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Sotheby’s didn’t sell the Elgin Marbles – they sold a marble sculpture that was legally purchased by Lord Elgin

Just like the auction of casts by Christies [1], this story might be connected to Lord Elgin & may also be connected to Marbles – but really has very little to do with the Elgin Marbles.

Daily Telegraph [2]

Art market news: Sotheby’s sell Elgin marble
Last week Sotheby’s sold a marble bust owned by Lord Elgin, aquired in from Rome in 1799 for $8.2 million (£5.1 million
By Colin Gleadell
3:22PM GMT 11 Dec 2012

Had it been one of the Greek marbles which Thomas Bruce, the 7th Lord Elgin, spirited out of the Parthenon in Athens, shipped home to England, and sold to the British Museum in 1816, then last week’s sale in New York would have been a front-page scandal. Not only are they owned by the British Museum, but the Greek government has for years been trying to negotiate their return to Athens. However, Sotheby’s did have a marble bust which the same Lord Elgin acquired at that time, not from the Parthenon, but from Rome, which was never sold and has stayed in the family ever since. In 1799, shortly before his departure for Constantinople, where he was to be British ambassador to the Sultan, and from where he was to conduct the removal of the Parthenon marbles, the Earl instructed his private secretary, William Robert Hamilton, to go to Rome and buy “marbles” for his ambassadorial residence. Among these marbles was a portrait bust of Germanicus (pictured), the father of the Emperor Caligula, showing him as a young heroic figure.

Comparable contemporary busts of Germanicus are also in the collections of the Louvre and the British Museum (in basalt, not marble). The Elgin bust, about which there have been no contested claims of ownership, was estimated at $3 million to $5 million, and understandably generated considerable interest among collectors, before selling to an anonymous buyer for $8.2 million (£5.1 million).

A record £481,250 was achieved last week for the 16th-century Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel, best known as a miniaturist and illuminator of works on paper. The work in question was, however, a sizeable oil painting and the first by the artist to appear at auction. Depicting a village festival with numerous figures clad in an international array of attire, the unsigned painting has a pair known as Fête at Bermondsey which is in Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, the home of the Marquess of Salisbury. The Christie’s picture carried a £150,000 estimate but was bid up by London dealer Mark Weiss before falling to the successful bidder, who was described only as anonymous. Yesterday there was no one at Hatfield House who could confirm whether or not the picture was going there, but there is a general acceptance in the art trade that there is where it should be.

Perhaps we will have to wait until the spring, when the house opens to the public again, to find out.