Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian  |  Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Cullman Gift and Norbert Schimmel Bequest, 1991 (1991.11.3a, b)
    1280586
  • Head of Krishna  |  ca. 1800  |  Attributed to Sahib Ram  |  India (Rajasthan, Jaipur)  |  Cartoon for a mural depicting the Rasalila (Circle dance of Krishna and the gopis)  |  Ink and watercolors on paper  |  Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.85.2)
    7011024
  • Elephant and Rider  |  ca. 1640  |  India  |  Ink and watercolor on paper  |  Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2010 (2010.255)
    1280968
  • A Nobleman Reading  |  ca. 1750–75  |  India  |  Opaque watercolor on paper  |  Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2009 (2009.319a, b)
    7771024
  • A Nobleman Reading  |  ca. 1750–75  |  India  |  Opaque watercolor on paper  |  Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2009 (2009.319a, b)
    790922
  • Ramayana Illustrated manuscript, folio  |  1595–1605  |  India  |  Opaque watercolor and gold on paper  |  Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2002 (2002.506)
    7041024
  • Torso of a striding statue of a general  |  4th century b.c.  |  Egyptian  |  Schist  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996 (1996.91)
    6461024
  • Torso of a striding statue of a general  |  4th century b.c.  |  Egyptian  |  Schist  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996 (1996.91)
    6811024
  • Torso of a striding statue of a general  |  4th century b.c.  |  Egyptian  |  Schist  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996 (1996.91)
    7041024
  • Torso of a striding statue of a general  |  4th century b.c.  |  Egyptian  |  Schist  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996 (1996.91)
    6031024
  • Torso of a Buddhist Bodhisattva, Maitreya or Possibly Avalokiteshvara  |  ca. 5th century  |  Pakistan (ancient region of Gandhara, possibly Sahri-Bahlol)  |  Schist  |  Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995 (1995.419)
    5961024
  • Head of an Antelope  |  Late Period, Dynasty 27, ca. 525–404 b.c.  |  Egyptian  |  Greywacke, agate, Egyptian alabaster  |  Purchase, Rogers and Fletcher Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1992 (1992.55)
    11511024
  • Relief portrait of the emperor Lucius Verus  |  ca. 166–170; Antonine  |  Roman  |  Marble  |  Rogers Fund, 1913 (13.227.1)
    7841024
  • Tile with 'Saz' Leaf Design  |  ca. 1560  |  Turkey, Iznik  |  Stonepaste; polychrome painted under a transparent glaze  |  Gift of Richard Ettinghausen, 1978 (1978.350)
    9961024
  • Relief portrait of the emperor Lucius Verus  |  ca. 166–170; Antonine  |  Roman  |  Marble  |  Rogers Fund, 1923 (23.160.85)
    11171024
  • Sandaled foot  |  late 1st century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Augustan  |  Roman  |  Ivory  |  Gift of John Marshall, 1925 (25.78.43)
    1280983
  • Marble statue of a fighting Gaul  |  2nd or 1st century b.c.; Late Hellenistic  |  Greek  |  Marble  |  Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.258.48)
    1280852
  • Marble statue of a fighting Gaul  |  2nd or 1st century b.c.; Late Hellenistic  |  Greek  |  Marble  |  Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.258.48)
    1280852
  • Self-Portrait  |  ca. 1630  |  Anthony van Dyck (Flemish)  |  Etching; 9 1/2 x 6 1/8 in. (24.1 x 15.6 cm)  |  Inscribed, in brown ink, lower right: A VAN DYCK  |  Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950 (50.583.4)
    6571024
  • Navina Haidar
    1280852
  • My name is Navina Haidar and my job is that of a curator in the Islamic department.

  • We live in a world, as art historians, of half-completed things or damaged objects, but I had never articulated to myself

  • that in fact there were times quite often that I preferred the objects that way. We always long for the complete object or the final, perfect condition of an object, but

  • when I actually just took a step back and said, objects can be wonderful when they're fragmentary and intense and exciting and

  • evocative and stimulating because of the fact that they're not complete or they're broken or they're abbreviated in some form.

  • So it's a journey into a world of fragments, but one that I think leaves a lot of room for the imagination, for the inner eye to fill in that space. The idea first came to me when our department acquired

  • the elephant drawing. The artist didn't complete the drawing and the paper underwent some kind of trauma. The result is that you see the face and the foreparts of the elephant emerging from almost a mist, and it allows you to focus on the wonderful, loving study of the elephant's profile, and everything else fades away and sort of intensifies that elephant's face.

  • You sometimes get very amusing effects and that really comes across with this appealing drawing of an Indian nobleman who is seated upon

  • an invisible chair as he reads a book.

  • This very well-known series from Mughal India is actually known as The Burned Edge Series. I think it's better broken because what you're really looking at here is the scene of the passing of a great emperor and his three widows grieving next to him. And the intensification of emotion takes place very effectively, because the burn and the irregular shape of the page gives a sort of highlight to the atmosphere of the scene.

  • One of my favorite objects in the museum is that Egyptian sculpture of a high ranking general. It has a very dramatically diagonal break, and it makes you really appreciate the incredible polish and the articulation of the surface, so much

  • more when you see it in contrast against the grainy interior of that stone.

  • The other thing I found is that you always think of men of war or noble figures often wearing a strap or something across their body in a diagonal. I mean, there is that psychological association with that kind of a line.

  • And the fact that there's nothing there but you have the sense of a diagonal going across the body, to me accentuates the regal bearing of the figure.

  • This Torso of a Bodhisattva, the fact that it's missing so many elements actually to me makes it very close to the original ideas of Buddhism, the feeling that the icon really doesn't matter. It's what the icon symbolizes, it's the Way that's revealed to you through these human aids of beautiful sculpture. But that the deity itself, the icon itself, is just a symbol of something that's profoundly without form.

  • When an object is completed, it carries often with it a whole cultural context. It bears

  • an emperor's identity, or a craftsman's finished signature

  • or a function, and those become intrinsically part of the finished work of art. However, when works of art are

  • broken, they quite often lose that context and essentially take us right back to the much more basic human quality of

  • an act of creation, the hand of an artist, a universal impulse in people to create things in a certain way.

  • And just that essential closeness and stripping away of most of the other contexts and

  • taking us right back to the very heart of the

  • creative moment is one of the things that is often revealed when the object is broken.

  • 26.7.1396
    Fragment of the face of a queen, New Kingdom, Amarna Period, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 b.c., Egypt, Middle Egypt, el-Amarna (Akhetaten); inc. el-Hagg Qandil, Yellow jasper Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1396)
  • 20.259
    Fragment of a terracotta amphora (jar), ca. 540–530 b.c.; Archaic, Greek, Attic, Terracotta; black-figure Rogers Fund, 1920 (20.259)
  • 38.40.118
    Bowl, late 9th–early 10th century, Iran, Nishapur, Earthenware; black slip and white slip decoration under a transparent glaze Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.40.118)
  • 1991.11.3a,b
    Pair of eyes, 5th century b.c. or later, Probably Greek, Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Cullman Gift and Norbert Schimmel Bequest, 1991 (1991.11.3a, b)
  • 18.85.2
    Head of Krishna, ca. 1800, Attributed to Sahib Ram, India (Rajasthan, Jaipur), Cartoon for a mural depicting the Rasalila (Circle dance of Krishna and the gopis), Ink and watercolors on paper Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.85.2)
  • 2010.255
    Elephant and Rider, ca. 1640, India, Ink and watercolor on paper Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2010 (2010.255)
  • 2009.319a,b
    A Nobleman Reading, ca. 1750–75, India, Opaque watercolor on paper Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2009 (2009.319a, b)
  • 2002.506
    Ramayana Illustrated manuscript, folio, 1595–1605, India, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2002 (2002.506)
  • 1996.91_av4
    Torso of a striding statue of a general, 4th century b.c., Egyptian, Schist Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996 (1996.91)
  • 1995.419
    Torso of a Buddhist Bodhisattva, Maitreya or Possibly Avalokiteshvara, ca. 5th century, Pakistan (ancient region of Gandhara, possibly Sahri-Bahlol), Schist Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995 (1995.419)
  • 1992.55
    Head of an Antelope, Late Period, Dynasty 27, ca. 525–404 b.c., Egyptian, Greywacke, agate, Egyptian alabaster Purchase, Rogers and Fletcher Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1992 (1992.55)
  • 13.227.1
    Relief portrait of the emperor Lucius Verus, ca. 166–170; Antonine, Roman, Marble Rogers Fund, 1913 (13.227.1)
  • 1978.350
    Tile with 'Saz' Leaf Design, ca. 1560, Turkey, Iznik, Stonepaste; polychrome painted under a transparent glaze Gift of Richard Ettinghausen, 1978 (1978.350)
  • 23.160.85
    Relief portrait of the emperor Lucius Verus, ca. 166–170; Antonine, Roman, Marble Rogers Fund, 1923 (23.160.85)
  • 25.78.43
    Sandaled foot, late 1st century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Augustan, Roman, Ivory Gift of John Marshall, 1925 (25.78.43)
  • 08.258.48
    Marble statue of a fighting Gaul, 2nd or 1st century b.c.; Late Hellenistic, Greek, Marble Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.258.48)
  • 50.583.4
    Self-Portrait, ca. 1630, Anthony van Dyck (Flemish), Etching; 9 1/2 x 6 1/8 in. (24.1 x 15.6 cm), Inscribed, in brown ink, lower right: A VAN DYCK Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950 (50.583.4)
  • Fragment of the face of a queen, New Kingdom, Amarna Period, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 b.c., Egypt, Middle Egypt, el-Amarna (Akhetaten); inc. el-Hagg Qandil, Yellow jasper Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1396)
    Fragment of a terracotta amphora (jar), ca. 540–530 b.c.; Archaic, Greek, Attic, Terracotta; black-figure Rogers Fund, 1920 (20.259)
    Bowl, late 9th–early 10th century, Iran, Nishapur, Earthenware; black slip and white slip decoration under a transparent glaze Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.40.118)
    Pair of eyes, 5th century b.c. or later, Probably Greek, Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Cullman Gift and Norbert Schimmel Bequest, 1991 (1991.11.3a, b)
    Head of Krishna, ca. 1800, Attributed to Sahib Ram, India (Rajasthan, Jaipur), Cartoon for a mural depicting the Rasalila (Circle dance of Krishna and the gopis), Ink and watercolors on paper Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.85.2)
    Elephant and Rider, ca. 1640, India, Ink and watercolor on paper Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2010 (2010.255)
    A Nobleman Reading, ca. 1750–75, India, Opaque watercolor on paper Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2009 (2009.319a, b)
    Ramayana Illustrated manuscript, folio, 1595–1605, India, Opaque watercolor and gold on paper Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2002 (2002.506)
    Torso of a striding statue of a general, 4th century b.c., Egyptian, Schist Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996 (1996.91)
    Torso of a Buddhist Bodhisattva, Maitreya or Possibly Avalokiteshvara, ca. 5th century, Pakistan (ancient region of Gandhara, possibly Sahri-Bahlol), Schist Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995 (1995.419)
    Head of an Antelope, Late Period, Dynasty 27, ca. 525–404 b.c., Egyptian, Greywacke, agate, Egyptian alabaster Purchase, Rogers and Fletcher Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1992 (1992.55)
    Relief portrait of the emperor Lucius Verus, ca. 166–170; Antonine, Roman, Marble Rogers Fund, 1913 (13.227.1)
    Tile with 'Saz' Leaf Design, ca. 1560, Turkey, Iznik, Stonepaste; polychrome painted under a transparent glaze Gift of Richard Ettinghausen, 1978 (1978.350)
    Relief portrait of the emperor Lucius Verus, ca. 166–170; Antonine, Roman, Marble Rogers Fund, 1923 (23.160.85)
    Sandaled foot, late 1st century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Augustan, Roman, Ivory Gift of John Marshall, 1925 (25.78.43)
    Marble statue of a fighting Gaul, 2nd or 1st century b.c.; Late Hellenistic, Greek, Marble Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.258.48)
    Self-Portrait, ca. 1630, Anthony van Dyck (Flemish), Etching; 9 1/2 x 6 1/8 in. (24.1 x 15.6 cm), Inscribed, in brown ink, lower right: A VAN DYCK Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950 (50.583.4)
    8000–2000 B.C.
    2000–1000 B.C.
    1000 B.C.–1 A.D.
    1–500 A.D.
    500–1000 A.D.
    1000–1400 A.D.
    1400–1600 A.D.
    1600–1800 A.D.
    1800–1900 A.D.
    1900–Present

    Works of art in order of appearance

    Last Updated: August 19, 2013. Not all works of art in the Museum's collection may be on view on a particular day. For the most accurate location information, please check this page on the day of your visit.

    Fragment of the face of a queen
    New Kingdom, Amarna Period, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353–1336 b.c.
    Egypt, Middle Egypt, el-Amarna (Akhetaten); inc. el-Hagg Qandil
    Yellow jasper
    Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926 (26.7.1396)
    On view: Gallery 121
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Fragment of a terracotta amphora (jar)
    ca. 540–530 b.c.; Archaic
    Greek, Attic
    Terracotta; black-figure
    Rogers Fund, 1920 (20.259)
    On view: Gallery 155
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Bowl
    late 9th–early 10th century
    Iran, Nishapur
    Earthenware; black slip and white slip decoration under a transparent glaze
    Rogers Fund, 1938 (38.40.118)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Pair of eyes
    5th century b.c. or later
    Probably Greek
    Bronze, marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian
    Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Cullman Gift and Norbert Schimmel Bequest, 1991 (1991.11.3a, b)
    On view: Gallery 156
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Head of Krishna
    ca. 1800
    Attributed to Sahib Ram
    India (Rajasthan, Jaipur)
    Cartoon for a mural depicting the Rasalila (Circle dance of Krishna and the gopis) Ink and watercolors on paper
    Rogers Fund, 1918 (18.85.2)
    On view: Gallery 464
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Elephant and Rider
    ca. 1640
    India
    Ink and watercolor on paper
    Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2010 (2010.255)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    A Nobleman Reading
    ca. 1750–75
    India
    Opaque watercolor on paper
    Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 2009 (2009.319a, b)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Ramayana Illustrated manuscript, folio
    1595–1605
    India
    Opaque watercolor and gold on paper
    Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Fund, 2002 (2002.506)
    Not on view
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Torso of a striding statue of a general
    4th century b.c.
    Egyptian
    Schist
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Gift of Henry Walters, by exchange, Asher B. Edelman Gift, Judith and Russell Carson Gift, Ernest L. Folk III Bequest, Ludlow Bull Fund, and funds from various donors, 1996 (1996.91)
    On view: Gallery 128
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Torso of a Buddhist Bodhisattva, Maitreya or Possibly Avalokiteshvara
    ca. 5th century
    Pakistan (ancient region of Gandhara, possibly Sahri-Bahlol)
    Schist
    Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995 (1995.419)
    On view: Gallery 235
    Asian ArtSecond Floor
    Head of an Antelope
    Late Period, Dynasty 27, ca. 525–404 b.c.
    Egyptian
    Greywacke, agate, Egyptian alabaster
    Purchase, Rogers and Fletcher Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1992 (1992.55)
    On view: Gallery 123
    Egyptian ArtFirst Floor
    Relief portrait of the emperor Lucius Verus
    ca. 166–170; Antonine
    Roman
    Marble
    Rogers Fund, 1913 (13.227.1)
    On view: Gallery 162
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Tile with 'Saz' Leaf Design
    ca. 1560
    Turkey, Iznik
    Stonepaste; polychrome painted under a transparent glaze
    Gift of Richard Ettinghausen, 1978 (1978.350)
    On view: Gallery 460
    Islamic ArtSecond Floor
    Relief portrait of the emperor Lucius Verus
    ca. 166–170; Antonine
    Roman
    Marble
    Rogers Fund, 1923 (23.160.85)
    On view: Gallery 171
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Sandaled foot
    late 1st century b.c.–early 1st century a.d.; Augustan
    Roman
    Ivory
    Gift of John Marshall, 1925 (25.78.43)
    On view: Gallery 166
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Marble statue of a fighting Gaul
    2nd or 1st century b.c.; Late Hellenistic
    Greek
    Marble
    Rogers Fund, 1908 (08.258.48)
    On view: Gallery 162
    Greek and Roman ArtFirst Floor and Mezzanine
    Self-Portrait
    ca. 1630
    Anthony van Dyck (Flemish)
    Etching; 9 1/2 x 6 1/8 in. (24.1 x 15.6 cm)
    Inscribed, in brown ink, lower right: A VAN DYCK
    Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950 (50.583.4)
    Not on view
    Drawings and PrintsSecond Floor

    © 2011 The Metropolitan Museum of Art