Islamic Art

Islamic & Middle Eastern Art at Sotheby's

By Roxane Zand

S otheby’s first sold Qur’ans and Islamic antiquities in 1755. Today, 265 years and possibly 500 sales later, it is remarkable that this market continues to offer a never-ending supply of top-quality artworks to an audience with undiminished interest and enthusiasm – matched only by the enduring appeal of the Old Masters sales category. Ultimately objects and artworks crafted painstakingly by the hands of outstanding artists and artisans will reflect the heights of human achievement and produce iconic masterpieces. One such treasure is being offered in the Oct 2021 Arts of the Islamic World sale.

A pair of Mughal spectacles set with emerald lenses, in diamond-mounted frames, India, lenses circa 17th century, frames 19th century. Estimate: £1,500,000–2,500,000.

A pair of captivating, unrecorded and unique spectacles from an unknown princely provenance dating to Mughal India, will star in the upcoming sale at an estimate in excess of £4m. Previously unseen, these extraordinary one-off objects have been shown in Hong Kong and will be auctioned to its new owner in London – having remained in the same collection for nearly half a century. The ultimate status symbol, these diamond and emerald spectacles are respectively named Halo of Light and Gate of Paradise. Their story originated in 17th-century India when the combination of imperial wealth and masterful artistry yielded iconic objets d’art of unprecedented beauty. In this case, an unknown prince commissioned an artist to shape a diamond, weighing over 200 carats, and a brilliant emerald of at least 300 carats, into two masterpieces. In circa 1890, the lenses were placed in new frames, decorated with rose-cut diamonds. The quality and purity of the gemstones is a marvel in itself, and while ordinary lenses merely function to improve sight, the filters of this legendary pair were considered as aids for spiritual enlightenment – diamonds are thought to illuminate, emeralds believed to have held miraculous powers to heal and ward off evil. While the cutting of the stones and certain aspects of the craftsmanship required technical and scientific wizardry, the real appeal is the mythology that surrounds it.

The theme of the fusion of art and science underlies this edition of the Arts of the Islamic World sale: In an Indian Garden, the Carlton Rochell Collection of Company School Paintings, encapsulating enchanting paintings of flora, fauna, and architectural panoramas bear testimony to the superb painters of the Mughal court and their scientific powers of observation. This is the first auction dedicated solely to this style of painting, commissioned by East India Company officials of the time. Individual animal and human studies as well as complex architectural structures form the subject matters of these works, made famous through the acclaimed recent ‘Forgotten Masters’ exhibition at the Wallace Collection. This meticulous genre of painting is finally garnering artistic recognition, although centuries ago it was mainly practised as a way of revealing India as a remarkable and sumptuous land.

Whether appreciated for their “East meets West” aesthetic, as did the collector himself, or for their botanical and scientific value, these paintings will undoubtedly offer many layers of enjoyment to potential collectors. For lovers of India and its marvels, this October sale is an unmissable destination.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's