Most expensive Islamic object sold at Sotheby’s for a record £8.1m

The rare page from 'The Book of Kings' beats previous sale record set by another item from the same manuscript

'Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp' also known as 'The Book of Kings' as sold as part of The Arts of The Islamic World & India lot, which took place at Sotheby’s London. Photo: Sotheby's
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After more than 10 minutes of bidding, a page from Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp also known as The Book of Kings, was sold at auction for a record £8.1 million ($9.4m).

This makes the artwork, which was on show at Sotheby’s Dubai earlier this month, the most expensive Islamic object or work on paper sold at auction, surpassing the previous record set by another page from the same manuscript at Sotheby's in 2011 which sold for £7,433,250.

“The Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp is universally acknowledged as one of the supreme illustrated manuscripts of any period or culture and ranks among the greatest works of art in the world,” said Benedict Carter, head of department, Sotheby’s Islamic & Indian Art.

“It is a testament to the sheer artistic skill, patronage and beauty that two folios from the same legendary manuscript now hold the top two highest prices for any Islamic work on paper, with a new auction record set."

Watch art historian William Dalrymple discuss the 'Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp' as part of the Sotheby's series Expert Voices, below

The Book of Kings was commissioned by the emperor Shah Ismail who sought to illustrate the Shahnameh, an epic poem detailing the history of Persia’s rulers, written by the celebrated poet Ferdowsi between 977 and 1010. The manuscript took more than two decades to complete by artists in the royal atelier.

The page is attributed to Mirza Ali, one of the second generation of artists who worked on the manuscript and son of Sultan Muhammad, one of the greatest Persian painters of the time who also worked on it.

This page from the 'Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp' illustrates one of the stories of Rustam, a legendary hero in Persian mythology. Photo: Sotheby's

The illustration depicts one of the many stories of the mythological hero Rustam, dressed in a tiger vestment and leopard helmet with a high plume as he prepares to recapture his missing steed, Rakhsh, who has joined a herd of wild horses. Filled with astonishing detail and colour, the page is a true marvel of imaginative and skilled excellence and illustrates the peak of Iran’s artistic production.

The Book of Kings was sold as part of The Arts of The Islamic World & India lot, which took place at Sotheby’s London today and totalled £13,922,327, as part of Sotheby's Islamic, South Asian & Middle Eastern Week.

Also as part of the auction, a page from one of the largest Kufic Qurans of the eighth century sold for £819,000, while a monumental cast and engraved bronze oil lamp from 11th-century Andalusia sold for in the auction for £1,608,000.

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Updated: October 27, 2022, 6:35 AM
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