A world apart: the London Islamic Sales

By Cornucopia Connoisseur | April 21, 2024

An afternoon at the Sotheby's and Christie's during Islamic Sales Week is always full of intrigue and beauty.

The Russian court was full of Ottoman treasures. Catherine the Great's crowned cipher the year 1789 have been added on top of the handle of this splendid agate Ottoman cup, set with rubies and emeralds (Sotheby's Lot 168). The Empress had annexed Crimea for the Russians six years later, and arrived there in a magnificent procession to take up residence in Bahçesaray, the palace of the conquered khans. The court is out as to whether the enammeled gold mount is Russian or even French. The estimate is a modest £80,000–120,000. The experts say it has a wonderful tactile feel and weight to it.

Here are some lots other that caught the eye.

Lot 208 at Sotheby's is an 18th-century depiction of court life seems naive but is full of true detail.

Lot 200 a bold view of the Seraglio.

Lot 180 is a splendid tombak naval lantern made, 1574, and inscribed to the Grand Vizier Koca Sinan Pasha. (d. 1596). It measures 79cm high and is decorated with gilt seashells. Only one other comparable lantern exists, in the Sadberk Hanım Museum. It was also made for the vizier. The rise to power of Koca Sinan Pasha is fascinating. The Albanian-born soldier was in close contact with the Albanian-born consort of Murad III, and through her it is believed he exerted a strong influence on the Sultan. 

And talking of influence, Lot 62 in Christie's Spring Islamic Sales offers a glimpse of diplomatic relations with Persia in the 17th century. Sir Anthony Shirley (bottom right) (1565–1635) convinced the ruler of Persia to send a diplomatic mission to Europe in 1599, for which he famously dressed the part.

Among the textiles that would have been familiar to Antony Shirley, upstairs on Christie's piano nobile a superb Ushak medalion carpet is the centrepieceL Lot 237 (est. £80,000–120,000). The Ottoman rug is dated to 1475–85. This rug has never been recorded before. Read the lot essay [here](https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6476700).

From Bukhara, in Central Asia, comes this magnificent mid-19th-century suzani ([Lot 165](https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6476630?ldp_breadcrumb=back], est. £6,000–8,000).

Courtly art took many forms and traditions lived on for centuries Lot 29 at Christie's is two album pages painted in the manner of 14th-century miniatures, but probably in the 19th or 20th century.

The second page depicts two cranes. The estimate is £6,000–8,000.

The Orientalist sale at Sotheby's have two or three gems. (The auction takes place at 15.00 UK time on 23 April).

Everything is in the detail of Lot 306 at Sotheby's by Jean-Léon Gérôme… the exquisitely captured folds of the skirt, the light pouring through the latticed window. The measurements are a diminutive 35.5 by 25cm. The estimate for this gem of a painting unsurprisingly £150,000 - 250,000. For any museum without its Gérôme this is the one to hanker after.

The Bosphorus sky inspired this oil by Jean-Baptiste-Henri Durand-Brager (1814–1879). Lot 30 (est. £8000–12,000). It is hard to tell precisely where it is, the Golden Horn, perhaps, around Fener, with the Süleymaniye lit up in the distance. Or Kabataş on the Bosphorus. It is the mood that metters. You feel the mist.

And looking ahead, Bonhams are offering arguably the most exciting lot of the year on May 21, in their Islamic and Indian Sale: this Italian medalion of a lean young Mehmet the Conqueror is dated to c1450, est. £1.5–2 million. Watch this space.

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