Skip to main content

The head from Morgantina: intellectual consequences

Source: J. Paul Getty Museum
The terracotta head from Sicily that the J. Paul Getty Museum is not without interest. The catalogue entry for the head indicate the problems of trying to interpret an object without archaeological context.

The blue beard had suggested that the head represented Zeus. However the context, the sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone, where fragments of hair were located suggest that the correct representation is more likely to be Hades. Cited parallels suggested associations with South Italy, and specifically Capua, rather than Sicily (although Sicily is mentioned as a possible place of creation).

The entry suggests "probably broken off from a statue", though we do not know when this took place.

The collecting history suggests that it appeared on the "European art market" (for which we know equals Robin Symes) and then passed to a "private collection, United States" (i.e. Maurice Tempelsman).

The head was acquired in 1985. The previous year it had been published by Cornelius C. Vermeule III in Catalogue of a collection of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities formed by a private collector in New York City during the past few decades (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), no. 11. This privately published catalogue also contained:

  • the statue of Apollo returned to Italy (no. 8; "European art market; private collection, United States"); 
  • the marble lekanis returned to Italy (no. 10; "European art market; private collection, United States");
  • a bronze Etruscan statue of a youth (no. 14A; "European art market; private collection, United States"; = The Gods Delight [1988]no. 37, "Private collection, New York" and stated as unpublished);
  • two bronze magistrates (no. 21; "European art market; private collection, United States"; = The Gods Delight [1988], no. 63; "Traveled through the art market and conceivably found with [64-66]"; 64 and 65 are also in the Getty, "European art market", "part of the same monument"; see here for link with Cleveland Museum of Art);
  • a Roman bronze bust of a man (no. 22, "European art market; private collection, United States");
  • the bust of L. Licinius Nepos (no. 23; "European art market; private collection, United States"); 
  • the head of a balding man (no. 25; "European art market; private collection, United States");
  • a head of a priest of saint (no. 26; "European art market; private collection, United States").

Will the Getty be publishing the complete collecting histories for all the items acquired from Maurice Tempelsman? Will the Cleveland Museum of Art be providing the full collecting history of the bronze Victoria?

It looks as if the returning head has opened yet another window on the world of collecting and museum acquisitions.

Walsh, J. 1986. "Acquisitions/1985." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 14: 173-286.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.