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Sothebys sets Record for any Islamic Work of Art at Auction
An Abbasid ka’ba key sold to an anonymous buyer for £9,204,500 in Sotheby’s biannual Arts of the Islamic World Sale. © Sotheby's Images.

LONDON.-An Abbasid ka’ba key, which unlocks one of the most venerated and highly honoured buildings in the world – certainly within the pan-Islamic community – today sold to an anonymous buyer for the remarkable sum of £9,204,500 in Sotheby’s biannual Arts of the Islamic World Sale. The price achieved, which is more than 18 times its pre-sale high estimate of £500,000, set a new record for any Islamic Work of Art sold at auction.

The auction, which was the most important Islamic Sale ever staged by Sotheby’s, exceeded all expectations and realised £21,524,350. The auction total is more than double its pre-sale low estimate of £9.5 million - £8 million over its pre-sale high estimate (£13.1 million) – representing the highest ever total for any sale of Islamic Art. The extraordinary sum is also in excess of Sotheby’s annual total of £20 million for sales of Islamic, and Modern and Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art in 2007, which was the company’s best-ever result for sales in this category.

Commenting on today’s sale, Edward Gibbs, Senior Director and Head of Sotheby’s Islamic Art department, said: “The saleroom was completely packed and we are absolutely thrilled with the results of today’s auction, which is by far
Sotheby’s most successful in this category. Remarkably, the sale realised more than the Islamic department’s annual total in 2007, demonstrating beyond doubt the burgeoning and international demand for Islamic Art. Strong prices were achieved for top quality, rare objects across all the periods and categories represented, most notably for the ka’ba key which set the new world auction record for an Islamic Work of Art. This has been a tremendous start to 2008 for our department and we look forward to building on these results later this year.”

The ka’ba key is arguably one of the most powerful symbols of Islam and this is the only one known to remain in private hands. The tradition of dedicating the key to each Caliph seems to have originated with the Abbasid Caliphs in Baghdad. As a physical object – the key to the holiest building of an entire religion – it demonstrates the authority of the caliph and is the ultimate emblem of power. Aside from this lot, 58 keys are recorded but despite the number of keys manufactured there are very few extant and of these they are all in museums. The key was formerly in a private Lebanese collection and is the second earliest example known – the earliest is dated A.H. 555/A.D. 1160.

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