2600 BCE Seated Scribe (4th or 5th dynasty)
5th Dynasty around 2400 BCE
Early Egyptians were cautious. In order to preserve the soul in case of damage to the mummy, they placed several painted limestone figures of the deceased as a young and vigorous man in the mortuary chamber also known as serdab. All kinds of offerings that could be useful to the deceased were accumulated therein.
The sculptures were made in the Royal workshops in Memphis. The memorial sculpture was inscribed with the name and social rank of the deceased and his family while the secondary figures were not. The remarkable anthropomorphic realism did not aim for a physical resemblance to the deceased and many of them are similar in face and expression.
2014 SOLD for £ 15.8M by Christie's
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 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.
2022 SOLD for $ 9.9M by Sotheby's
The 80 cm high figure of a standing man with a leg forward is certainly depicting Weri as a quietly smiling handsome young adult. It has been originally strengthened by a back pillar. Traces of red, yellow, blue, turquoise and black pigments were preserved. It was sold for $ 9.9M from a lower estimate of $ 3M by Sotheby's on January 27, 2022, lot 17. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
2022 SOLD for £ 6M by Christie's
At that time when the Rosetta stone was not yet discovered, Egyptology was in infancy. The location of the finding was not memorized but both groups obviously came from the same serdab, certainly at Giza or Saqqara in the late 5th Dynasty.
A wrong interpretation as a representation of Isis and Osiris led to an incorrect adjustment of the heads on other bodies which was later restored when the hieroglyph readings made clear that the groups gathered three generations of a family.
One of the groups, 65 cm high carved from a single stone, was kept until current days in Worsley's family hall in Yorkshire. Its painting has faded. It was sold for £ 6M by Christie's on July 7, 2022, lot 10.
It displays a handsome seated man accompanied by a young boy, both gently smiling. The name of the family leader is partly scraped but has been interpreted as Me-her-nefer, not known in the in period records. The boy is identified in a later inscription in the statue as a king's agent in the land of the bow designating Nubia.
A portion of his right arm and leg is missing. It was arguably linking to a figure of his loving wife in front of him, as suggested from a similar example in the Brooklyn Museum, possibly sheared in a later antique time when the female representations were not welcomed or to remove the shame of a divorce.
The boy is interestingly in the same scale as his father. He is standing straight in full nudity with an uncircumcised penis. An index finger is held on the chin in a typical childish gesture of that time while the left arm is gently resting on the shoulder of the dad.
The fate of the other group is not discussed in the catalogue.
2005 SOLD for $ 2.8M by Christie's
The deceased is seated on a high bench with his back against a support. He wears a kilt. The legs ara parallel and the hands are resting on the thighs. The left hand is open and the right hand is holding a cylindrical artefact. The musculature is well defined. He is identified by a hieroglyphic inscription on his feet.
The man is flanked on both side by a member on his family in a much smaller scale. Both are identified by their name and social position. The wife is a Royal confidant and the son is another overseer of craftsmen. Each of them is affectionately embracing Ka-nefer's leg.
18th Dynasty - The Army of the Sekhmet
2015 SOLD for $ 4.2M including premium
The lioness-headed goddess Sekhmet is ranked high in that pantheon. A lioness is a wild mother whom you should not try to annoy. Sekhmet is powerful and leads the king to his success in war. She does not tolerate the odd and her cult is difficult. She is not joking and her expression is impassive despite the offerings.
During the 18th dynasty, Amenhotep III resolutely places himself under the protection of Sekhmet. This alliance is favorable as no significant event disturbs the outer peace during his long reign, around 3400 years ago.
This Pharaoh multiplies the figures of Sekhmet and his funerary temple contains nearly 700 of them. The priestesses were committed to serve a different statue every day of the year.
On December 8 in New York, Sotheby's sells one of these monumental granite figures, 2.10 m high, which had belonged to the collections of John Lennon and A. Alfred Taubman. It is estimated $ 3M, lot 23. Cartouches including the name of Amenhotep III confirm the hypothesis that it was carved during his reign.
The goddess wearing a long tight dress is sitting on her throne. She is physically identified by her feline head but her mane is covered by a wig.
1345 BCE Nefertiti Bust
Neues Museum Berlin
The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1330 BCE Portrait of a Pharaoh
2019 SOLD for £ 4.7M including premium
A young man with such an attribute is necessarily a reigning pharaoh. Amen is a multiple god who has no personal figuration. Pharaoh is his incarnation.
The heretic king Akhenaten had replaced the worship of Amen by that of the solar circle Aten, certainly for political reasons. He thus escaped the hold by the Theban priests. He had established his capital in the middle of the desert, on a site whose Arab name will be Amarna. This religious revolution was accompanied by an artistic breakthrough. Amarnian artists have for the first time sought a naturalistic representation. Nefertiti was a wife of Akhenaten.
The head for sale is carved with realism, attesting to the post-Amarna period. The only candidate is Tutankhamen, the son of Akhenaten, who returned to the cult of Amen in the third year of his reign around 1330 BCE after a transition of undocumented events that looks like a huge mess. The last two pharaohs of his eighteenth dynasty, Ay and Horemheb, are senior dignitaries. The 19th dynasty, that of the first Ramesses, brings another style.
Fortunately the effigy of Tutankhamen is exceptionally well known. The quartzite head is recognizable by the unhealthy depression between eyes and eyebrows and by the weakness of the lower lip, resulting from the full consanguinity of his parents.
1325 BCE Funerary Mask of Tutankhamun
The image is shared by Wikimedia with attribution Roland Unger, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
A Fatimid Rock Crystal Ewer
2008 SOLD 3.1 M£ including premium
The rock crystal ewer found by Christie's comes from that time. Associated Press tells the story of this discovery. In January, a small English auction house proposed a French wine jug of the nineteenth century, estimated one hundred pounds. Fans were excited on the unusual nature of this object, and they spoke quickly into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here there is divergence between AP saying that the object was sold, which Xinhua saying, quoting Christie's, that it was withdrawn "by mutual agreement".
It is a true treasure: it is comforting to know that there are still some of them circulating on the market. The challenge is to detect them. Christie's offers this item for sale in London on October 7, announcing in its press release that it could exceed £ 3 million.
It is one of seven identified copies of Fatimid rock crystal ewers from the Fatimid royal treasure of Cairo. It was carved in a block of flawless rock crystal, and is decorated with cheetahs in chains. The six other copies belong to museums. Each one is decorated with a different animal in relation to the theme of hunting.
The ewer of our article has been gold mounted in the middle of the nineteenth century by a French goldsmith who once worked for Queen Victoria. That may probably explain the January initial error of description.
Such works are fragile. The one that belonged to the Pitti palace was broken in 1998 beyond repair during a fall. The scarcity is created and strengthened by the disappearance of objects. This one is exceptional.
POST SALE COMMENT
The specialists at Christie's were right in their estimates. The ewer was sold £ 3.1 million including expenses.
1340-1345 The Major-domo of a Powerful Mamluk Emir
2011 SOLD 4.5 M£ including premium
A Mamluk candlestick for sale by Sotheby's in London on April 6 reflects this hierarchical structure. It is estimated £ 2M.
The base is a truncated cone slightly curved, 34 cm in its largest diameter. It is topped by a stick that supports the candle holder, also a truncated cone, for a total height of 38 cm. This piece of brass inlaid with copper and silver is decorated on its whole surface with inscriptions, armorials and other animal, vegetal and geometric motifs.
The white eagles and cups in cartouches shaped as reversed teardrops are the blazon of the emir Tuquztamur, who was certainly famous in his time! The inscriptions testify to the faithfulness of the major-domo of his noble house.
The identification of the Emir enables to date the candlestick with some accuracy because his role of viceroy was limited to a period of five years (741-746 AH, 1340-1345 AD). Curiously, this information can not locate the object, since the emir executed several successive appointments in Egypt and Syria.
POST SALE COMMENT
The great rarity and the complex decoration of the candlestick pushed it up to £ 4.5 million including premium.
It takes its place among the important pieces of ancient Islamic art.
1489 A Mamluk Qur'an
2019 SOLD for £ 3.7M including premium
Throughout his long reign Qaitbay successfully resisted the ambitions of his powerful Ottoman neighbors. Despite his conservative reputation, he knew how to take diplomatic initiatives. The giraffe he sent to Florence was the only one of its kind to be seen in Europe between antiquity and 1826 CE.
He was a great builder. Like his predecessors, he endowed his religious institutions with inalienable donations identified as waqf in Islamic law. The most luxurious Korans of his reign are calligraphed in the very large format 107 x 80 cm named Baghdadi.
On May 2 in London, Christie's sells a complete Qur'an made of 311 folios on half-Baghdadi cream paper 68 x 45 cm, lot 11 estimated £ 500K. This Qur'an is not inscribed as a waqf and we do not know for which foundation it was created but it is luxuriously dedicated to Sultan Qaitbay. Its writing is large, making it comfortable to read aloud on a lectern.
This manuscript is signed with the personal and courtesy names of the scribe. The nickname, al-Maliki al-Ashrafi, attests to a double allegiance to an unidentified noble person, perhaps simply to indicate that he works in the royal studio.
It is dated 21 Jumada I 894 AH, corresponding to April 30, 1489 CE. Some details of the realization show that it was done in a urgency, with mistakes removed by a simple scraping of the thick paper and even with omissions in the illustration. This hurry could be related to health problems of the aging Sultan.
Ramadan marks the month in which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. This spectacular royal Mamluk Qur’an is over 500 years old. Created for the Sultan Qaytbay of Egypt, its gold chapter (sura) heading inscriptions are painted on a lapis lazuli ground. pic.twitter.com/jD26zoDvoe— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) April 23, 2020
1939 A Dynastic Wedding in the Middle East
2015 SOLD for $ 4.3M including premium
The Queen Mother Nazli is the widow of King Fuad. After being rarely present in the ceremonies during her 17 years with Fouad including 14 years as queen consort of Egypt, the still pretty 45-year-old mother of the bride is the queen of the wedding.
Queen Nazli is wearing a diamond tiara and necklace commissioned for the occasion to Van Cleef et Arpels.
The platinum necklace is composed of small round and beguette diamonds for a total weight of 217 carats. A spectacular radiant pattern directed to a sun adorns the upper chest. It is inseparable from the neck lacing in four rows of diamonds going on each side to a diamond knot.
The necklace of Queen Nazli is estimated $ 3.6M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on December 9, lot 506.
The photo of the queen with her two French jewels is shared by Wikimedia with an error in the identification of the ceremony that does not impair its belonging to the public domain.