Sotheby’s will offer a 16th century folio from Persia’s “Book of Kings”
London — The Shahnameh – or “Book of Kings” – made for Shah Tahmasp of Persia (r.1524-76) is one of the finest illustrated manuscripts in existence. The monumental tome covers the greatest epic in Persian literature, containing 50,000 rhyming couplets and tells the story of all the rulers of Persia from the ancient mythical beginnings of the country. The most lavishly illustrated copy of the 10th century poem in existence, it was illustrated over the course of two decades from 1520 to 1540 by the greatest artists in the royal workshop. It is believed that no other work of Persian art, with the exception of architecture, involved such enormous expense or took up so much of the artists’ time. The result was an unprecedented achievement and stands as one of the greatest works of art in the world.
In October, a magnificent Shah Tahmasp Shahnameh folio will make a rare appearance at auction, as part of Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World & India biannual auction, offered with an estimate of £4,000,000-6,000,000 . The scene depicts the great hero Rustam retrieving his horse Rakhsh – named the Persian word for lightning – two of the main characters during the tale.
The manuscript enjoys a scintillating provenance from the time it was commissioned to the present day. It was commissioned by an emperor, Shah Ismail (the first of the Safavids), completed by another, his son and successor Shah Tahmasp, offered to a third, Sultan Selim II of the Ottoman Empire, and then belonged to the one of the great bibliophile families of the modern era, the Barons de Rothschild, whose collections include masterpieces such as the Belles Heures du Duc de Berry or the Heures de Catherine de Clèves. Today, the Shahnameh folios are treasured in museum collections around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC; The Aga Khan Museum, Toronto; The David Collection, Copenhagen; The Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, London; The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran.
“Shah Tahmasp’s Shahnameh is a perfect synthesis of artistic skill, patronage and beauty – universally recognized as one of the supreme illustrated manuscripts of any period or culture and ranking among the greatest works of art in the world . The record for any Islamic work on paper is held by a folio from the same manuscript, sold at Sotheby’s in 2011, and so the rare appearance of another at auction represents a great opportunity for collectors in this field and beyond. –Benedict Carter, Head of Department, Islamic and Indian Art at Sotheby’s