Saturday, December 8, 2007

Guennol Lioness Sold

At a mere 3 1/4in tall, it could be taken for an insignificant trinket.
But, this ancient carving of a lioness smashed sale records when it was bought by a British man for an astonishing £29million.The price - the most ever paid at auction for a sculpture - means the tiny artefact is worth nearly £10million an inch.It had been thought it would fetch no more than £9million. But fierce competition for the 5,000-year- old Mesopotamian figure came from five bidders, three on phones and two in the main hall of Sotheby's New York saleroom.
The winner, who was standing at the back, did not enter the bidding until it reached nearly £14million. After the sale, the man confirmed he was English, but declined to give his name.
Known as the Guennol Lioness, the carving fetched twice as much as the previous record of £14.5million paid earlier this year for a Picasso bronze, Tete de Femme (Woman's Head), which at 3 11/2 in is almost ten times as tall.

The white limestone carving depicts a lioness's head on a muscular woman's body, with its tail curved around a slim waist.
Its first owner was probably a powerful tribal chief in Mesopotamia who wore it as a pendant on a leather thong to ward off evil.
It was found at a site near Baghdad about 80 years ago by British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley and bought in 1931 by Joseph Brummer, a New York art dealer.
In 1948, he sold it to New Yorker Alastair Bradley Martin and his wife Edith. Mr Martin, grandson of steel magnate Henry Phipps, spent his life building a collection of African, Asian and American folk art. The couple - who have Welsh origins, called their estate Guennol - which is Welsh for Martin.

For most of the time since the Martins bought the lioness, it has been on permanent loan to New York's Brooklyn Museum. It was carved by a craftsman from Elam, part of the cultural region of Mesopotamia.

This was the same sophisticated civilisation that invented the wheel and saw the first written words, currency, and organised cities.

When new, it was probably painted. Four holes drilled in its back were for a thong to hang it round the neck, and its missing lower hind legs are thought to have been made of gold or silver.
Richard Keresey, worldwide head of Sotheby's antiquities department, said: "I like to think of it as one of the first great sculptures of civilisation. "The new owner has the distinction of possessing one of the oldest, rarest and most beautiful works of art from the ancient world."

By BARRY WIGMORE

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