• Art of the Islamic and Indian  auction at Christies

    Sale 7843

    Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds

    13 April 2010, London, King Street

  • Lot 265



    Price Realised  


    The room presently arranged in two sections, one comprising original ceiling arranged around a large gilt moulded pendant centerpiece, niche alcove and two side shelving panels, the other section retaining the three original walls with five two-doored cupboards (including two contemporaneous but associated) and four shelving panels (two replacements), all of the surfaces ornately carved and decorated with gilt and polychrome stucco and paint with an array of arabesques, floral and architectural designs and fruit-baskets some arranged in cusped vignettes, mirrored panels surmounted by heavy gilt arabesques formed of raised rounded moulding adorn the upper walls and ceiling, the cornice with a series of inverted tughras giving the name of the Sufi Master 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, a further tughra but not inverted decorates the niche, sold with replacement ceiling, two later door frames and a series of panels including one probably conceived to fit opposite the niche
    Section under the original ceiling 12ft.9½in. (390cm.) long, 16ft 7/8in. (490cm.) wide, 12ft.8½in. (387cm.) height to bottom of cornice; niche 10ft.9 7/8in. (330cm.) high, 3ft.3 7/8in. (101cm.) wide; other room 12ft.9½in. (390cm.) long, 16ft 7/8in. (490cm.) wide, 12ft.6¾in. (383cm.) high including cornice. For any further details please contact the department.

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    In its original configuration, this room would have been of identical dimensions but without a dividing wall. The section under ceiling would have had three bare walls, decorated only with the mihrab niche centered on one lateral walls and probably facing another, now lacking, niche. The second section of the room would have comprised three paneled walls, all of which are retained, with a large arched door on the main wall flanked by numerous shelving units and cupboards along the lateral walls. As a result of the present reconfiguration, the wall panels of the section under ceiling and the long corniced wall of the second section are modern additions surplus to the requirement of the original.

    In the 18th and 19th century, the fashion for richly decorated interiors gained enormous popularity in Damascus. Adapting a Western European style to more traditional Near-Eastern wooden interiors, the Damascene notables initiated a taste for richly decorated rooms permeated with various influences and involving many sophisticated techniques. The variety of the techniques used in the present room undoubtedly tells about the accomplished mastery of Damascene artisans. The decoration is made with an applied mixture of gesso and gum Arabic which creates a slightly raised pattern which is then painted with polychrome. The cornices and the mihrab niche have gilt appliqué carvings with rococo arabesques which encase myriads of small mirrors reflecting the light in all directions. The suspended rose chandelier is the ceiling's tour de force and a beautiful example of the late 18th and early 19th century style. As in most Syrian interiors, the walls of the present room would have originally been slightly raised above the floor.

    The mihrab niche and the cornices are repeatedly inscribed with the name of the Sufi master 'Abd al-Qadir Jilani (D. 1166 AD), founder of the Qadiriya order (tariqa). The name of the Sufi is elegantly set in calligraphic tughras, a form of calligraphy usually reserved to the Sultan's name only. Curiously, of all the tughras painted in this room, the only one to be correctly legible is that painted in the centre of the mihrab niche which is also the most decorated part of the room. All the other tughras along the cornices are painted reversed, as if to be seen in mirrors. The repetition of the Sufi master's name around the walls as well as its symbolic mirrored configuration tells about the identity of the master of the house: an important Sufi figure, a member of the Qadiriya order. The richness of the room must have emphasized his high status within the order as well as within the Damascene elite.

    The interest for these panelled rooms and the fashion for collecting them can be traced back to the 19th century when they were sought after in particular for the residences of Western consuls to Damascus but also brought back to Europe and incorporated into Western interiors from around 1850. Those purchased in the mid-20th century by the Armenian Hagop Kevorkian and the Lebanese Henri Pharaon are now standing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and in the splendid Demeure of Henri Pharaon in Beirut. The present room recalls in many aspects the salon doré of the latter's house whose panels bear the date of 1772 AD (Demeure de M. Henri Pharaon, Comité de la Société latine de bienfaisance, Beirut).

    A similar, although more soberly decorated, Damascus room dated 1799-1800 AD was sold in these Rooms, 6 October 2009, lot 225.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium, which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Sotheby's, 11 October 1996, lot 97