Louvre Becomes First Western Museum to Stage Major Exhibition in Iran

Despite rising tensions between Iran and Europe, the Louvre in Paris and the Iranian government are moving forward with plans to collaborate on a series of exhibitions, archaeological projects, publications, and other initiatives over the next four years. The two countries first agreed to the multiyear cultural exchange in 2016 during Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s visit to France after the signing of the nuclear deal.

To mark the eightieth anniversary of Iran’s National Museum, the Louvre has loaned around fifty masterpieces from its collection to the institution for an exhibition that has been billed as the first large-scale exhibition by a major Western museum in Iran. According to the Louvre, the show is “an outstanding cultural and diplomatic event for both countries.”

Among the items that were transported to Iran for the show are a 2,400-year-old Egyptian Sphinx, a bust of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and drawings by Rembrandt and Eugène Delacroix. Only two artifacts on loan are actually Iranian—a bronze ax from the ancient city of Chogha Zanbil and a flag from Lurestan, a province in western Iran.

The French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and the president of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez, attended the show’s opening on Monday, March 5. Le Drian was also in Iran to meet with officials regarding the country’s missile program since US President Donald Trump recently imposed a May deadline for amending the 2015 international agreement regarding the country’s nuclear capacities. Trump’s threat to re-impose sanctions has kept European banks and companies from working with Iran and may have scared off sponsors for the exhibition.

For Martinez, the Louvre and the National Museum were able to push forward with the show because of the history of cultural diplomacy between the two nations. “Relations between France and Iran are old and profound because France was a pioneer of archaeological exploration here,” Martinez told the AFP. “This completely unprecedented exhibition allows us to make the link between this glorious moment and relations that date back to the nineteenth century.”