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Object Spotlights: Crossroads of Culture, 400–1800

Planning a New Gallery at the Kelsey Museum

With the support of the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, the Kelsey Museum is working on a new gallery that will showcase our collections of Byzantine and Islamic art and material culture. Throughout, we will highlight ancient centers of learning and intercultural dialogue from Cairo to Constantinople; think about the movement of people through their spaces and regions as they participated in pilgrimages, community exchanges, and commerce; explore key Michigan-excavated sites such as Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Sinai Peninsula; and consider different media, both tangible (such as architecture) and intangible (such as soundscapes).

We will approach understanding the human past and the medieval world in western Asia, the Mediterranean, and northeast Africa with an eye toward their resonance in our modern world. Transcending traditional boundaries, we will listen to diverse social groups across cultural and geographic contexts of the Byzantine through the early modern Islamic World (from the 3rd to 19th centuries AD), eras that saw the development and spread of three major monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A central theme will be the long-term cultural and intellectual relationships of these different religions and cultures.

The Kelsey’s Byzantine and Islamic collections are rich in textiles, coins, rare wooden architectural elements, pottery, manuscript fragments, glass, decorative and functional household elements, and funerary artifacts. Leading up to the new gallery's likely opening date of spring 2026, we will bring you a series of “Object Spotlights” intended to give you periodic windows into the objects and themes we will feature in the new permanent exhibition.

Object Spotlight #2 | Personal Treasures, Prayer & Protection, and Bread

Object Spotlight #1 | Personal Piety, Pilgrimage, Status Display, and Funerary Beliefs