A pearl-studded carpet believed to have been created in India more than 100 years ago as a gift for the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad was sold in Qatar Thursday for almost $5.5 million, the auctioneers said.
Sotheby's auction house said it had expected bidding for the Pearl Carpet of Baroda to start at $5 million and believed it would fetch a much higher price.
But the starting price was brought down to $4.5 million because there were few buyers, Sotheby's spokesman Habib Basha told AFP in Doha.
"We had to reduce the opening bid to $4.5 million and the pearl carpet eventually sold at $5.458 million," including commission and fees, he said.
The eventual buyer was one of three bidders but he wishes to remain anonymous, Basha added.
The carpet is traditionally believed to have been commissioned by the maharajah of Baroda as a gift for the Prophet's tomb, which is located in the Muslim holy city of Medina in Saudi Arabia, Sotheby's said on its website.
The maharajah died before the donation was made and the pearl carpet remained in his family. It has an entirely embellished surface, studded with an estimated two million natural seed pearls known as ‘basra’ which were harvested from the waters of the Arabian Gulf, it said.
The carpet was exhibited in 1902-3 as a highlight of the great Delhi Exhibition, and was later moved to Monaco. It was showcased again over 80 years later in 1985 in New York. The carpet was among a host of Islamic art items on auction in Doha.