From One Object Provenance Came Four Others: About Ancient and Modern Marks of Ownership

by Anne Dunn-Vaturi

While researching a statue of the god Baal, purchased by Joseph Brummer at the “Curtiss (sic) sale Oct (sic) 26, 1918”, I found the source of a number of tags I had recorded in 2016 in the Ancient Near Eastern Art collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). As part of my work as a provenance researcher, I physically check the objects and describe any markings into the collections database, TMS (The Museum System).

Seven small oval paper tags with numbers, dates and annotations were stored with four cylinder seals from the Kelekian collection. They are part of a group of 227 ancient Near Eastern seals received as a gift from Nanette R. Kelekian in 1999. All we knew was that these objects were acquired by the Armenian collector and dealer Dikran G. Kelekian in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

(fig. 1) Two tags associated with cylinder seal 1999.325.147(© Anne Dunn-Vaturi)

After cross-checking in auction catalogs – without success – the typed numbers (627, 636, 640 and 641) and the two annotated dates (12/9/07 and 2/24/08), I added the images of the labels to a TMS package centralizing marks of unknown source across the Museum, hoping they could be later identified. The aim is to one day contribute our markings information to external provenance-related research databases and projects.

The “Curtiss (sic) sale” mentioned in The Brummer Gallery Records is in fact the first auction out of four of the late Thomas E.H. Curtis’ collection, including Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Mohammedan works of art, held at The Anderson Galleries, New York, from November 26th to 30th, 1918. The later sales comprised Far Eastern art, miscellaneous art objects and his extensive collection of minerals. Thomas E.H. Curtis (d. 1915) from Plainfield, New Jersey, was according to the Introduction of the auction catalog, a “collector connoisseur and a lover of art”. He was notably known for his collection of ancient glass (Richter, 72-87).

The numbers on The Met’s tags correspond to lots from the fourth session of the sale held on Friday evening of November 29, 1918 when they were most probably purchased by Dikran G. Kelekian:

  • “627. Babylonian Seal Cylinder. Haematite.” is a Late Cypriot cylinder seal with three animal-headed figures  (1999.325.213)
  • “636. Phoenician Seal Cylinder. Haematite.” is an Old Syrian cylinder seal divided into two registers with royal figures approaching weather god; divinities (1999.325.147)
  • “640. Hetite Seal Cylinder. Haematite.” is an Old Syrian cylinder seal with a pair of confronted kneeling figures and a winged Horus (1999.325.156)
  • “641. Hetite Seal Cylinder. Haematite.” is a Mitannian cylinder seal with a pair of weather gods (?) (1999.325.190)
(fig. 2) Hematite cylinder seal and modern impression. H. 2.9 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Nanette B. Kelekian, in memory of Charles Dikran and Beatrice Kelekian, 1999 (1999.325.147) (© Daira Szostak)

I hope this post celebrating the #DayofProvenanceResearch will contribute to future identifications if you did not already know about the Curtis sale numbering system. Finally, I was able to solve the mystery of these markings last week, while working remotely, thanks to the digitized auction catalog of the Curtis sale. The ownership history of the four cylinder seals is updated in TMS and published online, and for this I am grateful to the team of the Information Systems & Technology at The Met for having facilitated my VPN connection!


Bibliography

Gisela M.A. Richter, The Curtis Collection of Ancient Glass. In: Art in America 2/1914, pp. 72-87.


Anne Dunn-Vaturi works as Research Associate in the Provenance Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). She conducts the research and documentation of the provenance of the permanent ancient Near Eastern art collection for the Museum website. Before joining The Met in 2009, she worked at the Louvre and in particular researched the Antiquités Orientales Récupération (AOR) in the scope of the Mission Mattéoli.


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