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A Mysterious Bactrian Princess

Published on , by Claire Papon and Sophie reyssat
Auction on 20 December 2022 - 14:00 (CET) - Salle 9 - Hôtel Drouot - 75009

The secrets of this beautiful sculpture dating from between 2300 and 1800 BCE have yet to be unlocked.

Bactrian art, late third-early second millennium BCE, Bactrian princess, chlorite... A Mysterious Bactrian Princess

Bactrian art, late third-early second millennium BCE, Bactrian princess, chlorite (or steatite?), limestone, h. 8.2 cm/3.22 in.
Estimate: €400,000/500,000

Although this statuette dates from the turn of the second millennium before the common era, the only thing missing is the right foot, and perhaps some non-contemporaneous neck ornaments. Her white limestone body is dressed in a large chlorite garment. A barely perceptible smile crosses her soft, fine-featured face crowned by the elaborate steatite headdress of a Bactrian princess. These composite sculptures are characteristic of Bactria, a fertile, prosperous area located in the north of today’s Afghanistan. Discovered around 1965, they were at first thought to be Iranian because of the mantles that resemble kaunakes worn during the archaic Mesopotamian dynasties (2900-2300 BCE). The kaunake was a ceremonial skirt, often worn by limestone statues of orans (a praying figure), made of three rows of stylized tufted wool. In Bactria, however, the garment covered the entire body; ours crosses in the front. The obvious relationship to Elamite art is confirmed by the seals engraved with similar likenesses, one clearly showing a queen wearing the characteristic garment. The elaborate dress and majesty of Bactrian statuettes long suggested that they depicted women of the aristocracy, but no evidence confirms this. They could also be goddesses keeping natural forces in balance. While their meaning is enigmatic, they undoubtedly had a funerary role. Most were found in tombs, although some showed up in homes. They rank among the most attractive remnants of the Oxus civilization, about which archeological excavations should tell us more. Another work in the same catalog is an appealing 1892 portrait of Mademoiselle Jeanjean by Achille Laugé (120 x 84.5 cm/47.24 x 33.26 in, €450,000/550,000).

Read articles about the sale

This delicate portrait by Achille Laugé will go under the hammer in Paris a few weeks after being shown at the Fondation de l’Hermitage exhibition in Lausanne.

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