Fatimid era jug expected to fetch millions

Published September 12, 2008

LONDON, Sept 11: A rare crystal jug belonging to Egypt’s Fatimid dynasty and mistaken earlier this year for a cheap French claret pitcher, is expected to sell for millions of pounds at auction.

The 1,000-year-old rock crystal ewer -one of only seven of its kind known to exist -is the highlight of Christie’s Oct 7 sale of Islamic and Indian art, with an estimated price of at least three million pounds.

But in January Lawrences auction house in southwest England identified it as a 19th-century French claret jug and offered it for sale for 100 to 200 pounds ($175 to $350).

Some collectors sensed it was more special than that. After a bidding war, the jug sold for 220,000 pounds ($385,000), more than 1,000 times the list price.

Christie’s said it has now been identified as “one of the rarest and most desirable works of art from the Islamic world”.

The auction house said on Thursday that the original sale had been fueulled by agreement between the purchaser and the original owners, who wish to remain anonymous.The slim-necked vessel, carved from a single piece of rock crystal and decorated with elaborate engravings of cheetahs, was made for the court of the Cairo-based Fatimid dynasty, which ruled a swath of the Middle East and North Africa between 908 and 1187 A.D.

“If it’s genuine as they say it is, then it’s a tremendous discovery,” said Anna Contadini, an Islamic art expert at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. “There are lots of carved rock crystal items that are not genuine either fakes or copies made at a certain point in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“If it is genuine, it is priceless.”

Many artifacts from the era were lost when the Fatimid treasury was broken up by the Ayyubid rulers who succeeded them in 1187.—Agencies

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