Black granite relief fragment
Polychrome limestone relief
ca. 2150 BC
Bronze figure of Pantheistic Bes
Hellenistic marble figure
ca. 2nd century BC
Greek Terracotta Protome
Bronze figure of Aphrodite
ca. 2nd century AD
Byzantine amethyst cameo
ca. late 12th century AD
Attic black-figure Lekythos
ca. 500 BC
Roman bronze bust
ca. 2nd century AD
Granite temple relief
Roman marble mosaic panel
4th century AD
Sotheby's Antiquities and Islamic Art, June 4
A careful blend of Egyptian statuary, Greek kraters, Roman figures, Babylonian seals and Islamic tiles resulted in a strong sale in which 353 of 415 lots sold, a little over 85 percent, realizing a grand total of $3,201,931. Prices given here include the auction-house commission, 15 percent on the first $50,000 and l0 percent on the remainder.
A note for aspiring collectors: One of the great things about antiquities sales is the wide mix of material, in terms of price as well as culture. Small, jewel-like objects, thousands of years old, can still be had for only a few thousand dollars (or less!), whether its a Babylonian cylinder seal, a Roman glass bottle or an Egyptian amulet.
The highlight of the sale proved to be a black granite or basalt relief fragment of a queen or goddess of the 30th Dynasty (360-282 BC) [lot 63]. At $211,500, it more than tripled its $60,000 high estimate. Carved in shallow relief, the image (featured on the catalogue cover) of woman's profile has a vulture headdress and the cosmetically elongated upper eyelid so beloved of contemporary mystics. Nose, lips and eyes are heavily accented and the impression was one of majesty and proud intelligence.
A pair of limestone reliefs of the 6th Dynasty (circa 2150 BC) [lot 38] provided the second highlight of the sale, selling for $167,000, substantially exceeding its high estimate of $120,000. The tablets showed the owner holding a long walking stick and a scepter in full regalia of a lector-priest of the period.
A bronze figure of the pantheistic god Bes of the 26th Dynasty (664-525)  brought in $118,000, almost twice its high estimate. This fantastical, four-armed figure, its body engraved with a network of human eyes, has spread wings, an erect phallus and four animal heads emerging from behind each ear (jackal, lion, falcon, baboon, bull, ram, cat and crocodile).
A limestone relief fragment from the 25th or early 26th Dynasty (680-640 BCE) [lot 40] proved to be another bidder favorite. Probably from the tomb of the Mayor of Thebes, this finely carved shallow relief tablet showed a procession of men carrying tables and royal paraphernalia. Heavy bidding brought $107,000 against a high estimate of $70,000.
Exquisitely carved, a statue of a Hellenistic Aphrodite in marble, 2nd Century BC [lot 107], received eager bidding from an attentive salesroom, garnering $104,250 (est. $30,000-$50,000).
An anonymous dealer bought the 13-inch-tall terra-cotta statue of Demeter (600-460 BC) [lot 114], most dignified in its appearance with a faintly smiling mouth, dimpled chin and straight nose. The hair, parted in the center, falls in long ribbed plaits to the shoulders. At $101,500, it exceeded its high estimate of $60,000 by $41,500.
Yet another Aphrodite, this time a bronze Roman Imperial figure of the 2nd century A.D. [lot 141], caused a bidding frenzy. The 13-inch statue showed a voluptuous figure, standing on a pedestal, wearing a necklace with six pendants, gold earrings ornamented with garnets and pearls and a crescent diadem engraved with strolling vine. At $76,500, it bettered the high estimate by $16,750.
The British Rail Pension Fund offered a bronze figure of a Kore (another name for Persephone when undergoing a religious change) from around 675 BC [lot 140]. The 14-inch-tall statue wears a long chiton with a belt at the waist, a colorful garment reaching to her ankles and a finely beaded diadem. It sold for $74,000, close to its high estimate.
A serpentine ushbati (statue) of Amenhotep III, 18th Dynasty (1390-1353 BC) [lot 41] shows the ruler in full regalia holding an ankh-sign. The statue has six columns of inscriptions and comes from the world-renowned collection of Rene Withofs, Brussels. Bidding went to $74,000, topping the high estimate of $50,000 by $24,000.
The high estimate for a Roman marble figure of a man (1st or 2nd century AD) of $30,000 was more than doubled. The tall handsome statue came in at $71,250.
Ottoman tiles from the 16th and 17th century far exceeded their estimates in this sale. Lot 235 brought $9,000, more than four times the high estimate of $1,800. Similar results were achieved for tiles in Lots 236, 237, 238.
Christie's Antiquities, June 5
G. Max Bernheimer, head of Christie's antiquities department, reported enthusiastically that "these sales achieved the highest total ever for a Christie's antiquities auction." While only 69 percent of the lots offered were sold, the sum of $2,547,207 was reached.
A translucent violet colored Byzantine amethyst cameo [lot 320] soared above its pre-sale estimate and reached $255,500 (est. $20,000-$30,000), the highest price realized in l998 for an antiquity at auction. Fiercely contested, this oval gem, from the late 12th century AD, depicts a veiled and haloed Virgin and Child. It is strikingly similar to a cameo in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Bidder enthusiasm ran high for an Attic Black-Figure Lekythos, ca. 500 BC [lot 129], attributed to the Edinburgh painter. The 12-inch-tall vessel portrays Herakles battling the Lernean Hydra, grasping one of the monster's seven serpentine necks in his left hand and holding a sickle-shaped harpe knife in his left. Previously in a Swiss private collection, it fetched $156,500, far exceeding its high estimate of $90,000.
The cover lot is a large, second century AD Roman bronze bust of Serapis [lot 182], a cult figure thought to have been introduced to Egypt by Alexander the Great. The 14-inch-tall sculpture is a replica of the famous statue made by Bryaxis (ca. 286-78 BC) at the cult's main temple in Alexandra. (The popular new god, said to be loving and devoted to the well-being of his followers, became something of a rival to Christ when the emperor Hadrian refurbished his temple in the second century AD.). The bust reached $156,500 in a fiercely contested bidding war, more than $66,000 over its high estimate.
Another hotly contested lot in this sale was a tall statue of a Hellenistic Period terra-cotta (around 300 BC) from a European collection [lot 144]. It depicts a young girl wearing a diaphanous himation (a shawl or cloak) over a chiton, her winsome face with its lidded eyes and finely chiseled mouth showing an assured smile. It sold for $123,500, well over its high estimate of $90,000.
A granite temple relief dating from the XXX Dynasty to Early Ptolemaic Period (380-280 BC) [lot 54], offered by Pratt Institute to support its exhibition program, shows two fecundity figures in right profile, tripartite wigs with sagging breasts and swollen bellies. It realized $77,300 against a high estimate of $35,000.
The sixth highest bid in this sale was for a life-size Roman marble figure of a god from about 130 AD [lot 297]. Depicting Zeus or Asklepius, the figure wears a himation draped over his left shoulder exposing a muscular upper torso. It came in close to its low estimate realizing $74,000.
A 4th century BC Etruscan gold and banded agate finger ring engraved with a maenad (mermaid) [lot 215], her head thrown back in Dionysiac ecstasy, realized $70,700, almost four times the projected high of $18,000.
A 10-inch-tall Attic black-figure jug, or olpe, attributed to the Circle of the Andokides Painter, (ca. 510 BC) [lot 124], depicting the struggle between Heracles and Apollo for the Delphic tripod, brought $57,500 against a high estimate of $45,000.
Roman marble mosaics were one of the weak points of the sale. One exception was an 87-inch-wide, 4th century AD panel depicting a leaping deer within a stylized landscape of trees [lot 318], which sold for $48,300 (est. $25,000-$35,000).
The widely favored Roman ring group included a banded agate from the 1st century AD [lot 217]. The oval stone featured a deeply set bearded comic mask. It sold for $48,300, more than three times its $12,000 high estimate.
Ancient glass offers [lots l83-l98] met their estimates, by and large, but a number of amphoras and skyphos were bought in.
FRED STERN writes on art and antiques.