Palmyra statue among recovered Syrian relics Williams’ effects fetch $6.1m
DAMASCUS — A stone image of an ancient priest is one of hundreds of stolen antiquities recovered by the Syrian government and put on display in Damascus this week, a reminder of the mass looting of Syria’s heritage during seven years of war.
It was carved for Yalhi bin Yalhabouda, a high priest in Palmyra, upon his death in 120 AD, his status apparent from his tall hat and laurel wreath. It was illegally dug up during Islamic State’s occupation of the desert town.
“This civilisation is not only for Syria, but we are the custodians of it and we preserve it for the world,” said Khalil Hariri, head of the Palmyra antiquities department.
Syria stood at the heart of the ancient Middle East, a crucible for some of the world’s earliest civilizations and was at times incorporated into Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Hittite, Persian, Greek and Roman empires.
After its descent into a messy, multi-sided civil war in 2011, when the country was fragmented into numerous enclaves, the warring parties began to plunder that inheritance, looting museums and excavating ancient sites.
Islamic State, which from its days as the al Qaeda branch in Iraq had long experience of selling stolen antiquities for profit, seized Palmyra and its extensive Romanera ruins, a UNESCO world heritage site, in 2015.
As with other parts of Syria and Iraq which it turned into a shortlived “caliphate”, it made a public show of destroying many artefacts and ancient buildings as idolatrous, while secretly benefiting from the illicit trade in historical goods.
The group blew up Palmyra’s monumental arch and beheaded its 82-year-old antiquities chief, hanging his body from an ancient column. After changing hands more than once, it was retaken by the Syrian army last year.
The life-sized image of Yalhi bin Yalhabouda, standing out in relief from a stone tombstone, was excavated from Palmyra’s ancient tombs, said the city’s new antiquities chief Hariri, and found in a house in the modern town.
It is inscribed with his name and year of death and shows him carrying a cup of sacred oil and a bowl of cereal, such as would have been ritually distributed after his demise. — REUTERS NEW YORK — Art, film memorabilia and personal effects owned by the late actor Robin Williams and his wife fetched US$6.1 million at auction in New York on Thursday, four years after his death, Sotheby’s said.
The Oscar-winner, movie veteran, stand-up comedian and television star was one of Hollywood’s most popular entertainers whose death in August 2014 triggered an outpouring of emotion the world over.
More than 2,000 fans and collectors from across the globe registered to bid for some 300 works owned by Williams and his second wife, film producer and philanthropist Marsha Garces Williams, Sotheby’s said.
The most expensive lot was Swiss artist Adolf Wolfli’s Der San Salvathor that sold for $795,000, the auction house said.
Stand-out items included a watercolour from the movie Good Will Hunting that sold for $90,000 and street artist Banksy’s Happy Choppers from 2006 that fetched $735,000.
Williams won an Oscar in 1998 for Good Will Hunting.
The watercolour, painted by the film’s director Gus Van Sant and inscribed to Williams, was displayed in the office of his therapist character Sean Maguire.
Forty-five watches from Will- iams’ personal collection sold for a combined total of $445,000, including his watch from Dead Poets Society (1989) that went for $32,500, the auction house said.
The entire sale fetched $6.1 million, smashing pre-sale estimates of $4.6 million with 95 per cent of all lots sold.
Among the organisations to benefit are The Juilliard School in New York, where a permanent scholarship in Williams’s name will be set up, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
A father of three, he was known for high-energy, rapid-fire improvisation and clowning, and starred in hit films such as Good Morning, Vietnam and Mrs Doubtfire.
Marsha was his second wife. The couple were married from 1989 to 2010, and had two children together.
Williams committed suicide aged 63. His widow and third wife, Susan Schneider, later revealed that he had been suffering from Lewy body dementia, a neurodegenerative disease that alters mood, movement and provokes hallucinations. — AFP
Memories: The death of Oscar-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams in 2014 triggered an outpouring of emotion the world over. — AFP Photo