Antique and Ancient Sculpture
Chronology : Origin 600 BCE - CE 1 to 1000 1000-1150 1150-1300 14th century 15th century 1400-1429 17th century 1620-1629 1640-1649
5000 years ago - The Guennol Lioness, Elam
2007 SOLD for 57 M$ including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
This very finely chiseled stone figure 8.3 cm high has the head of a lioness on a human body. It certainly comes from the Iranian plateau and was sold in 1931 to a New York merchant. Its discovery thus precedes the excavations of Tell Agrab, begun in 1936 by a team from the University of Chicago appealed by other finds among the antique dealers of Baghdad.
Such hybrid representations between human and feline date back to prehistoric cultures. The ivory lion-man from the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave, dated ca 35,000 to 40,000 years ago by radiocarbon, is the oldest authenticated example of figurative art. The Chauvet cave, painted 30,000 years ago, also includes a lion-woman hybrid.
The Guennol Lioness was sculpted about 5,000 years ago. It belongs to the Proto-Elamite culture, characterized by the development of a proto-writing that has not been decrypted. It is several centuries earlier than the use of the sphinx as a necropolis guardian in Egypt.
It is one of a kind in the round, but is related to similar figures that raise mountains or huge trunks in two-dimensional sigillary iconography. These representations are therefore symbols of extreme power, confirmed in the Guennol Lioness by the hypertrophy of the muscles and the authoritarian position of the head. The head is pierced, allowing to hang it to the neck of a prominent character.
Its name and its exact role in the mythology of that time are not known. It must be analyzed alongside its male counterpart, a bull's head on a human body, of which a kneeling figure is kept at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Unlike the Guennol Lioness whose hands are joined on the abdomen, this proto-Elamite hybrid holds a liturgical vessel.
Guennol is the pseudonym chosen by the couple of collectors who acquired it in 1948 and entrusted its exhibition for almost 60 years to the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Funerary Statues in the Fifth Dynasty
2014 SOLD 15.8 M£ including premium
A chapel or an altar dedicated to the deceased allowed to accumulate all kinds of offerings that could be useful to him. His memory was maintained by a painted limestone statue, with a remarkable anthropomorphic realism but without looking for a physical resemblance to the deceased.
The man is sitting in a serene attitude, surrounded by his wife and his favorite son, both mid-scale. All three are named, with their titles. The wife starts a loving gesture. Hieroglyphs are detailing the long list of acceptable offerings.
The statue of Ka-nefer, a priest of Ptah and foreman of craftsmen, 36 cm high, was sold for $ 2.8 million including premium by Christie's on December 9, 2005.
On July 10 in London, Christie's sells the statuette of Sekhemka, Inspector of the scribes, 75 cm high. This big piece in exceptional condition is estimated £ 4M. I invite you to play the video shared by Christie's.
The attitude of the man is very beautiful, with a serious gaze and the hint of a smile. He holds a partly opened scroll covered with fragile inscriptions that remain in perfect condition. The faces of the cube on which he sits are beautifully carved with offering bearers bringing geese, calves and flowers.
POST SALE COMMENT
This great piece from the Old Kingdom of Egypt was sold for £ 15.8M including premium.
4400 years ago - The Masterpiece of the Schuster Master
2010 SOLD 16.9 M$ including premium
4400 years ago, the Schuster Master worked in the Cyclades islands. His marble idols show pregnant women, arms crossed under the chest, body and head beautifully stylized, whose simplicity has influenced the great figurative sculptors of the last century such as Brancusi and Modigliani. Twelve works, nearly all are fragmentary, are attributed to him.
On December 9 in New York, Christie's sells his masterpiece: a figure 29 cm high, in a stunning state of conservation. The attitude is realistic and flexible, with head slightly tilted back. The body proportions are perfect. This copy which belonged to the collection Schuster is the origin for the designation of the artist.
This lot is estimated $ 3M. The Schuster Master of a great master of the art of all time.
POST SALE COMMENT
For those who thought that the auctions of antiques were much calmer since the sale of the Guennol lioness (Sotheby's, December 5, 2007, $ 57M including premium), here are two results that bring new credibility to this sector of the market.
On December 7, a broken marble bust showing Antinous was sold $ 23.8 million including premium by Sotheby's in New York.
And our Cycladic idol which we had good reason to compare with Modigliani has been sold by Christie's $ 16.9 million including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared by Christie's.
Anatolia - Stone Women
2017 SOLD for $ 14.5M including premium
Marbles are not datable by physico-chemical methods. The Cycladic production probably extends over two millennia 5000 to 3000 years ago. The repetitiveness of these figures over such a long period is staggering but small details make it possible to define several phases. Anatolian statuettes, rarer and often fragmentary, do not allow a similar analysis.
Their use is different. The Cycladic woman is pregnant and protects her fecundity with her arms. The Anatolian woman holds her arms along the body and raises her forearms symmetrically towards the breast. The head slightly leaning backwards gave the nickname stargazer to the Anatolian type but no explanation is proposed for this attitude.
In both cases the figuration of the body is much stylized but the proportions are constant as if they met some artistic canon independent of the size of the statuette. They are undoubtedly artworks in the modern meaning of that word, in the category of the multiples.
The Anatolian woman has a heavy head shaped like a rugby ball placed over the frail cylinder of the neck which is an incontestable point of fragility. Almost all of them were broken at the neck and the experts conclude unconvincingly that they were used for ritual beheadings at the time of burials.
Two prestigious collections have sheltered an Anatolian idol in very good condition. The 20 cm high ex Schuster stargazer was sold for $ 1,8M including premium by Christie's on June 8, 2005. The 23 cm high ex Guennol stargazer was exhibited on loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from 1966 to 1993 and from 1999 to 2007 and will be sold on April 28 by Christie's in New York, lot 12.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's :
879 BCE The Guardian Angels of the Nimrud Palace
2018 SOLD for $ 31M including premium
Founded by Ashur-nasir-pal II over the ruins of a previous city at the time when the Assyrian empire claimed an ambition for a universal kingdom, Kalhu had been one of the greatest urban planning projects made in antiquity. The annual military campaigns of Ashurnasirpal were very efficient and the vanquished peoples supplied the work force for his constructions.
The 120 x 200 m palace excavated by Layard included many rooms separated from the inner courtyards by mud brick walls. About 400 shallow bas-reliefs in gypsum served as a base for these painted walls.
On July 6, 1994, Christie's sold for £ 7.7M including premium an incomplete 183 x 117 x 6.4 cm bas-relief that had been presented by Layard to one of his sponsors. It displays a beardless eunuch and a winged bearded deity ready to serve the king, and has retained three-quarters of a standard cuneiform inscription recalling the achievements of the king supported by the gods. Layard had been authorized by the Grand Vizier to export his discoveries.
On October 31 in New York, Christie's sells as lot 101 a bas-relief 224 x 196 cm that includes the standard inscription mingled in the image. It is illustrated with a single full size standing figure in Egyptian profile, larger than life and complete. This winged bearded creature is busy anointing a tree of life. Its mirror image is known. The pair served to flank a gateway for which our bearded deity was somehow the guardian angel.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's. A digital technology enables to reconstruct the original colors, known by traces of pigments on some of the reliefs.
Artemis and the Stag
2007 SOLD for $ 28.6 M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
This statue was found by chance in Rome around 1930 on a construction site near St John Lateran. It had probably decorated a private hall or garden during the transition period between the Republic and the Empire.
Some of its iconographic details are of the greatest rarity. The goddess is adolescent. The gesture of the arm shows that she has just sent away an arrow with a bow that is missing. The deer at her side is her pet, peacefully standing on its four legs. It is small, 43 cm high compared to the 92 cm of the goddess. On the other side of Artemis, there was some place for another animal, perhaps a hound.
This bronze was in permanent exhibition at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, which deaccessioned it to refocus on modern art. It thus shares with the Guennol lioness the characteristic of having been much loved by the public for many years before its auction.
Artemis and the stag was sold for $ 28.6M including premium by Sotheby's on June 7, 2007, lot 41, a record at that time for any sculpture at auction. It was bought at that sale by Giuseppe Eskenazi, acting for a private collector who made a long time loan of it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The image shared by Wikimedia with attribution Ana Carina Lauriano ╰★╮ / CC BY features this group displayed at the Met.
133-138 The Bust of Antinous
2010 SOLD for $ 24M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
Around the Mediterranean sea, Hadrian shows himself passionately Philhellene, which is politically clever since it is necessary to avoid the eternal rivalries between the Greek cities. He was in Athens in 129 CE and in Egypt in 130.
A Bithynian about 20 years old, whose physical beauty matched the canon of Dionysus, was part of the emperor's suite. His biography contains no verifiable element : in fact he was more useful dead than alive. His drowning in the Nile reminds the epic legend of Osiris. His name was Antinous. The emperor deified him by imperial decree and multiplied the posthumous honors.
The emperor is powerful and the courtiers are numerous. The iconography of Antinous-Dionysus-Osiris takes on an unprecedented scale, which will cease to be useful after Hadrian's death in 138 CE.
A larger than life marble bust, 84 cm high including the base, was discovered in the 19th century in Banias, on the Golan Heights. It was inscribed in Greek by the dedicatee, belonging to a Roman patrician family : "from M. Lucius Flaccus to the god Antinous". Such a signature is unique in the iconography of Antinous.
In 133 and 134 Hadrian led a very deadly war in the Judaea raised by Bar Kokhba. Banias, romanized as Caesarea Philippi, had a long pagan tradition which justified an ostensible support to the emperor.
The bust is incomplete : the arms are missing, a shoulder is detached and the nose is broken. Despite this condition, it was sold for $ 24M including premium by Sotheby's on December 7, 2010 over a lower estimate of $ 2M, lot 9.
A Liao Buddha
2016 SOLD for € 13.6M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
In this period, Buddhist iconography is inspired by Tang figures. Gradually, the return of apocalyptic predictions brings a need to protect the knowledge and strengthens the worship of Maitreya.
Many figures are in painted wood or in clay. Gilded bronze is very rare and reserved for pieces of the utmost luxury. A 21 cm high deity from the beginning of this period, who may be Avalokitesvara or Maitreya, was sold for $ 2.5M including premium by Christie's on March 19, 2008.
A Vairocana Buddha 24 cm high in gilded solid bronze was sold for € 13.6M including premium by Christie's on December 14, 2016, lot 53. This piece, made in the 11th century CE, bears an administrative Liao inscription, unfortunately undated, which attests to its importance.
This figure has some exceptional characteristics. Vairocana is the primordial Buddha. His high tiara is centered with an image of Buddha and integrates into the crown the five cosmic Buddhas, the Tathagatas. His fists are joined in the gesture of knowledge. He is seated on a lotus whose stylized leaves are curiously overflowing. The figuration of jewelry and drapery is luxurious.
The Charming Pala Prince
2017 SOLD for $ 24.7M including premium
Three religions cohabitated : Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. They shared a same preoccupation of regulating the communication between the divine and the mortal. In Buddhism this function is assured by the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
On March 14 in New York, Christie's sells as lot 233 a statue realized in the later phase of the Pala period around 900 years ago.
The young man sits on a thick lotus, one leg bent and the other hanging. This figure is carved in a black stone similar to a schist which was widely used in the Pala steles and whose hardness enables a great sharpness of sculpture.
He necessarily has all the qualities. The spectacular dynamism of the attitude appeals to dialogue with the faithful. He is a prince elegantly dressed with a profusion of pectoral jewels chiseled in the stone but he also is an ascetic recognizable by his braided hair. His belonging to Buddhism is identified by Amitabha hidden in a fold of the tiara : he is altogether Avalokiteshvara, the all-seeing lord, and Lokanatha, the savior of the world.
The character is life-size in this 148 cm high statue. Such characteristics unusual in Buddhist art suggests that it was the main devotional figure in a temple specially dedicated to Avalokiteshvara.
It was from 1922 an important piece in the collection of Indian art of the Boston Museum before being de-accessionned in 1935 for a trade with another statue of the same culture. The arms and nose were missing. The nose was later rebuilt.
1193 A Kamakura Buddha
2008 SOLD for $ 14.4M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
The top artists of this transition are Kokei and his son Unkei, who are from Nara and work for the main Japanese temples. Unkei began his career before 1176 as an apprentice to his father, whom he succeeded around 1195 as the schoolhead of the Kei family.
Their figures are made of wood, assembling many elementary parts with joinery techniques. Unkei departs from the Buddhist canon by making male figures of great expressive power. He also innovates by inserting crystals in the eyes. His statuettes are hollow to contain relics, often including a wooden plaque that identifies the artist and the date.
In 2000, in an antique shop somewhere in the Japanese countryside, a collector is astonished by a wooden figure 66 cm high, which he manages to buy. The piece does not have the weight of solid wood. It is gold lacquered with pigment conservation, and the jewelry ornaments are in hammered metal. It was probably taken out of a temple during the promotion of Shinto in the Meiji period.
Three years later, the curator of sculptures at the National Museum of Tokyo confirms that this piece perfectly matches Unkei's style. Because of its fairly large size, experts consider that it can correspond to a work by Unkei made in 1193 for a funeral memorial.
The figure was perfectly sealed and has not been disassembled. By X-ray inspection, three relics are identified in its cavity : the plaque, which could not be read, a five-stage crystal pagoda symbolizing the material elements, and a crystal ball.
It matches the iconography of Dainichi Nyorai who can be indifferently considered as a Buddha or a Bodhisattva. The gesture of two closed fists one above the other and joined by the index finger of the lower hand symbolizes the knowledge.
This Japanese Buddha was sold for $ 14.4M including premium by Christie's on March 18, 2008, lot 200.
The Nepalese Bodhisattva
2015 SOLD for $ 8.2M including premium
The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara was popular under various names throughout the Buddhist world. Nepalese enthusiastically welcomed this charming young man entrusted for teaching purity to them. Nepalese bronzes show him in a standing position with a big lotus on its rod floating behind the left arm.
With his hand wide open as a sign of benevolence, his bare chest and his face focused on meditation, Avalokiteshvara is somehow the Apollo of Buddhism.
A gilt bronze 45 cm high made in Nepal 800 to 700 years ago was sold for $ 2.5 million including premium by Christie's on March 20, 2012 over a lower estimate of $ 250K.
A figure 64 cm high of very similar design is estimated $ 2M for sale without reserves by Christie's in New York on March 17, lot 25.
This gilt bronze includes a further refinement of high importance. The crown is centered with a fine seated figure of Amitabha, the Buddha of Nirvana, leaving no doubt about the role played by Avalokiteshvara to guide humans to the gods.
1366 Two Lions at the Feet of the King
2017 SOLD for £ 9.4M including premium
The divine authority claimed by the legitimate heir is not sufficient to preserve and protect his power. Upon his accession Charles V multiplies the symbols of his superiority and of his prosperity. The lion is his emblem.
To maintain the chain of legitimacy they must also rehabilitate the ineffective Jean II. In the very first year of his reign Charles V decides to build the funerary monuments of Jean and of Jean's parents in the traditional necropolis of the Capétiens at Saint-Denis. He adds the commission for his own tomb, which is a considerable innovation for the time.
The contractor of the four monuments is the best sculptor of that period, known from a royal document as Andreu Bauneveu, André Beauneveu in modern French. The king is powerful and must be honored as a priority : his gisant (recumbent) is the best of the four with a beautiful polishing of the white marble. Beauneveu worked until 1366 on that site.
The royal monuments of Saint-Denis were dismantled in 1793. The outstanding pieces were recovered by the archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir, founder at the request of the government in 1791 of the Musée des Monuments Français for collecting artworks confiscated to the clergy by the Révolution. During the Restauration in 1816 King Louis XVIII obliged Lenoir to relocate to Saint-Denis what remained from the monuments of the necropolis including the gisant of Charles V by Beauneveu.
The monument of Charles V included a group of two addorsed lions which was placed at the feet of the king. This group was only known from one sketch drawing made by an antiquarian scholar. It has just been rediscovered in the descendance of an English collector who had acquired it in 1802, certainly bought to Lenoir whose financial backing was low at that time.
This group of lions is a marble of the same quality as its gisant and certainly executed by the same artist. The fixing points of this statue match exactly the distance of the associated points on the feet of the gisant.
The Beauneveu lions, 45 x 29 x 12 cm, will be sold as lot 10 by Christie's in London on July 6. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
The Yongle Mark on a Buddhist Figure
2013 SOLD 236 MHK$ including premium
At the beginning of his reign, 600 years ago, his sympathy for Buddhism is clearly stated. Relying on a meeting with an important Tibetan scholar, it is accompanied by the announcement of miracles.
Nothing is simple with the Yongle emperor. His personal preference went certainly to Confucianism, and such a pro-Buddhist movement could be a strategy to reduce the influence of the Yuan.
During his reign, the massive gilded bronze statues reach a perfection of form, proportions and beauty of attitudes. This peak of Chinese Buddhist art will continue into the reign of Xuande.
On October 8 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a statue 55 cm high with the mark of Yongle. The absence of color traces goes against the Tibetan tradition and suggests that this Buddha was designed for the use of the imperial court.
Seated on a double lotus, Shakyamuni Buddha displays an attitude of complete serenity. His eyelids are closed despite the temptation from the demons in the last events preceding his enlightenment. A hand towards the ground shows that he does not forget the realities.
Here is the link to the catalog. The estimate beyond HK$ 50M has been indicated in the press release of August 28.
POST SALE COMMENT
Buddha had all the qualities, and it is the same for this statue: beauty of carving and gilding, perfect expression, important period. It was sold for HK $ 236M including premium.
1626 A Mannerist Bronze atop a Fountain
2014 SOLD for $ 28M including premium
It is now listed by Christie's for sale in New York on December 11, lot 10 estimated $ 15M.
Here is my 2011 discussion (slightly reworded) introducing this lot:
During a routine visit to a castle in 2010, the expert from Christie's takes a look at the fountain in the middle of the yard. Thus a previously unknown masterpiece enters the art history.
The bronze 109 cm high adorning the top of the fountain had been in that place for at least 300 years. It is signed by Adriaen de Vries and dated 1626, the year of the artist's death.
Influenced by Giambologna, De Vries was spreading the new fashion for mannerism. Their bronzes give life to muscular bodies twisted in expressive attitudes inspired by antiquity, and which will be much later admired by Rodin.
The theme of the artwork is a naked standing mythological figure carrying a globe. This statue is shown on the article shared in 2011 by Antique Trader.
De Vries is particularly known for his statues for gardens and fountains. Working in Prague for the Emperor Rudolf II, he remained in that city after the death of his patron and accepted private commissions.
The arrival of such a lot on the art market is exceptional. We must go back over twenty years ago to find another authentic bronze by this artist. On 7 December 1989, the Getty bought at Sotheby's for £ 6.8 million including premium a Dancing faun 76 cm high.
1640s The Five Labours of Hercules
2018 SOLD for £ 6.8M including premium
Tacca designs groups in violent action as well as equestrian monuments, made in bronze by assembling elements. His statue of King Philip IV of Spain on a rearing horse only standing on its hind legs and tail is an unprecedented technical feat but the artist died in 1640 just before the installation of this masterpiece.
In 1612 the heir to the throne of England is the 18 years old Prince Henry. He communicates to the Grand Duke of Tuscany his interest in bronzes. Appealed by the idea of an easy support for a new alliance, the Grand Duke commissions to Tacca a set of groups illustrating the labours of Hercules.
Around 1614 Tacca prepares five models but the young English prince had died and the project no longer interests anyone. Twenty years later there were still arrears of payment.
It is not Pietro but his son Ferdinando who brings to perfection the art of the Florentine bronze, with a surface finish that simulates in a differentiated way the skin, the hair, the textile, the hide, the rock, the plant. The five groups of Hercules had remained unused. Ferdinando made the first bronzes of this series after the death of his father. The sculpture is out of fashion. Ten years later Ferdinando had become a theater machinist and an architect.
In 1681 the French King Louis XIV wishes to complete the education of his son and heir the Grand Dauphin. He gathers a collection of nine humanist minded bronzes including four groups of Hercules made in the 1640s by Ferdinando Tacca.
Released from the royal collections during the French Revolution, Hercules slaying the Acheloüs bull, 58 x 55 x 38 cm with a beautiful reddish-brown patina, was sold for $ 1.65M by Sotheby's on May 20, 1994. It will be sold by Christie's in London on July 5, lot 110. The press release of April 16 announces an estimate in the region of £ 5M.
Groupe en bronze représentant Hercule terrassant Achelous sous la forme d'un taureau. Attribué à Ferdinando Tacca, Florence, XVIIe siècle. Cadeau de #LouisXIV au Grand Dauphin en 1681. Portant le n°302 dans l'inventaire des bronzes de la Couronne. @Sothebys Londres 05/07 pic.twitter.com/KA4OE8frr5— Didier P. Doré (@DPDORE) June 19, 2018