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Iraq war thwarts loans to Louvre for “Babylon” show

Negotiations have lasted five years only to fall through due to security issues

Security issues have thwarted attempts by the Louvre to borrow objects from Iraq for its major “Babylon” exhibition which opened last month (until 2 June) and which will travel to Berlin and London later this year.

Curator Béatrice André-Salvini initially put up a proposal in December 2002, three months before the Coalition invasion. She then asked for 20 loans from Iraq, including a 2300 BC bronze head of King Sargon and a ceramic-brick relief of a bull from the Ishtar Gate. Discussions with the museum have been ongoing, but the security situation has made the loans impossible. Most of the objects on display are therefore from Paris, Berlin and London.

The Louvre presentation does not deal with recent events, such as Saddam Hussein’s reconstruction of part of the palace (made partly with bricks inscribed with his name) and the impact of the Coalition invasion. An American military base was established on part of the archaeological site, causing considerable damage in 2003-4. The World Monuments Fund is currently developing a project at Babylon (The Art Newspaper, March 2008, p7).

The ambitious show is in two main parts: antiquities from Babylon and the myth of Babylon as depicted in European art from the 16th century onwards (ranging from Flemish paintings of the Tower of Babel to a Degas scene with Queen Semiramis).

The exhibition has 400 objects: the presentation at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum (26 June-5 October) will be even larger. When it comes to London (13 November-15 March 2009), it will be smaller, with 100 objects, because the British Museum lacks large temporary galleries.