Christie’s has unveiled an ancient Egyptian funerary portrait as a leading lot in a dedicated sale of 60 antiquities items from the Collection of James and Marilynn Alsdorf that will take place online until June 16. The sale marks the beginning of the house’s marquee Classic Week, a series of seven online sales offering work across Old Masters, 19th Century Art, Antiquities and Books and Manuscripts.
The portrait of a female figure dated circa 1st–2nd century A.D. has an estimate of $200,000–$300,000 and comes from prominent Chicago-based collectors and philanthropists who amassed significant holdings of ancient and early Renaissance art through four decades of buying.
Mummy portraits created from the first to third centuries A.D. in Roman Egypt have been shrouded in mystery. The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has a group of 16 portraits similar to the one on offer, which features a wide-eyed young woman adorned in the fashion of ancient Egypt. Like this portrait as well as those from the Getty collection and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, these stylized images of young upper-class Egyptians merge Greco-Roman art with Egyptian funerary practice. Most commonly painted with tempera on wood panel or linen, the realistic pictures accompanied the deceased in funerals. The work was previously loaned to the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1991 exhibition Grave Goods from Ancient Cultures.
The Alsdorfs acquired the piece in 1975 from renowned antiquities and Asian art dealer, Mathias Komor, who was a leading figure in bringing ancient and African art to collectors beginning in the 1930s. The antiquities market has met with difficulty recently as government restrictions crack down on looted art. In 2015, Christie’s was forced to withdraw a bronze Celtic dagger from its antiquities sale when evidence surfaced from the Association for Research into Crimes against Art (ARCA) that the piece was sold illegally by Italian dealer, Gianfranco Becchina. In the same sale, a bronze Canaanite enthroned deity originally sold by Komor failed to sell after speculation it also had an illicit record.