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Research Coins: Feature Auction


A Pedigreed Masterpiece
Published by Cahn

CNG 112, Lot: 80. Estimate $500000.
Sold for $350000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SICILY, Naxos. Circa 460 BC. AR Tetradrachm (28mm, 17.23 g, 11h). Bearded head of Dionysos right, wearing tainia decorated with an ivy branch / Silenos, nude and bearded, squatting facing, his head turned left, looking at a kantharos he is holding up in his right hand, and supporting himself with his left hand on the ground to the lower right, his tail emerges from behind, and extends across the ground below; N-AXI-ON around; all within shallow concave circle. Cahn 54.25 (this coin); HGC 2, 983; SNG ANS 515; SNG Fitzwilliam 1108; SNG Lloyd 1150 = Warren 271; SNG Lockett 840; Gulbenkian 230–1; Bement 418; Berlin 571; BMC 7–8; Boston MFA 302–3; Hunt IV 79; Jameson 673; Kraay & Hirmer 6; Locker-Lampson 79; de Luynes 1060; McClean 2466; Rhousopoulos 349; Rizzo pl. XXVIII, 2; Weber 1466; (all from the same dies). Attractively toned, with much of the original find patina remaining, some minor scratches at the end of Dionysos’ beard. Struck at an early die state, thus only a hint of die break that develops on the obverse is visible. EF. Well centered and struck. A masterpiece of late Archaic art with exceptional composition.

Ex collection of Edmond Dresse de Lesbioles, Liege; Ars Classica XVII (3 October 1934), lot 174.

Located on the eastern shore of Sicily in the shadow of Mt. Aitna, Naxos was the oldest of the Greek colonies on the island, founded in 735 BC by colonists from Chalkis in Euboia and Ionia. According to the historian Thucydides (1.100), Naxos established its own colony by founding Leontini in 730 BC, which was soon followed by the foundation of a second colony, Aitna, later known as Katane. Owing to the fertility of the surrounding volcanic soil of Mt. Aitna, Naxos developed an economy of viticulture, and along with Leontini and Katane, became very prosperous. This wealth attracted the attention of Syracuse, which subjugated Naxos in 476 BC, removing its citizens along with those of Katane to Leontini.

Following the death of Hieron in 461 BC, the Naxians were able to return to their homes and refound their city. In commemoration, this issue of tetradrachms was struck (Carmen Arnold-Biuuchi, The Randazzo Hoard[1990], p. 29). Featuring Dionysos on the obverse and the satyr Silenos, the half-man, half goat follower of Dionysos, on the reverse, they are one of the most famous coin types minted in antiquity. A superb example of early classical art, while still retaining some of the typical elements of archaic art, these tetradrachms were struck from a single pair of dies. The artist, clearly a master die-engraver and arguably the finest of his time anywhere in the Greek world, is known today as the “Aitna Master”, after a unique tetradrachm of Aitna in the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique (for a discussion of the “Aitna Master” and his association with this tetradrachm of Naxos, see François de Callataÿ, "On the Style of the 'Aitna Master' from Eastern Sicily," Israel Museum Studies in Archaeology, Volume 3 [2004], pp. 43-52). While the head of Dionysos is exceptional in its modeling, the kneeling Silenos is even more striking for its mastery of anatomical techniques, including the foreshortening of the right leg. Here, the clearly inebriated Silenos is managing to balance himself, but the manner in which he peers at his cup adds a trace of naturalistic humor to the composition.