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private collection, United States"; = The Gods Delight [1988]no. 37, "Private collection, New York" and stated as unpublished);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.

Bibliography
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

Comments

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 …

The Getty Kouros: "The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance"

In the wake of the 1992 Athens conference to discuss the Getty kouros (85.AA.40), one of the delegates, a "distinguished" American museum curator, was quoted ("Greek sculpture; the age-old question", The Economist June 20, 1992):
The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance.
The recent discussions about the return of antiquities from North American museums to Italy and Greece may seem far removed from the acquisition of what appears to be a forged archaic Greek sculpture in the 1980s. However, there are some surprising overlaps.

The statue arrived at the Getty on September 18, 1983 in seven pieces. True (1993: 11) subsequently asked two questions:
Where was it found? As it was said to have been in a Swiss private collection for fifty years, why had it never been reassembled, though it was virtually complete?
A similar statue surfacing in the 1930s
A decision was taken to acquire the kouros in 1985. The official Getty line at the time (and reported in Russell…

The Getty kouros: a modern creation?

The refurbished galleries of the J. Paul Getty Museum no longer include the Getty kouros, a sculpture purchased in 1985 (Christopher Knight, "Something's missing from the newly reinstalled antiquities collection at the Getty Villa", LA Times April 19, 2018). Knight explains:
Unexpectedly, the Getty kouros, a controversial sculpture even before the museum acquired it more than 30 years ago, has been removed from public view. The work is now in museum storage.   For decades, the life-size carving of a standing nude youth carried one of the most distinctive labels of any work of art in an American museum: “Greece (?) about 530 B.C. or modern forgery.” The label encapsulated puzzling issues about the work, whose questionable status as dating from the archaic dawn of Western civilization had been the focus of scholarly and scientific research, debate and international symposiums for years. It is ten years since I provided an overview of the kouros here on LM. And over 20 year…