Bridge of Knowledge

Key information

10:30 am to 5:00 pm
Brunei Gallery
Brunei Gallery Exhibition Rooms
Event type

About this event

Bridge of Knowledge will offer a rare glimpse of powerfully evocative books from the holdings of the most prestigious and specialised of private libraries on the East-West Interface: Travel, Science, Art, and Literature, from the age of printing; plus manuscript highlights from the last millennium. An exhibition which respects and celebrates the centuries-old relationship between the West and the Arab and Islamic world as it survives in magnificent books, engravings, manuscripts and documents, and will be the 100th exhibition to be presented by the Brunei Gallery, SOAS .

On display will be books from the dawn of printing such as an illuminated edition of the medical compendium, the Canon, of one of Islam’s greatest medical experts, Ibn Sina, known in the west as Avicenna. Early printed editions of other scientific texts – medical, astronomical, alchemical – testify to the profound impact of Islam’s greatest scientific minds on western learning from medieval times to the European Renaissance and beyond.

Travellers journeying east in serious pursuit of profit or knowledge, as pilgrims, diplomats, merchants, soldiers or natural historians, and sometimes just for pleasure, describe their adventures for western readerships hungry to learn about neighbouring worlds that have meant so much to them through their spiritual and material impact. Artists too, many amateur and some professional, capture these other worlds for those fortunate to own their magnificent publications.

The rise of Ottoman Turkish power and its westward advance to central Europe and ultimately to the gates of Vienna, provoked a violent response on the battle field – and in print. The Arcadian Library has acquired an impressive number of European pamphlets, documents, chronicles and illustrated books on the Turks: some fine examples will be on display.

In a completely different arena, the Arcadian library reminds us of the abiding presence of the Arabs and their culture in Spain, their glorious architectural heritage, the great artistic and scholarly achievement, and the tensions endured by those who stayed on for more than a century after the fall of Granada in 1492.

Then there is the manifold influence of Arab literature and learning to be found in European scholarship and literature in so many printed books over so many centuries, reaching a peak of fantasy in the illustrated versions of the Arabian Nights that became part of our heritage in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Some outstanding manuscript and documentary material takes us even further back in time and closer in human terms to this living encounter of minds and beliefs. In an Age of Conflict between our cultures, when outrage and senseless reprisal pollute our minds, Bridge of Knowledge aims to remind us that these neighbouring worlds have rubbed up against each other, exchanged and adopted ideas, motifs and visions, coexisted, threatened, conceded and enriched the other for centuries past; and it is in book form that our minds are seized by the grandeur of this respectful, distant, yet fertile relationship.

The Arcadian Library , Europe’s most prestigious and specialised private library on the East-West Interface in all its forms has amassed some 10,000 volumes relating to travellers, scholars, scientists, artists and other writers who studied or experienced the cultures and ways of life of their neighbours from Arab Spain through the Levant and Arabia to Islamic South and Central Asia over the past 500 years.