I n the not so distant past, many persons of distinction, taste and learning had personal collections, so-called “rooms of wonder”, filled with extraordinary objects that would tell stories of natural marvels, distant cultures, mythical beings, and flights of human fantasy. These rooms may be filled with objets d'art and curiosities – from fine carvings and paintings to beautiful stones and animal specimens – shown together in a way that showcases the personal imagination of the individual collector. Many of today’s collectors have been inspired by these cabinets of curiosities, combining early marble sculpture, perhaps, with antiquities from Asia and works of contemporary art.
In a 21st century approach to this venerable tradition, we asked Sotheby’s specialists to pair unusual works from The Eclectic, a sale that offers diverse material ranging from medieval European art, contemporary paintings, and taxidermy, to ancient Chinese Imperial porcelain and jade.
Nick Wood, Private Sales Director, Asia
- Dancing Skeletons
- Marble Hand
- Rotary Dial Telephones
- Bishop's Head
A Rare Polychrome Wood Figure of ChitipatiExquisitely carved and painted couple. I love how joyfully macabre these dancing figures are. They are actually protection gods yielding sticks which beat away evil deeds, talk and thoughts.
A Life-Size Carved Statuary Marble Hand of a LadyThis beautiful marble piece is a model of the hand of Henrietta Ward, the leading female artist in Victorian times. I love the idea of owning the hand of a great artist.
Three Hong Kong Landline TelephonesWe had one of these telephones in my childhood house when I was growing up, and I haven’t seen these for more than twenty years. It’s hard to imagine how we survived without our smartphones.
A Fragmentary Medieval French Limestone Head of a BishopThe ornate quality of the mitre on this mutilated head is so striking. I imagine the sculpture would have come from a remarkable gothic church.
Cristine Li, Specialist of Chinese Works of Art
Looking at the works from far-flung parts of the world, ranging across centuries, it calls to mind Constantine P. Cavafy’s evocative poem “Ithaka” which carries us through a journey based on the Homeric epic of Odysseus. I have selected works that together tell a similar story. I have included an excerpt of the poem below:
As you set out for Ithaka / hope your road is a long one, / full of adventure, full of discovery.
Hope your road is a long one / May there be many summer mornings when / with what pleasure, what joy, you enter harbours you’re seeing for the first time; / may you stop at Phoenician trading stations / to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, / sensual perfume of every kind— / as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities / to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind. / Arriving there is what you’re destined for. / But don’t hurry the journey at all. / … And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. / Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, / you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.