A Genre-Defying Auction Spans Cultures and Millennia

A Genre-Defying Auction Spans Cultures and Millennia

“The One” will see diverse highlights of human achievement come together in one extraordinary auction.
“The One” will see diverse highlights of human achievement come together in one extraordinary auction.

C oming to the block on 27 January is a groundbreaking auction at Sotheby’s: The One. Resplendent Edo-period samurai armor will be offered alongside an NBA Finals jersey worn by LeBron James, and magnificent works of Qing Dynasty export art will be offered alongside an Ancient Egyptian bust of a royal administrator in this unprecedented event. The twenty works on sale represent the finest products of cultural achievement, spanning from the great civilizations of antiquity to the fashion and entertainment worlds of today. Below, learn more about the auction’s four themes: Suiting Up, The Divine, Icon & Celebrity and Status Symbols.

Clothing has long served a function beyond the utilitarian need to cover the body. Its function as signifier has spanned millennia, and has resonant examples in this sale ranging from traditional Japanese armor to a contemporary American interpretation of battle-wear: LeBron James’s Miami Heat jersey from the 2013 NBA finals. In a less literal sense, clothing can function as armor in the way it equips the wearer with the necessary signifiers to take their place in the world. This is seen in the intricately engraved bronze age disc, which would have been worn as a neck pendant by a noble woman of significant means from the Nordic bronze age, or the elaborately elegant dress worn by a Renaissance noblewoman captured in her maiolica portrait, many centuries later. Finally, for present day sartorialists, the Virgil Abloh x Louis Vuitton Nike Air Force Ones signify a wearer who appreciates the marrying of street style with haute couture.

The depiction of divinities across cultures is a unifying theme across several diverse objects in The One. Some of the juxtapositions are intriguing: on the one hand you have one of the oldest works in the sale, the Guennol Olmec Head of a Deity whose depicted with a human skull but the jaw of a jaguar, looking fierce and otherworldly in its abstraction contrasted with a head of Buddha from the Sukothai kingdom in Thailand, whose features are so idealized that they appear otherworldly in their utter perfection. This otherworldliness is mirrored in the depictions of Christian imagery, including a Gothic head of an Apostle from the Upper Rhine, a beatific relief of Christ the Redeemer by Simone Bianco and workshop, Russian icons depicting prophets and archangels, and a unique relief of the Madonna and child by Simone da Maiano and Benedetto Buglioni.

Certain individuals throughout history have managed to forge a legacy that resides within the collective consciousness of mankind. We remember these individuals not always for the flawed humans they may have been, but for their status as almost deified icons. In the Renaissance, these individuals often achieved this status by virtue of belonging to the noble class, like Archduke Ernest of Austria, likely depicted on this beautiful emerald cameo. Obsession with royal celebrity continues into the present day, perhaps embodied best with the late Princess Diana. In America, where royalty was never part of the foundational fabric, icons and celebrities tend to hail from the world of politics, entertainment and sports. All three are represented here, the first two with a ticket to the 1962 birthday party of then President John F. Kennedy, where he was famously serenaded by Marilyn Monroe. Finally, a jersey worn by basketball legend Kobe Bryant, whose very name has become synonymous with athletic excellence.

Certain objects have been able to convey status to their owners due to their excellency in quality, material and craftsmanship. A commitment to refinement is the unifying theme with the following objects, like an Egyptian sculpture of an official, so sensitively sculpted that the surface of the stone appears to be cut from velvet. Three objects from the 18th century, a George III silvered metal automaton clock, the Pifetti table for the Marquis d’Ormea and an exceptionally rare pair of Chinese export goose-form tureens also possess extreme refinement, a sure reflection of their owner’s tastes.

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