Souren Melikian is an erudite man with an extraordinary eye. We don’t think much of his understanding of economics but we certainly defer to his esthetic judgment. Who better to give us a tour of the very successful recent Antiquities sales in New York:
There are few major Egyptian sculptures left in the market with a pedigree establishing their presence prior to the 1970 cut-off date defined by the Unesco convention banning the looting of archaeological sites and the export of illicitly excavated objects. A bronze figure of Osiris cast in the early first millennium B.C., which once graced the collection of the Comtesse Martine-Marie-Octavie Pol de Béhague, was one of those. When seen at auction on Sotheby’s premises in Monte Carlo in December 1987, it sold for 421,800 francs or $74,500. This week, the bill was a stupendous $902,500. [ . . . ]
The rarest of all the objects seen on Tuesday was arguably a silver paten decorated in the fourth or fifth century with a Christian scene worked in repoussé. The style points to the Western part of the empire, probably Italy, from which very little early Christian silver survives. [ . . . ]
The Egyptian stone figure of a seated man that may have been carved any time between 600 and 350 B.C. exceeded the upper end of the estimate by half as it went up to $1.65 million. The price for a piece that is 35 centimeters high, the base included, is staggering. Acquired in Egypt by the British consul general, Henry Salt, it was published and illustrated as early as 1836, guaranteeing that no restitution claim will ever be plausibly made. [ . . . ]
The most striking of all the objects in the sale was probably the kneeling figure of a bearded character wearing a diadem on which a bowl with flaring sides is laid.
Cast in copper around 3300-3100 B.C. in a style associated with the period of early Sumerian art referred to as “Uruk IV,” the object is 17.2 centimeters high. If the catalogue is accurate, the statue entered a Lebanese collection in 1954. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had it on long-term loan from 1986 until this year. The sculpture has a hypnotic presence like much else in the earliest art of Sumer, that non-Semitic culture of present-day southern Iraq to which the later states of Babylon and Assyria were heavily indebted. Deemed to be worth $300,000 to 500,000 plus the sale charge, the copper figure rose to a breathtaking $782,500.
Rare Antiquities Show Remarkable Success at New York Sales (International Herald Tribune)