A magnesite or crystalline limestone figure of a lioness,
Elam, circa 3000-2800 B.C.
A tiny and extremely rare 5,000-year-old white limestone sculpture from ancient Mesopotamia sold for 57.2 million dollars in New York on Wednesday, smashing records for both sculpture and antiquities.
The carved Guennol Lioness, measuring just over eight centimeters (3 1/4 inches) tall, was described by Sotheby’s auction house as one of the last known masterworks from the dawn of civilization remaining in private hands.
“It was an honor for us to handle The Guennol Lioness, one of the greatest works of art of all time,” Richard Keresey and Florent Heintz, the experts in charge of the sale, said in a joint statement.
“Before the sale, a great connoisseur of art commented to us that he always regarded the figure as the ‘finest sculpture on earth’ and it would appear that the market agreed with him,” they said.
Five different bidders, three on the telephone and two in the room, competed for the sculpture. The successful buyer was identified only as an English buyer who wished to remain anonymous.
The sale easily broke the previous record for the highest price for a sculpture at auction, which had stood at 29.1 million dollars and was set just last month at Sotheby’s in New York by Picasso’s “Tete de Femme (Dora Maar).”
It also beat the 28.6 million dollars paid for “Artemis and the Stag,” a 2,000-year-old bronze figure which sold also at Sotheby’s in New York in June and held the record for the most expensive antiquity to be sold at auction.
Described by Sotheby’s as diminutive in size, but monumental in conception, The Guennol Lioness was created around 5,000 years ago — around the same time as the first known use of the wheel — in the region of ancient Mesopotamia.
The piece was acquired by private collector Alastair Bradley Martin in 1948 and has been on display in New York’s Brooklyn Museum of Art ever since.