Exotic fake unicorn horn that cost pounds 12 auctioned for pounds 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.

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.

Meanwhile, at Sotheby's, the National Gallery of Scotland was busily picking up for a song Renaissance medals. The director, Tim Clifford, has been building up a medal collection for some years to complement his Renaissance paintings and sculpture.

For pounds 4,400 he acquired a medal celebrating Girolamo Savonarola (1452- 98), the Dominican reformer who tried to turn Florence into a theocratic state, burning immoral books and pictures - but was eventually hanged and burned himself. Mr Clifford bought seven medals in all; a medal of Ottavio Farnese, second Duke of Parma, cost a mere pounds 396. The National Museum of Scotland also bought three medals.

Sotheby's sale included a particularly fine private collection of Renaissance medals formed by a connoisseur in the 1920s and 1930s. A silver medal designed by Albrecht Durer - the only medal made by the great German artist - set an auction record for any historical medal when it sold for pounds 55,000 to a French dealer. It was made to celebrate the visit of the Emperor Charles V to Nuremberg in 1521, but he never came and most of the medals were melted down.

The sale was very successful, realising a total of pounds 767,000, almost double the presale estimate.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer - UI / UX Design

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Designer is required to j...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£30000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation based in Pea...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator / Warehouse Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fast-paced award winning company based in...

Recruitment Genius: General Manager

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of global logisti...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable