October 4, 2021 at 12:00:00 AM
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Mughal emperor's glasses up for auction at Sotheby's
A couple of prized spectacles, studded with diamonds and emerald lenses from Mughal India, will be up for auction at the end of this month in London for an estimated £4 million. The artefacts, from an unknown princely treasury of the time, comprise a diamond pair named the Halo of Light, and an emerald pair named the Gate of Paradise. These spectacles will be auctioned for the first time by Sotheby's with a price tag of between £1.5 million and £2.5 million each. They having remained in a private collection for almost half a century and will be showcased in New York, Hong Kong, and London. The pair is said to be commissioned by an unknown prince for whom an artist shaped a diamond, weighing over 200 carats, and an emerald, weighing at least 300 carats, into two pieces. The auction house said there are no comparable example of either of the pieces known to exist. In 1890, the lenses were placed in new frames and decorated with rose-cut diamonds. Although there’s no clarity about the original patron for whom these spectacles were made, they clearly belong to a period of artistic and architectural achievement such as the Mughal reigns of emperors Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. "The quality and purity of the gemstones is extraordinary and stones of this size would no doubt have been the reserve of an emperor. The diamonds are flawless, thought to be from the mines of Golconda in Southern India," said Edward Gibbs, chairman, Middle East and India for the auction house. The pieces will be coming to Sotheby's Arts of the Islamic World and India sale on 27 October. To be sure, India has been of great interest to the art world recently. Less than a year ago, a Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde sold for a record breaking ₹39.98 crore at Saffronart's sale. The second highest art was an Amrita Sher-Gil work that fetched ₹37.8 crore. Later this month, another Sher-Gil painting titled Portrait of Mother is to go under the hammer. It is estimated to be priced between ₹10 crore and ₹15 crore. Commenting on the Mughal pieces, in a brief interview to Sotheby’s, art historian and writer William Dalrymple said it is the lenses that set these objects apart. "There has been a technical study of these lenses by specialists and there is a high probability that they come from the Mughal era. This is a slice of diamond and emerald through which it can be seen that they were created to be worn. The owner was taking an extraordinary risk because the original diamond which was split to create the lenses must have been between 200-300 karats," he explained. The emerald comes from Colombia and found its way to Goa. Jehangir and Shah Jahan were huge connoisseurs of gems, he added. Independent art curator and researcher Uma Nair said the fact that it was commissioned by one of the emperors from the Mughal period is important as well as integral to its very existence. The Mughals were distinguished and distinctive as patrons, as trend setters, and monarchs who encouraged the finest engravers, jewellers and artisans for the cascade of jewels that adorned their treasure chests and jewellery boxes. As an ornament and object, this pair of spectacles is an emblem of intensity and luxe. "In history, emeralds were famously adored—and acquired in vast amounts. The historical provenance of these spectacles is what is most vital to the sale. It also brings into limelight the journey of the stones, of how the emeralds and diamonds were cleaved, as well as designed. This journey defines their historical authenticity in one of the greatest eras of gemstone connoisseurship," she said. Gibbs said that Indian objects are often the star lots of their sales. The spectacles are unique but the most apposite example of a major Mughal piece to cite as a comparison would be the ‘Jahangir Emerald’ sold by Sotheby’s for £1.9 million on 24 April 2004. The spectacles started their tour in New York earlier this month, which was the first time they had ever been seen by the public. They are currently en route to Hong Kong, where they will be exhibited before heading to London to go on view ahead of the auction. Sotheby’s was established in 1744 and promotes access, connoisseurship and preservation of fine art and rare objects through auctions and buy-now channels including private sales, e-commerce and retail. The company has specialists in 40 countries across over 50 categories which include contemporary art, modern and Impressionist art, old masters, Chinese works of art, jewellery, watches, wine and spirits, and interiors. In India, Sotheby's has done two auctions, the last of which was in 2019. The auction titled 'Boundless India' had a VS Gaitonde's 1974 'Untitled' painting leading the lot.