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At Artemis Gallery's online auction: Sale assembles exceptional classical, Pre-Columbian & Tribal art
This “adorable” Roman bust of a child holding a pig from the Antonine period, circa Second Century CE, was bid to $10,200.

BOULDER, COLO.- An “embarrassment of riches” was how Artemis Gallery described its offerings in the firm’s October 23–24 absentee/online auction of antiquities, Pre-Columbian and tribal art. “It was surely one of the finest selections of ancient art we’ve ever had the privilege to present at auction,” said the gallery’s co-owner and executive director Teresa Dodge. “The sales exceeded our expectations,” she said, and that was in terms of both the gross sales and the number of new bidders. There were a total of 850 registered bidders on the two online platforms — Invaluable and LiveAuctioneers — and 375 of those successfully bid on offered items.

The sale’s first day was devoted to classical, Greek, Roman and Anatolian art. The second day focused on pre-Columbian art from the ancient Americas, along with a selection of African and tribal material.

As expected, the top lot in the sale of classical antiquities was a museum-quality example of a Second–Third Century Palmyran limestone portrait head of a prince, which sold for $21,000 and is staying in the United States, going to an East Coast bidder. From the ancient Near East, Syria, the 16¾-inchhigh (including custom base) piece’s back was unfinished, indicating that it was part of a shrine or stelae. The prince, with incredibly life-like features with curled beard, short wavy hairstyle, painted details of eyes and eyebrows, “looks like he should be on a Hollywood set,” Dodge said. The bust was from the collection of William Froelich, who said he had it in New York since the mid-1970s, having purchased the piece in Europe.

Provenance is a critical element in these auctions due to the safe harbor provisions enacted by the US government in 1983 protecting collections from cultural patrimony claims, the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) passed by congress in order to implement the 1970 UNESCO Convention. So Artemis Gallery is extremely diligent in getting documentation and collecting information from potential consignors, according to the firm’s co-owner Bob Dodge. “We get between five and ten emails a day on average offering items or collections, and we weed through those to find the ones that have been acquired legally,” he said, adding that Artemis will not take on any consignments that cannot satisfy the CPIA criteria.

The second highest price realized in the classical antiquities session,$18,900,was brought by another bust — this one a realistically rendered marble portrait of a young man, Rome, Severan period, circa early mid-Third Century AD. It had once been part of a wall shrine (again, shown by the work not being finished on the reverse area below his neck). Aristocratic, with closely cropped hair, well-trimmed beard and long aquiline nose, the handsome example measured 20 inches, including the custom marble base.

Bidders found favor with a Tenth Century Viking iron sword that had been found in Cornwall, England, in the 1970s. Solid iron, with a beehive end cap and stamped Coptic cross on the blade just below the crescent-shaped pommel, and measuring 35 inches long, the weapon drew a final price of $18,000.

Additional highlights from the classical antiquities sale included what the auction house described as an “adorable” Roman bust of a child, with delightful cherubic face, chubby body, tight curls atop his head and down his neck holding a pig to his left side as he looks to his right. From the Antonine period, circa Second Century CE and measuring 10½ inches on a custom stand, the expressive example was bid to $10,200. A heavy bronze bullet-shaped helmet, eastern Mediterranean, circa first half of the first millennium BCE, ex collection of Axel Guttmann (1944–2001), took $8,400, and fetching $6,600 was a terracotta wine drinking vessel done in red-figure technique from southern Italy, circa 340 to 325 BCE.

Day two of the auction — Pre-Columbian and tribal art — was crowned quite literally by a wonderful high-karat gold crown in hammered sheet gold in ¾-inch round, with multiple repeating panels of mirror imaged human figures. From Panama, circa 500 to 1000 CE and coming out of a private Hawaiian collection, the regal lot finished at $22,800.

Two lots vying for second highest price realized in this sale, each taking $15,600, were a large gold pectoral in the shape of an open-winged bird with mask in repousse in center and a terracotta cylinder vessel. The pectoral originated in south coast Peru, Paracas-Proto Nazca, circa 300–100 BCE. It embodied the ancients’ multilayered, symbolic associations with avian fauna, which in the pre-Columbian world were associated with the celestial sun, moon and Venus, acting as messengers between humankind and their deities. The terracotta cylinder was from Mayan Territories, Mexico, circa 500–850 CE. Decorated with an upper band of glyphs, the vessel’s signature glyph was of a very detailed water lily monster of Mayan mythology.

Rounding out the second day highlights were a rare knife of the type used by the Moche in northern Peru, circa 100–300 CE, in ceremonial sacrificial rites, which sold for $12,000; a pair of once-wearable pendants representing a bat god from Panama, Veraguas, circa 500–1100 CE, which went out at $11,400;and a carved stone vessel, most likely used for the grinding and storing hallucinogens from Andes-Peru, Pucara culture, circa 1200 BCE, which brought $8,400.

Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.

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