Sunday, 25 April 2021

Auction Watch. A "Timeline" to Where? Timeline Auction 25th May 2021 "Roman Gorgon Type Cavalry Sports Helmet Mask"

    Sad puffy Medusa (Timeline 2021)*
Timeline Auction 25th May 2021 Lot No. 0293 "Roman Gorgon Type Cavalry Sports Helmet Mask" (Estimate: £15,000 - 20,000)
Roman Gorgon Type Cavalry Sports Helmet Mask
3rd century AD
A bronze 'female-type' cavalry sports helmet mask of Medusa typology, modelled with the features of the Gorgon, Medusa; voluminous wavy hair intertwined in serpent-like curls and with three buns arranged like horns on the top of the head, the hair with central parting at the front; the eyes, nostrils and mouth delicately pierced; two piercings to the lower rim for attachment of the connecting straps; a slot to the top through which a fastening turning-pin secured the inner mask. 578 grams, 27cm (10 1/2"). Fine condition, restored.
Condition report [Click to show]
From an important East Anglian arms and armour collection; acquired from a Dutch private collection in the 1990s; previously in a Swiss family collection since before 1980; accompanied by an academic report by military specialist 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.10604-174115.

Literature Cf. Robinson, R., The Armour of Imperial Rome, New York, 1975, pls.359ff.; Garbsch, J., Römische Paraderustüngen, München, 1979; D'Amato, R., Negin, A., Decorated Roman Armour, London, 2017, figs.225ff.
And then some narrativisation. There is a really cringeworthy video with the creepy Tim Wonnacott with his dangly glasses braids and ill-matched accessories ("legionnaires")

Posted on YouTube by Timeline Auctions

Leaving all the narrativisation guff aside...The video shows this thing against the face of the gravelly-voiced wonnacott, and I'd draw attention to the proportions, the face of the mask is puffy, cheese-shaped (far too wide), and the face much smaller and lower in proportion to the rest of the head than on a real person. 

              Just a rough comparison from           
the information on seller's website

Also we cannot see from any of the auction material where these "two piercings to the lower rim for attachment of the connecting straps" are, but "straps" connecting it to what? To a cavalry helmet? Straps at the bottom and not at the top? As for "a slot to the top through which a fastening turning-pin secured the inner mask", what on earth is that about? What "inner mask"? A visor? But Roman cavalry helmets didn't have two layers of visors. What on earth is this? How actually did the maker of this object thought it would be attached to a helmet? A single swivelling pin at the top? And then the dealer says he thinks this was worn in battle. Completely bonkers. But who am I to judge when "military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato" has said that this is what it is. 


Timeline has been quite lucky to find suppliers that can produce cavalry helmet masks - not entirely like this one, but equally ... um... thought-provoking.  There was this one sold in August 2019:  Mask ‘matches Crosby Garrett find’ Roman relic up for auction is believed to be from same workshop as famous helmet.

Antiques Trade Gazette August 2019

This is 26 cm in height overall (get your head in that with a liner/padding) and
is the property of a London vendor and has been through several British collections and dealers since it was first purchased in York in the 1970s. Unlike the Crosby Garrett helmet, named after the hamlet in the Eden Valley close to where it was dug, the find site is unknown although it is believed it was also unearthed in northern England. Although possibly buried with the other parts of the helmet, only the removable mask survives. It is around 95% complete, according to TimeLine CEO Aaron Hammond, and has been reassembled from four pieces with some small areas of resin infill.
Also "The restorer who worked [sic] the mask believes they were made by the same workshop, perhaps even the same craftsman [as the 2010 find of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet]. The similarities, including the patina, are pretty interesting.

Then there was this "Mater Castrorum Type Cavalry Sports Helmet" Lot 364 estimate £30,000 - £40,000" that surfaced just a few weeks ago ( Feb 23, 2021) "From an important East Anglian collection of arms and armour; acquired from a Dutch private collection in the 1990s; previously in a Swiss family collection since before 1980; accompanied by an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato":
Late 2nd-early 3rd century AD. A complete bronze female type sports mask of Robinson's Type E and of Mater Castrorum type, composed of two parts: the face mask with female features, the lips slightly parted, nose with ventilation holes, openwork eyes with delicately pierced rings forming the irises, hatched detailing to eyelashes and eyebrows, the falling wavy hairstyle that of a Roman Matrona, adorned with diadems, garlands and other jewellery, the hair divided into two sections, the first section framing the face and the second section worn as a wig over the other, attachment holes to the lower edge; the back part of the mask covered with curly hair, a small bun at the nape of the neck, the short neck guard with holes for fastening the lining, a fastening rivet to the top of the skull flanked by two small horns [...] 26-28cm. 
There's a video that goes with this one too, and here we can see the side view.


Again, this one seems to be a pretty awkward shape and size to get a normal head in. Again, the proportions of the face are 'off'. The lining would not be fixed just to the neck guard, but also along the rim of the joining halves, but there are no signs of such an attachment. Supposedly there was a "fastening rivet" on the top, between the horns (horned matrona?) but how were the two halves prevented from flying apart in use? There are no signs of an attachment. Also the unfinished edges of the two halves look pretty dangerous. Again the maker of this item, wherever and whenever that was, seems to have given little thought to the practicalities of wearing this. 

These "Harwich helmets" seems all to have similar patina and similar ideas about the treatment of the hair. They have sad eyes and expressions.  Another feature is that, like the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet, several of them are described as restored, with holes patched with polymers, suggesting (or intended to suggest) that they had been excavated. 

Somewhat different is this one sold by Timeline in November 2016:   30cm. "Property of a Suffolk gentleman; acquired before 2000":
Then there is a "Roman Sports Mask of an [sic] Numidian Prince" from the May 2019 Auction Lot 447, 29cm, estimate: 20000 - 30000. 


Another Timeline one: "Property of a European gentleman living in the UK; formerly in a private collection formed in the 1990s". Lot 503 Roman Cavalry Sports Helmet Mask Estimate £1,000-£1,400, Sep 04, 2018

Not a very nice one at all: lot 502 from Sep 04, 2018 Estimate £3,000-£4,000... "17.5cm (7"). From an important English collection; acquired in the 1990s".

Then there is this possibly related one: 'Roman Gryphon Parade Helmet Mount" lot 1820, Feb 23rd 2017 Estimate £120-£170. How coincidental. The so-called Crosby Garrett helmet had one just like that...

From the LiveAuctioneers website, we can see that Timeline also has recently had helmets lacking visors/masks for sale with similar collecting histories.

What I find puzzling is (a) that all these helmets are said to have existed in private collections for thirty years or more, yet none of them seems to have been seen by any academic specialising in such things. Collectors love showing off their trophies to the experts, and getting phrases like "one of the best-preserved/most interesting/aesthetically-pleasing example of this type I have ever seen". they love putting it on the sale  spiel that Professor NN from Dusseldorf came to him specially to see this piece. the academics would want to quote the privately-owned example in a publication. Yet, nothing. None of these seems ever to have been seen by any academic. Secondly, how odd that having surfaced decades ago, there is no trace quoted of appearance in previous sales catalogues or passing through the hands of some prestigious reputable dealer, just some vague "was in an old NN collection". And yet, despite being in all those different old collections, scattered in geography and dates when they were begun, this bunch all appear on the market at about the same time, and coincidentally (even though there are several dozen high end dealers in the UK alone), they all end up in the hands of a single dealer in Harwich in deepest Essex. Really all very odd.  

* Image © TimeLine Auctions Limited, fair use for purposes of comment or criticism for non-profit educational purposes.

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