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Roman Bust Tops $8.1 Million in Determined and Defiant Bidding War

December 6, 2012
Lot 30. PROPERTY OF THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINEA MARBLE PORTRAIT BUST OF GERMANICUS, ROMAN IMPERIAL, JULIO-CLAUDIAN, PROBABLY REIGN OF CALIGULA OR SLIGHTLY LATER, CIRCA A.D.37-45, Estimate: 3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD  the general turned to his right, his youthful face with strong chin, aquiline nose, and large eyes beneath the wide brow, his unruly wavy hair falling in deeply drilled locks over the forehead, the long sideburns extending down to his broad square jaw. Height 20 1/4 in. 51.5 cm.

Estimate: 3,000,000 – 5,000,000 USD
the general turned to his right, his youthful face with strong chin, aquiline nose, and large eyes beneath the wide brow, his unruly wavy hair falling in deeply drilled locks over the forehead, the long sideburns extending down to his broad square jaw.
Height 20 1/4 in. 51.5 cm. This lot sold for $8,146,500 (hammer price of $7.2 million plus buyer’s premium)

The standout in Sotheby’s December 6, 2012 Antiquities sale in New York, and a lot with no fuzzy provenance, was the portrait bust of Germanicus from the collection of the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine that roared past it’s $5 million high estimate to sell for $8,146,500 ($7.2 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium) to a very determined and at times defiant bidder in the room.

Bidding opened at $1.75 million and slowly crept at $50,000 increments up to $4 million. Bidding continued ploddingly at $100,00 increments until a new agent jumped in at $4.4 million and bidding rapidly escalated to $5 million.  Then the thrust and parry really took off.  The next bid of $5.1 million bid was met with a lightning fast counter bid of $6 million – and $6.1 million by an equally aggressive $7 million counter.  At the next bid of $7.1 million, the auctioneer looked toward the counter bidder and half-jokingly asked “$8 million”? Instead, it was a counter of $7.2 million from the “standing bidder in the room” with paddle number 832 that proved the death knell.

Here are some more images and the lot notes:

Lot 30. Detail.

Lot 30. Detail.

Thomas Bruce (1766-1841), 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine, Broomhall, Scotland, probably acquired circa 1798 in Rome
by descent to the present owners, Broomhall
“Classical Antiquities from Private Collections in Great Britain,” Sotheby’s, London, January 15th-31st, 1986
Carlos A. Picón, Classical Antiquities from Private Collections in Great Britain, London, 1986, p. 44, no. 49, illus.
Dietrich Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Caligula, Berlin, 1989, p. 64, note 52
Karl Fittschen, “I ritratti di Germanico,” in Germanico: La Persona, La personalità, Il Personaggio, Rome, 1987, p. 217, pl. 13, 50
Alexander Mlasowsky, Imagines Imperii: griechische und römische Bildnisse einer norddeutschen Sammlung, Mainz, 2006, p. 61
María Luisa Loza Azuaga, “Un nuevo testimonio de un principe julio-claudio: El retrato de Germánico de Colonia Patricia Corduba,” BSAA arqueología, vol. 75, 2009, p. 149
Arachne. Central object-database of the Research Archive for Ancient Sculpture at the University of Cologne and the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), no. 27872
Lot 30. Detail.

Lot 30. Detail.

Catalogue Note

The present bust was acquired by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, probably through his private secretary William Robert Hamilton, whom he had instructed to buy “marbles” in Rome in the year 1799. Based on archival correspondence between the two men the purchase occurred shortly prior to their departure for Constantinople, where Lord Elgin was to assume the role of British Ambassador to the Sultan. A letter from Hamilton to Thomas Bruce states that he was overseeing the packing of the marbles for shipment to Constantinople, where they were to decorate the Ambassador’s residence. The shipment would have occurred in late 1799/ early 1800. The bust was not recorded by Michaelis at the time he visited Broomhall in the 1870s. It is, however, shown in a photograph on display in the house around the time of his visit.30-4Germanicus was the father of the emperor Caligula and older brother of Caligula’s successor, Claudius. The present bust is among the finest and best preserved portraits of the young Germanicus at the time of his adoption in 4 B.C. by his uncle and soon-to-be emperor, Tiberius. Based on the physiognomy and careful arrangement of the locks of hair over the forehead, it belongs to a group of about 10 known copies, all derived from an original late Augustan portrait type commonly designated Adoptionstypus in the German nomenclature of Julio-Claudian portraiture (V. Poulsen, Claudische Prinzen. Studien zur Ikonographie des ersten römischen Kaiserhauses [Deutsche Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft, 14], Baden-Baden, 1960, pp. 28 f.; Z. Kiss, L’iconographie des princes julio-claudiens au temps d’Auguste et de Tibère, Warsaw, 1975,p. 113; K. Fittschen, in: G. Bonamente and M. P. Segoloni, eds., Germanico: La Persona, la Personalità, il Personaggio. Atti del Convegno, Macerata, 9-11 maggio 1986, 1987, pp. 205ff., pls. 1 ff.; D. Boschung, “Die Bildnistypen der iulisch-claudischen Kaiserfamilie: ein kritischer Forschungsbericht,” Journal of Roman Archaeology, vol. 6, 1993, pp. 59 f.; D. Boschung, Die Bildnisse des Caligula [Das römische Herrscherbild, vol. I 4], Berlin, 1989, p. 64, note 52).

30-5The closest comparable example to the present version is a fragmentary marble bust of Germanicus in the Louvre (inv. no. Ma 3135), which was found in Cordoba. Like the Broomhall version it was clearly carved in the Roman metropolis (K. de Kersauson,Catalogue des portraits romains. Tome I. Prortraits de la République et d’époque Julio-claudienne, Paris, 1986, no. 63, pp. 138-139). Also very close, but with variations due to the material chosen, is a basalt portrait bust of Germanicus in the British Museum (A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, London, 1904, pl. 152, no. 1883, pl. 15).

A portrait bust of a Julio-Claudian prince in the Württembergische Landesmuseum Stuttgart is strikingly similar to the present example in its overall mood and general treatment of the hair and beard. It was once identified as Germanicus (U. Hausmann,Römerbildnisse, Stuttgart, 1975, no. 6, figs. 12, 14, 15, 17), but is now thought to represent one of the sons of Drusus.

Based on the shape of the bust the present example was carved after Germanicus’ untimely death, when he was just 33, but conforms to the earlier Adoption Type, showing the general in the bloom of youth and vigor. As a posthumous likeness of Germanicus probably executed during the reign of Caligula, Germanicus’ son and successor to Tiberius, this portrait conforms to the idealized and formalized aesthetics of Julio-Claudian portraiture, inextricably linking father and son with their imperial predecessors and contemporaries. Visually reinforcing family ties bolstered the power of the ruling family, and in this case reinforced Caligula’s authority in particular. By having representations of Germanicus made during his reign, he may have been attempting to ride on the extraordinary popularity of his father. Representing his father as a young but already successful general may have been meant to transfer similar qualities onto the young Caligula, as he embarked on a reign that would soon become less than popular.

Germanicus was adopted by his uncle Tiberius at the behest of his great uncle Augustus, who may have considered adopting the boy himself, which would have made Germanicus heir to the throne. However, Augustus was pressured to choose Tiberius, his stepson, as successor instead. Probably originally named after his father or uncle, Germanicus became known by this honorific title in 9 B.C., after it was posthumously awarded to his father for his victories in Germania. Germania is also where Germanicus would eventually fight and win his own battles, cementing his reputation with the Roman people. He is reported to have been popular and well-liked by the citizens of Rome for his military successes in Pannonia and Dalmatia. Germanicus’ death was the source of some speculation since he died young while in Antioch upon ordering the recall of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, the governor of Syria. Tacitus records the speculation that Piso and his wife in fact both poisoned and bewitched Germanicus, perhaps even on Tiberius’ orders.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 23, 2012 7:28 PM

    I love this portrait of Germanicus and would loved to own it, but the one thing that seems odd is the beard? It seems maybe to have been added later, as was done on portraits of antiquity sometimes. I am not saying it is not supposed to be there, but it seems odd, a beard on his son Caligula or Nero or Drusus Julius (Caligula’s brothers) would have made more sense. Wonderful blog and I love the provenance that you put to the portrait of this wonderful Julio Claudian period work of art.

    Joe Geranio
    Julio Claudian Iconographic Association

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