PARIS - Some objects really set us thinking. That applies to our Janus, a small bust in terracotta with bronze-like patina, featuring the traits of a Roman God. He has two faces, one clean-shaven and youthful, the other bearded and furrowed by time. Janus is the god of the beginning and the end – of the past and the future. King Numa named the month of January after him (Januarius), to mark the year just over and the year about to start. Our bust is far more than an object of decoration: it prompts thoughts about the transience of youth as it eventually gives way to wisdom.

A rare French late 18th / early 19th century bronze patinated terracotta  bust of Janus. Estimate: 40,000-60,000€ ($52,000–78,000).

Although our Janus can be dated to the end of the 17th century, we do not know who made it, other than a highly gifted French sculptor whose virtuoso skill is evident in the superb faces, hair and drapes of fabric: all details that make this bust worthy of a cabinet of curiosities or the collection of an enlightened connoisseur. The earliest portrayals of Janus date from antiquity and, as a symbol of the inexorable march of time, he was ideally suited to adorning medieval rosary beads. The subject, however, was never very popular in French sculpture. Apart from Benoît Massou’s Allegory of Prudence for Versailles, and the 16th century bronze Head of Janus cast under Primaticcio (now in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles), few such models are known. Our bust, then, is an object both of great rarity and meditation, and a fascinating enigma. 


Sotheby’s France:

Classic/Modern – Decorative Arts of the 16th-19th Centuries

Auction 5 November 2014
1st Session: 10:30am
2nd Session: 2:30pm