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Masterworks from the collections of the Dukes of Northumberland to be offered at Sotheby's
The Sale also features an Exceptional Selection of Rare and Important Decorative Arts drawn from the most Prestigious Collections in Europe. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- On 9th July 2014, Sotheby’s fifth successive sale of Treasures will be led by a group of 17 masterworks from the celebrated collections of the Dukes of Northumberland. From their historic homes at Alnwick Castle and Syon House, these treasures span over two millennia of Art History and 500 years of collecting: from a sublime marble statue of Aphrodite carved in the early decades of the Roman Empire (est. £4-6 million) to remarkable pietre dure inlaid Italian cabinets.

The 60-lot sale, estimated to realise in excess of £13 million, will also include an outstanding selection of rare furniture and work of arts, many of which emanate from prestigious aristocratic collections in Europe and come to the market for the first time. Combining exceptional provenance with extraordinary craftsmanship, these masterpieces constitute the very pinnacle of their collecting category, as demonstrated by a mesmerising Swan clock made in London, circa 1790 for a Chinese Emperor (est. £1-1.5 million).

Discussing the forthcoming sale, Mario Tavella, Deputy Chairman, Sotheby’s Europe, Private European Collections said: “The collection of the Dukes of Northumberland, formed over 500 years, ranks amongst the finest private art collections in the world and this sale offers an exceptional opportunity to acquire works of the same calibre as pieces preserved in the most important museums. Many other highlights in the sale have remained in the same collections for centuries. Commissioned by the greatest art patrons of the day, including The Duchesse du Berry, The Duke of Argyll, The Grand Dukes of Tuscany and Napoléon, these masterworks meet connoisseurs’ continued demand for the very finest pieces at the top-end of the market.”

Leading the sale is the Northumberland Aphrodite, a Roman marble statue of the Greek goddess, carved in Rome in the early 1st century A.D., after a Greek original of circa 430-420 B.C.. Purchased by Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland (1712-1786) in 1773, this monumental sculpture (203.2cm, 80in high) has dominated the Robert Adam-designed Great Hall at Syon House for the past 241 years. It is first recorded with certainty in the late 16th century, as it stood in the garden of the (no longer extant) Palazzo Cesi in Rome. Until very recently, the head of the Syon Aphrodite was considered to be a later addition. The discovery of its twin sister near Naples in 2005 proved beyond doubt that the head of the statue was original to the body (est. £4-6 million / €4,910,000 - 7,370,000 / $6,760,000 - 10,130,000).

The 1st Duke is also responsible for the wonderful English furniture contained within the sale, including the Stanwick Commode (est. £800,000 - 1,200,000 / €985,000 - 1,480,000 / $1,360,000 - 2,030,000). Made around 1740, after a design by William Kent, one of Britain’s greatest architects and designers, this exceptional marble topped mahogany commode was destined to furnish the Yorkshire estate of Stanwick Park which the Duke completely refurbished from 1733. Adding to its importance in the history of English furniture, the commode is described in a 1740 letter from the Duke’s wife Elizabeth. This is one of the very earliest known references in England to a mahogany chest of drawers, using the modern French term ‘commode’.

Another treasure is to be found in the Alnwick Castle enamels. Few cycles of Limoges enamels have been cited as often as the extraordinary series of enamelled copper plaques representing Virgil’s Aeneid. Dating from circa 1530, they are the earliest instance in which the technique of painting enamel on copper was used to depict secular scenes. 82 plaques from the series survive, of which the most significant groups are in the Musée du Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. This makes the six plaques from the Collections of the Dukes of Northumberland one of the largest groups remaining in private hands (est. £800,000- 1,200,000 / €985,000 - 1,480,000 / $1,360,000 - 2,030,000).

Alnwick Castle and Syon House host one of the most important collections of hardstone mounted cabinets in the world. The 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland added extensively to this collection on their Grand Tour of Italy in 1773, acquiring unique works such as the magnificent 17th century Roman cabinet inlaid with pietre dure in the sale (est. £250,000 - 400,000 / €307,000 - 491,000 / $422,000 - 680,000). This impressive work, enhanced by the addition of a George IV stand by Royal cabinets makers Morel and Hughes, circa 1823, is one of a distinct group of Roman 17th century pietre dure inlaid cabinets which were highly prized not only at the time of their commission but also later on by Grand Tourists in the 18th and 19th centuries, other examples of which are in renowned public and private collections.

Hugh Percy, 3rd Duke of Northumberland (1785– 1847) also considerably enriched the collection. In addition to buying the celebrated royal Cucci Cabinets1, he commissioned the George IV pietre dure mounted ebony veneered cabinet, incorporating 17th century Florentine panels from the renowned London firm Morel & Hughes, circa 1823 (est. £250,000 - 400,000 / €307,000 - 491,000 / $422,000 - 680,000).

In addition to the 17 lots from the Collections of the Duke of Northumberland, this summer’s sale will feature important furniture and works of arts from prestigious European collections.

From the collection of a distinguished Swiss private collector is a George III musical automaton tower clock made for the Chinese market in London, circa 1790. Testament to the Qing Emperors’ fascination with musical and automaton timepieces, this mesmerising swan clock set with fine guilloche Geneva enamel panels was in the Chinese Emperors’ Summer Palace at Jehol until 1913, when it was acquired by the famous Swiss watch collector, Gustave Loup (1876-1961). In 1938-39, Gustave Loup sold this clock to Jacques-David LeCoultre (1875- 1948), Director General of LeCoultre & Cie. In 1953, his son, Roger LeCoultre sold it to the father of the present owner. Originally one of a pair, this magnificent clock will appear for the first time at auction in July, with an estimate of £1-1.5 million (€1,230,000 - 1,850,000/ $1,690,000 - 2,540,000).

Recognised as one of the great sculptors of his time in Europe, Lorenzo Bartolini (1777-1850) features in the sale with a superb white marble statue representing The Campbell Sisters dancing a waltz (est. £300,000 - 500,000 / €369,000 - 615,000 / $510,000 - 845,000). Executed in Florence circa 1820, this imposing sculpture (170cm high) is one of the most beautiful Italian portrait groups of the neo-classical period. The young models are Emma and Julia Campbell, daughters of Lady Charlotte Campbell (1777-1861) who was herself the daughter of the 5th Duke of Argyll. Probably commissioned by Lady Charlotte Campbell and her brother George William Campbell, 6th Duke of Argyll, the work – the property of the descendants of the 6th Duke of Argyll - was on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, from 1991 until 2013.

A further highlight of the sale is a sumptuous pair of console tables made for Marie-Caroline, Duchesse de Berry (1798-1870), one of the most unconventional of the 19th century and an iconic figure of Romanticism. The wife of Charles Ferdinand, Duc de Berry, heir apparent to the French throne, she conspired against King Louis Philippe to regain the crown of France for her son and eventually remarried to Count Ettore Lucchesi Palli. These ebony veneered and mahogany console tables were commissioned for the Château de Rosny, near Paris. With their exquisitely cast and chased gilt-bronze mounts, they represent the apogée of the oeuvre of Jacob-Desmalter – favourite cabinet-maker of Napoleon and synonymous with creating superlative objects for the French aristocracy. Passed by descent to the Lucchesi Palli family, these wonderful pieces are being sold by a European Nobleman, with a pre-sale estimate of £250,000 - 400,000 (€307,000 - 491,000 / $422,000 - 680,000).

1 Created by the Italian furniture maker, Domenico Cucci in the late 17th century, the “Cucci cabinets” were made for Louis XIV’s Palace at Versailles. They were bought by the 3rd Duke of Northumberland in 1822 and are the only surviving such royal cabinets in existence.

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