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Sotheby's Presents Its Strongest Arts of The Islamic World Sale Ever Staged
In the wake of the record-breaking success achieved by Sotheby’s in both London and Doha for Safavid textiles, the forthcoming auction will present for sale the "Karlsruhe" Safavid Niche Rug from Central Persia. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Following the resounding successes achieved in the field of Islamic Art at Sotheby’s, the company’s forthcoming biannual Arts of the Islamic Works Sale in London, which presents more than 400 lots, on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 will be the company’s strongest ever staged. The auction contains a fine selection of rare objects, including weaponry, textiles, metalwork and manuscripts, ceramics, and paintings, which encompass a wide range of periods, spanning the 7th century through to the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The sale is expected to realise in excess of £10 million.

Commenting on the forthcoming series of Islamic Art sales, Edward Gibbs, Senior Director and Head of the Middle East Department at Sotheby’s, said: “The market for Islamic Art continues to grow in strength and with each sales season Sotheby’s has established new records and benchmarks in several different areas of the Islamic field. Innovative and leading museums, such as the Museum of Islamic Arts in Qatar, have played a significant role in the increased global awareness and strength of this area of the art market. We very much look forward to showcasing in Doha, from September 20th to the 21st, a selection of remarkable objects which highlight Sotheby’s forthcoming Islamic Art Sales in London.”

In the wake of the record-breaking success achieved by Sotheby’s in both London and Doha for Safavid textiles, the forthcoming auction will present for sale the "Karlsruhe" Safavid Niche Rug from Central Persia (above). This rug, which dates from the second half of the 16th century, is one of a very important group of Safavid Persian niche rugs previously referred to as the 'Topkapi' or 'Salting' rugs, named after a carpet bequeathed to the Victoria & Albert Museum by George Salting upon his death in 1909. Revered by early scholars such as A. U. Pope, F.R. Martin, F. Sarre, E. Kühnel, W. von Bode and G. Migeon they are considered superb examples of Safavid court workmanship. When these rugs first appeared on the market in the early 20th century they were purchased by renowned collectors with several of them now in institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Carpet Museum in Tehran. Safavid prayer rugs such as the example offered here rarely appear on the market and this fine example is estimated at £1-1.5 million.

A further highlight is an exceptionally rare and important Ear-Dagger, from 15th century Nasrid Spain. Ear daggers are considered the most important contribution to the Nasrid panoply of arms and armour. Ear Daggers probably originate from North Africa and were widely used in Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries, before being introduced to Christian Europe. Daggers of this type were once extremely fashionable among great nobles, and there exists a portrait of the young King Edward VI of England, now in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, clutching an Ear Dagger at his waist. Deriving its name from the striking design of the hilt pommel, the Ear Dagger (dague à oreilles in French and alla Levantina in Italian) comprises two flattened discs which resemble ears, issuing from either side of the grip and which show Arabic and Latin inscriptions. The damascening around the forte of the blade in the present example comprises the figure of a man with a crossbow in chase of numerous animals including a lion. There exists the possibility that the lion as quarry depicted in the damascened decoration is a metaphor for Castile-Leon, the Christian neighbours of the Nasrids. Leon (lion) united with Castile (castle) in 1037 AD. Castile- Leon became the most extensive of the Christian Kingdoms in Spain, taking a leading part in the conquest of the Muslim south. Only a handful of comparable examples of the dagger exist, and all in museum collections. The dagger is estimated at £600,000-800,000.

Following Sotheby’s established record of offering Qajar paintings and achieving strong prices for them, the forthcoming sale will present two fine examples for sale:

The first is an early Qajar period (dated 1215 AH/1800-01 AD) framed oil on canvas Portrait of a Lady by the leading artist of the day Mirza Baba, which was probably painted for the royal court of Fath 'Ali Shah Qajar (R.1797-1834). The portrait is painted very much in the Zandi style of the late 18th century, the style in which Mirza Baba had been trained and which persisted in early Qajar art well into the 19th century. The figural type, the sleepy, languid eyes, the costume and particularly the broad, heavily patterned trousers, which are depicted in such a way as consciously to display their texture and pattern, are all features of Zandi style and are characteristic of Mirza Baba's work. Mirza Baba was one of the most talented and influential of early Qajar artists and it is thought that he was in the employ of the Zand court before transferring to the Qajars. Active until 1810, he was a versatile artist who produced small scale illustrations for manuscripts and lacquer, as well as large-scale oil paintings for which he is best known. His works in oil depict a variety of subjects, most commonly royal portraits, languid portraits of dancing girls and musicians, young romantics and still-life paintings. The identity of the female figure in the present work is unknown and unidentified, as is the case with all such portraits in the early Qajar period. The sitter is likely to have represented a royal courtesan or entertainer, shown in an idealised way rather than as an actual portrait of a real person. The painting, which is the Property of a Lady, is estimated at £500,000-800,000.

The second Qajar painting is a rare and highly important portrait in oil on canvas, Portrait of Muhammad Shah Qajar by Ahmed, with calligraphy by Muhammad Isma'il, dated 1260 AH/1844 AD, estimated at £300,000-500,000. Compared to his predecessor Fath 'Ali Shah Qajar, and his successor Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar, Muhammad Shah sat for official portraits more rarely and the great majority of extant examples are smaller works, often in watercolour or gouache on paper. Large, monumental portraits of Muhammad Shah such as the present one are very rare. The Persian verses in the border cartouches comprise a eulogy by the poet Mirza Muhammad Taqi Lisan al-Mulk of Kashan (1792-1879), a hymn in praise of the Shah. This work is notable for its traditional composition: reminiscent in the pose, the garments, the sword, the sceptre, the girdle, the throne and the rug, of portraits of his forebear Fath 'Ali Shah Qajar. The artist was recognised as one of the leading court painters during the reigns of Fath 'Ali Shah and Muhammad Shah Qajar, and was possibly a pupil of the famous Mihr 'Ali.

Representing the illustrious tradition of Islamic pottery and ceramics in the sale is this striking figurine of a seated man, possibly a mullah, from 12th–13th century Persia, estimated at £40,000-60,000.

Magnificent examples of the Islamic arts of the book include an exceptionally rare 7th-century Qur’an leaf from the Arabian Peninsula, belonging to the earliest group of Qur’an manuscripts, originating from the very first century of Islam. This example carries an estimate of £100,000-150,000.

From the later Islamic period comes an extremely rare Ottoman gold pocket watch, gifted by Sultan Abdülhamid II (R. 1876–1909) to the archaeologist, scholar and former British ambassador to Constantinople, Sir Austen Henry Layard (1817–1894). Made by Mehmed Sukri Effendi, one of the leading Turkish clockmakers of the 19th century, it was originally intended for Dr Mehmed Rasim Pasha, one of the founders of the Turkish Medical School, and is extremely fine in terms of quality and craftsmanship. It is estimated at £80,000-120,000.

Reflecting the contribution of Islamic civilisation to science, mathematics and astronomy, there is also an 18th-century brass astrolabe from Morocco, estimated at £60,000-80,000.

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