Monday 18 February 2008

The Cleveland Apollo: New Comments

The bronze Cleveland Apollo has surfaced in the news again (Steven Litt, "Gaps in history of Cleveland museum's Apollo make it a focus of debate over global antiquities trade",, February 17, 2008). This statue appears to be separate from the list of antiquities that have emerged as a result of the Hecht/True trial in Rome (see "Will the Cleveland Museum of Art be Next?", January 28, 2008).

Details of the acquisition are provided on the Cleveland Museum of Art website ("Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Rare Monumental Ancient Bronze Sculpture of Apollo Sauroktonos", press release issued on June 22, 2004).
The statue had been a part of a private estate in the eastern part of Germany, later to become communist East Germany (GDR), well before World War II. The work was installed in the garden and considered to be late 18th or 19th century.

After German reunification in 1990, Ernst-Ulrich Walter reclaimed his family's estate and rediscovered the sculpture in pieces. In 1994, Dr. Lucia Marinescu, former Director of the National History Museum of Romania first viewed the work in fragments while touring the estate. In 1994 the sculpture was sold and subsequently reassembled and restored. In May 2003, Dr. Marinescu presented a paper on the sculpture at the 16th International Congress of Antique Bronzes. The work was acquired from the Geneva gallery of Phoenix Ancient Art S.A.
Further analysis claimed to have added this information:
Preliminary scientific tests on the statue and base show that the sculpture was excavated well before 1900. The base of the sculpture dates from the 17th-19th century. Additional tests are ongoing.
This has now been clarified. Timothy Rub, the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Michael Bennett, the museum's curator of ancient Greek and Roman art, supplied the statement:
scientific tests performed since the museum bought the work have shown that the lead solder used to join the piece to its Renaissance-era base is in the vicinity of 100 years old.
But as Litt points out, this scientific report is not in the public domain and so no firm conclusions can be drawn by scholars from outside the museum.

The statue hit the headlines in 2006 when Greece drew attention to its collecting history (Helena Smith, "It's art squad v tomb raiders as Greece reclaims its pillaged past", Guardian, July 21, 2006). Donna Brock, speaking for the Cleveland Museum of Art, was reported:
[We] acquired the Apollo ... after over a year of extensive research. An international team of specialists thoroughly considered the acquisition from legal, art-historical, and technical perspectives, including laboratory testing. An emphasis was placed on research into its history.
Ali Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art was also quoted,
We stand by its provenance.
Greece refused to let items from its museums, notably the bronze from Marathon, be displayed alongside the Cleveland Apollo in an exhibition of work attributed to the Greek sculptor Praxiteles at the Louvre (Guy Weill Goudchaux, "Praxiteles & Co un-Ltd: the Louvre's ambitious exhibition on the great 4th-century BC sculptor has suffered from Greek cultural blackmail", Apollo, vol. 165, June 1, 2007).
Its success or otherwise has been affected by the decision earlier this year by the Archaeological Museum in Athens that it would not lend the famous Ephebe of Marathon, discovered in the sea in 1925. This was the Greeks' right. However, their government has also been responsible for another notable absence, the only known large-scale bronze version of the Apollo Sauroktonos ('the lizard slayer'), from the Cleveland Museum of Art. A few months ago, the provenance of this sculpture, which the museum bought in 2004, was described as 'dubious' in the Greek press, following the lead of the country's ministry of culture. But the Apollo is from an old German collection, as the exhibition catalogue reveals. Technical analysis demonstrates that its base is a century old. Yet the Greek authorities made it clear that if the Louvre accepted the loan they would no longer lend to French museums.

Thus the cultural patrimony witch-hunt that has spread from the British Museum to the Metropolitan and the Getty has reached France. If any exhibition deserves the loan of the Cleveland bronze it is the Louvre's. Comparison with the Ephebe of Marathon would have revealed, as photographs cannot, if it is an early or late copy of Praxiteles. Greek nationalism is now threatening the freedom of exhibition curators. This is surely intolerable. It is time that the great museums of Europe and America made a united stand against cultural blackmail. But would the Louvre participate? Despite the way it has been treated, it has agreed that the exhibition can travel to the new museum on the Acropolis in Athens.
But is it "cultural blackmail" for Greece to raise concerns about a statue that does not yet appear to have convincing documentation prior to 1994?

Hicham Aboutaam, of Phoenix Ancient Art, was quoted (
Ron Stodghill, "Do You Know Where That Art Has Been?", New York Times, March 18, 2007):
The Apollo was proven to have been in circulation more than 100 years ago. The Greeks are not saying that the Apollo shouldn't be here or that it was stolen. It is just their way of scoring a P.R. coup.
An international conference is being planned. But the Apollo's archaeological context has been lost for good. But we look forward to the release of documentation that demonstrates conclusively that the statue was displayed in a German garden during the nineteenth century and certainly prior to 1994.


Unknown said...

This is very interesting. Though Greece would certainly have a diminished claim if the Apollo truly was in a long-established collection, it would seem to me the mere fact that the base was a century old does not mean the statue itself was not recently looted, or even stolen. Could the solder have been made to look old? These strike me as perfectly reasonable questions.

David Gill said...

Note that the statue had been in fragments when first recorded. This is why we need to see the full technical report. Can this piece of scientific information be used in the way it has been?

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