An arresting Roman marble portrait head of a man, possibly a priest, leads Bonhams Antiquities sale in London on July 5. It is estimated at £60,000-80,000.
The auction house revealed that the marble portrait dates from between the 1st Century B.C. and the early 1st Century A.D. The subject is completely bald — a rarity in sculptures of this period — and the reason for that may lie in his vocation. The scalp gives the appearance of having been shaved, which suggests the man might have been a priest of the cult of Isis, which was popular in Rome at the time. Priests of Isis were known to shave their heads as an act of worship. A hole in the crown for the insertion of a separate head-covering — now lost — adds weight to the theory.
The sale also features a private Swiss collection of terracottas, and a European private collection of rare Near Eastern works. Two beautiful Piravend bronze idols from the latter were once owned by Andre Derain who, with Henri Matisse, was the co-founder of the hugely influential early 20th century art movement, Les Fauves. The figures are said to have been a gift from one of Derain's sitters, his sometime lover Domenica Guillaume — the wife of his art dealer, Paul Guillaume. Derain's striking Portrait of Madame Paul Guillaume with a large hat is one of the highlights of the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris.
“The Piravend figures — one male, one female — were made in Western Iran during the 9th – 8th centuries B.C., but little else is known about them. They may have been deities, and the female figure, who appears to be pregnant, could have been a fertility symbol. They were bought at the sale of Derain's estate in 1956, and have been in the same family ever since. The male figure is estimated at £20,000-25,000, and the female figure at £15,000-20,000,” says the auction house.
Bonhams Head of Antiquities Francesca Hickin said: "The sale offers a wide range of objects from many regions and periods. The Swiss collection of terracottas — competitively estimated — is of very high quality; and the two Piravend figures are fascinating on many levels. Not only are they extremely elegant, but they are also shrouded in mystery — we can only guess what they were for — and, of course, carry the prestigious association with Andre Derain."
Founder: Louise Blouin