Greek and Roman mythology has been studied by philosophers since their inception. While a variety of theories (scriptural, historical, allegorical, physical) have been presented to support the foundation of the ancient tales, professionals have yet to conclude whether the concepts are based on truth or dreams. To many, creating art such as sculptures and statues from descriptions of ancient tales acknowledge the validity of the stories and characters. This type of three-dimensional visual art originated in Ancient Greece during the classical period, which in turn generated several masterpieces. Today these sculptures and statues are considered works of genius, and carry a price tag to match. Counting down the 10 most expensive statues and sculptures in antiquity.
10. Ivory face of Apollo: $10 Million
While the original ivory statue of Apollo stood about six feet high, fragments of the ancient Roman ivory statue were illegally excavated several years ago near Rome, Italy. According to Italian Police, amongst the stolen pieces was the face of the statue, which was estimated to be from around the 1st century A.D. The stolen fragments were recovered in London after a six-year investigation. According to the Italian Police, there were very few statues left from that “age of antiquity” and “no comparable works exist in Italy.” The original statue was a marble sculpture revived in the 15th century, adored for centuries to come, embodying artistic perfection. Apollo, the son of Zeus, is the Greek and Roman mythological God of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, healing, plague, music, and poetry. The ‘face’ of Apollo was sold privately in 1996 by Pietro Casasanta to Nino Savoca for $10 million.
9. The Canford Assyrian Relief: $11.3 Million
Sold in 1994, to the Miho Museum for over $11 million, The Canford Assyrian Relief, circa 883-859 B.C. holds a world auction record for a “Near Eastern Antiquity.” The Assyrian stone relief was actually rediscovered on the wall of “the Grubber” in the private boarding school Canford, in Southwest England. The extraordinarily expensive item was found in the school’s eatery, and although it may seem old for the item to have gotten there, the school’s history yields the explanation. Prior to Canford being a school it was a private country house, where the artifact was displayed after it had been retrieved from the site of Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia (Iraq).
8. The Jenkins Venus (The Barberini Venus): $11.7 Million
The Jenkis Venus, also known as the Barberini Venus is a copy of the Aphrodite of Knidos statue, which is was one of the most famous works of Praxiteles, the ancient Greek sculptor. In 2002 the sale of the statue broke the world auction record for an antiquity sale (of that time) after selling for nearly $12 million at Christie’s London. While some accounts state the buyer to be anonymous, it is also reported that the bidder and buyer was Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al Thani, cousin of the Emir of Qatar, and avid art collector.
7. Bronze Figure Of A Tapir: $12 Million
This bronze figure is a preeminent example of Chinese figurines of the 4th century B.C. One of the best revelations of this 2500 year-old figurine wine vessel was its integral condition considering it survived a turbulent period in ancient Chinese history. The bronze figure portrayed a pig-like mammal that became extinct in China about 10,000 years ago. The tiny sculpture adorns a removable ring on its back used to refill wine, which can then be poured out via the mouth. The ancient figurine was finished for a wealthy man, who may have had this mammal as a pet (assumed due to the expensive collar). The item was sold in 2007 to a private Chinese collector via Littleton & Hennessy Asian Art.
6. Cycladic Reclining Female Figure: $16,882,500
Considered the most important Cycladic idol ever to come to auction, the Cycladic reclining female figure with an estimated value of $3-5 million, was sold by Christie’s for a jaw-dropping almost $17 million in December of 2010. The female stone statue features a folded-arm and is one of the most iconic sculptural types to have survived from antiquity. This type of art is considered to be amongst the most common and distributed within Cycladic marble art. Typical characteristics include a tilted head, flexed knees, downward pointed toes, and folded arms. It is also believed that the proportions of the figure have been vigilantly measured with a compass.
5. Statue of Aphrodite: $18 Million
Inspired by the Aphrodite of Knidos, and created in the fourth century B.C. by the famous Greek sculptor Praxiteles, the statue of Aphrodite pays homage to the Goddess of love and beauty herself. The Goddess Venus is considered her Roman equivalent. While statues of Aphrodite propagated during the Hellenistic period, this statue is the first major Greek work to show the Goddess nude and therefore quite distinguished. The statue was bought by the Getty Museum via an undisclosed seller. Sold for an astonishing $18 million in 1988, the sale itself was controversial, as the explanation behind the statue’s possession was not verified.
4. Marble Group of Leda and the Swan: $19,122,500
The story of Leda and the swan derives from the Greek mythological tale of Zeus (in the form of a swan) having his way with Leda. The concept gained popularity during the 16th Century, specifically as a paradox, suggesting it was more accepted to portray a woman being intimate with a swan rather than a man. There are various tales regarding Leda giving birth via hatched eggs, and to twins, one being mortal, and the other immortal. In the tale of the twins, the recognized group name is Gemini. The statue depicting Leda and the swan was discovered around 1775 in Rome, and is a Roman replica of a Greek statue from the 300’s B.C. While the buyer is unknown the statue was sold by Sotheby’s New York for over $19 million.
3. Roman bust of Antinous: $23,826,500
Antinous was a Greek youth born in a city now recognized as Northern Turkey. While his death was reported as drowning in the Nile River, many skeptics believe that his death with not an accident; rather that he had been “sacrificed or sacrificed himself”. Little is known about his life except that he was adored by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who had him deified (made divine) after his death. Several sources have strong claims that Hadrian and Antinous had a homosexual relationship, many referring to them as ‘lovers’. As tribute, Hadrian had the image of Antinous pressed onto coins. This is the only other representation of the Antinous. The sculpture, ‘Roman Bust of Antinous’, was sold to a mystery buyer by Sotheby’s in 2010 for almost $24 million.
2. Artemis and the Stag: $28.6 Million
Artemis and the Stag, was the highest priced statue ever sold at the time (2007). The sculpture sold for almost $29 million to an anonymous buyer who was represented by art dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi. The Goddess of hunting and wild animals was originally depicted with an arrow and a bow, but at an unknown time in history, the bow was estranged from the statue and is no longer apart of the piece. Artemis and the Stag has been portrayed “as one of the most beautiful works of art surviving from the classical era.” The statue has also been recognized for its detail (specifically in the Goddess’s face) and for being in superb condition.
1. The Guennol Lioness: $57.2 Million
Found near Baghdad, Iraq, The Guennol Lioness is a 5,000-year-old limestone Mesopotamian statue. At just over 8 cm (3.25 in) in height, the sculpture was described by Sotheby’s as “one of the last known masterworks from the dawn of civilization remaining in private hands.” The sculpture portrays an anthropomorphic lioness-woman and was sold for $57.2 million by Sotheby’s in 2007 – the highest priced statue ever sold at the time.