This sculpture—Löwenmensch (Lion Person)—was found in Germany in 1939—broken into over 200 pieces. It’s a work carved out of ivory from a mammoth, worked with a flint stone knife. It’s both the oldest known sculpture in the world (created c. 40,000 BCE), and the oldest known uncontested example of figurative art yet discovered—with hybrid zoomorphic and anthropomorphic features. The “Venus of Willendorf” no longer holds that honor, people. She’s only 27,000 years old! Arts culture is always learning more.
The pieces from this work were stored until the late 1960s, when a reconstruction was attempted but remained incomplete. Further excavations led to the discovery of more pieces. In 1988—a complete reconstruction was finally possible, and this is the result. The age of the figurine was determined by carbon dating material from the same layer where the sculpture’s pieces were found. Through study, we now know that it’s associated with the archaeological Aurignacian culture (35,000 to 45,000 years ago) located in both Europe and Asia. There are seven parallel, transverse, carved gouges on the left arm—and archeologists and art historians are still working on determining their significance. The reconstruction and understanding of a work of art can often take a very long time. Arts culture can only do what its knowledge and resources allow, at any given time.
In 2009, a lawsuit against Christie’s in New York was filed, by one Jeanne Marchig, when a drawing that the auction house sold for her (in 1998) turned out to be a work by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Marchig (who runs a U.K. animal welfare foundation) was "devastated" when she learned that the drawing, which sold as a nineteenth century German work, turned out to be a depiction of Bianca Sforza, daughter of the Duke of Milan, created by the great master himself. The origin of the “La Bella Principessa” has been formally identified in its provenance, thus confirming its authenticity.
The attribution to Leonardo da Vinci is based on the multispectral scanning of the Research Laboratory Lumiere-Technology. It was confirmed in 2009 by six art historians, Nicholas Turner, Carlo Pedretti, Alessandro Vezzosi, Mina Gregori, Cristina Geddo and Martin Kemp (who has written a book on this whole matter). Christie’s sold the work for £11,400 (a little over $19,500 today). Its value exceeds £100m ($150 million).
Marchig sued Christie's for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of warranty, negligence and negligent misrepresentation. But the lawsuit was dismissed because the statute of limitations requires that no more than three years lapse from the time the alleged infraction occurs. Marchig's attorney's argued that the statute of limitations should apply to the date when they learned the true authorship and value of the work. But the judge disagreed and ruled in Christie's favor. Ouch!
There is still much debate today over whether or not the attribution to Leonardo is correct—but as of now it definitely stands. There are some claims that the forensics even revealed Leonardo’s fingerprint on the drawing! But other art historians still argue that this could be a copy of a Leonardo work. One thing, however, is clear. The drawing definitely is of Leonardo’s era—and not from the nineteenth century. Christie’s should have know that. The problem is that thousands and thousands of paintings go through auction houses every year—and they simply don’t have the time or resources to perform “due diligence.” But…in this case…Christie’s was not held accountable for its failure to do so.
These ostrich eggshell fragments, with patterns etched into their sides, are among the very earliest examples of decorative art—or what was once known as “minor” arts. From the Western cape of South Africa, wares such as this one were created 62,000 years ago, and are far older than the earliest writing or any other art forms that still exist. The symbols engraved on them are regular lines and hatches, and are so many in number that archaeologists think they may well be communicative, or at least symbolic. Since 1999, these fragments have been researched and protected in a collaboration between the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cape Town and the Institute of Prehistory and Quaternary Geology at the University of Bordeaux. 270 fragments have been found. It’s estimated that fragments exist for 25 complete containers. Imagine that! It’s been determined that the tradition of engraving found on the eggshell vessels lasted for several thousand years. It is only through the work of many, many dedicated professionals that these treasures— and an understanding of them—have come to light.