Souren Melikian observes that the record-setting £7.43m sale of an illuminated manuscript page from Iranian Book of Kings from the Stuart Cary Welch collection earlier this month should be nothing to celebrate:
The extraordinary manuscript commissioned for the library of Shah Tahmasp (1524-76) was acquired by Arthur A. Houghton Jr., a bibliophile whose interest lay in rare English books. He was presumably advised by Mr. Welch, who had long been buying manuscript paintings from Iran and Moghul India. Soon after, Mr. Houghton began breaking up the manuscript. In November 1976, seven pages appeared at Christie’s. Many more would follow, sold through art galleries and at auction, notably at Christie’s London on Oct. 11, 1988.
This astounding example of calculated vandalism perpetrated by a cultivated man is perhaps the most extreme where Eastern art is concerned. But it was by no means unusual.
Ripping apart the thousands of precious painted manuscripts removed from Iran, India or Turkey and taken to Europe in the 19th and 20th century was routine among Western dealers. It allowed them to make a bigger profit, as Joseph Soustiel of Paris remarked to me one day in the 1960s, when I asked why he was cutting paintings from a 15th-century Persian manuscript of Nezami’s “Five Poems.”
Century-Old Vandalism of Islamic Art, and Its Price (New York Times)