Wednesday 15 April 2020

Dealer's "Aphrodite mosaic" is a Bad Buy without the Paperwork [UPDATED]

Here's quite a complex case where the lack of paperwork should make an artefact unsaleable to all but the most uncritical client (though, unless they are shills, the dealer's already found four of them): Timeline auctions 2nd June 2020 LOT 0212 'Roman Mosaic with Aphrodite and Nymph Doris'  Estimate GBP (£) 10,000 - 14,000,  Bid History: 4 Current bid: £12,500.  Seller's description:
Roman Mosaic with Aphrodite and Nymph Doris
3rd-4th century AD A large rectangular floor mosaic panel in matrix comprising a mythological scene with the goddess of love, Aphrodite, wearing a transparent tunic and chlamys, a vine leaf crown resting on her locks, holding a sceptre with bells in her right hand; on her right side sea-nymph Doris, daughter of Oceanus, wearing a himation and a chlamys, naval crown on her head and holding a staff; to the left of Aphrodite, a bearded satyr or lesser divinity, a subligaculum wrapped around his waist, holding a shepherd's staff in his left hand, a panther at his feet; a Greek inscription 'ΔWΡΙϹ' (Doris), 'ѦΦΡΟϹ' (Afros, abbreviation for Aphrodite) and the name 'ΚΑϹϹΙΝΙΑ' [sic!](Kassinia) [sic!] above the heads, guilloche pattern surrounding. 44.6 kg, 1.52 x 1.22m (59 3/4 x 48"). Fine condition.

From a private collection of seals and amulets, the property of a Canadian gentleman living in London; from his father's collection formed in the late 1960s to 1980s; accompanied by an academic report by Dr. Raffaele D’Amato; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.155096.

Cf. Olszewski, M.T., The iconographic programme of the Cyprus mosaic from the House of Aion reinterpreted as an anti-Christian polemic in Et in Arcadia Ego. Studia memoriae professoris Thomae Mikocki dicata, Dobrowolski, W., Płóciennik T. (ed. by), Warsaw: Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw, Warsaw, 2013, pp. 207-239, Pls 74-86. Footnotes [...] The presence of the goddess Aphrodite, born from the sea, together with the goddess Doris and a figure from a Dionysian procession, suggests that the mosaic was part of a bigger scene. The presence of the sea divinities together with Dionysus (Roman Bacchus) is well attested, in the famous mosaic of the House of Aion, in Paphos (Cyprus), from the mid fourth century.
Hmm. Well, Dr Raffaele D'Amato studies, um, Byzantine Medical instruments and military history. The academic sounding "Literature" sounds posh don't it, with it's Latin and all... What it means is Numpty has Googled "mosaics in Cyprus/ images" and found this. The cited plates look absolutely nothing like this object, not all of them are mosaics.

But yes, Cyprus. Cyprus... a name to play with. Building a collection "from the late 1960s to 1980s", one could come across quite a lot ripped off from Cyprus on the market, not that any of it was legal. Especially in the aftermath of the 1973 Turkish invasion. Where is the paperwork? Paperwork, Mr Hammond.

Now if I were bidding twelve thousand quid on this, I'd like a bit more information on this thing than what we get here. Really.  What is it we are looking at? First of all, a "floor mosaic" he says. But it is 1.52 x 1.22m, so smaller than my downstairs toilet. Even if it had a plain border round it that was not taken, its still titchy. But it is the "right size" as a displayable collectable, an impressive bragworthy trophy that does not take up an excessive amount of space. That's suspicious.

Just a moment's thought (do greedy collectors do that, think?) about what Numpty says would make me look at that guilloche. It is pretty 'lumpy', awful workmanship, but hey "3rd century", eh? Seriously, look at the corners. Where there, in the object we have before us, is there a sign that this guilloche was part of the frame of several conjoined panels? (Compare with the guilloche frame of the one he cites as a parallel.) It wasn't was it? Or if it was, the corners have been reworked to hide this - but then, where is the edge of that restoration/resetting of the stones? I can't see anything, can you?

What actually do we have here anyway?  How has this been "portableised"? What does "in matrix" mean? Perhaps anyone buying this would first take the trouble to learn what the technique is and what issues that raises. Here's a video that explains the technique.... Then we have the problem of reworking (Ancient Roman mosaics ruined in botched restoration job).  So, if the Timeline Auctions description was more explicit it should read at least:
"a lot of differently coloured squarish flat stones set in ****, and on a base of **** with *** reinforcement and set in a modern wooden frame, current weight 44.6 kg; these have been transferred from an ancient mosaic excavated at **** by the technique of *** by **** in the conservation laboratory of **** in 19**, here is the full documentation".
Because without that, we have what Timeline actually produced which can be translated as:
"a lot of coloured stones set in a pattern in a modern matrix that I am calling a Roman mosaic, even though the pictures and writing in it are Greek, sold as seen"
See the difference? What is this thing that a Harwich (!) dealer is trying to sell for thousands of quid? It's very wooden, as if it is not so much a composition, but somebody is trying to copy something. Sort of like a paint-by-numbers picture. The guilloche is made by somebody who's not very good at making guilloches, and really does not have much of a conception how they work. Look at the hands and feet, tragic. The faces, Monkey Christ in stones. Aphrodite's right hip and leg (!), in fact all the legs. Awful. Paint-by-numbers.

What would disturb me if I were buying that as a piece of "ancient art" are precisely those faces and hands. What strikes me here is that all the cubes are the same size. In most ancient mosaics, and I've cleaned a few, the tesserae vary in size and shape depending on where they are used. In the faces are generally smaller tesserae to produce the detail of expression etc. Here it is just clunky (using the correct classical art-history terminology). This is not state-of-the-art mosaicing. The only thing it's got going for it is the kitschy-folksy look and warm colours, but that would be worth only a fraction of Brett Hammond's auctioneers' estimate.

It looks to me, from the single photo we have offered as its description, as if some bloke in a garage has made something that looks like a mosaic. A Turkish garage maybe? The only thing that stands between such a suspicion and 'this is a skilled and authentic transfer of a real and authentic ancient mosaic' is precisely that documentation of how what was found (if it was found) was turned into what we now have. It is the same problem as restrung "mummy beads". Caveat lector, caveat emptor.

UPDATE 15th April.
My goodness, here's a turnup for the books! It just so happens that the Numpty ex-rare-bird-seller, wannabe antiquities dealer quotes a Warsaw scholar... who I of course notified that his work was being used to legitimate this piece of junk. His reply delighted and surprised me and with his permission I quote part of what Professor Marek T. Olszewski (University of Warsaw Institute of Archaeology) wrote:
I agree with you and in my opinion, this mosaic is fake. This is a copy of a known mosaic from Antioch (Antakya, Hatay Museum) discovered in the 1930s. This mosaic has been made on the basis of a reversed photograph: pinterest  The Greek inscriptions are false and were added to make a difference from the original mosaic. The inscriptions, from a semantic point of view and of the mythical history of Dionysos are completely illogical.
Antakya is "Antioch on the Orontes", the capital of Hatay Province, the southernmost province of Turkey. I am a bit puzzled now why they turned Dionyssus into Aphrodite (but explains why the latter is somewhat anatomically misshapen in the crotch area in the Timeline mosaic) and chose the names of the Nereid Doris and Kassiopeia mother of Andromeda for the other two. And well, golly, I guessed "Turkish garage" and it would seem there is a good chance now that I am right.

UPDATED 21st April 2020
Professor Olszewski  seems to feel personally affronted that (in his efforts to make a quick few thousand quid from flogging an object that is what what he says it was), ex-rare-bird-importer Hammond has picked upon his hard work and scholarship to try and make a dodgy antiquity more palatable to the rich-but-ignorant wannabe 'eroodites'. He seems less than willing just to drop the subject and has promised to look into this further but for now asked me to add this:
"I have taken a look at the sense of the inscriptions, and their origin: how the names of personages were chosen and where the people who commissioned the fake could have been inspired. There are three inscriptions: Δωρίς, Άφρος, Κασσι(ε)πια above the figures. Δωρίς (Doris) is a sea goddess, daughter of Oceanus and Tethys and wife of Nereus; ἀφρός (Aphros) means foam of the sea; Κασσι(ε)πια come from Κασσιεπια (Kassiopeia), who is a beautiful woman, a Queen of Ethiopia and mother of Andromeda. It so happens that in Apamea-on-the-Orontes, the mosaic of the so-called "Judgment on the Nereids" dated by Jean-Charles and Janine Balty to the time of the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363), we find three mythological figures represented: The Nereid Doris, the ichtiocentaur Aphros and the Ethiopian Queen Kassiopeia. In my opinion, the craftsmen making this inverted copy of the three figures from the original mosaic from the House of the Bacchic Thiasos at Antioch-on-the-Orontes (showing Dionysus, Silenus and Maenad) added to it incongruously the Greek inscriptions copied from above the heads of  the three figures shown in a mosaic at Apamea in Syria illustrating the beauty contest between Kassiopeia and Nereids".
So that really seems to sort that out, not only is Mr Hammond selling a fake as an original piece of ancient art, not only is he selling a bad and obvious fake, but also he is selling a bad, obvious and incompetent fake mosaic without any paperwork supporting its authenticity of legal export from the source country. 
hat tip Chasing Aphrodite, thanks to Prof Olszewski

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Paul, Your work exposing all of this is very important, Very Well Done!

Best, Jamie Corrigan

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