Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Who Writes this stuff and Why?


Over on an internet auction site near you you will find offered for your delight and delectation, and even to buy if you like, a flat cast brass object that'd fit nicely in the palm of your hand. According to the sales spiel
        TimeLine Auctions 

A belt or casket plaque part representing a procession of three saints, from left to right: Saint Michael and two holy brothers Florus and Laurus; the Archangel holding a cross in the right hand and the hilt of a sword in the left one; the brothers are following him with their hands raised for prayer; a Greek inscription above with an invocation of protection to Saint Michael (ΑΓІΕ Μ[ІХΑІΛ] BOHΘΙ TOY ΔOYΛOYC COY = Saint Michael protect your servant). 2 1/4 in. (27.5 grams, 58 mm). Fine condition. [No Reserve]

Acquired on the UK art market, 2000s. Property of an Essex gentleman.

LITERATURE: Cf. Papastavrou, E., ‘The Byzantine tradition on the Decoration of a 17th century Sakkos in the Byzantine and Christian Museum’ in Grünbart M. et al (eds.), Material culture and well-being in Byzantium (400-1453) : proceedings of the international conference (Cambridge, 8-10 September 2001), Cambridge, 2001, pp.177-180, fig.3, for similar works in repousse.

The plaque possibly depicts the miracle of Saint Michael the Archangel, when he was teaching the two brothers Saints Florus and Laurus how to control horses and how to understand them. Florus and Laurus are worshipped in the Orthodox church as patron saints of the horses.
Curiouser and curiouser. Why is it "Tudor period", when it is said to be inscribed in Greek and shows Orthodox saints? (what happened to the diacritical marks?). This is spreading misinformation about historical artefacts in a public venue, and the record needs to be set straight. It is moreover a puzzle to me what the cataloguer thought they were doing, as there are three other comparable objects in the same sale described completely differently (Lots 1763, 1823, 1808). 

What this actually is is the right wing of an 18th century cast brass triptych of Russian 'Old Believers' , showing a guardian angel and Sts Zosimus and Savvatiy of Solovki. If you are going to sell RUSSIAN artefacts in this day and age, at least get the names right. The guys' names are on the inscription, which is not Greek, but Old Church Slavonic. It reads (helped out on the right hand side by better preserved examples).. 
С[ВЯТЫЙ]  АГГЕЛЪ  ХРА/НИТЕ/ЛЬ  ПРЕ[д superscript] [= ПРЕПОДОБНЫЙ]  Зосімъ  ПРЕ[ПО]Д[ОБНЫЙ]  Саватіі
"The holy Guardian Angel, The Venerable Zosimus, The Venerable Savatiy"
There is no Agios Michail here.

Why is this happening? Perhaps an intern was doing the cataloguing who did not know artefact type and simply made a mistake or two. Maybe something else is at stake? It has been suggested to me that auctioneers sometimes make a totally erroneous description for an item to catch the know-it-all collector who spots that the seller has made a mistake and "only they know" what this item really is, so they bid on it impulsively hoping to catch the auctioneer out. The idea is that once they've started bidding on something, it's less easy for them to give up and lose the object to somebody else. I do not know what the actual situation is here, the auctioneer has "experts" who vet these descriptions, so it is unclear how this mistaken attribution arose. 


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