A Kashan lustre dish with a gazelle and inscriptions, Persia, circa 1220. Estimate: £30,000–50,000.
LONDON - We all have our favourites. Since my daily ritual is to scan the treasures on the storage shelves of the Middle East department, picking out a favourite has become something of a guilty pleasure. Some while ago I spotted a Kashan lustre dish from our upcoming Encyclopoedia Islamica translating entries on Persian lustreware, I couldn't help but be dazzled by this particular bowl. Especially eye-catching are the golden lustre and cobalt blue highlights that frame a delicate gazelle, the ultimate symbol of beauty and fragility in Persian culture. Curiosity led me to look into its trajectory.
Another view of the Kashan dish.
Historical notes on a remarkably similar bowl at the Victoria and Albert Museum state that the museum vessel was part of a hoard that was deliberately buried by its owner in about 1220 when north-eastern Iran was under threat of a Mongol invasion. The hoard was never recovered by its owner and survived intact for almost 800 years. To think that centuries later an object from this hoard found its way to a London museum and that a similar one (possibly from the same workshop) arrived in Chicago where it was subsequently consigned to a Sotheby’s sale, is quite a history lesson in itself!
The bowl in the forthcoming sale has marked similarities to this example in the Victoria and Albert Museum. To find it in the museum look in room 42, case WE7, shelf 2. © Victoria and Albert Museum.
In January 2012, two Sotheby’s New York staff members duly travelled to the offices of Harvey Plotnick to take custody of this precious cargo and transported it to New York whence it was shipped to Sotheby’s New Bond Street where, in the safety of the basement, it was unpacked, photographed, tagged, and inspected for condition.
The object was then taken upstairs by expert art handlers to our department where cataloguers inventorised it, completed their research and translated the inscriptions. In a culture where specific culinary recipes existed for ensuring a happy marriage or casting the evil eye on a rival wife, it is entirely appropriate that this bowl should bestow "prosperity (that surpasses all limits)" to whomever supped from it, "so that whatever reaches your palate from this bowl/ O master of the world, adds to your life." Can there be a more auspicious vessel in any of our kitchen cupboards today?