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The Touma Near Eastern Gallery features hundreds of works of art, most of which were donated to the Huntington Museum of Art by Drs. Joseph B. and Omayma Touma between 1991 and 2004. The gallery, which was built in 1996, was designed with the help of the Toumas to provide a cultural context for the collection. The gallery displays ceramics, metalwork, arms and armor, scientific instruments, prayer rugs, manuscripts, furniture, paintings, and other decorative arts from large areas of the Middle East, Ottoman Turkey, Central Asian Republics, the Indian subcontinent, North Africa and Moorish Spain. In the years since the gallery’s creation, portions of the Near Eastern Collection have been showcased at various venues throughout the country as part of traveling exhibits. By sharing their collection, the Toumas hoped to provide a bridge for people to learn about and appreciate unfamiliar histories, cultures, and traditions, and to promote goodwill and peace in a time of upheaval.

  • The Touma Gallery
  • Dr. Joseph Touma, pictured in 2011
  • A mosque lamp at the Touma Gallery
  • Prayer rugs on display in the gallery
  • Qur’an Manuscript, Iran, 1218 A.H. (1803-1804 A.D.)
  • Bottle, Iran, Seljuk, about late 12th-early 13th century.
  • Spouted Bowl, Iran, late Timurid, late 15th century.
  • Preparing for Prayer, Filippo Bartolini (Italian, active 1861-1908), Italy, 19th century, about 1875.
  • Lamp, Iran, Seljuk, 12th-13th centuries.
  • Sofa, Damascus, Syria, 19th century, mid-19th century.
  • Dish, Iznik, Turkey, Ottoman, about 1600.
  • Bowl, Nishapur, Iran, 10th-11th centuries.
  • Candlestick, Egypt or Syria, Mamluk, about 1346 A.D.
  • Astrolabe, Iran, 1130 A.H. (1717-1718 A.D.)
  • Rug, Western Iran, 19th century.

The Near East covers a vast region centered in Mesopotamia, extending north to the Caucasus and the Eurasian steppes and south to the Arabian peninsula. To the west, the region includes Anatolia, Syria, and the Levant, while to the east it extends through Iran and western Central Asia and reaches as far as the Indian subcontinent. Together, these territories encompass a central part of what today is commonly referred to as the Islamic world. The region’s history encompasses countless peoples, cities, kingdoms, and empires that have flourished in the region over thousands of years. Despite the region’s diversity, the visual arts of the Near East demonstrate consistency and continuity, leading Near Eastern art collections to comprise some of the most distinctive galleries in museums across the country today. The Huntington Museum of Art acquired its first Near Eastern art pieces in 1952, when Herbert Fitzpatrick, one of the museum’s founders, donated fifty-three prayer rugs along with his other collections. Ranging in age from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, the rugs include representations from the major rug weaving centers in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and the Caucasus and Turkoman regions of the Near East.

Between 1991 and 2004, Drs. Joseph B. and Omayma Touma donated an additional collection of over four hundred works of Near Eastern art to the Museum. Originally from Syria, the couple intended for the collection to act as a bridge between the culture of their homeland and that of Huntington. The collection is housed in the Touma Near Eastern Gallery, which was built in 1996. The Toumas helped design the permanent gallery within the museum in order to place the objects within a cultural context. The centerpiece of the gallery, the Damascus Room, is only one of four in the United States and displays the intricate hand carving of artisans from the Sanadiki Workshop in Damascus. The ceiling, bookcases, arches and doors were carved from a walnut tree in Ein Al-Fijeh, just outside Damascus, and required eight months to carve. The gallery’s marble floor and crown molding also have a distinctive Near Eastern design. 

The Touma Near Eastern Gallery offers visitors the opportunity to view a wide range of elegant and beautiful work produced by Near Eastern artisans from ancient times through the twentieth century. The product of thirty years of collecting, the collection includes art objects from the Middle East, Ottoman Turkey, Central Asian Republics, the Indian subcontinent, North Africa, and Moorish Spain. It encompasses Pre-Roman, Roman, Greek, Islamic, Christian and Jewish civilizations. The objects in the collection also cover a wide range of media, including metalwork, glass, ceramics, arms and armor, scientific instruments, carpets and textiles, carved and inlaid furniture, scientific and religious manuscripts, icons, and nineteenth-century European Orientalist paintings. Notable items in the collection include a bust of the Egyptian goddess Isis from the Roman period (10 B.C. - 40 A.D.) and a brass tray made during the nineteenth century that depicts symbols of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and scenes from the life of Moses. Other religious examples include two Qur’ans, both made in the early nineteenth century, and a Bible made in Egypt in the mid-nineteenth century. The collection also includes many non-religious objects decorated with beautiful designs, from early glass forms to intricately-designed firearms.

Since its creation in 1996, the Touma Near Eastern Gallery has gained widespread recognition and its items have been featured in several traveling exhibits over the years. From 1998 to 2001, one hundred pieces of the collection traveled to ten venues throughout the United States in an exhibition titled “The Allure of the East.” A similar exhibition, titled “Allure of the Near East,” was hosted at the Jepson Center in Savannah, Georgia from August 2013 to January 2014 and featured over seventy objects from the collection. Another traveling exhibit titled “Allure of the Near East” is scheduled for September 2021 through October 2024. Comprising works of glassware, ceramics, metalwork, painting, weaponry, weaving, and more, the exhibit will showcase forty-five objects from the Touma Near Eastern Collection. In 2011, the Toumas published a catalogue of the Near Eastern Collection featuring one hundred of the artworks that the couple had donated to the Museum. 

Endicott, Tamara. Like Father, Like Son, Huntington Quarterly . Winter 2002. Accessed April 7th 2020.

Hardiman, Jean Tarbett. Huntington Museum of Art unveils Touma catalogue, Huntington Herald-Dispatch. May 15th 2011. Accessed April 7th 2020.

Touma Near Eastern Collection, Huntington Museum of Art. Accessed April 7th 2020.

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