Sotheby's will be staging an auction of Indian and Southeast Asian art works later this month, and one of the highlights is truly breathtaking - the gorgeous Pearl Canopy of Baroda, which features thousands of jewels sewn onto silk.
The canopy is believed to have been created in 1865, shortly after the fall of the Mughal Empire in Southeast Asia. However, the beautiful piece is regarded as a continuation of art from that period, which is considered "the golden age of Indian art".
Commissioned by the Maharaja of Baroda - the equivalent of modern-day Gujarat - the Persian-influenced canopy features over 500,000 pearls, alongside numerous diamonds, sapphires, rubies and emeralds. A central flower is encircled by floral vines formed by coloured beads.
The staggering amount of jewels was most likely due to the Maharaja's fondness for precious stones - the ruler of a rich sovereign state, then independent of India, he famously purchased the 'Star of the South' in 1867: one of the largest diamonds in the world at the time.
The canopy was part of a set of four; only one other remains and was sold in 2009 for an incredible $5.4m. In addition to its rarity, the Canopy of Baroda had not been seen in public for over a century, until it was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2010.
The canopy really is a symbol of the sheer decadence enjoyed by the Maharajas of India in the 19th Century. The brilliant craftsmanship and scarcity of such pieces mean it is expected to realise between $3-5m.
It will almost certainly be the subject of fierce bidding between a fairly exclusive set of collectors and investors. Asian art is becoming increasingly popular; for example, Christie's are holding an Asian Art week at the end of March, which we wrote about here.
With thousands of new millionaires in emerging economies like India and China looking to preserve parts of their culture, the Pearl Canopy of Baroda could easily become one the most expensive pieces of Indian art ever sold on March 24th.
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