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Two rare Iznik bottles from the golden age of the Ottoman Empire sold at Bonhams Indian and Islamic sale today, April 23, for a total of £848,500. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Two rare Iznik bottles from the golden age of the Ottoman Empire sold at Bonhams Indian and Islamic sale today, April 23, for a total of £758,500 – with one making £547,250 a new world record for an Iznnik bottle and the second bottle selling for £301,250. The sale made a total of £3.6m.

The bottles were previously sold by the well-known antiques dealer Frank Dickinson from his gallery at 104 New Bond Street in January 1919 for what was then the huge sum of £501 10s. The buyer was Leonard Daneham Cunliffe, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, co-founder of the merchant bank Cunliffe Brothers, a Director of the Hudson Bay Company and a major investor in Harrods. Cunliffe, whose tastes were eclectic, but always with a great eye for quality, used his ever expanding collection of antiques to decorate his various homes, which included properties at 109 Eaton Square and a neo-classical country house, Trelissick House, near Truro. 

Alice Bailey, Head of Bonhams Islamic Department, says: “To find one Iznik bottle of this type from the second half of the 16th century is very rare, but to come across two splendid examples in the same English collection is astonishing. The market for important Iznik ceramics is very strong, particularly amongst Turkish collectors, and these pieces certainly did not disappoint.”

1A rare, large Iznik pottery Water Bottle (surahi), Turkey, circa 1575. Photo: Bonhams.

with globular body, waisted neck with torus moulding and cylindrical flaring rim, on a short foot, decorated in raised red, cobalt-blue, green and black on a white ground, the body with a bold frieze of obliquely curving raised red sazleaves with flowers forming the central veins, alternating with floral sprays, the flowerheads with star-shaped centres, the torus moulding with a plaited design and a leafy band below, the neck with a frieze of smaller saz leaves with floral sprays between, the rim with a band of half-flowerheads, the foot with concentric bands, the base with collection labels, intact with restored rim chip; 31.5 cm. high. Sold for £457,250.

Provenance:acquired in January 1919, together with the lot 76, by Leonard Daneham Cunliffe from Frank Dickinson, 104 New Bond Street, London, for £510 10s; Ida Copeland from 1937; and by descent to the current owner; Trelissick, Cornwall.

This spectacular bottle, which stands at 31.5 cm in height, is one of the most significant pieces of Iznik to have appeared at auction. From the so-called "Classic" period of Iznik, its last and best-known phase in polychrome in the floral style, this and the following are two fine examples of the wares produced in the 1570s in Ottoman Turkey. 

The 1570s saw a variety of Iznik shapes, such as the more common long-necked bottle (also surahi) and globular jars with cylindrical necks (kup). Influenced by the Islamic mosque lamp shape, either in glass or precious metal, the fluid design and decorative torus moulding is echoed in two polychrome floral mosque lamps in the Cleveland Museum of Art (op cit. nos. 573 and 574), which have similar bodies and are shorter, but with lug handles and wider necks. 

The shape had a short life, probably because they were only made to special order, and only a handful of related Iznik bottles of this form are known, including a widely published polychrome floral example 31.5 cm high in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby,Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, London, 1989, no. 703); and, the largest example of the group at 32.9 cm. high, a polychrome floral piece, formerly in the Aynard Collection, Lyon, sold through these rooms (Bonhams, Islamic and Indian Art, 17th October 2002, lot 144) and now in the Omer M Koc Collection, Istanbul (Hulya Bilgi, Dance of Fire. Iznik Tiles and Ceramics in the Sadberk Hanim Museums and Omer M Koc Collections, Exhibition Catalogue, Istanbul, 12th April-11th October 2009, p. 278, no. 162); an undecorated red-slip ground example 25 cm. high and another with stripes on a red ground also 25 cm. high, but both slimmer, in the Turk ve Eserleri Muzesi, Istanbul (Atasoy and Raby, nos. 710 and 711). 

The use of underglaze red, a pigment introduced with initially disappointing results in the 1550s, is used to maximum effect on this bottle with its bold orange-red sazleaves decorated in thick relief. The decorative scheme also depicts a prunus or plum-blossom, introduced to Ottoman Turkey from Persia via China. Similar star-filled floral sprays between the saz leaves can be seen on the Victoria and Albert Museum bottle, which shares the same rim and base designs as the present lot.

1A rare, large Iznik pottery Water Bottle (surahi); Turkey, 1575. Photo: Bonhams.

with globular body, waisted neck with torus moulding and cylindrical flaring rim, on a short foot, decorated in cobalt-blue, raised-red, turquoise/green and black on a white ground, the body with a bold frieze of obliquely curving sazleaves alternating with floral sprays growing from leafy bases, with band of overlapping leaves and a band of guilloche at the top and bottom, the neck with a frieze of sazleaves alternating with floral sprays, on a short foot with a band of plait motif above, the base with collection labels; 30.5 cm. high. Sold for £301,250

Provenance: acquired in January 1919, together with lot 75, by Leonard Daneham Cunliffe from Frank Dickinson, 104 New Bond Street, London for £501 10s; Ida Copeland from 1937; and by descent to the current owner; Trelissick, Cornwall.

This bottle is of similar shape and size to the previous lot. They also both share most elements of decorative scheme, with their bold friezes of saz and prunus, a smaller version of which is repeated on the neck on each bottle. Whereas the decoration on the saz leaves on lot 75 is restricted to the floral sprays along the spines, the saz leaves on the present lot are treated with a more detailed and feathery touch. Similar saz leaves can be found on a tankard in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection, Lisbon (Maria D'Orey Capucho Queiroz Ribeiro, Iznik Pottery and Tiles in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection, Lisbon, 2009, p. 63, no. 29); a dish with a lotus also in the Calouste Gulbenkian Collection (ibid, p. 62, no. 28); and on another dish with a lotus in the H. Bartels Collection, Amman (Nurhan Atasoy and Julian Raby, Iznik. The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey, London, 1989, p. 227, no. 395); all of which are dated to circa 1575.

There was clearly an established market in Europe for so-called "Rhodian wares" when Leonard Cunliffe purchased this and the previous lot in 1919. Even at the time these bottles were produced in the second half of the 16th Century, Iznik pieces, whilst not as expensive as imported Chinese porcelain, were unusually expensive objects, treasured highly for their beauty and for the status their possession conferred on their owners. As fragile as they were costly, they were probably not always used as everyday tablewares, but in many cases would have been displayed in special built-in wall cabinets or dolap in Ottoman interiors. Examples of dolap can be seen in the garden kiosks of Topkapi Palace (Walter Denny, Iznik, The Artistry of Ottoman Ceramics, London, 2004, p. 146), which originally would have been filled with Iznik and Chinese ceramics.

RARE BUDDHIST ANURADHAPURA PERIOD (377 BC-1017 AD) INDIAN CARVED STONE TEMPLE STEP DISCOVERED IN A DEVON GARDEN SELLS FOR £553,250

There was a battle between buyers in the room and on the telephone for this remarkable find which finally sold for £553,250 against a pre-sale estimate of £20,000 to £30,000. There were no fewer than eight telephone bidders and three in the saleroom. 

The carved granite temple step (Sandakada pahana) similar to those found in the ancient city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. The beautiful 1,000 year old pre-Hindu stone step is one of only six examples known to date from this period, making this discovery the seventh. The temple step is a feature unique to Sinhalese architecture in Sri Lanka. The massively heavy – three-quarters of a ton stone measure eight ft by four foot and is six inches thick. 

The Devon based owners, Mike and Bronwyn Hickmott, commented after the sale: “We are overwhelmed with the price achieved. It goes beyond all our expectations.” Mrs Hickmott added: “I’d like to say a special thank you to Sam Tuke of Bonhams Exeter office. We had been turned away by other international auction houses as well as television antiques shows. Everyone pooh-poohed our belief that the stone was special. It was only Sam’s determination to research the stone that has led to this happy result. We are thrilled.” 

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A Sri Lanka Temple Moonstone (Sandakada pahana), Sri Lanka, Late Anuradhapura Period, 10th/ early 11th Century. Sold for £553,250. Photo Bonhams