UK's Christie's to auction rare Shah Jahan-era Mughal pashmina carpet, Islamic crafts

The diversity of exceptional works of art on show reflects discerning tastes of collectors in the UAE and the wider region


Joydeep Sengupta

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Published: Thu 29 Sep 2022, 1:01 PM

Last updated: Thu 29 Sep 2022, 2:10 PM

If patriotic and wealthy Indians can't get their beloved Koh-i-Noor — a star of London's Crown jewels since 1849 and one of the largest cut diamonds in the world that is steeped in the bloody history of colonial conquest — back, a golden opportunity presents itself to own a rare imperial Mughal Pashmina carpet that traces its origin to circa 1650.

The carpet that was woven for the court of the Indian Emperor Shah Jahan (who reigned 1628-58) — last seen on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York during the exhibition Flowers Underfoot: Indian Carpets of the Mughal Era in 1997-98 — will be auctioned by the storied British auction house Christie's in London on October 27. The treasure trove is likely to fetch an estimated price of upwards of $3.7 million (Dh13.59 million).

Louise Broadhurst, Head of Department, Oriental Rugs & Carpets, Christie's, explained the historical significance of the carpet.

"The carpet is almost square, but it has been shortened to nine feet by eight feet 11 inches. Originally, the length was approximately 4.4 metres. Records show that three smaller fragments in public and private collections are probably survivors of a prior campaign to excise areas of damage."

But it's the intricacy of naturalist Indian weaving that encapsulates the highest level of production found at the Mughal court in the middle of the 17th century and predates the French impressionist painters' masterpieces in the early 19th century onwards. The Persian influence was replaced by the genesis of the flower style in Indian art that can be traced to Shah Jahan's father Jehangir's (reign 1605-27) visit to Kashmir in 1620.

In most rug-weaving cultures, silk is the most valuable fibre available, but in Mughal culture it was pashmina, which derives from the Persian word pashm, the generic word for all types of wool. Pashmina is the undercoat of the Himalayan mountain goat, and the original source of the material was Tibet that later found its way to Kashmir.

"Carpets made with pashmina piles are among the finest piles ever woven. In fact, the highest knot count exceeds 2,000 knots per inch, which goes beyond what eyes can read. This carpet has an average of 672 knots per inch," Broadhurst added.

On show is a work from a group of Iznik pottery from The Victor Adda Collection — a collector based in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria in the early 20th century, who was known for his keen eye and appreciation of beauty.

Sara Plumbly, Director, Head of Department, Islamic and Indian Art, Christie's, weighed in on the significance of Dubai as one of the most vibrant art hubs in the world.

"The Middle East has become the focal point for both ancient and contemporary art. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, Qatar, are buzzing with art lovers. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, too, are big patrons. The art landscape has never been so vibrant in this part of the world," she said.

Also, on show are a number of important Old Master and European paintings such as Sir Anthony van Dyck's Portrait of Henrietta Maria. In 1632, van Dyck was appointed as 'Principal Painter' to King Charles I of Britain.

A number of equestrian paintings, including a work by French artist Théodore Géricault, Etalon Anglo-Arabe of a horse from the Imperial stables of Versailles, and a racing scene by British master Sir Alfred James Munnings, Lord Astor's High Stakes with Sir Gordon Richards up at Newmarket, being sold via Private Sale reflect the region's considerable passion for horsemanship in all forms.

Arne Everwijn, Director of Business Development Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Christie's, said, "This carefully curated selection of important works on exhibition at Christie's Dubai reflects the discerning taste of collectors across the MENA region, who appreciate the very best quality, artistry, and extraordinary craftsmanship represented by these works across categories. It's a great honour to be able to showcase these works in Dubai for the first time."

Christie's Middle East exhibition of auction highlights include works from art of the Islamic and Indian worlds, including Oriental rugs and carpets from September 28 and October 3 at Gate Village, DIFC.


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