President Rivlin intervenes in museum’s auction of ancient Islamic items

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President Rivlin intervenes in museum’s auction of ancient Islamic items

13th-century Mamluk glass bowl, an Ottoman sultan’s helmet and a page from a 900-year old Qur’an were due to go under the hammer in London before Israel's head of state stepped in

President Reuven Rivlin (Photo by: JINIPIX)
President Reuven Rivlin (Photo by: JINIPIX)

A Sotheby’s auction of ancient Islamic art from a cash-strapped Jerusalem museum this week was cancelled at the last minute after Israel’s president stepped in.

More than 200 items ranging from a 13th-century Mamluk glass bowl to an Ottoman sultan’s helmet and a page from a 900-year old Qur’an were due to go under the hammer in London on Tuesday, but the sale was pulled just hours before.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin said the collection had a “greater worth and significance than their monetary value” as he sought to prevent the sale of what he called “cultural assets from the region as a whole”.

Jerusalem’s Museum for Islamic Art is facing a cash crisis, tourist revenue having been slashed as a result of the pandemic. Israel’s Culture Ministry has been trying to stop the auction, which could raise £7.5 million the museum needs to survive.

The museum said the items for sale had been in a storeroom and that it was not selling its most valuable pieces, including a self-winding Breguet watch intended as a gift for Marie Antoinette, which took four decades to make. Stolen in 1983, it was recovered in 2007 and is worth more than £20 million.


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