The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm
Lot 221
The 'Beth-Shan' Bust; A monumental Roman marble double herm, with a set of six black and white photographic glass plates, mounted on a plinth
Sold for £240,000 (US$ 302,964) inc. premium

Lot Details
The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm The 'Beth-Shan' Bust A monumental Roman marble double herm
The 'Beth-Shan' Bust
A monumental Roman marble double herm
Eastern Mediterranean, circa 2nd-3rd Century A.D.
Carved from marmo lunense with the opposing heads of Bacchus and Ariadne, each with the shapely lips parted revealing teeth, the eyes with drilled tear-ducts, incised irises and drilled crescentic pupils gazing upwards, each with a sharp arching brow ridge and straight nose, Bacchus wearing a fillet across his forehead, the centrally parted hair dressed with a rich garland of ivy leaves with two frontal clusters of berries, and vine leaves and bunches of grapes hanging down behind the ears, Ariadne with softer features and a fuller face, her wavy hair centrally parted and dressed with delicate ivy berries and leaves, 18¾in (47.5cm) high, 16in (41cm) diam, mounted on an Italian breccia violette marble pedestal, 39in (99cm) high, accompanied by a wooden plaque, gilt inscribed, 'The Beth Shan Bust, Bacchus and Ariadne, Graeco-Roman Period, circa 300 B.C.'; and with a set of six black and white photographic glass plates, taken in Jerusalem, pre 1940, 7 x 5in (18 x 13.5cm), one cracked


  • Provenance:
    Discovered at Beth Shan, Palestine probably in the 1930s. Purchased by Somerset de Chair in Jerusalem in 1941 and brought back to England, where it has remained in the private collection of the de Chair family.

    At the family home of Chilham Castle, near Canterbury, Kent until 1948 (see fig.1). Then at the subsequent family home of St Osyth's Priory, Nr Colchester, Essex from 1958, where it was on display when the house was occasionally opened to the public. The bust remained there for 40 years until the death of Somerset de Chair in 1995, when it passed by descent to his eldest son Rodney de Chair, the present owner.

    Somerset Struben de Chair, Morning Glory, (1988 Devon, Merlin Books Ltd. ISBN 086303) p.169.
    Somerset Struben de Chair, The Golden Carpet, (1943, Golden Cocerel Press)
    Somerset Struben de Chair, Buried Pleasure, (1985 Devon, Merlin Books Ltd. ISBN 0 86303 2397)
    Somerset Struben de Chair, Mind on the March, (1945 London, Faber and Faber Ltd.)

    Although originally thought to be of Hellenistic manufacture, circa 300 B.C., as indicated on the accompanying wooden plaque, it is more likely that this double herm is Roman in date. The depiction of Bacchus, or as he is more often referred, Dionysos, is not an uncommon subject for herms and was variously replicated in Roman times, showing the god similarly bedecked and garlanded. Although influenced by the Hellenistic style, this herm is not in the true sense a copy of a Hellenistic original, but rather a free decorative creation by a classicising sculptor. The carving of the faces and the treatment of the eyes in particular point to a mid 2nd –3rd Century A.D. date. Historically speaking a Roman date would also correspond to the expansion of the city of Beth Shan at this time, when impressive monumental sculptures, such as this, would have been erected.

    Functionally a double herm or herm, would have either been used as boundary marker or to mark a crossroads, market corner, doorway or entrance, and would have been mounted atop a quadrangular pillar. For an example in the Fitzwilliam museum, cf. L. Budde & R. Nicholls, A Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Sculpture in the Fitwilliam Museum Cambridge, (Cambridge 1967), pl.32, fig 95, p.60. Other examples can be found in, W. Amelung, Kat. Vaticanischen Museums I, 510, no.298, pl.53 and at Leiden, where the youthful Greek bust of Dionysos provides a good comparison for the treatment of the hair.

    Discovery and history:
    The site of Beth-Shan is situated in a strategic location between the Jordan Valley, and the Harod and Jezreel Valleys, just south of the Sea of Galilee. An important settlement sited on the main trade route from the Transjordanian highway to the Mediterranean coast, it flourished under Egyptian rule, as an administrative centre for Canaan during the Late Bronze Age. It was re-founded in the Hellenistic period, by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), who made it one of the ten cities of the Decapolis and renamed it Scythopolis, ‘city of the Scythians’. It was later rebuilt by Pompey in 63 B.C., and by the 1st Century A.D. had become one of the most imposing cities in Palestine, with a 7000 capacity theatre, colonnaded street and extensive buildings. It continued to grow and prosper through the later Roman and Byzantine periods until it was destroyed by an earthquake on 18th January 749 A.D.

    Beth Shan was first excavated between 1921-1933, by C.S. Fisher, A. Rowe and G.M. FitzGerald from the University of Pennsylvania, and it is likely that this double herm was discovered just after the excavations in the mid-late 1930s. It was being offered for sale by the licensed dealer Mr Ohan in his shop opposite the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. It was spotted here in the shop window by Somerset Struben de Chair, a young army officer stationed in Palestine with the Royal Horse Guards in 1941. An extract from his memoirs describes the occasion:

    'In the course of publishing the magazine I had to visit the Jerusalem Press in Jerusalem several times. In the shop window of an antique dealer called Ohan, opposite the King David hotel, I saw what appeared to be a larger than life bust of Bacchus, apparently in stone. On entering the shop I was startled to find that it was a double-headed figure, the other of which was the lovely face of his girl-friend Ariadne. They were joined by vine leaves and grapes. After many visits and many cups of black coffee, I entered into a contract with Ohan, under which I paid a ten per cent deposit and gave my executors 18 months to pay the balance and collect it if I did not return from the battlefield.’
    Extract from Morning Glory by S.S. de Chair (a copy of the full extract is available on request)

    De Chair left Jerusalem shortly after negotiating the purchase, serving as Intelligence Officer during the capturing of Baghdad. On a subsequent engagement near the ruins of Palmyra, he was wounded when the Allies came under heavy aerial fire from the Vichy French, and Italian forces. He was evacuated back to Jerusalem and while convalescing there was able to secure an export license for the bust. It was transported to the Rockefeller Museum, where a full-size plaster cast of it was taken, which is still on display today. The herm was then packed and, ‘Shipped home as ‘Wounded Officer’s Kit'!

    'The director of the Rockefeller Museum, Iliffe, had been to see me in hospital, and was willing to take delivery of the Beth Shan bust, for which he would have to issue an export licence before I could take it out of the country. At his house I met the officer, Baxter, who dealt with officers’ baggage; and he arranged to send a lorry to Ohan’s shop, take the crate down to the Museum for licencing and sealing, and then, have it shipped as wounded officer’s baggage to me in England.’
    Extract from Buried Pleasure by S.S. de Chair (a copy of the full extract is available on request)

    For some three years after the end of World War II, the bust was the decorative centre-piece of the main entrance hall at the family home, Chilham Castle, Kent (see fig 1). When Somerset de Chair left Chilham in 1948, the double herm was stored until 1958 when he moved into his newly acquired Essex home, St. Osyth's Priory. Apart from its period away for restorative cleaning in 1982-3, the herm remained there for almost 40 years on the main staircase leading off the Gatehouse's entrance hall and was on public display when the house was opened to visitors from time to time. Somerset de Chair died in 1995 and the double herm passed to Rodney S. de Chair, his eldest son. Thus the bust has been little known to the outside world for almost 70 years.

    Restorative Cleaning:
    The bust's condition when acquired in 1941 can be seen fairly precisely by virtue of the six high-resolution images that were recorded on glass photographic plates in around 1940 in Jerusalem, which accompany this lot (see figs 2&3). Messrs. Harmon Hill Ltd. of Little Oakley, Northamptonshire conducted the work during 1982 and 1983. As a result of the cleaning, the striations in the marble were revealed, probably an important feature of the work's original appearance and previously hidden by the encrustation. An assessment of the cleaning was conducted by an experienced conservator in 2004 who determined that the restorative cleaning of the bust had proved beneficial, and had been carried out in line with usual conservation practice. (A copy of a photograph taken during cleaning is available on request).

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that this lot will be available for collection at New Bond Street until 5pm on Friday 2 May, after which it will be sent to our Relay Road premises for storage. Please note that storage charges will apply from Thursday 29 May.
Auction information

This sale is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future sales, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this sale, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine, Coins & Medals and Motor Cars and Motorcycles:
A successful bidder at this sale will be required to pay Bonhams 1793 Limited ("Bonhams") a premium calculated as follows:
25% on the first £100,000 of the hammer price
20% on the excess of £100,001 and up to £2,000,000 of the hammer price
12% on the excess of £2,000,001 of the hammer price

VAT at 20% will be payable on the amount of the premium.

The premium is payable for the services to be provided by Bonhams in the Buyer's Agreement which is contained in the catalogue for this Sale and for the opportunity to bid for the Lot at the Sale.

Payment Notices

Payment in advance: by cash, cheque with banker's card, credit card, bank draft or traveller's cheque.

Payment at collection: by credit or debit card.

Credit card charges: a surcharge of 2% is applicable when using Mastercard, Visa and overseas debit cards.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Similar Items