Thursday 28 April 2022

Emptor Caveating: Bargain Basement Gandhara

I watched with interest the sale of eBay item number 304448147939 listed in category: Collectibles>Decorative Collectibles>Other Decorative Collectibles VERY RARE GANDHARA BIG TERRACOTTA STATUE OF BUDDHA CIRCA 200- 300 AD. 3.9ft TALL being sold by the same dealer ancientromana_uk (284) as had the laconically-described, apparently unpapered, funny oriental-looking "Cavalry mask" discussed earlier. For what it is, the description of the object and legitimating paperwork are both very laconic indeed:
"Seller assumes all responsibility for this listing.
Item specifics
Origin: Near Eastern
Type: Statues
Era: Gandhara
Style: Near Eastern
Material: Terracotta"  
Mmm. Style, "Near Eastern", ... "Central Asian" would be better. "Gandharan"? Hmmm? Is it Buddha, well, no. What's he wearing, what's he got on his head, is that the Abhaya Mudra or not? 

What is being sold and why is the seller not telling the buyer about the all-important condition of an object that is being represented as c. 1800 years old? Was the object fired in one piece or in several segments joined together with the joints concealed? This "plaster covering the back of the statue to keep it safe from breakage", eh? Terracotta is far harder and stronger than a big glob of plaster, gypsum or lime. What is the plaster there for, except make the back look like an almighty mess? And what is underneath it? Some of the photos seem to show that the back edge of this piece is cut off flush - is this how it was made, or has it been cut off something? What I am most puzzled by is the grey-white gunk all over the front, except where it has been wiped off. This looks like a white lime wash with lumps of lime still unmixed in it. What I am certain about, looking at it, is that this is not a calcium deposit formed on the surface while the object was buried in soil. Neither is it a layer of insoluble salts leached out from inside in conditions of fluctuating humidity, still less is it a layer accumulated by water dripping in a cave/rock-cut temple. So what is it? I tell you what it looks like in these photos, it looks like somebody has taken a wide brush with limewash and wiped it all over this statue and then used something like one of those rectangular kitchen sponges with the scratchy abrasive side and vigorously wiped off some of the limewash. That's what it looks like to me. Why would somebody do that? your guess is as good as mine. The seller does not see here a problem that needs explaining in more detail. 


Let's leave it up to the art history experts to assess the style of this piece, is it ancient Gandharan? The seller offers no provenance, not even the name of a country of origin. So how do we know how he knows what this is? We don't, he just says it is. He says its date is "circa 200- 300 AD". But then "Seller assumes all responsibility for this listing". What does that mean? 

Anyway, despite the fact that bidding stood at 500 quid an hour before the end, obviously it was a  "collector's choice", somebody who thought they knew what they were doing paid GBP 2,738.00 (approximately US $3,423.73). There were 27 other bids from just seven bidders, with a rather strange pattern (look at the feedback points of the high bidders). I wonder if any of them asked the seller for more details about that plaster layer on the back, and why one of the eleven foreshortened photos is reversed (or is it?) and one of the pictures shows the figure has ginormous Shrek-feet, while in the one showing the back, there seem to be no feet. I'd say it was a reckless person who paid all that money on the basis of eleven pretty awful amateurish photos and such a skimpy description. but hey, it's their money. I think a responsible, professional and knowledgeable dealer handling well-sourced legitimate material should be willing to give a potential buyer a more detailed and fuller description than we get here. Especially for something that he says came from ancient, and much-looted, Gandhara. Or is there something I am missing here? 


artsyandi said...

imho a fake

Paul Barford said...

Somebody who bought it for that money presumably did not think so...

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