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Islamic art at Sotheby’s, Spring 2021

Sotheby's Arts of the Islamic World & India including Fine Rugs and Carpets, Spring 2021

March 31, 2021
Wednesday, 10:30 AM BST

Sotheby’s New Bond Street, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA, UK


This velvet panel, woven in Bursa or Istanbul, is a particularly fine example of an Ottoman çatma, or voided velvet. Lot 106 (est £40,000–60,000) in Sotheby’s Spring Sale comes from an American collection and is mesmerising in its symmetry, the quality of the detail and its pristine condition. The stacked eight-lobed medallions are a classic early-17th-century Ottoman design.

This çatma is by no means the only example in the sale. A group of five Ottoman velvets (though not perhaps of the same callibre) bring a ravishing touch to the Bond Street saleroom. They once belonged to Edgar Vincent, Viscount d’Abernon, governor of the Imperial Ottoman Bank in Istanbul between 1889 and 1897, and his wife, Lady Helen Venetia Duncombe, who displayed them in their house in Venice, the Palazzo Giustinian. The Sotheby’s catalogue suggests that the couple’s famous Ottoman velvets added to the reddish glow that Sargent used to set off the figure in the 1904 portrait of Lady Helen below. The palazzo, rebuilt in the 1630s, was a sublime setting for the velvets fervently admired at the time in Venice, and imitated so successfully by Italian weavers that it is often impossible to distinguish the Ottoman from the Italian.

Perhaps the most intriguing item in the Spring Sale on March 31, Lot 58 is a newly discovered portrait of a shrewd, ambitious, flint-eyed Süleyman the Magnificent. Kanuni (the Lawgiver), as he is known to Turks, is here aged 43. Julian Raby discusses the painting in the latest issue of Cornucopia (No 62). Other examples exist in Marseilles, Vienna and the Uffizi, but this version is perhaps the most vibrant. The estimate is a modest £80,000–120,000.

Another fascinating item is a manuscript of the great, oft-quoted 14th-century book of travels by the Berber Muslim scholar and traveller Ibn Battuta (1304–c1377). Tuhfat al-anzar fi gharaaib al-amsar wa ajaaib al-asfar (‘A gift for the curious, concerning the wonders of cities and marvels of the journeys thereto’) is considered by many to be the greatest travel book of all time. The young Tangier-born scholar, a near-contemporary of Marco Polo but even better travelled, set out on his Journey (Rihla, as his book is often known), when he was just 21. He originally intended to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but it was almost 30 years before he would return home to Morocco, in 1350. The Marinid Sultan of Morocco, Abu ‘Inan Faris al-Mutawakkil (r.1348–58) asked him to write up his travels, which had led him all the way from eastern Europe to China and down into the Indian subcontinent. He dictated his account to the Andalusian Arab poet Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi, and the text, which includes accounts of earlier travellers as well as his own lively observations, was completed seven years later, in 1357. This particular manuscript (Lot 13, est £40,000–60,000), which is possibly unique, carries a date in the middle of Ramazan 1068 AH (AD1657–58).

Lot 26 is a lavishly illuminated Ottoman Koran copied c1675 by Suyolcuzâde Mustafa Eyyubi (1619–86), who is believed to have accompanied military campaigns (including the fateful Siege of Vienna). The calligrapher was born in the sacred district of Eyüp on the Golden Horn, hence his sobriquet. The surname Suyolcuzâde derives from his father’s post as inspector of water supplies. Few of the 50 or so Korans that Eyyubi is known to have copied survive, though examples remain in the Topkapı and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art.

For collectors of Iznik, Lot 117 is a jug from the earlier 17th century, with a particularly pretty bird design in pale blue and green wash. The jug, with its pear-shaped body, once belonged to the celebrated collection of Hagop Kevorkian and was later deaccessioned by the Walker Art Gallery in Minnesota. Another example of this unusual design is found on a plate in the Sadberk Hanım Museum (see p472 of the museum’s Iznik catalogue Dance of Fire).


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Email: benedict.carter@sothebys.com
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