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The Abecassis and Gillet Katane – Signed by Herakleidas

5661281. SOLD $295000

SICILY, Katane. Circa 405-403/2 BC. AR Tetradrachm (25mm, 16.52 g, 7h). Obverse die signed by Herakleidas. Head of Apollo facing slightly left, wearing laurel wreath; HPAKΛEIΔAΣ to right / Charioteer, wearing long chiton, holding kentron in right hand and reins in both, driving fast quadriga left; above, Nike flying right, crowning charioteer with open laurel wreath held in both hands; in exergue, KATANAIΩN above fish swimming left. Mirone 58 (same obv. die as illustration); C. Boehringer, “Über die Münzen von Katane im letzten Jahrzehnt des V. Jahrhunderts v. Chr” in SNR 87 (2008) pl. 2, 20 = Gillet 399 (this coin); HGC 2, 577 (same rev. die as illustration); Basel 337 = Jameson 546 (same dies); Dewing 586 (same dies); Gulbenkian 190 = Weber 1269 (same dies); Kraay & Hirmer 43 (same dies); Rizzo pl. XIV, 10 and XVI, 2 (same dies). Gorgeous old collection tone, typical light die rust on obverse. EF. A classic piece from the era of the Sicilian masters with a delightful portrait of Apollo.

Ex European Connoisseur Collection; R. Abecassis Collection (Leu 81, 16 May 2001), lot 74; Charles Gillet (†1972) Collection, 399.

Herakleidas certainly ranks among the top tier of the master engravers who revolutionized numismatic artistry in Sicily during the fifth century BC. Unlike many of the artists who signed their masterpieces, his work is confined to a single city, Katane, and his renown rests on one creation: his magnificent facing head of Apollo, found in two die variations on rare tetradrachms struck toward the end of the 400s BC. Certainly influenced by the Syracusan facing-head portraits of Arethousa and Athena on tetradrachms engraved by Kimon and Eukleidas, the subject here is the god Apollo, whose profile portrait was featured on the reverse of earlier issues struck at Katane.

Here, the god's portrait has dominates the obverse, appearing in a nearly fully frontal aspect quite distinct from the three-quarters view employed by the Syracusan artists. His portrayal combines a fleshy humanity in the contours of Apollo’s face with an otherworldly intensity in his expression and gaze. His hair splays out and falls in unruly locks, evoking a woodland entity whose natural appearance would retain a hint of the wild. His laurel wreath looks to have been pulled from a laurel bush, hastily fashioned into a circlet, and pushed down upon his mass of hair without adjustment or primping. His piercing eyes stare straight into those of the viewer in a way that defines the term “soul-searching.” Here is a living god, a literal force of nature, portrayed by an artist whose justifiable pride in his work prompted him to sign his name HPAKΛEIΔAΣ in full, unabbreviated form. He produced only two dies depicting Apollo in this form: the present specimen, and a second which gives Apollo a slightly more rounded face and an offset gaze. Interestingly, the racing quadriga on the reverse goes in opposite directions depending on the obverse die.

Alas, after reaching this artistic pinnacle, Herakleidas disappears from all records after Katane was conquered and brutally sacked by the Syracusan tyrant Dionysios I in 403 BC, abruptly ending its brief burst of numismatic brilliance.

This magnificent specimen of Herakleidas’ masterpiece has been a prominent part of several important ancient coin collections, including those of Portuguese industrialist Raul Isaac Abecassis (1905-1977) and the French textile magnate Charles Gillet (1879-1972), a portion of whose collection was sold jointly by Bank Leu and Münzen und Medaillen AG in the 1974 auction “Griechische Münzen aus der Sammlung eines Kunstfreundes,” one of the most significant sales of Greek coins to date. While not part of the Kunstfreundes auction, the present specimen was recorded in Gillet’s private catalog of his collection and was sold via private treaty to his close friend Abecassis in the early 1970s.