- Mid-13th century Ayyubid incense burner from Syria; 3,600 year-old Egyptian limestone bas-relief; and Iranian portrait from 1676 among treasures collected by the Rockefellers
- Most anticipated auction of 2018 includes more than 1,000 items of decorative art and 550 works of fine art expected to raise more than $500 million for a dozen charitable causes
One of the art world’s most anticipated events this decade, selling online at Christie’s from 1-11 May and in saleroom auctions from 8-10 May 2018, the magnificent Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller includes more than 1,000 items of decorative art and 550 works of fine art expected to raise more than $500 million for a dozen charitable causes.
The sales feature a number of pieces with special resonance for the Middle East and Iran, underscoring the Rockefeller’s personal and professional ties to the region, and legacy of conservation, exploration, and cultural understanding, which dates back to 1904.
Highlights from the wider region include:
- A 3,400-year-old Egyptian limestone bas-relief portrait fragment, purchased in the 1920s by David Rockefeller’s mother, as a testament to the family’s extensive travels throughout Egypt and contribution to archeological digs and conservation work there.
- A mid-13thcentury Ayyubid dynasty incense burner from Syria, one of just six of its kind and the only one presently outside a museum. David Rockefeller kept this piece on his desk at One Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York City for two decades.
- A rare Iranian work from 1676 — Portrait Of The Artist Reza ‘Abbasi, regarded as one of the most innovative and influential Safavid artists.
“From the early 20thcentury to today, the Rockefeller family demonstrated an enduring interest in wider Middle East, collecting artworks and supporting conservation, education, and humanitarian efforts through their travels and charitable foundations. We are delighted to offer key examples from this region in the forthcoming Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller auctions, which have provided a global platform to showcase the power and dynamism of cultural patronage and the enduring legacy of philanthrophy,” said Michael Jeha, managing director of Christie’s Middle East.
A Brief Timeline of the Rockefeller Family’s Ties to the wider Middle East Region:
1904: The University of Chicago Oriental Exploration Fund, endowed by the Rockefellers, sends its first field expedition to Bismaya in Iraq.
1929: David’s parents, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, take him on a three-month trip to Egypt and the Near East – his first trip to the region.
1930-1934: The Rockefeller Museum is designed by Austen Harrison, whose design integrates eastern and western architectural elements including a bas-relief of the meeting of Asia and Africa above the main entrance together with ten stone reliefs illustrating different cultures. The inner courtyard features a fountain carved in 1934 with carved stone signage in English and Arabic.
1932: The Rockefeller Foundation provides resources to the region to improve sanitary conditions and public health.
1939: The Rockefeller Foundation provides language study and research grants to select prominent United States universities to encourage the teaching and comprehension of Turkish and Arabic.
1942-1945: David enlists in the United States Army during the Second World War, during which time he serves in North Africa and Western Europe. He is also seconded to Cairo and Jerusalem.
1945-1947: The Nag Hammadi library is discovered in Egypt in 1945. The Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered in Qumran caves beginning in 1947. Research and scholarship is provided in part by Rockefeller related funds and institutions.
1949: The Rockefeller Foundation launches a 12-year program in area studies, designed to promote research leading to “increased understanding of one culture by members of another.” Universities in the US, Canada, Great Britain, France, Turkey, Germany, India and Japan receive grants.
1961–1981: David Rockefeller becomes co-CEO of Chase Manhattan bank. Over the next two decades, the bank expands the business in the Middle East.
1970s: David Rockefeller visits the Middle East an average of two-to-three times per year. Regular stops include Beirut, Damascus, Riyadh, Kuwait City, Tehran, and the UAE.
1973: David Rockefeller meets with Anwar Sadat to open a diplomatic dialogue between Egypt and the United States.
2014: The Rockefeller Foundation sponsors a grant entitled, “Arab World and African Training Company,” which promotes a “pan-African dialogue on the future of the African continent with a focus on integration of the African continent with a focus on integration of the Middle East and North Africa region with Sub-Saharan Africa to promote social and economic development.”