Fine Islamic and Persian Court Art Up for Sale Includes Century Year Old Curtain which Once Guarded the Ka’Ba in Mecca

Published March 26th, 2006 - 12:39 GMT

Bonhams one of the world’s oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques will be holding the next sale of fine Islamic and Persian Court Art on 6 April 2006 in London.

The sale includes the unique Islamic artifact which once guarded the final destination for all Muslim pilgrims making the journey of faith to Mecca – the Ka’ba. The artifact is estimated to sell for £250,000 to £300,000.

The lot (Lot 184) is the external curtain of the door of the Ka’ba created for the Ottoman Sultan Selim III, son of Mustafa III (reigned 1789-1807) in the year AD1220/AD 1805. Made of black silk the rectangular cloth is richly embroidered in silver and silver-gilt. A slit in the middle of the lower part indicates the opening of the portal.

The curtains and bands that covered the Ka'ba were produced in Istanbul and Cairo, which was the centre of embroidery production during the Mamluk (13th-16th Centuries) and Ottoman (16th-20th Centuries) periods. It was customary to change the Kiswa, hizam, and burqa' annually on the 25th of the month of Dhu'l Qa'da. The plain black cloth was cut up in pieces and given as presents to dignitaries performing the annual pilgrimage or sold to pilgrims.

The sale also includes a spectacular set of eight works that provide a glimpse into the decadent world of the Persian Court.

These stunning works visually complemented to poetry recitals given by hosts and storytellers at social gatherings and were best viewed from a distance through gardens and arches.

This rare, intact picture cycle, which for the past 25 years has been held on loan by the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, UK, has only recently been returned by the heirs of Reginald Bridgeman, who brought them back from Persia, and will, for the first time, appear at auction this April.

The cycle comprises a set of eight oil-on-canvas paintings, dated 1814-15 and depict various episodes from Yusuf va Zulaykha, the fabled love-poem by one of Persia’s great classic poets, Jami (1414-1492), itself based on tales related in the 12th Sura of the Qur’an and that of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife from the Old Testament.

The Qajar Dynasty spans the years 1785-1924, but the origins of the Qajar painting itself date back to the 17th century, when Persian artists and their patrons, having grown interested in European art, first adopted the medium of oil-on-canvas. Furthermore, after centuries of working in the format of manuscript illumination, Persian artists also returned to a large-scale figurative tradition unseen in their country since the days of the Achaemenids and Sassanians.

The Bridgeman cycle is such a rarity that the only other known example of a comparable cycle to be found outside modern-day Iran, hangs in the Brooklyn Museum of Art. This featured in the landmark 1998 exhibition, Royal Persian Paintings: The Qajar Epoch 1785-1925.

Sale: Islamic and Persian Art
Location: New Bond Street, London
Date/Time: Thursday 6 April at 10.30am
Auction Enquiries: Claire Penhallurick +44 (0)20 7468 8249
For press enquiries from Bonhams please contact Julian Roup on +44 (0)207 468 8259 or email:


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son and Neale UK. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America and in August 2003, Goodmans, a leading Australian fine art and antiques auctioneer with salerooms in Sydney, joined the Bonhams Group of Companies. Today, Bonhams is the third largest and fastest growing auction house in the world with a global network of offices and regional representatives providing sales advice and valuation services in 20 countries. It offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street, and Knightsbridge, and a further 10 throughout the UK. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston in the USA; and Switzerland, Monaco, and Australia. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of more than 40 Bonhams specialist departments, go to For other press releases, go to



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