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    Sale 7615

    Art of The Islamic And Indian Worlds

    7 October 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 49



    Price Realised  


    Of rectangular form, the face deeply carved with scrolling designs which combine to give the impression of a bird, in plain border, cut down at one end, later keyhole inserted
    18¼ x 8 1/8in. (46.2 x 20.7cm.)

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    A well-known wooden panel in the Louvre, Paris, appears to depict a bird with wonderful flowing lines (Marthe Bernus-Taylor and Cécile Jail (eds), L'étrange et le merveilleux en terres d'Islam, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2001, no.49, pp.74-5). Attributed to 9th or early 10th century Egypt, a close examination shows that any attempt to rationalise the complete bird from the design is a total failure. The head is very clear but the remainder dissolves into abstract scrollwork. The present carved panel shares this element of trompe-d'oeuil. The viewer thinks they see a bird's wing, and the tail appears to be clear, but in fact the two are unconnected, just nestling in to each other.

    The Paris panel is far closer to the carvings from the Abbasid capital at Samarra in terms of the rounded forms it employs (see for example The Arts of Islam, exhibition catalogue, London, 1976, no.433, p.281, or a door in the Benaki Museum, Mikhail B. Piotrovsky and John Vrieze (gen.ds.), Earthly Beauty, Heavenly Art, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam, 1999, no.106, p.154). In the present panel the forms are given considerably more surface detail within what earlier would have been a rounded surface. This appears to be a slightly later development and is consistent with a 10th or 11th century attribution. These designs, and particularly the truncating lines above the fluted "bird's tail" are also very easy to find parallels for in Fatimid carved rock crystal carvings. By the time the Fatimid dynasty was fully empowered in Cairo the style of wood carving had changed considerably, to the figural cartouches and the far more literal depictions that have been discovered at Fatimid archaeological sites (Trésors Fatimides du Caire, Paris, 1998, nos.1-9, pp.88-91). Only the very well-known panels whose central motif is a cusped abstract arabesque that terminates in the heads of two horses, examples of which are in the Metropolitan Museum and in the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, retain this combination of abstract and figural seen so well in the present panel.

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    From a collection formed principally in Alexandria in the first half of the 20th century. See also lots 399-423.