Duke of Northumberland’s family heirlooms head to auction

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Roman statue of Aphrodite among items being sold at Sotheby’s

The great hall at Syon House, when Aphrodite (left) was in situ (© Sotheby’s)

The Duke of Northumberland is to sell 80 family heirlooms, which are worth more than £15m, at Sotheby’s. The most important of these is a Roman statue of Aphrodite, which has been in the great hall of Syon House in west London—a unity of architecture and sculpture that is one of the greatest works of the architect Robert Adam—since it was bought at Christie’s in 1773. Estimated at between £4m and £6m, it is due to be offered at Sotheby’s Treasures sale tomorrow, 9 July.

The “Northumberland Aphrodite” is not regarded as a fixture or fitting by the London borough of Hounslow, the local authority for Syon House, so the duke was allowed to remove it from his Grade I-listed building—but Robert Bargery, the secretary of the Georgian Group, a conservation organisation, expressed “regret” over the sale.

In the 20th century, the head of the statue was assumed to be a later addition to an antique body, but a reference to the head being ancient and never broken appeared in a footnote to an article published in a Romanian journal last year. This was confirmed by specialists at Sotheby’s, who date the work to the early first century, as a Roman copy of a lost Greek original. The family intends to replace it with a cast copy.

Among the other key items being sold by the duke are Jan Brueghel the Elder’s The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man, 1613 (est £2m-£3m), the left wing of a diptych by Giovanni da Rimini depicting the lives of the Virgin and other saints, around 1300-05 (est £2m-£3m), Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of the Mohawk Chieftain Thayendanegea, around 1786 (est £1m-£1.5m), William Kent’s Stanwick Commode, around 1740 (est £800,000-£1.2m), and Limoges enamels depicting scenes from the “Aeneid”, around 1530 (est £800,000-£1.2m).

Other items, some of which are due to be sold in the autumn, include furniture, antiquarian books, manuscripts, drawings and examples of Nepalese, Persian and Mughal art. The duke says that the pieces selected for sale were “carefully chosen so as not to detract from the overall integrity of the Northumberland collection”.

The proceeds of the sale will help to cover the £12m-plus bill incurred by the Northumberland estate after flooding at Newburn, Newcastle, in September 2012. The proceeds will also go towards looking after Syon House and Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland.

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