Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

Missing for years, recovered manuscript by Persian poet Hafez to go on sale at auction

The Divan of Hafez, made in the 15th century and filled with gold-leaf pages, was stolen in 2007 and found by an art detective last year

A stolen 15th-century book by the famed Persian poet Hafez has been recovered by a Dutch art detective after an international "race against time" that drew the alleged interest of Iran's secret service. The gold-leafed volume worth around one million euros ($1.1 million) was found to be missing from the collection of an Iranian antiques dealer after his death in Germany in 2007. AFP
A stolen 15th-century book by the famed Persian poet Hafez has been recovered by a Dutch art detective after an international "race against time" that drew the alleged interest of Iran's secret service. The gold-leafed volume worth around one million euros ($1.1 million) was found to be missing from the collection of an Iranian antiques dealer after his death in Germany in 2007. AFP

The Divan of Hafez, a manuscript of poems by the 14th century Persian poet that went missing for years and was recovered last year, will go on sale at auction this April.

Hafez is a celebrated figure in Persian literature and poetry. Born in Shiraz in 1315, he wrote ghazals of love and spirituality that still resonate with Iranians today through proverbs and sayings. He died in 1390.

Featuring pages filled with gold leaf, the Divan dates back to 1462 and is one of the oldest existing copies of Hafez’s collected poems. Consisting of 159 handwritten pages, it also features illustrations by calligrapher Shaykh Mahmud Pir Budaqi.

The manuscript was stolen in 2007 after the death of its then-owner Jafar Ghazi, an Iranian antiques dealer and art collector in Germany. Some of the items taken from the dealer’s collection were eventually recovered by police in 2011, but not the Divan.

The German police eventually put out a reward for 50,000 Euros (Dh208,000) for whoever could recover it.

Dutch art detective Arthur Brand, who has tracked down other missing artworks such as a Picasso painting and a pair of bronze horses sculpted for Adolf Hitler, found it in 2019.

During his search in 2018, he heard word from an Iranian art dealer that Iranian embassy officials were also on the hunt for the manuscript.

Brand beat them to it; he tracked down a man in London who bought the manuscript not knowing it was stolen. Brand persuaded the buyer, who wanted to confront the original seller to get his money back, to hand over the manuscript to the German authorities through an intermediary.

The Divan is going to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in London on April 1, and is estimated to sell for £80,000-£120,000 (Dh379,000-Dh568,000). Ghazi’s heirs had put many of his other manuscripts up for auction in the past.

Updated: March 11, 2020 12:21 PM

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