Rediscovered: Horace Walpole's Lost Roman Fresco
June 2018, London: Following the strong results of last season’s sale, which soared beyond pre-sale expectations and totalled £3.9million, Sotheby’s forthcoming sale of Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art will return to London with a vast selection of works spanning ancient Egypt and the Near East to Classical Greece and Rome.
Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Ancient Sculpture and Works of Art, Florent Heintz, says: “Not only does this year’s sale offer an incredible selection of objects spanning 2,600 years, but, through dogged and comprehensive research, we have been able to trace several of the objects back to important collections, and to identify works of art once thought lost, including a Roman wall- painting fragment which once belonged to Gothic novelist and arbiter of taste Horace Walpole and a Roman portrait of a man which once belonged to Wilton House - imagine our delight in discovering that the portrait I had been staring at in the same book for 15 years and the marble head I had on my desk were one and the same.” Ahead of the sale on July 3, all lots will be on display in Sotheby’s New Bond Street galleries from June 30 to July 3 (34-35 New Bond Street, Mayfair, W1S 2RT).
HORACE WALPOLE’S LOST ROMAN FRESCO REDISCOVERED
A Roman Wall-painting Fragment on Stucco, circa 2nd Century A.D., with early 18th Century Italian Restorations (est. £15,000-25,000) In the 17th and 18th centuries, collecting antiquities became synonymous with good taste. It was fashionable for young aristocrats to embark upon a ‘Grand Tour’ across the continent from which they would endeavour to return with an understanding of art and architecture, and a selection of classical souvenirs. This Roman wall-painting fragment is one such “souvenir”. Dating to circa 2nd century A.D., the lower half is decorated with 18th century Italian additions showing men and women at a festival, surrounding a river god reclining at right. Through extensive research and collaboration with Strawberry Hill House curator Silvia Davoli, Florent Heintz has identified this plaque as a lost work from the collection of art historian, antiquarian and author of Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole.
The panel was positioned above the door in the ‘little library’ of Walpole’s flower garden cottage, where it remained for nearly 100 years before it was sold in 1842.
The research of Florent and Silvia has helped to identify further treasures which were once part of Walpole’s collection, several of which will be on loan to an exhibition opening this October: ‘Lost Treasures of Strawberry Hill’.
ROMAN ALTAR WITNESS TO RAPHAEL’S PASSIONATE LIFE AND WORK
A Roman Marble Funerary Altar Inscribed for Julia Lyris, 1st century A.D. (est. £45,000- 60,000) First recorded in the collection of Agostino Andrea Chigi (1466-1520), one of the wealthiest Tuscan bankers and patrons of the arts in the Renaissance, this altar has borne witness to an impassioned love affair involving one of history’s most famous artistic figures.
The altar was exhibited in the garden of Chigi’s noble villa in Rome – a masterpiece in architectural design and decoration later known as the Villa Farnesina - which he commissioned Raphael to decorate with frescoes celebrating love and pleasure. While Raphael was working at the villa he became utterly infatuated with his lover Margherita Luti, and was unable to give the desired attention to his work until she was installed in one of the rooms close by, allowing him to see her at a moment’s notice.
EGYPTIAN STELE RETURNS TO SOTHEBY’S AFTER TWO CENTURIES
An Egyptian Polychrome Limestone Round-topped Stele, 18th Dynasty, reign of Amenhotep I/Tuthmosis II, circa 1514-1479 (est £120,000-180,000) The re-appearance of this lot at auction on July 3 comes 180 years after its first appearance at Sotheby’s, when it was offered as part of the collection of Giovanni d’Athanasi in 1837. Listed as lot 975, the 19th century catalogue entry read ‘a priest offering to the Deceased and his Wife seated, and underneath four lines of Hieroglyphics’.
Today, it is catalogued with an extensive translation of the inscription, which reveals its dedication to Egyptian deities including Osiris and Anubis. The stele invokes the protection of the deceased, a Born on the island of Lemnos, Greece, in 1798, d’Athanasi played a pivotal role in the archaeological discoveries in Egypt in the first half of the 19th century. The sale of his collection at Sotheby’s was one of the very first Egyptian Antiquities sales ever held in the western world. Many of d’Athanasi’s Egyptian objects are now in the British Museum.