Iran takes out injunction to block Christie's sale of Palace of Xerxes relief fragment

Iran argues that the artefact was acquired through criminal means, although their failure to speak out when the fragment went to auction previously may undermine their case

The Iranian government is taking high court action to seek the return of an important antiquity which was to have been sold at Christie’s in London on 20 April. The Achaemenid limestone relief fragment of a Persian guardsman, dating from the early fifth century BC, is from the Palace of Xerxes at Persepolis. The estimate was £200/300,000, making it the star lot in the sale of works from a European private collection. Questions about the relief were only raised with Christie’s on 18 April, two days before the auction, when the Iranian authorities argued that it had been removed from the country around 1931, immediately after legislation had been introduced to regulate the export of antiquities. Court action was taken to block the sale, and Christie’s immediately complied. According to the Christie’s catalogue, the relief was acquired by the Armenian New York-based dealer Hagop Kevorkian in “the first half of the 20th century” and it was later sold at Sotheby’s, New York, on 4 May 1974. The court papers suggest that its current owner is Denyse Berend. Last month a Christie’s spokesman said: “As yet we have not been shown any evidence to support the claim and are surprised that Iran raised no objection when the fragment was sold publicly at another auction house in 1974.” Christie’s “strictly adheres to any and all local and international laws” on cultural property, and was happy to comply with the court order, “to give Iran the opportunity to research its claim.” The case is expected to be heard later this year.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Iran claims antiquity from Christie’s'