From 600 BCE to CE
460 BCE Virile Gods in Sicily
2018 SOLD for CHF 725K before fees
It is now estimated CHF 600K for sale by NAC in Zurich on September 24, lot 8 here linked to Sixbid bidding platform. I narrated it as follows before the 2016 sale :
The city of Naxos near Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily was the earliest Greek colony in that island, anticipating Syracuse, and got its name from the Cycladic island with which it should not be confused. It was also one of the first Western cities to develop a coinage struck on both sides.
Naxos and Catania are emptied of their inhabitants about 474 BCE by the tyrants of Syracuse. The political dominance is reverted following several rebellions, and freedom is retrieved in 460 BCE.
A tetradrachm was issued in Naxos in Sicily at that time, certainly for celebrating the end of the exile. Its bold rendering of Greek gods is a masterpiece of ancient coinage without being an artistic renewal. It is believed that the same artist had previously executed a tetradrachm for Aetna (Aitna) which was the name of Catania during the Syracusan occupation.
On one side the portrait of Dionysus in full surface is remarkably well balanced for its time with a thick beard and a smile that may be vicious. He wears a wreath of ivy leaves. On the other side the invitation to debauchery is indeed worse ! Silenus squats in full nude, vigorously muscular and ithyphallic. The bust unbalanced by intoxication, he inspects the cup that contains his beverage.
Classical Period - Greek Helmets
2017 SOLD for $ 1.04M including premium
3,500 years ago in Central Greece, the Mycenaean civilization had helmets that wrapped around the top of the head and were extended by cheek guards, made by assemblies of boar's tusks. The Bronze Age will mark a great step forward in the strength and effectiveness of these accessories.
The Greek helmets in bronze are generally formed by the hammering of a single plate of metal. The archaic types are named Corinthian and Illyrian. They were very heavy and enveloping, causing a dangerous discomfort for sight and hearing.
In the classical period around 2450 years ago, the helmet became open and light. Henceforth the helmets of the military leaders carry incisions, crests and plumes which make it possible to distinguish the rank of the bearer. Of course archaeological findings provide a very incomplete idea of the original patina and of the ephemeral ornaments added for parades and jousts.
A terribly minimalist Corinthian helmet was sold for $ 37.5K including premium by Christie's on June 6, 2013. In the same sale, a very geometric Illyrian helmet incised with some ornaments was sold for $ 435K including premium over a lower estimate of $ 70K.
On April 28 in New York, Christie's sells a Chalcidian-type helmet of the classical period, lot 7 estimated $ 350K. The elegance of its overall shape and of its carvings on forehead and on cheek guards resolutely positions this piece in the transition between the artifact necessary for war and the art object usable for the parade.
The Phrygian-type garrison helmet found by a metal detector in the border area between Roman Britannia and Caledonia is exclusively a parade piece since it was equipped with a realistic mask. It was sold for £ 2,28M including premium by Christie's on October 7, 2010.
409 BCE Just Before the Fall of Agrigento
2012 SOLD 2.3 MCHF before fees
About 2423 years ago (409BC in our calendar), this coinage reached its artistic zenith with a beautiful silver decadrachm. The detail of the carving is superb, so much that experts are still wondering if this coin was actually intended to circulate. However, we must also consider that even at this distant time the officials were certainly wary of fakes.
We see on one side a quadriga in full motion. More original, the other side shows a remarkably realistic flying eagle carrying a rabbit.
An almost perfect example of this decadrachm was sold $ 570K by Sotheby's on June 19, 1990, an exceptional price for that time. It comes back at auction on October 17 by Numismatica Ars Classica in Zurich, with an estimate of CHF 1.75 M. The image of the quadriga side is shared by Artdaily. Here is the link to the catalog on the specialized online platform Sixbid.
This model is extremely rare for a good reason: as early as 406BC, Akragas was destroyed by the Carthaginians. I told very recently in this group that this terrible defeat, coupled with the installation of anarchy in Athens in 404BC, would pave the way for the highly effective tyranny of Dionysius in Syracuse.
POST SALE COMMENT
The pieces which are exceptional in their category have no price limit! This coin was sold CHF 2.3 million before fees.
405-400 BCE A Sicilian Tetradrachm
2014 SOLD for CHF 2.3M before fees by NAC
Syracuse is one of the main cities of the antique Greek world. The Greek process for silver coins is transferred in that city 2,500 years ago. The highest denomination is the decadrachm. The first tetradrachms of Syracuse are illustrated on the reverse by the head of the nymph Arethusa in profile and on the obverse by a quadriga with its driver and a winged victory that brings the wreath.
Around 415 BCE the image becomes dynamic. Horses that were previously static are now featured in full gallop and the victory crowns the man rather than the horses. At the same time the prestigious models are beginning to be signed, certainly to bring a guarantee on the purity of silver. These assayers of the old times are quite numerous but the best pieces are the work of Kimon or Evainetos.
Kimon's masterpiece is a tetradrachm in high relief made between 405 and 400 BCE. Each side is known from two variants of dies and three of these dies are signed. None of these dies have been paired for another use, which confirms that this edition was for prestige.
On both sides the clarity of the graphic style is excellent. This piece is one of the very rare Sicilian coins of that period to show an effigy in full front. The brutal action of the hammer weakens the reverse. Kimon transfers Arethusa to the obverse to improve the portrait. The perfection of this model will be admired by Goethe.
The finest known specimen of Kimon's tetradrachm, perfectly centered, was sold for CHF 2.3M before fees by NAC on May 26, 2014. It will be sold on November 18 in Geneva by NGSA (Numismatica Genevensis), lot 1 here linked on the Biddr auction platform.
The Venus of Chupicuaro
2013 SOLD 2 M€ including premium
These anthropomorphic figures are mostly female with primitive rounded shapes that certainly symbolize fertility.
On March 22 in Paris, Sotheby's sells a Venus of Chupicuaro type very tall in its class, 71 cm high, made 2400 years ago in ceramic with red and beige slipware. Rather slender compared to other specimens, the woman wears on her stomach, back and face a repetitive pattern of geometric figures cleverly interwoven.
This statuette coming from the Barbier-Mueller collection is estimated € 2M. Here is the link to the catalog.
POST SALE COMMENT
This 'venus' is a splendid example of a primitive figure of fertility associated with an already subtle control of the art of fire. It was sold € 2M including premium.
The Satyr of the Black Sea
2012 SOLD 3.8 M$ including premium
2350 to 2300 years ago, this city-state was powerful. An independent dynasty coming from Thrace ruled it for nearly a century, and its gold coins are among the masterpieces of ancient coinage.
The stater with satyr has a very sharp carving. On one side this mythical character is facing, shaggy, bearded, with the nose of a drunkard and the ears of a horse. It is a beautiful and powerful ancient portrait. On the other side, a winged griffin is standing to left but turns his head toward us. A Greek letter is certainly the initial of the name of the city.
A very nice specimen of this coin is for sale on January 4 in New York by Baldwin's. It weighs 9.12 g, and its nearly circular cutout is rather well centered. Estimated $ 650K, it is the top lot in a remarkable collection of antique coins.
Pantikapaion began to decline at the time of Alexander the Great, and its last great historical event, much later, was the suicide of Mithridates.
POST SALE COMMENT
There was no doubt on the quality of this coin. It was announced for several months as the star lot of the exceptional Prospero collection. Its price, $ 3.25 million before fees, 3.8 million after calculating the buyer's premium of 17%, ranks it among the masterpieces of antique art.
The coin is illustrated in the post sale report shared by CoinWeek.
Eastern Zhou - The Jade Beast
2019 SOLD for HK$ 26.6M including premium
Under the Shang and Zhou, increasingly elegant plaques in polished jade can take the form of indomitable beasts : tiger, rhinoceros, dragon. Used as chest ornaments, they are a sign of the power of the wearer and accompany him into the grave. This practice continues under the Han.
Among the zoomorphic pieces, the elongated 'tiger plaque' is not uncommon. The detail of the clipping is an adaptation of the artist to the shape of the pebble, just as the parietal painters used the asperities of the walls of the caves to conceive their figuration.
On April 3 in Hong Kong, Sotheby's sells a yellow jade plaque carved in low relief on both sides, lot 3620 estimated HK $ 25M. It is 22 cm long, which is an extreme width for a pectoral use. It was made in the final period of the Eastern Zhou overlapping the Warring States period around 2,300 years ago.
The reclining animal is not identifiable : the artist has voluntarily created a hybrid with muscular forms, displaying the massive silhouette of a rhinoceros, the skin with pustules of a dragon, the large snout of a ruminant and a long horn on the forehead. The smooth areas of shoulders and hips are illustrated respectively with a bird and a dragon with similar elegant undulations. The edge of the plaque bears an inscription in two characters that has not been deciphered.
197 BCE The Friend of the Greeks
2018 SOLD for CHF 600K before fees
The war had begun after a complaint to the Roman Senate by Pergamum and Rhodes against the Macedonian yoke over the Greek cities. Flamininus remains in Greece with the title of proconsul to finish his political work. In 196 in a speech given at the Isthmian games of Corinth, he proclaims the freedom of the Greek cities.
Upon his arrival in the region Flamininus had shown extreme harshness in announcing to the King of Macedonia his terms for a possible negotiation. The Greeks are surprised by his constructive benevolence. The clever general was not an idealistic sponsor. He intended to establish a lasting influence of the Roman Republic in Greece and to take advantage of the glory attached to this success.
A gold stater was issued in the genitive name (T. Quincti) and the effigy of Flamininus. Between Ptolemy I and the time of Caesar it is the only example of monetary portrait of a living person. Even Alexander had not dared.
The image is realistic in the style of Alexander's posthumous portrait which was still on the coins circulating in Greece at that time. The waving hair is undone and he wears no ornament revealing his position. The badly trimmed beard reveals that he is a general in the field.
The inscription is on the reverse beside a classic figure of Victory. Two variants exist, with the text turned up or down, which is enough to ensure that this currency is not a single-strike commemorative medal. The text is not in Greek letters but in Roman capital letters, with one typographical clumsiness that confirms the Greek origin of this stater. The triumph of Flamininus in Rome in 194 appears as a terminus ante quem.
Eleven examples of this coin are known. The best preserved, in superb condition and very well centered, was sold for CHF 500K before fees by Numismatica Genevensis on December 2, 2008. This coin is estimated CHF 700K for sale on October 20 in Geneva by Maison Palombo, lot 25 here linked on the Sixbid auction platform.
43 BCE Brutus Imperator
2015 SOLD for CHF 900K before fees
This Casca Longus seems to have been a very close associate to Brutus. He belongs to the gens Servilius. Brutus had been adopted in his youth by an uncle who was also a Servilius.
Brutus and Cassius were first granted amnesty by the Senate before accepting positions of proconsuls that temporarily separated them. Both issued coins.
On October 8 in Zurich, Numismatica Ars Classica sells an aureus of Brutus, estimated CHF 500K, lot 23 on the bidding platform Sixbid, also shown in the post shared by Coin World. A better centered example was sold for CHF 850K before fees by the same auction house on November 18, 2013.
One side shows the head of Brutus from profile. The emaciated face carved in high relief is probably the only remaining realistic portrayal of Brutus in that period. This side is inscribed BRUTUS IMP. The coin has certainly been issued in 710AUC after a campaign by Brutus in Thrace which earned him the title of imperator.
When he was assassinated, Caesar had just appointed himself as dictator, arousing the horror among the republicans. His likeness on an aureus was felt as a provocation. The portrait of Brutus on a later aureus does not mean a betrayal of the republic but rather a tradition of Greece where he still was the Roman proconsul.
The other side shows military symbols aside with the name of Casca Longus without an effigy. This does not mean that Brutus shared any supreme power with his accomplice but rather that Casca Longus was his moneyer, meaning the responsible for his coinage (and not the engraver). The name of Brutus himself had appeared as the moneyer on a Republican coin issued ten years earlier.
The Brutus aureus thus predates the silver denarius glorifying the Ides of March by the inscription EID MAR, an example of which was sold for $ 546K including premium by Heritage on 7 September 2011. This ultimate denarius of Caesar's traitor is politically ambiguous, with an idealized portrait.
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.
BCE - The Old Poet
2018 SOLD for £ 4.2M including premium
The old man is dressed in a pallium, a drapery which is lighter than a toga and completely uncovering the naked torso. He is sitting on a cushion. This 115 cm high statue has lost one arm and both feet and the nose is broken. The right shoulder has been restored.
His attitude is stiff and the facial expression is austere. The legs are apart in a proud position that evokes the figures of Jupiter on his throne and some early imperial portraits. It was thus probably created at the beginning of Augustus' reign in the latest years BCE. At that time the pallium was the usual mantle of the Romans.
The folding of the pallium is simple, without the social emblems that we would expect from the funerary statue of an aristocrat. He displays a scroll in his hand, meaning that he is a poet.
The statue was created in two parts attached at the hips, reserving a hollow for the ashes.
This rare, life-size statue of a Roman poet dates to the early years of the Empire, and will go on view in our London galleries this weekend. Uncover more about the mysterious funerary portrait here: https://t.co/Dq7mPE0bJV #SothebysAncient pic.twitter.com/DydL8SYlgO— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) November 29, 2018
Bronze figure of Artemis and the stag
2007 SOLD 28.6 M$ including premium by Sotheby's
The image below is shared by Wikimedia with attribution : By Ana Carina Lauriano ╰★╮ (Flickr: Met Museum - NY) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons