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Sotheby's Staging Comprehensive Middle East Art Auction

A Sotheby's employee looks at a painting by Farhad Moshiri, Untitled from The Jar Series, at Sotheby's auction rooms in London, April 15, 2016. The painting is expected to bring as much as $212,000 when it is auctioned on April 21.

Sotheby's is staging what it calls its most comprehensive series of exhibitions and sales to cover the history of Middle Eastern art.

Five sales which range from the contemporary to the ancient will complement a series of talks and lectures by leading scholars from the region.

Benedict Carter, Sotheby's director and head of auction sales in the Middle East Department, said Middle Eastern art was an area in which interest was growing.

"There's a big interest. There has been for the last 10 years, I'd say I've seen a boom. A lot of the major museums have reinstalled their Islamic galleries, you know the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris and then the opening of new museums like the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha in Qatar, so there has been a lot interest," Carter explained.

Big-ticket items

Among the big-ticket items in the upcoming "Arts of the Islamic World" sale are an Ottoman tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, ivory and a brass inlaid scribe's box from late 16th century Turkey, estimated at 200,000 to 300,000 GBP.

The opulent box is thought to have been a unique commission made for an individual of high rank.

Talking about the item, Carter said: "We have got a particularly large and beautiful calligrapher's casket from late 16th century Turkey. This is an extremely refined courtly object, probably a private commission for someone of high wealth and status. It's inlaid with brass and stained ivory."

Also on offer at the auction is a collection from a distinguished Egyptian lawyer Octave Borelli Bay (1849-1911), led by a pair of 14th century Mamluk carved wood and ivory inlaid panels from Egypt, which were then mounted as doors in the 19th century (est 100,000 - 200,000 GBP).


"We have four items from the collection of a man called Octave Borelli Bey who was a lawyer in Egypt in the 19th century in a period of great change for the country. The most interesting pieces are these two huge sets of doors which include 14th century panels which he then brought back to France and had installed in his chateau in St. Tropez," Carter explained.

Another of the most expensive works on offer at the auction is an extremely rare and finely decorated Koran leaf in eastern Kufic script, estimated at between 200,000 to 300,000 GBP

"The Koran leaf, that's definitely the top manuscript of the sale. It's a single leaf from a Koran produced at the end of the eleventh, beginning of the twelfth century in the stylised eastern Kufic form of script which is very angular, very stylised. It actually looks very modern. To the modern minimalist taste it fits in very well," Carter said.

Among the highlights of the 20th century sale will be a piece called 'On the Banks of the Nile' by Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Mokhtar, which Sothebys said depicted the struggle for political independence and the emancipation of women in Egypt in the first decades of the 20th century. It's estimated at between 120,000 and 180,000 GBP.

The auctions will be held between April 19-21 in London.