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7 Major Finds That Were Once Forgotten but Found Again.

How much could that dish you throw your car keys into every night really be worth? A few Islamic and Indian art specialists tell the stories of seven recent discoveries, and the prices they went on to fetch at auction.


Don’t judge a manuscript by its cover


Andrew Butler Wheelhouse, associate specialist, Islamic Art: Passing by Christie’s King Street one day, the owner of what appeared to be a rather unassuming collection of paper folios which had lost its binding decided to step inside and ask us to take a look. What she produced from a plastic bag was a work containing beautifully delicate Persian calligraphy and, better still, a double page of the most intricate gold and lapis blue illumination. The mastery of the geometric and vegetal forms was quite astounding. Reading further, we discovered the manuscript to be a rare text dating from the 15th century entitled Beauty and the Heart, copied for a Turkman ruler of Baghdad. It sold for $133,250 in the Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds sale in October 2011.

2. A pink demon


Romain Pingannaud, Islamic Art specialist: This painting of a giant pink snake demon was hung on the wall of a London townhouse, alongside other illustrations from a north Indian series depicting the story of Krishna. Here, the god and his fellow cowherds are shown swallowed by the giant snake. Upon closer investigation, however, we realized that it is the work of the two major Pahari artists, Manaku and Fattu, a father and son working in the 18th century, which explains why this painting made a record price ($181,875) 

3. Read the small print

Sara Plumbly, Head of Islamic Art: "To be honest, when our Travel, Science and Natural History specialist James Hyslop first presented us with this unassuming object, its significance as one of only three known spherical astrolabes had to be explained to me." It was while doing the research for the catalogue that we discovered a small Arabic inscription on the surface that revealed the instrument was made by one of the foremost Islamic astronomers of the 17th century, Al-Rudani. To date, his work had been known only from the user’s guide to the instrument which Al-Rudani wrote in Medina, the same year our instrument was made. This peice sold for $722,500.

   4. From entrance hall to major museum

This dish sat for countless years in an entrance hall and was used as a receptacle to throw keys into. With its cobalt-blue scrolling flowers set on a white ground potter dish, it is clearly inspired by Chinese designs but retains a certain sense of geometry and inventiveness that identify it as a rare early blue and white production of Iznik pottery from Turkey.The owners were shocked to learn of its value and the importance of this piece, which sold for $400,000 in 2006 and is now in the collection of the Detroit Museum of Arts.

5. A poke in the eye

Xavier Fournier, junior specialist found this one late afternoon, "I was called to have a look at this ‘Persian-looking knife’. As the owner took it out of its bubble wrap the first thing that struck me was the fine water-steel of the blade. Each movement required to remove it from the wrapping revealed a new pattern, and ultimately the most elegant floral medallion I have yet seen on a blade. It was only then I realized the hilt, hidden by the owner’s hand, was made of two sleek panels of lapis lazuli, the stone famed for both its remote origins and distinctive hues of blue." During an exhibition in South Kensington in October 2014, many were struck by its elegance, and after a long battle in the saleroom and on the phones, the dagger, whose inscriptions indicated it was made for a ruler or prince, found a new home for $62,500, almost 10 times its high estimate.

6. Mapping the Ganges


Romain Pingannaud, Head of Islamic Art: "When this painted map was first sold in our London salerooms in 2001, it was described as a ‘painted scroll map with villages set by the banks of a meandering river’. This peice caught eyes a second time in 2014, when more research into the names inscribed on the map. It became clear that the river was the Ganges, with its many arms flowing along pilgrimage centres.This Map sold for $146,500


                                                               7. The Italian Job

Xavier Fournier, junior specialist, -  The vibrant floral decoration of Iznik pottery provided inspiration to European ceramicists in the 19th century, including an Italian named Ulisse Cantagalli, who produced this small pottery vase. From the transalpine regions, the vase is likely to have been acquired by an affluent household, where at the time the taste for all things east was quite established. More than 100 years later, at a provincial French antique fair, this vase changed hands for a handful of euros, most likely dismissed as common pottery. When its century-long journey took it to South Kensington in October 2015, however, it captured the interest of international bidders and was hammered down for $9,375.

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