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A Marble Torso of an Emperor, probably Augustus, Tiberius or Claudius, Roman Imperial, Julio Claudian, 1st Half of the 1st Century A.D. Est. $800,000/1.2 million. Photo: Sotheby's

NEW YORK, NY.- On 11 June 2010 Sotheby’s New York will offer for sale a rediscovered antiquity from the collection of one of the greatest arts patrons of all time – Lorenzo de’ Medici. Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent, Roman Imperial, circa 1st century A.D., is the only ancient sculpture confirmed to have been in ‘il Magnifico’s’ collection and it is estimated to sell for $300/500,000* when it is offered in Sotheby’s spring sale of Antiquities. Letters written to Lorenzo by his agents reveal that the marble group was excavated in Rome in early 1489 from the same location where several ancient sculptures, including the renowned Apollo Belvedere, had recently been discovered. Following Lorenzo’s death, the satyr group disappeared for 350 years until its reappearance in a private collection on the Dalmatian coast (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) circa 1857. While the work was published in the late 1930s and a plaster cast created (now at the University Museum in Graz), the whereabouts of the original ancient group were unknown for several decades, until a Sotheby’s representative happened upon it earlier this year in an Austrian Family Collection. It had descended in the family of the collector who had acquired it circa 1857 and they had become unaware of its acclaim. The present group will be on view at Sotheby’s New York from 5 -10 June, prior to its sale on 11 June 2010.

Lorenzo de’ Medici played a pivotal role in the Italian Renaissance, particularly in the renewal of interest in antiquity, and gathered a significant collection of ancient art. Recently published letters dating to 1489 indicate that Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent was excavated from the gardens of the convent of S. Lorenzo in Panisperna on the Viminal Hill in Rome in early 1489. The marble group left Rome for Florence, destined for Lorenzo’s collection, on the morning of 13 February, packed in a crate and strapped to a mule. In a letter from the same day, Lorenzo’s agent describes the group of satyrs as “three beautiful fauns on a small marble base, all three bound together by a great snake… and even if one cannot hear their voices they seem to breathe, cry out and defend themselves with wonderful gestures; that one in the middle you see almost falling down and expiring.” (L. Fusco and G. Corti, Lorenzo de Medici: Collector and Antiquarian, Cambridge, 2006).

Lorenzo de Medici created an informal academy where he encouraged his court artists, including the Renaissance masters Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Michelangelo Buonarroti, to study from classical antiquity. Striking evidence of the influence of Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent on artists in Lorenzo’s circle can be found in at least two works: Michelangelo’s marble relief entitled “Battle of the Centaurs” circa 1490 1492, now at the Casa Buonarroti in Florence, and Pollaiuolo’s engraving “Battle of the Nudes” circa 1489, the finest impression of which is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Marble Torso of an Emperor
From the same consignor comes another remarkable object - a Marble Torso of an Emperor, probably Augustus, Tiberius or Claudius, Roman Imperial, Julio Claudian, 1st Half of the 1st Century A.D (est. $800,000/1.2 million). With extraordinarily fine carving and detail, the monumental torso (43 5/16 in. 110 cm.) depicts the Emperor standing with the weight on his right leg and wearing a tunic, leather corselet with fringed lappets falling at the waist and shoulders. His bronze breastplate is decorated in relief on the chest with the god Sol emerging from the waters and on the abdomen with two Victories flanking a trophy and hanging shields.

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Marble Group of Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent is the only Ancient Sculpture Confirmed to Have Been in ‘il Magnifico’s’ Collection. Estimate: $300/500,000. Photo: Sotheby's.