Iran loses UK court battle over Persepolis fragment

Iranian lawyers argued that any rights to the fifth-century bas-relief should be relinquished to its country of origin

The Iranian government has lost its claim to gain possession of a fifth-century BC Achaemenid limestone bas-relief fragment from Persepolis, consigned to auction in London.

The relief was originally from a staircase in the palace at Persepolis built by Xerxes I (486-465BC). It was withdrawn only two days before it was due to be sold in Christie’s “Faces of the Ancient World” sale in April 2005 (est £200,000-£300,000).

The relief was from the collection of Mme Denyse Bérend, a French resident who purchased it at auction in New York in 1974.

The lawyers for Iran argued in a London court that according to Unesco and Unidroit conventions, title to national treasures and works of art should be determined in accordance with the law of the artefact’s place of origin.

The Iranian case hinged on the argument that the court in London should apply the doctrine of “renvoi” that would allow the ruling to be made under Iranian law. It also relied on an exception being made to the principle in French law known as “lex situs” in which title is conferred by the law of the country where the object is situated.

In his ruling last month, Mr Justice Eady came down in favour of Mme Bérend, concluding that “there was no good reason to introduce the doctrine of renvoi and that the title to the fragment should thus be determined in accordance with French domestic law”.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 178 March 2007