16th century folio sets Islamic art auction record

Wed Apr 6, 2011 11:08am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - A 16th century illustrated portfolio from the "Shahnameh" ("Book of Kings") of Shah Tahmasp of Persia, fetched 7.4 million pounds ($12 million) on Wednesday, a new auction record for an Islamic work of art.

The leaf from the Persian national epic depicts Faridun in the guise of a dragon testing his sons, and comes from the collection of Stuart Cary Welch, the renowned U.S. scholar, curator and collector of Islamic and Indian art.

It was sold in London at Sotheby's in the first sale of a two-part auction of Welch's collection. The second part will take place in London in May.

The auctioneer said the Shahnameh was "universally acknowledged as one of the supreme illustrated manuscripts of any period or culture and among the greatest works of art in the world." It had been expected to fetch 2-3 million pounds.

The sale price, which includes buyer's premium, eclipsed the previous Islamic art auction record set at rival auction house Christie's last year, when a 17th century Kirman "vase" carpet from Persia fetched 6.2 million pounds.

Sotheby's did raise 9.2 million pounds in 2008 for what was believed at the time to be a 12th century key to the Kaaba in Mecca, but the sale was canceled the following year after experts raised questions about its authenticity.

Welch died in 2008. In an obituary in the New York Times, he was described as a man who "brought many of the masterworks of these traditions (Islam and India) to the attention of the West."

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)

<p>A 16th century illustrated portfolio from the "Shahnameh" ("Book of Kings") of Shah Tahmasp of Persia, in an image courtesy of Sotheby's. REUTERS/Handout</p>