Chronology : 1400-1429 1530-1539 17th century 1600-1609 1620-1629 1650-1659 1790-1799
1274 Mosul Candlestick
2021 SOLD for £ 6.6M by Sotheby's
This piece 26 cm high and 30 cm diameter on the base is facetted in nine parts. The slightly depressed concave body is decorated with a fully circular frieze of 27 standing soldiers and courtiers. At other places narrow friezes display seated musicians, running animals and foliage.
Inscriptions on the shoulder and upper and lower bands of the body appeal in an anthropomorphic script to "Perpetual Glory and Safe Life and Increasing Prosperity and Perfect Good-fortune", including further details of that wish.
It has obviously been commissioned by a high ranked courtier to do homage to a powerful ruler. The use was to kiss the ground and withdraw after the present. Thousands of beeswax candles were lit in the candlesticks in full night palace pageants that included dancing.
Mosul had been the foremost center for inlaid metalwork. The iconography of the candlestick is comparable to a basin signed by one al-Mawsili and dated 673 AH matching 1274 CE while the city was under Ilkhan rule. The candlestick is certainly from that period because the detailed style of such images was soon stylized and weakened. Both are great examples of a revival of Islamic craft under the Mongols.
A candlestick of similar shape and use inscribed to a Mamluk Emir in the period 741-746 AH matching 1340-1345 AD was sold for £ 4.5M by Sotheby's on April 6, 2011.
This sumptuous gold & silver-inlaid candlestick dates all the way back to circa 1275. The body features a stately parade of courtiers and musicians with the decorations embodying the ceremonies of the period.— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) October 4, 2021
Read more here: https://t.co/9cQoEEVoAa#SothebysMiddleEast pic.twitter.com/lXMc1EvOxZ
> 1417 Persian Manuscripts on Chinese Paper
2020 SOLD for £ 7M including premium
The Timurid empire broke out after his death. His son Shahrukh reigned over Persia and transferred the capital from Samarkand to Herat. He re-established relations with China through the silk road and became immensely wealthy. He did not seek conquests, took the title of sultan and protected Islam.
This political lull occured during the reign of Yongle of the Ming. A first Chinese embassy reaches Herat in 815 AH (1412 CE). China produces porcelain decorated in Muslim taste to serve as a diplomatic gift. The second embassy in 820 AH brought many gifts including porcelain but also silks, brocades, velvets and paper. This embassy is probably the terminus post quem of the Persian books on Chinese paper.
The Chinese luxury paper is thick, and designed to be extremely soft and silky to the touch. The Chinese workshops prepare the folio on a monochrome background in various hues of blue, pink, lavender, yellow and green. They then add an illustration in gold, with speckled patterns and sometimes figurative drawings, without human representation in conformance with the iconographic principles of Islam. The Persian workshops add their text on this preparation.
A dozen Persian manuscripts on Chinese paper are known, including four Qur'ans. One of these Qur'ans, recently discovered, consists of 534 folios 23 x 16 cm, 29 of which have been replaced. The text in Naskh script is written on each page in a 14 x 9.4 cm frame. The binding is Safavid. This book is estimated £ 600K for sale by Christie's in London on April 2 (postponed to June 25), lot 29.
1480 Fritware Pottery in Iznik
2018 SOLD for £ 5.4M including premium
The new craft is inspired by the Chinese blue and white, best known to the Ottomans through the Persian Timurid pottery center at Kashan. The fritware paste with a high content of siliceous rocks does not make it possible to obtain the hardness of a porcelain. The decorations of the early Iznik ceramics juxtapose the vegetal patterns in the Chinese taste and the arabesques of the Ottoman metalwork. This mixed style is named rumi-hatayi.
Blue is obtained by cobalt but the concentration of underglaze pigment is poorly controlled, generating a too intense color comparable to earlier phases of the Chinese blue and white. It will take about two decades for bright blue to be made in Iznik. Until about 1520 cobalt blue remains the only available color.
On October 24 in London, Sotheby's sells a charger from the Baba Nakkas period with a wide everted rim, lot 134 estimated £ 300K. It is 45 cm in diameter and 8 cm deep.
This piece has a documented provenance over more than half a century but had never been published. It joins an extremely limited population of four dishes of similar technique and dimensions, all of them preserved in museums. The rumi-hatayi Baba Nakkas ceramics is also known in other shapes : jars, candlesticks, flasks.
A rumi-hatayi bowl from the next phase circa 1510 was sold for £ 1.43M including premium by Christie's on April 10, 2014 over a lower estimate of £ 300K.
The Persian poet Firdausi wrote the Shahnameh 1,000 years ago. This Book of Kings collects in 30,000 couplets the epic and heroic stories of his country since the creation of the world until the advent of Islam.
He was misunderstood in his lifetime, like all geniuses, but the Persian kings appreciated later that this text could be used as an apologia for royal power. Shah Isma'il, founder of the Safavid dynasty, commissioned ca 1522 CE the leading artists of his court to illustrate the Shahnameh. That illuminated manuscript was created from 1525 to 1540 in the early reign of his son and successor Shah Tahmasp. That fully completed project includes 258 miniatures skillfully composed with combinations of bright colors..
This magnificent manuscript has been dismantled in the 1970s. One can, or even have to, regret it but the corollary is that each folio coming on the market is considered as a work of art in its own right. The format of the folios is 47 x 32 cm. Panels of text are inserted in columns in the pictures.
1530s Folio 295 attributed to Mirza 'Ali
2022 SOLD for £ 8.1M by Sotheby's
This picture is attributed to Mirza 'Ali in the Royal atelier in Tabriz. Turning 20 years old in the early 1530s, Mirza 'Ali, the son of a leading artist of Shah Tahmasp's Shanameh, contributed to that project for about six illustrations. By his skills for details and psychology, he will be arguably the greatest illustrator of the Safavid dynasty.
The action features Rustam, dressed in a leopard skin, recovering the horse Rakhsh from the herd of his arch-enemy in a lush surrounding of trees inhabited with various species of birds including partridges. Another bearded character marks his astonishment by putting a finger in his mouth. Rakhsh means lightning.
The verso has an illuminated 20 line text in black in four columns in the same gold frame as the recto.
This folio was sold for £ 8.1M from a lower estimate of £ 4M by Sotheby's on October 26, 2022, lot 49. The image is shared by Wikimedia. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1525-1535 Folio 42
2011 SOLD for £ 7.4M by Sotheby's
The miniature is a 30 x 29 cm gouache heightened with gold, made in Tabriz between 1525 and 1535 CE. It is attributable to Aqa Mirak who was one of the leading masters of the project. The reverse has a text in four columns and two headings. The image overlaps the irregular gold margin on its right side.
It pictures the king Faridun who disguises himself as a fierce dragon to test the courage and loyalty of his three sons. He could rejoice in the result and particularly appreciate the haughty answer made by the youngest: Go your way, dragon, we are the sons of the powerful Faridun.
Safavid - The Carpet of Senator Clark
2013 SOLD 34 M$ including premium
One of them created one of the most exciting surprises in the history of auctions. Surfacing in Germany in October 2009, it was estimated € 900 by a local auctioneer. Christie's had a small intuition about the importance of the piece by providing an estimate of £ 200K. They sold it for £ 6.2 million including premium on April 15, 2010.
Now known as the carpet of the comtesse de Béhague, this Kirman in wool 339 x 153 cm was made with one of the more complex techniques identified as the 'vase' technique. This name is unrelated to the decorative pattern.
The carpet of Senator Clark will not create the same surprise as it has already been described for nearly a century as a masterpiece of Persian textile art. It was exhibited after the death of its owner in 1925 in a museum that de-accessions it now. It is estimated $ 5M, for sale by Sotheby's in New York on June 5. Here is the link to the catalog.
Its red background is rare and perhaps unique in its class, the sickle-leaf pattern variant of the 'vase' technique. Its fine floral motifs and its palmettes make it a vibrant and sumptuous artwork in 267 x 196 cm size.
It is always difficult to date and locate an old carpet, if not by considerations of its technical characteristics. The Clark carpet is Safavid and probably Kirman. It is comparable to the best known pieces woven during the reign of Shah Abbas 400 years ago.
POST SALE COMMENT
There is no price limit for the most outstanding art pieces. This extraordinary carpet was sold for $ 34M including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's.
It is also shared by Wikimedia.
1627-1972 The Taj Mahal of Elizabeth Taylor
2011 SOLD for $ 8.8M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2021
In 1972, for Elizabeth Taylor's 40th birthday, Richard Burton humorously declares that he would have liked to offer her the Taj Mahal but that the monument was not transportable. The real gift is an evocation of it : a Mughal piece of jewelry, which Burton had bought for around £ 350K.
This jewel is centered with a large heart-shaped diamond inserted in a surrounding of same shape in red stones, jade and small diamonds. The diamond is inscribed in Persian : Nur Jahan Baygum Padshah, 23, 1037. The ribbon for using it as a pendant is faded. Liz Taylor has it replaced by Cartier with a gold chain terminated by a fraying of gold threads bearing rubies.
In the Hegira calendar, 1037, corresponding to 1627 CE, is the year of Jahangir's death in the 23rd year of his reign and thus marks the end of the long recency of his wife Nur Jahan. Shah Jahan is the son and successor of Jahangir.
On December 13, 2011, in the auction by Christie's of Elizabeth Taylor's estate, this jewel designated as the Taj Mahal was sold for $ 8.8M including premium from a lower estimate of $ 300K, lot 56.
After the sale, the buyer, who remained anonymous, understands that there is no evidence that the Taj Mahal jewel was ever in the hands of Jahangir or Shah Jahan. He is an important customer and Christie's is attempting to cancel the sale of this lot. The trust in charge of the actress's estate opposed it in 2015 and 2017 by legal complaints, arguing the absence of irregularity. The end of the story is not known.
Safavid - The Béhague Carpet
2010 SOLD for £ 6.2M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2021
This wool carpet is knotted using the intricate Vase technique, suggesting that it was woven in the royal workshops of the Safavid dynasty. It measures 339 x 153 cm and is in outstanding condition except for a few tiny repairs and some corrosion of the black threads. It had been commented in 1938 by an expert who stated for its provenance the prestigious collection of the comtesse de Béhague.
The golden age of Kirman carpets is the reign of Abbas I, who died in 1629 CE. The Béhague carpet is characterized by a very elegant simplification of shapes that Christie's positions around the mid-17th century.
In a magnificent geometric regularity, parallel stems support several pairs of leaves. From top to bottom, the leaves of one stem alternate with the leaves from the adjacent stem. Tiny flowers are inserted into the spaces between the leaves. This decoration anticipates the repetition of flowers and leaves in the highly popular Herati pattern and may evoke some figures from the Iznik ceramics.
1799 The Bedchamber Sword of Tipu Sultan
2023 SOLD for £ 14M by Bonhams
The Sultan died in battle in 1799 CE during the siege of his capital Seringapatam. Entering his locked bedchamber, the British observed that the Sultan had lived in constant alert. He used to sleep in a hammock suspended from the ceiling with a pair of pistols and a sword within reach by his side.
That single edged Mughal steel sword with a double edged point follows a model of 16th century German blades. The straight blade 38 mm wide is mounted with a hilt and kept in a velvet covered silver gilt wooden scabbard. The overall length in scabbard is 108 cm.
The gold inlaid calligraphy of the hilt records five of the qualities of God and two invocations calling on God by name. Each of the qualities and one of the invocations are repeated several times. An inscription translates as 'The Sword of the Ruler'.
The sword was presented on the spot by the army to Major General Baird who had led the successful assault on Seringapatam. From the Baird archives, it was sold for £ 150K before fees by Dix Noonan Webb on September 19, 2003, lot 3. It was sold for £ 14M by Bonhams on May 23, 2023, lot 175P.
1880 Young Woman Reading by Osman Hamdy Bey
2019 SOLD for £ 6.7M by Bonhams
Osman came to Paris in 1860 at the age of 17 to complete his law studies. When he returned to Constantinople in 1869 with a French fiancée, he was an Orientalist artist, former student of the late Boulanger and friend of Gérôme.
He learned from his French masters the techniques of realistic figuration that are based on photographs. He will remain throughout his life a great servant of the Ottoman Empire. He disdains the scenes of artificial harems and keenly observes the religious practices and the luxurious costumes of the Turkish elites.
Hamdy Bey introduces progressive elements in his art, with a great subtlety that does not impeach his splendid cultural and administrative career. He stages himself with his family, probably to avoid remonstrances from other models. He is the only figurative painter in Turkey and his works have not been exhibited during his lifetime in his country.
For example the Lady of Constantinople wears the Islamic veil, but it is so transparent that it does not hide anything of her pretty face. This 185 x 109 cm oil on canvas painted in 1881 was sold for £ 3.4M including premium by Sotheby's on May 30, 2008. A smaller version is for sale at Dorotheum on October 23, 2019. Both have been narrated in this column.
The reading of sacred books is one of Hamdy Bey's favorite themes. His characters are made appealing by their passions or their carelessness. This deep humanism that leads the social criticism up to a pleasant mockery has no equivalent in European orientalist art, even less in Ottoman art.
Painted in 1878 with the atmosphere from Topkapi, the picture of a young prince sprawled on a couch for better focusing on his reading passed at Sotheby's on April 24, 2012. A young woman fooling her boredom by looking at a big book, oil on canvas 41 x 51 cm painted in 1880, was sold for £ 6.7M by Bonhams on September 26, 2019 from a lower estimate of £ 600K, lot 62. Please watch the video prepared by the auction house.
On October 22, 2019, Sotheby's sold for £ 4.6M from a lower estimate of £ 3M Koranic Instruction, oil on canvas 80 x 60 cm painted by Hamdy Bey in 1890, lot 21.
In the luxurious interior of the Bursa Green Mosque, the standing teacher reads the book aloud without looking at the disciple. This serious man forgot to take off his babouches. The student is a mature man holding a closed book with a jaded attitude. He is a self-portrait of the artist, from a photograph that has been identified.