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Rare Two-Headed Roman Bust Found By British Soldier In Palestine In 1941 Sells At Bonhams For £240,000

roman-bust.jpgA double-headed Roman sculpture of Bacchus and his lover, Ariadne, circa 2nd -3rd Century A.D. found in a Jerusalem market in 1941 by Somerset de Chair, a young British army officer, sold at Bonhams Antiquities sale on 1st May for £240,000 It had been expected to sell for an estimate of £60,000 to £90,000.

The Antiquities sale made a total of £1.4m with a great deal of interest throughout the day and hotly contested bidding for many of the lots.

The sculpture was spotted in an antique dealer’s shop window directly opposite the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was subsequently bombed on July 22, 1946. The bomb attack was aimed at the British Mandate government of Palestine and its armed forces by members of the Irgun, a militant Zionist organization, which was led at the time by Menachem Begin, the future Prime Minister of Israel.

Somerset de Chair paid a ten per cent deposit for the bust and gave his executors 18 months to pay the balance and collect it if he did not return from the battlefield. De Chair left Jerusalem shortly after negotiating the purchase, serving as Intelligence Officer during the capturing of Baghdad. He was wounded on a subsequent engagement near the ruins of Palmyra and was evacuated back to Jerusalem where, while convalescing, he was able to secure an export license for the bust. It was transported to the Rockefeller Museum, in Jerusalem where a full-size plaster cast of it was taken, which is still on display today. The bust was then packed and, ‘Shipped home as ‘Wounded Officer’s Kit’.

This magnificent ancient sculpture adorned the home of the de Chair family at Chilham Castle in Kent, and then travelled with the family to their subsequent home, St Osyth’s Priory in Colchester. It remained there for 40 years until the death of Somerset de Chair in 1995, when it passed by descent to his eldest son Rodney de Chair, the present owner.

Originally discovered at Beth Shan in Palestine, probably in the 1930’s, the monumental double-headed figure (known as a herm or double herm) depicts Bacchus and his lover Ariadne, the daughter of the King of Minos of Crete, who helped Theseus to escape from the labyrinth with the aid of a ball of string. In return, she was cruelly abandoned by him on the island of Naxos. Here Bacchus came to her rescue, taking her jewelled crown and flinging it into the heavens where it became a constellation. Ariadne was readily consoled by him and they were married shortly afterwards. According to Greek mythology, Bacchus founded the Greek city at Beth Shan.

The site of Beth Shan is situated just south of the Sea of Galilee, on the main trade route from the Transjordanian highway to the Mediterranean coast. It flourished under Egyptian rule and was re-founded in the Hellenistic period, by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), who made it one of the ten cities of the Decapolis and renamed it Scythopolis, ‘city of the Scythians’. It was later rebuilt by Pompey in 63 B.C., and by the 1st Century A.D. had become one of the most imposing cities in Palestine, with a 7000 capacity theatre, colonnaded street and extensive buildings. It continued to grow and prosper through the later Roman and Byzantine periods until it was destroyed by an earthquake on 18th January 749 A.D.