Hammered from a single metal sheet, of domed form, highly stylized and ornately decorated, with a sharply flaring neck-guard, a short slender nose-guard running to broad arching eye openings, the brow with two slender eyebrows below a peaked raised band adorned with ovolo below, surmounted by a palmette at the center and another on each side above the curving cheek-guards, each adorned with a spiral in high relief, and a second smaller spiral towards the arching opening for the ear
10 ¾ in. (27.3 cm.) high
Private Collection, York, England, acquired between 1950s-1970s; thence by descent.
Art Market, London, acquired from the above, prior to 1998.
Antiquities, Christie's, New York, 11 December 2003, lot 137.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004-2017 (L.2004.17.1).

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Lot Essay

This striking helmet is one of the finest surviving examples of Greek armor from the 5th century B.C. The Classical Period in Greece, during which this helmet was made, is recognized as both the Golden Age of the arts as well as a violent and bellicose period, defined by multiple wars between the Greeks and powerful foreigners and amongst the Greeks themselves. It is hardly surprising that this helmet is the product of this dichotomy, since it epitomizes its duel nature as both an object of great beauty as well as one of outstanding military function.

As a piece of armor, this helmet type, the Chalcidian, is an example of the evolution in design and innovation. Greek helmets vary throughout the 1st millennium B.C. based on the changing needs of warfare. The Chalcidian type, for example, was introduced beginning in the 6th century B.C. as an alternative to its predecessors -- the Corinthian and Illyrian models -- due to their inefficiencies. The Chalcidian fixed the great fault of the earlier helmets, whose heavy metal sheet covered the warrior’s ears and prohibited his ability to hear. Evolving stylistically from the Corinthian type, the Chalcidian helmet is fashioned around the ears, leaving them exposed to maximize the soldier’s ability to communicate more freely. The helmet’s lighter design allowed for greater mobility as well.

Our helmet has fixed cheek-guards, which is one of three variations of the type; those with hinged cheek-guards and with or without nose-guards became popular in the late 5th-early 4th century B.C. Originally, Chalcidian helmets would have sported a crest of horse hair, fastened directly to the metal dome and pinned in place at the front and back, likely an aesthetic addition to intimidate the enemy.

Moreover, this helmet can be understood as more than just a functional piece of armor, which afforded the wearer protection. It should be viewed as a work of art and a symbol of status and wealth for the warrior. What sets this helmet apart is its extremely beautiful and elaborate ornamental decoration. Note in particular the finely-detailed ovolo molding along the lower edge of the peaked crown, centered above gracefully-arching thin eyebrows; as well observe the delicate palmettes on the apex of the peaked ridge and above the cheek-guards, which surmount mirrored S-curls and are set into a V-shaped molding. The large raised spiral adorning each cheek-guard, with a smaller spiral winding the opposite direction at the larger’s widest point are worth noting also. Since most Chalcidian helmets are without such refinement and embellishments, those features here convey the warrior’s importance in the military ranking and his ability to afford greater luxury in armor beyond pure functionality.

While the result of modern condition rather than ancient intent, the striking patina is especially noteworthy for its multi-colored surface and thick oxidation. The helmet retains its original bronze color --a rich golden hue -- while also displaying silvery patches on the smooth surface of the dome. These contrast dramatically with the thick and blistering oxidation in shades of brilliant malachite green and azurite blue along the ovolo band, and the cheek- and nose-guards in particular. The weathering appears in the vein of a Jackson Pollock canvas, with raised and rupturing surface, although very much an accident of time rather than purposeful rendering.

The helmet presented here finds its closest parallel with a nearly-identical example found at the Mikro Bay Cemetery in Northern Greece, now at the British Museum (Museum no. 1919,1119.6; p. 140 in A. Bottini, et al., Antike Helme).

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