Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The loan of Castor and Pollux: looking for a full collecting history

In mid-July I wrote to Tom Campbell, Director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, about the loan of a pair of statues, Castor and Pollux, made in 2008. A helpful member of staff pointed me to Art of the Ancient World XII (2001) as providing not only the complete collecting history but even the (possible) find-spot.

I asked the following question, but have not received a response.
I have now asked a further question ("What is the basis for saying that the pieces were in a Lebanese private collection, and that they passed through Asfar & Sarkis in the 1950s?") and await a reply.
The composite photograph shows in the bottom the pair on display in New York. The top comes from the (seized) archive of a dealer unlisted in Art of the Ancient World XII (2001). Indeed the top photograph clearly predates 2001.

Is the Met aware of the full collecting history of the statues? How rigorous was its due diligence search prior to accepting the loan? How reliable is the suggestion that the pair once resided in a Lebanese private collection? Has any part of the "published" collecting history been fabricated? Is there any any reason to believe that the pieces were found in the Mithraeum at Sidon? Indeed were they even found in the Lebanon? Did they first surface in the nineteenth century?

There is a serious point here. The statues are being presented as "probably" coming from a specific location (a Mithraeum) at a specific location (Sidon). If this is true - if - then what does this say about the worship of Mithras in the Near East? But what if, hypothetically, the pair had been found in a temple of (say) the Syrian Goddess further to the east? How would this change the way that we view and interpret the statues?

I am still hopeful that I will receive an answer to my question. What is the basis for saying that these statues once resided in a Lebanese private collection prior to the 1950s?

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