Lot 18
  • 18

A Marble Bust of the Athena Giustiniani, Roman Imperial, circa 2nd Century A.D.

600,000 - 900,000 USD
4,114,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • A Marble Bust of the Athena Giustiniani, Roman Imperial
  • Marble
after a Greek original of the late 5th/early 4th Century B.C., wearing a chiton and himation falling from the right shoulder, her head turned slightly to her left, her serene and majestic countenance with full slightly parted lips, straight nose, and almond-shaped eyes, her long hair flowing in wavy curls over the temples, gathered in a plait at the back, and surmounted by a Corinthian helmet decorated in relief with a ram's head on each cheek-piece, the lining visible above each ear and over the nape of the neck.


said to be from the Spinola Collection
Baron Joseph van der Elst (1896-1971), acquired through Fallani in Rome in 1954/1955
with the restorer Joseph Ternbach, New York, mid 1950s
with Baron van der Elst's son and daughter-in-law, 380 East 74th Street, New York, circa 1957
shipped from New York to the van der Elst residence in Biot, France, late 1960/early 1961, with invoice no. 35289 from Blumka Gallery, New York, dated October 31st, 1960
by descent to the present owner

Catalogue Note

"In the Giustiniani Palace there is a figure of Minerva, which claims my undivided veneration... I feel myself quite unworthy to say anything about it. As we contemplated the image, and stood gazing at it a long time, the wife of the keeper of the collection said – This must have once been a holy image... As I was unwilling to move from the statue, she asked me if I had a beloved who was at all like the statue, since it charmed me so much" (Im Palaste Giustiniani steht eine Minerva, die meine ganze Verehrung hat... ich fühle mich nicht würdig genug, über sie etwas zu sagen. Als wir die statue besahen und uns lang dabei aufhielten, erzählte uns die Frau des Kustode, es sei dieses ein ehemals heiliges Bild gewesen... Da ich auch von der Statue nicht weg wollte, fragte sie mich, ob ich etwa eine Schöne hätte, die diesem Marmor ähnlich sähe, dass er mich so sehr anzöge; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italienische Reise, January 13th, 1787).

The classical Greek sculptural prototype known as the "Athena Giustiniani" is named after its best preserved and most famous Roman version, a monumental statue of the goddess which was once the pride of the Giustiniani Collection in Rome and is now in the Vatican Museums (see F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900, New Haven, 1981, I Giustiniani e l'antico, Rome, 2001, pp. 183-186). The Greek bronze original, from which all Roman marble versions of this type derive, might have been the cult statue of Athena Sunias in the temple dedicated to her at Cape Sounion (see G. Despinis, "Athena Sunias – Eine Vermutung," Archäologischer Anzeiger, 1999, pp. 173-181).

The present sculpture appears to be the only known bust of the Athena Giustiniani type originally carved as a bust. Another bust in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen seems to have been cut down from a statue (see M. Moltesen, et al., Imperial Rome II. Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen, 2002, no. 15, pp. 85-87). Only a few other Roman versions of the head of the Athena Giustiniani are known; they are located in: the Capitoline Museum (H.S. Jones, A Catalogue of the Ancient Sculptures Preserved in the Municipal Collections of Rome. The Sculptures of the Museo Capitolino, 1912, p. 103, no. 29, pl. 20), the Museo Nazionale Romano (A. Ambrogi, in A. Giuliano, ed., Museo Nazionale Romano. Le Sculture, vol. I,12, Rome, 1995, p. 104, S115), the Ostia Museum (Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, p. 1086, no. 154c, illus.), the Liverpool Museum (B. Ashmole, A Catalogue of the Ancient Marbles at Ince Blundell Hall, 1929, p. 7, no. 9), the Kassel Museum (M. Bieber, Die antiken Skulpturen und Bronzen des Königl. Museum Fridericianum in Cassel, Marburg, 1915, no. 12, pls. XVII-XVIII, P. Gercke and N. Zimmermann-Elseify, Antike Steinskulpturen und Neuzeitliche Nachbildungen in Kassel Bestandskatalog, Mainz am Rhein, 2007, no. 14), the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, the Berlin Museums (C. Blümel, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Katalog der Sammlung antiker Skulpturen. IV. Römische Kopie griechische Skulpturen des fünften Jahrhunderts v. Chr., Berlin, 1931, K180, pl. 73), and in the National Museum in Athens (E.B. Harrison, in J.M. Barringer, et al., eds., Periklean Athens and its Legacy: Problems and Perspectives, 2005, p. 126, figs. 11.7-9; Despinis, op. cit., p. 175).

Belgian diplomat and art collector Baron Joseph "Jo" van der Elst was a decorated veteran of World War I. Enlisted at 16, wounded and captured, he made four escape attempts, the last one of which was successful and allowed him to resume the fight. He was awarded the Order of the Crown, the Order of Leopold II, the Croix de Guerre, and three army citations. From 1930 to 1940 he was Chargé d'affaires in Vienna. In 1937 he married Allison Campbell Roebling (1907-2000), a descendant of the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, and in the 1940s served as Counsellor to the Belgian Consulate in New York. From 1948 to 1952 he was Ambassador (Envoyé extraordinaire and Ministre plénipotentiaire) to Portugal, and from 1952 to 1963 to Italy. He then retired to his house in Biot in southern France, where the present bust of Athena had been sent from New York circa 1960. His collection in Biot included other, more minor Classical antiquities, some of which were sold in these rooms (Sotheby's, New York, December 7th, 2001, lots 129, 286, 297-299). But Baron Van der Elst was best known for collecting Old Master Paintings, and especially Flemish primitives, which he started acquiring in the late 1920s. Some of his outstanding paintings were sold at Sotheby's, London, on July 12, 2001, lots 10-14; the catalogue notes: "Baron van der Elst's connoisseurship led him to write extensively about the subject to which he was devoted. Among several of his scholarly publications is one devoted to Florence, and a series of essays about late medieval art in Flanders entitled The Last Flowering of the Middle Ages, first published in English in 1951... [His] collection... once included among other masterpieces the Memling Portrait of A Man before a Landscape, now in the Frick Collection in New York, the Hieronymus Bosch panel of Death and the Miser in the National Gallery in Washington, and a self-portrait by the Master of Frankfurt in the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp."