At the Time of the First Portraits
On June 8 in New York, Christie's sells a limestone mask made in the Judean Desert. The age of this object is about 8000 to 9000 years. It is remarkably well preserved thanks to the severe drought conditions in the region.
The specific location where the mask was found is not indicated in the catalog. It should not be very far from Jerichowhere a permanent settlement protected by a wall already existed for 3000 years.
Art was not invented in Jericho. The painted caves and the Venus of the Paleolithic were much more ancient. However,the climatic conditions enabled to restart in Judea a new civilization that will eventually generate the modern world.
The earliest realistic portraits currently identified were realized in Jericho at the same time as our mask. These painted skulls had a role for the communication with the dead.
The mask for sale is stylized, but the facial proportions are perfect. It is very thick and too heavy to be worn by a living human. The secret of its use may be one day revealed by the five small holes in its periphery, with which they couldmaybe hang it or add a hair.
This piece is estimated $ 400K.
5000 years ago - Cycladic Marble Idols and Goddesses
2008 SOLD 1.3 M$ including premium
The male Cycladic marble idol 30 cm high which Sotheby's will sell in New York on June 5 is inevitably an exceptional piece, because one usually does not advance an estimate of 1,2 M$ on this type of object. Let us wait for details.
The catalogue is now on line and our idol is lot 13, but besides the fact that the object is now visible I remain hungry of details, because contrary to the practices of the auction house there are no accurate historical or artistic details in the text.
The figure is male. Its attitude is modern, upright with the arms folded in front of him. The expression is serious, somebody who is not there to have fun, the legs are those of an athlete. 5000 years old, this statuette is much more realistic than the rudimentary Cycladic idols than one generally sees. It however leaves me rather marble (it is one!) compared to the pretty Sumerian orantes of the same time that one sees appearing sometimes on sale in Paris.
In the files of Sotheby's, one finds especially goddesses, in a very similar position. From 2003 to 2005, three female marble statuettes around 20 cm high were sold between 260 and 310 K$, one of their colleagues remaining below 220 K$ in 2006.
All these pieces appear complete, which because of the protected position of the arms mostly means that the legs are not broken.
Ours is thus the only man among all these females. It is largest, oldest and most expressive. Will this set of qualities push it four times higher than the most expensive of these ladies? Let me have some doubt.
POST SALE COMMENT
The Cycladic idol was sold $ 1.3 million fees included, therefore it is around the low estimate.
4500 years ago - The Cycladic Canon
2016 SOLD for £ 1.2M including premium
Over such a long period, different phases have been defined. All these figures, however, have many similarities suggesting that they met an artistic canon in the same way as the canon of Buddha 3000 years later. The great care to follow some geometrical laws anticipates Polycletus by 2500 years.
The Cycladic marble figures most often show pregnant women protecting their belly with their folded arms. The body is composed of five parts of equal height. The carved details of the body are stylized and very sharp. The improvement in the technique of sculpture brought the separation of the thighs.
The position of the feet does not enable to stand up. The head slightly thrown backwards confirms that they are used as recumbents. They were colored : some units preserve the traces of pigments absorbed by the stone.
The Spedos variety, spanning two centuries around 4500 years ago, marks a culmination of this art. On July 6 in London, Christie'ssells a late Spedos figure, lot 36 estimated £ 300K. This statuette 40 cm high is amputated below the knees. It is much appealing with a nice rounding of the head, shoulders and hips.
It is slightly earlier in style to the work of the Schuster Master. A complete figure meeting this designation, 29 cm high, was sold for $ 16.9 million including premium by Christie's on December 9, 2010. The angular shoulders, less realistic, are paving the way for the modern art of the bygone eras. The triangle of the lower abdomen highlights the symbol of fertility.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's announcing the Spedos figure of the next sale:
Liangzhu Culture - The Eyes of the Cong
2019 sold for HK$ 9.6m including premium
The polishing of jade was already practiced in China three millennia before the Liangzhu culture. Its hardness and durability made it the preferred material for liturgical objects. At the time of Liangzhu, two shapes were very abundant, bi and cong, probably used together in funerary rituals.
The bi is a flat disc with a central hole. The cong is a complex tubular form whose outer wall is a square appearing over the cylinder on all or part of the height.
Each corner of the cong is used to position on both sides an archaic mask of taotie, similar as 1,000 years later on the Shang and Zhou bronze vessels but with a simpler style which brings in the best cases a good readability of the face.
The proportions of the Liangzhu cong have a high variety that has not been explained. A 24 cm high narrow tube with its square section divided into nine registers was sold for HK $ 8.5M including premium by Christie's on November 29, 2017.
On May 29, 2018, Bonhams sold for HK $ 21.7M including premium a Liangzhu cong 8.4 cm wide with two registers. The lower illustrations, centered on the rather flattened ridges, undeniably represent faces, each one with both concentric eyes, the nose and the mouth. On the upper register the image is stylized up to abstraction, as an ultimate figure of the creature to which the mysterious liturgy is addressed.
On April 2 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a cong made around the mid Liangzhu period 4,500 years ago, lot 3020 estimated HK $ 8M. This piece 10 cm wide with flattened corners has the proportions of a bracelet but certainly did not have such a use.
Its extremely thin carving is very well preserved on half of the surface. The very detailed eyes that widen in the direction of the temples are not human.
The Secret of the Feline
On December 13 in New York, Christie's sells an antique statuette 26 cm high, estimated $ 600K, showing a feline in a hostile attitude. It has not revealed its secrets.
The shape of the beast is realistic. The sitting position is a demonstration of power accentuated by the open mouth uncovering the fangs. This animal foles to protect something that has now disappeared, the entrance to a temple or the access to a treasure.
Perhaps a spotted panther rather than just a cat, the animal is made of dark gray chlorite and his skin is inlaid by an artistic pattern of small kidney shaped motifs in white limestone.
This zoomorphic statuette was executed a little more than 4000 years ago. It is a few centuries later than some masterpieces of human-animal hybrid figuration such as the Guennol lioness or the Sphinx of Giza.
This piece surfaced half a century ago in a Lebanese collection. There is no doubt about a West Asian origin, but we would like to know more.
The use of chlorite in vases and statuettes was practiced by a very recently discovered civilization between Euphrates and Indus. It is interesting to suppose that this feline was born outside Mesopotamia, the dominant cultural center of the period in this region. We will not know more until similar works come to daylight.
The Age of Polished Stone
The birdstone is a 8 to 16 cm long zoomorphic figure that appears in a much extended region in the east of current-day United States of America. Common characteristics demonstrate that its use corresponded to a specific ritual practiced by several tribes. With its two perforated ridges aligned below the body, this artifact could be the pommel of a rod.
In 1950 in Indiana, a farm worker harvests potatoes. He unearths one of the finest examples of birdstones. This piece 10 cm long and 4.5 cm wide is currently identified as the Parks Birdstone from the name of one of its early owners.
Is it a bird? The general shape is that of a nesting bird and its fan tail, very rare on this type of figure, confirms this interpretation. The head would rather evoke a dog whose button shaped ornaments would be the ears.
In perfect condition, this birdstone is in porphyry covered with a bluish hue adorned by elegant large spots in cream color. This use of a very hard stone, the balance of the composition and the elegance of the surface rank this piece at the high end of its category. It was carved in the final phase of the Neolithic era less than 4,000 years ago.
The Parks Birdstone was discussed in this column before it passed at Morphy Auctions on May 17, 2014 with a final bid of $ 300K. It is estimated $ 250K for sale by Cowan's in Cincinnati on April 5, lot 22.
The Olmec Culture
2013 SOLD 480 K€ including premium
There are still mounds, mosaics, artefacts made by them 3200 to 2500 years ago. For the pleasure of anthropologists, these people began to develop a rudimentary writing towards the end of that period. Despite all the difficulties of interpretation, the Olmec culture is one of those which provide information on the genesis of civilizations and on the forgotten complexity of such societies considered as 'primitive'.
The vast site of La Venta was explored. For ritual reasons, a whole landscape had been shaped, offering facilities for feasts, drama and even sports.
On March 22 in Paris, Sotheby's sells an Olmec statuette of the Barbier-Mueller collection. 10 cm high, this piece from the region of La Venta is in serpentine, a semi-precious mineral quite abundant on this site.
The sitting man is strong, maybe a wrestler. His attitude is flexible and careful. The right hand is placed on the left arm, the position of the head and the smile invite to communication. These psychological qualities are astonishing when considering that this figure was made 2900 to 2600 years ago in a country which was then completely isolated from the rest of the world.
Estimated € 300K, this is not one of the top lots of the Barbier-Mueller auction sale of pre-Hispanic art, but the collector designated it as his favorite piece because of its profoundly human qualities. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
Interesting result around the higher estimate for this nice statuette that was very early but of small size: € 480K including premium.
Mythical Monsters of Ancient Times
3100 to 3400 years ago, while Egypt, Mesopotamia and China got stabilized, northern Iran was still occupied by warlike groups, certainly nomads. The excavations of Marlik, south-west of the Caspian Sea, have revealed a funerary art which is still the only remaining traces of an advanced civilization.
The artists knew the precious metals, which they crushed and chiseled. Like the Egyptians and later the Assyrians, they worshiped and represented composite beings, among which lions with attributes of birds. Their cups show these creatures in a frieze in repetitive patterns, sometimes in two registers.
The cup for sale on December 5 in Paris by Pierre Bergé et Associés is decorated on a single register of a particularly violent scene, illustrated thrice. A lion with a mane of feathers and huge wings descends just like an eagle onto a bull that falls.
The piece shaped by crushing is in electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver with in this case 88% gold for a total weight of 118 grams. It is a heeled cylinder very slightly flared, much balanced: 10 cm in both height and diameter.Details of the animals are finely incised, same as a narrow upper stripe of geometric pattern. It is already a work of complex artistic design: the violence of the scene is enhanced by a tangle of the characters that harms the readability.
For this interesting example of modern art of very ancient times, it takes € 500K.
from later bronze age
2011 BOTH UNSOLD
To combine usage with pleasure, the Chinese liked that their vessels have sinuous, almost anthropomorphic, curves.The hu shape, which was one of the most popular, goes back to the archaic bronzes of the Shang period.
This preamble allows me to introduce a beautiful hu vase, for sale by Sotheby's in New York on September 14, as a precursor of modern art.
It is dated by the catalog circa the transition period between the Shang and the Western Zhou, a little more than 3000 years ago. This is a great piece of bronze 41 cm high, finely carved over its entire surface with zoomorphic forms andwith symbols, and dominated of course by fierce taotie in high relief.
This exceptional piece, illustrated in the catalog, is estimated $ 2.5 M.
This sale also includes a yi vessel from Shang period, estimated $ 1.5 M. Although this shape is rare, it is very similar to the yi previously discussed in this group, which was sold £ 1.2 million including premium on May 12, 2011 byBonhams. I checked, this can not be the same piece.
These masterpieces mark the end and the top of the Bronze Age. The Iron Age began in the Zhou dynasty.
Western Zhou - Safe Water with Tigers
2018 SOLD for £ 410K before fees
New shapes appeared. The basin was elevated on three or four high and thin legs to be used as a kettle. The open form of the ding is the most common. At the end of the Shang dynasty the zun is partially enclosed in its top and equipped with a removable cover. With its long cylindrical spout the ying of the Western Zhou already looks like a teapot.
The solidity and stability of bronze excite the ancient artists and the four legs invite to fully zoomorphic figurations anticipating from two millennia the aquamaniles of the Middle East. Small animal figures in round bump also appear on various pieces.
Ying is extremely rare. One of them was sold for $ 470K including premium by Sotheby's on March 19, 2002 in the auction of the Ellsworth collection. A tiger standing on the handle of the pot poses its front legs on the handle of the removable lid, ready to pounce on a reclining bull. An inscription identifies a person who is either the artist or a dedicatee.
Only five other ying were known, all in museums. The piece sold by Sotheby's was the only ying with a tiger.
A seventh ying has just surfaced somewhere in Kent with period letters that identify where it came from. In 1860 just after the sack of the Summer Palace, a captain of the Royal Marines bought it in the auction organized on the site by the British command to disperse the looting. A thermoluminescence report is available.
This tripod ying 26 cm high weighing more than 4 kg is mounted on a trifoliate base in zitan from Qing period. The surfaces are carved. The piece is decorated with two tigers. These symbols of animal power and of protection against demons are somehow guaranteeing that the liquid has not been contaminated by the container.
One of the tigers is lying in a realistic round bump on the cover. The other more stylized feline surrounds the spout in an ithyphallic position. Without having the dramatic effect of the Ellsworth specimen this pot is also one of a kind. It is estimated £ 120K for sale in Canterbury on April 11 by The Canterbury Auction Galleries, lot 450. See also its description and story in the blog post published by the auction house.
Western Zhou - A Four Legged Gui
The gui form, already practiced under the Shang, is particularly appreciated 3000 years ago by the 'Western' Zhou for pieces of high prestige, richly decorated with the classic symbols whose meaning has not been deciphered. 'Gui' means the open globular shape of the pot, which can be superposed over various elements. The handles are used to carry and not to pour the sacred food.
On September 13 in New York, Christie's sells a gui bronze. It is cast with four legs, a Zhou innovation compared to the classic three legs of Shang vessels. These legs are zoomorphic with hooves. It is 19 cm high overall with an opening 18 cm in diameter. This piece is a Zuo bao yi gui, because it bears within its bowl the phonetically transcribed mark Zuo bao yi, meaning "made precious vessel".
This specimen is described in the catalog of the ritual bronzes from the imperial collection published in the mid 18th century at the request of the Qianlong emperor. It is estimated $ 4M, lot 888. Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
The comparison with another Zuo bao yi gui of the same period, sold for $ 6.7M including premium by Sotheby's on September 17, 2013 from the Eberhardt collection, allows to try some interpretations.
The two gui are very different in their realization, with an important relief in the bronze figures of the Eberhardt specimen. There is therefore no common origin in their production. Zuo bao yi thus appears as a generic formula to attest that the vase has been sanctified, without a need to identify the artist or the patron. Note however that the writing has been inscribed with a stylus in the clay before the bronze was cast.
The Eberhardt specimen is not on feet but on a base. It is thus elevated for an exclusively ritual need, since it is impossible to bring a stove from below.
evolution of the chinese ritual bronzes
On September 16 in New York, Sotheby's sells a hu jar designed to contain fermented beverages, lot 122 estimated $ 2.8M. Some of its features display an evolution from the Shang-Zhou transition, and such a timeline allows to position it in the middle of the period of the Western Zhou, around 2900 years ago.
This tall piece 58 cm high of baluster form on a square base is complete with its cover and two side rings. Inscriptions on lid and body are consistent enough to ensure that it still has the original cover. This hu has a shining grayish-green patina in harmony with green malachite inlay.
Its decor is the modern art of its time, although extremely stylized dragons and birds had already figured in earlier periods. Unlike its predecessors in which every available surface was incised, its smooth surfaces on three partitioned registers follow an artistic intention that has been very successful.
Another interesting element is that the taotie have disappeared, superseded by simple diamond shaped figures, as if civilization had rejected their mysterious power among the legends.
At the time of Qianlong, this vase was among the imperial collections of 3500 archaic bronzes that were described by the Chinese experts of the court. It was an element of a pair whose other specimen whose cover is now missing is kept at the Taipei Palace Museum.
A character phonetically translated as zha may be the name of the artist. This piece that has been submitted to successive epigraphic interpretations for nearly two centuries is now named Zhou Zha Hu.
Eastern Zhou - Crossbow Poles
2020 SOLD for £ 1.52M including premium by Christie's
narrated post sale in 2020
It is the birth of the luxury object, now exempted from ritual use. It is a sign of power for its owner and accompanies him into the grave. The most exquisite pieces are for the use of kings.
On November 3, 2020, Christie's sold a pair of chariot fittings for £ 1.52M including premium from a lower estimate of £ 600K, lot 12. Please read the article prepared by the auction house, including a video.
The two elements, 26 cm long each, are sumptuously inlaid with gold and silver, on the theme of the dragon swallowing a phoenix. The Zhou dynasty established the dragon and phoenix as symbols of the king and queen.
These pieces were produced at the time of the Eastern Zhou, after the fall of the Western Zhou, 2400 to 2300 years ago. Their use is known from war chariots found in tombs, including that of the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang, in 210 BCE.
The pair constitutes two openwork poles installed side by side at the front of the chariot. The waving necks of the phoenixes and the open mouths of the dragons serve as hooks to draw the string of a crossbow. For such a luxury item, the use cannot be military. It is probably ceremonial.
#AuctionUpdate a magnificent pair of gold and silver-inlaid bronze chariot fittings achieved £1,522,500 in the Important Chinese Art sale. Intricately decorated, the chariot fittings are cast in the shape of a dragon pursuing a phoenix. pic.twitter.com/bglJ6aNKBM— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) November 3, 2020
eastern zhou - THE BIRD OF THE NOMADS
In China 2700 years ago, the progressive weakening of the Emperor against the feudal lords opens a period of regression leading two centuries later to endemic civil wars. This is the period of the Eastern Zhou.
The rivalry between the princes had an unexpected impact on the diversity of art. The role of the vessels remains mostly ritual, but practical solutions are also sought to carry the wine in the nomadic movements.
An interesting bronze vase is estimated $ 4M, for sale by Sotheby's in New York on March 18, lot 18 in the catalog.Its recent history is already legendary : this piece that may be unique in its kind was supposedly discovered by an expert in Shanghai in 1861 in a shop of metal recycling.
This tall vessel 47 cm high has a pear-shaped body ('hu' vase) topped with a bird's head cover. The body in olive green patina is streaked by thirty sober grooves inlaid with malachite. These features may not address an object of luxury. A clever system of two hinged handles guided by rings certainly enabled an easier transport.
The zoomorphic head has the globular eyes and small ears of an owl. The long hooked beak of the raptor swings back to let the liquid pass, giving this piece some features of an ewer.
The ritual use must not, however, be ruled out. In China as in Greece, the owl is a mythical bird that fascinates humans through its straight gaze and awe inspiring cry.
Neo-Babylonian - The Records of Nebuchadnezzar
2014 SOLD 605 K$ including premium
At the inauguration of a religious monument, it was common that the reasons of its consecration to a specific god are recorded on such clay structures, in a tight writing. The original tablets were buried in the foundations of the new temple as a symbol of the everlasting and mystical glory of the reigning monarch.
One may wonder why such a literary and historiographical attempt was made for being immediately hidden. I guess that these plates were also used as seals or at least as models to create more fragile copies that have not survived.
The temples of the city of Sippar, between Baghdad and Babylon, housed one of the biggest cuneiform libraries.
On April 9 in New York, Doyle sells a large barrel shaped cylinder 21 cm long, which is devoted to the reconstruction of a temple to the sun god Shamash at Sippar by Nabu-kudurri-usur 2600 years ago. This document is estimated $ 300K .
Better known with his Biblical name of Nebuchadnezzar II, this king of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty was one of the most powerful monarchs of antiquity, considered by the Jews as an intimidating enemy of monotheism. The creation of the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon is attributed to his sumptuous reign.
POST SALE COMMENT
The Cuneiform cylinder was sold for $ 605K including premium.
This lot is illustrated post sale by Paul Fraser.
An Achaemenid Rhyton
2009 SOLD 210 K€ including premium
In antiquity, the rhyton is a usual object also intended for libation or for liturgy. It is a horn-shaped funnel, in which the liquid to drink is placed. It is an interesting example of a utensil for which the primitive man imitated an animal attribute but adapted its use. In the most beautiful models, the opening is closed by a sculpted figure.
On November 27 in Paris (Hôtel Drouot), Boisgirard sells a rhyton of Achaemenid period. Dating back to some 2500 to 2600 years ago, it was a contemporary of the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great.
This piece, estimated 160 K€, is made in silver. Its size is typical for this type of utensil: 25 cm. The horn is finely carved with geometric designs and a small frieze of animals. It ends at the bottom, as required, by a nice sculpture showing a squatting calf.
POST SALE COMMENT
Good results have been recorded in this sale. Among them, our rhyton exceeded its low estimate, being sold at 210K € including premium. An element of sarcophagus on the theme of Hercules' labours was sold 680K € including premium.
I introduce a small correction: the animal that graces the rhyton as a protome is a ram, not a calf, according to the catalog and to the press releases.
Egypt Late Period - The Happiness of being Apis
Never has a living beast been more cherished than Apis. A long fluvial procession on the Nile ensured his transfer from the meadow to the sanctuary. At the season of mating the most beautiful heifer was presented to him. His death was celebrated in a mourning of 70 days as such a duration was needed to embalm him.
Apis personalized sexual potency and fertility and his entire career was festive. In Egyptian imagery he shared with Pharaoh the symbol of the protective cobra standing on his forehead. He also carried the sun disc between the withers and the top of the horns.
The statues of the Apis bull were realistic to display at best the attributes of his canon. On April 18 in New York, Christie'ssells as lot 54 a 58 cm long Apis in granodiorite, the superb Egyptian black stone. Its lustrous polish is typical of the pre-Ptolemy nationalist period when the capital had been returned to Memphis.
Apis is sculpted in the round. He has between the legs a stele decorated on both sides with a papyrus pattern whose significance was mainly decorative since the adult animal no longer went into the meadows. The hair system is incised with the necessary details including strand, eyebrows, mane and tail. He keeps his sun and cobra but in the photos of the catalog the hooves seem missing.
Apis was unique in Memphis but had imitators in other cities especially when the country was politically divided. In the absence of an inscription on the statuette it is impossible to conclude whether the bull at Christie's is an Apis, a Buchis from the region of Thebes or a Mnevis from Heliopolis.
FIGURE OF A MOCHICA CHIEF
2011 SOLD 250 K€ INCLUDING PREMIUM
American civilizations developed independently of Asia and Europe. Their art has taken forms that seem unusual, but their ritual had many points in common with the rest of the world.
Thus, as in Egypt, as in China, artefacts accompanied the body in the burial. One of those strange anthropomorphic fetishes in copper, gold and shells is for sale in Paris on December 12 by Castor Hara. It dates from the beginning of the Mochica culture, on the coast of Peru 2100 to 1700 years ago.
In very good condition, it is a combination of three separate elements, for a total height of 1.20 m after assembly. The stylish body is very expressive, the look is aggressive, the hairstyle is prominent and the members are in combat position.
The pre-Columbian art is often difficult to sell and the estimate, € 300K, may be ambitious.
POST SALE COMMENT
The estimate was ambitious, but fortunately the reserve price was reasonable. This interesting figure was sold € 250K including premium.
A CHINESE SUIT FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
2011 SOLD 140 K$ BEFORE FEES
This piece is unusual. I begin by inviting you to look carefully at the three photos shared on the online auction platform LiveAuctioneers.
You first see a human lying form. It is a suit. The torso, gloves, arms, legs, are designed to cover the body. Slippers encircle the feet, and an oval hood fully wraps the head. The eyes, nose and mouth are marked clumsily, which proves the primitive feature of the whole.
All this is made up of small rectangular plaques of jade knotted together by metal wires. See for example on the picture that the torso is made of eighteen rows of eighteen plaques.
The catalog admits that the jade has become opaque and the wires became brittle. This is in line of some great antiquity, but from the picture no element seems missing, as if this relic was just coming out of a very long hibernation, perhaps never having been used.
The catalog provides the key to the enigma: it is a Chinese burial suit. Jade was supposed to protect the corpse against decay.
This custom was practiced by the Han, 2000 years ago. Archaeologists had heard that story but did not believe it,until a first specimen was discovered in a tomb in 1968. They then observed that the nature of the wire, gold, silver,metal or silk, is an indicator of the social rank of the dead.
The sale is organized by St. Charles Gallery in New Orleans on January 22. The lot is estimated $ 150K.
POST SALE COMMENT
Atypical pieces are often difficult to sell. This one is announced as sold at $ 140K before fees on the catalog in LiveAuctioneers.
33 BCE The Genius of the Lamp
2010 SOLD 1.15 M$ including premium
This object, specifically a lamp stand, consists of two sculptures on a pedestal. One of them is a twisting trunk on top of which several branches are used to hang the lamps. Before it is the sculpture of a friendly boy. The total height being 80 cm, I estimate the thickness of the base to about 10 cm, the tree at 70 cm and 30 cm for the character. There are still some traces of silver.
A feature of the art of the late Republic and early Empire is that it serves to show to the Roman people the likeness and figure of the emperors, of their immediate family and of the pretenders to power. Possible themes are limited to the point that experts provide a plausible identification of the genius of our lamp.
The boy, aged six or seven years, is dressed as an Armenian, particularly with a high pyramidal headdress. In 719 of the Roman calendar, 2043 years ago, Marc Antony, master of the East since the partition of Brindisi, is sharing power with his two sons. Armenia is entering the field of Alexander Helios, aged six years.
I said above that this sculpture is friendly. The young Alexander (let us name him so) has a cheerful and dynamic attitude, a raised arm showing his will, his legs in position of walking. Whether or not the son of Antony, this young Roman disguised as a little Eastern prince is a masterpiece.
On December 5 in New York, Christie's sells a pair of bronze groups, each one 52 cm long showing a very young girlready to catch a partridge.
The realism of these figures is remarkable. The carving is very neat, and the state of preservation is excellent. One of the girls even kept her inlaid eyes.
As always for ancient bronzes of complex composition, it is an assembly, not a bulk casting. The attitudes of the twochildren and of the two birds and the children's faces are different one another. The set was intentionally created for being exhibited as a pair.
This scene is lively and funny, without any intention of religion or symbolism. It was made for the only purpose ofpleasantly furnishing a wealthy Roman villa, for the pleasure of art.
The Romans loved Greek art and realistic representations of all ages in life. No model of this theme is known, and for this reason it can be regarded as authentic Roman art.
It is difficult to date this pair, but the above considerations invite to converge towards the beginning of the Roman Empire, 2000 years ago.
This set is estimated $ 3M.
The Matron of the Roman Empire
The laws of succession established by Augustus leave a selecting choice to the reigning Emperor, but in practice, up toNero, only the members of his family will have a chance to gain power.
Some personalities who did not reign had a pivotal role in strengthening this dynasty. This was the case of Agrippina,granddaughter of Augustus and wife of Germanicus, a woman with a strong personality who was one of the last to symbolize the virtues of the Roman matron.
On December 19 in Paris, the auction house Delorme et Collin du Bocage sells a marble bust of Agrippina,announced as a presumed portrait although the young woman seems quite recognizable. Roman portraits are known for their realism.
This bust 55 cm high could make a perfect pendant with the portrait of her husband Germanicus, sold $ 8.1 millionincluding premium by Sotheby's on December 6. It can not be justified with a prestigious ancient provenance and is estimated € 400K.
The catalog makes no documented assumption concerning the date. Again making a parallel with Germanicus, I note that when their son Caligula ascended the throne in 790 of Roman calendar, he took a special care to honor his mother who had died four years earlier under the persecution of the very demonizable Tiberius.
The Agrippina of this article should not be confused with her daughter Agrippina the Younger who was the mother of Nero.
Working Meeting of Tiberius with the Gods
A fragment of a monument shows Tiberius negotiating with two deities. They do not come from the Greek pantheon of terrible gods but are Roman allegories well prepared to help the Emperor (or future Emperor) in his legislative work.Augustus and Tiberius were always depicted as young men, and therefore the face does not allow to date the artworks.
Tiberius is standing on the left. He holds the scroll which is the subject of the discussion. To our delight, this part of the marble is remaining full. Tiberius is designated by an inscription, and experts recognize his effigy.
The effects of drapery of the toga worn over a tunic are complex and perfect, providing a realistic example on how to dress at that time.
Christie's will sell this lot in New York on June 10. The quality of the carving makes this relief 89 cm high a masterpiece, for which the auction house does not publish an estimate.
The image is shown on the press release shared by AuctionPublicity.
The catalog indicates that this piece of monument was purchased in southern Spain in the 1950s, and speculates that it had been created in this region.
True God and Mistaken Nymph
By successfully defying the taboos of his time, Praxiteles had paved the way for the next several centuries to an unbridled erotic art.
Greco-Roman gods were revelers. In the parks, statues of satyrs abounded. One may wonder if the pointy ears of those almost human beings are not there to prevent too much resemblance to the actual models of the artists.
This would explain why the two characters of the group to sell on June 9 by Christie's in New York are hybrids. The male with goat's legs is the god Pan. The other is not the almost nude beautiful nymph whom we believed seeing but a Hermaphrodite whose genitalia leave no ambiguity.
It is a Roman marble of the first century of the Empire, 1.05 m high, probably made from a Hellenistic model (without direct link with Praxiteles). Each figure has lost an arm, and Hermaphrodite lost the head. These missing elements affect the interpretation of this muscular embrace, either violent or accepted.
Which price can it claim? The estimate has not been published, and a quick visit to the archives of the auction houses did not allow me to find a comparable work.
This sculpture is illustrated in the press release shared by Artdaily before the sale.
Later Julio-Claudian - The Torso of an Emperor
2010 SOLD 2.2 M$ including premium
This marble without head and members was 110 cm high, larger than life as it was often the case with the statues of Roman emperors. The interest lay in the very fine carving of the breastplate, with animated and varied figures.
There are many similarities between this lot and another marble torso, for sale by Christie's in New York on December 9. 119 cm high, it is a half-century later to the Julio-Claudian dynasty, and could represent Trajan.
The main scene on the abdomen shows two griffins-lions facing each other and separated by a censer. Above, on the shoulders, the head of Gorgon grimaces. The belt consists of a row of masks.
The comparison from the photographs does not identify a real difference in quality between the two lots. Of course, only a direct inspection may give the truth. Christie's attribute to their torso an estimate of $ 600K.
POST SALE COMMENT
With a less dense decoration than the torso sold by Sotheby's that I took as a reference, Christie's torso could not expect to attain the same price. It got a very good result, $ 2.2 million including premium, well above the estimate.
The Colossal Strength of Hercules
2014 SOLD for $ 2.74M including premium by Christie's
2018 SOLD for $ 2.4M including premium
The Romans of the first two centuries of the Empire appreciated the white marble sculptures showing larger than life nude men with all their strength. The models were taken in classical Greece from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Too fragile, head and limbs have mostly disappeared.
The Athlete's torso from the Saint-Laurent - Bergé collection was sold three times by Christie's : € 1.3M in February 2009, £ 960K on October 24, 2013, £ 1.08M on July 9, 2015. These results include the premium.
The Romans found the paroxysm of this art in the legend of Hercules. A torso exhibiting bulging muscles was sold for $ 2.74M including premium by Christie's on December 11, 2014 over a lower estimate of $ 1M. It is estimated $ 2.5M for sale by Christie's in New York on October 31, lot 48. Including the left leg preserved down to the knee, this fragment is 132 cm high.
The headless hero wears on his left shoulder the skin of the lion which symbolizes his greatest glory after the success of his labors. The position is slightly swayed, indicating that the missing right arm had been leaning on the club.
No exact Greek model is known. It is however a very close variant to the Herakles Albertini preserved at the Museo Nazionale in Rome whose two legs are complete. An Apulian krater with red figures made several centuries before the Roman replica shows an artist busy painting a white marble of a similar type. In these three examples the position of the lion skin is different from one another.
The Roman Torso from the Saint-Laurent Collection
2015 SOLD for £ 1.08M including premium
Here is how I discussed this artwork in 2013 :
With Polycletus and Phidias, the Greek art got disinterested about gods to better represent the human. Looking for an extreme realism, Polycletus showed the naked man in his whole strength and no shame.
The man of Polycletus is usually standing in a flexible attitude. For the first time, the correct proportions are based on a numerical model. The muscles are perfect.
The Romans were great lovers of sculpture. Their creations are often original, as in the portraits of emperors and the scenes with children. Roman copies provide valuable and often unique information about Greek art.
The lot for sale is a marble torso of a powerful athlete. This larger than life statue 94 cm high is a Roman copy made 1900 years ago. The head and limbs are missing but the position of shoulders and hips leads to compare this work with the art of Polycletus.
This torso was featured for many years in the living room of Yves Saint-Laurent, where beyond a possible homosexual appeal it certainly was a reminder to a bygone era when full male nudity was not taboo in major arts. With this outstanding pedigree, it was sold € 1.3 million including premium at Christie's in February 2009 over a lower estimate of € 300K.
From Praxiteles to Peyrefitte
2010 SOLD 577 K£ including premium
The role of Praxiteles in the history of sculpture is immeasurable. His subjects, the Greek gods and heroes, are pretexts for an analysis of the human body. He was the first sculptor to show a fully nude woman, and his contemporaries were not fooled: she was not Aphrodite who was presented to them, but the beautiful mistress of the artist, Phryne.
The Romans were great followers of Greek sculpture, and the many copies they had made for their pleasure have greatly contributed to our knowledge of ancient art.
Satyrs, associated with the cult of Dionysus, were close to humans, and identified by their pointy ears. The classic image is that of a lecherous and old being, but Praxiteles renewed the subject in imagining the satyrs barely out of adolescence. Roger Peyrefitte also followed, and considered these boys reinvented by Praxiteles as symbols of love, or even of homosexuality.
Having belonged to Peyrefitte, a Roman marble copy of a work attributed to Praxiteles is for sale by Christie's in London on April 29. In a flexible and charming attitude, this young man almost naked is accompanied by a panther, another Dionysian attribute. This statue was made between 830 and 900 of the Roman calendar, nearly 2000 years ago. 118 cm high, it is estimated £ 400K. The hands are missing.
POST SALE COMMENT
Good result for this curious statue: 577 K £ including premium.
130-138 The Beauty of Antinous
2019 SOLD for $ 2.1M including premium
Hadrian leaves Rome in 128 CE for a tour of the eastern Mediterranean provinces. In 130 he exhibits beside him a young man of exemplary beauty who has reached the rank of favorite. Born in Bithynia with Greek roots, Antinous is barely 20 years old. He had probably been trained for several years to be part of the emperor's personal suite. His biography is limited to two anecdotes.
In Libya around September 130, he participated in a lion hunt during which he was saved by the emperor himself. Nevertheless Hadrian had been ill for several years. This first heroic episode could make Antinous compared to Hercules.
About one month later, Antinous dies while falling in the Nile for an unknown reason. For the superstitious Egyptians, his fate is comparable to that of Osiris. Without waiting for the corpse to be mummified, Hadrian raises his friend to the rank of a deity and multiplies his places of worship throughout the empire. The hypothesis of a sacrifice premeditated by the emperor to promote his own philhellenic ambitions cannot be ruled out.
The posthumous iconography of Antinous is abundant with a great repetitiveness in portraiture and hairstyle, probably copying a model approved by the emperor. After the death of Hadrian in 138 CE, the cult continues but the renewal of the images is no longer useful to the sycophantic courtiers.
The beauty of Antinous continues today to arouse admiration. A larger-than-life marble bust with a broken nose was sold for $ 24M including premium by Sotheby's on December 7, 2010 over a lower estimate of $ 2M.
Engraved hard gems are much better preserved than marble or coins. On April 29 in New York, Christie's sells a 3.4 cm long intaglio in black chalcedony which is considered as the most beautiful portrait of Antinous in existence. The head is complete but the broken edges have been replaced since immemorial time by a golden disc. This jewel that could be used as a seal is estimated $ 300K, lot 37.
#AuctionUpdate The top lot in today's Masterpieces in Miniature: Ancient Engraved Gems formerly in the G. Sangiorgi Collection was 'A Roman Black Chalcedony Intaglio Portrait Of Antinous,' which realized $2,115,000 against a high estimate of $500,000 https://t.co/ZwKuHEI30D pic.twitter.com/q4uk7d15n1— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) April 29, 2019
170-180 The Bust of the Philosopher-Emperor
2012 SOLD 2.05 M$ including premium
Warrior, philosopher and emperor, Marcus Aurelius was one of the best choices that have been made for the highest political position. After his accession to power in the year 914 of Rome, 1850 years ago, he managed to jointly conduct his studies as a Stoic philosopher and his military campaigns.
All his effigies show a serious figure. His manners were impeccable (a rare quality for a Roman Emperor!) and he was highly beloved by his fellow citizens.
The draped bust in marble for sale by Christie's in New York on December 5 shows Marcus at the end of his life. It was probably executed between 923 and 933 of Rome during his lifetime. 90 cm high including the base, this portrait is larger than life, a common feature in Roman sculpture.
The man has a big mustache and a curly beard in separated points attesting the acknowledgement by his contemporaries of his quality of Wise man. The face and the top of the garment are carved with precision and realism, which is the most appreciated feature in this category of artworks.
This statue is estimated $ 800K.
POST SALE COMMENT
This ancient bust of large size and good quality deserved better than its estimate. It was sold $ 2.05 million including premium.
The Bad Reputation of Caracalla
The personality of the Roman emperors is varied, but none has left a most unpleasant place in history than Caracalla, who reigned from 963 to 969 of the Roman calendar. We can almost provide excuses to his predecessors Nero and Caligula, of whom there is little doubt that they went crazy. Commodus had embodied debauchery. Caracalla personified hatred.
At Bonhams in London on October 28, he is represented by a marble bust 51 cm high, which is a copy of his official portrait and probably dates from his time.
This young man began his reign by killing his brother with his own hand and by having slaughtered some thousands of supporters of the latter. Throughout the rest of his life he made war at the borders. It was not his fault, but the golden age of the Pax Romana was finished.
He was in no mood to joke. The down turning mouth is aggressive, the forehead is marked with a wrinkle, the deep set eyes shoot the observer. These Roman portraits are remarkably realistic. We admire the curly hair, the strong chin adorned with a thin beard and the thick sideburns. We view the Emperor as his contemporaries saw him when they had the audacity to be in front of him.
The estimate is reasonable: £ 150K.
POST SALE COMMENT
Unsold. This result is particularly disappointing, especially when compared to the price of Roman marbles at Christie's at the very recent Reilly sale, in New York on October 14: $ 1.4 million for Aphrodite, 820 K $ a head of Marcus Aurelius in youth, 386 K $ a head of Antoninus Pius. These prices include premium.
The Caracalla of Bonhams had the handicap of coming from an anonymous collection. To console ourselves, here is his photo shared by AuctionPublicity.
200 The Games of the Roman Cavalry
2019 SOLD for £ 95k including premium
The participants are fully armed. The leaders wear helmets in gilded iron or bronze. Unlike war helmets, these pieces wrap the head with holes for the eyes. For aesthetic purposes, yellow feathers are hanging to fly in the wind. For the dramatic effect, the mask and helmet personify gods or legendary characters, as for example the Amazons who are certainly played by men.
In May 2010 in Northern England, a metal detector finds fragments buried over a slab. After reconstitution, the helmet is remarkably complete. Its removable mask is beardless and juvenile. Its finial is a Phrygian cap surmounted by a griffin. It was sold for £ 2.3M including premium by Christie's on October 7, 2010 over a lower estimate of £ 200K. Despite a widely heard call for donations, the English museums could not bid beyond £ 1.7M.
On September 3 in London, TimeLine Auctions sells a similarly designed bronze helmet, with an English provenance dating back to the 1970s. It is estimated £ 80K, lot 449. Please watch the two videos shared by the auction house. Here is the link to the TimeLine Auctions website.
This female mask is not an Amazon but a goddess, probably appointed to preside over the games. The helmet includes slots for crimping some jewelry. By comparison with portraits of empresses, a make from around 200 CE is proposed.
Sasanian - Ostrich Hunting by King Hormizd
2014 SOLD 182 K£ including premium
Their emperors were warriors and hunters, and such topic is the theme of a varied iconography. On April 3 in London, Bonhams sells a plate, lot 107 of the catalog estimated £ 150K.
This piece of silver 24 cm in diameter and weighing 790 g is decorated in istoriato style. The main figures are made in relief according to the typical Sasanian style, finely incised and gilt with an accuracy similar to a cloisonné.
The theme is very rare: an unbearded king on a galloping horse is hunting ostriches. He targets a bird while two others already hit by arrows lie in the foreground.
Specialists recognize the young Hormizd II who reigned for seven years before being killed in a war against the Arabs 1700 years ago. An incompletely decrypted inscription on the reverse side of the plate leads to confirm this identification.
POST SALE COMMENT
This interesting plate was sold for £ 182K including premium.
the gold of the hephthalites
2014 sold for £ 240K including premium
There is no doubt concerning the Hunnic origin of this jewel. 1500 years ago, the current Kyrgyzstan was part of the territory of the Hephthalites. The Hephthalites were named White Huns by the Byzantine historians to make a political and racial distinction from the Huns of Attila who were spreading the terror in the West.
Despite their immense empire, these nomadic tribes which ignored writing and agriculture are not well known, but their influence extended from Persia to India and even to Korea. Their art is known through the jewelry found in the graves of the fierce warriors and also of the women. Their society practiced the polyandry, which was an effective way to avoid conflicts between brothers in the successions.
The collar for sale is a wide stripe of gold threads finished at both side by figures of dragons inlaid with garnets and glass in cabochons. Both dragons hold a ring that enable a lacing. Very remarkably, two beads in the same technique as the dragons have been preserved with the collar. The best guess is that they were used as a counterweight in the lacing.
This complex jewel with nicely stylized dragons is an opportunity to remind that the peoples of the Merovingian time were avid fans of gold mastered by excellent goldsmiths. Gold circulated by looting and ransoms. The technique of gem cutting was still rudimentary.
A Pre-Hispanic Bird
2013 SOLD 1.6 M€ including premium
The Tarascan culture has kept some mystery due to the lack of writing and to an oral language whose roots are unknown. However, they mastered metal and ceramic, and had a supposed bureaucratic organization that enabled them to successfully defend their vast territory.
On March 22 at Sotheby's in Paris, one of the star lots of the Barbier-Mueller collection is a zoomorphic vase from Tzintzuntzan, the Tarascan capital.
Usable like an aquamanile, this ceramic vase 18 cm high is an open-winged duck in dark red coating painted on only one side in pleasant white patterns. Mr Barbier-Mueller considers as unique in the world this piece that certainly has not revealed all its secrets.
It probably had a ritual, perhaps funeral, role. The large wings can conveniently serve as handles. The head and neck are stylized, with perhaps a phallic connotation which should not be surprising in any pre-Hispanic culture.
Obviously made before 1521, this ceramic can not be earlier than 1200 of our calendar which is the supposed date of the installation of this ethnic group in Michoacan. It is estimated € 1.5 M. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
This duck was the rarest piece of the Barbier-Mueller collection of pre-Hispanic art. It was sold € 1.6 million including premium.