â€˜Appearances are a glimpse of the unseenâ€? Anaxagoras
The physical remains of the past have long been gathered and treasured; to hold an object from a distant time and place can be truly humbling. The joy of these items is not just in their beauty, but in their ability to transport us to a world which has long gone. These artefacts are raconteurs, each telling a story, shedding the veil of antiquity and providing a momentary glimpse of the past.
Costas Paraskevaides ArtAncient
Head of a king or votary Limestone, Cypro-Classical , circa 475–450 BC Height 13¼ inches. Provenance Ex-Collection of J. Josey, Houston, Texas, acquired at Spink & Son, London, 1950s–1960s. Published Hoffman, Ten centuries that shaped the west, Greek and Roman art in Texas collections, Mainz, 1970, no.2 illus. Exhibited Rice University, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Witte Memorial Museum, 1971.
Smiling at us through the ages, a sense of great power and majesty radiates from this over-lifesize masterpiece of Cypriot sculpture. Though it dates to the beginning of the Classical period, the final breaths of the Archaic style are boasted here in great magnificence. However, we can also see Persian Achaemenid traits in the corkscrew curls and coiled beard, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of the eastern Mediterranean island. Despite being fragmentary, its monumentality has survived undiminished. This would have been one of the largest and most impressive statues in a huge open air sanctuary. Dedicated to an unknown god 2,500 years ago, it is tempting to think that a statue of this size and splendour could only have been commissioned by a powerful individual, perhaps one of Cyprus’s great kings.
Four Egyptian rosettes Faience, Egypt, New Kingdom, Reign of Ramesses, 1550–1295 BC. Height largest 2 1 ⁄ 8 inches. Provenance Probably excavated from Tell-el-Yahudiyeh in the early 1900s. Subsequently de-accessioned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1956.
These remarkable inlays are often called rosettes, though they probably depict daisies or mayflowers. They demonstrate accomplishment in faience artistry, using creams, grey-browns and yellows to great effect. Rosettes have a long history in Egyptian decorative borders and ornamental bands, and they were popular at most palace sites. They give us a vivid idea of Egyptian palace décor, and what it might have been like to walk those corridors more than 3,000 years ago. Based on their style, these particular rosettes are most likely to have adorned the walls of the palace of Pharaoh Ramesses III at Tell-el-Yahudiyeh. 6
Faience amulet of the goddess Taweret Egypt, Late Period, 664–323 BC Height 2¼ inches. Provenance Ex-collection of Mr A. Foxwell, acquired 1920s.
The shimmering turquoise of this amulet may appear beautiful to our modern eyes, but to the ancient Egyptians it glowed with the light and power of the gods themselves. Combining the appearance of many fearsome creatures – the hippopotamus, crocodile and lion – images of the goddess Taweret were worn by pregnant women who sought protection from evil spirits.
Gold octadrachm of Queen Arsinoe II Greek, Ptolemaic Egypt, 253 BC Diameter 28 mm. Weight 27.85 g. Provenance Ex-French private collection, Normandy. Acquired 1950s.
To hold a coin such as this is to truly understand the wealth and power of Ptolemaic Egypt. Struck from nearly an ounce of pure gold, these magnificent coins were only handled by the elite of society to buy exotic goods, pay mercenaries and broker deals between great states. We see the deified Queen Arsinoe II and a bulging dikeras (double cornucopia) overflowing with the produce of Egypt â€“ pomegranates, grapes and other fruits.
Greek red-figure pottery lekanis Southern Italy, 4th Century BC Diameter 8他 inches. Provenance Ex-Gilpin Smith family collection. From an estate formed in northern England in the 1970s.
The vase painters of Greek South Italy were ultimately inspired by Athenian red-figure artists, although they soon developed their own imaginative depictions, shapes and techniques. The humorous scene on this otherwise fairly typical cosmetics box, or lekanis, speaks of a freedom of expression seldom found on Greek vases. A bird, perhaps a thrush, is shown pecking at a small gecko as he tries to scurry away. As the design is not a standard type, we are left with the lovely notion that the ancient painter was simply copying a scene from the Italian countryside that caught his imagination. 10
Greek pinakion or juror’s ticket Athens, Classical Period, 378–339 BC Length 4½ inches. Provenance Ex-collection of Sir Francis Sacheverel Darwin (1786–1859), half-uncle to the famous naturalist, Charles Darwin.
Pinakia were bronze ‘identity cards’ carried by ancient Athenian citizens to prove their eligibility for jury service and public office. Along with others, a citizen’s pinakion would be placed in a large machine called a kleretorion. From these ingenious slotted devices, citizens could be randomly chosen by the state to undertake jury service, for which they would be paid at the end of the day.
Each juror has a pinakion, inscribed with his name, the name of his father, the name of his deme, and one of the letters of the alphabet up to ‘K’. – Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians
One of only 200 known examples, this humble artefact embodies one of the central tenets of democracy, from the city that gave birth to this greatest of human achievements. Jurors could not be bribed, as their selection was quick, totally random, and representation was equal throughout the ten tribes of Athens.
‘Hexekestos, the (son of) Amein(ias), of (the deme) Halai.’
Fossilised dinosaur footprints USA, Early Jurassic, 170 million years ago Height 14¼ inches Provenance Bill Freeman Estate Collection, Arizona. Acquired 1960s–1980s.
Though hard to comprehend, this slab preserves the footprints of creatures that walked our planet over 150 million years ago. These dinosaurs, probably theropods, left their tracks in soft mud. After this mud hardened in the sun, it was filled with ash or sediment of a different consistency. In modern times these distinct layers, now fossilised, can be separated, enabling us to glimpse the briefest of moments in our planet’s life.
Acheulian flint hand axe Homo erectus, Pont-Arcy, northern France, 800,000–100,000 BC Length 5¼ inches. Provenance Ex-French private collection, collected in the early 20th century.
Worked with care and precision, this artefact has more than just a functional quality; the desire to create this pleasing form goes beyond the necessary and suggests an aesthetic sense on the part of the maker. This shared perception of beauty is a remarkable link to the humanity of the individual who crafted this tool. When one holds this piece, it fits so naturally into the palm that it is almost beyond conception that it was created not by an ancient man, but by a different species of human altogether.
Head of a lohan China, Song Dynasty, 960–1279 AD Height 10 inches. Provenance Ex-New York collection. Acquired at Doyle Auction House in the 1980s. Previously in an American private collection and acquired in the early 1900s.
China’s adoption of Buddhism has resulted in some of the most spectacular sculpture in the world. In Buddhist teachings a lohan (or arhat) is one who has escaped from the endless cycle of death and rebirth but has chosen to remain in this world to spread the Buddha’s message. This exquisite sculpture, with its calm, smiling depiction of a lohan, would have adorned one of the great Buddhist cave temples, hewn from the mountains of Northern and Central China. These caves were vandalised at various periods of Buddhist persecution and many sculptures now survive to us as mere fragments. Yet something of the original monumentality is preserved in this object, a testimony to Song sculptural art at its apogee.
Glass cinerary urn and lead container Roman Empire, 1st–2nd Century AD Height 13½ inches (urn), 13¾ inches (lead container). Provenance Dr Leopoldo Benguerel, Barcelona, acquired 1960s, accompanied by Spanish export licence, no. 2013/01628.
Often the passing of the centuries will tire an artefact, wear it down and reduce it to a shadow of its former self; yet with glass the ages seem to imbue the surface with an ethereal beauty. So it is with this flawless cinerary urn, remarkably still with its original lead container, the turquoise surface gleaming like a gemstone. It is perhaps for this reason that ancient glass is so pleasing to the modern eye: there is something in its smooth iridescent appearance that transcends age or culture.
Amber glass perfume flask Roman Phoenicia, 1st Century AD Height 2¾ inches. Provenance N.P. Carter, Donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1930 [no. 30.212]. Subsequently de-accessioned.
In ancient times, as today, some of the juiciest dates were produced in the Middle-East. The people of ancient Phoenicia (modern-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel) were also the most talented glass workers, and this incredibly lifelike, succulent date flask is a testament to the heights achieved in their art.
Bronze wine vessel or zhi with inscription China, Late Shang Dynasty, 12th–11th Century BC Height 6 inches. Provenance From the collection of New Yorker Luz Papasian (1915–2013).
In Bronze Age China, ancestral worship was the dominant form of religion. Bronze vessels such as this Zhi, filled with food and wine, were set out in a form of communal banquet for the ancestors to come and share with their living descendants. Remarkably, the very name of the individual to whom this vessel was dedicated has been cast on the inner foot. Hidden for millennia, it emerges from the mists of the past as ‘Zu Ding’ (ancestor Ding). For the people who made it, this bronze vessel was religious, mysterious and carried significance in their everyday lives. Today, it is not only a beautiful object, proud and elegant in its form, it still carries that same sense of otherworldly mystique.
Chinese bronze tripod vessel Late Spring and Autumn Period, 6th Century BC Height 5Âž inches. Provenance Sothebyâ€™s, New York, 19/3/2002 lot. 30.
This ritual tripod is an extreme example of Chinaâ€™s obsession with its own past. Made over 2,500 years ago, it is enthralling to think that this vessel was itself influenced by the design of a much earlier Neolithic example. Chinese artists have always looked with one eye to the past for inspiration, as if seeking the approval of their ancestors. Yet this bronze vessel is truly remarkable, taking as its model pottery produced at the dawn of Chinese culture. Look closely and you can see that the moulded handles and uneven edges of the rim, unusual in cast bronze examples, seek to mimic the coarse, hand-made ceramics of their Stone Age forebears. That this form could endure the ages so resolutely seems impossible, but to see and hold an artefact such as this is to truly understand why China is recognised as the oldest continuous civilisation in the world.
Stand with two fighting lions Limestone, China, Tang Dynasty, 618–907 AD Diameter 2¾ inches. Provenance Ex-collection of Ezekiel Schloss, published Sothebys NY, 9/12/1987, Lot. 9. Acquired 1950s–1980s.
This mysterious object appears to be a lamp stand, though its exact function in ancient times is unknown. The lion was a popular theme in Tang art, perhaps due to its association with Buddhism. Though usually employed as guardians, this humorous representation shows them attacking each other; one bites the muscular rear of another, who in turn clings stubbornly to his rival’s tail. This is a rare example of small-scale Tang sculptural art – an art that is normally associated with burial ceramics or large temple sculpture.
Anglo-Saxon bronze brooch Britain, 6th Century AD Height 6¼ inches. Provenance British collection, acquired 1990s.
Born amid the fire and smoke of the hearth, Anglo-Saxon art is riddled with the mythological shapes and symbols of a pagan past. At first glance this exceptional brooch seems chaotic in its design, yet look closer and you will see patterns emerge: bearded faces, sinewy beasts and hook-beaked ravens. Flanked by two grasping creatures, the other-worldly figure at the centre is likely to be a depiction of Woden, chief among the Germanic gods, accompanied by his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn (thought and memory). The freedom, confidence and boldness of design rises high above similar objects from this period; the brooch has expanded in width and scale so as to become a vehicle for the art that is masterfully chip-carved into its surface. Shining in the flickering light of the feasting hall, its golden contours would have glittered, but its deeper recesses would have remained cast in shadow. This opposition between light and dark was a common theme of Anglo-Saxon poetry, where the joy and warmth of the hall was contrasted with the dangers and cold outside. Here we see the genius of the Saxon smiths at work, creating a masterpiece that mirrored their own world view, a world of both order and chaos, darkness and light.
Where are the seats of the feast? Where are the joys of the hall? O the bright cup! O the brave warrior! O the glory of princes! How the time passed away, slipped into nightfall as if it had never been! – The Wanderer 22
Red-figure ceramic kylix Athens, Greece, 4th Century BC Diameter 10Âź inches. Provenance Robert Keyselitz collection, curator of the Graf Harrachâ€™sche sammlung. Acquired prior to 1974.
Red-figure pottery is amongst the most recognisable of all ancient wares; the surface was treated like a canvas, painted with scenes that tell the story of life in the ancient Greek world. This wine cup is decorated with a proud bull on the interior tondo. Kylikes were used during drinking parties (symposia) which lay at the heart of ancient Athenian society, where men congregated to debate love and philosophy, to plot and boast, but above all to revel in wine and song. This vessel would have been held with one hand in the reclining position, and one can imagine the bull slowly revealing itself as the red wine was drained amidst the drunken laughter and debate of an Athenian evening over 2,300 years ago.
Head of Pharaoh Amenhotep I Sandstone, Egypt, New Kingdom, Reign of Amenhotep I, XVIII Dynasty, 1525–1504 BC Height 5¼ inches. Provenance Excavated from the Temple of Mentuhotep II, Thebes by the Metropolitan Museum of Art 1921– 1922. De-accessioned in 1956. Accession number 26.3.30b.
Only a handful of portraits depicting Amenhotep I survive to us from ancient times. This breathtaking fragment shows the king with idealised features; his full fleshy lips with gentle smile, his skin seemingly retaining the sun-kissed appearance it must have once carried. Owing to its exceptional provenance, we know this was part of a statue that once lined the processional way at the forecourt of the temple of Mentuhotep II at Deir el-Bahri. There it would have stood with others, in absolute magnificence, as the image of the God Amun was carried past once a year.
Pre-Columbian pottery laughing figure Veracruz, Mexico, 550â€“950 AD Height 18Â˝ inches. Provenance Ex-Everett Rassiga Collection. Black Tulip Gallery, Dallas. Published Kelleher, The Stanley J. Seeger Jr. Collection, Princeton, 1961, no.149.
The art of ancient Mexico seems to belong to a world apart, and the enigmatic Smiling Figures of Veracruz are no exception. Some believe they can be read as expressions of Mesoamerican humour, possibly associated with a god of joy and dance, but there are hints of a more sinister meaning. It is possible these figures may relate to a cult of pulque, an intoxicating drink created from the fermented sap of the maguey plant, drunk by priests and victims prior to sacrifice. Whatever its origin, the emotion expressed in these figures is intense, even animalistic.
Elongated bronze worshipper Iberian Peninsula, 4thâ€“3rd Century BC Height 2 5âˆ•8 inches. Provenance Spanish private collection, with Spanish export licence.
The so-called Celtic peoples of the Iberian Peninsula in modern-day Spain produced enchanting bronze figures such as this, which they dedicated in sanctuaries at the top of hills, or in caves. At their best, they display an abstract quality that elevates them from fascinating artefacts to works of art in their own right.
Silver tetradrachm with the portrait of Alexander the Great Greek, 297–281 BC Diameter 33 mm. Weight 17.15 g. Provenance Ex-collection of Orme Lewis, Sr (19031990). With CNG, Triton II, 1st December 1998, lot 359.
To view this silver four-drachm piece is to admire not simply a coin, but a Greek artwork of sublime quality. This portrait of the divine Alexander seems to embody the brilliance of Hellenistic art, an art that was itself created by Alexander as he conquered the known world. The ideals and strict naturalism of Classical art are seemingly cast aside in the new multicultural world of Alexander’s successors. Here we see a ruler in an impossibly heroic, inspirational and almost supernatural pose. His determined, giant eyes stare out from the coin, his damp unruly hair falls about his face, his lips are parted, about to speak. This may well be one of the truest, earliest likenesses of Alexander, but more than that, the charisma of a leader who led his men to the very edge of the world erupts through the metal. This is the true power of art, not simply to decorate, but to conjure an emotion in the viewer, to convey the awesome power of one of history’s greatest actors and still leave an impression after thousands of years.
Greywacke head of Serapis Roman, circa 200 AD
Green serpentine ib or heart amulet
Height 11 inches.
Egypt, New Kingdom, 1550–1070 BC
Provenance German private collection, Nordlingen, 1920s, thence by descent.
Height 1¼ inches.
Exhibited Archaologisches Landesmuseum BadenWurttemberg 2013. Published Kemkes, Caracalla: Kaiser Tyrann Feldherr, PVZ, 2013, p.17, Fig. 10.
Perhaps more than any other deity, Serapis embodies the multicultural nature of the ancient Mediterranean world. He was essentially a creation of the Greek rulers of Egypt, a conflation of the local gods Osiris and Apis, though depicted as Greek in appearance. He wears the modius (grain basket) on top of his head, signifying his role as god of plenty. Deeply carved, this magnificent bust would have originally been placed as a dedication in a Serapeum. Hewn from a rich, dark stone normally associated with Egyptian statuary, the god stares out enigmatically at the viewer, his high brow and prominent cheekbones lending a sense of majesty, whilst the lower face is hidden beneath the curls of his thick beard.
Provenance Collection of Mr and Mrs D., acquired on their travels to Egypt, 1906. Exhibited, Museum of Man, California, 1968.
In Ancient Egypt, the heart was the seat of emotion, character and memory. At the final reckoning in the Book of the Dead, the heart took centre-stage, being asked to account for all a person’s deeds. It was essential that the heart gave a favourable response and heart-shaped amulets, some with magical spells, were placed on the chest. Here we see the heart depicted as a pot, with two small handles on the side, in preparation for being placed on the scales of judgement.
Silver tetradrachm of Akragas
Limestone head of a worshipper
Greek, 409 BC
Cyprus, 600–500 BC
Diameter 29 mm.
Height 10¼ inches.
Weight 17.15 g.
Provenance Previously in the collection of J. Klein, acquired 1950s, probably from the sanctuary at Golgoi, near Athienou.
Provenance Ex-Swiss private collection. Ex-Astarte SA auction XIX.
The artistry and beauty of Sicilian coins was unparalleled in the ancient world, yet this stunning tetradrachm rises above even those high standards; it radiates raw energy and violent emotion. The obverse shows a four-horse chariot, the animals struggling at their reins whilst the sinewy rider reaches out to urge them still faster. There is little finesse about the scene, it is gloriously chaotic, yet still composed enough to feel like a genuine moment in time. On the reverse is an image probably taken from Aeschylus, foretelling the fall of Troy at the hands of the Greeks. Two eagles atop a rocky outcrop tear mercilessly at a hare, the likeness so arresting that one can almost hear the screech of the great bird in the foreground. Representing the final, brilliant breath of Akragas, this coin was struck only a few years before the great city’s permanent destruction.
A careful look at this early Cypriot sculpture reveals more than just a beautiful artwork – it tells a story of an island at the crossroads of civilisation. The tall cap reveals Phoenician influence, but the smile is a throwback to Greek Archaic sculpture, with perhaps a hint of Egyptian influence in the almond-shaped eyes. To its creator, this was not a conscious mixing of styles, but the most beautiful way to depict this long-forgotten worshipper.
European Bronze Age sword Bronze, Central Europe, Urnfield Culture, circa 11thâ€“10th century bc Length 25 inches. Provenance German private collection, acquired 1970s.
European Bronze Age swords were prized as more than just weapons; they were beautifully forged objects with great spiritual significance to those who carried, fought with and dedicated them. But of all Bronze Age swords, it is those of the Urnfield Culture that reached the greatest heights in artistry, elegance and refinement. There is perfection in every form; from the streamlined shape to the exquisite balance and masterful incisions, this artefact proclaims the work of a truly great Bronze Age smith. The elite members of the warrior-caste that dominated Bronze Age society would have been seen as almost supernatural. Though there is no history from this period, echoes survive from far away Greece, through the tales of Odysseus, Achilles and the sack of Troy. Further north, across the rest of Europe, important events also unfolded, decisive battles were fought, strategists as astute as Odysseus succeeded in out-thinking their adversaries and warriors as mighty as Achilles fought bravely. Yet there is little trace of them, there was no Homer to sing of their great deeds, but in these objects of great power something of their world still survives.
Roman marble bust of a worshipper of Isis
Silver portrait denarius of Julius Caesar
Rome, Italy, 2nd–3rd Century AD
Rome, 40 BC
Height 19½ inches.
Diameter 20 mm.
Provenance Ex-collection of Sandy S. Hudson, Georgia, USA, by descent from Mrs. L. Strother, acquired by L. Strother in Columbus in the 1950s–early 1960s.
Weight 3.75 g.
This sensitively carved and virtually complete bust shows a young worshipper. Seldom do complete portrait busts survive from the Roman era and here we have a rare opportunity to see the sculptor’s art in its intended form. The young man, perhaps in his early teens, is shown with a short lock of hair on his otherwise shaven head, indicating that he is a follower of Isis. The worship of Isis spread from Egypt and was a popular religion by the 2nd century, with its own rites and customs. One such custom involved young boys growing a lock of hair on the head, which was cut on reaching adulthood. This charismatic young man must surely be shown just prior to this important rite of passage.
Provenance Ex-collection of Walter Niggeler, Bank Leu auction 21st October 1966, Lot 944. Ars Classica auction 13, Geneva, 27th June 1928, Lot 1062.
This coin is history, struck with a rare naturalistic portrait of the deified Julius Caesar whilst the civil war for his legacy still raged. Minted to pay the legionaries who fought in that conflict, this artefact was not merely a witness to history, but an actor in fueling the fire of war. Sometimes antiquity can seem little more than pages from a book, though in handling an object like this the reality of the story emerges. Those who held this coin really did share their world with Brutus, Marc Antony and Octavian. A tangible link to one of the most formative periods in western history.
A perplexing, very personal portrait of a long gone youth – this piece exudes character. His complex expression aptly conveys the mystery and intrigue of an exclusive religion – a feeling no doubt intended by the artist and one we can still share today.
Graeco-Roman gold snake ring 1st Century BC 1st Century AD Maximum diameter 1Âź inches. Weight 17.45 g. Provenance Ex-French private collection, acquired early 20th century.
Personal treasures like this suddenly bring the character of the ancient Roman world to life. For the wealthy individual who wore this ring, it was a world of exuberance, opulence and excess. However, the three serpents hint to a deeper meaning. Watchful and wide-eyed, they were a powerful protective symbol, suggesting the owner of this ring, though wealthy, was not without a care.
Roman bronze statuette of Attis Roman Empire, 1stâ€“2nd Century AD Height of statuette 4 inches. Provenance European private collection, acquired 1980s.
Attis was a beautiful young shepherd, who was chosen by the goddess Cybele to be her consort. However, following his infidelity, Attis was thrown into a wild frenzy, eventually unmanning himself. This bronze is an exquisite depiction of the ill-fated god. He appears as if dancing, perhaps alluding to this frenzy, holding a horn of plenty in his right hand and looking skywards. His silver eyes glisten in the light, still conveying the heavenly countenance intended by the ancient artist.
Samnite helmet and neckguard Bronze, Southern Europe, 5th Century BC Height 9 inches. Diameter of guard 9Â˝ inches. Provenance German private collection, acquired in the middle of the 20th century.
This imposing helmet, a unique hybrid of the Samnite-Chalcidian type, has an unusually intense quality. That it survives with its original neckguard is completely unparalleled, immediately commanding our attention. Whilst different armour assemblages are known from the ancient world, this helmet flows so seamlessly into its neckguard that it allows us to give form to a ghostly ancient warrior.
Chinese ceramic warrior Northern Qi, 550–577 AD Height 14½ inches. Provenance From the collection of Mr and Mrs Ezekiel Schloss. Published Schloss, Ancient Chinese ceramic sculpture from Han through Tang, 1977, p.95.
The first Emperor of all China, Qin Shi Huang, was famously entombed with over 8,000 terracotta warriors to protect him from the dangers of the afterlife. This vibrant figure is a continuation of that most ancient of traditions. With all the statuesque majesty for which the short-lived but influential Northern Qi Dynasty is famous, he is depicted in the traditional attire of a warrior. Yet the martial spirit of the piece is distinct from the gracile form of its subject; his benign expression and sensitively rendered features provide a serene quality that reflects contemporary Buddhist sculpture.
Jade of an abstract man China, Han Dynasty, 206 BC–220 AD Height 2 inches. Provenance British private collection, Salisbury, UK, acquired early 20th century.
Strong and eternal, yet radiant and tactile, jade forms the very fabric of the Chinese soul. From the moment their civilisation emerged, it was with jade, not gold, that the Chinese expressed their power, wealth and artistic vibrancy. Carved from a stone of cloudy green and pierced for use as a bead, this mysterious abstract figure wears a heavy robe that obscures his arms and falls loosely to his sides. The ancient artist has reduced the human form to a mere suggestion, as if not wishing to interfere with the enchanting beauty of the stone.
Faience overseer shabti for Queen Tayuheret Egypt, Third Intermediate Period, XXI Dynasty, 1069–945 BC Height 4 1 ∕8 inches. Provenance Deir el-Bahri, royal cache 1, 1881. Ex-collection of Mrs Mary Lamont-Havers, acquired 1956–1957 at a sale of de-accessioned objects from the Metropolitan Museum, NY.
Tayuheret was the wife of Masaharta, high priest of Amun. Like all Egyptian shabties, this figure had magical power and was intended to come to life in the netherworld in order to do menial tasks for its owner. This figure is rare, however, in that she is an overseer, one of the workers tasked with watching over the others. The shabties of Tayuheret exemplify, perhaps better than any others, the beautiful deep turquoise glaze that characterises faience of the Third Intermediate Period.
‘The illuminated one, the Osiris, [T]auheryt.’
Faience ring for Tutankhamun
Egyptian faience frog
Egypt, New Kingdom, XVIII Dynasty, 1332–1323 BC
Egypt, Amarna Period, XVIII Dynasty, 1353–1337 BC
Maximum diameter 1 inch.
Length 5∕8 of an inch.
Provenance British private collection, Wiltshire, acquired early 20th century.
Provenance Ex-collection of Mrs Mary Lamont-Havers, acquired 1956 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Tutankhamun’s name was made famous by Howard Carter, when he discovered the king’s miraculously intact tomb in 1922. But anything mentioning the pharaoh’s name is rare, as he ruled for only 10 years at the height of the New Kingdom.
Crouching as if ready to spring away at any moment, this precious faience frog has a wonderful energy. Its striking sense of vitality suits its purpose as a charm to ensure eternal life, as does the ankh (life) symbol on its base.
This stirrup ring mentions Tutankhamun by his throne name, or praenomen, ‘Neb-kheperu-ra’ – Lord of the forms of Ra.
Syro hittite figural scene Terracotta, Near East, 3rd Millennium BC Diameter 7 inches. Provenance Ex-collection of Ulla Lindner, Munich. Published 1970.
This extraordinary scene is of an unknown type. We will never know exactly what it was meant to represent, or even why it was made â€“ perhaps it is a sacred enclosure, sanctuary or a funerary ritual. Created from the same rich clay upon which the first civilisations were built, it reflects a fragment of life in the ancient Near East over 4,000 years ago. Here we see an agricultural scene; grain is being sifted in a tray, then ground by two men, kneaded and finally a complete loaf lies just visible to the right. Meanwhile, two animals are herded, perhaps for slaughter as three onlookers watch on, seemingly in conversation whilst holding lamps. When we picture ancient civilisation, it is its great monuments and ruins that come to mind, yet this scene reminds us that the greatest of human achievements lie in the beginnings of agriculture, food surplus and the simple coming together of people.
Merely ball they would play, every day. Paired they would oppose each other. When they gathered in the ball court for entertainment a falcon would come to watch them. – Popol Vuh (Mayan Creation Myth)
Pre-Columbian pottery warrior holding ritual ball Mexico, Nayarit, 100 BC–250 AD Height 19 inches. Provenance Ex-collection of S. J. Seeger. Published Kelleher, The Stanley J. Seeger Jr. Collection, Princeton, 1961, no.152.
Very little is known of the mysterious ancient Nayarit people; what they left behind, however, are haunting figures who appear ominous, powerful and deeply emotive. This man is preparing to partake in the violent and highly ritualistic Mesoamerican ball game. The appearance is fierce, crossing the boundary between animal and man.
Silver stater from the island of Aegina Greek, 480 BC Diameter 20 mm. Weight 12.25 g. Provenance Ex-European private collection, acquired in the 1990s from a continental coin fair.
It was not the great cities of Athens, Sparta or Corinth that produced the first coinage of the western world, but a tiny, rocky island in the Aegean sea. Aegina bred men who looked beyond their shores for wealth and status, a famed society of merchants, seafarers and explorers that arguably gave birth to this most brilliant of human inventions. Struck with the image of a leatherback turtle, which roamed across the sea just as the Aeginetan ships did, these pebble-like coins were carried to the farthest edges of the Mediterranean, having been found as far afield as Egypt and the Levant.
Silver didrachm of Taras, South Italy Greek, 380â€“345 BC Diameter 22 mm. Weight 7.90 g. Provenance Hess-Leu auction, Lucerne, 7th April 1960, Lot 32.
This wonderful didrachm illustrates the incredible heights that some Tarentine die engravers were able to reach in the 4th Century BC. There is a sense of composition, elegance and grace here that is breathtaking. The ability to depict complex challenging scenes, yet maintain absolute elegance whilst working on such a tiny canvas is surely the achievement of a gifted die engraver. Pictured on the obverse is one of the mighty cavalrymen for which the city of Taras became famous, dismounting his horse in mid gallop, whilst brandishing a shield. The reverse shows the tale of Taras, founder of the city that bore his name. Cast into the sea by a great storm, his father Poseidon sent a dolphin to carry him safely to shore. These coins were not merely functional items for trade and exchange, they were opportunities to tell great stories, to boast of a cityâ€™s achievements. A coin such as this shows not only great artistic ability, but a sense of pride and national identity. The die engraver knew he was creating more than a mere artwork, but a banner for his city.
Chu Kingdom wooden figures China, 4th–3rd Century BC Height of each figure 16½ inches. Provenance Formerly part of the collection of the renowned art dealer and philanthropist Mr Tai Jun Tsei (1910–1992), acquired 1960s.
There is something elemental about these Chu Kingdom figures; rather than being crafted from wood, they appear as part of the wood itself, with the human form only subtly emerging from the twists and fissures of the organic material. Figures such as this were made to accompany the Chu elite into the afterlife, providing protection and acting as a display of wealth and status. Seemingly changing with the light, their severe expression and eyeless gaze convey a sense of power that belies their fragile nature.
Egyptian Amarna Period faience necklaces New Kingdom, 1550–1070 BC Lengths 16, 17 and 20½ inches. Provenance Collection of Mr and Mrs D., acquired on their travels to Egypt, 1906. Exhibited Metropolitan Museum of Art 1920s–1935, Boston Museum of Art 1945–1965, Museum of Man, California 1968.
These three necklaces were strung together in the early 1900s from ancient faience beads. The examples chosen, particularly the three pendants, are of the finest vibrancy and condition. They show us the brilliance of faience as an artistic medium, and go some way to explaining Egypt’s near 3,000 year obsession with it. Yet these objects also reflect the attractiveness of Egyptian jewellery to the modern eye, being as they are adapted into necklaces. They show a distinct art-deco feel, which is unsurprising considering they were restrung in the 1920s, probably after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 left its mark on the fashions of the day. 1) Counterpoise pendant The large amulet (menat) shown here acted as a counterweight to a menat necklace; a ritual, multistranded necklace that could be shaken with the counterweight and used as a musical instrument. 2) Lotus pendant The lotus shown here would have originally adorned an 18th Dynasty broad collar. The lotus was a symbol of renewal, as it opened each day with the sun. 3) Jasmine pendant This large three-dimensional pendant represents the blossom of jasmine, a fragrant flower that was used for perfume in ancient Egypt.
Stone head of Maitreya, Buddha of the Future Gandhara, 3rd Century AD Height 10 inches. Provenance Formerly in the collection of the art critic Denys Miller Sutton (1917â€“1991).
Gandhara, the land of contrasts, nestled in the snowy peaks and lush valleys of the Hindu Kush, an ancient meeting place between east and west. This magnificent sculpture calmly melds the nontheistic, devotional world of Buddhism with the god-like idealism captured in the finest GrecoRoman art. It is a fusion that should not work, yet here it appears inexplicably right, a testament to the work of a true master at the height of his ability. Depicting the Bodhisattva Maitreya (Buddha of the Future), the soft smile, sweeping brow and curls of the beaded hair are exquisite. Gazing into the eyes of this ancient sculpture, the sense of serene beauty is overwhelming.
Splashed with amber, yellow and green, these lokapala were intended to prevent malevolent spirits from encroaching upon the tomb, and would have ensured that their wealthy master departed safely to the next world.
Pair of terracotta lokapala figures China, Tang Dynasty, 700â€“756 AD Height 36Âž inches. Provenance Ex-British private collection, acquired before 1997.
The Tang Dynasty was one of the highlights of human civilisation; its power, vibrancy and enormous artistic confidence are vividly embodied in this pair of fearsome lokapala (guardian kings). It was during the Tang dynasty that the Silk Route reached its golden age. This great cosmopolitan empire created an environment through which goods flowed from the harsh deserts of Morocco to the islands of Japan, all at a time when the west was merely a patchwork of competing kingdoms. It was also during this period that Chinese figural sculpture reached its height, creating works of breathtaking energy and motion. One of the unique ceramic developments of the Tang period was sancai, the threecolour lead glaze admired for its baroque splendour and utilised so beautifully here. Splashed with amber, yellow and green, these lokapala were intended to prevent malevolent spirits from encroaching upon the tomb, and would have ensured that their wealthy master departed safely to the next world.
Boeotian black-figure lekane Terracotta, Greek Archaic, circa 550 BC Diameter 15½ inches. Provenance Collected by the father of the previous owner, a diplomat, in the early 1970s.
At times, Ancient Greece was a glorious melting pot of ideas and artistic styles. This beautiful dish, or lekane, is influenced in its decoration by the famous Athenian ‘black-figure’ technique, but its distinctive shape betrays its origin as nearby Boeotia. The inside is decorated with a fallen deer. On the outside, Harpy and Pegasus dance around beneath a starry night sky.
Alabaster eye idol
South Arabian pillar stele
Tell Brak, north-east Syria, 3200 BC
Limestone, 3rd–1st Century BC
Height: 2 inches.
Height: 17½ inches.
Provenance: Part of the collection at Crichel House, Dorset, acquired early 20th century.
Provenance: Property of a North American collector, acquired 1990s.
With its abstract style, there is something so deceptively modern about this artefact that it seems impossible that it was carved over 5,000 years ago. The mysterious eye idols of Tell Brak in northern Syria are unique and have no parallels in the ancient world. All have been found deposited in the ruins of a building known as the Grey Eye Temple and they appear to have been a potent local symbol associated with the patron deity of the settlement.
Land of the Queen of Sheba, the Rubʿ al Khali, frankincense and myrrh, the exotic region of South Arabia was visited by only the bravest of travellers. Cut off by great deserts to the north, it remained a virtually inaccessible and semi-mythological region throughout Classical antiquity.
The sculpture of the period seems to typify this sense of mystique, of the unknowable.
‘Isis is the one who gives life to Paneith, the son of Aa-aa.’
Egyptian figure of Isis nursing Horus Serpentine, XXVI Dynasty, 685–525 BC Height 6 inches. Provenance Ex-British private collection, acquired late 19th – early 20th century.
The ancient world is sometimes thought of as a brutal place, yet occasionally we see scenes of tenderness that seem particularly poignant. Behind this depiction of a mother nursing her infant child is arguably the most influential of ancient Egyptian myths; a story of murder, intrigue and revenge in which the young Horus grows to defeat the usurper, Set, resurrect his murdered father and bring order to Egypt. Sculptures such as this were commissioned by wealthy people in Ancient Egypt, and donated in temples as a display of piety. This very fine example has been inscribed on behalf of the dedicator: ‘Isis is the one who gives life to Paneith, the son of Aa-aa.’
Marble dedication stone Roman Empire, 2nd Century AD Height 31 inches. Provenance Far Eastern private collection, acquired 1980s.
The power of monuments such as this lies not just in their artistry, but their ability to bring to life ordinary individuals who would otherwise have been lost to history. Carved deep into the surface of the stone are the words of Gaius Longinus, a standard bearer of the fifth legion, forever immortalised. In his testimony, Longinus gives thanks to Apollo of Nisyra, the sort of strange hybrid deity often encountered in Roman religion. Though named as Apollo, he is depicted on horseback, holding the double axe of the local Anatolian sky god. Beyond its formulaic words, this stone gives us a far more intriguing insight into the story of Longinus himself. It hints at a young man who was recruited into the Roman legions from his native Nisyra. Fearful and apprehensive at what the future held, he made a promise to his local god that if he returned safely, he would raise a monument in thanks. From records of the time we know that Longinus would have served on the Danube frontier, manning the forts and watching over the very limits of the Empire. The fact that he is named as a standard bearer tells us that Longinus not only survived his time in the legion, but flourished into a man of renown and respect. This monument is not just the fulfilment of Longinus’ vow, it is a record of the man himself.
‘In the 128th year, Dystrus 12, Gaius Longinus, soldier of the Fifth Legion (the Macedonian), standard-bearer of the century of Julius Proclus – gives thanks to Apollo of Nisyra’
Iron Age Cypriot terracotta head Cypro-Archaic I-II, 650â€“600 bc Height 5Âź inches Provenance Irish private collection, acquired 1950s.
With its pointed chin and almost ghostly suggestion of eyes, this Cypro-Archaic pottery head bears a close resemblance to similar figures found in the great sanctuary of Agia Irini. Why they were dedicated and to which god is unclear; however, they were clearly intended as gifts, and deposited in great numbers, perhaps to win favour or in thanks. In this piece, we can see the simple but confident modelling that betrays an artist working with great speed and accuracy. In ancient times he may have been lost amongst a sea of similar figures, but he now stands alone for us to admire.
Publication team: Costas Paraskevaides Jethro Sverdloff Alexander Tweedy Faith Wood Photography: Jethro Sverdloff Design: axisgraphicdesign.co.uk Print: De Coker, Antwerp Front cover: Head of a king or votary (detail), p4 Back cover: Silver didrachm of Taras, South Italy, p53 Map images taken from Pomponius Mela, De Situ Orbis, London: Gul. Taylor, 1719.
Published by ArtAncient Ltd isbn 978-0-9930370-0-9 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. ÂŠ ArtAncient 2014 72