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Glorious – Art of the Islamic & Indian Worlds at Christie’s in London

April 1, 2012
The April 26 sale at Christie’s in London of Islamic & Indian art contains more interesting things than I could include in this blog.  Check out the catalogue at their Web site. The artifacts offered cover artistic and intellectual achievements of considerable import.  The two manuscripts illustrated below (lots 106 & 107) are amazing mathematical treatises. Here’s a small selection from the 304 lots being offered:
Lot 84. A KHORASSAN SILVER INLAID BRONZE BOTTLE, NORTH EAST IRAN, 12TH CENTURY
On flat base with ribbed sides rising to flat shoulder, thin cylindrical neck with pronounced octagonal collar, and widely flaring mouth, decorated with bands of silver inlaid naskh benedictory inscriptions set on a ground of scrolling vine interspersed with copper inlaid interlace roundels, the underside with silver and copper inlaid cartouches and roundels containing running animals surrounding a central rosette, areas of rich red patina and green patina on interior, small repair to base. 5 1/8in. (13cm.) high. Estimate: £10,000 – £15,000 ($15,950 – $23,925). This lot failed to sell.

Lot 84. Detail.

Lot 100. A KHORASSAN SILVER-INLAID BRONZE SPHERICAL WEIGHT, NORTH EAST IRAN, 12TH CENTURY
Composed of two hemispherical sides with a central recessed band, raised knop to either end, with silver inlaid benedictory naskh inscription interspersed with small birds animated on ground of engraved swirling vine, the knops with silver-inlaid geometric pattern, surface with strong red and green patina. 2¾in. (7cm.) long. The inscription on this weight is a repeat of al-'izz wa al-iqbal wa al-dawla wa al-sa'ada, 'Glory and Prosperity and Wealth and Happiness'. Estimate: £20,000 - £30,000 ($31,900 - $47,850). This lot failed to sell.

Lot 100. Detail.

Lot 106.

Lot 106. MAJMU'AT AL-MUTAWASSITAT
COMPILED BY NASIR AL-DIN AL-TUSI (D. 1274), BAGHDAD, AH 682/1283-84 AD TO AH 706/1306-07 AD
'The Compendium of Intermediate Books', Arabic manuscript on paper, 144ff. each with 33ll. of black naskh, catchwords in red, numerous diagrams interspersed in the text also in red, colophons recording copying dates of AH 682/1283-84 AD and also AH 706/1306-07 AD, marginal glosses and collation notes throughout in more than five hands, earliest notes dated AH 688/1289-90 AD, in brown morocco binding with flap and stamped gilt outlined cartouches front and back, marble paper doublures, minor areas of repaired wormholing to margins. Folio 10 x 7¼in. (25.4 x 18.4cm.) Estimate: £100,000 - £150,000
($159,800 - $239,700). This lot failed to sell.

Lot 107.

Lot107. NASIR AL-DIN ABU JA’FAR MUHAMMAD BIN MUHAMMAD AL-TUSI (1201-1274 AD): TAHRIR UQLIDIS FI USUL AL-HANDASATHE FIRST FEW PAGES POSSIBLY IN THE HAND OF THE AUTHOR, POSSIBLY MARAGHA, NORTH WEST IRAN, PARTIALLY COMPLETED BY 19TH DHU’L HIJJA AH 679/11TH APRIL 1281 AD
‘The Exposition of Euclid’s “Elements of Geometry”, Arabic manuscript on paper, 100ff. each with 32ll. or fewer of black and brown naskh in multiple hands, theorems numbered in red, extensive diagrams also in red, one folio lacking, minor damages, in later brown morocco. Folio 6 7/8 x 5in. (17.5 x 12.5cm.) Estimate: £100,000 – £150,000 ($159,800 – $239,700). This lot failed to sell.The manuscript offered here is a copy of Tusi’s Tahrir (or recension/edition) of Euclid’s Elements, arranged into fifteen maqalas (books) and based on the translations of the work done by al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf (early 9th century) and Thabit bin Qurra (end of the 9th century). This copy is unusually arranged – in a vertical format, similar to those later familiarly known as safina manuscripts. For the purposes of this description, U will refer to the upper folio and L to the lower.

As one of only ten copies of this work known to predate the year 1300, and with the first few pages very possibly in the hand of the great scholar Tusi himself, this manuscript presents an extremely important addition to the known manuscripts of Tusi’s edition of Euclid’s Elements.

Lot 117. AN IMPORTANT ENAMELLED AND GILT GLASS BOTTLE WITH BYZANTINE GREEK AND ARAB INSCRIPTIONS LATE AYYUBID OR EARLY MAMLUK, SYRIA, LATE 13TH CENTURY
Of circular form with flattened sides, trailed and applied glass with enamelled and gilded decoration on blown glass body, stags and lions interwoven inside a scrolling lattice on sides, the ground with gilded and red enamelled scrolls and depictions of small birds, the top with eight-pointed stellar form, front and back with concentric circular bands of enamel contained between applied bands of glass and punctuated with circular bosses with alternate bands of loose naskh and Byzantine majuscule inscription around a central roundel with falconing figure neck missing, otherwise intact, considerable surface iridescence. 4in. (10.2cm.) high. Estimate: £600,000 – £800,000 ($957,000 – $1,276,000). This lot failed to sell.

Here are some excerpts from the intriguing notes about this lot:

This is a unique survival from mediaeval Syria, an enamelled and gilded glass bottle with both Greek and Arabic inscription and with clear Christian iconography. Both in terms of the iconography and in the techniques it uses it is without parallel in the published corpus of enamelled glass.

ICONOGRAPHY

In the centre of each side is a small roundel depicting what appears to be a child. Nothing remains of the surface decoration, so it is difficult to be certain, but this would fit with the iconography of Christ Immanuel, where Christ is portrayed as anything from a very young boy to a youth. On one side the figure is holding both arms out in welcome (Matthew 11:28 “come unto me all ye who are heavy laden and I will refresh you”). On the other he is holding a sceptre in one hand with the dove of peace above the other. This latter combination is unusual in icons; it could refer to Christ who is the King but comes in Peace. The form of this small central roundel, applied in relief to the body, is reminiscent of the glass paste medallions with Christian religious themes that have been found throughout the Eastern Mediterranean (Hans Wentzel, ‘Das Medallion mit den Hl. Theodor und die Venezianischen Glaspasten im byzantinischen Stil’ in Werner Gramberg et al., (eds.),Festschrift für Erich Meyer zum sechzigsten Geburtstag 29 October 1957, Studien zu Werken in den Sammlung des Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, 1959, pp.50-67).

The decoration on the shoulders presents a wonderful combination of Christian and Islamic sources. The central motif on each side is a stag, below which is animal headed vine. Animal headed vine is was particularly used in an Ayyubid context, being found in manuscripts, on metalwork, and on marble capitals (see a capital in the Aga Khan Museum formerly sold in these Rooms 7 October 2008, lot 128; the note gives the reference to many comparable items). The combination however of the two elements on this bottle is probably a reference to the Christian lore about the stag which is the enemy of the serpent. There are many instances of depictions of stags eating serpents, from mosaics in a recently discovered church in Libya, now housed in the Qasr Libya museum, to the opening initial of psalm 41 in the St. Alban’s Psalter housed in Hildesheim dating from 1123-1143. The reference is to the psalm itself, which begins “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God”. The reference to eating the serpent is that after doing so the hart or stag becomes particularly thirty for the word of God. Is this a clue to the original content of the bottle? Was it made to contain water of particular sanctity? We know that the two enamelled flasks now in the treasury of St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna were brought back from the Holy Land containing soil onto which the blood of the Holy Innocents had fallen. They were presented in 1365 to the cathedral by Duke Rudolf IV (Melanie Gibson, “A Syrian Enamelled Wine Flask: Was its owner a Christian or a Muslim?”, Association Internationale pour I’Histoire du Verre, annales du 15e congrès 2001, p.192; illustrated in Wardop.cit, pl.25.9, pp.115 and col.pl.E).

The animal combat pairs on the upper shoulders are relatively easy to parallel in an Islamic context, but seem to have a considerably more playful and less bloodthirsty feeling to them than is normal. The image in one particular instance is reminiscent of a kitten with a bird it does not quite know what to do with, rather than a lion ferociously attacking its prey.

Lot. 117. Detail.

Lot 117. Detail.

Lot 117. Graphic Detail.

Lot 122. A LARGE MAMLUK OPENWORK BRONZE BRAZIER, EGYPT OR SYRIA, LATE 14TH CENTURY
Of square form raised on six hoof-shaped feet, the sides of bronze openwork, each formed of three identical cast panels bolted together, curved horseshoe-shaped finials and corner double-knop finials, the base with central concave recession in slightly sunken frame, the openwork panels with engraved floral arabesque style decoration capped with band of covered balustrades, some of the bolts replaced. 21¾ x 21½in. (55.3 x 54.5cm.) Estimate: £60,000 - £80,000
($95,880 - $127,840). This lot failed to sell.

Lot 122. Detail.

Lot 131. A LARGE LATE MAMLUK BRASS BASIN, SYRIA, PERIOD OF SULTAN QANSUH AL-GHURI, 1501-16 AD Hammered and engraved brass, with slightly rounded base, inverted sides and wide flaring rim, the exterior engraved with a series of interlaced cartouches containing honorific thuluth inscription, blazons and dense arabesque interlace, floral vine or geometric strapwork, the rim with a wide band of bold flowerheads issuing further arabesques on a ground of scrolls, the interior of the rim with a main band of similar calligraphic cartouches alternated with smaller cusped cartouches containing blazons and flanked by trilobed cartouches containing and surrounded by arabesques, the base of the basin with a central blazon surrounded by roundel containing dense, knotted arabesque, soldered band of old repair between base and sides. 21in. (53.4cm.) diam. at widest. Estimate: £40,000 - £60,000 ($63,920 - $95,880). The hammer price on this lot was £230,000 (£277,250/$446,927 including the buyer's premium).

Lot 131. Detail.

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