Exotic fake unicorn horn that cost £12 auctioned for £441,500
ONE OF the most exotic of 12th-century fakes, the carved horn of a unicorn, was sold at Christie's yesterday for pounds 441,500. GERALDINE NORMAN Art Market Correspondent
Unicorns, of course, were mythical beasts credited with magical powers. The smart alecs of the Middle Ages obtained the single tusks of the rare arctic whale, the narwhal, and sold them as coming from unicorns.
This horn had been bought for pounds 12 among a bundle of walking sticks by the father of the vendor at a house sale in 1957. He clearly realised what he was buying since the family has a letter from the Victoria and Albert Museum, dated 1958 - the V & A has the only other carved narwhal horn on record.
Christie's suggests that they were carved in the same English workshop, possibly using a single horn split in two - the diameters seem to match. Christie's horn, which is almost 4ft long, would have been the top end.
Even narwhal horns were tremendously rare. The horn that Pope Clement VII gave the king of France's son as a wedding present in 1533 is said to have cost 17,000 ducats; Michelangelo was only paid 3,000 ducats for painting the Sistine ceiling.
The identity of the buyer is a secret. He or she bid over the telephone, mainly against another telephone bidder.
Wednesday, 6 July 1994 THE INDEPENDENT