Remarkable Roman marble hounds lead Bonhams Antiquities sale
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Remarkable Roman marble hounds lead Bonhams Antiquities sale
Two Roman marble figures of hounds. Estimate: £200,000-300,000. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Two Roman marble figures of Celtic hounds found in the ruins of the villa of Emperor Antoninus Pius (ruled AD 138-161), which later formed part of the outstanding collection of the renowned and influential English aesthete Thomas Hope, lead Bonhams Antiquities sale in London on Wednesday 3 July. Offered at auction for the first time since 1911, they are estimated at £200,000-300,000.

Thomas Hope (1769-1831), artist, novelist, and historian was one of the most renowned art collectors of his day. At the age of 18 he embarked on an extensive Grand Tour, and drawing on his family’s vast wealth, indulged his passion for classical art. He acquired most of his astounding collection of ancient Roman marble sculptures in Italy between 1795-1803. It is regarded as one of the finest collections of Roman sculpture ever formed in Britain.

The Celtic hounds would have been one of Hope’s earliest purchases, and had pride of his place in the Statue Gallery in his London town-house in Duchess Street Marylebone from 1804-1849. He decorated each room in the house in the style of the countries that he had visited, and opened it up to serve as a semi-public museum.

Bonhams head of Antiquities, Francesca Hickin said, “The hounds were found in 1795, in the ruins of Antoninus Pius’s villa in Laurentum, the coastal city where Antoninus – like many Emperors before and after him – went to escape the pressures of Imperial Rome. They were probably acquired by Thomas Hope very soon after their discovery, and were certainly highly prized by this most discerning of collectors. They are remarkable, rare, and very fine, survivors from the 2nd century AD with impeccable provenance, and I expect a lot of interest from collectors.”

Other highlights include:

• A Roman marble satyr, circa 1st century A.D. Satyrs were often shown in motion, and the contortions of this figure suggest he was part of a group depicting a fight. Estimate: £50,000-70,000.

• A Roman marble head of Minerva circa 2nd century A.D. Minerva was the Roman goddess of war, wisdom, art and commerce (the equivalent of the Greek goddess Athena), and this piece is derived from a Greek original depiction of Athena dating from the later 5th century/early 4th century. Estimate: £40,000-60,000.

• A Roman marble Archaistic head of a youthful male, circa 1st century B.C./1st century A.D. From the 2nd Century B.C. onwards, sculptors harked back to styles of the Archaic period (8th century B.C. to the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C.) to add a sense of prestige and venerability to their work.

Thomas Hope (1769-1831)
Thomas Hope was one of the great tastemakers of Regency England. Born into a family of merchant bankers in Amsterdam, he inherited immense wealth on the death of his father with which he built astonishing collections of paintings, sculpture, antique objects and books. His extravagent residence in Duchess Street, Marylebone, London became a magnet for selected visitors keen to learn from his decorative flair. He juxtaposed Classical and modern styles in an entirely new way, and drew extensively on the Egyptian, Greek and Roman influences he had imbibed on his Grand Tour as a young man. He also designed furniture specifically for the house. His books on decoration and furniture were the first of their kind, and he became famous in aristocratic circles as a master of interior design. At his magnificent country seat at Deepdene in Surrey, the beau monde mingled with scholars and men of letters. In 2008 The Victoria and Albert Museum in London dedicated an exhibition, Thomas Hope & the Regency style, to his life, work and influence.

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