Friday, January 11, 2013

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private collection, United States"; = The Gods Delight [1988]no. 37, "Private collection, New York" and stated as unpublished);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

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