Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Found in a river": Tarentine coins for sale

Nomos AG of Zurich is offering a set of 4 silver diobols of Tarentum and a bronze lidded box in a Zurich sale (May 6, 2009; details). The sale is highlighted in a press release (July 25, 2008):
Nomos AG announces its first public auction of Fine Ancient and Early European Coins and Medals to be held on the afternoon of May 6th, 2009, in Zürich. The auction will take place at the Widder Hotel, a five star luxury facility in the center of town. Many major coins of great beauty and importance have already been consigned to the sale. The sale will be fully and expertly catalogued by Dr. Alan Walker, Director of Nomos AG, and will feature an elegant catalogue layout and design.
These Tarentine coins appears to be part of a group:
When found the box contained four diobols of Tarentum, all dating circa 280-228 (though probably in the earlier part of that period), and all with a helmeted head of Athena on their obverses and a standing figure of Herakles grappling with the Nemean Lion on their reverses.
The pieces formed part of the collection of Dr. Leo Mildenberg ("in 2000"). The catalogue entry suggests that the box surfaced in recent years:
According to the information that was supplied by Dr. Mildenberg, this box was found in a river and when the deposits that filled it were cleaned out, these four silver coins were found within it. This is by no means improbable: the box itself is probably slightly earlier than the coins, but idea that it contained them seems perfectly reasonable. Its small size implies it was meant to be used to hold relatively precious items. Given the kind of people who still brought things to Dr. Mildenberg in his later years, and this was brought to him a year or two before he died, it is very unlikely that anyone would have thought it worth while to create a fictitious history for the object (especially since the coins themselves were then of relatively minor value). It was undoubtedly shown to him because it was the kind of curiosity everyone knew he enjoyed seeing. In any event, being able to have the actual container in which the present coins were found is both exciting and romantic.
Mildenberg died in 2001 and this piece appears to have been acquired by him "in 2000" ("a year or two before he died"). Curiosity would prompt questions about the finders and previous owners of this box and its contents. What sort of people "still brought things" to Mildenberg "in his later years"?

A Lucanian nestoris sold by Mildenberg (see earlier discussion) was among the objects returned to Italy by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [abstract].

The box is also worthy of comment. The cataloguer (presumably Dr Alan S. Walker [for his views on cultural property see his revealing and frank review available from the web pages of the Committee on Ways and Means]) draws a parallel with a bronze "Box with relief-decorated lid" that once formed part of the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection (A Passion for Antiquities no. 29) and now in the J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. 96.AC.87). (No previous publication, history or find-spot were noted for the Fleischman box.)

The coin cataloguer adds:
The box is so close in form to the Fleischman example, now Getty 96.AC 87 (dated to 350-310 BC), that one wonders whether it could have been made in the same atelier. While its cataloguers pointed out its resemblance to the cinerary urns used in Macedonian tombs (especially that of Philip II), the fact that this one surely came from Magna Graecia makes one wonder whether the Fleischman piece came from there as well.
Magna Graecia is another way of saying that this box with four silver coins minted at Tarentum came from southern Italy.

And if it was found in Italy, what was the date of its discovery? How and when did it leave the country?

(The cataloguer should, perhaps, note that the gold larnax from Tomb II at Vergina is unlikely to have belonged to Philip II given the implications of the weight inscriptions on the silver plate. [Abstract])

I am grateful to Nathan Elkins for drawing my attention to this lot.

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