Roma Numismatics Ltd.   |   AUCTION XVI   |   26 September 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 146

Estimate: 80'000 GBP   |   Starting price: 64'000 GBP Price realized: 154'000 GBP
Sicily, Naxos AR Tetradrachm. Circa 460 BC. Bearded head of Dionysos right, wearing ivy wreath, his hair tied in a krobylos behind / Nude, bearded and ithyphallic Silenos squatting facing, head left, holding kantharos in right hand, leaning on left; NAXION around. Cahn 54 (same dies); SNG ANS 515 (same dies); SNG Lloyd 1150 (same dies); SNG Lockett 840 (same dies); Gulbenkian 230-231 (same dies); Rizzo pl. XXVIII, 2 (same dies); Jenkins 673 (same dies); SNG Fitzwilliam 1108 (same dies); Kunstfreund 95 (same dies); Kraay-Hirmer 6 (same dies); Randazzo 227-231 (all from same dies). 17.22g, 30mm, 3h.

Extremely Fine, with a deep, beautiful old cabinet tone. Very Rare.

Ex Hess-Divo 329, 17 November 2015, lot 20;
Ex Roma Numismatics VII, 20 March 2014, lot 131;
Ex James Howard (1937-2009) Collection, purchased from Credit Suisse Bern in 1983, and probably from the Randazzo Hoard of 1980.

One of the great masterpieces of fifth century Greek numismatic art, and one of the most famous of all Greek coins. Produced from a single set of dies, this tetradrachm was struck in commemoration of the refoundation of the city of Naxos following the return of its citizens from their forced relocation to Leontinoi by the tyrant Hieron of Syracuse.

Undoubtedly the most accomplished engraver of his time, this artist is also believed to have been responsible for the unique Brussels Aetna tetradrachm - in both cases his work is a tour de force that showcases his singular ability. On the present piece, the obverse presents us with a refined portrait of Dionysos, which though bearing distinctly archaised features such as the arrangement of the god's hair, wreath and beard, shows his eye in profile. This, combined with the god's merry expression and the deliberate extension of the design through the dotted border indicate clear progression of style away from the more formal and rigid types of previous decades. The result is, of course, the most iconic and artistically meritorious portrait of Dionysos in all of ancient coinage.

Yet it is upon the reverse that the artist has worked a wonder that has earned this type such a lofty reputation as one of the most desired of all ancient Greek coins, and the most costly of all the tetradrachms. Here, the artist's composition combines handsome naturalistic musculature with a unique and inspired design of Silenos drunkenly gazing into his wine cup as he supports himself with his other hand. In choosing to depict Silenos facing the viewer, the artist not only proves his ability to render the design in adept relief and detail, he also effortlessly demonstrates an advanced understanding and application of the principle of foreshortening in Silenos' right leg and foot.

It is this combination of a striking, masterful image of Dionysos with such a remarkable reverse scene that was so far ahead of its time that has led so many to acclaim it a triumph of late archaic art.

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