Main image

5 minutes with… A Greek bronze Chalcidian helmet

Antiquities specialist Hannah Solomon discusses an ornate Greek helmet, which was until recently on loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is now being offered in the Exceptional Sale on 28 April

‘This is a superb example of Greek armour,’ says Hannah Solomon, specialist and Head of Sale, Ancient Art & Antiquities at Christie’s New York. ‘When you look at other examples of Chalcidian helmets from this period, this one is noteworthy for its decorative elements, beautiful patination and fantastic condition.’

The Chalcidian helmet was an improvement on the earlier Corinthian and Illyrian types. Its lighter design allowed for greater mobility, while its curves around the ears maximised the soldier’s ability to hear. This helmet dates to the Classical period between around 450 and 400 BC — the age of Sophocles, Herodotus and Pericles. This was a pioneering period for art and culture in ancient Greece, but also a time of war and conflict: the city states were not only fighting off attacks from foreign empires but also fighting each other.

This helmet, however, was more than just a functional piece of armour. ‘It’s incredibly ornate, indicating that it was owned by someone of higher rank who had the money to invest in armour that was more than just protective,’ Solomon explains. ‘You don’t need all the ornamentation on the crown of the head, or the spiral on the cheek guards — these details all show that the warrior had significant means. This was not a common object.’

A Greek bronze Chalcidian helmet. Classical period, c. 450-400 BC. 10¾ in high. Estimate: $350,000-550,000. This lot is offered in The Exceptional Sale on 28 April 2017 at Christie’s in New York

The helmet’s patina is equally noteworthy and, in Solomon’s opinion, adds to its uniqueness. Some areas show the original golden hue of the bronze, but from its burial, the helmet has built up a thick layer of malachite green and azurite blue encrustation — particularly around the nose-guard. ‘The blue is quite unusual,’ says Solomon. ‘Green is more typical, but it transforms the helmet into something more. It’s such a thick texture that it reminds me of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. I love this helmet for its ornamental nature — both intended and unintended.’

This is not the first time that the helmet has passed through Christie’s New York salerooms: we previously offered it in 2003, when it was acquired by a private collector and then loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After almost 13 years on display it is back at our auction house, much to Solomon’s delight. ‘We’re very excited to have it back,’ she says. ‘This is a museum-quality work which will appeal to collectors in a wide variety of categories.’

And what future does the specialist envisage for the helmet? ‘It has a really strong presence, it could really shine in front of a modern painting. Anything with a thick textured quality, like a built-up canvas,’ she suggests. ‘But it could work just as well in front of a Sol LeWitt or a stark minimalist canvas. It’s a truly universal and versatile object.’