Lots combining these elements, including two marble torsos, drew spirited bidding in a 250-lot sale of artefacts from the ancient Mediterranean world at Hindman (26/20/15% buyer’s premium) of Chicago on May 25.
The torsos – one Cycladic, the other Roman – made sizeable contributions to the sale, which totalled $1.3m (£1.06m) from 201 lots (82%) with interest spread evenly across Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Near Eastern antiquities.
The 6¼in (16cm) high Cycladic torso (c.3rd Millennium BC), carved with the figure’s arms characteristically folded across the chest, had been published and exhibited in 1959 and had not appeared on the open market since 1970. It drew multiple bids on the phone and online against a $7000-9000 estimate before it was knocked down for $45,000 (£37,000) to a US buyer via the internet.
Cycladic art, with its distinctive simple lines and modern abstract aesthetic, is highly sought after on today’s market by collectors of both antiquities and modern art with the best examples – normally complete figures or large heads – selling in the six figures.
The Roman marble (c.1st century AD) depicted the nude torso of Venus in the so-called ‘Pontia- Euploia’ type, carved as if she were emerging from the sea and frequently used to decorate baths and gymnasiums in the Roman world.
The rear of the statue, which was only summarily worked in antiquity, suggested it was probably displayed in a niche.
Since 1983, the piece had been the property of Dr David Girgenti, an antiquities collector from Illinois who had purchased the torso along with other pieces from the inherited collection of Harold F Moore (1947- 2015).
Just over 3ft (91cm) high, with some later restoration to the chest, it was knocked down on top estimate for $50,000 (£41,000).
Elsewhere, an Egyptian faience hippopotamus dating to the Middle Kingdom (1991-1783BC) was knocked down within estimate for $45,000 (£37,000) to a US buyer.
According to Hindman, it is one of only five Egyptian hippopotami known to have survived “of this type” and the price achieved, though not an auction record, was the highest “for a sold piece in faience at auction in recorded memory”.
It had some areas of restoration, including to the upper jaw and feet. Relatively well known, having appeared in several private collections since its first recorded auction at Sotheby’s in 1987, it was consigned from a West Coast collection where it had been since 2021.
The sale’s top lot was a highly naturalistic over life-sized arm (4th century AD) from Greece that formed part of a small group of ancient hands and arms collected over three decades by Arnold-Peter Weiss (b.1960), an American hand surgeon.
Weiss complemented his group of ancient hands with an extensive collection of other art related to the hand including medieval stained glass and Old Master drawings and paintings.
The arm, which may have belonged to a “much larger full statue of a nude male heroic figure at the pinnacle of his physique”, boasted a long ownership history that could be traced back to the 19th century collection of the Benzaquen family in Gibraltar.
Reflecting this together with both its academic interest and aesthetic appeal, the auctioneers estimated the piece at $80,000-100,000. It proved a little too punchy on the day, however, and it sold on the book for $75,000 (£61,000) to a US buyer.
The stand-out entry of the pottery section was a well-proportioned Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to the circle of the Antimenes Painter (active c.530-510BC). One side depicted Hercules draped in his Nemean lion skin towering over the fallen Amazonian Queen Hippolyta whose sacred girdle he was commanded to bring back for Eurystheus for his ninth labour.
With only a little restoration, the attractive 15¾in (40cm) high vessel was well contested on the phones and sold mid-estimate for $50,000 (£41,000).
Tripling its top estimate elsewhere in the section was an attractive and well-preserved example of Cypriot biochrome pottery, regarded as some of the most characteristic and handsome of the ancient world.
This hydria, decorated with the distinctive concentric circles on a cream hue, came from the estate of Chicago-based classical musician Elliott Golub who died in 2019. After a two-way battle, it was knocked down at $12,000 (£10,000) to a buyer on the internet.
Other significant lots included an Egyptian green jasper plaque carved with a depiction of Amenhotep II hand-feeding his favourite steed (the only figure known in ancient Egyptian art to be depicted in such “an intimate, autobiographical representation”).
It sold to a phone buyer below estimate at $50,000 (£41,000).
A hyper-realistic Roman marble head of a ram not offered at auction before and with an ownership history stretching back to the 1930s at least attracted keen bidding from the phone and the internet before it was knocked down above estimate for $40,000 (£33,000).
£1 = $1.23