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Even the most elaborate art collections start somewhere. London-based, British-Iranian scholar, collector, and philanthropist, Professor Sir Nasser D Khalili shares how he obtained his first piece.




Born in Iran, Professor Sir Nasser D Khalili has amassed the most extensive private collection of Islamic art in the world. Over the course of five decades, Professor Sir Nasser D. Khalili has assembled eight of the world’s finest art collections. The Eight Collections comprise some 35,000 magnificent works that also include Swedish textiles, enamels of the world, Spanish damascene metalwork, and Japanese decorative art. Pieces from his collections have been exhibited in prestigious institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, the State Hermitage Museum, and the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. To top it all off, this avid collector was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for his lifelong contribution to cultural philanthropy, education, and interfaith relations. It was an honor to meet with him and discuss his very first art piece - A pen box by Mohammad Isma’il, AH 1266 (AD 1849-150)

“When I was a boy in Isfahan, my father used to take me everywhere with him. He was an art dealer like my grandfather, and I was interested from the start: even at age seven, I’d spend my lunch money buying stamps from classmates.

When I was about 12, my dad went to see the former minister of education, Dr. Mehran, and as usual, I went with him. There were some little lacquer boxes lying on the table, and as the adults were talking, I picked up a pen box and started looking at it. When the conversation was over, Dr. Mehran turned to me and said: ‘Son, I’ve been watching you. Why are you so mesmerized by that piece?’



I told him I’d counted all of the horsemen painted on the box and found there were 800; even more wonderful, not one was the same as the next. I was amazed: it wasn’t like an oil painting on a canvas, with room to work and cover any mistakes. This was on a tiny scale, and it was perfect.

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