Thursday, 22 October 2020

Timeline Provenances: Curiouser and Curiouser


Masterpieces of the Ancient World - Capolavori del Mondo Antico  Scythian Gold Stag Shield Ornament. 7th-6th century BC. An exceptional gold ornament representing a galloping stag, legs folded under the body, the erect head is surmounted by voluminous antlers in volutes adjoining the animal's hindquarters, two of the antlers extend forward in an S-shape, the rest unfolding in sinuous waves, the shoulder and the rump are rounded and the surface of the body is carved in a three-dimensional way, the round eye was probably jewel-encrusted originally, one fastener for fixing remains to the rear. This ornament is stylistically very similar to the one discovered in Krasnodar in 1897 by Vesselovsky and preserved in the Hermitage Museum (Kou 1897, 1/1) which adorned the centre of an iron shield.  [bla bla cut]   47.26 grams, 56.5mm (2 1/4").
[collecting history]
Property of a London gentleman;
previously in the Khatibi family collection,
acquired from Naxos Art Gallery, 27 Mount Street, London, W1;
formerly in an important family collection formed before 1970;
accompanied by a copy of the original Naxos Art invoice dated 10 October 1985 and a positive metallurgic analytical result, written by Metallurgist Dr. Peter Northover (ex Department of Materials, Materials Science-Based Archaeology Group & Department of Materials, University of Oxford), number R5506;
this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.134261-10020; accompanied by an Art Loss Certificate no. S00157936.

[waffle cut] A video of this lot can be viewed on Timeline Auctions website.
Very fine condition, cleaned and polished, evidence of a recent brooch mount to the reverse. A rare object of exceptional workmanship and iconic in the world of Scythian art.
Provenance [sic!]: TimeLine Auctions Ltd. Antiquities Sale of Jun 02, 2020, lot: 60. Estimate £25,000 - £35,000.
So it was bought by "a London gentleman" FROM "Khatibi family", the Khatibis bought it from Naxos in Oct 1985, yes?  So when did Northover do the report, and for whom, and what purpose does it serve? How did Naxos document its previous history, and does that documentation accompany their invoice?  When was the brooch mount added and when was it removed? How did this object, if real, leave Russia? 

Now look at this other one sold by Timeline... this Sassanian anal single-nippled boar vessel 

Western Asiatic Sassanian Silver-Gilt Wild Boar Vessel
5th century AD
A gilt silver vessel formed as a standing wild boar with exaggerated muscular legs and chest with a bulging gut; detailed facial features including large snout, curled tusks, alert eyes with heavy eyelids, erect ears, the animal's mane running around its face and along its head and back, reaching a tightly-curled tail and detailed buttocks, cheeks highlighted with gilding and a series of small circles, repeated on the underbelly; an oval vessel mouth emerges from the mane, while the spout is formed as a pierced gilt stud at the centre of the boar's chest. 880 grams, 15cm (6"). Fine condition.

Property of a London gentleman; previously with an important central London gallery; formerly in the Khatibi family collection formed before 1970; accompanied by a copy of the original purchase invoice dated 15 October 1986 ($45,000) and two old museum-quality photographs; 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.10158-165299.

 [...] discussion and examples of wild boar on other vessels [...]
Footnotes [more superfluous narrativisation]
Here "a London gentleman" bought it from "an important central London gallery" and before that it had been IN "the Khatibi family collection formed before 1970" and there is an invoice FROM someone TO someone "dated 15 October 1986". So a year later than the invoice from Naxos to Khatibi . Odd that. Since the invoice (apparently) forms part of the sale and the sale description, why is it not show to the prospective client so they can judge just what evidential value it has? Where's the transparency? 

Now Dr Raffaele D'Amato is "an experienced Turin-based researcher of the ancient and medieval military worlds" best known for his Osprey books. So at what stage was this object in Turin? And who took it all the way there from London for his opinion, even though he has no known expertise in Sasanian vessels?

In the description of some work by the contemporary  Iranian-Belgian artist Sanam Khatibi (°1976, Tehran) we learn of "Khatibi's family collection, a Wunderkammer-like collection of ethnographic, anthropological and archaeological objects". Is this the collection in question? If so, maybe Timeline can explain how it left Iran, and when? If the collection was "formed before 1970" that would be in the times of Shah Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The 1980s sales in London would have taken place at the time of the Iraq-Iran war (1980–1988). But the Scythian stag sales spiel has the family buying the object in London - during that war, the second being sold by them through a London dealer during that war. What's going on here?

Timeline seems to be under the impression that a "proper-looking" sales spiel for antiquities should have a lot of references to academic books that the buyer probably will never have in their hands to check whether the object on sale really does "look like" the one in the book. When I do happen to have found the book (Warsaw libraries currently closed until further notice due to pandemic) the book's cited illustration only vaguely "looks like" the one on sale, when the object is eastern European, I can see that the cited literature is just some random stuff, and often "the wrong book" (so there's a couple of Russian works that should be cited for the Pumbaa-piece but are not). So in trying hard to look "professional", the auctioneer only looks as ridiculous as their spokesman here. All the crap narrativisation of the Pumbaa-piece about a Russian imperial mission totally misses the point about what happened to those objects when they were excavated (unless Mr Hammond is telling us they were later stolen from the Russian imperial collection?). There should be more attention paid to the story of the collection history of the object and not flabby flim-flam stories cut-and-pasted about similar objects generally. 

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