• Inspired by books Islamic Design

    Inspired by books Islamic Design



Sheikh Saoud had a passion for all things photographic from the rarest 19th Century prints, through exotic cameras, to contemporary commissions.  His photographs cross all genres, the earliest originating in 1826, a decade before photography was even revealed to the world.  He acquired important individual pieces at public auction and large collections by private sale.  One of his most significant purchases for Qatar Museums was the 136 masterpieces of the renowned Bokelberg collection, several of wich appear in the exhibition, while many cameras came via the photographic inventor and collector Fred Spira (1924 – 2007).


This camera is an example of the earliest type ever sold for making daguerreotypes. It is fitted with a single- element ’landscape lens‘: a slow lens suitable only for long exposures of stationary subjects. Alongside is a box of unexposed silver plates and the apparatus for developing them in mercury vapour.
Daguerreotype camera, mercury fuming box and plates

Alphonse Giroux & Co.
c. 1839


Taken on the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier in spring 1857, the ‘Great Wave‘ is not only Le Gray’s masterpiece, but one of the most celebrated images of 19th-century photography. A composite image, it was made by combining separate exposures for the sea and sky.

Grande Vague - Cette”
(“Great Wave, Sete”)
Gustave Le Gray (1820 - 1884)
April 1857
Albumen print


Sheikh Saoud’s collections include some of the most iconic images of 20th Century photography.  Among the equipment are NASA cameras and special commissions form renowned lens makers Leica and Zeiss.  Stories of the Sheikh’s adventures are legendary in the photographic world.  Active as a patron, he will long be remembered for establishing the Al Thani award (the top prize for which was a special edition Leica M6 camera).

François-Marie Banier, Sheikh Saoud Al Thani, Abu Simbel, December 2002
©François-Marie Banier



One of the first collections Sheikh Saoud began was Islamic Art, at the request of HH the Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. He amassed pieces with the idea of creating a masterpiece collection, of high quality, unique artefacts that reflected the technical mastery of their craftsmen, as well as having a special story behind them. In this beautiful building conceived by I.M. Pei, our visitors discover this civilization through exceptional royal commissions, amongst others, of the Islamic world.


One of the first acquisitions Sheikh Saoud made for Qatar, and a highlight of MIA’s collection, this piece shows how the royal and elite patronage flourished in Umayyad Spain. From the 16th to the early 19th century, this fountainhead was reused in the Monastery of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Spain, which is how it survived.

Fountainhead in the shape of a hind (female deer)
Spain, Madinat al-Zahra, Umayyads of al-Andalus, 940-1010 CE
Cast bronze
MIA, MW.7.1997


MIA’s collection of enamelled mosque lamps is the second largest in the Middle East after that of the Museum of Islamic Art in Cairo. This lamp is dedicated to Sultan Barquq (r. 1382-1389 and 1390-1399). It is decorated with a famous Qur’anic verse from the Surat al-Nur (24:35), referring to divine light. 

Mosque Lamp of Sultan Barquq
Egypt, Cairo, Mamluk period, 14th century (c. 1382-99)
Enamelled and Gilded Glass
MIA, GL.2.1999 


This bowl belongs to a type of ceramic production known as “splash ware”, which was heavily influenced by Chinese ware. It was one of Sheikh Saoud’s favourite pieces, as he was fascinated with the beginning of Islam and in particular the achievements of craftsmen in the early periods.

Splashed ware bowl
Iraq, Abbasid period, 9th century
Underglaze painted earthenware
MIA, PO.53.1999



Signed by Ahmad ibn Shukrallah al-Farsi
Iran, Timurid or Safavid period, 15th - 16th century
Carved and gilded rock crystal
MIA, GL.293.2004


Sheikh Saoud treasured the natural gifts our planet offers. He collected gemstones, gold, precious minerals, and diamonds, and amassed a superb collection of objects, including exceptional artefacts from pre-Columbian South America, famous for its gold treasures.  He had a particular interest in the rich jewellery tradition of India, and acquired several spectacular pieces set with emeralds, spinels and other precious stones for MIA. 


Masks of this kind were found in South America in tombs (or tolas) of kings and represented the dual power over life and death of the shamans or chief magicians. The gold has been applied on a layer of hammered platinum, an early use of this metal, which would normally require 1800°C to melt.

La Tolita’ mask
Ecuador, Tumaco region, La Tolita island, La Tolita culture, c. 300 BCE - 400 CE
Hammered platinum with gold, and turquoise beads
Qatar Museums, STM.AN.PC.0044

This ornament is set with table-cut diamonds certainly originating from the Golconda mines in India. The upper portion is a detachable turban ornament (jigha). Although this piece is Mughal, Maharajahs in the 19th and 20th centuries would also wear such ornaments tied around their turban.

Turban ornament (sarpech)
India, Mughal period, c. 1790 CE
Gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, pearls, enamel
MIA, JE.87.2002


This sapphire of Sri Lankan origin weighs 478.68 carats. First referenced by Cartier in 1913, it was exhibited in Spain in 1919 and then acquired by King Ferdinand of Romania in 1921 for Queen Marie (1875-1938), who was the granddaughter of both Queen Victoria of Great Britain and Czar Alexander II of Russia.

Queen Marie of Romania’s Sapphire Pendant
Produced by Cartier
Paris, 1913
Sapphire, diamonds and platinum
Qatar Museums, PJM.GE.0493



There was always something to be found on Sheikh Saoud’s enormous desk at his farm: whether it was a plate of fresh mangos or the delivery of the day. Crates were unpacked here and very often he would invite guests to attend this exciting discovery of new acquisitions. His large warehouse was a stunning place, with libraries, masterpieces of modern and contemporary art, cars and bicycles, paintings, furniture, and objects with distinguished provenance. This last section of the exhibition allows a small glance into Sheikh Saoud’s abundant wider collections and conveys a sense of his refined vision for constituting Qatar’s national museums.


Ceramics produced in Saint-Porchaire were highly prized by members of the royal court during the Renaissance. This ewer features the Bourbon coat of arms with three lilies, the monograms of Henri II of France (1519-1559), and three interlaced crescents, symbol of Diane of Poitiers (1499-1566), a French noblewoman and mistress of Henri II. The ewer once belonged to the countess Martine-Marie-Pol de Béhague (1869-1939), a famous French collector and patron in arts, whom Sheikh Saoud admired

France, Saint-Porchaire, 16th century
White lead-glazed earthenware inlaid with coloured clay
Qatar Museums, STM.DA.CE.0119


This wooden drum was produced by the Fang people, who live between Equatorial Guinea, northern Gabon and southern Cameroon. Its back has a wooden holder that was used when playing the instrument. The piece formerly belonged to collectors Helena Rubinstein (1872-1935) and Charles Ratton (1895-1986).

A wooden drum
Cameroon, M'bdonzok, Fang culture, 19th century
Carved and polished wood
Qatar Museums, STM.ET.VA.0006


This Patek Philippe watch, one of the most complex mechanical pocket watches ever produced, was commissioned in 1925 by banker, Henry Graves Jr. It was one of Sheikh Saoud’s most favoured pieces, acquired in 1999. Sheikh Saoud passed away on 9 November 2014, two days before the watch was due to be auctioned again.

The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication watch
Patek Philippe & Co. Geneva
Geneva, 1925-1932
Gold appliques, steel mechanism and paint
Private Collection


Main image credit

The Orange Seller
Ludwig Deutsch (1855-1935)
Paris, signed and dated 1882
Oil on canvas
Orientalist Museum, OM.73


While Egyptology remained his main focus, Sheikh Saoud was equally fascinated by other ancient civilizations. Most of the masterpieces from this part of the collection date from the Greek and Roman periods. He also collected artefacts from the Ancient Middle East, including Iran and Southern Arabia, as well as South America.  Many of the artefacts feature antelopes, one of Sheikh Saoud’s favourite animals, which demonstrate how his personal interests link his varied collecting practices together.


Miniature portrait of the Emperor Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612)Shaped as a hand weight, the function of this object is unknown. It looks similar to the ‘handbags’ represented on Assyrian reliefs, symbols of the cosmos. It features the ‘master of animals’, a heroic hybrid figure - half-man, half-cheetah - fighting against two large snakes, symbols of death.

Weight with handles
Iran, Jiroft, Bronze Age, 2nd half of 3rd millennium BCE
Carved chlorite
Collection of The Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohamed Ali Al Thani Foundation, Qatar


Miniature portrait of the Emperor Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612)This exceptional piece is one of the few surviving examples of ‘cage cups’, and represents the highest level of Roman glass craftsmanship for the elite. Very little is known about the centres of production for this highly skilled craft with Rome, Alexandria, Trier or Cologne each mentioned in recent studies.

The Constable-Maxwell ‘Cage-Cup’ (Vas Diatreta)
Mediterranean or Germany, Roman empire, c. 300 CE
Blown and carved colourless glass
Qatar Museums, STM.AN.EU.2665


Miniature portrait of the Emperor Rudolf II (r. 1576-1612)Large, spectacular textiles woven in sophisticated techniques are characteristic of the production of the Andean people and were fundamental elements of official ceremonies. This textile shows a caravan of multicoloured llamas carrying goods on their back, showing the importance of this animal for Andean societies.

Pre-Columbian ceremonial tunic
Peru, possibly Huari culture, 600-1000 CE
Tapestry woven camelid hair (llama or alpaca) on cotton warp
Qatar Museums, QM.2016.0430

Main image credit

Mosaic panel with an antelope
Mediterranean, Late Roman - Byzantine period, 4th- 6th century CE
Polychrome marble tesserae
Collection of The Sheikh Saoud Bin Mohamed Ali Al Thani Foundation, Qatar
Qatar Museums, NH.FO.2013