Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Pearl Carpet auctioned for $4.8m

Posted by vmsalama on March 19, 2009

Vivian Salama, Foreign Correspondent

The National

DOHA // A carpet made of pearls, diamonds, gold, rubies, emeralds and glass beads yesterday sold for US$4.8 million (Dh17.6m), the highest ever paid for a carpet.

The Pearl Carpet of Baroda, an intended gift for the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed, was the highlight of Sotheby’s two-day Arts of the Islamic World auction in Doha.

A masterpiece in its own right, the carpet consists of more than two million “Basra” seed pearls, sewed together to form the bed of the carpet, and a colour scheme designed with hundreds of glass beads, gold- set diamonds weighing 400 carats and precious stones.

However, the evening ended on a somewhat sombre note when a private bidder was awarded the carpet at a price below the estimated $5m value.

The starting price for the Pearl Carpet of Baroda was $4.5m; however, Sotheby’s auctioneers had estimated that it could sell for as much as $20m, despite the global economic crisis forcing many around the world to tighten their purse strings. 

As one of only a few countries in the world expecting to see economic growth in 2009, Qatar, a Sotheby official said, was the obvious place to hold the sale. Still, they were hesitant to sound overly optimistic, noting that these are uncertain times.

“Quality, rightly priced, should sell,” said Lord Mark Poltimore, the deputy chairman for Sotheby’s Europe, adding that they could only “remain hopeful that the carpet does well in Qatar”.

The carpet was made in 1865 when Gaekwar Kande Rao, the Maharaja of Baroda, one of the richest men of his time, chose to offer a majestic carpet to the tomb of the Prophet Mohammed reminiscent of the one laid over the tomb of the Mughal empress Mumtaz Mahal in the Taj Mahal.

It took several years for workers to assemble the 1.73m by 2.64m carpet.

No textiles were used in the making, yet the design emulates details found in classic Safavid and Mughal carpets with its dense fields of swirling flowering vines that form a deconstructed series of three Mughal-style arches.

“It is not really a carpet as one can’t really imagine stepping on a carpet made of pearls – it is more of a wall ornament,” said Mary Jo Otsea, Sotheby’s worldwide director for rugs and carpets.

“But because of its classic designs we do regard it as a carpet – although there is really nothing like it in the world.”

The Maharaja died before the carpet could be offered to the Prophet’s tomb in Medina. It remained in his family collection for more than 100 years, passing over time to the Maharani Sita Devi, the wife of the Maharaja Gaekwar Pratapsingh Rao. In 1986, following her death, the carpet was sold as part of her trust and has remained in the possession of a private buyer ever since.

The only carpet ever to come close in value to that of the Carpet of Baroda was a 400-year old Persian Isfahan carpet auctioned last year by Christie’s Auction house in New York for $4.45m.

Other highlights of last night’s auction included a 17th century Safavid figural panel, which sold for $3m, and a 17th century vase Persian carpet, which sold for $580,000.

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