The agreement was signed at the presidential Elysée Palace during a meeting that was otherwise dominated by economic talks. It renews the Louvre's links with Iran which, with a few notable exceptions, have been suspended since the end of the 1970s.
The deal hasn't yet been publicly announced, but according to The Art Newspaper it lays out a framework for cooperation up to 2019, including plans for exchanges of exhibitions, publications, scientific visits and training sessions, as well as archeological digs. The two countries will also reportedly work together to stop looting and trafficking.
The agreement follows France’s general diplomatic policy to maintain balanced relationships with all countries in the Middle East; the Louvre has already pledged to help Iraq and Syria protect their cultural heritage, and is building an outpost museum in Abu Dhabi.
The first project will be an exhibition on the Qajar Dynasty (1789-1925), due to open in the spring of 2018 at the Louvre’s satellite museum in Lens, northern France. The project is symbolically significant because Iranian clerics often publicly attack the period.
The country has a unique collection of photographs and film from the time that have been recently restored, says Yannick Lintz, the head of the Louvre’s Islamic Art Department, who specialises in Persian history and visited Tehran last summer. Lintz told RFI she was surprised but elated to hear the news that the Louvre would be collaborating with Iran once again, calling it a sign of a new overture of Iranian society from its recent past to present times.
The Art Newspaper says it is possible the Louvre may also join in archeological research at Nishapur in the northeastern province of Khorasan, which could be linked to earlier digs led by the museum in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and other sites along the Silk Road that were part of the greater Sassanid empire. The paper says the medieval Islamic city of Aveh, on the central plateau, was mentioned as another potential site for study, as well as the idea of a team returning to the ancient site of Susa in the Zagros Mountains, where France worked for more than 80 years until 1980's Iraq-Iran war.