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A Peaceable Kingdom
The Leo Mildenberg Collection of Ancient Animals
Collectors often speak of their hobby as a passion. For Leo Mildenberg, it was that and more. For him to buy an ancient animal, he had not only to love it, but to feel a certain communication with it. That explains why each of his animals has a lively, eloquent look in its eyes. "Look at it! Listen!" he would say, holding it close to his visitor's face, "It speaks to me, it speaks to you!"
All of Leo's animals are free, peaceful animals. They are real animals, no monsters. None are tethered or burdened by humans, nor do they attack or harm each other. The rabbit resting in the human hand might jump out at any moment (lot 187). The boar on the black-figure cup, chased by a hunter on the other side, will get away (lot 33). Just as Leo had in 1947, from a Russian prison camp in Kazakhstan.
Leo was born in 1913 in Kassel, on Valentine's Day as he frequently reminded his lady friends with a twinkle in his eye. He was proud of how his mother, born Jenny Loeb, described him, "gesund, jung, und meschugge." Healthy, young, and loony he remained in spirit until he died on January 14, 2001, a month shy of his 88th birthday. He studied ancient history and Semitic languages at the University of Frankfurt until being forced out by the Nazis in 1933. First he went to Leipzig and then to Estonia, where he received his doctorate. In the winter of 1941, he and other foreigners in Estonia were shipped by train to Kazakhstan and pushed out into the Siberian snow to make their way or die. He never told anyone that he once plunged into an icy river to save a child from drowning. Forty years later, having seen his name in the newspaper, she turned up at the opening of his animals exhibition in Cleveland.
Leo married a camp-mate, Elsie Brunner, a Züricher, whose family found her and Leo through the Red Cross and brought them home in 1947, where Leo taught, and they had a son, Michael. Family legend has it that one day Leo was walking down Bahnhofstrasse and peered through venerable Bank Leu's window at some ancient coins. The label was wrong. He marched inside, told the man in charge, and was hired! Within only a few years a special numismatic department of Bank Leu was formed with Leo the director. Bank Leu became the leading auction house in the world for ancient coins. Leo was multilingual and ran the auctions himself in several languages simultaneously. If his favorite client from Rome - a Russian lady - was in the house, he would conduct the auction in Russian, even stopping to kibbitz with her mid-lot.
As Leo's commercial prowess grew, he continued his scholarly interests and became one of the top experts in the world on ancient Greek coins from Sicily. He was the world's foremost scholar of Jewish coins and was elected an Honorary Fellow of The Royal Numismatic Society.
Often when Leo bought coins for Bank Leu, other small antiquities followed - vases, bronze figures, small marbles, and jewelry. Leo found other outlets for these: in addition to his private clients, three American museum men, John D. Cooney, first at Brooklyn, then at Cleveland, Tom Solley at Indiana University, and Cornelius Vermeule at Boston. He would visit every spring and fall, and bring exquisite small objects chosen with an eye honed on coins.
Luckily for both Leo and his future collection of ancient animals, the non-numismatic Bank Leu stock grew along with his own disposable income. Soon he found himself adopting ancient animals that were passed over by clients, or sometimes withheld from them, like the unique black-figure amphora with sea animals (lot 38) or the large Roman bronze lamp in the form of a quacking duck (lot 218). In at least one case, a heart-broken young curator who had been denied the funds to buy a subtly modeled and brilliantly decorated, rare Middle Kingdom Egyptian faience hippo, tipped off Leo, who wasted not a minute in acquiring this treasure - one of the last great ones in private hands (lot 111).
By the 1970s, the collection had grown into a veritable zoo, and the Cleveland Museum of Art gave the collection its first public exhibition in 1981. From there the collection, even as it continued growing, traveled throughout the United States, Israel, and Europe. Leo insisted that the collection be catalogued by young scholars who would bring fresh insights, and he encouraged, supported, and followed these individuals' careers throughout his life. He treated young scholars with dignity and respect, at a time when it was fashionable for the big professors to belittle and berate. He was a European university professor and a Swiss bank director - two positions almost synonymous with pomposity - and yet he was always kind, humble, and fun-loving.
Leo's first wife, Elsie, died in 1967, and Leo eventually married his second love, Ilse Seehaussen, who survives him along with his son and other family. Leo's last will and testament required first that his unpublished animals be catalogued and published. That has been done. Secondly, the animals should be sold for the benefit of his family. Leo wanted more than anything else to make his collection available to a new generation of collectors and curators who would look each animal in the eye, listen to its voice, and love its spirit as much as he did. Since Leo's demise in January 2001, each animal in its own quiet way now speaks for him.
Arielle P. Kozloff
The Leo Mildenberg Collection of Ancient Animals was exhibited in numerous cities, spanning three continents, from 1981 onwards and led to a series of publications to coincide with these events. Individual pieces were also the subject of scholarly articles and museum loans. Publications and exhibition catalogues include: H. Bloesch et al., Das Tier in der Antike, Archäologischen Institut der Universität Zürich, Zurich, 1974; I. Jucker, Italy of the Etruscans, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 1991; F. D. Friedman (ed.), Gifts of the Nile: Ancient Egyptian Faience, London, 1998; O. Keel and T. Staubli (eds.), Les animaux du 6ème jour, Fribourg, 2003. Leo Mildenberg was a generous museum benefactor, gifting over 40 of his finest objects to museums worldwide including the Bible Lands Museum, Israel Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Indiana University Art Museum, Harvard University, Antiken Museum Basle, Archäologischen Institut der Universität Zürich, Institut für Klassiche Archäologie Tübingen, Prähistorische Sammlung Munich, Antikenmuseum Berlin, Institut Biblique France, The University of Haifa Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum and The Shefton Museum, Newcastle University.
A. P. Kozloff (ed.), Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection, Part I, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1981.
A. P. Kozloff, Perry Grin's Travels, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1981 (a children's story book)
U. Gehrig (ed.), Tierbilder aus vier Jahrtausenden, Antiken der Sammlung Mildenberg, Mainz am Rhein, 1983
A. P. Kozloff, D. G. Mitten and M. Sguaitamatti, More Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection, Part II, Mainz am Rhein, 1986.
A. S. Walker (ed.), Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection, Part III, Mainz am Rhein, 1996.
G. Zahlhaas, Aus Noahs Arche, Tierbilder der Sammlung Mildenberg aus fünf Jahrtausenden, Part IV, Mainz am Rhein, 1996.
P. E. Mottahedeh (ed.), Out of Noah's Ark, Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection, Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem, 1997
"Couched as a lion, who shall rouse him up" (Genesis 49:9) Depictions of Animals from the Leo Mildenberg Collection, Part V, Ruben and Edith Hecht Museum, University of Haifa, catalogue no. 16, November 1999.
J. Biers (ed.), A Peaceable Kingdom, Animals in Ancient Art from the Leo Mildenberg Collection, Part VI, Mainz am Rhein, 2004.
Christie's would like to thank the following for archive photographs: Karen Benzian, Thomas Brunner, Arielle P. Kozloff, Faith F. Sandstrom and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
"... as Democritus says, in the most important things it is we who have learned from the animals."
ORDER OF SALE
Tuesday, 26 October 2004, 2.30 p.m.
Session One lots 1-219
Mediterranean World lots 1-87
Jewellery lots 88-109
Egyptian lots 110-152
Near Eastern lots 153-185
Roman lots 186-219
Wednesday, 27 October 2004, 10.30 a.m.
Session Two lots 220-419
Roman lots 220-261
Jewellery lots 262-274
Mediterranean World lots 275-349
Near Eastern lots 350-394
Egyptian lots 395-419
A PEACEABLE KINGDOM:
THE LEO MILDENBERG COLLECTION OF ANCIENT ANIMALS