This 5.5in (14cm) Corinthian Geometric period bronze figure of a horse, c.8th century BC, is the subject of a dispute between Sotheby’s and the Greek ministry of culture.

The outcome of the case could have ramifications for the wider antiquities market.

Sotheby’s had planned to sell the statue on May 14, 2018 with an estimate of $150,000-250,000 but it was withdrawn from sale following a challenge from Greece three days before the sale.

The Greek ministry has claimed the horse, one of more than 1000 known, is “cultural property that had been stolen from Greece in violation of Greek patrimony laws”.

Subsequently Sotheby’s pursued a court case in New York against Greece to clarify the “rights of legitimate owners” which it argued is the vendor of the horse, the family of New York collectors – the late Howard and Saretta Barnet – who bought it at auction in 1973. Sotheby’s sought a ruling to establish that Greece had no ownership rights and that Sotheby’s could “lawfully” sell the work.

“Established and reputable auction house”

According to Sotheby’s, the Barnets’ bought it at a New York auction in 1973 for around £15,000. Before this it was owned by London dealer Robin Symes.

Symes was later accused of dealing in looted antiquities and sent to prison for contempt of court in 2005. Sotheby’s argued that the horse was also owned by two other art and antiquities dealers before being acquired by Symes and had been sold at an “established and reputable European auction house” - Swiss auction firm Münzen und Medaillen in 1967.

However on June 9, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling in favour of Greece, stating that the country was immune from such legal charges because it was not acting out of commercial interests.

Sotheby’s said in a statement: “While we are disappointed with the decision, it does not impact what is at the heart of this matter – there is, and remains, no evidence to support Greece’s claim to ownership of the bronze sculpture. We, together with our client, are reviewing next steps.”