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Home > Auctions > 25th May 2021 > Roman Gold Satyr Mask

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LOT 0085

GBP (£) 30,000 - 40,000
EUR (€) 34,880 - 46,500
USD ($) 42,080 - 56,100

Opening Bid
£27,000 (EUR 31,388; USD 37,870) (+bp*)

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Roman Gold Satyr Mask

1st century BC-1st century AD

A sheet-gold miniature mask depicting a bearded satyr (Silenus?) with open mouth and angry features with frowning brow, flat nose, fleshy cheeks, projecting bottom lip, unkempt hair and beard; mounted on a custom-made display stand. 137 grams total, 18cm including stand (7"). Fine condition. A spectacular display piece.

Property of a Kensington lady; formerly in the private collection of Lothar von Berks, Berlin, Germany, acquired 1920-1930; accompanied by a four page examination report number G17121 by metal specialist Igor Goro and an archaeological report by Dr. Raffaele D'Amato; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.10660-173384.

The face shown here is very similar in style to a marble satyr mask in the Capitoline Museum; see Sinclair, A., ‘Unmasking Ancient Colour, colour and the Classical Theatre Mask’ in Ancient Planet Online Journal, 2013, vol.4, p.8; for iconography of the bearded satyrs see Woodburn Hyde, W.W., Olympic victor Monuments and Greek Athletic Art, Washington, 1921.

This interesting piece was made by means of embossing over a hard matrix with numerous folds and creases on the backside. However, besides the angry expression, the real attribution of the identity of our face is not straightforward, as it is missing the other elements linked with a particular bearded divinity, like Zeus, Poseidon or Hades. The facial traits recall those of a mythical satyr, of which we have various examples from the classical world. One is the majestic bronze head of a satyr from Olympia, today in the National Museum of Athens, variously interpreted as the head of a boxer, and dated to the Hellenistic period (3rd century BC, see Woodburn Hyde, 1921, fig.61). The traits of our figure - especially the treatment of the eyes - give to our face the sullen gloomy look so characteristic of boxers and pancratiasts, but also strong facial aspects of an angry satyr. Some other parallels point towards the head of a satyr as the best interpretation possible: the heads of satyrs in Metropolitan Museum (3rd-1st century BC, accession nos. 74.51.1497 and 14.130.10) and especially the marble satyr mask in the Capitoline Museum, Rome, dated to the 2nd century AD (accession number MC716). A similar expression can also be found on the marble portrait with the torso of a satyr or centaur in Palazzo Altemps, Rome. The satyrs joining the Dionysian court, among them especially Silenus or Pappos, associated with the cult of Bacchus, were often portrayed in the Graeco-Roman world with angry, mischievous or lustful expressions.