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Disputed fifth-century fragment returns to auction after Iran's injunction blocking its sale thrown out

Reinforced legitimacy adds £500,000 to upper estimate

A fifth-century BC limestone bas-relief of a soldier, believed to be from the palace at Persepolis (modern day Iran), is to be offered for sale at Christie’s, two-and-a-half years after it was withdrawn from one of their auctions.

Known as The Berend Achaemenid Relief, the fragment was withdrawn from a sale in April 2005 when the government of Iran obtained an injunction, arguing that, according to Unesco and Unidroit restitution conventions, its title should be determined in accordance with the law of the artefact’s place of origin.

Iran lost its claim earlier this year when a UK High Court judge ruled in favour of the relief’s owner, the French collector Denyse Berend, confirming that the title to the work remained with her, in accordance with French domestic law.

Iran did not appeal the High Court judgement, as confirmed by its lawyers, Withers. Its Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Office (CHTHO), who says the fragment was “smuggled” from Iran around 70 years ago, has also confirmed that it has not been able to get support from Unesco in forestalling the subsequent sale.

Christie’s says that, as the lawful owner, Mrs Berend can now legally pass this title to its next owner. James Cooper of Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, the law firm that represented Mrs Berend, adds that “an eminent High Court Judge, after hearing evidence over a number of days, has ruled in her favour and found that she has good title to the piece”.

This reinforced title, together with the additional research devoted to the fragment during the court case and a rising market for rare antiquities, mean that the work—originally valued between £200,000-£300,000 ($380,000-$570,000)—is now estimated at £500,000-£800,000 ($1m-$1.6m).

The Iranian government was rumoured to be considering purchasing the fragment, together with other Achaemenid objects offered at the 25 October sale, but Susan Cheraghi, a member of CHTHO’s legal department, recently told a Tehran television network that “Iran will not consider such an option…purchasing them would be senseless considering Iran’s court action against the sale”.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Disputed fragment back on the market Reinforced legitimacy adds £500,000 to upper estimate'