By Andrew Gumbel
A tiny limestone sculpture from ancient Mesopotamia has fetched a record $57m (28.1m) at auction in New York. Sotheby's said that it had sold the 5,000-year-old Guennol Lioness - a figure standing barely over three inches (7.6cm) tall - to a private buyer who had asked for anonymity.
The figure, originally excavated near Baghdad, had been on permanent loan to the Brooklyn Museum of Art but it actually belonged to a wealthy couple, Alastair and Edith Martin, who had acquired it in 1948. The Martins will give the proceeds from the auction to a charitable trust under their family's control.
The high sale price stunned everybody, not least Sotheby's which was expecting the figurine to fetch around $18m. The successful buyer started the bidding at $27m, and it kept going up from there.
The head of Sotheby's antiquities department, Richard Keresey, described the figure as a "brilliant combination of animal form and human pose".
Ahead of the sale on Wednesday night he said: "The successful bidder ... will have the distinction of owning one of the oldest, rarest and most beautiful works of art from the ancient world. …