Islamic Week UK, October 2020: Something Old, Very Old and New

(by Islamic Arts specialist Dr Isabelle Imbert PHD)

Rosebery’s will start the week with two auctions back to back, the main one on the 22nd October with a large catalogue of 420 lots, and a smaller auction of 104 lots, on the 23rd.

Bonhams will follow on the 26th with a catalogue comprising 295 lots. Sotheby’s will hold two auctions on the 27th, presenting 190 lots from the L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem in the morning, and 119 items from diverse collections in the afternoon.

Christie’s will follow on the 28th with 216 lots. On 29th October Chiswick auction will present a catalogue of 323 lots. Finally, on the 30th of October Dreweatts will close the week with a catalogue of 107 lots on paper.

Left: Kashan turquoise-glazed pottery figurine of a camel and rider, Sotheby’s lot 30; Right: Raqqa turquoise-glazed pottery low table, Sotheby’s lot 37

This Islamic week is a direct continuation of the previous one, held in June and discussed on lot-art. We indeed saw a strong come back of Persian medieval ceramics from 13th century Kashan, and though several high profile artefacts remained unsold, it seems Kashan ceramics are here to stay. Sotheby’s presents no less than nine potteries during the morning auction, on top of the more seen architectural decoration. Chiswick offers one large Kashan turquoise-glazed bowl, and Christie’s two brown lustre potteries. Also making an appearance, Syrian medieval ceramic from the city of Raqqa¹, with one elegant black and blue bowl offered by Bonhams and two more items at Sotheby’s, including a complete low table with an elegant openwork decor.

As part of June Islamic week, Sotheby’s presented a Nasrid or Almohad pyxis, enthusiastically dated 12th century, that sold for £519.000. Sotheby’s and Christie’s are now trying to replicate this success by presenting one pyxis each: a 15th century bone-inlaid Nasrid pyxis offered by Christie’s for See Price Estimate... and a large 14th-century ivory-overlaid wooden pyxis unfortunately lacking its lid but with a very elegant geometric decor, given at See Price Estimate... at Sotheby’s. Considering the rarity of such items and the fact that the previous one was sold for more than half its lower estimate, it will be interesting to see buyers behavior.

Bonhams is offering the star lot from the previous Islamic week but with a reviewed estimation: a rare gold dinar dated 77H./ 696-97, under the reign of ‘Abd al-Malik, fifth caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. Previously offered for £100.000-150.000, it goes down to See Price Estimate...

1 - Production centre mainly active during the 12th and 13th century and particularly known for the light turquoise colored glaze.

Left: Bone-inlaid Pyxis, Spain 15th century, Christie’s lot 20; Right: Yusuf and his brother, oil-painting on wood panel, Qajar Iran, 19th c., Christie’s lot 48

Christie’s offers a very elegant 19th century oil-painting on wooden panel, showing a scene from the story of Yusuf and Zulaykha (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife) made in Qajar Iran and decorated with 16th-century Spanish ceramic tiles. This painting was sold in Paris 10 years ago by the French expert Marie-Christine David, alongside four or five other panels from the same series. Keep an eye out for the other paintings, there are good chances they will go out during the next Islamic weeks if this one sells well.

Finally, Dreweatts is selling a very elegant Safavid painting showing the hero Bahram Gur in the blue pavillon² for See Price Estimate..., previously presented by Sotheby’s in 2018 for £5.000-7.000.

2 - The scene is part of the Hasht-Behesht (Eight Paradise) of Amir Khusrau, written at the beginning of the 14th century in Iran.

Left: Bahram Gur in the blue pavillon, Safavid Iran, 16th c. Dreweatts lot 64; Right: Mughal gem-set and enamelled gold flask, India 17th/ 18th century, Sotheby’s lot 456

Some very exciting items are never seen before or almost. Sotheby’s star lot, an exquisite Mughal gem-set and enamelled gold flask (called surahi) made in north India in the late 17th/ early 18th century, has never been seen on the market, and we can expect a great bidding war for it. Valued at See Price Estimate..., its state of preservation is nearly perfect. During the L.A. Mayer museum auction in the morning, Sotheby’s also presents a silver-inlaid Aq-quyunlu helmet, made in Turkey or Iran during the 15th century³. Previously in the collection of the famous art dealer Hagop Kevorkian, this type of pompous armour pieces are particularly rare in this state.

3 - The Aq-qoyunlu (or White Sheeps) were a major Turkish dynasty who ruled on the large part of the Near East before being dethroned by the Safavid in 1501.

Left: Silver-inlaid helmet, Iran or Turkey, 15th c., Sotheby’s lot 55; Right: Silver-inlaid bronze candlestick, Iran, 14th c. Christie’s lot 16

Less rare but very popular with collectors, the 14th century Persian silver-inlaid bronze candlestick offered by Christie’s at See Price Estimate... for its great state of preservation and the fact it was never seen on the market before.

Finally, Bonhams also come in heavy with a superb carved marble panel most probably made in 10th Spain for the Umayyad capital Madinat al-Zahra⁴. Similar panels were found during the city archaeological excavations but this one is really well preserved.

4 - Located near Cordoba, it served for a short period of time as capital of al-Andalus, from 936 to 947.

Left: Carved marble panel, Spain, 10th c. Bonham lot 83; Right: Illustrated folio from the Shahnama, Iran, 13th c. Dreweatts lot 63

Manuscripts are particularly interesting this Autumn. Besides the Safavid painting mentioned above, Dreweatts presents two lots that should excite the more adventurous collectors: an illustrated leaf from the Maqamat of al-Hariri copied in Mamluk Egypt during the 14th c., and a page of the Shahnama copied in Iran under the Muzaffarid dynasty in the late 13th century, bearing a refined and well-preserved illustration⁵.

Though they never achieve very high prices, Chinese Qur’ans usually sell well. Roseberry’s is offering twenty-nine Chinese Quranic juz ⁶, mostly valued around £500-700. Chiswick also presents a Chinese sufi prayer book that can be dated back to the 17th or 18th century. Chinese manuscripts almost never bear dates and because they have not been studied in detail yet, they are particularly difficult to date. However, the illuminations of this particular copy seem to justify the attribution to the 17th c.

5 - The Muzzafarid dynasty (1314-1393) came to power in Iran following the breakup of the Ilkhanate in the 14th century. At their zenith, they ruled a kingdom comprising Azerbaijan, Central Persia, and Iraq.

6 - Portion of the Quran, generally 30 in total, used for memorisation. Lots 73-94, 96-97, 99-104

Left: Juz 19 of the Quran, China, 19th c., Roseberry’s lot 76; Right: Simurgh chick, Iran, 17th c., Sotheby’s lot 421

Finally, it is worth mentioning a rare album of calligraphies probably made in India during the emperor Akbar reign (r. 1556-1605), and a quite surprising drawing a Simurgh ⁷ chick from 17th Safavid Iran. Valued at See Price Estimate..., the page has, to my knowledge, no equivalent.
Between new tendencies from the previous week, old lots resurfacing, and completely unpublished artefacts, this Autumn Islamic week has a lot to be excited for!

7 - Mythical Persian bird particularly popular in medieval literature and the Shahnama of Firdausi.

Left: A large Tashkent suzani, Uzbekistan, 19th c., Chiswick lot 146; Right: A Coral and Turquoise-encrusted gilt brass coffee set, Ottoman Turkey, 19th c., Chiswick lot 215

This article was brought to you by the Islamic Arts specialist Dr Isabelle Imbert PH.D. in collaboration with


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