In Conversation with – Islamic & Indian Art Specialist Beatrice Campi

We were delighted to welcome Beatrice Campi to Chiswick Auctions as Islamic and Indian Art Specialist in January. Beatrice previously worked at Christie’s King Street where she held positions as Senior Client Representative and Sale Coordinator for the Islamic and Indian Art department. Beatrice holds a B.A. degree in Languages, Cultures and Arts of the Middle East and Eurasia from the University of Venice, a Post Graduate Diploma in Asian Arts and an M.A. degree in the History of Art of the Islamic Lands from SOAS University, London.

Ahead of the inaugural auction on 27th April, we talk to Beatrice about the Crown Jewels of Iran, the British Museum’s encrusted Ottoman hardstones collection and what to look out for when buying at auction.

What attracted you to the world of Islamic and Indian Art?

My passion for Islamic and Indian Art goes back to my high school days. I was lucky to have an extraordinary Art History teacher back then. Her knowledge was vast and her methods visionary. She decided that our final exam would determine if we were to pass the year or not and was going to be a project rather than a paper or a presentation; we had to give a lecture on a topic she did not discuss during the year. As she taught us Western Art history from top to bottom, this request led us to explore other artistic productions beyond the borders of the art most familiar to us. As a true art-lover, I wanted to perform well and went to the biggest art library in Milan.

After two weeks of research, I was almost on the verge of giving up; all my fellow students had picked their subjects (Egyptian and Pre-Colombian Arts being the most popular) and I could not find anything that was unique, different and that spoke to me. This was until a new catalogue arrived in the library: Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts of India in the Age of the Mughals, which illustrated a selection of extraordinary lapidary masterpieces of the Mughal court, now exhibited in the Al-Sabah Collection in Kuwait. The lecture was a roaring success and it was then that I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to the study, research and curating of Islamic and Indo-Islamic art.

What areas are you particularly interested in?

My specific area of interest is jewellery, and more specifically the comparison between the three Islamic imperial jewellery productions - Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal. However, I do realise that is quite niche, so my broader areas of interest are metalwork, arms and armours and decorative arts.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.


Do you have a favourite museum and why?

Gosh, that is probably a harder question than do you prefer pasta or pizza or what is my favourite colour! I have favourite museums scattered all across the globe. A little taster: the Victoria and Albert Museum and British Museum in London; the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam; the MET and the Rubin Museum in New York; the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna; and the National Jewellery Treasury Museum in Tehran. They all have extraordinary collections of Islamic and Indian art and the last one in particular houses an astonishing collection of the Crown Jewels of Iran. I always go hunting smaller collections as well, such as the Oriental collection housed in the National Museum in Bucharest, which I am going to admire in May.

Plaque, quiver (part of). Made of jewels inset jade. Ottoman dynasty, 16th-17th Century © British Museum, London.

What is your most memorable work moment to date?

I have been lucky enough to work with some of the best institutions in the field since the start of my career. There are many memorable moments worth mentioning, but one in particular stands out. When I was interning at the British Museum during my MA year, I was given the opportunity to work closely with the encrusted Ottoman hardstones collection, which was also the topic of my dissertation. It was a dream come true; the curator allowed me to research a late 16th century Ottoman jade plaque, which had to be taken off display for me to take professional pictures and analyse under the microscope and UV lights. It was such a thrill to hold the plaque in my hands.

What advice would you give to buyers when bidding at auction?

If possible, always come to the viewing and see the art in person. The objects on view will speak to you more than any PDF, image or video ever will. Photography and online media are a powerful tool in modern day art business, but the bond you create with an artwork the moment you hold it in your hands is worth the trip. And sometimes you will end up buying something completely different from what you planned. Once the bond is there, place your bids in a timely manner. You do not want to miss out on love at first sight!

What top tips would you give to new collectors starting out in this genre?

The first top tip is to ask for provenance. In our world, adhering to international cultural property laws is key and asking for provenance information has become a crucial due diligence procedure to prevent the unlawful loss of the cultural and artistic heritage of the Islamic and Indian lands.

Secondly, if you are new to this genre and not familiar with Islamic or Indian art, explore the incredible variety of artworks produced in the Islamic and Indian lands in London's salerooms and museums and subsequently, develop your own collecting niche. Start by buying one piece that you like and try and learn more about it: what is it made of? Which specific period / dynasty? How is it worked? You will soon develop a sharp eye for your favourite works and that is the best way to start a new collection.