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From a pharaoh’s protector to Charles I’s stirrups: 5 centuries-old lots with links to royalty

Christie’s has a rich history of selling property from royal and noble households, and this tradition continues in Classic Week in London. Here, we take a look at 5 lots with royal provenance or connections, offered across various sales in July

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  • A pharaoh’s stone goddess

This Egyptian granite Head of Sekhmet, to be offered in the Antiquities  sale on 5 July, was made under Pharaoh Amenhotep III, ruler of Egypt from 1388 to 1351 BC. This example once decorated the sanctuary at the Temple of Mut at Karnak, where about 200 similar works can still be seen today.

An Egyptian granite head of Sekhmet, Thebes, New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III, c. 1388–1351 BC. 10½ in (26.5 cm) high. Estimate £100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 5 July 2017 at Christie’s London

An Egyptian granite head of Sekhmet, Thebes, New Kingdom, 18th dynasty, reign of Amenhotep III, c. 1388–1351 BC. 10½ in (26.5 cm) high. Estimate: £100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in Antiquities on 5 July 2017 at Christie’s London

Sekhmet, depicted as a lion-headed woman, was a feared goddess who could be both destructive and healing. Her name means ‘the female powerful one’. More statues exist of her than of all other deities combined. It is suggested that this is due to the seven years of crippling plagues during Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s reign, and that statues of Sekhmet were erected to try to bring the pestilence to an end.


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  • A letter signed by Elizabeth I

This signed document by Elizabeth I — bearing her striking, calligraphic signature — sends instructions for the strengthening of the Cambridgeshire and Ely county militia. The young Queen instructs Lord North, the lord lieutenant of the county, to ready his troops in anticipation of an invasion from France, of whose ‘doubtfull procedings’ she is wary.

Elizabeth I (1533–1603), Queen of England and Ireland. Document signed (‘Elizabeth R’), ‘instructions’ on the county militias addressed to Lord North [Edward, 1st Baron North (c. 1496–1564)] as Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, n.p., n.d. [1559]. 6 pages, 312 x 209 mm. Estimate £12,000-18,000. This work is offered in Valuable Books

Elizabeth I (1533–1603), Queen of England and Ireland. Document signed (‘Elizabeth R’), ‘instructions’ on the county militias addressed to Lord North [Edward, 1st Baron North (c. 1496–1564)] as Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely, n.p., n.d. [?1559]. 6 pages, 312 x 209 mm. Estimate: £12,000-18,000. This work is offered in Valuable Books & Manuscripts on 12 July at Christie’s London

The degree of central control in the letter is notable — it even includes a price-list for buying new equipment for the militia; and it is also striking how much was asked of individual citizens in defending their country, both in money and time — the letter even specifies that they are to give up the afternoon of every public holiday for the next two or three months for military training. The worry it expresses about people of ‘secrete welthe’ not paying their share — the tax avoiders of their day — strikes a contemporary note.

This rare document is a snapshot from one of the golden periods of English history. It is signed by the last, and greatest, of the Tudors monarchs, under whose reign arts and culture would flourish, international exploration was encouraged, and religious tolerance would be increased: Elizabeth, it could be argued, laid the foundations for the values and freedoms the UK enjoys today.

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  • Charles I’s stirrups

These riding stirrups were made for the coronation of Charles I, and were later used by William III in the Battle of the Boyne (1690). Charles I became King in 1625, but his coronation did not take place until the following year; 1626 is inscribed on the leather of these stirrups, next to a crown with the cypher C.R.

Although there are no detailed depictions of the trappings of Charles I’s horse, we know that the coronation procession by barge from Hampton Court to Westminster was derailed by strong tides, forcing Charles to make the last part of the journey on horse — with his feet secured by these very stirrups.

This royal provenance is given credence by entries to the 19th-century journal Notes and Queries, self-described as a ‘medium of inter-communication’ for ‘literary men’. In Volume VII of the 4th Series, printed in 1871, Major Stewart Blacker writes, ‘The stirrups, however, bear evidence… as being the property of an earlier king than William III, viz. Charles I… the leather was looped on, is plainly marked, dotted or inscribed, a royal crown, with the cypher C.R. and the date 1626 beneath.’

Print of Charles I and the Duke of Hamilton (After Van Dyke, 1782)
Print of Charles I and the Duke of Hamilton (After Van Dyke, 1782)

In the previous edition of Notes and Queries, a correspondent had written: ‘Some time previous to the month of August 1835, I saw in the house… a pair of stirrups, which were then very carefully preserved, and were represented (no doubt truly) as what had been used by King William III at the battle of the Boyne.’

William’s use of accoutrements belonging to his grandfather, Charles I, such as these stirrups, was a symbolic gesture — he had been born and raised in Holland, and invited to take the British throne by influential British Protestants, deposing his Catholic father-in-law James II in the process. It is believed that no other pairs of 17th-century stirrups with a royal association are known to survive.

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  • Chairs owned by Marie-Antoinette

Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793), the last Queen of France and Navarre through her marriage to Louis XVI, had notoriously expensive tastes. Yet if her spending was ruinous, her taste was exemplary. These elegant and finely carved fauteuils were probably delivered to her apartments at the Château de St. Cloud, in 1785. They are closely related to two chaises stamped by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Séné (1748-1803), a maître menuisier, and inscribed 'pour le service de la/ Reine a St Cloud/ n. 299', which were acquired by the Louvre in 1944.

A pair of Louis XVI white-painted fauteuils, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Séné, c. 1785. 36¼ in (92 cm) high; 25½ in (65 cm) wide; 22½ in (57.5 cm) deep. Estimate £20,000-30,000. This lot is offered in European Furniture and Works of Art on 4 July at Christie’s London

A pair of Louis XVI white-painted fauteuils, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Séné, c. 1785. 36¼ in (92 cm) high; 25½ in (65 cm) wide; 22½ in (57.5 cm) deep. Estimate: £20,000-30,000. This lot is offered in European Furniture and Works of Art on 4 July at Christie’s London

Marie-Antoinette bought the Château de St. Cloud from Louis-Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, in 1785, furnishing it mostly with furniture and works of art collected from other royal residences. New pieces were also commissioned, and completed in haste to be ready for the first visit by the King and his Queen in the summer of 1785.

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  • A Vernet landscape treasured by Raine, Countess Spencer

This landscape painting by Claude-Joseph Vernet, to be offered in The Old Masters Evening Sale  on 6 July, had been owned by a Grand Chancellor of Russia and a French botanist before coming into the possession of Raine, Countess Spencer, stepmother to Diana, Princess of Wales. 

Vernet was a leading 18th-century marine painter, celebrated for his studies of idyllic harbours and stormy coastlines across Europe. In 1753 Vernet was summoned by Louis XV to return to his native France from Rome, where he had lived for 20 years, to paint a series of views of French seaports for the King.

Claude Joseph Vernet (Avignon 1714-1789, A Mediterranean sea-port with fishermen unloading cargo. Oil on canvas, 39⅛ x 53 ½ in (99 x 135.8 cm). Estimate £300,000-500,000. This lot is offered in Old Masters Evening Sale on 6 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Claude Joseph Vernet (Avignon 1714-1789, A Mediterranean sea-port with fishermen unloading cargo. Oil on canvas, 39⅛ x 53 ½ in (99 x 135.8 cm). Estimate: £300,000-500,000. This lot is offered in Old Masters Evening Sale on 6 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

This particular view of a Mediterranean port was first recorded in the collection of Prince Alexander Andreyevich Bezborodko (1747-1799), a leading figure at the court of Catherine the Great. Bezborodko was a famed collector of paintings and decorative arts, and owned, along with the present picture, several other works by Vernet. The painting remained in the family by descent until 1875 when it was sold at auction in Paris.