Lot 67. A Roman marble portrait head of the Emperor Septimius Severus, Circa 194 A.D.
Slightly over-lifesized, depicted with his head turned to his right, his thick curling hair and beard with drilled detail, the beard characteristically full and long with ringlets at the chin and a thick moustache at the upper lip, his eyebrows incised above large eyes with articulated pupils gazing upward, the strong neck designed to be set into a composite statue, 16¼in (41.3cm) high, mounted
American private collection, California.
Christie’s New York, 11 December 2003, lot 232.
European private collection, acquired in the 1980s.
Estimate: £120,000-150,000 ($200,000-250,000). This lot sold for £206,500 (US$ 344,041)
UPDATED with sale results.
Bonham’s April 3, 2014 Antiquities sale in London has more than a handful of works that lack a pre-1970 provenance (I know … it’s this issue again). Among them, according to ARCA, are some found in the archives of looted works of “two art dealers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, [that were] confiscated by Italian and Greek police who have used them to identify objects looted and smuggled from at least 1972 until 2006.”
The “pre-1970″ refers to the date of an international UNESCO convention aimed at halting the looting of antiquities. As the New York Times reported: ‘In 2004 the Association of Art Museum Directors declared “member museums should not acquire” any undocumented works “that were removed after November 1970, regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation.”’ Numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries.” It’s a standard I believe should apply to private collectors as well as museums and other institutions.
UPDATE: ARCA reports one of the items they previously highlighted, lot 22 (below), has been withdrawn from the sale. According to ARCA, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis had matched this object to those in the archives of looted work sold by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina.
Lot 22. A CANOSAN POLYCHROME PAINTED LIDDED POTTERY PYXIS
A Canosan polychrome painted lidded pottery pyxis
Circa 3rd Century B.C.
The domed lid with a central mask modelled in relief surrounded with bands of painted decoration, the front of the cylindrical vessel painted in pink, red and pale blue with a band of swags, the tripod legs comprising two doves and a rectangular slab foot at the back, 9in (22.9cm) high
American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s.
Estimate: £3,000-5,000 ($5,000-8,300). This lot has been Withdrawn.
The ARCA report continued:
Peter Watson, co-author with Cecilia Todeschini of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums (Public Affairs, 2007), wrote in The Times (“Auction houses ‘handling stolen goods’“, April 2):
Christos Tsirogiannis, of the Division of Archaeology at Cambridge University, and formerly a member of the Greek Task Force that oversaw the return of smuggled objects, said that the auction houses should have realised that they were handling illegal objects. “They themselves do not release all the information they have about how these objects reach the market,” he said. “These objects have no real provenance.”
The objects are believed to be part of hauls gathered during the 1980s and 1990s by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, two notorious Italian dealers. Both men have been convicted of trafficking in illicit antiquities. Medici’s archive was seized in 1995 in Geneva, and Becchina’s was seized in Basle in 2002. Between them, the men supplied thousands of illegally excavated and smuggled antiquities, many of which were dug up by mechanical digger, and sold at Sotheby’s throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Some of them were priceless and many still had soil on them. They passed in their thousands through London salesrooms until the traffic was exposed, partly by The Times in 1997. Sotheby’s was forced to discontinue its sales in London.
Mr Tsirogiannis, who has just been awarded his PhD for a thesis on the illicit international antiquities trade, has access to two Polaroid archives of the hauls that were seized by the Italian carabinieri in Switzerland. He noticed that the two objects coming up for sale at Bonhams and Christie’s were identical to two shown in the photographs of the seized archives, in one case dirty and broken before restoration.
UPDATE: A reader has indicated that another lot has come under question, a Neo-Assyrian Black Basalt Stele.
The reader supplied a link to Heritage for Peace, which in its March 26, 2014 newsletter contains the following:
Potentially looted relief up for sale at Bonhams
• According to a recent article in Al-Akhbar (17 March 2014), a new lot at Bonhams Auction House, due to be sold on the 3rd April in London, may have been looted. The article publishes a video entitled “Stop the Theft and Sale of Antiquities in Syria”, by the Saadeh Cultural Foundation. The video is addressed to UNESCO, the Syrian Government and Bonhams. The video claims that Auction Lot 99, which is apparently from Tell Shiekh Hamad, in Haseke province, is looted, despite Bonhams claim is was excavated in the 1970s. The upper section of the stele was discovered in 1879 by Hormuzd Rassam, and is now in the British Museum. Rassam’s notes comment he was unable to fund [sic] the lower half. There is also no evidence that Layard, who also excavated the site, found it. The site was excavated by Kuhne in 1975, but his excavation records also do not mention it. Therefore, the foundation argues, it must be looted. [emphasis added].
Looting has certainly been reported at the site since at least September 2012.
To read the full article (in arabic) and see the video (arabic with English subtitles) in Al-Akhbar, click here.
Lot 99. A monumental Neo-Assyrian black basalt royal stele of Adad-nerari III of Assyria, Circa 805-797 B.C.
Comprising the lower two-thirds of the stele of rectangular cross-section, the front carved in high relief with a standing figure of the king in prayer, depicted in profile from the waist down, shown wearing a long fringed robe, with bare feet, holding a staff before him, the neat regular cuneiform text inscribed across the body of the king is preserved with the beginnings of lines 9-10 and lines 11-20 in their entirety, each line separated by horizontal rulings, with several lines continuing onto the raised border. 54in (137.5cm) high; 29½in (75cm) wide; 10½in (27cm) deep
Private collection, Geneva, Switzerland, given as a gift from father to son in the 1960s.
The top section of this stele fragment, now in the British Museum, was discovered in May 1879 by a close friend of Sir Austen Henry Layard, the renowned archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam (1826-1910), following reports of its existence from different Arab travellers. The round-topped section was found to have been hurled down the mound by Arabs as this effigy was considered idolatrous and the site itself was sacred to the spirit of Sheikh Hamad, to whom various cures of ailments and afflictions had been attributed. Rassam believed the remainder of the stele was buried at the top of the mound, see H. Rassam, Asshur and the Land of Nimrod, being an account of the discoveries made in the ancient ruins of Nineveh, Asshur, Sepharvaim, Calah, etc, Cininnati & New York, 1897, p.312. The top of the stele was removed with some difficulty to the coast and eventually arrived at the British Museum where it entered the Museums’ collections in 1881 (Inv. No. BM 131124; 1881,0721.1).
Rassam had dug some test trenches at Tell Sheikh Hamad (ancient Dur-Katlimmu) but was unable to return to the site and continue his excavations after failing to receive the necessary permit. It was in 1978 that Hartmut Kühne directed the German excavations in Tell Sheikh Hamad but he found no evidence of the lower half the stele that Rassam had believed to be at the top of the mound. So it seems this lower stele section, forming the larger part of the monument must have been removed prior to this date and likely prior to 1975 [emphasis added] when Kühne began surveying the site.
Estimate: £600,000-800,000 ($1-1.3 million).
UPDATE: The Art Newspaper
reports the Neo-Assyrian Black Basalt Stele that the organization Heritage for Peace concluded is looted has been withdrawn from Bonham’s sale. According to the article: “A spokesman told us that the withdrawal was “for further study”, but he remained “hopeful that the stele will be offered at one of our future sales”. With an estimate of £600,000 to £800,000, the stele would have been by far the most valuable object in the 3 April auction.” In an earlier report
, the paper said the British Museum, which owns the top half of the stele, had not plans to bid on the bottom portion. That article also noted: “The Switzerland-based owner of the stele tried to sell it at Christie’s New York in 2000, with an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000, but it failed to sell. It was only after this that Karen Radner, an Assyriologist at University College London, linked the piece with the fragment in the British Museum and identified the praying figure as Adad-nerari III. A curse written in cuneiform on the object condemns anyone who removes the stele from its original site.”
Here are several more works with problematic/hazy/incomplete provenance (I’m always amazed/amused by the number of works that come out of private Swiss collections):
Lot 5. A Greek bronze Illyrian helmet, Circa 6th-5th Century B.C.
The domed helmet with a pair of raised double parallel ridges, each with smaller ridges at the outer edge, with a central frontal tang and loop at the back for attachment of a crest, with an everted rear flange and long pointed cheekpieces perforated at the forward tip, edged with a border of studs, 9in (23cm) high
English private collection, acquired in the early 1990s on the UK art market.
Estimate: £10,000-15,000 ($17,000-25,000) This lot sold for £21,250 ($35,403).
Lot 107. A Sasanian silver-gilt royal hunting scene plate, Iran, circa early 4th Century A.D.
The interior decorated in relief, the figural scene with gilding and finely incised details, depicting a king, thought to be Hormizd II, riding a horse at flying gallop to right, the king wearing a crown in the form of a winged eagle surmounted with a globe, with three rippling streamers flying out behind, wearing a chest halter over a belted tunic, and trousers with pleated edging, wearing a quiver at his right hip, decorated with a wavy palmette tendril and a rosette above, a beribboned sword hilt on his left, seated astride the horse with a dotted cross-hatched saddle blanket, a pair of incised balloons fly out behind, a rippling ribbon attached to its bridle with a ribbed globe above, wearing a harness ornamented with large bosses, its tail elaborately tied, the king drawing a bow, taking aim at a fleeing ostrich or great bustard in front, two shot birds below, one collapsed with an arrow through its turned neck, the other shot through its breast, the plate on a ring foot, the base with a dotted Pahlavi inscription mentioning the weight, and two monograms (23.3cm) diameter; 791.9g weight
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired between 2002-2005.
European private collection, UK and Switzerland, formed in the 1970s and 1980s.
Estimate: £150,000-250,000 ($250,000-420,000) This lot sold for £182,500 (US$ 304,056).
Lot 177. An Egyptian bronze Horus falcon sarcophagus, Late Period, circa 664-30 B.C.
The falcon deity wearing the double crown, perched with closed wings crossing over the tail feathers, with finely incised details on the feathers and claws, standing with arched talons on a corniced hollow sarcophagus, 6¾in (17cm) high, 7in (18cm) long
French private collection, Normandy, acquired in the 1970s.
Estimate: £12,000-15,000 ($20,000-25,000). This lot failed to sell.
Lot 19. A Greek red-figure hydra, Apulia, attributed to the Baltimore Painter, circa 320-310 B.C.
Decorated with added white, ochre and crimson slip, the upper frieze depicting a wedding scene, the bride seated on a chair beneath a parasol, unveiling herself to the groom standing in front, leaning on a basin, flanked by three attendants, the lower frieze with a naiskos flanked by female figures carrying caskets and situlae, 26¼in (66.7cm) high
T.L. Collection, Berne, Switzerland.
V.L. Collection, Nyon, Switzerland, acquired in the 1990s.
Estimate: £20,000-30,000 ($33,000-50,000). This lot failed to sell.