Lot 87. A magnificent Qajar royal portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah attended by a prince attributed to Mihr ‘Ali, Persia, circa 1820, Estimate: £1,500,000-2,500,000. Lot sold £2,994,500. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 9th April 2014 Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World sale will bring to the market an exquisite selection of paintings, manuscripts, textiles, ceramics, weaponry and rugs. Spanning over 1000 years, these objects offer a remarkable testimony to the astonishing scope of artistic production in the lands under Islamic patronage from Spain to China. Among the 237 objects to go under the hammer, highlights include a lifesize portrait of Persian ruler Fath ‘Ali Shah, an important Iznik pottery tile depicting the Ka’ba, and an eleventh-century rock crystal chess piece. 

Benedict Carter, Head of Auction Sales, Middle East, commented: “This year’s spring sale offers opulent and luxurious objects befitting the world’s finest collections. The selection of Turkish works are especially notable, led by a rediscovered imperial Ottoman silver-gilt penbox and an astounding group of twenty-seven watercolour portraits of the Ottoman Sultans. Additionally, following the success of our inaugural sale of ‘Art of Imperial India’ last year, we are delighted to once again have sourced for sale a superb array of Indian jewellery, jade and silver. Ranging from an eleventh-century Fatimid chess piece to an eighteenth-century Ottoman metal-thread curtain of the Holy Ka’ba door, the sale reflects the remarkable scope of artistic production and craftsmanship in Islamic culture”. 

The sale will be led by a magnificent Qajar royal portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah, estimated at £1,500,000-2,500,000. Fath Ali’ Shah was the pre-eminent Qajar emperor of Persia, and his long reign is characterised as a period of harmony and cultural development. A key patron of the arts, he commissioned a number of life-size portraits, using these images as tools of propaganda, immortalising his rule. Mihr ‘Ali was one of the preferred painters of the Qajar court, famed for the distinctively illustrative quality of his works and his focus on the expression and personality of his subjects. 


Lot 87. A magnificent Qajar royal portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah attended by a prince attributed to Mihr ‘Ali, Persia, circa 1820; oil on canvas, framed, 222.5 by 162.5cm Estimate: £1,500,000-2,500,000. Lot sold £2,994,500. Photo: Sotheby's. 2014

Provenance: Sold in these rooms, July 7 1975, lot 230.

RxhibitedRoyal Persian Paintings, the Qajar Epoch, 1795-1925, Brooklyn Museum of Art, October 23 1998 - January 24 1999.

Literature: L.S. Diba and M. Ekhtiar, Royal Persian Paintings, the Qajar Epoch, 1795-1925, Brooklyn, 1998, p.187-8, no.42.

Note: This resplendent royal portrait of Fath ‘Ali Shah, the pre-eminent ruler of the Qajar dynasty, is an exemplary model of the extensive canon of life-size portraits commissioned by the monarch. Such paintings immortalised his rule of Persia, both internally to the Iranian populace and externally to overseas governments and royalty.

Of the small number of large-scale portraits of this monarch, only four are present in Western museum collections: one is in the British Library, London (Oriental and India Office Collections), one in the Musée Nationale de Versailles, Paris (on loan at the Louvre), and two are in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Additionally, a standing portrait of Fath `Ali Shah signed by Mihr `Ali was formerly in the Art and History Trust Collection, and is currently on loan to the Freer/Sackler Gallery, Washington. A total of sixteen monumental portraits of Fath `Ali Shah are recorded and published, as follows:

1. The present portrait: Fath ‘Ali Shah attended by a Prince, attributed to Mihr ‘Ali, Persia, circa 1820. Sotheby’s London 9 April 2014, lot 87.
2. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a jewelled bolster, attributable to Mihr 'Ali, dated 1816, sold in these rooms 7 October 2009, lot 67.
3. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a jewelled bolster, attributable to Mirza Baba and the court workshop, circa 1798, sold in these rooms 9 April 2008, lot 63.
4. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a bolster, 1810-20, sold in these rooms 11 October 2006, lot 50.
5. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a bolster, circa 1805, sold in these rooms 12 October 2004, lot 21.
6. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a bolster, dated 1798-99: British Library, London, Oriental and India Office collections, inv.no.F116 (formerly in the commonwealth Relations Office); Raby, 1999, no.110, pp.38-39.
7. Fath 'Ali Shah seated on a chair, circa 1800-06; Musée du Louvre, Paris, MV638 (on loan from the Musée National de Versailles); Diba and Ekhtiar, 1998, no.38, pp.181-2.
8. Fath 'Ali Shah standing, dated 1809-10; State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg, VR-1108; Diba and Ekhtiar, 1998, no.39, p.183.
9. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a bolster, dated 1813-14; State Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg, VR-1108; Diba and Ekhtiar, 1998, no.40, pp.184-5.
10. Fath 'Ali Shah standing, dated 1813; Sadabad Museum of Fine Arts, Tehran (formerly in the Negaristan Museum); Falk 1972, no.15, Keikavusi, no.8, 8a.
11. Fath 'Ali Shah standing in armour, dated 1814-15; formerly Art and History Trust Collection, Diba and Ekhtiar, 1998, no.41. pp.185-186, Soudavar, 1992, no.158, pp.388-9.
12. Fath 'Ali Shah seated on a chair, dated 1815; sold in these rooms London, 3 May 2001, lot 69.
13. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a bolster, dated 1810; private collection, sold in these rooms 26 April 1991, lot 186.
14. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a bolster, circa 1810; private collection; Diba and Ekhtiar, 1998, no.42. pp.187-8.
15. Fath 'Ali Shah seated against a bolster, circa 1810; private collection; Robinson, 1964, pl.XXXVI.
16. Fath 'Ali Shah seated, circa 1798; private collection; Sotheby's, New York, 30 May 1986, lot 118, Diba and Ekhtiar, 1998, no.37, pp.180-1.

The king is depicted in a palace chamber kneeling at an angle on a jewelled rug, his back supported by a bolster completely encrusted with pearls and precious stones. He is wearing a vivid red ceremonial coat with full length embellished sleeves, jewelled epaulettes, armbands, cuffs and hem lining; on his head he wears the four-pointed jewelled Kayanid crown set with pearls, emeralds, rubies, diamonds and precious stones. A jewelled scabbard, a symbol of state, is suspended from his thickly-ornamented belt. Unique to this portrait, he is depicted holding the mouthpiece of a qaliyan in his right hand, with the elaborate glass vessel before him on a low ornamented stand. A decorative cartouche often featured in royal portraits is present, although the inscription has been replaced with a delicate floral motif. Paintings of this shape were common to the palatial residences of the Qajar period, as such works were cut to fit a niche of an interior wall, hence the arched canvas.

An intriguing point of discussion is the identity of the youth standing to the right of the king. Fath ‘Ali Shah is rarely depicted with his descendants in such large scale, yet is shown here with a single handsome youth dressed in a dark regimental robe featuring a high European-style collar. He wears a cravat of fine lawn fabric also tied in the European manner and upon his head sits a pointed black karakul cap. At his waist is a patterned red sash from which hangs a jewelled qamar. The figure almost certainly portrays the young Muhammad Mirza, son of Crown Prince ‘Abbas Mirza. Muhammad Mirza travelled to Europe several times with his father, who adopted and employed military tactics observed on overseas visits. In addition to this, he assumed a similar form of dress and was often portrayed wearing cravats and military uniforms cut in the European style. The hypothesis of this attribution is supported by another courtly portrayal also attributed to Mihr ‘Ali, sold in these rooms 13 October 1999, lot 17. The portrait depicting a youth identified as Muhammad Mirza holds a remarkable resemblance in both costume and demeanour to the youth depicted in this painting. One can assume that Mihr ‘Ali should have been chosen to portray the young Prince Muhammad Mirza, who was to succeed Fath ‘Ali Shah in 1834 as supreme leader.

The painting shares many close affinities with the style of Mihr ‘Ali, to whom the majority of imperial portraits have been assigned. Preferred painter of the Qajar court, Mihr 'Ali developed a distinct style and was the favoured artist for life-size royal portraits. His works are poignant due to their unique illustrative qualities, focused on expressing emotion and personality. The naturalistic depiction of the fingers and signature hand gesture is repeatedly featured in his royal portraits. The prominent arched dark eyebrows, full beard, aquiline nose, and heavily lidded kohl-rimmed almond-shaped eyes are portrayed with a directly focused and expressive gaze, exemplary of his canon of courtly portraits. However, the tall white porcelain vase with floral pattern, the paisley patterned belt and the striped border of Muhammad Mirza’s costume are typically found in the works of Muhammad Hasan. Both teacher and student were key contributors to the oeuvre of life-size portraits characteristic of the art of the Qajar court. Illustrations of members of the royal court were considerably idealised and romanticised. This is particularly evident in the extensive illustrations of Fath ‘Ali Shah, which were glamourised to convey a sense of grandeur and imperial domination. Never ageing nor effected by the tests of his rule, Fath ‘Ali Shah’s repeated imagery was formulaically reproduced over the course of twenty years without fault. Thus he developed a sustained image, leading him to be successfully recognised as the archetypal oriental leader - his image is still widely recognised in Iranian culture to this day.

The long and strong reign of the Qajar dynasty (1785-1925) was known as one of general peace and cultural advancement. Due to the efforts of Agha Muhammad Khan (r.1782-97), the founder of the Qajar dynasty who successfully united the dispersed clans and tribes in Iran, Fath ‘Ali Shah enjoyed a period of relative peace during which Persian arts and culture were given a platform to develop and flourish. Fath ‘Ali Shah was a great patron of various artistic practices; he keenly pursued and supported the artistic literati of the Persian court, encouraging the production of multiple architectural structures and commissioning paintings for their interior. His ambitious nature led him to easily adopt and exploit art and portraiture as a political tool, leaving an extensive artistic legacy behind. Fath ‘Ali Shah utilised figural depictions for propaganda purposes, and consequently life-size portraits became an integral emblem of monarchy for the Qajars.

The Shah’s reign projected Iran into a period of opulence and pomp, which celebrated the formalities and rituals of courtly splendour. His ascension to the throne sparked a luxuriously revivalist phase specifically recalling ancient traditions. These beautifully executed portraits were often sent abroad with returning foreign envoys as courtly gifts demonstrating Fath Ali Shah’s power and supremacy to his rival rulers. It is interesting to observe the great distances which these gifts travelled, since art from the Qajar court has been retrieved in Calcutta, London, Paris, and St. Petersburg. His lavish ceremonial costume, extravagant crown and various jewelled ornaments purposefully illustrated the wealth of Fath ‘Ali Shah’s empire. His long beard and numerous progeny were parades of his virility, a refreshing contrast to his unattractive eunuch uncle. Due to his enthusiasm for self-promotion and portrayal, the court of Fath ‘Ali Shah nurtured the talents of some truly gifted artists.

A significant symbol of wealth and power in this portrait is the plethora of diamonds that surrounds Fath ‘Ali Shah’s attire, particularly the pair of large diamonds incorporated into his bazubands (the rectangular diamond Darya-I Nur (Sea of Light) and ovoid Taj-I Mah (Crown of the Sea)). These diamonds were a result of Nadir Shah's sacking of Delhi in 1793, and were then worn by successive Qajar rulers including Fath 'Ali Shah, Muhammad Shah and finally Nasir al-Din Shah (who then had the Darya-I Nur mounted, as it remains today, see V.B. Meen & A.D. Tushingham, The Crown Jewels of Iran, Toronto, 1969, pp.53 & 68). The diamond encrusted sword propped on his lap is also believed to have belonged to Nadir Shah, and later enamelled by order of Fath 'Ali Shah (illustrated in Ibid, p.60-61).

Estimated at £80,000-120,000, this chess piece dating from the 11th century presents a rare example of Fatimid rock crystal carving and is an important addition to the known group of rock crystal gaming pieces from this period. This particular piece probably formed part of an important commission for a wealthy patron, given the luxurious material in which it was fashioned. 


3 - Figure d'homme debout en costume du XVIIe siècle appuyé sur une épée, vers 1790-1792, Paris, Ecole nationae supérieure des beaux-arts, (c)DR

Lot 100. A Fatimid rock crystal chess piece, Egypt, 11th century; 4cm. height. Estimate: £80,000-120,000. Lot sold £98,500. Photo: Sotheby's2014.

Note: The game of chess, which can be traced back through archaeological evidence to the second or third century, spread from the Indian subcontinent through Persia to centres such as Baghdad and Cairo, from where the present chess piece most probably originates. It can be attributed either to the Abbasid or Fatimid Caliphates as it shares a number of stylistic and technical features with examples of similar gaming pieces now in various museum collections. A particularly close example in shape, style and size is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (inv. no. 669:1, 2-1883). Described as “probably a king", it gives an indication of the present piece’s original place on the chessboard. It is carved in a slightly bevelled style, one facet with a leaf emerging out of stylised sprigs and the other side with two stylised hearts between two palms, separated by an etched border. 

Furthermore, the present piece can be linked to two important groups of rock crystal chess pieces; notably a collection of ten from the famed Ager chess set, including two kings or viziers, two bishops, two knights, a rook and three pawns now in the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyya in Kuwait (inv. no. LNS I Has-j, and published in Jenkins 1983, p.60), as well as eight rock crystal chess pieces which are now in the Diocesan Museum in Orense, Spain.

Its composition gives further clues to its original intended use. As rock crystal was considered to be a luxurious material, this chess piece probably formed part of an important commission for an elite client.

Other highlights include a group of Hispano-Moresque pottery dishes from an Italian private collection. The lustre technique was first introduced into Spain by Moorish craftsmen in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Characterised by their lively designs and colour combinations, these dishes were highly sought after not only by Spanish patrons but by aristocratic families across Europe. This patronage is reflected in the heraldic emblems that are often found in the centre of the dishes, notably, the heraldic eagle, which often features and of which there are stylistically similar examples in the collections of both the Louvre, Paris, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. 



Lot 108. A magnificent Hispano-Moresque lustre pottery dish featuring a spread eagle, Valencia, probably Manises, circa 1435-60Estimate: 50,000 — 70,000 GBP. Unsold. Photo: Sotheby's 2014.


The sale includes a Plan of the Holy Sanctuary in Mecca – this map, dating from the nineteenth century, is a precise scale plan of the Haram al-Sharif, with illustrated details of the Holy Places and other buildings surrounding the mosque. The largest mosque in the world, Al-Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca, surrounds the holiest site in Islam - the Ka’ba which is central to the Hajj. 


Lot 32. A plan of the Holy sanctuary in Mecca, signed by Abdulaziz Husni, Arabian Peninsula, Ottoman, dated 1299 AH/1881 AD, ink heightened with watercolour on paper, depicting a scale plan of the Holy Ka'ba and the surrounding area, including lists and diagrams of the various buildings, 54.2 by 84cm. Estimate: 35,000 — 45,000 GBP. Lot sold 92,500 GBP. Photo: Sotheby's 2014.


Note: This plan of Mecca provides a fascinating insight into the way the Haram al-Sharif actually looked during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Contrary to a number of more romantic and less accurate depictions of the Ka'ba at Mecca (see for example paintings sold in these rooms 3 October 2012, lot 115 and 6 April 2011, lot 229) as well as the many Hajj maps that were produced (see an example sold in these rooms 6 October 2010, lot 28), the present work represents an actual scale plan, executed with precision.

To the right of the diagram of the Ka'ba is a list of the Holy Places in al-Haram al-Sharif:

The Ka’ba
The Hijr, burial place of Isma’il
The Black Stone in the eastern corner of the Ka’bah
The Yemeni Corner, the place from which the Prophet departed from the Ka’bah
Sanctuary of the Prophet Ibrahim
The Zamzam Well
Bab Bani Shaybah, formerly Bab al-Salam
Place of prayer of Imam Ibn Hanifah al-Nu’man
Place of prayer of Imam Malik
Place of prayer of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal
The pulpit
The steps of al-Ka’bah
The library in the shape of a dome
The location of the Timekeeper
Rear view of the columns surrounding the courtyard of al-Ka’bah
Rear view of the courtyard of al-Haram al-Sharif  with hanging lamps in the shape of palm trees
Two ponds or basins
Paths paved with black stones leading to the Ka’bah
Unpaved area covered with sand

The minarets in the Holy Sanctuary are also listed as follows:

‘Ali Minaret ; Bab al-Salam Minaret; Qaytbay Minaret; Bab al-Mahkamah Minaret; Bab Ziyadah Minaret; Bab al-‘Umrah Minaret; Bab al-Wida Minaret

To the left of the Mecca diagram is a list of the Façade Sections of al-Haram al-Sharif as follows:

The Hijr
Burial place of Isma’il

Place of prayer of Imam Hanifah
Place of prayer of Imam Malik
Sanctuary of the Prophet Ibrahim al-Khalil
Place of prayer of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal
The pulpit
Bani Shaybah Gate
The steps of the Ka’bah
The Zamzam Well
The Domes
The columns surrounding the Ka’bah
The columns inside the Haram

For plans of the Holy Sanctuaries in Mecca and Medina, see V. Porter (Ed.), Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, London, 2012, pp.39 & 83. For a full list of the facades and structures listed on the present plan, please see the online version of this catalogue.

Among a number of works in the sale relating to the Ka’ba is an Ottoman metal-thread curtain of the Holy Ka’ba door (est. £80,000-120,000), which is covered in intricate embroidery detailing passages from the Qur’an. Also included in the sale and dating from the seventeenth century, is an Iznik pottery tile depicting the Ka’ba (est. £80,000-120,000). These decorative tiles were often kept in the houses of people who had undertaken the Hajj. Similar tiles can be found in a number of museum collections including the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the Louvre, Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 


Lot 30. An Ottoman metal-thread curtain of the Holy Ka’ba door (burqua), Egypt, period of Sultan Abdulhamid I, dated 1194 AH/1780 AD; silk with applied silver and silver-gilt thread, comprising cartouches, medallions and frames containing inscriptions and floral details, open slit for door, with architectural design, 600 by 270cm. Estimate: £80,000-120,000. Lot sold £98,500, Photo: Sotheby's 2014.


In the cartouches in the borders: Repeat of Qur’an, chapter CXIV (al-Ikhlas).

In the cartouche above: Qur’an, chapter XVII (al-Isra’), verse 80.

In the side arches, twice: The basmala and Qur’an, chapter L (Qaf), verse 34.

In the middle arch: The word Allah (on top); Qur’an, chapter LXI (al-Saff), part of verse 13 (in the centre) and the Shahada followed by Qur’an, chapter LXI (al-Saff), verse 9 (In the borders).

In the panel on gold: Qur’an, chapter XLVIII (al-Fath), part of verse 27.

In the four cartouches above and below the above panel: Qur’an, chapter II (al-Baqara), verse 255.

In the two roundels: Qur’an, chapter LXI (al-Saff), verse 9.

In between the roundels, on black and red: Invocations to God, Muhammad, the Four Orthodox Caliphs and all of the Companions ending with ‘May God be pleased [with them].

In the tear-drop shape: Qur’an, chapter VII (al-A’raf), part of verse 89.

In the cartouches below the roundels, on black: Qur’an, chapter CVI (Quraysh).

In the zigzag bands: repeat of the Shahada.

In the sections above and below the zigzag, on gold: Prayer for the Four Orthodox Caliphs and all of the Companions.

In the cartouches below the zigzag panel, on black:
qad tasharraf bi-tajdid hadha … mawlana al-sultan al-a’zam ‘abd al-hamid ibn ahmad ibn muhammad ibn ibrahim ibn muhammad khan fi sana alfa wa mi’a wa tis’in wa raba’a

‘The renovation of this curtain was ordered by ……. the most great Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid Ibn Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Muhammad Khan in 1194 (1794-5)'

Around the door: Qur’an, chapter CXIV (al-Ikhlas).

In the small roundels: Repeat of: ‘God is my Lord’ (8 times) and ‘God suffices me’ (3 times).

The four walls of the Ka'ba, the holiest site in Islam, are covered with a curtain (kiswa) with the shahada outlined in the weave, and about two thirds of the way up runs a gold embroidered band (hizam) covered with Qur'anic verses. Over the door is a curtain (sitara or burqa) and inside the Ka'ba are other textiles, including the Bab al-Tawba, or curtain door leading to the roof and various colourful textiles with chevron designs (London 2012, p.257). The present curtain would have been intended for use over the door (see below image) and is impressive in its size and workmanship. A similar curtain of the Holy Ka'ba door curtain, dedicated to Sultan Abd al-Majid (r.1839-61), was sold by Sotheby's 16 December 2010, Hurouf: The Art of the Word, Doha, lot 130.


Lot 169. An Iznik pottery tile depicting the Ka’ba, Turkey, possibly dated 1[0]88 AH/1677-8 AD; 30 by 30cmEstimate: £80,000-120,000. Lot sold £98,500. Photo: Sotheby's 2014

decorated underglaze in blue, viridian green and bole red on a white ground with black outlines and inscriptions depicting the Holy Sanctuary in Mecca marking: the Ka’ba, the Maqams of Ibrahim, Hanafi, Shafi’i, and Hanbali; Gates of: Safa, ‘Umra, al-Salam and Fatima; the qubba of Farrash, Isma’il rock and Ka’ba gate.

Provenance: Ex-private collection, Denmark, 1960s

Note: This tile features a depiction of the Ka’ba, the holiest monument in Islam, set within its location in the sanctuary of the Great Mosque of Mecca (the Masjid al-Haram). Further significant places represented on this tile include the four gates leading out of the mosque in various directions, the tombs of the founders of the four orthodox legal schools, the tomb of Abraham, the minbar or pulpit of The Prophet, the dome over the carpet warehouse, the Black Stone, the stone of Isma’il and the gold spout at the top of the Ka’ba.

The Ka’ba lies at the centre of the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, which is one of the five pillars of Islam; it is a sacred duty for believers to go at least once in their life if they are able to. Individual tiles such as the present example, depicting the holy sites of Islam such as Mecca and Medina, were produced in the Ottoman centres of ceramic production such as Iznik and Kutahya between the mid-seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The earliest tile, in the Aya Sofya, is dated 1642, whilst the most recent comparable example is in the Cezerli Kasim Pasha Camii in Istanbul, dated 1724. 

The number 1[0]88 appears upside down on the bottom of this tile, and whereas it can be interpreted as a date (1088 AH/1677-8 AD - which would place it at the centre of the known date of production for these tiles), it should also be considered within the context of its manufacture, possibly marking its production number. As well as being erected on the walls of mosques, notably the qibla wall or in the mihrab, these tiles were also set in the houses and palaces of those who had been on Hajj, underlying the importance of this ritual.

Tiles with depictions of the sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina are found in most major collections of Islamic art, including the British Museum, London (inv. no. 2009,6039.1), the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (inv. no. 427-1900), the Louvre Museum, Paris (inv. no. OA 3919/556), the Benaki Museum, Athens (inv. no. ΓΕ 124), the Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin (inv. no. Nr. I. 6620), the David Collection, Copenhagen (inv. no. 51/1979), the Aga Khan Museum (inv. no. AKM00587), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 2012/337), and the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (inv. no. 48.1307). The closest comparable example to the present tile, notably in the inclusion of unusual details such as the clusters of water jugs probably representing containers of water from the holy zamzam well, is now in the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, dated 1074 AH/1663 AD (inv. no. 16645).

A similar tile was sold at Christie’s, 4 October 2012, lot 243. Another tile depicting the Ka'ba was sold in these rooms, 13 October 2004, lot 198. For further information on and examples of artworks relating to the Hajj, see V. Porter & M.A.S. A. Helim, (eds.) Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam, London, 2012.