Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Adding to the history of an Attic black-figured amphora

Attic black-figured amphora
Source: Schinousa archive, courtesy of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis

The post-excavation histories of objects are important as we map the that cultural property passes through collections and the markets. This is clear for an Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to Group E, that is due to be auctioned at Christie's New York on October 31, 2018 (lot 31). It shows Herakles and the Nemean lion, and Theseus and the Minotaur.

The auction catalogue claims that it surfaced in the hands of John Hewett in London in 1970 (or earlier), then to a private collection in Europe, followed by a series of auctions:
  • A European private collection; Antiquities  Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 130
  • thence to a private collection, New York
  • Antiquities Christie's, New York, 15 December 1992, lot 81
  • Antiquities Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1996, lot 50
  • Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1998, lot 102
The amphora appears in the Beazley Archive (BAPD 350425). This provides the history sequence as follows (though in the list of auction catalogues seems to confuse Sotheby's and Christie's). Note that the sequence does not quite match the one provided by Christie's.

  • 1: London, market 
  • 2: London, market, Sotheby's 
  • 3: New York (NY), market, Sotheby's 
  • 4: London, private 
  • 5: New York (NY), market, Sotheby's
Cambridge-based researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, has spotted that the amphora appears in the Schinousa archive. He also observes that the photographs of the amphora in BAPD show salt deposits, perhaps indicating that the amphora had only recently emerged from its context. These also contrast with the photographs in the Schinousa archive that appear to have been taken after conservation / restoration.

When did the amphora reside with Robin Symes? Was this the European private collection? Or was this the London private collection between December 1996 and June 1998? Or are these private collections different again?

The amphora was known to Sir John Beazley and was listed by him in 1971. It is, however, surprising that the auction catalogue entry and the BAPD record do not coincide more closely. And the amphora's presence in the hands of Robin Symes adds to our knowledge of how the amphora passed through the market. 


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