How do I go about appraising this stitched tapestry from Srinagar?
July 19, 2013 10:45 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine was in Srinagar in the 60s, and bought a small tapestry with Arabic writing on it. How do we go about getting it appraised? What does the writing on it say?

My friend wants to get the tapestry appraised and possibly sold at auction. It's about 2'x3'. The story he told me is that this depicts Omar Khayyam in the forest, and was weaved using a "forbidden stitch" - a stitch so fine, people went blind using it. I am pretty sure the writing on it is Arabic.

We think it might be worth something, potentially at an art auction in the Middle East. Can anyone confirm or deny this? How do we go about getting this appraised? And what does the Arabic say? Please let it be one of the Rubayyiat.

These are the pics I took of it (also linked above)
posted by yoz420 to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're looking for recommendations for specific appraisers you might want to mention what your nearest city is. As a general piece of advice I'd say "find a dealer in such items and ask them if they can appraise it or recommend an appraiser." If you have a local auction house that deals in such goods you could also ask there for recommendations. If you think it's really valuable you could send photos to a place like Christies and ask if they'd be interested in appraising it, but it's a 1000-to-one shot that it has anything like that kind of value.

I wouldn't set too much store by the "forbidden stitch" thing, by the way. It's one of those things people know that foreigners like to hear and makes a good sales pitch, but there's not much real history there. Looking at your photos this looks like nice quality work, but certainly not "OMG I've gone blind"-level stitching.
posted by yoink at 10:58 AM on July 19, 2013

My husband says it's written in Farsi. It's Persian.
posted by jbenben at 11:27 AM on July 19, 2013

If you're looking for a keyword or a starting point to knowing ANYTHING about the piece, I can say that this is Kashmiri crewelwork embroidery. You might want to look for people who appraise South Asian embroidery, specifically.

It's also gorgeous. I have a crewelwork piece I bought in India about five years ago, and mine is nice, but it's nothing even approaching the complexity and fine detail of this piece.
posted by Sara C. at 11:28 AM on July 19, 2013

Best answer: The line on the top is a couplet from a ghazal in Farsi/Persian by Hafiz

آسمان بار امانت نتوانست کشید

قرعه کار به نام من دیوانه زدند
posted by bardophile at 11:30 AM on July 19, 2013

Re what it's worth and where to sell it, I think you'd probably get more for it here in the West where it would be sold more as an exotic novelty, rather than in South Asia or the Gulf states where people really know their traditional handicrafts. But a professional appraiser who specializes in South Asian textiles can probably tell you more.

If there are no appropriate appraisers nearby you could also try starting with a local university's Asian Studies department or someone in Art or Art History who specializes in Asian crafts. If there's a museum near you with an Asian wing, that might also be worth looking into.
posted by Sara C. at 11:36 AM on July 19, 2013

Best answer: The bottom line is the opening couplet from another ghazal by Hafiz:

ساقیا برخیز و درده جام را

خاک بر سر کن غم ایام را

Unfortunately, I know Urdu, not Persian, so I can make out individual words, not the meaning.

In Pakistan we would call this aar ka kaam, and you have yourself a gorgeous piece. It's extremely hard to find work so fine.
posted by bardophile at 11:37 AM on July 19, 2013

If you are in the US, you can find appraisers near you with these search tools from the Appraisers Association of America or the American Society of Appraisers.

Both searches will list the specializations of the local appraisers; you're probably looking for someone in Decorative or Fine Arts.
posted by nonane at 11:43 AM on July 19, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all for the answers, we would be looking for an appraiser in the Bay Area.
posted by yoz420 at 11:53 AM on July 19, 2013

Best answer: Here's a good rundown on Kashmiri embroidery styles. I might have been wrong that yours is crewel work specifically. It could be chain stitch, depending on how the background is worked.
posted by Sara C. at 11:58 AM on July 19, 2013

If there are no appropriate appraisers nearby you could also try starting with a local university's Asian Studies department or someone in Art or Art History who specializes in Asian crafts. If there's a museum near you with an Asian wing, that might also be worth looking into.

As someone who has worked on Asian art in academia and a handful of museums, I can tell you that no reputable art historian, curator, etc. should be willing to tell you even as much as you've learned here because of the conflicts of interest that identifying or appraising your tapestry would pose for them. If you ask them for this information, you will probably get a scripted message telling you as much, at best.

Finding an appraiser through the Appraisers Association of America or the American Society of Appraisers is definitely the way to go here. There also appears to be an Asian Art Appraisers Association in San Francisco, although its web presence is weak. (Their contact information appears on the Smithsonian Conservation Institute's page on appraisals, although it looks like it may be quite out of date.)

If these don't pan out, contact larger auction houses (Christie's, Bonhams, etc.) and then smaller dealers or galleries in your area. Bringing the tapestry in or sending them photographs poses liabilities for them and for you, so I'd strongly recommend waiting to show anyone that kind of material until you've had a preliminary conversation and made more formal arrangements for a meeting or official appraisal.
posted by Austenite at 3:42 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

you're probably looking for someone in Decorative or Fine Arts

Actually, you should probably look under Asian art first. "Decorative arts" is more or less synonymous with "Euro-American decorative arts" in museum and auction hierarchies. It looks like the AAA has a special subsection for Asian textiles under Asian art.
posted by Austenite at 3:51 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, Austenite, can you please say more about liabilities created by sending photos to auction houses? This is worrying . . .
posted by yoz420 at 6:16 PM on July 19, 2013

Sure (with the usual disclaimers: IANAL, etc.). Sorry to worry you.

I was thinking of hard copies of photographs, rather than digital images, when I commented. Several places still request those, and they should have a waiver for you to sign when you send photographs or other material about an object that you want appraised. This usually includes language indicating that you accept that those documents/photographs are theirs now, to use as they like.

It's more of a potential headache for them than you, should you send photographs or other materials in an initial communication without their special forms or waivers and then want things returned. I imagine it's unlikely that you or they would get litigious about such a thing, but I'd be lying if I said I'd never heard of that happening.

If you're simply e-mailing different outlets then I don't think you have anything to worry about.
posted by Austenite at 9:22 PM on July 19, 2013

Best answer: Having gone down the rabbit-hole of finding an Urdu translation of Hafiz's deevaan, I can tell you that the couplet on the bottom reads:

Arise, O Saaqi and hand me the cup,
Cast dirt on the cares of the world.

Saaqi literally means cupbearer or tapster. A bartender, if you will. But using Saaqi to address one's beloved is a well-established convention in Urdu and Persian poetry. To 'cast dirt' is to set aside and move on. To bury, basically. So, the couplet can be loosely paraphrased to: "Come, my beloved, let me lose myself in you/ so I can forget my troubles." It's also worth noting that in Sufi poetry, the beloved is delightfully ambiguous in terms of whether we should be imagining a human beloved or the Divine Beloved.

The first couplet is harder. Literally, it says:

The sky was unable to bear the load of trust,
So they drew [in a lottery, or in the cards] my lunatic name.

The annotation in the translation helpfully pointed me to the Quran, Surah 33, Verse 72, which is translated by Yusuf Ali as: We did indeed offer the Trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the Mountains: but they refused to undertake it being afraid thereof: but man undertook it he was indeed unjust and foolish.

So Hafiz is playing with that idea in the couplet. The notion of the poet as a lunatic is also a well-established convention in Persian and Urdu poetry.

I think it's possible to draw a connection between the couplet at the top and the couplet at the bottom, but they come from entirely different ghazals.

Good luck with your appraisal efforts!
posted by bardophile at 11:48 AM on July 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

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