A new record price for an Islamic artwork at auction was set today at Sotheby’s in London when a 16th-century illustrated page from the Shahnameh, measuring 47x31.8cm, sold for £7,433,250 – almost four times its pre-sale estimate. Seven bidders competed for the work for ten minutes before it went to an anonymous collector over the telephone.

The Shahnameh or “Book of Kings” is the Persian national epic, written by the poet Ferdowsi in c1000AD. This folio – made for Shah Tahmasp of Persia and dated c1525-35 – shows King Faridun in the guise of a dragon testing his sons. The figures are depicted delicately in ink, watercolour and gold on paper.

The illustrated leaf was part of the collection of the late Stuart Cary Welch (1928-2008), an academic and curator of Islamic and Indian Art at Harvard Art Museums. The second stage of the auction, The Stuart Cary Welch Collection: Arts of India, will be held at Sotheby’s London in May.

Edward Gibbs, head of Sotheby’s Middle East department, commented: “The sum achieved of £7.4m for the folio . . . is testament to the passion and taste of the true scholar-connoisseur, Stuart Cary Welch, who assembled this remarkable collection.”

The market for Islamic art is buoyant, in part because the Gulf states are seeking to increase their cultural holdings. In Doha, Qatar, for example, the Museum of Islamic Art designed by I.M. Pei was opened in 2008, the “Mathaf” Arab Museum of Modern Art in late 2010 and Jean Nouvel’s plans for a new National Museum were unveiled in the same year.

The previous record for a work of Islamic art sold at auction was established only last April, when a 17th-century Kirman “vase” carpet fetched £6.2m at Christie’s.

Auction results at www.sothebys.com

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