A Greek bronze eagle of unusual stature with exceptionally fine craftsmanship, possibly early classical (early 5th century B.C.) or late Hellenistic (1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D.)
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DescriptionThe heavy bronze figure with thick walls, produced by applying the lost-wax casting technique, probably with a clay core inside. The style and method clearly suggest it dates from classical antiquity. Two features of the remarkable bronze sculpture stand out in particular: firstly, the unusual size for a bronze sculpture of a bird from classical antiquity, such as is very rarely found; secondly, the surface is characterised by the exceptionally fine, naturalistic rendering of the plumage. The bird standing in repose, its wings tightly folded and head upright, slightly turned to the left. The tail feathers pointed slightly downwards, protruding from beneath the wings. The tops of the metatarsal bone (tarsometatarsus), covered in scales, still in place below the feathered tarsi. The toes and talons have been lost. The musculature of the bird is clearly delineated. The feathers on the surface of the body are exceptionally finely and precisely chased, representing the shafts of the quill and the vanes extending on either side, whereby previously finished structures on the lost wax model have been further refined. The eyes with clearly contoured lids, the pupils with a pronounced, overhanging bulge. The hooked beak clearly identifying it as a bird of prey. The upper and lower beak precisely executed, along with the openings at the root. While the right-hand side, presumably the original outer side, shows a stern gaze, the left side, turned slightly inwards, reveals a gentler appearance. The eagle was probably part of a group of figures and it may be assumed that a second bird or a life-sized (or almost life-sized) figure was placed on the postulated inner side. Although the bulge over the eyes is not in a straight line and does not represent the typical "eagle gaze", it may be assumed that the statue is meant to be an eagle.
It is not easy to give a precise date for this object as it may be considered unique as regards its size and the quality of the craftsmanship. A Greek bronze votive offering from the Acropolis Museum (dated to the late 6th century B.C.) shows a bird standing somewhat more erect, without the slight inclination of the head, but exhibiting very similar musculature and posture. Magna Graecian tetradrachms from Akragas (1st quarter of the 5th century B.C.) at the turn of the Archaic to the early classical period feature birds that are unmistakably eagles, the silhouettes of which, combined with the fine markings of the plumage and the specifically rounded head, often appear to be miniatures of the eagle presented here. Generally speaking, in Roman art, eagles are depicted with a coarser plumage in higher relief, their posture is usually more dynamic and the facial expression more aggressive.
By contrast, concepts of art that were invariably supplied by local traditions are conceivable, particularly in the eastern half of the empire. The exceptionally realistic, yet rather undramatic and serene depiction of the eagle might also suggest that it was made during the late Hellenistic period (1st century B.C. – 1st century A.D.)
The surface is covered with an almost flawless, uniform, olive green patina, whose silk-matte lustre perfectly accentuates the finely delineated anatomical details. An antique, hairline crack running across the right-hand side. Minor casting defects have been repaired after casting in typical antique fashion and the surfaces re-chased accordingly. A masterpiece of antique bronze casting with meticulously worked details, the unconventional stylisation in keeping with the specific artistic intention and of unusual stature for the subject. Height 32 cm (including pedestal 38.5 cm).
Provenance: From the collection of a South German classical philologist, acquired by him during the 1950s and 1960s. Remaining thereafter in the family estate.
Condition: II Questions about the lot?