It is rare testimony to the royal manuscript and artistic production of the Sachin state in southern India that was founded on June 6, 1791.
Although most of the subjects (around 85%) were Hindu, the state was ruled in the 19th century by Sunni Muslims of the Siddi dynasty.
While much as the active administration of the state was under the control of the East India Company, it had its own cavalry, currency and flag as well as a state band that included a number of African musicians – testament to the Siddi origins among the Habesha people of the Ethiopian highlands.
The manuscript, written in Persian and Urdu across 244 folios each measuring 10½ x 7½in (26 x 19cm), amounts to a Siddi dynastic history, each story titled in floral cartouches with phrases such as ‘Becoming a lover’, ‘In the garden’ or ‘Badshah on a hunt’. While there is no colophon, the date 1250AH (1834) appears twice in the text.
Of the 29 illustrations, seven are in the Shahnameh style, 11 depict scenes of festivals, births and weddings and 11 depict seated Siddi rulers, including a portrait of Ibrahim Muhammad Yakut Khan I himself. Provincial in style, many exhibit a discernible central Indian or north Deccan influence.
Coming for sale on October 22 from the estate of a British photographer via a private consignor, the manuscript’s current condition does leave something to be desired. Although thought to be complete, it lacks a binding, the folios are all loose and not in order while some pages were trimmed and others had tears and losses.
However, estimated at £8000-12,000, it was much admired both for the quality and quirky nature of the miniatures and as a window on a hitherto little-studied area. There are few comparables in major museum collections.
Roseberys’ Islamic art specialist Alice Bailey said further research promised to shed more light on the role of Sub-Saharan Africans in India – a topic of much recent scholarship.
She said it attracted “a select number of people who really wanted it”.
Following a bidding contest between two phones and other parties online, it was hammered down to a UK-based collector at £170,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) – a record for the department.