Multi-estimate sums greeted the most desirable lots on offer at the April 28 sale of Islamic and Indian art at Chiswick Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) on April 28.
The dispersal of more lots from a European private collection was followed by a larger mixed-owner offering – the two events generating sales of over £500,000.
These ‘umbrella’ sales draw objects from the vast geographic extent of the Islamic and Indian lands but it was a single cuerda seca pottery tile from 17th century Safavid Iran that topped the series.
At £20,000, the hammer price was 10 times the estimate.
Depicting the torso of a figure holding a water bottle and dressed in a magnificent robe, this tile was once part of a much larger panel painted in saffron yellow, green, cobalt blue, red, and manganese black on a white ground.
Apart from some colour differences, it is pictorially identical to a tile in a complete panel at the Victorian and Albert Museum. That, said Chiswick specialist Beatrice Campi, was the key to its appeal.
Calligraphy on the rise
After some lacklustre years, Islamic calligraphy is once more on the rise in the market.
One of the most eagerly contested lots in the sale was an Ottoman calligraphy album with examples of both muhaqqaq and naskh text illuminated in gold and polychrome.
The four paper folios featuring sayings of the Prophet signed Abdullah and dated 1143AH (1730AD) were laid on marbled pink paper and bound in gilt tooled calf. Estimated at £800-1200, the lot took £18,000.
The sale included a group of much earlier Qur’an vellum folios from the early years of Islam that together show the evolution of calligraphy from the mature Kufic Abbasid style to the later hybrid scripts.
The earliest folio in the group was from a manuscript on vellum written in north Africa or the Near East as early as the 9th century.
The Kufic text, seven lines from the Sura at-Tur, stands out for its elegant use of mashq or keshide (letter stretching) that is used for aesthetic effect. Several other Kufic folios of the same period have been successfully sold by Chiswick Auctions in recent year. This one made £4200.
Parchment folios would have most likely been once part of small multi-volume Qur’ans, which were very popular in the 9th and 10th centuries. Their style tended to be strikingly simple, with each folio containing just a few lines of text with discreet verse markers in green or gold and red dots for the vocalisation.
A particularly rare folio featuring 10 lines from the Sura Ash-Shu‘ara sold at £6500 was unusual for its vertical format. The change from horizontal to vertical is thought to represent a later phase of the Kufic tradition during the first half of the 10th century and one that suited the development of new calligraphic styles.
This particular folio may have once belonged to the same sought-after Qur’an manuscript of which a vertical format Kufic folio is currently part of the Dar el-Nimer collection.
Reach for the sky
A much later Islamic object was a large 19th century brass celestial globe, possibly made in Deccan or northern India. Inscribed with the date 1252AH for 1836AD, it is engraved with an extravagant decorative programme that includes both secular and religious subjects.
The minarets and mosques of the main Islamic holy cities and Buraq, the Prophet’s heavenly equine mount, are given prominence. Offered with near perfect timing shortly after the holy month of Ramadan, it was estimated at £500- 700 but sold at £17,000.
Representing another of the many cultural cross currents in the Indian subcontinent in the early 19th century was a very fine gold damascened sosun pattah or ‘lily leaf’ sword sold at £6000.
Possibly made in Rajasthan or the Punjab Hills, the heavily ornate blade was chased in high relief and overlaid with Hindu female deities – evidence that the sword was made for devotional practices and ceremonial rituals rather than for use in battle.
A group of bejewelled objects from the Mughal court included a nephrite lotus cup set with a cabochon ruby sold at £7000.
A number of similar cups, mostly attributed to the late 17th or 18th century, have appeared at auction in recent years. They follow the form of the celebrated wine cup in the Victoria and Albert Museum, made for the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (r.1628-58) and inscribed with his title. This one, possibly made in Agra or Delhi, was carved from a pale green stone with mottles and linear inclusions.
“There are not many of these cups left in private hands,” said Campi. “A lot of them have been acquired by Chinese buyers in recent years because of their connection to the emperor Qianlong’s interest in Mughal jade production.”
An 18th century ruby and emerald set white jade thumb ring that came for sale from a private Anglo-French collection realised £6500, while sold at £7000 was a 19th century Mughal stem cup carved from a single piece of rock crystal and encrusted with cabochon-cut rubies in drop-shaped gold settings.
Miniature drinking cups of this shape and design were quintessential must-haves at the Mughal court, as testified in several official portraits of Mughal emperors and courtiers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Usually made of jade, rock crystal examples are harder to come by. This one previously belonged to a princely collection in Paris.
Bridging the gap
The core focus of the assemblage is the arts of Iran. An object that bridged the gap between the late Safavid era and the early Qajar period was an oval form lacquered papier mâché mirror case.
Decorated to the front and back with interlocking foliate designs reminiscent of 19th century Qajar and Kashmiri lacquered bindings and pen cases, the front cover opens to reveal an Indian-style garden scene with the pictorial qualities typical of late Safavid lacquer production.
It is inscribed ‘The Work of the Humblest Muhammad Zaman 1167AH’ (1753AD). Two artists of different eras are known with this name, but this is thought to be a third, perhaps a middle generation of the family. A highly decorative object of academic significance, it took £7500.
The fifth tranche of a private collection that Chiswick Auctions has offered across recent sales was again well received. Of 90 lots, 86 found buyers for a hammer total of £121,000.