Anatolian marble idols, such as the present example, are interchangeably referred to as “Kiliya type” and “stargazers.” The duality of the nomenclature is significant in understanding these figures as both objects of early archaeological significance as well as aesthetic fascination. Kiliya refers to the town on the Gallipoli peninsula where the first published example of these idols was discovered (now in the collection of The American School of Classical Studies, Athens). Other archaeological find-spots in Turkey include the Chalcolithic period site of Aphrodisias and the Bronze Age site of Troy, the location of the Trojan War and the setting for Homer’s Iliad. While the discrepancy in time periods of these sites might suggest these idols were produced in continuation for about 1500 years, the rarity of examples as well as their stylistic uniformity indicate that those discovered in the later Bronze Age context were likely found by contemporaries of that period, who preserved the already-ancient sculptures as objects of fascination and magical intrigue (P. Getz-Preziosi, Le profane et le divin, arts de l’Antiquité. Fleurons du musée Barbier-Mueller, pp. 272-273). Like their Cycladic “cousins” in Greece, the original function of the idols remains a mystery. Being female, the obvious hypothesis suggests they relate to fertility ritual. Interestingly, most of the complete examples have been broken across the neck, suggesting that the sculptures were ritually "killed" at the time of burial. Despite the lack of clarity, Kiliya-type idols remain important markers of the Chalcolithic period in Anatolia.
“Stargazer” is the colloquial title derived from the slightly tilted-back angle at which the large head rests on the thin neck, thus creating the whimsical impression of a celestial stare. There are only about 15 nearly-complete idols that survive, although fragmentary examples, particularly heads, abound. Getz-Preziosi describes the composition of the full idols as “a game of angles and complementary curves” and notes the mathematical precision in which the head and neck, the torso, and the legs each make up 1/3 of the figure (op. cit., p. 273). While the overall composition is formulaic, they vary significantly in size and details rendered. Of this stargazer, Jürgen Thimme, the great German archaeologist and scholar of Cycladic sculpture, says: “I have no doubt that the Guennol example—because of its exceptional size, its quality and its good condition—must be considered the top piece among the whole group.” (P.O. Harper, The Guennol Collection, Vol. II, p. 5). Indeed, the size and heft of the Guennol figure along with its delicately-rendered eyes and articulated pudenda make it simultaneously imposing and ethereal.
The title Guennol is the Welsh word for "Martin," the last name of the first modern owners of the Stargazer, Edith and Alastair Bradley Martin. The choice of Welsh is an allusion to where the couple spent their honeymoon. A grandson of Henry Phipps Jr., the business partner of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, Mr. Martin was born in New York City and graduated from Princeton in 1938. He excelled at the rarified game of court tennis, and became an eight-time national amateur singles champion and 13-time amateur doubles champion in the sport. A sideline hobby in collecting stamps, books, rifles and cars expanded over the years to include fine art, antiquities and folk art sculpture, which ultimately became his life’s mission. A generous donor, he joined the Board of Trustees of the Brooklyn Museum in 1948 and later served as its chairman from 1984 to 1989. He was also a member of the acquisition committee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Martins were unified in their passion for acquiring highly unique, finely-crafted sculptures across a multitude of cultures and time periods, from Middle Eastern stone figures to Pennsylvania German folk art. As Martin later wrote of the Guennol Collection: “We made every effort to assemble the best possible objects, whether ancient or relatively modern, whether from Peru, Babylonia, China or the shores of Gitchee Gumee, and whether of major historical significance or mere whimwhams…We sought to honor the ideal and the universal and the Collection is no servant to our contemporary culture” (The Guennol Collection, Vol. II, p.xv). The exceptional nature of the objects included in the Guennol Collection is now legendary – in December 2007, the Guennol Lioness, a Mesopotamian limestone sculpture, fetched $57.1 million, setting a record price at auction for an ancient work of art.
The Guennol Stargazer and Modern Art
The forms of Stargazer idols are so stylized and pared back as to seem startlingly modern, in a similar manner to those sculptures from across the sea in the Cyclades. In each case, the body has been reduced to an eloquent cipher, the head taking an egg-like form that recalls the works of Constantin Brancusi. Indeed, Henry Moore would later comment that he was certain that Brancusi had looked at Cycladic art when making The Beginning of the World. While Brancusi may not have known the Kiliya-type idols of Anatolia such as the Guennol Stargazer, there is a clear relationship: these artists, divided by millennia, have each reduced the form of the human head to the barest ovoid. Similarly, the lyrical rendering of the human form in this sculpture recalls the signs that were used in some of Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures from the end of the 1920s, for instance Gazing Head and Woman, where the subject is evoked through signs that are the merest incisions, protuberances and indentations.
Pablo Picasso was fascinated by the prehistoric period of artistic creation and even owned a collection of antiquities. Talking to his friend, the statesman and author André Malraux, Picasso explained his thoughts and feelings about the nameless artists of the very distant pst. Cradling his own violin-shaped Cycladic idol, he mused that the sculptor, "thought he was making the Great Goddess, or something to that effect. But what he made was that. And I, here in Paris, I know what he wanted to make: not a god but a piece of sculpture. Nothing’s left of his life, nothing’s left of his kind of gods; nothing’s left of anything. But this is left, because he wanted to make a piece of sculpture" (Picasso, quoted in A. Malraux, Picasso’s Mask, New York, 1976, pp. 126-27).
Picasso’s intrigue with ancient art lead him to collect a group of early Iberian works in addition to his Cycladic sculpture, as well as well-documented tribal art collection. At the time that he was inventing Cubism—when Kiliya-type idols were first being discovered—Picasso and a number of his contemporaries were fascinated by ways of seeing and representing the world that were divergent from the Western canon. In this, they looked to distant lands—and distant times. The Classical art of Greece and Rome had dominated Western aesthetics for centuries, but artists such as Picasso, André Derain, Barbara Hepworth, Amedeo Modigliani and Henry Moore also looked to the pre-classical. Moore, who also owned ancient artifacts, wrote of Cycladic art in terms that also relate to the Guennol Stargazer, pointing out that it "has an unbelievably pure sense of style, of unity of form. It’s as though they couldn’t go wrong, but always arrived at a result which was inevitable from the beginning" (Henry Moore, quoted in Sarah Bunny, "Figures from a Bygone Age," New Scientist, 23 June 1983, p, 884). Looking at, say, Moore’s Moon Head of 1963, one cannot help but see similarities with the Guennol Stargazer’s own distillation of the human visage.
Moore’s words express some of the wonderment at the effort invested by the ancient sculptors in objects such as the Guennol Stargazer, a sentiment shared by historians and the archaeologists who discovered evidence of a workshop for production of Kiliya-type idols at Kulaksizlar. Indeed, the stone has been carved with incredible sensitivity, again echoing the works of Brancusi. In some ways, the fin-like arms and the partially-split legs appear as a show of virtuosity on the part of these distant figures. They speak of a flamboyance that would be echoed in particular by those artists who revived the interest in carving in stone, an interest that is still visible to this day in the works of, say, Eduardo Chillida, Anish Kapoor or Pablo Atchugarry. The Guennol Stargazer is infused with a palpable sense of the sheer will that drove the ancient artist to create this elegant composition. Its economy of means belies the incredible skills involved in creating each nuanced, smoothed or articulated element, from the gaps between the arms and torso to the little raised eyes.
Lot 12 is subject to a claim by the Republic of Turkey. Christie’s has permission from the court to proceed with the sale, we will however not require payment from the buyer until 60 days after the auction during which time we will hold the piece; furthermore if the buyer is not satisfied with the terms of the sale they shall have a right of cancellation.
Please note the additional literature for this lot:
J. Seeher, “Die Kleinasiatischen marmorstatuetten vom typ Kiliya,” Archӓologischer Anzeiger, 2, Deutsches Archӓologisches Institut, 1992, pp. 153-170, no. 28.
PROPERTY FROM A NEW YORK PRIVATE COLLECTION
THE GUENNOL STARGAZER
CHALCOLITHIC PERIOD, CIRCA 3000-2200 B.C.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on loan by the Guennol Collection, 1966-1993 (L66.11).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art of the First Cities in the Third Millennium B.C., 8 May-17 August 2003.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999-2007 (LO106).
9 in. (22.9 cm.) high
E. Rohde, “Die frühbronzezeitlichen Kykladenfiguren der Berliner Antiken-Sammlung,” Forschungen und Berichte, 16, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1975, p. 154, no. 8.
P.O. Harper, The Guennol Collection, Vol. II, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1982, pp. 3-5.
P. Getz-Preziosi, Early Cycladic Sculpture, an Introduction, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, 1985, p. 88, fig. 82.
D. von Bothmer, ed., Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1990, p. 9.
J. Seeher, “Die Kleinasiatischen marmorstatuetten vom typ Kiliya,” Arch?ologischer Anzeiger, 2, Deutsches Arch?ologisches Institut, 1992, pp. 153-170, no. 28.
Alastair Bradley and Edith Martin, New York, acquired 1966 or prior; thence by descent.
with the Merrin Gallery, New York, acquired from the above, 1993.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 16 August 1993.