• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2007

    Antiquities

    4 June 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 185

    A SCYTHIAN GOLD OPENWORK PLAQUE

    CIRCA 4TH CENTURY B.C.

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    A SCYTHIAN GOLD OPENWORK PLAQUE
    CIRCA 4TH CENTURY B.C.
    Formed of hammered sheet, preserving two battle scenes, to the left a fully-armed beardless warrior lunging to the right, a short sword drawn in his right hand, grabbing the head of a similarly-clad fallen archer before him, the archer on one knee, his left leg outstretched, supported on his right hand, holding his bow high in his left, his bearded head thrown back, to the right, a decapitated man lying at the foot of a tree, his arms outstretched above his neck, a sword and gorytus (bow case) suspended from the trunk, a Scythian warrior in characteristic belted coat, boots and long beard lunging to the right with a sword in his right hand, the severed head in his left; framed within a decorative border, dotted ovolo above, bosses below, wave on the right, interlocking bands of bosses between the scenes; several perforations throughout for attachment, likely originally to a leather or felt backing, perhaps a bow case
    12 3/8 in. (31.4 cm.) long


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    This lively plaque is a fine example of the Greek style in Scythian art of the 4th century B.C. This tradition merged Greek artisanship with the most realistic depictions of Scythian daily life.

    The battle scene depicted shows two vignettes which exemplify the costume and weaponry of the period. The scene to the left shows two Scythian warriors similarly clad in Greek-inspired armor. See, for example, the modern reconstruction, no. 10, p. 112-113 in Reeder, ed., Scythian Gold, complete with shirt and leg coverings formed of iron plates over leather, the leather bow case (gorytus) and scabbarded short sword. On the Romanovich-Stoclet plaque, the figure to the left carries a short sword, and the fallen warrior holds his bow.

    The more gruesome scene to the right shows the decapitation of the enemy by the victorious Scythian warrior. Here clad in the customary Scythian leather coat and wearing a long shaggy, pointed beard, this warrior finds a parallel in depictions of Scythians on a gold vessel, now in the Hermitage, no. 146 in Aruz, et al., eds., The Golden Deer of Eurasia. The two costume types are found side-by-side on the famous comb from the Solokha kurgan, no. 156, in Aruz, op. cit., where the mounted soldier dons the armor, and one foot soldier wears the long leather coat and carries the typical weaponry. For the gorytus hung on a tree, as above the decapitated victim, see no. 212, op. cit.
    The iconography of the beheading has been studied extensively by Knauer, op. cit. This scene perfectly illustrates the Scythian practice of presenting the head of the fallen enemy to one's leader, as described in Herodotus, IV, 64ff., "The heads of all enemies killed in battle are taken to the king; if he brings a head, a soldier is admitted to his share of the loot; no head, no loot."

    For a battle scene on a helmet with similar Scythian costume, depicting the moment just before decapitation, see no. 124 in Reeder, op. cit.

    Provenance

    Said to have been found at Kurgan Zubov, near Anapa, on the east coast of the Black Sea.
    F.S. Romanovich, Novogrondok, prior to 1895.
    Adolphe Stoclet, Brussels, acquired in 1913.
    Madame Féron-Stoclet, Brussels.


    Pre-Lot Text

    THE ROMANOVICH-STOCLET PLAQUE


    Literature

    J.P. van Goidsenhoven, ed., Collection Adolphe Stoclet, Brussels, 1956, pp. 306-307.
    Sept mille ans d'art en Iran, Paris, 1961, p. 124, no. 731, pl. LXXIV.
    R. Ghirshman, Iran: Parthians and Sasanians, London, 1962, p. 273, fig. 355.
    A.A. Peredol'skaja, "Original ili poddelka? (po povodu luvrskogo serebryanogo ritona)," Sovetskaya Arkheologiya 1, 1966, pp. 42-50.
    V.A. Il'inskaya, "Zolotaya plastina s izobrazheniem skifov iz kollektsii Romanovicha," Sovetskaya Arkheologiya 3, 1978, pp. 90-100.
    H.W. Haussig, Archäologie und Kunst der Seidenstrasse, Darnstadt, 1992, no. 46.
    A. Ju. Alekseev, "K rekonstruktsii odnogo utrachennogo predmeta ellino-skifskoi torevtiki V-IV vv. do n.e.," in M. Yu and Ju. A. Vinogradov (eds.), Stratum Peterburgskii archeologicheskii vestnik, St. Petersburg and Kisinev, 1997, pp. 29-43.
    E.R. Knauer, "Observations on the 'Barbarian' Custom of Suspending Severed Enemy Heads from the Necks of Horses" in E. Savostina, ed., Bosporan Battle Relief (Amazonomachia?), Moscow and St. Petersburg, 2001, p. 187, pl. XVII, fig. 1, note 10.


    Exhibited

    Paris, Petit Palais, Sept Mille Ans D'Art en Iran, October 1961 - January 1962.