Record-Breaking Sale: Magnificent World Map Fetches £1.86 Million at Bonhams, Setting New Benchmark for Islamic Scientific Instruments

A 17th-century Safavid brass Mecca Centred World Map. Estimate: £1,500,000-2,000,000

A magnificent and extremely rare Islamic Mecca-centred world map, a masterpiece from Safavid Persia, sold for £1.86 million at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art Sale today (Tuesday 14 November). It had an estimate of £1,500,000-2,000,000. The map, formerly on display at the Harvard Museum of Art, and dating from the last quarter of the 17th century, is the finest and most complete Mecca-centred world map of only three surviving examples (the other two were discovered in 1989 and 1995) and is the most important Islamic scientific instrument ever offered at auction.


Nima Sagharchi, Bonhams Group Head of Middle Eastern, Islamic and South Asian Art commented, “Steeped in historical, scientific, and religious significance, this rare and captivating 17th century Islamic world map, crafted in Safavid Persia, stands as testament to the grandeur and precision of Islamic art and science. We are absolutely delighted with this result.”

“The most important Islamic scientific instrument ever offered at auction”

The discovery of these maps proved a real turning point in the academic understanding of Islamic cartography. Recognized by the historian and author, Dr David King as the only surviving examples of Islamic world maps with localities properly marked on a coordinate grid, the maps revolutionized our understanding of Islamic cartographers and the scientific sophistication of their instruments. King notes, “These instruments are of a kind previously unknown to the history of science.”

A 17th-century Safavid brass Mecca Centred World Map. Estimate: £1,500,000-2,000,000

King continues, “As maps, their most remarkable characteristic is the complex nature of the mathematics underlying the cartography. As artefacts, their importance lies in their being the sole known examples of a medieval cartographic tradition of outstanding sophistication.” 

At its heart, the map’s intent is simple, to guide the beholder to Mecca, yet its historical significance radiates far beyond its use. The map positions Mecca not only as its geographical centre, but in a wider sense, it is representative of a time when the Middle East was itself the intellectual, artistic, and scientific focal point of the world.


Believed to have originated from Isfahan, a city renowned for its masterful metal craftsmanship, the world map is both signed and inscribed with the name of its maker and patron. The artisan behind this masterpiece, identified only as “Husayn” would have belonged to the top echelons of instrument creators for this period. The equally elusive “Sayf Al-Dawleh”, is identified as the patron, an honorific broadly used throughout the Islamic World, meaning “Protector of the Realm”. This title would have been bestowed on a Safavid courtier, nobleman or public official. The world map was on loan to the Harvard Museum for more than 15 years. More recently it has been exhibited at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas.  The map has also featured in numerous prestigious exhibitions and publications including a retrospective of Islamic Metalwork at the Harvard Museum in 2002, and a major exhibition of Saudi archaeology organized by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and the Smithsonian Institution.

“These instruments are of a kind previously unknown to the history of science.”

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest and most renowned auctioneers, offering fine art and collectables, collectors’ cars and a luxury division, which includes jewellery, designer fashion, watches, wine, and whisky. In 2021 and 2022, Bonhams made a number of important acquisitions which form the wider Bonhams network. These include: Bukowskis, Bruun Rasmussen, Bonhams Skinner and Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr. Top lots for 2022 included a 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder (Sold for US$4,185,000), a pair of blue and white octagonal candlesticks (Sold for HK$30,453,00/ US$3,911,913), La femme en rouge au fond bleu by Chaïm Soutine (Sold for £1,842,300/ US$2,236,940), and a rare emerald and diamond Cartier bracelet (Sold for US$3,240,375).

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