Beauty and the Beast: Roman Goddesses and court dwarves at Bonhams Fine Furniture, Sculpture & Works of Art sale

Fine European Furniture, Sculpture & Works of Art 13 Dec 2012
London, New Bond Street

Beauty and the Beast: Roman Goddesses and court dwarves at Bonhams Fine Furniture, Sculpture & Works of Art sale

Fine European Furniture, Sculpture & Works of Art 13 Dec 2012
London, New Bond Street

Exceptional marble sculptures representing figures from lost societies across the ages will be among the highlights of Bonhams Fine European Furniture, Sculpture & Works of Art sale on 13th December at New Bond Street, London.

A magnificent marble bust of the goddess of Spring Proserpine, by the renowned American sculptor Hiram Powers, is estimated at £30,000 – 50,000. Exquisitely sculpted in white marble, the figure shows the superior skill of Hiram Powers, one of the greatest American sculptors of the 19th Century. He held strong views about the aim of art being spiritual, which led him to create 'ideal' sculpture representing an archetypal beauty.

Proserpine was an important figure in Roman mythology and her story played an integral role in shaping views on fertility and the seasonal changes. According to myth she was abducted by Pluto, the god of the underworld, and held for four months, her release ending Winter and inducing the start of Spring. Powers' bust of Proserpine was his most popular sculpture leading him to produce several versions over the years, some life-sized.

Another striking sculpture in the sale is an Italian 19th Century marble group showing the dwarf Morgante riding a turtle, estimated at £40,000 – 60,000. The sculpture is based on a design for a fountain, commissioned by Cosimo I de' Medici, the first of the Grand-Dukes of Tuscany in the 16th Century. The eye-catching piece represents another key figure in society, the court jester or court dwarf.

It was common for courtiers to "own" a court dwarf who would often also act as a jester to offer entertainment to the rulers. They would often be traded as gifts to kings and queens and would raise the social standing of the owner. As small people were often regarded as 'lucky charms', they were highly desirable in the courts. The sculpture of 'Morgante' shows Braccio di Bartolo, the court dwarf in the late 16th Century. Ironically named after the giant Morgante Maggiore from a renowned poem at the time, he is recorded as joining the Medici court around 1540. In another ironic gesture, he is depicted in a similar position to that of Marcus Aurelius equestrian statue in Rome.

An impressive pair of Venetian early 20th Century Belgian black and specimen marble busts of an African king and queen, estimated at £40,000 – 60,000 are also among important sculptural works in the sale. These imposing figures are highly decorated with leopard- and tiger-skin headpieces, denoting the high social standing of these figures.

In addition to fascinating sculpture, the sale includes a stunning selection of exquisitely made furniture. Among the most noteworthy items from the property of Viscount Strathallan are a French 18th Century Louis XV occasional table (£7,000 – 10,000) and a French 18th Century Louis XVI secrétaire à abattant (£8,000 – 12,000). The occasional table is ormolu-mounted amaranth, kingwood and tulipwood parquetry and marquetry, while the secrétaire is made from amaranth, fruitwood and parquetry.

François Le Brun, Director of European Furniture commented, "Our December sale is a feast for the senses. We have some extraordinary works of sculpture as well as exquisite pieces of furniture from across Europe. The figures offered for sale give a fascinating insight into the way sculpture was used to immortalize key members of society, whether a king or queen, goddess or the court dwarf. It was an incredibly effective way to elevate these important figures and to commemorate their roles in shaping the way we live today."


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and appraisal services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

  1. Francois Le Brun
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8251
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 8208

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