Egyptian Granite Head Sold At Christie's

Egyptian Granite HeadIn recent news in the antiquities world, Christie’s sold a stunning Egyptian Granite Head of an Official, recently handled by Phoenix Ancient Art, for $422,500.  This head represents a courtier and dates from the New Kingdom, Late Dynasty XVIII, circa 1400-1390 B.C.

The courtier wears a double wig: the upper tier, with the locks engraved in deep linear incisions, covers the head like a thick skullcap; on the forehead, the wig forms a horizontal line that falls diagonally from the temples to the shoulders, hiding the upper half of the ears.

The absence of attributes or other royal divine elements indicate that this man was a private individual, probably an Egyptian high dignitary.

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An original from the reign of Thutmose IV or early Amenhotep III, the statue’s most distinguished feature for dating purposes are the eyebrows.  The straight eyebrows, the hairstyle, the eye shape, and the articulated upper lid all date the piece to this exact time period.  A few details point to work done on the piece during the Ramesside period; the shape of the mouth may have been slightly altered at this time and the ears may also have been pierced during that period.

The granite head stands 17.1 cm high. It was with Monbrison, Paris, before becoming part of the Wertheimer Collection, Paris, in the 1960s. Then it resurfaced at Christie’s New York in December 2001.  The Merrin Gallery published it in 2002 when it was acquired by a US private collection in the same year.  In 2007 the head was exhibited at Phoenix Ancient Art and published in catalogue 1, no. 29.


The market for fine antiquities has never been stronger.  For example, a four-inch black chlorite bust of a mythological hero, whose most distinguishing characteristics are a long shell-inlaid scar crossing the right side of his face and another large scar on his left cheek sold at Sotheby’s on 8 December for $1,258,500 against a pre-sale estimate fo $300,000-500,000.  The piece was consigned by a collector who bought it from the Aboutaam brothers, co-owners of Phoenix Ancient Art, who bought it at Christie’s in June 2000 for $105,000.  The small but powerful piece has been in several private collections and is believed to have been found prior to 1961.


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Neolithic to Nebuchadnezzar


Phoenix Ancient t Art, Winged griffin flanking a scared tree, Phoenician, ca. 8th century B.C., ivory, H 10.6 cm 

 [Hicham] Aboutaam notes, “There are people who collect both Classical and Near Eastern art, but not everybody does that. Those who like Near Eastern art in general, feel that it is historically and archeologically superior to Classical art. Those who collect Classical art like, from time to time, to go out of the Hellenized world boundaries and back to earlier periods in the same region, a few millennia earlier. So they play a game of moving back and forth.”

 Amy Page, Neolithic to Nebuchadnezzar, Art & Antiques, November, 2010


Rarities on the stand of Phoenix Ancient Art include:
Greek, late 8th century B.C. bronze

A Geometric Horse

H: 11 cm, Base: 7 cm (4.3 x 2.8 in.)

The horse dates from the Geometric Period, 10th to 8th century B.C.  The era was a time of great cultural advancement: Homer and the rise of epic poetry and the development of the visual arts.  Bronze figurines were produced,  depicting people, animals and birds.  Representations of horses are among the most frequently depicted animals.  A great number of bronze horses such as this one were used as votive offerings in temples and sanctuaries. This small, stylized, and charming horse is standing upright with his head proudly raised.  His chest and neck reveal his power and his head is delicately modeled in great detail.

News in Modern Syrian Art

Prices differ considerably for Contemporary and ancient Syrian Art .  The local art scene for contemporary Syrian art has, until recently, been controlled by the Syrian government.  Now that has changed as  the country’s economy has become more open and less government-controlled.  Today, an increasing numberof  Westerners seeking something different have been spending more money on Middle Eastern Art.  This has led to the opening of various modern art galleries in Damascus that sell to international collectors.  This means that the average price of a medium-sized contemporary work work has appreciated 400 percent.   For ancient Syrian art lovers,  however, prices are still reasonable.  To give an example, one can purchase a Syrian Pilgrim terracotta Flask with a round  body and  two handles from Phoenix Ancient Art  for $5,000.

Islamic Art

Art is more than just aesthetically pleasing. It also can give one details about the culture and ideology of the place where it was made.  This is especially true Islamic art.  Through its art, one can see how Muslims view the world and their relationship to it.  Since Muslims are not allowed to engage in any form of idol-worship, Islamic art has to reflect that prohibition and thus any depictions of animals or humans that might lead to such worship are forbidden.  Hence Islamic art is centered  around floral, calligraphic, arabesque and geometric forms.  Today, on sale at e-Tiquities is a pair of Islamic gold bracelets, each of which has two twisted wires; a thick and smooth one and a thin and granulated ornamented one.  Both bracelets (which actually form a pair) have turquoise tiles in a heart shape and are identical.  Given its fine materials and great craftsmanship, the bracelets were probably worn by someone who was quite affluent.

Bronze Figure of Serapis Seated on a Throne at Phoenix Ancient Art

One of the many  antiques available from Hicham and Ali Aboutaam at Phoenix Ancient Art is this thirdpcentury Bronze Figure of Serapis seated on a Throne. 

Serapis was quite popular during the Hellenistic period , with a large temple located in Alexandria and another famous one in Memphis.  His successful cult spread throughout the Mediterranean basin.  This small bronze, and other similar figures, is believed  to correspond to the cult statue that is housed in the Alexandria temple. This statue was commissioned by Ptolemy II to the sculptor Bryaxis the Younger.

New Rules for Ancient Art

Antiquities are not simply old pieces of art. They carry a message about a culture’s heritage and history,  which is the legacy and gift of that culture to its heirs and to the rest of the world. Because of the special place ancient objects have in a nation’s culture, the rules regarding trade and ownership of these artifacts have a special significance.
Recently there has been a movement to improve the laws that exist and to  create new laws that protect the objects and the nations they came from so that rightful possession and ownership can be maintained.

Antiquities dealers are affected by these changes. “If dealers ignore the changing standards in the antiquities trade,” says Hicham Aboutaam, co-owner, with his brother, Ali, of Phoenix Ancient Art of New York and Geneva, “it will be at their peril.”

Some dealers take the “buyers beware” approach to selling antiquities. “We research pieces as much as we can,” says Aboutaam, “and if we fail to find a provenance, we put everything on the table and let the buyer decide.”

The Aboutaam’s, Etruscan and Villanovan Art

SVillanovianFigurineome of the gems on sale by Phoenix Ancient Art – owned by Ali Aboutaam and his brother Hicham – come from the Etruscan and Villanovan period and were developed in central Italy.  Any gems dating  this time are quite precious today since very few pieces survived, especially from the Villanovan period.  This might suggest that the society lived quite modest lives since very few luxurious items remain, but actually the jewelry that does exist would counter this claim.

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The Aboutaam’s and Villanovian Figures

Typical from the Villanovian Era is a  bronze figurine, on sale through e-Tiquities, Phoenix Ancient Art’s online site.  This figure is a man standing naked except for a small cap.  His facial features are quite distinct:  straight nose, slightly bulging eyes; ears coming out from the cap.  The Villanovians were known for creating many bronze figures very much like this one.

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