Design & Decoration S04 ep6 : Jean-David Cahn, Cahn Antiques, [Switzerland]

Interview with Jean-David Cahn

Jean-David Cahn AG was founded in 1999 and continues a proud family tradition which reaches back for almost 150 years. The first catalogues of the Münzhandlung Cahn appeared in 1863 in Frankfurt am Main. After Hitler ascended to power, the company was forcefully arianised. The family emigrated to Basel and refounded the company. It was succeeded by Münzen und Medaillen in 1941. In 1988 Herbert A. Cahn, Honorary Professor of Numismatics at the Universities of Heidelberg and Freiburg im Breisgau, spun off the antiquities department and founded H.A.C. Kunst der Antike. Following Herbert A. Cahn’s retirement, the company was dissolved in 1998. Subsequently, a new company, Jean-David Cahn AG, was formed by his son. Jean-David Cahn retained his father’s specialisation in ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian art. In addition to this, he endeavoured to create a dialogue with other forms of art. This lead to interdisciplinary exhibitions such as „Apollon und Dionysos“ (1999) and „Augenblick und Ewigkeit“ (2004) with the renowned dealer in old master paintings, Konrad Bernheimer. Jean-David Cahn studied Classical Archaeology in Basle. In 1988 he worked for the Antikenmuseum Basle und Sammlung Ludwig, whose collection of arms and armour he published. He also contributed to the catalogue of the exhibition „Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection“ which was shown at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1990. Jean-David Cahn joined Sir John Boardman in Oxford to prepare his doctorate on decorated arms and armour in 1989. He was Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College from 1990-1996. Furthermore, he is a founding member of the IADAA (International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art) and a sought-after expert in questions on the art trade. He has, for instance, advised the Council of Europe. He is currently preparing a publication on the arms and armour in The Sackler Museums, Harvard University, and directs various Vetting Committees on ancient art, for instance that of TEFAF Maastricht. He is also a Board Member of IADAA, VSAK (Verband Schweizerischer Antiquare und Kunsthändler) and TEFAF.


Cahn is a very old name. It actually like Levi, one of the rare names which has survived its
antiquity, represents like a cast of high priest, the high priest of the Coani and the lady of the
lower priest. Even nowadays when you go to a funeral, the Coani has to stand aside.15:45

I'm here in the fourth generation. Our first auction, say, catalogues appeared in Frankfurt 1863
and we concentrated our family first in coins metals, also Greek coins and we were until the
30's , one of the leading companies in numismatics in Germany, in Frankfurt. They were forced
to flee Germany and they reestablished then in BaslebecauseBasle was close to Frankfurt

For a long time I was not sure whether I wanted to continue this tradition, so I studied
archaeology, also field archaeology. My father was teaching at university archaeology,
numismatics and art there, So I grew up in the art trade and academia, both. So I did the same. I
studied archaeology, i was junior research fellow in Oxford. 16:48

What is so different in Oxford, there's a mix I had in college friends from all different academic
fields. 17:01

Henry Dunay Jewellery

Yea, I was a field archaeologist for many years. I did even work in Greece in Nasal. I was
assisting Godfrey Gooden, in the excavation of Sangria, with ManabíCares wonderful
archaeologist who was responsible, still is, I think for the Parthenon reconstruction.17:25

Possibilities are pretty grim for archaeologists to make a living in a let's say, in a reasonable
way and I have to reach for it a certain age. I had a situation which allowed me to lay back on
the family tradition.17:49

If you look around this room you have a tinyterracotta from Tanagrindrosha, with a beautiful
provenance of the 19th century, this littleaerosol over there. Then I have this quite massive
Corinthian capital and then I have Greek coins. I only present Greek coins because they are so
beautiful in the details and mostly because they are from the fifth century BC, which was the
high end of numismatics in Greece.18:24

Henry Dunay Jewellery

It's a miracle that you have in a small, small area, the concentration of such an artistic quality in
a very tormented time. it's extraordinary culture,where you fight the whole year, but for the
Olympic games, you behave peacefully. And what is even more glorious, when you read into
this, is you have a day mosque in Athens deciding to punish the entire population on an island
because they don't obey Athens. so they sent out a fleet and a few days later, they think that is
the wrong approach. They vote again and sent the second fleet after the first fleet to prevent the
massacre and Ithink this is the sign of humanity and we're talking about the fifth century BC in
Greece, which is quite unique.19:26

In the fifth century and fourth century of Greece, especially Athens where we know so much
about it, is really extraordinary. Not only that but it's one of the rare themes where you have
works of art with a very rich world of images on the vases. We know where they come from; we
know where they were made in the Caramicas. They were used there. They reflect in an
enormous wealth, the pictures of daily life of the myths, that's quite unique, plus and that's the
extraordinary.We have literature. You go into the next bookshop, even if you can't read Greek,
you buy a paperback and you read the history, they're very comic sometimes of that world in
which that vase was created from the same period. Now find me a apart from, let's say the last
400 years in Europe where you have the same possibility it gives you a potential depth to the
works apart from Greece, which even also with Rome not which will have difficulties to have
societies, let's say China two thousand years ago,it's more complicated, orlet's say African art
where it's more complicated to access. Here, it's our culture.20:52

Henry Dunay Jewellery

Sometimes you're just struck in a way, especially Greek art when it's very good, that you get
extraordinarily emotional, at least me and it goes to the point I'm not pretending that I even
start nearlyto cry and it's this thing beyond every period of history. It's just, goes beyond the
core of Omani does. I don't know how they did it, but it's like excellent music where you don't
need to think and reflect a long time about it why it's good. it's just strikingly great in the

I have here a fragment of a victory of Annika which has strikingly beautiful legs. It's just a
fragment, but the way she's flying, it's just, you really hear the fluttering winds and the way they
done it, i don't know how they managed.22:08

Henry Dunay Jewellery

One of greatest sculptorsof Italy in the early 19 century. Let’s not forget Antonio Kenova. When
he was asked to restore the Parthenon marbles he refused on the grounds, that he bowed to a
great master Faddiest. When you look at these marbles or you look at the other Greek
sculptures. You are deeply moved. It's not, you can't repeat it.22:49

I stumbled across a head, which is not in the museum with all headgear of some search with the
French who was working on the 18th century. I discovered the drawings of the 18th century of
that piece and the whole history was reconstructed.It was Lords Bristle's property. He bought it
in Rome at the end of the eighteen century, had it repaired by Cavakepchi, then it was
cecrastated by Vomapati's troops on its way to England and I rediscovered it, in an old antique
shop in Paris. Of course I didn't know nothingabout it and that's again one of these lost
provenancerediscovered and it's exciting.23:43

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Jean-David Cahn, Cahn Antiques, Switzerland