Mesopotamia and Persia
Chronology : Origin 1400-1429 1530-1539 1570-1599 17th century 1600-1609 1650-1659 1810-1819 1820-1829
5000 years ago - The Guennol Lioness, Elam
2007 SOLD for 57 M$ including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
This very finely chiseled stone figure 8.3 cm high has the head of a lioness on a human body. It certainly comes from the Iranian plateau and was sold in 1931 to a New York merchant. Its discovery thus precedes the excavations of Tell Agrab, begun in 1936 by a team from the University of Chicago appealed by other finds among the antique dealers of Baghdad.
Such hybrid representations between human and feline date back to prehistoric cultures. The ivory lion-man from the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave, dated ca 35,000 to 40,000 years ago by radiocarbon, is the oldest authenticated example of figurative art. The Chauvet cave, painted 30,000 years ago, also includes a lion-woman hybrid.
The Guennol Lioness was sculpted about 5,000 years ago. It belongs to the Proto-Elamite culture, characterized by the development of a proto-writing that has not been decrypted. It is several centuries earlier than the use of the sphinx as a necropolis guardian in Egypt.
It is one of a kind in the round, but is related to similar figures that raise mountains or huge trunks in two-dimensional sigillary iconography. These representations are therefore symbols of extreme power, confirmed in the Guennol Lioness by the hypertrophy of the muscles and the authoritarian position of the head. The head is pierced, allowing to hang it to the neck of a prominent character.
Its name and its exact role in the mythology of that time are not known. It must be analyzed alongside its male counterpart, a bull's head on a human body, of which a kneeling figure is kept at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Unlike the Guennol Lioness whose hands are joined on the abdomen, this proto-Elamite hybrid holds a liturgical vessel.
Guennol is the pseudonym chosen by the couple of collectors who acquired it in 1948 and entrusted its exhibition for almost 60 years to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
879 BCE The Guardian Angels of the Nimrud Palace
2018 SOLD for $ 31M including premium
Founded by Ashur-nasir-pal II over the ruins of a previous city at the time when the Assyrian empire claimed an ambition for a universal kingdom, Kalhu had been one of the greatest urban planning projects made in antiquity. The annual military campaigns of Ashurnasirpal were very efficient and the vanquished peoples supplied the work force for his constructions.
The 120 x 200 m palace excavated by Layard included many rooms separated from the inner courtyards by mud brick walls. About 400 shallow bas-reliefs in gypsum served as a base for these painted walls.
On July 6, 1994, Christie's sold for £ 7.7M including premium an incomplete 183 x 117 x 6.4 cm bas-relief that had been presented by Layard to one of his sponsors. It displays a beardless eunuch and a winged bearded deity ready to serve the king, and has retained three-quarters of a standard cuneiform inscription recalling the achievements of the king supported by the gods. Layard had been authorized by the Grand Vizier to export his discoveries.
On October 31 in New York, Christie's sells as lot 101 a bas-relief 224 x 196 cm that includes the standard inscription mingled in the image. It is illustrated with a single full size standing figure in Egyptian profile, larger than life and complete. This winged bearded creature is busy anointing a tree of life. Its mirror image is known. The pair served to flank a gateway for which our bearded deity was somehow the guardian angel.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's. A digital technology enables to reconstruct the original colors, known by traces of pigments on some of the reliefs.
2021 SOLD for £ 3.1M including premium
It is an important cultural center. A traveler from the Ghurid era announces 359 colleges, 12,000 shops, 6,000 bathhouses, caravanserais, mills, a dervish convent, a Zoroastrian fire temple. The specialty of Herat at the same time is the work of bronze inlaid with precious metals. Islamism becomes preponderant with the construction of the great mosque in 1201.
On March 31 in London, Sotheby's sells a circular brass ritual basin, most likely made in Herat, lot 74 estimated £ 1M. It measures 50 cm in diameter with an everted scalloped rim 11.6 cm high. The interior is entirely decorated with silver inlays which have remained intact.
The concentric registers constitute a complete cosmography with Persian and Hindu influences without any Islamic element. Treasured for more than sixty years in a collection, it was unpublished but is decoded through its iconographic similarities with the Vaso Vescovali, a zodiacal tin bowl kept in the British Museum.
Saturn, the most distant planet from earth, sits in the center with a forbidding expression. It is surrounded by the circle of the four other planets plus Sun and Moon. Each of these seven allegories has several arms to display its attributes, in the Hindu tradition. Most of them brandish severed human heads. The figures are separated by a network of lines that looks like a weaving stitch.
The next circle is the star zodiac, in the usual denomination of the twelve signs, consisting of the day house and the night house of the five planets and one each for Sun and Moon. The next two circles are respectively made up of twelve pairs of fish and then crescent moons. The wall is illustrated with a frieze of waq-waq, the mythical Persian tree whose branches and fruits turn into human heads screaming "waq waq". The last circle is a frieze of heads and birds.
> 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.
1525-1535 The King disguised as a Dragon
2011 SOLD 7.4 M£ including premium
The Persian poet Firdausi wrote the Shahnameh 1000 years ago. This Book of Kings collects 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 realized later that this text could be used as an apologia for royal power. Ismail, founder of the Safavid dynasty, encouraged artists to illustrate the Shahnameh, but the great work was an illuminated manuscript created in the early reign of his son and successor Tahmasp.
This highly important manuscript has been dismantled. 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.
On April 6 in London, Sotheby's sells a gouache heightened with gold, 47 x 32 cm. Made in Tabriz between 1525 and 1535 of our calendar, it is attributable to Aqa Mirak who was one of the best artists of this collection. It is estimated £ 2M.
It shows 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.
This work will soon be exhibited in Doha. On this occasion, it is illustrated in the upper left of the article shared by The Peninsula Qatar.
POST SALE COMMENT
Sotheby's had announced this lot for a very long time and knew its value, of course.
The result, £ 7.4 million including premium, is very high, but the above discussion indicated the trend: each sheet of Shahnameh of Tahmasp is a work of art in its own right.
I have no doubt that this price will incite other sheets to come in future sales.
> 1590 Isfahan Rug
2009 SOLD for £ 2.7M by Sotheby's
1600 Silk Isfahan Rug
2008 SOLD for $ 4.45M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2021
On June 3, 2008, Christie's sold a Persian rug for $ 4.45M including premium from a lower estimate of $ 1M, lot 37. This 230 x 170 cm piece is entirely woven in silk without brocade. Its unique luminescence could be a witness to that rebirth of Isfahan, around 1600.
The search for luminosity is carried to perfection, with 17 colors including several shades of yellow. Its repeating pattern of flowers, leaves and plant arabesques is centered by a small medallion, an innovation that provided the illusion of a water lily floating on a pond when the colors still had all their original contrast.
The so-called "Polonaise" rugs, woven in Isfahan and Kashan, can be considered as an evolution of this design a few decades later. Unfortunately their silver brocades are often blackened by oxidation and the dyes are less stable. A 208 x 135 cm brocade silk Polonaise that had belonged to King Umberto II was sold for $ 790K including premium by Sotheby's on October 1, 2015, lot 68.
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.
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.
2009 SOLD for $ 3.4M including premium by Sotheby's
2019 SOLD for £ 3.9M by Christie's
2019 SOLD for £ 3.7M by Christie's
1812 The Family of the King of Kings
2021 SOLD for £ 2.3M including premium
A wall of one of the palaces was decorated around 1812 CE with a monumental frieze featuring the Shah on his throne, surrounded by a multitude of his descendants. Copies were made for other palaces, but almost everything has disappeared in the turpitudes of Persian history.
The artist and collector Frederic Clay Bartlett acquired in 1921 a fragment 256 x 442 cm featuring 24 princes assembled by age in three slightly overlapping registers. Each one is identified by an inscription which makes it possible to establish his kinship with Fath Ali.
They wear a crown or a turban according to their rank. The brocade coat and the shawl relate to the Norouz ceremony, the New Year of the Persian calendar. It is assumed that the original group gathered more than one hundred princes in a single attitude, standing with crossed arms.
Bartlett died in 1953. His Qajar fragment has been preserved at Bonnet House, his residence in Fort Lauderdale turned into a museum by his widow. Its importance has just been re-established.
This painting on canvas in oil heightened with gold is estimated £ 1M for sale by Christie's in London on April 1, lot 30. Nothing similar had been auctioned since 1975. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
A magnificent Qajar group portrait, attributable To 'Abdallah Khan Naqqashbashi (active 1800-1850) debuts at auction on 1 April. Specialists Sara Plumbly and Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam discuss the opulent era from which it emerged:https://t.co/gGqDtrxf47 pic.twitter.com/Lei9xio7QT— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) March 25, 2021
1820s The Shah who never grew old
2014 SOLD 3 M£ including premium
Often in history a new dynasty enforces its authority by deploying an extreme wealth. The ceremonies of Fath 'Ali were sumptuous, decorated with the most beautiful rugs and finest gems.
The Shah wanted that his palace was decorated with pictures of himself and his family occupied in these luxurious ceremonies. These portraits were displayed lifesize like the English kings in Tudor times, and in oil on canvas, which was an innovation for Persian art.
For these reasons, the Qajar art under Fath 'Ali is unique. The name of the artist who directed this project for three decades is known : Mihr 'Ali. It is difficult to distinguish his autograph work because he had many students.
Throughout this period, the image of the Shah never gets old. He kept the huge black beard down to the belt and the mustache hiding the mouth. Only varied the luxurious details of the high crown, garment, carpet and of the wide bolster whose pattern often matched the carpet. The gaze is straight up to expressing a challenge.
On October 12, 2004, Sotheby 's sold £ 900K including premium a portrait of the Shah, 203 x 114 cm.
On April 9 in London, Sotheby's sells another canvas, 223 x 163 cm, estimated £ 1.5 M. The pentagonal shape is due to the space where the work was to be hung in the palace.
The Shah is kneeling on a carpet. He is accompanied by a standing teenager in a perfect costume, who is certainly his grandson Mohammad Mirza, eldest son of the Crown Prince and 12 years old in 1820 of our calendar.
POST SALE COMMENT
This outstanding Qajar portrait was sold for £ 3M including premium.
Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's.