Export stop on £2m Roman hounds

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An export bar has been put on the exquisite carved figures of two celtic hounds made in the Roman period.

The figures are valued at £2m plus VAT and are thought to have been made in the 2nd century AD,. They were found at the end of the 18th century in the grounds of a villa once owned by the Emperor Antoninus and were acquired by the English collector Thomas Hope. 

The figures depict male and female celtic hounds and are made of white marble, possibly north Italian or Greek. The male hound is seated upright with his head tilted upwards, tail between his legs and wearing a studded collar. The female is seated and wearing a wide studded collar with her right foreleg raised. Parts of both figures bear signs of historic restoration in the 18th century. 

The export stop was placed on the sculptures by the culture minister, Caroline Dinenage, on the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art (RCEWA), and the figures are outstanding examples of ancient sculpture. The Committee noted the exceptional craftsmanship and remarkable, fine carving on the female figure. The inclusion of collars on both sculptures implies that they may have been household pets which offers a valuable insight into and understanding of the display of sculpture in antiquity, especially in Roman imperial villas. 

“Excavated from the villa of the Emperor Antoninus in 1795-6 this pair of hounds, naturalistically rendered in marble, were acquired soon after by the great neoclassical collector and decorator Thomas Hope who displayed them in his London home, partly open to the public, for almost 50 years” said RCEWA member Stuart Lochhead. 

“The remarkable provenance and the fact there are only two other similar sets of hounds surviving from antiquity make these objects a fascinating and important view into the display and use of sculpture in antiquity and their subsequently profound influence on early 19th century British taste and cultural history. They are interwoven in so many ways to our cultural heritage that their export abroad would represent a great loss to the nation.”

Dinenage added: “Despite these challenging times I hope that a UK museum or gallery is able to come forward and save these figures for the benefit of the nation”. Collections have until October 2, but the licence suspension may be extended to 2 February 2021.

 

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