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The collectors who cut up a masterpiece

The sordid practice of disassembling Islamic manuscripts has flourished for over a century. As rare folios go on the market, the art world needs to get ethical

By Christiane Gruber  

A cut-out folio from the Timurid ascension narrative dated to the 1460s on sale at Frieze Masters. Photo: Sameer Rahim

Autumn sees leaves turn gold and tumble to the ground. This October, though, we are also witnessing the fall of other leaves—folios of rare Islamic manuscripts on to the art market.

At London’s Frieze Masters in early October, the dealer Francesca Galloway displayed a folio with three paintings—two on one side and another on the back. The pictures, dating from the 15th century, depict the famous Islamic story of the…

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