Roman Over Lifesize Trajanic Marble Bust Of Pompeia Plotina

Roman over-lifesize Antonine marble bust of Faustina the Elder, £600,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

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The trio of massive second century marble heads all sold to the same determined phone bidder as part of the Edinburgh and London firm’s first designated sale of Classical Ancient Art on March 21.

The sculptures were previously owned by John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley (1767-1831), the Lord of the Manor of Cobham. A noted amateur cricketer who made at least 27 appearances in first-class cricket matches between 1789-96, he employed the architect James Wyatt to remodel the interiors at Cobham Hall.

The sculptures, each now housed on a 19th century stand, remained in situ until the house changed hands in 1957. They were part of a sale held by Sotheby’s in London in July 1957.

Like the best Roman sculpture these were pieces that combined huge decorative appeal with academic clout.

In chronological order and setting the pace when it hammered at £600,000 (estimate £25,000-35,000) was a 3ft 3in (97cm) bust of Pompeia Plotina c.110-120 AD. Born around 70 AD, she assumed the role of empress consort when Trajan rose through the ranks of the Roman military to become emperor in 98 AD.

Although she eschewed many of the trappings of power and luxury often associated with imperial life, she is shown here as an idealised beauty with an elaborate coiffure and corkscrew fringe and a palla draped over the back of her head and over the shoulders.

There had been huge interest around the £100,000 mark but two phone bidders and a bidder online tussled as the competition reached the end game. 

Roman Over Lifesize Hadrianic Marble Bust Of A Lady

Roman over-lifesize Hadrianic marble bust of a lady, £160,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

Trajan was conservative in nature, and Trajanic portrait sculpture was often idealised to accentuate Roman virtues. With changing artistic sensibilities and philosophical trends, far more naturalism emerged during the reign of his successor Hadrian. This is observed in a sensitively rendered bust of an older aristocratic lady of the middle Hadrianic period c.125-130 AD.

She was guided at £20,000-30,000 but made £160,000.

Roman Over Lifesize Antonine Marble Bust Of Faustina

Roman over-lifesize Trajanic marble bust of Pompeia Plotina, £600,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

In 138 AD Antoninus Pius would succeed Hadrian as emperor and his wife Faustina the Elder was granted the title of Augusta by the Senate. A highly idealised and rejuvenated image of the empress in the guise of the goddess Hera dated to around 135-140AD, it was estimated at £25,000-35,000 and went to buyer at £600,000. 

“Three monumental sculptures with monumental prices to boot,” said Gavin Strang, auctioneer on the day. The winning bidder of all three lots was described as an international buyer.

Numbering a select 16 lots, the inaugural Classical Ancient Art auction at Lyon & Turnbull featured a range of ancient works of art and sculpture from several private collections.

One Of Two Apulian Volute Kraters C.340BC Attributed To The White Saccos Painter,

One of two Apulian volute kraters c.340BC attributed to the White Saccos Painter, sold for £75,000 each at Lyon & Turnbull.

Elsewhere at the sale, two Apulian volute kraters c.340BC had been in a UK family collection since the first half of the 20th century. They carried guides of £40,000-60,000 and sold for £75,000 each.

Decorated with mythological narratives and scenes from domestic life in the Ornate Style, in the words of Arthur Dale Trendall, co-author of The Red-Figured Vases of Apulia (1991), they featured “perhaps the most elaborate naiskos scenes from the entirety of ancient Apulian pottery”.

They are among the finest surviving work by an artist, known as the White Saccos Painter, who worked in one of the Greek colonies in Southern Italy, probably at Canosa, in the late 300s BC. His or her innovative technique involved applying white slip to the ceramic surface before painting.