Monday 22 October 2007

"Lydian" silver at Bonham's

This Friday, October 26, sees the auction of a piece of "Lydian" silver at Bonham's in London as lot 216.

But why do I say "Lydian" when the catalogue description clearly states, "An Achaemenid silver kyathos"?

The reason is simple. This distinctive piece has a very close parallel as the Bonham's catalogue makes clear:

This ladle is virtually identical to the example in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (1980.11.14).

A glance at the New York catalogue, D. von Bothmer's A Greek and Roman Treasury no. 62, suggests the parallel is "Greek, sixth century B.C.", not (as Bonham's) "Achaemenid" and 5th century B.C.

So why am I not describing this piece as Greek? It is because the catalogue compilers at Bonham's overlooked one significant fact.

The parallel is no longer in New York. It has been deaccessioned. It has been returned to Turkey along with the rest of the "Lydian haul" (Lydian Treasure no. 30).

And where and when did the Bonham's ladle surface for the first time? At Sotheby's in London on Monday, July 14, 1975, lot 93.

The feature of the Bonham's ladle with "a silver lotus capital with a ring terminal above in the form of a pair of rampant lions, their forepaws interlocked and their heads turned back" is shared with the former New York piece, "two heraldic lions ... touch each other with their extended front legs and avert their heads". They look as if they come from the same workshop and possibly even from the hands of the same silversmith.

Why did the Bonham's cataloguers want to draw such a clear parallel with a piece from the "Lydian haul"? Is it because they believe that the ladle being auctioned this Friday also derived from one of the Lydian burial mounds?

There are some questions that need to be answered this week.

And as the Bonham's antiquities department says:

"you are likely to find something of interest in one of our sales".


Özgen, I., and J. Öztürk. 1996. The Lydian treasure: heritage recovered. Istanbul: Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture General Directorate of Monuments and Museums.

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