By Carter B.
Why would anyone buy expensive
when you can get incredible baubles from antiquity at this auction?
Lot 29, which is shown above
on the catalogue’s cover, is fantastic and makes one wonder
how new Art Nouveau was.
Without question the most
of art to be auctioned in the fall of 1999, this pair of earrings
not only causes one to rethink one’s appreciation of the
sinuous and sensuous lines of late 19th and early 20th Century
Art Nouveau, but also to reconsider Classical art.
The Italian Renaissance was
inspired in large
measure by the discovery of many spectacular Greek and Roman
and the purity of these Classical creations emboldened the artists
of the 15th Century to raise their idealized standards of beauty,
a collective act that resulted in the main corpus of "Western"
aesthetics for four centuries. Those aesthetic notions of beauty
and grace continued to be dominant through much of the 20th Century,
although the gradual awakening to non-Western cultures and the
advent of modernism began to significantly alter this cultural
Our perceptions of Classical
Art have been
greatly influenced by textbooks and public collections and not
everyone has been able to travel extensively or have access to
many private collections. It is still difficult for many to visualize
that many of the famous architectural ruins and surviving statues
were colored and not just marvelous marble works of art as they
One of the reasons that many
fallen in love with Greek Tanagra figurines is that, in addition
to their often fabulous flow of drapery, they have traces of paint,
usually a pale blue, that reminds us that theirs was not a
world. The movies, of course, have depicted a Classical world
in which women wore lovely clothes and centurions had their red
robes and gilded helmets.
But nothing really prepares us
for the flamboyance
demonstrated by this small pair of earrings that are only 1 11/16
The catalogue describes them as
Nike earnings, circa late 4th to 3rd Centuries B.C. and notes
that "the high quality of these earrings is closely paralleled
by a pair of Eros earnings said to be from Rhodovani, Crete, now
in the Metropolitan Museum." Those, however, were much cruder
in execution and are illustrated in color on page 67 of "Greek
Gold, Jewelry of the Classical World," by Dyfri Williams
and Jack Ogden that was published by the museum and Harry N. Abrams
Inc., in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name held
in 1994 at the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan in
The figures have their hair
tied in two knots
and are "depicted nude but for a wide himation which fans
out behind, with folds of the garment held in the one raise and
one lower hand, an additional strip flowing over one shoulder,
the outstretched sheet-gold wings with finely chased details for
the feathers. The figures hang from disks with eight-pedal rosettes
at the center, each petal fringed with beaded wire. The disks
are rather conventional and not of the same supreme quality of
the figures, unfortunately, but that is a minor quibble.
There are, of course, many
lively poses to
be found in Classical sculpture, both in very large and very small
works. What is exceptional here is the spectacular flare of the
"skirt" of the garment, the joyous furl of the broad
"belt" and the powerful dynamics of the spread wings.
One is tempted to conjure
Pre-Raphaelite adorations of feminine beauty, and Rothkoesque
immersive divisions. One also senses the infatuation and bravura
of a Rubens, and the celebratory exuberance of Fragonard. Indeed,
hopefully The Frick Collection will purchase this lot and put
it a small case in its great Fragonard room close to the huge
panel of a lady on a swing in some palatial gardens.
The lot is estimated very
$80,000 to $120,000, probably reflecting its small size. There
is no provenance listed. It was passed at $65,000!
This auction was the
of the Fall 1999 season in which numerous records were set for
individual artists and sales in general were very robust. Of 151
offered lots, only 103 were sold and many of the most important
lots failed to sell.
Lot 35 is a charming,
1-inch-long, Greek gold
Eros pendant, that shows the god holding a New Comedy mask in
one hand and part of a shaft, perhaps a torch, in the other, with
his feathery wings outstretched. It has an estimate of $5,000
to $7,000. It was passed at $4,200.
The second best work in the
auction is Lot
42, an exquisite, Greek gold pin 5 ¾ inches long that has
Aphrodite, nude except for a coiled anklets and a pair of snake
armlets, standing with a foot resting on a dolphin and supporting
herself with her right hand on the head of a winged Eros who holds
a mirror for her, both of them perched atop a Corinthian capital.
The lot is conservatively
estimated at $100,000
to $150,000. It was passed at $70,000!
Lot 94 is a less finely
sculpted Roman gold
pendant of Fortuna, 1 5/8-inches tall, and hangs from a heavy,
46-inch-long chain. The goddess is shown holding a ship’s
rudder in one hand and a cornucopia in the other. She is wearing
a crescent headdress and the chain has a larger crescent ornament
with a peal attached. "The present chain," the catalogue
noted, "is extraordinary in terms of its length and the state
of preservation. Another extremely long chain, of unknown provenience
[sic] and now in the Naples Museum, relates to our example in
that it too is adorned with a small lunar crescent pendant. The
impressive solid cast pendant of Fortuna, the focal point of this
ensemble, is a fusion of the goddess’s traditional attributes…with
those of the moon goddess Luna (the crescent crown)."
The lot has an ambitious
estimate of $250,000
to $350,000. It was passed at $180,000.
Lot 121 is far more alluring
It is a 3 ½-inch-high Roman silver figure of Aphrodite,
circa 1st – 2nd Century, A. D. The solid cast piece is nude
except for a himation that she holds demurely to prevent slipping
off her waist and a crescentic diadem in her center-parted hair.
The catalogue notes that the statue’s ears were pierced for
"now-missing" earrings. The lot has a slightly conservative
estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $23,000 including
the buyer's premium as do all the sales prices in this article.
Other impressive lots include
Lot 26, a "massive
Greek or Thracian gold arm band," circa 2nd-1st Century,
B. C., 3 7/8 inches wide by 4 ½ inches in diameter, shown
below. The piece is made of a solid round rod wound into 5 ½
coils, each end hammered into a bead and reel pattern and terminated
by elongated stylized animal heads, "seemingly canine, with
chased wavy lines indicating fur between the long ears, with large
almond-shaped eyes and a point snout." It has an estimate
of $80,000 to $100,000. It was passed at $65,000.
Two other gold open bracelets
are being offered,
Lots 13 and 14, both Achaemenid, circa late 6th-5th Century, B.C.
The ends of both terminate in stylized engraved calf heads. The
former is 2 7/16 inches wide and has a conservative estimate of
$3,000 to $5,000 and the latter is 2 13/16 inches wide and has
a conservative estimate of $4,000 to $6,000. The former has less
decoration but has retained its curved shape better. The lots
were passed at $1,900 and $2,400, respectively.
Lot 19 consists of four
Scythian gold appliqués,
circa late 5thCentury B.C., one in the form of a bird of prey,
two in the form of stags and one in the form of a coiled feline
attacking a smaller animal. The largest piece is 1 ¾ inches
wide. The conservative estimate for this highly stylized and dramatic
works is $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $34,500.
Lot 50 is a very fine Roman
gilt silver figure
of a bull, circa 1st Century, A. D., 1 ½ inches long, that
has a conservative estimate of $7,000 to $9,000. It sold for
Lot 122 is a Roman gilt silver
circa 3rd-4th Century, A.D., with a curved chalcedony cameo of
an undulated and coiled snake, its raised head with open mouth
oriented toward the crossbar. The piece was formerly in the Gans
Collection and has a conservative high estimate of $4,000. "This
fibula," the catalogue stated, "is said to have been
found on the Insula Tiberina, which was the location of the temple
of Aesculapius, the god of healing. It is impossible to know if
the presence of the snake, which is the god’s attribute,
inspired the provenance." It sold for $9,200.
The auction has many nice
cameos, seals and
Lot 44 is a Greek agate cameo,
Period, circa 2nd-1st Century, B.C., which is finely sculpted
with the face of a helmeted hero. The oval piece is 15/16 inches
long and has an ambitious high estimate of $30,000. It sold
Lot 58 is a nice Etruscan
circa late 4th-early 3rd Century, B.C., ¾ inches long.
It depicts a satyr driving a triga and has an estimate of $4,000
to $6,000. It was passed at $3,200.
Lot 62 is a fine Roman red
jasper ring that
depicts a lion attacking a stag and has a conservative estimate
of $2,000 to $3,000. It sold for $1,840.
Lot 97 is a roman gold and red
circa Late 2nd-3rd Century, A.D., that is engraved with profile
portraits of a man and woman facing one another. It has an estimate
of $3,000 to $5,000. It sold for $5,175.