See also : Sculpture Ancient sculpture Animals Cats Persia Archaic China Ritual bronzes Egypt
3000 BCE The Guennol Lioness
2007 SOLD for $ 57M by Sotheby's
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.
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.
#AuctionUpdate: An Egyptian limestone Figure of a Man, dating to the late 5th Dynasty, circa 2440-2355 B.C., achieves $9.9M after a heated 12-minute bidding battle. #SothebysMasters pic.twitter.com/NXkU7p7Yu2— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) January 27, 2022
2400 BCE The Masterpiece of the Schuster Master
2010 SOLD for $ 16.9M by Christie's
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, 2010, Christie's sold for $ 16.9M from a lower estimate of $ 3M 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.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's.
Anatolia - Stone Woman
2017 SOLD for $ 14.5M by Christie's
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 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 was sold for $ 14.5M on April 28, 2017 by Christie's, lot 12. Please watch the video shared by the auction house :
Christie’s to Sell $3m Guennol Stargazer in April https://t.co/zRmjjCWNkV pic.twitter.com/ao29KTzzlr— Art Market Monitor (@artmarket) March 24, 2017
Shang Dynasty in Anyang
The bronze achieved a tremendous development, both as the ideal material for making ritual utensils and also, already, as art. This alloy of copper and tin thus succeeded to pure copper whose resistance is lower.
Many different forms of vessels were used for keeping millet wine or cooking food. They are more or less carved depending on the social rank of their owner. The best known figure being the monster face named taotie. As in Egypt, these pieces often accompanied the burial of the dead.
Many archaic bronze shapes copy ceramic wares that predate Yinxu.
Fangzun ex Fujita Museum
2017 SOLD for $ 37M by Christie's
The long reign of Wu Din marks the culmination of the Shang around 3250 years ago. He resides in the new capital Yinxu which is today in the territory of the city of Anyang.
The tomb of Fu Hao, discovered in 1976, had never been visited by looters. This wife of Wu Din had a considerable political influence, even becoming the supreme general of the armies. Her tomb is a complete catalog of the art of the Shang, including 1800 pieces mainly in jade, bone, bronze and stone, not forgetting 6,900 cowry shells that served as money and 16 skeletons of sacrificed slaves.
The ritual bronzes of the Shang had a wide variety of shapes suitable for storage and cooking. The rites defined the quantities of sacrificial vessels authorized according to the social position. Under the Zhou who overthrew the Shang the king could use 9 ding and 8 gui while a nobleman was limited to 3 ding and 2 gui. The tomb of Fu Hao contained the incredible quantity of 200 ritual bronzes.
On March 15, 2017, Christie's dispersed the Chinese art collection of the Fujita Museum in Osaka, including four Shang bronzes : a fangzun, a fanglei, a pou and a gong. The catalog indicates for each of these pieces an acquisition prior to 1940 by the museum. Their similarity to the bronzes of Fu Hao and the comparable or sometimes superior quality of their technique and of their mystical decoration suggests that these four vessels came from a same royal tomb. They have kept their cover, except of course the zun which never has one.
Lot 523, sold for $ 37M from a lower estimate of $ 6M, was a 52 cm high vessel with a complex three-body shape. By its large flared mouth (zun) of square section (fang), it is a fangzun.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's to introduce the sale.
A Late Shang Dynasty Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel from the Fujita Museum sold for $37,207,500, a #worldauctionrecord for an archaic bronze. pic.twitter.com/VcxYG3BPkF— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) March 16, 2017
Fanglei ex Fujita Museum
2017 SOLD for $ 34M by Christie's
By comparison the Father Ji's fanglei, sold for $ 9.2M by Christie's in 2001, is 64 cm high without its lid which is lost. Ji's is dated from the Shang-Zhou transition two centuries later.
A Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel & Cover, Fanglei, from the Late Shang Dynasty from the Fujita Museum sold for $33,847,500 #AsianArtWeek pic.twitter.com/FIfq9JsYxm— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) March 16, 2017
Pou ex Fujita Museum
2017 SOLD for $ 27M by Christie's
Its two-body shape with a round belly on a truncated cone base is archaic but its decoration is comparable to the other pieces in the sale.
A Late Shang Dynasty Massive Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel and Cover, Pou, from the Fujita Museum sold for $27,127,500 #AsianArtWeek pic.twitter.com/v1HPYtI9BA— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) March 16, 2017
Ram Shaped Gong ex Fujita Museum
2017 SOLD for $ 27M by Christie's
The gong and the zun may both become zoomorphic with a high degree of three-dimensional realism. The zun is designed for its ease of pouring, with a spout lined with broad lips. The gong or guang is an open vessel equipped with a removable lid over its entire upper surface.
On March 15, 2017, Christie's sold for $ 27M from a lower estimate of $ 6M a gong in the form of a ram 22 cm long, lot 526 estimated $ 6M. This piece is de-accessioned from the Fujita Museum in Osaka.
The back of the beast consists of the lid which is elongated to the superb head with its C-shaped horns. The body including the cover is embellished in shallow relief with the same traditional motifs as in the geometrically shaped vessels : taotie, stylized beasts. The thick legs ensure the stability of the vase above a stove. The back is surmounted by a dragon and a bird positioned like a handle.
The catalog of the auction house considers twelve other complete quadruped gong or zun examples of Shang period, all of them kept in museums : buffalos, elephants, fabulous animals, a boar, an elephant. The last one offered at auction was a buffalo zun in 1988.
Considering the sacred or sacrificial use of some of these animals, the extreme rarity of these pieces may surprise. It is probably due to a high difficulty of execution.
Christie’s NY to Offer Rare Chinese Art from Fujita Museum at 2017 Spring Sale https://t.co/Ag1ow96cfp #Auctions pic.twitter.com/5puxLHtGHv— ARTINFO HongKong (@ARTINFOHongKong) October 23, 2016
879 BCE Nimrud Palace Bas Relief
2018 SOLD for $ 31M by Christie's
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 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, 2018, Christie's sold a bas-relief 224 x 196 cm for $ 31M, as lot 101 . 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. The piece includes a standard cuneiform inscription mingled in the image that recalls the achievements of the king supported by the gods.
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.
Major consignment of ancient art: 3000-year-old Assyrian relief expected to raise over $10m at @ChristiesInc:https://t.co/0GZH2NTC1I pic.twitter.com/cGVQqtW7yk— AntiquesTradeGazette (@ATG_Editorial) September 17, 2018