A composition of human facial features is skilfully picked out in the centre of a large hemispherical sandstone boulder. The representation is distinguished by an economical and elegant simplicity. The features comprise slightly bulbous lentoid eyes, an oblong, flattish nose, and a simple slit mouth. Faint outlines of the cheeks are also visible to either side of the nose. The facial side of the stone is worn and pitted from exposure; the rear is smooth. There is a rough, uneven break along the base of the boulder. No attempt was made to fashion a chin, or to provide the head with ears or a hair line.
The carved stone head is classified by experts as ‘iconic sculpture’. The Iron Age authority Barry Raftery, author of Pagan Celtic Ireland (1994) considered that stone heads were representations of deities, and in his view stone heads of this period were ‘religious carvings’. Raftery concurred with the opinion of the scholar Anne Ross, author of Pagan Celtic Britain (1967), that ‘the cult of the head was the most widespread, typical and enduring of Celtic cults’.
The Irish carved stone head assemblage was critically assessed in an important paper published by Etienne Rynne in 1972. The majority are from the northern part of the country. Rynne acknowledged that the dating of Irish stone heads was ‘extremely difficult’, as features of pagan heads are paralleled in heads from the medieval period.
In stylistic terms, as Raftery explained it, ‘the realistic portrayal of the human form was of no great concern to Celtic craftsmen’. One of the best known examples is the three-faced specimen from Corleck, Co. Cavan, found at a quarry around 1855. This is a work that scholars are agreed dates from the Iron Age, and is described by John Waddell, author of The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland (1998), as ‘the most remarkable example of early iconic stone carving’. The execution of the three faces of the Corleck stone, on a local sandstone block, is characterised by, in Rynne’s words, ‘elegance and economy of line’, with roundish eyes, broad flattish noses and slit mouths. The simplicity evident in the rendering of the Ballyarton stone makes comparison with the Corleck stone credible, suggesting that the former can be dated along with the latter to the Iron Age.
Another example, known as the Cavan town stone head, consists of an earless, hairless face with round browless eyes carved into a rectangular boulder. This head is also considered to be one that can reliably be dated to the Iron Age. On the basis that it bears a tentative resemblance to the Cavan town head, the identification of the Ballyarton stone head as a work of Iron Age date is further strengthened.
In Pagan Celtic Ireland Barry Raftery considered the best examples of iconic sculpture to ‘display an economy of detail and a deceptive simplicity’. On those terms, and in light of certain stylistic affinities with the Corleck and Cavan town stone heads, the Ballyarton, Claudy head must be regarded as a rare and important addition to the pre-Christian iconic stone assemblage of Ireland.
Ken Wiggins MIAI
- Auction Details
(a) Each lot is put up subject to any reserve price imposed by the vendor
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(a) Each lot shall be at the purchaser's risk from the fall of the hammer and shall be paid for in full before delivery and taken away at his expense within one day of the sale. The buyer will be responsible for all removal, storage and insurance charges in respect of any lot which has not been collected within one day of the date of sale. (b) If any purchaser fails to pay in full for any lot within 21 days of the date of sale such lot may at any time thereafter at the auctioneer's discretion be put up for sale by auction again or sold privately; if upon such re-sale a lower price is obtained than was obtained on the first sale the purchaser in default on the first sale shall make good the difference in price and the expenses of re-sale which shall become debt due from him. (c) Interest at 2 per cent per month and legal costs (if any) for recovery of monies due shall be payable by the purchaser on any overdue account.
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(b) All lots are sold with all faults and imperfections and errors of description and the Auctioneer and its employees, servants or agents shall not be responsible for any error of description or for the condition or authenticity of any lot, save for Clause 5 (c) below. Written or verbal condition reports may be supplied by the Auctioneer on request but these are merely statements of opinion, and any error or omission in these reports may not be taken as grounds for a cancellation of sale or refund of any part of the purchase price or the cost of any repairs to the lot or lots reported on
(c) A purchaser shall be at liberty to reject any lot if he - (i) gives the auctioneer written notice of intention to question the genuineness of the lot within seven days from the date of sale; AND (ii) proves that the lot is a deliberate forgery and (iii) returns to the auctioneer within 20 days from the date of sale the lot in the same condition as it was at the time of sale; provided that the auctioneer may, at his discretion, on receiving a request in writing from the purchaser, extend for a reasonable period the time for return of the lot to enable it to be submitted to expertisation. NOTE: The onus of proving a lot to be a deliberate forgery is on the purchaser.
(d) Where a lot has been submitted to expertisation, all costs of such expertisation shall be paid by the person who retains the certificate of expertisation and item or items to which the certificate relates.
(e) Where the purchaser of a lot discharges the onus and acts in accordance with sub-clause (b) of this clause, the auctioneer shall rescind the sale and repay to the purchaser the purchase money paid by him in respect of the lot.
(f) No lot shall be rejected if, subsequent to the sale, it has been marked by an expert committee or treated by any other process unless the auctioneer's permission to subject the lot to such treatment has first been obtained in writing.
(g) Any lot listed as a "collection, range, portfolio etc." or stated to comprise or contain a collection or range of items which are not described shall be put up for sale not subject to rejection and shall be taken by the purchaser with all (if any) faults, lack of genuineness and errors of description and numbers of items in the lot, and the purchaser shall have no right to reject the lot; except that, notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this sub-clause, where before a sale a person intending to bid at the sale gives notice in writing to, and satisfies the auctioneer that any such lot contains any item or items undescribed in the sale catalogue and that person specifically describes that item or those items in that notice, then that item or those items shall, as between the auctioneer and that person, to be taken to form part of the description of the lot. Clause 6 The respective rights and obligations of the parties shall be governed and interpreted by Irish law, and the buyer hereby submits to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Irish Courts.
a) The buyer shall pay the Auctioneer a commission at the rate of 20% (Art Sales) of the purchase price (which excludes VAT at the prevailing rate under The Margin Scheme and which is not reclaimable). There is no extra charge to on-line buyers on Whyte’s platform – bids.whytes.ie. However bidders on other platforms shall pay an extra commission of 3% to 5% (plus VAT) to cover the charge made by the on-line bidding provider.
(b) The Auctioneer or its employees, servants or agents may, on request organise packing and shipping of lots purchased or may order on the buyer's behalf third parties to pack or ship purchases. Under no circumstances does the Auctioneer accept any liability whatsoever for any loss or damage howsoever occasioned in the course of such service.
(c) The buyer authorises the Auctioneer to use any photographs or illustrations of any lot purchased for any or all purposes as the Auctioneer may require. The placing of a bid will be taken as full agreement to all the above conditions.
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