A folio from the largest extant manuscript of the Persian ‘Book of Kings’ could fetch $7 million at Sotheby’s


An illuminated folio from the most treasured manuscript of ShahnamehPersian The Book of Kingswill reappear on 26 October alongside ornate texts and artefacts for Sotheby’s London’s latest bi-annual Arts of the Islamic World and India auction series.

The single, double-sided sheet from the epic story of Persian rulers, told over 50,000 rhyming couplets, is expected to fetch £4 million to £6 million ($4.6 million to $6.9 million).

In the 16th century, Shah Isma’il I, the first Safavid shah of Iran, originally commissioned Persia’s greatest artists to create this iteration of That Shahnameh. His eldest son, Shah Tahmasp, carried the project to completion.

The folio in question depicts Rustam, the main hero of the story, reclaiming his horse, Raksh. “A jewel-like quality is achieved in the exquisite depiction of both Rustam’s beautifully embroidered costume and the details of the horse,” Sotheby’s head of Islamic and Indian art, Benedict Carter, told Artnet News.

It boasts an illustrious provenance: after Shah Tahmasp, Sultan Selim II of the Ottoman Empire owned the manuscript, which later passed through the Rothschild family.

The record for a manuscript in this category — £7.4 million ($8.5 million) — was achieved at Sotheby’s in 2011 for a folio from the same manuscript, according to Carter. “This is only the second time a folio has come on the market from this manuscript since.”

An 18th century Mughal beaded glass hilt dagger and scabbard, India, is also set to appear in the October 26 sale.

He added that bibliophile Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., the benefactor behind Harvard’s Houghton Library, was the first modern Western collector to own the complete manuscript.

“The volume was separated so that separate pages could be exhibited,” Carter said. In 1971, 76 folios went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now, folios of Shah Tahmasps Shahnameh simultaneously resides at the Museum für Islamische Kunst in Berlin, the LA County Museum of Art and much more.

“No other work of Persian art, except architecture, has involved such enormous expense or taken up so much of the artist’s time,” a statement from the auction house read. It corresponds to Dante’s divine comedy– if it had been illustrated by Michelangelo, Titian, Corregio and others.

“Sultan Muhammad was the first leading artist of Shahnamehand the one to whom much of the original stylistic innovation is credited,” said Carter. Mir Musavvir took over, followed by Aqa Mirak. In all, at least 15 painters devoted themselves to the full project.

Mirza Ali, son of Sultan Muhammad and pupil of Aqa Mirak, created six more illustrations That Shahnameh– including the folio coming to Sotheby’s next month.

Along with illuminated Korans, emerald-crusted jewelery and even a glass-hilted dagger (estimated at £80,000 to £120,000), the folio will be featured in a public exhibition that will tour New York City through September 20, Dubai from September 3. October , and a final four-day showcase in London, concluding a day before the sale goes live.

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