Monday, April 24, 2017

The Tiberius and the Drusus heads

Tiberius and Drusus. Source: PIASA
Documented collecting histories are important. The portrait heads of Drusus Minor and Tiberius excavated at Sessa Aurunca have parallel histories.

Both passed through the sale of PIASA in Paris on 17-18 March 2003, lot  569, and 29 September 2004, lot 340. Both came from the same source ("Cette tête de même provenance que la tête vendue le 18 Mars 2003 ").

The Drusus was reported to have been purchased by Phoenix Ancient Art, who then sold it to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2012. It was displayed in the New York exhibition, "IMAGO: Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture", with the information that it had formed part of a 19th century Algerian collection ["Phoenix Ancient Art to Exhibit Collection of Roman Portraits, Unveil Its Newly Renovated New York Gallery", 29 November 2007].

The Drusus appeared in Randy Kennedy's article, "Museum Defends Antiquities Collecting" (originally from the New York Times, 12 August 2012). The article specifically states, "The Cleveland Museum’s new portrait of Drusus Minor has no ironclad record pre-1970". It is noted, "But the museum said it believed its history could be traced back to the late 19th century as the property of a prominent family in Algiers." The source for this collecting history is unstated though was in circulation in 2007. David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, was quoted, “We’ve done our due diligence and we feel that both these objects have a pre-1970 provenance” [the other piece was Mayan].

The Tiberius was purchased by the Royal-Athena Galleries and then sold to the US Private Collector. I am told that the private collector returned the head to Italy in January 2017.

It is unclear when the pieces were removed from the Antiquarium in Italy.

I am grateful to Dr Jerome Eisenberg for the additional information and clarification.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Drusus and Tiberius portraits from Sessa Aurunca

Drusus Minor. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
The return of the head of Drusus Minor to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art has been in part thanks to the diligent research of Giuseppe Scarpati. He has discovered the photographic records of sculptures discovered during the mid-1920s during the excavations of Sessa Aurunca.

The head of Drusus Minor is clearly recognisable from the archive photographs (Scarpati 2008-11: 357, fig. 7, 358 fig. 10). The head passed through PIASA in Paris in 2004, a source that is not without some interest. It was acquired from Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012. (See Gill 2013: 72 for oral histories and objects linked to this dealer, and with a specific mention to the portrait of Drusus.)

David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, defended the acquisition of the head at the time. (He resigned from the museum in 2013.) The museum is probably wishing that it had not claimed that the collecting history had been traced back to the 19th century.

The trail of the Drusus portrait had been identified by a companion piece. The head of Tiberius appears to be the one in a North American private collection ("The Magdalene Tiberius")  and published by John Pollini (Pollini 2005; Scarpati 2008-11: 361 figs. 11-14). It was reported to have formed an old French collection in Marseilles dating to the 1960s. It was said to have been found in North Africa (a good reminded of the intellectual consequences of collecting recently surfaced archaeological material). It was acquired by its present proprietors in 2004. The source appears to have been the Royal-Athena Galleries (Art of the Ancient World 15 [2004] no. 24; Scarpati 2014: 33 fig. 9). Will those owners be contacting the Italian authorities in the light of the return of the Drusus portrait?

It is interesting that the (recent) collecting histories of both portraits now do not seem to go back beyond 2004 (i.e. 34 years after the UNESCO Convention). What were their collecting histories immediately prior to 2004?

The Drusus Minor return is merely serving to open up the discussion. Was the Cleveland Museum of Art aware of Scarpati's research prior to the portrait's acquisition?

Now is probably also a good time for the museum staff to revisit the documented collecting history of the Leutwitz Apollo.

Bibliography

Gill, D. W. J. 2013. "Context matters: The Cleveland Apollo goes public." Journal of Art Crime 10: 69-75. [academia.edu]
Pollini, J. 2005. "A new marble head of Tiberius. Portrait typology and ideology." Antike Kunst 48: 55-72. [JSTOR]
Scarpati, G. 2008-11. "Un ritratto di Tiberio da Sessa Aurunca ritrovato note su un probabile ciclo Suessano di statue onorarie Giulio-Claudie." Rendiconti della Accademia di Archeologia Lettere e Belle Arti 75: 345-68. [Academia.edu]
Scarpati, G. 2014. "Il ritratto di Druso minore dal ciclo statuario Giulio-Claudio di Sessa Aurunca." Bollettino d’Arte 24: 29-38. [Academia.edu]

Press Release
"Cleveland Museum of Art to Transfer Roman Sculpture of Drusus Minor to the Republic of Italy", Cleveland Museum of Art April 18, 2017. [press release]
"Il Cleveland Museum of Art restituisce all’Italia una scultura romana di Druso Minore", MiBACT April 18, 2017. [press release]

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Cleveland Museum of Art to return portrait of Drusus

Drusus. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
In 2012 the Cleveland Museum of Art purchased a portrait head of Drusus that was reported to be from "an old Algerian collection" (see earlier report). The head had been purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art.

It has been announced that the head will be returned to Italy (Steven Litt, "Cleveland Museum of Art returns ancient Roman portrait of Drusus after learning it was stolen from Italy in WWII", cleveland.com April 18, 2017). It is now understood that the portrait was excavated at Sessa Aurunca, Campania in the mid-1920s. It appears that the head was stolen from the museum there around 1944.

This now raises questions about the due diligence process surrounding the acquisition as well as other material handled by the same dealer. The curatorial team will no doubt be releasing the basis of their pre-acquisition enquiries.

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