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  • Christie's Removes Five Spanish Beams From Sale of Islamic Art
    03.04.2006 By Linda Sandler and Vernon Silver, www.bloomberg.com

    Christie's International said it withdrew from an auction five beams from a Cordoba mosque, valued at as much as 1.2 million pounds ($2 million). The Spanish government and the Cordoba church challenged the sale, in another sign countries are increasingly vigilant about their treasures.

    ``Christie's is in dialogue with the Spanish authorities with a view to negotiating a private sale for the five wooden beams from Cordoba,'' Christie's spokeswoman Christina Freyberg said in an e-mailed statement. ``Therefore, Christie's has agreed to withdraw the beams from Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds sale on April 4 in order to continue these discussions.''

    Christie's sale tomorrow is part of a series of Islamic art auctions in London. The ornamental beams from the former Great Mosque of Cordoba, originally scheduled to be offered individually at prices from 100,000 pounds to 300,000 pounds, were among the week's most expensive lots.

    ``One of the most important Islamic buildings in the Western world has won its legal challenge to prevent several of its treasured beams from being sold at auction,'' the law firm Irwin Mitchell, which is representing the Church of Cordoba, said in an e-mailed statement.

    ``The church argued that the beams should not be sold as they have strong grounds to assert that the church retains ownership of the beams,'' it said, adding that the law firm had threatened an injunction against Christie's to prevent the sale.

    Robbed From Tombs

    The Spanish government's intervention came as source countries for antiquities, including Egypt, Italy and Greece, are demanding and winning the return of objects they say were illegally dug up or exported. In February, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art agreed to give Italy 21 antiquities, including a 2,500-year-old vase by the Greek artist Euphronios, that the Italian government said had been robbed from tombs and archaeological sites.

    Egypt is demanding the St. Louis Art Museum return a mummy mask that it says was stolen from a warehouse and that the museum says it bought in good faith after asking Egyptian authorities if they had any claim to it. Greece is demanding the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles return four objects from its collection. The Getty is also in talks with Italy over disputed antiquities.

    The mosque's roof was restored in the early 18th century, when some of the original beams may have been sold or re-used in other buildings, according to Christie's catalog for the sale.

    Spanish authorities moved last month to try to delay the sale, citing a 1985 law that all goods older than 100 years must have an export license when they leave Spanish territory, Agence France-Presse reported in Madrid on March 9.

    Found in Barn

    The beams were found in a barn where they lay for decades, Christie's said in its catalog, citing the previous owner, whom it didn't identify.

    ``The verbal tradition in the family (of the owner) was that they had come originally through a property they had owned years ago in the region of Arles, southern France,'' the catalog said. ``For them to have been on the market at the turn of the century in an area where there was always considerable interest in things Moorish is very probable.''