It’s that time of year where Christie’s auction house is again holding its prominent and prestigious “The Exceptional Sale” on July 8th. The sale shines a light onto the story of humanity’s relationship with mortality, the evolution of time, the animal kingdom, religion and science. Now more than ever, over this past year, many of us have looked for answers to these most fundamental problems - we have also sought solace and closure. The items offered in this very special auction speak directly to these questions, and that is why this trove of treasures gives me great excitement and pleasure.
Even though every individual piece in this collection is extraordinary, I wanted to share with you a few items that stood out most to me. I am particularly excited about this auction and its centrepiece drawing, Head of a Bear by Leonardo da Vinci. It almost blows my mind that this splendid drawing is a product of the man himself - but also the thought that it could be the possession of one extremely lucky person.
In no particular order, here are some special lots that stir me most.
An Egyptian Granite Head of Sekhmet, 1390 – 1352 B.C.
Sekhmet was the most important of Egypt’s leonine deities. Her name translates to ‘the female powerful one’ for she was the goddess who had the power to fight pestilence and function as a healing deity. Now, if only she was present today!
This magnificent piece was once in the possession of Francois Lang, an avid collector of sculptures, paintings and works of art. Francois was from a colourful family of textile producers, bankers and art collectors, so you can see where his fascination originated.
A Monolithic Slice of Fukang Meteorite
A crescent slice of an extremely rare meteorite, the Fukang Meteorite is bejewelled with impressively sized crystals making it one of the most beautiful extra-terrestrial materials known. Found in the Gobi Desert, China, it is said to date back to the birth of the Solar System.
Isaac Newton, Revising His Magnum Opus
An autograph manuscript from 1694 with revisions to three sections of the first edition of the Philosphiae Naturalis Principia Mathmetica. This manuscript also contains additional notes made by Scottish mathematician and astronomer, David Gregory.
This is a vanishingly rare document, representing a high peak of civilization’s intellectual prowess.
Charles I Silver Inkstand, 1639
Created for Post Master General James Craggs, this exquisite and intricate silver dish has been painstakingly adorned with the most elaborate detailing representing Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy and Music. I am sure Newton would have loved it!
A Pair of George III Giltwood Armchairs, Attributed to Thomas Chippendale, 1775
In the Neoclassical style of Chippendale, these ‘French’ armchairs are designed with oval padded backs, guilloche carved frames headed by a wreathed rosette and arms with scrolled terminals. The chairs are said to have originally been made for Sir Charles Cocks, for his London home, and were subsequently in the ownership of Lady Henry Somerset, wife of Lord Henry Somerset, son of the 8th Duke of Beaufort.
Head of a Bear by Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Perhaps the most remarkable item in the entire collection. An exquisite demonstration of da Vinci’s mastery as a draughtsman. Only a handful of drawings of this nature were created by da Vinci and today it is only one of eight in private hands. This is an exceedingly precious article. It is said to have been based on a live bear held in captivity and bears during period were commonplace in Tuscany. The depiction is drawn in silverpoint, a tremendously difficult skill because mistakes made were tough to remove.
An Important Mexican Silver Gilt, Rock Crystal, Boxwood and Hummingbird Feather Pax, 1575
A carved boxwood depiction of The Virgin of Guadalupe in an architectural frame. The pax contains some of the richest and most symbolic materials native to Mexico. This piece is extremely significant due to its cultural and historical context in the unification of Spain and Mexico.
A South German Ormolu, Silver and Gilt Brass Quarter Striking Astronomical Table Clock, 1670
Created by Johannes Sommer The Younger in Augsburg, this sublime clock is an architectural feast featuring an obelisk finial, balustraded pagoda, two tiered bells, with flowerheads and foliage.
A Saxon Gold Mounted Hardstone Snuffbox, 1780
By Johann-Christian Neuber, Dresden, a master of the Neoclassical style most known for his hardstone pieces that came to be beloved by the enlightened aristocracy of the period. His creations were the perfect formulation of curiosity, craftsmanship and beauty.
The Emperors Cup,1845
One of nine magnificent trophies assembled by Hunt and Roskell, London, commissioned by Emperor Nicholas I of Russia following his visit to Ascot Races as the guest of Queen Victoria in 1844. To commemorate his visit, the Emperor generously donated 500 sovereigns for a piece of plate to be awarded each year as the principal prize for winning the Ascot Gold Cup. This spectacular lot is one of those cups.