Published: June 20, 2006
On June 6 at Sotheby’s, following an extraordinary achievement in scholarship, an ancient Roman figure of Aphrodite was reunited with her head after the two elements had been separated for at least 50 years. The figure was purchased in the firm’s auction of antiquities for $968,000 by the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta. Immediately following the fall of the hammer, the museum also purchased the head by private sale. This achievement was made possible by extensive research done by Sotheby’s antiquities experts. The auction totaled $4,584,172, above a high estimate of $4.1 million.
Richard M. Keresey, worldwide director of Sotheby’s antiquities department, commented, “This is a great moment for the world of antiquities and one we will always remember. Because of my colleague Florent Heintz’s research skills and astonishing visual memory, Aphrodite has regained not only her head, but also her history. We are particularly thrilled that this outstanding piece, in her entirety, will be on view to the public at such a wonderful institution.”
Jasper Gaunt, curator of Greek and Roman art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, said, “This is an incredibly exciting moment for our institution. We are actively building a collection of ancient art of peerless quality and this piece is without question the finest Aphrodite in the United States. The opportunity to own a piece of this importance in its entirety was irresistible, and she will assume a position of prominence in our collection. We are grateful that Sotheby’s was able to assist in consummating a private sale of the figure’s head.”
Nearly three months ago, Mrs Lawrence Copley Thaw Sr of NewYork City consigned a marble figure of Aphrodite, Roman Imperial,dating to circa late First Century/early Second Century AD, toSotheby’s June sale of antiquities. As is not uncommon withantiquities, the figure was missing elements, in this case, herhead and one arm. After in-depth research, Sotheby’s expertsdiscovered an engraving of the complete figure, published in 1836when it was part of a private collection in Paris. The rendering ofthe head in the engraving immediately struck Heintz as familiar; heremembered that Sotheby’s had sold a similar head on December 11,2002, possibly the one belonging to Thaw’s headless figure.
Sotheby’s then contacted the private collector from Houston who had purchased the head in 2002, and she graciously offered to bring it to New York to see if Heintz’s theory proved correct. When the head arrived in New York, Keresey and Heintz realized that, based on the dimensions of the neck, grain of the marble, weathering of both pieces, style of carving, tilt and turn of the head, combined with the existence of the engraving, the head did in fact belong with the body. The owner of the head then agreed to make the piece available for private sale exclusively to the successful purchaser of the body in the auction.
Rounding out the sale’s top ten lots were an Egyptian bronze figure of the Goddess Wadjet, Twenty-First-Thirtieth Dynasty, 1075-342 BC, $464,000; an Egyptian polychrome wood face mask, Nineteenth-Twenty-First Dynasty, 1305-946 BC, $307,200; Roman marble portrait bust of a man, Julio Claudian, circa early First Century AD, $168,000; Roman marble portrait head of the Empress Livia, Roman Imperial, Julio-Claudian, early First Century AD, $156,000; Roman marble figure of Kybele, circa First Century AD, $144,000; marble figure of Pan, Roman Imperial, First/early Second Century AD, $132,000; limestone relief fragment, Thirtieth Dynasty/early Ptolemaic Period, circa 380-200 BC, $114,000; Egyptian bronze figure of an Ibis, Late Period, 664-30 BC, $108,000; and marble relief fragment, Roman Imperial, Gallienic, AD 250-270, $96,000.
Prices reported include buyer’s premium, which is 20 percent of the hammer price on the first $200,000, and 12 percent thereafter. For information, 212-606-7000 or www.sothebys.com.
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