From 600 BCE to CE
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
2019 SOLD for CHF 1.7M before fees
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.
350-300 BCE Pantikapaion Gold Stater
2023 SOLD for CHF 5.4M by NAC
Around 350-300 BCE 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 high relief carving. On one side this mythical character is shaggy, bearded, with the nose of a drunkard and the ears of a horse. It is a beautiful and powerful ancient three quarter facing left portrait influenced from Kimon which is unique in the Pantikapaion staters. The satyr is possibly referring to a king Satyros of the local dynasty.
On the other side, a winged griffin is standing to left but turns his head toward us, holding a spear in its mouth. This mythical beast may be a guardian of the local gold reserves. A Greek letter is certainly the initial of the city.
An extremely fine specimen of this coin was sold for CHF 3.25M before fees on January 4, 2012 by Baldwin's, lot 213 illustrated in the post sale report shared by CoinWeek. It was sold for CHF 5.4M by Numismatica Ars Classica on May 18, 2023, lot 155 here linked to the Sixbid bidding platform. Please watch the video shared by Sixbid. It had belonged until 1934 to the collection of the Hermitage Museum. It weighs 9.12 g and its nearly circular cutout is well centered on a large flan.
Pantikapaion began to decline at the time of Alexander the Great, and its last great historical event, much later, was the suicide of Mithridates.
The Fang Hu of the Warring States
2020 SOLD for $ 8.3M including premium
The wording Warring States wrongly evokes anarchy. This period instead opened up China to new life styles through the development of Confucianism and Taoism. The traditional sacrificial or funeral rites persist while taking into account the observation of nature and medicine. The taotie, which expressed the mystery of the spirits, disappear from the bronze vessels.
The technological evolution of bronze becomes multidisciplinary. In very thick walls, deep grooves are filled with precious materials that bring the colors : gold, silver, copper, malachite, turquoise. Bronze handles and zoomorphic elements are added.
The baluster-shaped hu is the most common vessel at that time for the ritual use of wine. On September 23 in New York, Sotheby's sells a 35 cm high covered fang hu, lot 578 estimated $ 2.5M. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. Fang means that the bottle has a square section. It is richly decorated with gold, silver and glass.
The gold was encrusted by hammering a sheet on a pattern of protruding knobs added after casting. The glass was fitted in diamond- or half diamond- shaped plaques of nine or six beads in hollow reserves between the gold bosses. Silver volutes decorate the dark brown bronze surface inlaid with green malachite. The slightly domed cover is surmounted by four animals in the round.
The use of glass, recently introduced in China, is extremely rare. The only other example from the same period of a bronze vessel inlaid with glass is a pair of hu discovered around 1930, known from photographs of the time.
Each glass bead has the shape of an eye, in a concentric polychromy. This design, which perhaps had magical significance, was produced for a very short period of time. Examples were found in the tomb of Marquis Yi of the principality of Zeng in Hubei, dated 433 BCE.
The sale of the fang hu, which had not been seen since 1938, allows a real rediscovery by the experts of the opulence reached in the time of the Warring States by the ritual bronzes of classical form.
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.
Western Han - A Jade Belt Hook
2020 SOLD for £ 2.9M including premium by Christie's
narrated post sale
The healthiness of jade is recognized and this stone is increasingly favored by the princes for cups, tankards and goblets. More than a thousand years later, porcelain has achieved a similar healthiness. It is really industrial and replaces the jade.
The use of a precious material in a belt hook is an extravagant luxury. On November 3, 2020, Christie's sold such a piece for £ 2.9M including premium, lot 7. This 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.6 cm shield-shaped accessory was chiseled from a thick monolithic slab in translucent yellowish jade with areas of russet. It is accompanied by a zitan matching stand.
The main figure is a kind of dragon. The beast is depicted twice : the head in the round which serves as a hook, plus an incised mask on the front side. This hook has a single horn that forms a loop. This unidentified animal had certainly a totemic or magical significance to its owner. The decoration also includes an openwork pattern of scrolling clouds, and a stylized long-tailed bird incised on the back side in the neck of the monster.
For this period, the dating is done by comparison with the findings in the tombs. A similar version without openwork in the same shade of jade is dated to the very beginning of the Western Han era, around 200 BCE.
2022 SOLD for HK$ 35.5M by Sotheby's
Fabulous beasts were cast and carved in an unprecedented biomorphic detail, probably inspired from the art of Persia and of the steppes. A 48 x 67 cm Warring States winged dragon currently kept at the Abu Dhabi Louvre is leaping forward, displaying its dynamic body, muscular legs and clawed feet. The Han went in the follow.
A bixie is a Daoist hybrid chimera entrusted to keep away the evil spirits. A 27 cm long and 18 cm high Han bronze bixie was sold for HK $ 35.5M from a lower estimate of HK $ 6M by Sotheby's on October 8, 2022, lot 1. It has an incised support over the back, arguably to be used as a screen support.
The horned and winged beast with a proudly raised head is mighty, with thick paws, piercing eyes, wide gaping jaws and sharp fangs, ready for its role as a guardian. The artist fitted that bearded creature with male genitals kept hidden in its position slightly lifted off the ground, certainly to assess its threatening power.
42 BCE Brutus EID MAR Aureus
2020 SOLD for £ 3.25M by Roma Numismatics
sale cancelled in 2023
Caesar has himself appointed dictator perpetuo, arousing the horror among the republicans. Suspected of liberticide, he is assassinated less than two months later. His murder was committed in the Ides of March of a year that Livy will soon calculate as 709 Ab Urbe Condita later matching 44 BCE.
The group of conspirators was led by Brutus and Cassius, and the first blow is traditionally attributed to Casca Longus. 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.
In a first phase, the tyrannicides are approved by the Senate. Brutus and Cassius then accepted positions of proconsuls that temporarily separated them. On official mission in Macedonia and Thrace, Brutus issues coins bearing his effigy.
On October 8, 2015, Numismatica Ars Classica sold for CHF 900K before fees an aureus of Brutus, lot 23 illustrated 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.
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.
Caesar's likeness on an aureus had been 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.
Octavian (who will later be Augustus) and Antony claim separately the succession of Caesar. They are reconciled in 43 BCE after a short war and obtain the condemnation in absentia of the tyrannicides. The civil war is then transferred against Brutus and Cassius who consider themselves the ultimate defenders of freedom.
At the beginning of 42, Brutus and Cassius want to return to Rome with their armies. They prepare their coins with the booty collected by Cassius in Asia Minor.
The Brutus coinage becomes revolutionary. The back claims the assassination of Caesar by the inscription EID MAR (for Eidibus Martiis) in large letters below symbolic figures : the cap of freedom between the daggers of the two tyrannicidal leaders. It is the only coin in Roman history that openly celebrates a murder. On the obverse the inscriptions around Brutus's head read BRVT (BRUT) and L PLAET CEST referring to the moneyer L. Plaetorius Cestianus. A new beard may represent a vow taken to defeat the heirs of Caesar and to restore the Republic.
EID MAR was struck from a mobile military mint from Asia Minor to Macedonia in gold and silver as aureus and denarius with the same dies. The aurei were not intended for circulation. They may have been distributed by Brutus to his commanders as both a reminder of what they were fighting for and as a means of cementing their loyalty.
These coins were recalled and melted down by Octavian and Antony after the defeats and death of Brutus and Cassius in October 42 and are very rare.
Three EID MAR aureus survive. The best of the three, very well centered and in near mint condition, was sold for £ 3.25M by Roma Numismatics on October 29, 2020, lot 463.
Investigators concluded in 2023 that the piece from the 2020 auction was illegally exported ca 2013 from Greece after its finding in a field where an army loyal to Brutus camped in 42 BCE and that the catalogue of the sale indicated a fraudulent provenance from a 19th century collection. The authenticity of the coin was not disputed. The sale was cancelled and the coin was returned to Greek officials in March 2023. The story is narrated by The New York Times.
A silver denarius with the EID MAR was sold by Heritage for $ 720K on May 3, 2023, lot 30051. It is graded XF 5/5 4/5 Fine Style by NGC. Another example was sold for $ 520K by Goldberg in June 2014.
2022 SOLD for CHF 2.2M before fees by NAC
It has been pierced at twelve o'clock, certainly by a supporter of Brutus for wearing it as pendant. It is poorly centered. Its condition is otherwise very fine.
The other coin is in the Deutsche Bundesbank collection.
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
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.