LONDON: The high-end arts auction house Christie’s has rejected “unfounded accusations” over the origins of its auction pieces, after facing skepticism over the provenance of a 15th-century Qur’an sold for a record-breaking price.
Christie’s said it is facing growing criticism from academics and the wider public over the legitimacy of its auction pieces on what it called ideological grounds.
The issue came to the fore recently when a 15th-century Persian Qur’an manuscript was sold as part of Christie’s regular “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds” auction for £7 million ($9.3 million) — the highest price for a Qur’an ever.
Estimated to sell for £600,000-£900,000, the Qur’an was one of a number of ancient art pieces from the Islamic world to fetch huge sums at that auction.
A Kufic section of the Qur’an from the collection of the late mayor of Jeddah and art-lover Dr. Mohamed Said Farsi — the man credited with turning the city into an “open-air museum” — sold for roughly £300,000.
A single sheet from a Kufic-script Qur’an, believed to hail from Yemen, sold for over £18,500.
Christie’s has denied that any of the items sold at its auctions were illegitimately acquired. “We are mindful that there are nuanced and complex debates around cultural property and wish to listen and engage appropriately,” it said in a statement.
“However, we are also concerned that there has been a rise in unfounded accusations, spread far and fast on social media, that question the legitimate and legal exchange of these objects and collecting areas. As a marketplace we should all be concerned and ensure that the debate is balanced.”
The debate over cultural property, colonialism and the West’s imperial history has come to the forefront of public consciousness since the Black Lives Matter movement engulfed much of the world.