Unseen since it was last sold in 1949, the famous Hamilton Aphrodite is to be offered in a dedicated sale at Sotheby’s in London. The larger than life-size Roman statue is now estimated to fetch between £2 million and £3 million.
On first glance the glistening marble statue, which dates back to the first and second centuries CE, appears to be in fantastic condition. Standing at an imposing 187cm high, Aphrodite is depicted trying to cover her body after being interrupted at the baths. Yet on closer inspection the statue has undergone significant 18th-century restorations.
“The support next to her left leg is 18th century—an exact copy of the support that is on the Aphrodite in the Capitoline museum in Rome,” explained Florent Heintz, the head of Sotheby’s ancient sculpture and works of art department. “Then the right forearm, hand and the central part of the neck are also 18th century.” Even Aphrodite’s head comes from another statue altogether.
But today, conservators and collectors of ancient sculpture are very accustomed to such eighteenth-century restorations. The Hamilton Aphrodite was purchased in 1776 by Douglas Hamilton , 8th Duke of Hamilton (1756-1799), from the Scottish neoclassical painter and art dealer Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798). According to the dealer, the Duke “fell in love with it the moment he saw it” whilst on his Grand Tour in Rome. It was then transported back to his ancestral home in Scotland, Hamilton Palace, where it resided alongside four other ancient statues for 143 years.
In 1919, American politician and publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) bought the marble. It was kept in storage for 20 years in America, before being purchased by the New York-based art dealer Joseph Brummer (1883-1947). After Brummer’s death, the sculpture disappeared from public view into a private collection. It only resurfaced seven years ago when the current owners emailed Sotheby’s Heintz, asking “if it was worth anything.”
The Hamilton Aphrodite is now believed to be one of the greatest Roman sculptures in private hands. “I also fell under her spell the moment I laid my eyes on her,” recalled Heintz. “Struck as I was by her subtle blend of earthly beauty and divine majesty, and I hope that the public will share the same experience.”