The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
LONDON, (CAIS) -- An ancient statuette of a Standing Lioness Demon, which was sold for a record of $57 million at Sotheby’s Auction House in the New York on December 5, 2007.
sale broke the previous record for the highest price for a sculpture at
auction, which had stood at 29.1 million dollars and was set just last month at
Sotheby’s in New York by Picasso’s “Tete de Femme (Dora Maar).”
8.8 cm (3 1/2 in.) high, the precious sculpture was carved by ancient Iranian
artisans from the same civilization that witnessed the birth of writing,
currency, the wheel and organised cities.
The piece's geographical origin is corroborated stylistically by cylinder seals from the same area; their impressions include a similar leonine beast currently in Louver Museum.
Edith Prada1 presented the statuette as Div Shir (demon lion/lioness) in an article published by Journal of the American Oriental Society. She dated the artefact to the early fourth - late third millennium B.C.E.
carved Div Shir which Sotheby's auction house decided to rename it as
"Guennol Lioness" as part of "Guennol Collection", measuring
just over eight centimeters (3 1/4 inches) tall, was cunningly described as one
of the last known masterworks of "Mesopotamian civilization" remaining in private
hands, without mentioning Iran as the provenance.
was an honour for us to handle The Guennol Lioness, one of the greatest works of
art of all time,” Richard Keresey and Florent Heintz, the experts in charge of
the sale, said in a joint statement.
the sale, a great connoisseur of art commented to us that he always regarded the
figure as the ‘finest sculpture on earth’ and it would appear that the
market agreed with him,” they said.
was owned by a private collector named Martin Family (Guennol, pronounced GWEN-ol,
is Welsh for Martin), who loaned the item on trust to Brooklyn Museum
in the same year the book was published.
Bloomberg was the only news agency which correctly reported that item as of an
true date of smuggled artefact out Iran remains unknown.
Previous to the sale of the artefact it was on view at the Brooklyn Museum for nearly 60 years. It was recently loaned to The Metropolitan Museum of Art3 for its landmark exhibition Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus (May 8-August 17, 2003), a showstopper in the exposition's first gallery.
of the Sculpture
ancient Middle Eastern deities were visually represented with merged
human and animal features. Such images evoked the Elamites' belief in attaining power over the physical world by combining
the superior physical attributes of various species.
The striding upright Div Shir, some 5000 years old, is a diminutive feline figure with human posture. The nearby Sumerians possibly borrowed this powerful artistic hybrid from the Proto-Elamites lived in southwest Iran. Similar composite likenesses can be seen in the top and bottom registers of the trapezoidal front panel from the famous Great Lyre from the "King's Grave" (ca. 2650-2550 B.C.E.), a musical string instrument from a burial site at Ur in present-day Iraq4.
exquisitely carved Standing Lioness Demon is small in scale yet grand in
power. The sculpture emanates strength and continues to evoke awe. This
beautiful work of antiquity is conjectured to have been owned by an Elamite of
important social status, perhaps a ruler. But its exact function still eludes
scholars. The Div Shir was perhaps a fierce protective talisman meant to
ward off evil. Its engaged clenched claws compressing its massive upper torso
suggest a protective aspect of the composition.
head of the Div Shir, with its grimacing glance, is turned sharply to the
left, resting upon well-developed musculature and massive shoulders. The
ferocious feline was probably painted colourfully in ancient times. The
determined demon's tail snakes up the piece's spine from its posterior,
embracing its slender waistline's left side. The sculpture's missing lower hind
legs are thought to have been made of gold or silver. Four drilled holes behind
the limestone object allowed for it to have been strung and suspended around
one's neck, permitting it to function as a potent supernatural charm.
1. Porada, Edith. “A Leonine Figure of the Protoliterate Period of Mesopotamia,” Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 70, No. 4. (Oct.-Dec. 1950), 223-226.
3. Aruz, Joan (ed.), et al. Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium B.C. from the Mediterranean to the Indus (exh. cat.). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003, 42-44, 105-107.
4. Zettler, Richard L. and Lee Horne (eds.). Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur (exh. cat.). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1998, 53-57.
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