Conquerer of Constantinople
This painting depicts Mehmed II, conqueror of Constantinople in 1453, together with a young dignatory.
It was painted sometime after 1479 when, to mark the signing of the Treaty of Constantinople between the Ottomans and the Republic of Venice, the artist Gentile Bellini (c.1429-1507) travelled to the city on the sultan’s request.
Of the three surviving contemporary, or near contemporary portraits of Mehmed II, this ‘workshop’ oil is the only one to include a second figure.
Despite numerous attempts at discovery, the young man’s identity remains unknown but he might be European, possibly a Venetian merchant or diplomat who had connections with the Ottoman court and wished to commemorate his links with Istanbul.
After Mehmed’s death, his son, Sultan Bayezid II, embarked on a wave of zealous iconoclasm, selling the majority of the ‘foreign’ works of art commissioned or collected by his father. As such, it has been suggested that this portrait may have returned to Venice early in its history, remaining there until 1865.
Acquired by the vendor at Sotheby’s in 2015 for £850,000, it reappeared at Christie’s (25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) on June 25 where it sold for £800,000.
Shawl with colonial provenance
This north Indian long shawl, or dochalla (pictured above), comes with a colonial provenance.
The embroidered inscription Cashmere, 1846, Emily Hardinge suggested a connection with Emily Jane Stewart Hardinge (1789-1865), who in 1821 had married Sir Henry Hardinge (1785-1856), Governor General of India from 1844-48.
The couple’s years in the sub-continent included the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845-46) and the subsequent treaties of Lahore and Amritsar. In April 1846,
Sir Henry was made 1st Viscount Hardinge of Lahore, receiving annual pensions of £3000 from Parliament and £5000 from the East India Company.
Despite the inscription, pashmina wool shawls such as this were deemed masculine attire. While the square shawl (rumal) was worn most commonly by women, the rectangular dochalla was particularly favoured by men and was worn draped over the shoulder or around the body for warmth.
The design dates it to c.1840. The central turquoise panel depicting figures at a temple is particularly rare.
In remarkable condition, it was entered for sale at Aldridges (20% buyer’s premium) of Bath on March 31 by a local resident who knew nothing of its history other than to say it has spent most of its life in a cupboard.
The estimate was £800-1200 but the winning UK phone bidder tendered £18,500.
Hookah in hot demand
This fine example of 19th century Kutch silver, a floor-standing hookah pipe of palatial proportions, sold for £16,000 at Bamfords (21% buyer’s premium) in Derby on September 9. Standing 4ft 11in (1.5m) high, its chased decoration includes an octagonal stand and a tier of paired birds. The estimate was £4000-6000.
Early travel journal
This manuscript copy of Al-Rihla al-Wustd, a travel journal documenting a journey to Palestine, Jerusalem and Hebron taken by the poet, mystic and scholar Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, sold for £15,000 at Bloomsbury Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) in London on June 12.
It probably dates from c.1101AH (1690), making it contemporary with al-Nabulsi’s visits to mosques, tombs and shrines in the region during a ziyarat pilgrimage to sites associated with Prophet Muhammad.
Ode to the prophet
This manuscript of Qasida al-Burda (Poem of the Mantle), a celebrated ode to the Prophet Muhammad, includes a colophon stating it was copied in AH1010 (1601-02) by Sadiq bin Yusufof Sian.
Alongside the Arabic text is an interlinear translation plus copious notes and marks. At Roseberys London (25% buyer’s premium) on June 16 it sold at £16,000 (estimate £3000-5000) to an internet bidder.
Duleep Singh sought after
Objects with a close personal connection to Duleep Singh (1838-93), the last maharaja of the Sikh Empire who was exiled to Britain at the age of 15, carry a particular resonance in the Sikh community.
This white metal hawking bell is inscribed HH Prince Duleep Singh, Mulgrave Castle, Whitby, Yorkshire, £2 reward. Mulgrave is where Duleep Singh lived from 1858-62. This bell perhaps belonged to one of the pet hawks he brought with him.
It came for sale at Evesham saleroom Kingham & Orme (23% buyer’s premium) on March 5 with an estimate of £80-120 but sold for £5500.
Chinese export to Iran or India
This 8½in (22cm) Chinese export porcelain dish, offered by Chiswick Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) on April 22, is part of a polychrome and gilt service commissioned from a wealthy Shia Muslim in either Iran or India.
Dated 1260AH (1844), it is painted with bands of polychrome boteh (paisley design) and calligraphic medallions of nasta’liq poetry amounting to a tribute to Imam Husseyn, grandson of the prophet Muhammad and his martyrdom at the battle of Kerbela.
A matching dish resides in the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore, while the hypothesis it was once part of a larger service is confirmed by a bowl and saucer dish with the same inscriptions and date sold by Chiswick in October for £10,400. This dish, from the same ‘important European private collection’, was pitched at £800-1200 but sold online at £8500.
A group of later 19th century export bowls and saucers made for the Qajar prince Mas’ud Mirza Zill al-Sultan (1850-1918) sold at £6500 (estimate £6000-8000). Each of the six pieces, including two large 15in (37cm) ‘punch’ bowls, are dated 1297AH for 1879-80.
Alongside typical Guangdong famille rose decoration is the unusual grey-mauve ground and a gilt inscription that identifies them as part of the large service commissioned by the prince, the eldest son of the ruling Shah Naser al-Din Shah (1831-96).
Kashan jug shines at auction
Painting in blue and black under the glaze was a technique developed in Iran c.1200.
The black pigment comes from a mineral containing manganese, chrome and iron mined near Kashan.
Under the Ilkhanid rulers, figural decoration declined in favour of looser and more fluid geometric designs and arabesque patterns. They are seen to this 7in (17.5cm) jug that also carries bands of reserved naskh inscription.
Former part of the collection of Charles Kettaneh collection from whose estate it was sold at Hôtel Drouot, Paris in 1986, it reappeared at Christie’s (25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) on June 25 where it sold for £330,000, close to 10 times the lower estimate.
Saddle up in Edinburgh
The unexpected highlight of the Lyon & Turnbull (25% buyer’s premium) Five Centuries auction in Edinburgh on February 5 was this Ottoman saddle – one of two that came for sale from Newbattle Abbey near Edinburgh, the former home of the Marquesses of Lothian.
Estimated at £1000-1500, after frantic bidding online and five phone lines, it took £56,000.
The saddle itself, with bridle and other tack, was covered in yellow silk velvet with embossed white metal mounts.
The heraldry to the raised pommel appears to date it to the 19th century: the coat of arms is one created by Abdulhamid II (1842-1918), the last sultan to exert effective control over the fracturing Ottoman state. However, the red velvet saddle cloth, applied with gilt metal stars and silver studs, was possibly earlier.
Cavalcade marches to £50,000
The highlight of Bonhams’ sale of Indian and Islamic art on June 11 was a group of nine Company School watercolours with an unbroken provenance back to 1812. They came by descent from Maria, Lady Nugent, wife of Sir George Nugent (1757-1849), commander-in-chief of the British army in India from 1811-13.
Since the art historian Mildred Archer began writing on the subject in the 1950s, the part-Mughal, part-European paintings produced by 18th and 19th century Indian artists for officials of the East India Company have been known as ‘Company School’ works – an English translation of the Urdu term Kampani qalam.
Some of these miniatures are precisely those mentioned in Lady Nugent’s diary published as Lady Nugent’s East India Journal edited by Ashley L Cohen (2014). In an entry from Calcutta dated April 24, 1812, she wrote: “Went out in the evening, in a tonjon, for the first time – the cavalcade was very curious – 24 men attended me – I mean to have a drawing of this procession, so I will not describe it. Very unwell in the evening.”
The large 18in x 3ft 2in (45 x 95cm) painting she commissioned was estimated at £8000-12,000 but sold at £50,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).
India proved an unhappy sojourn for the Nugents. A falling-out with the new Governor General, Lord Moira, was followed by a quick and humiliating demotion and the decision to leave after just two years.
Plates portray Ottoman scenes
This set of 40 Paris porcelain cabinet plates, c.1850, decorated with views of Constantinople, sold for €36,000/£32,730 (estimate €20,000-30,000) at Dutch firm Oriental Art Auctions (28% buyer’s premium) in Hattem on June 4. Each plate (one shown in detail here) has a different landscape view, identified in handwritten French script on the reverse.
The scenes are taken directly from the engravings in Voyage Pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore published by Antoine Ignace Melling (1763-1831) between 1809-19.
As imperial architect to Sultan Selim III and Hatice Sultan, he spent 18 years at the Ottoman court and enjoyed unprecedented access to the palace and its interiors.