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Home > Auctions > 29th November 2022 > Hellenistic Silver Salver with Sphinxes

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LOT 0063

Sold for (Inc. bp): £19,500

22 in. (6.3 kg, 56 cm).

A rare and important shallow rectangular tray with incised palmettes to the corners, arcaded band to the inner face of the flanged border, narrow parcel-gilt band to the outer face of the upstand; separately cast sphinxes with lion-paw foot to each corner, wings outspread supporting each corner of the tray.

From an important North London collection formed before 1980.
Accompanied by a metallurgic analytical report, written by Metallurgist Dr Brian Gilmour of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, University of Oxford, report number 610/130537.
Accompanied by an academic report by Dr Raffaele D’Amato.
This lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by search certificate no.114486-195655.

Cf. Sharvit, T., ‘A Marble Sphinx Statue from Horvat Omrit’ in Israel Studies in Archaeology', pp.97-116, fig.15; Pfrommer, M., Metalwork from the Hellenized East, catalogue of the collections, Malibu, 1993, for discussion.

Trays of this character were used to serve food at formal banquets known as symposia, which were a key Hellenic social institution. The symposium was a forum for men of respected families to participate in philosophical discussions and political debate. They were also frequently held to celebrate the introduction of young men into aristocratic society. Symposia were also held by aristocrats to celebrate other special occasions, such as victories in athletic and poetic contests.

This salver was probably made in one of the major urban centres of the Hellenistic kingdoms, most likely Antioch, capital of the Seleucid Empire. Antioch was founded near the end of the fourth century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals. The city's geographical, military and economic location benefitted its occupants, particularly features such as the spice trade, the Silk Road and the Persian Royal Road. Antioch was noted for its production of luxury items, such as silver ware, which eventually led to it rivalling Alexandria as the chief city of the Near East. At the height of its power the Seleucid Empire included central Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

The decorative elements of the salver are realised in fine detail and reflect the pure Greek tradition. The scroll-bordered scale ornament must be regarded as the oldest decorative composition among Hellenistic vessels. It already appears in analogous form on Attic marble grave loutrophoroi of the late Classical period (Pfrommer, 1993, fig.38, p.40), showing a close relationship between the ornament on the vessel and the late Classical-early Hellenistic repertoire.