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Lot 1: Roman Bust of Hercules Holding Apples of Hesperides

Antiquities: Day 1

by TimeLine Auctions

December 6, 2016

London, United Kingdom

Live Auction
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Description: 2nd-3rd century AD. A large bust of Hercules (Herakles) wearing a lion skin fastened over his shoulders with paws resting on his chest; right hand holding a club raised over his right shoulder; left hand holding three apples and face of a lion skin; very fine facial details with large curly beard and short curly hair with fillet. See similar pose on marble statue The Bust of Commodus as Hercules, Capitoline Museums, Rome. Accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate. 2.52 kg, 25.2cm (10"). Property of a Surrey collector; acquired in the early 1970s. Accompanied by a copy of positive metallurgic analytical results, written by Metallurgist Dr. Peter Northover (ex Department of Materials, Materials Science-Based Archaeology Group & Department of Materials, University of Oxford"). Hercules (Greek Herakles) was the son of Zeus and a mortal queen Alkmene. He displayed his great strength since early childhood, when he killed two snakes that were sent by the goddess Hera (Roman Juno) to kill him in his cradle. Heroic deeds such as sailing with the Argonauts, liberation of the Titan Prometheus, the twelve labours in the service of king Eurystheus and his voluntary death on a pyre on Mount Oite, mark his progress from hero to immortal where he ascended to Olympus and was given the goddess Hebe as a wife. In his aspect as kallinikos, meaning 'the radiant victor', in all forms of contest, he became the national hero of the Greeks. He was popular with the ordinary people as alexikalos, or protector against misfortune, and someone one could turn to in need. His club was an object of protection and was replicated in small versions to be worn as amulets. The Hercules knot, with which the god tied the skin of the Nemean lion about his shoulders, would also take on apotropaic powers, especially among women, where it was used in a variety of jewellery, but also to tie the belt around the wedding dress on the day of marriage. The apples that Hercules holds in this image relate to the eleventh labour. The Hesperides were nymphs of evening and golden light of sunset, who were the Daughters of the Evening or Nymphs of the West. They tend a blissful garden in a far western corner of the world, located near the Atlas mountains in North Africa at the edge of the encircling Oceanus, the world-ocean, and it is in this garden that the golden tree is located. As well as the garden, the golden tree and the nymphs, the Titan Atlas was also here holding up the heavens.Hercules tricked him into retrieving some of the golden apples for him, by offering to hold up the heavens for a little while. Upon his return, Atlas decided that he did not want to take the heavens back, and instead offered to deliver the apples himself to king Eurystheus, but Hercules tricked him again by agreeing to take his place on condition that Atlas relieve him temporarily, so that Hercules could make his cloak more comfortable. Atlas agreed, but Hercules reneged and walked away, carrying the apples. However, since those apples were not meant for mortals, they were given to Athena who took them back to the garden. Hercules was a popular god in Rome, as well, and had many temples dedicated to him. He was also a patron deity of some of the emperors who would depict themselves in the guise of the god, such as Commodus. In the city of Rome, Hercules had many epithets such as Custos, 'custodian', Invictus, 'unconquered', and Triumphalis 'the triumphant'. He was also especially worshipped in Gaul where he was amalgamated with native Celtic deities such as Ilunnus, Magusanus and Saegon, and had an important healing shrine at Deneuvre. The life of Hercules, which involved heroic struggles for the benefit of mankind, overcoming of evil forces and eventual apotheosis, led to a mystery cult developed around him. Though not as popular as that of Isis, Dionysus or Cybele, it found favour among the troops and a number of altars and dedications are known depicting the initiated in the guise of the god.

Condition Report: Extremely fine condition. Important.

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