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LOT 0352

Sold for (Inc. bp): £9,920

3 3/4" (30 grams, 80mm).

A rock crystal vessel in the form of a fish, hollowed through the open mouth with raised lips; drilled eyes, pectoral fins in relief, all other fins as raised ridges, dorsal and ventral fins perforated for suspension.

Property of a London gentleman; acquired before 1970.

See Christies sale 9666, Lot 271, New York, June 8, 2001; for a similar piece;
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a rock crystal dolphin found in Carthage, Tunisia, accession number 55.135.9.

Pliny the Elder believed that rock crystal was petrified ice; as far as he knew, the Romans had learned the appreciation and use of rock crystal from the peoples of the Near East and he recorded sources of the mineral in Asia Minor, Cyprus, the Alps, Arabia, Portugal, and India; the latter being the most prized. Many of the areas in the east where the best rock crystal was mined were controlled by the Persian Empire and thus difficult to import into Roman territories and it is this, along with the limited sources of the material and the labour-intensive process of making the vessels, that meant rock crystal vessels were rare and expensive luxury items in the Roman world.

The motif of the fish was popular in the pagan Graeco-Roman world before its better-known association with Christianity. As a luxury food and symbol of prosperity and abundance, fish appear in fine mosaics, such as that from the House of the Man of Letters in Antioch on the Orontes, and the exquisite piece currently held in the Centrale Montmartini, Rome. This association with wealth may have made the fish an apposite subject matter for the prestigious medium of rock crystal.