Islamic Art

A Lost Masterpiece in Blue & Gold

By Chiara de Nicolais
The sale of the Shakerine Collection on 23rd October 2019 presented a selection of ninety-four Qur’ans, manuscripts and works on paper from Turkey, India, Persia and the Arab World. The highlight of the auction was a superb and finely-illuminated Qur'an which sold for £735,000, over tripling its low estimate of £200,000. In doing so it broke the record for a Safavid Qur’an sold at auction.
A MONUMENTAL ILLUMINATED QUR’AN, PERSIA, SAFAVID, MID-16TH CENTURY. Estimate £200,000-300,000. Sold for £735,000.

Acquired at the beginning of the twentieth century by one of the most renowned collectors in the Islamic field, Dikran G. Kelekian (d.1951), the manuscript was later purchased by Philip and Frances Hofer, book collectors based on the east coast of the United States (see the bookplates illustrated).

BOOKPLATES FROM A MONUMENTAL ILLUMINATED QUR’AN, PERSIA, SAFAVID, MID-16TH CENTURY. Estimate £200,000-300,000. Sold for £735,000.

The Hofers lent the majestic Qur’an to the landmark Persian Exhibition at the Iranian Institute, New York, in 1940, and the following year to the Fogg Museum of Art in Boston, as indicated by the labels affixed to the inside of the binding.

A MONUMENTAL ILLUMINATED QUR’AN, PERSIA, SAFAVID, MID-16TH CENTURY. Estimate £200,000-300,000. Sold for £735,000.

The Qur’an then disappeared from public view, and was not heard of again until it was acquired at some point later in the twentieth century by a private collector whose eye for beauty and cosmopolitan tastes let him to collect in multiple categories from the Impressionists to Islamic Art. It was via this collection – The Shakerine Collection – that the manuscript appeared again for the first time in decades.

A MONUMENTAL ILLUMINATED QUR’AN, PERSIA, SAFAVID, MID-16TH CENTURY. Estimate £200,000-300,000. Sold for £735,000.

One of the most striking aspects of this magnificent manuscript is its size (50.6 by 33cm), which appears not to have been cropped, making it one of the largest Safavid Qur’ans to have survived to the present day. Of particular note are the wide outer margins that have been left clean and empty, allowing the eye to focus on the text panels filled with the text of the Qur’an, written in crisp, rhythmic naskh and thuluth scripts, in both black ink and gold. The illumination of the manuscript is of a style associated with early manuscript production in Shiraz during the first half of the sixteenth century. The sacred text of the Qur’an has been lavishly and consistently illuminated throughout, with the surah headings executed in a number of different colours. Although no dedication can be found within the pages of the manuscript, its size and the high quality of the decoration points to a commission from a high-ranking, if not royal, figure.

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