Nasser Khalili

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Nasser Khalili in 2023

Sir Nasser David Khalili (born 18 December 1945) is a British-Iranian scholar, collector, and philanthropist based in London.


  • Ownership is nothing but a myth, we are only a temporary custodian of what we believe we own
  • There are 1.6bn people following the faith of Islam. I realised that no one was representing the core and anchor of that religion, and so I took it upon myself to buy everything that was available
  • My very, very first purchase was when I was about 12 or 13. My father used to take me wherever he went buying or selling anything from the age of eight, because amongst my other sisters and brothers I was the only one who showed interest. We bought ordinary things like Persian lacquer to start with. Many years later I did my PhD on Persian lacquer
  • I'm delighted to have every single object that we have, because every one of them is part of that picture. I know each one of them - where I bought it, whom I bought it from, how much I paid for it. That is why I was able to put together what I have put together. If somebody walked in with something, I always immediately knew whether I had a space for it, or whether I have a similar one, or a better one. Often I have made the decision whether to buy or not in less than 50 seconds.
  • Our collection presents the totality of Islamic art, the way it should be presented, from China to North Africa. I didn't want to collect only things that were made for kings and queens because that's the wrong way to present any culture. You have to represent the objects that were used in everyday life, in ordinary homes.
  • Giving exhibitions is like throwing a drop into an ocean. Any contribution to the enhancement of the understanding of Islamic culture adds to that ocean, which I call the ocean of understanding. The greatest and one of the strongest bridges between cultures is the one that is built out of art. Religion and politics have their own dialects. The language of art is universal. There you are safe. Nobody can label you.
  • Finally, money is just paper. My loyalty is to the objects; to be hnoest, I really don't care about the financial side of it too much. People forget that whenever you are faced with a masterpiece, the day you pay for it it may be a bit expensive, but if you wait one month, two months, six months, then it becomes terribly cheap.
  • Art is a universal language that can unite the hearts of mankind, crossing all frontiers, penetrating everywhere. The moment has come for the 'people of the book' - Jews, Christians, Muslims - to speak openly to one another and to see clearly the close cultural, social, spiritual and intellectual ties that have existed between them for centuries. In fact, Jews and Muslims are cousins, and I believe it is far better for us to live together in peace and harmony, than die together in disgrace

Quotes about art collection

  • I wish to thank one of our most dynamic UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors, Professor Nasser D Khalili, for his passion and unfailing commitment to the values of heritage. He has spent considerable time and effort safeguarding Islamic heritage and is now the custodian of the largest group of objects related to the Holy City of Makkah.
    • Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO - Holy Makkah, A Celebration of Unity (2017)
  • The Khalili collection of Meiji art of Japan is only comparable as acknowledged by many scholars and museum directors, in terms of quality and size to the collection of the Japanese Imperial family
    • Dr. Helena Gagarina, General Director, Kremlin Museums, Moscow. Extract from the forward of the catalogue, Beyond Imagination

Treasures of Imperial Japan from the Khalili Collection 19th to Early 20th centuries (July 2017)

  • The Khalili Collection of Haji and the Arts of Pilgrimage (700-2000) ranks in importance alongside the collections of the Topkapi Saray Museum in Istanbul, and includes major objects, many of which are unique and irreplaceable and have no parallel in any other collection, private or public.
    • Edward Gibbs, Chairman, Sotheby's Middle East and India (July 2014)
  • An unparalleled Art Collector
    • Ernest Veen, Director of De Nieuwe Kerk and Hermitage Amsterdam (December 2010)
  • The Khalili Collection `Enamels Of The World 1700 – 2000’, which includes spectacular masterpieces from all the major centres of enameling, is pioneering in its focused study of the subject. Unique in its scope, the Collection reveals the remarkable technical achievements of the enamellers and encourages a greater awareness of the range of their activity. For these reasons I was convinced that the first public showing of the Collection should take place in the galleries of the State Hermitage Museums in St Petersburg
    • Professor Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia (December 2009)
  • Many items in the Nasser D. Khalili collection are completely unique - without parallel in museums let alone the market. It is a collection that would be impossible to recreate.
    • William Robinson, International Specialist of Islamic art, Christie's (January 2008)
  • The main reason for the exhibition of Wonders of Imperial Japan at the Van Gogh Museum was its connection to Van Gogh's painting. It was Van Gogh who said I his letter to his brother Theo in 1888 "In a way all my work is founded on Japanese art"
    • Axel Ruger, Van Gogh Museum (May 2006)
  • …the appreciation of all the Zuloaga descendants [goes] to Prof Khalili… for this superb collection of damascene art, and… for having given the world the opportunity to admire the works, not only of the Zuloagas, but of all the Basque artisans like them.
    • Mariá Rosa Suárez Zuloaga, Zuloaga Museum Spain (Summer 2000)
  • Today I am speechless and proud to be Japanese
    • Kunihiko Saito, Japanese Ambassador to Washington (on the occasion of the Official Opening of the Delaware Exhibition) (April 10, 1999)
  • …A landmark in the study of nineteenth century Spanish decorative art.
    • Dr Alan Borg, Director, Victoria & Albert Museum, on the occasion of the opening of the Zuloaga exhibition (1997)
  • At that time we could not have guessed the existence of Professor Khalili’s collection… a feat which could not possibly be duplicated or even approached by any museum in the world today…
    • Dr Robert Anderson, Director, British Museum, Talking on the exhibition Japanese Imperial Craftsman (1994-1995)

Quotes about Khalili

  • Professor Khalili’s contribution to the world of art and culture is unparalleled, and for him to be called the Medici of the 21st century is no exaggeration.
    • Waqãs Ahmed, Editor, FIRST Magazine (September 2014)
  • We salute you Prof. Khalili, for enabling us to stage this unique exhibition
    • President François Hollande, on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition Hajj, le pe`lerinage a` La Mecque, Institut du monde arabe, Paris, France (April 2014)
  • David is passionate about the cause of peace and has made a remarkable contribution to improving dialogue, understanding and respect between those of different faiths. I have discussed these issues with David many times over the years and it is his dedication to the cause ad his rational and compassionate thinking that has always been apparent.
    • Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (May 2013)
  • Like most great philanthropists, he is passionate but there is a certain timeless wisdom about him too.
    • B Beyond Magazine (January 2013)
  • Rencontre avec le plus grand collectionneur du monde, Nasser David Khalili, collectionneur de légende” (Meeting with the Greatest Collector in the world – Nasser D Khalili, legendary collector)
    • Stephanie Bélpêche, Le Journal du Dimanche (October 4, 2009)
  • My Dear David, what can I say - here stands a Galileo. I have known you for many years when the late holy father Pope John Paul II of blessed memory created you a knight of St. Sylvester. I said of you at that time, if you remember, that you had in one person the great wisdom of 3 religious leaders, a Chief Rabbi, a Cardinal and a Grand Mufti. This is true then and it's true today.
  • Nasser D. Khalili lives, thinks and breathes art. For him life and art are noble and inseparable. Nobody believes more in the healing power of art and the lessons we can learn from it.
    • James Stourton, Chairman, Sotheby’s UK (January 2008)
  • I highly value the efforts of Professor Nasser Khalili and what he has done to promote this valuable cultural heritage, to care for it and to preserve it, and to present it to current and future generations so that all who see it will learn about the brilliance of the notable and deeply-rooted Islamic civilization.
    • Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (January 22, 2008)
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