Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 96   |   6 October 2016 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 1043

Estimate: 25'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 20'000 CHF Price realized: 22'000 CHF
Greek Coins
Macedonia, Mende. Tetradrachm circa 450-425 BC, AR 17.86 g.
Description Elderly Dionysus, wearing ivy wreath and himation, reclining on mule’s back l., holding cantharus with r. hand and resting l. on the animal's side; in exergue, grasshopper with distended abdomen. Rev. MEN – DA – IO – N around linear square containing vine with four bunches of grapes; all within incuse square. References
SNG Berry 36 (this reverse die)
SNG ANS 348 (this obverse die) and 347 (this reverse die)
Gulbenkian 415 (these dies)
Dewing 1055 (this reverse die)
Noe Mende 90 Condition
Rare. Well-centred and with a magnificent old cabinet tone, extremely fine and about extremely fine Provenance
Leu sale 7, 1973, 126
Sotheby’s 19-20 June 1991, Nelson Bunker Hunt collection part IV, 198
Stack’s sale 9 December 1991, 125
Stack’s sale 3 December 1996, Michael F Price collection, 36 sales
Mende excelled in the wine trade, rivalling Thasos, Maronea, Naxos, Lesbos and Chios. The ancient authorities Cratippus, Athenaeus, Menander, Hermippus of Smyrna and Demosthenes all speak of the quality and fame of Mende wine. Thus, it is not surprising that on its principal trade coin, the tetradrachm, Mende would choose a design that celebrated wine production. Indeed, most coins of the city bear designs that refer to wine production or to the retinue of Dionysus, the god of wine. On this example we see an elderly Dionysus in luxurious repose on the back of an ass, clutching a cantharus of wine. As shown here, he usually relaxes with his left arm downward, but on occasion (Mende [Kaliandra] Hoard no. 65) he assumes an even more decadent pose with his left arm propped upon the head of the ass; on other examples the god’s identification is further secured by the fact that he holds a thyrsus (Mende (Kaliandra) Hoard nos. 60, 61, 63). Hardly a more appropriate image exists of this god, famed for his wild indulgences and his appreciation for the fruit of the vine. Of great interest is the contrast between the god and the ass: the stiff, servile attitude of the mount contrasts sharply with the decadent, reclining figure of Dionysus. While the ass is focused and dedicated to his workaday task, with its musculature taut and well defined, Dionysus appears unconcerned and soft in his physical form. In that sense we have two completely different works of art compressed into one scene. The contrast can hardly be accidental, and it must have provided the die engraver with the challenge of unifying these disparate elements into seamless coexistence.

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