A Personal Take
Alexander Barakat grew up surrounded by the millennia-old art of his family’s renowned gallery. Recently, he decided to learn more about his heritage. Here’s what he discovered.
The dawn of the first millennium of the Christian era takes us back to the Coptic period, the time when Christianity was first introduced to Egypt through St. Mark the Evangelist, the author of the oldest Synoptic Gospel. His teachings burgeoned in the region, and artistic and architectural endeavors flourished as an expression of faith. The oldest Biblical manuscripts pertaining to the New Testament were written down on papyrus during this time between 300 AD to 500 AD, and a small number of them have been preserved through the ages.
As it turns out, one of these manuscripts, a Coptic codex, has miraculously endured the test of time and made its way into the collection of the Barakat Gallery, my family’s art and artifact gallery that has been like a second home to me since childhood.
That’s what my research told me, at least.
I had first come across this ancient manuscript conspicuously concealed in a cabinet at the Beverly Hills location of my family’s gallery. Upon seeing the frail, ochre-colored pages of the papyrus document, I gathered that what was standing before me was of Greek origin—but I wasn’t certain. Growing up in an art-focused family had given me a keen eye for such things, but I hadn’t ever previously seen something of this period so intact. Before establishing any conclusive thoughts about the item, I brought it to my father, Fayez, in order to confirm the identity of the piece. With a lifetime of art and artifact dealing under his belt, surely he would be able to confirm my hypothesis.
As I anticipated, he retorted with the response he gives every time I pose any historically related questions regarding any object in the gallery—study and research the item thoroughly yourself! With my passion for Near Eastern art and an affinity for Biblical and Islamic manuscripts, I was braced to enthusiastically pursue this endeavor as I had done countless times before. For me, research and scholarship were more than just methods of learning—they were engrained in my very being and taught to me as methods to live by ever since I was very little.
Now grown, I realize that my research-oriented upbringing was not something that came out of the blue; indeed, the history of my family’s gallery—as I have learned—has been built upon a similar foundation of documentation, inquiry and scholarship.
The Barakat Gallery was founded over one century ago after Fayad Barakat, my great-great-grandfather, began discovering archeological objects and tombs on his vineyard in Hebron. He soon founded the Barakat Gallery in the Old City of Jerusalem when he realized his calling was to preserve these findings, cultivating a family legacy that would span five generations.
It has been my father, Fayez Barakat, who has seen the gallery through recent years, though, reinventing it as it has expanded its holdings and grown with the times. During the 1960s, he worked alongside the renowned British archeologist Dr. Kathleen Kenyon as she excavated sites in Jerusalem and Jericho. At this time, he began obtaining artifacts for personal archeological study, which sparked the creation of his own personal collection. Within the same decade, an influx of funerary artifacts from Hebron circulated in Jerusalem, giving him the opportunity to acquire an expansive range of objects dating from the Middle Bronze Age to the Byzantine Era.
With his own personal collection and unique encyclopedic knowledge of archeology, my father was ready to take his own direction in the family business, preserving the posterity of the items in his collection. Upon branching out to the U.S., the Barakat Gallery transformed from somewhat of a family-owned souvenir shop into a respected international institution. In 1982, the flagship store was opened on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, and since then the Barakat Gallery has been called not only the finest and the most prolific commercial antiquities gallery, but also an academic resource for students and scholars alike.
“It is bringing to the general public a new form of enlightenment,” my father explains of his gallery’s place in today’s role. “Being part of this whole artistic revolution has not only been exciting, but it empowers me with the knowledge and the wisdom of the generations that have preceded us.”
And, as he tells me, my father sees his role as gallery director clearly. “I hope to be a new messenger of an art that has not been enjoyed thoroughly by the general public,” he says. “As president of Barakat Inc., I feel that ancient art will have a new presence in the next decade. The awareness of the general public has increased regarding the acquisition of ancient artifacts, and their appreciation of these works has a tremendous factor on the historical, spiritual, and aesthetic symbolism that they find in these objects, which were created by skilled artisans and have survived the ages.”
Pictured: Faience lion, ca. A.D. 900 – 1200. Islamic. Glazed earthenware; used as an incense burner.