But other disciplines also crop up on occasion. The series held by the Hôtel des Ventes de Monte Carlo (22/18/15% buyer’s premium) from July 16-23 featured a 94-lot sale devoted entirely to antiquities on the final day.
The stand-out piece, a Gallo-Roman mosaic (pictured above) from Vienne in France, led the day on €310,000 (£276,790).
This city on the Rhône in southern France is famously a place where Roman history abounds.
A major centre during the Roman empire, it boasts a fine Roman temple, a pyramid and an amphitheatre. Many other remains from the ancient world are buried beneath the ground.
In fact, it was only at the beginning of August that the press widely reported details of how French archaeologists have excavated what is being described as a ‘little Pompeii’ on the outskirts. An entire ancient Roman district has been uncovered in the Sainte-Colombe area.
Villas and buildings, some dating to the 1st century AD – including a number of mosaics – have been found in a particularly fine state of preservation, apparently abandoned originally after a series of fires.
This unusually large site, covering nearly 7000 square metres (75,000 sq ft) has been described as an ‘exceptional find’ by the French ministry of culture.
The mosaic on offer in Monaco, from c.150-200AD, would have decorated the floor of a luxurious villa in the city. In 15 sections, measuring around 22 x 7ft (6.8 x 2.2m) in total, it has twice been excavated.
It was first uncovered in 1845, then dug up again in 1867. The mosaic was restored and assembled in a hallway of a modern house constructed on the site of the original building on the rue du 11 Novembre, where it remained until 1974. The mosaic stayed in the same family, however, until this year when it was consigned to the sale in Monaco.
The mosaic is constructed in opus sectile using tesserae of black and white marble and limestone featuring marine decoration (a popular theme in Africa and Spain at the time). A large central motif shows a god of the ocean sporting a full beard and lobster claw ‘horns’ surrounded by fish, shells and crustacea.
At each angle is a winged putto mounted on a dolphin and the entire mosaic design is surrounded by geometric borders.
As is often the case with works of this type, there has been a degree of restoration and replacement.
However, Bianca Massard, the auction specialist for this piece, said that 70% of the antique elements remain, including the central part featuring the ocean god, three of the four putti and major parts of the fish and shells.
Piece of city history
It was offered in the Monaco sale with an estimate of €250,000-300,000 but the city of Vienne was keen enough on this piece of their history for its museum to send their head of conservation to the auction. Exercising the right of pre-emption that allows French institutions to step in and claim a work at the level dictated by the fall of the hammer, the Musées Nationaux was able to secure it.
Not everything found a buyer and this was much the highest price in a sale which realised a premium-inclusive total of €760,000. Among the other top results was the €52,000 (£46,430) paid for the catalogue cover lot: a 2ft 7in (79cm) high Roman marble torso of an Amazon partly clothed in a draped chiton and dated to the 1st century BC.
It had a provenance to a Parisian collection and had been in the same family since the 1950s, passing down to the vendor by descent.
£1 = €1.12