Editor's Letter: Lucinda Bredin
One of the most intriguing artifacts in the Bonhams salerooms this season is a monumental Assyrian slab made of black basalt. It shows the lower body of King Adad-nerari III (810-783 BC) in profile. In itself this is an extraordinary relic: it commemorates the crushing of the Hittites in Syria – we learn this from the lengthy and slightly boastful cuneiform inscription down the side. It also contains a curse for those who neglect the carving, and blessings for those who nurture it – something that isn't thrown in with every lot sold at Bonhams. But we are also witnessing an exciting rediscovery.
The slab has been identified by Professor Karen Radner of University College, London as the missing lower section of a piece in the British Museum. On page 18 you can see the two fragments reunited.
In a way, the Assyrian stele was the broadsheet newspaper of its time. Skip a few centuries and you find items from The Caren Archive fulfilling the same function by giving their version of events. Drake's return to Plymouth, Paul Revere's description of the Boston Massacre in 1770, and one of the first copies of the Declaration of Independence are among the treasures to be offered at Bonhams New York in March, and it reveals not only how contemporaries reported these events, but demonstrates the insatiable need for news, something that Sir Harold Evans writes about on page 44.
There are works of art in this issue that have an extraordinary history as well. The Steinhardt Collection, for example, was assembled by the US Ambassador, Laurence Steinhardt, who had a miserable sojourn in Moscow in the 1930s and 40s. Distrusted by both Stalin and Roosevelt – quite a rare distinction – Steinhardt sought consolation by immersing himself in the study of Russian icons. Fortunately for him, it was a period when Stalin was selling Russia's treasures to accumulate western currency and he became the last Westerner to build up a truly extraordinary personal collection of Romanov-era icons before the window of opportunity closed. To read more, turn to Vanora Bennett's article about this fascinating period in Soviet history.
Enjoy the issue.