Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 110   |   24 September 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 8

Estimate: 600'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 480'000 CHF Price realized: 725'000 CHF
Naxos. Tetradrachm circa 460 BC, AR 17.25 g. Bearded and ivy-wreathed head of Dionysos r., his hair tied in a krobylos at nape of neck. Rev. Ν – ΑXΙ – ΟΝ Silenos, nude and ithyphallic, squatting on the ground, raising a cantharus to his lips and supporting himself with his l. hand. Regling, Sammlung Warren, 271 (this coin, not illustrated). Rizzo pl. XXVIII, 12 (these dies). SNG Lloyd 1150 (this coin). K. Schefold, Meisterwerke griechischer Kunst, Basel, 1960, 482 (this coin). Cahn, Naxos 54.20 (this coin). Kraay-Hirmer 6 (these dies).
Very rare and among the finest specimens known of this prestigious and fascinating issue.
Undoubtedly one of the finest examples of Archaic engraving in Sicily and one of the
most impressive representations on a Greek coin. Struck on a very broad flan
with a wonderful old cabinet tone. Extremely fine
Sambon 20 May, 1883, Rev. J.H*** de Messine, 170; Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge 11 July 1899, Distinguished Artist (F. von Schiller) collection, 45; Leu 65, 1996, 87; Morton & Eden 23 April 2012, 201 and NAC 96, 2016, America, 1019 sales. From the Warren and Lloyd collections and from the duplicates of the British Museum, exchanged in 1948.
Like most Greek cities of Sicily, Naxos had a difficult history. After being attacked early in the 5th Century by Hippocrates, tyrant of Gela, it soon fell to the Deinomenids of Syracuse. In 476 the city was destroyed by Hieron, who moved its inhabitants, along with those of Catana. He then repopulated the cities with thousands of citizens of Corinthian and Peloponnesian origin. With the return of democracy to Syracuse in 460, the original inhabitants of Naxos and Catana were able to reclaim their homes.
Upon their return, one joint effort between Catana and Naxos was the engraving of coin dies. Both cities apparently employed the Aetna Master, who earlier appears to have been employed by the Syracusans at Catana (which they renamed Aetna during their occupation), where he is credited with having engraved dies for the unique tetradrachm of Aetna from which his name is derived.
Much like the engravers of the earlier coinage of Naxos, this artist was profoundly influenced by contemporary Attic art. The masterful head of Dionysus appears as though taken straight from Athenian Red Figure ware of the late Archaic period, perhaps from the prolific work of Douris, who painted from about 500 to 460 B.C.
Dionysus' mature, virile appearance is realised through the contrast of his smooth neck and face with the stiff, bristly texture of his hair and beard. The design exceeds the beaded border at four points, creating yet another attractive element of design. The frontal eye so strongly associated with Archaic art is now absent, but the arched eyebrow and the faint Archaic smile are retained. The proportions are naturalistic, which helps place it in the transitional era.
The reverse composition is similarly a work of genius: the virile, ithyphallic Silenus sits with his feet drawn in. He supports his weight with his straightened left arm as with his right hand he balances a two-handled cantharus (wine cup) on his shoulder. The clever foreshortening of Silenus' feet has few, if any, parallels in Greek numismatics. The god's head, with its heavy brow, pug nose, pursed lips, bestial ear and cascading moustache, is a delight to behold. Most remarkable, however, is his contemplative expression: clearly inebriated, he appears absorbed in deep thought, perhaps sizing up the qualities of the wine. This image is in keeping with Silenus' reputation for having been perpetually drunk, yet still capable of deep thought; indeed, he was considered so wise that both King Midas and Dionysus chose him as their teacher.

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