Archive | Roman


The Bronze Eagle, revisited.

Dear Reader, it has been a while since I’ve written about the eagle and serpent. But I’ve been working on it slowly. Currently it is the custody of Frank Aon of Orenda Labs to be examined and tested.  I’m not sure the exact nature of the testing but he has access to some very sophisticated laboratories, which have specialized equipment that one cannot access easily. He believes in its antiquity, but the repairs done to it have eliminated much of the evidence of its age one generally looks for, patina, and core material. This June I went on trip to Florence, Naples and Rome, looking for parallels. The collector/dealer from whom the eagle came, believed it to be 17th Century Italian, and by Giambologna. Florence is where I was able to see the most bronzes from that period and by Giambologna and his followers.  In Rome and Naples I hoped to find parallels for the eagle in marble and or bronze.  It was in Florence however that I got the most helpful parallels, however no […]

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Palmyra in the news again

Earlier this December, various media outlets reported that ISIS had retaken Palmyra. Other than a general expression of concern, no details were reported.  Clearly this is a terrible thing for those who care about art, and our common cultural history.  Here is a link to the article from the 12th of December: The Art Newspaper December 12, 2016 The New York Times reported this as well, and a few days later, a strange small piece relating how the US destroyed 14 tanks left behind by the Syrian army when the ISIS retook Palmyra: NY Times, US destroys tanks near Palmyra So the brief hope kindled when Palmyra was liberated from ISIS, has been crushed.  Not only did the Syrian army lose Palmyra in the first place, they couldn’t hold it, and their weapons were taken.  The incompetence and impotence of the Syrian army has been proven once again.  The U.S. bombed the tanks to keep them from being used against our allies in the area.  Why does this matter, and why am I writing about […]

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A story of two Busts in the Metropolitan Museum

I want to start addressing in my posts, one of the central issues in dealing with ancient objects, that is authenticity, and how what role it plays in the market.  To start, I will tell the story of two exceptional Roman portrait busts, now proudly on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Bust of Matidia the Younger, sister of Sabina Bust of Sabina These wonderful portraits busts date to the reign of Hadrian, ca 122 – 128 A.D., are complete, including their socle bases, and in superb condition. They do however have a heavy dark encrustation that has proven difficult and potentially damaging to remove, and so has been left on. You can see on the left cheek of Matidia where an attempt was made to scrape it off, and the attempt seems to have been abandoned when it was clear that it was damaging the ancient surface underneath.  Heavy encrustation notwithstanding, these are beautiful sculptures of the highest quality attainable in the Roman period, or any time.  The surfaces that […]

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Size Matters, the new Statue of Juno in Boston

This magnificent statue of Juno was recently rediscovered in the Boston area, and is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It is on display oddly enough in the large arched ceilinged hall where the Egyptian Old Kingdom sculptures are.  While incongruous now, the wall label informs us that the statue will remain where she is, “as the star of our future gallery dedicated to the gods, goddesses and heroes of ancient Greece and Rome.”  It seems that the Egyptian collection is going to go into the new ground level galleries where already a good portion have been put, and this will become a gallery for classical sculptures.  Given the great effort made to install this sculpture here, they had to create a steel frame around the statue, and with a crane, lift it up and drop it through the skylight in order to put it in the gallery, I’m not surprised that here Juno will remain. The museum label proudly proclaims that this is the largest Classical sculpture in any museum in the […]

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Ancient Roman eagles, and eagles with snakes.

Image from the official website for Pompeii and Naples When attempting to find out the date of an object, one wants to find parallels, and from them you can deduce or support a dating for a piece. In my research I did not find the exact parallels I wanted but I did find a few other examples of sculptures featuring an eagle with a serpent. The photo above is of a fountain found at the House of the Faun in Pompeii. Here the eagle stands with his wings raised up but not fully outstretched. You can see a snake next to the eagle, sheltered in its raised wing as the eagle looks over at it. It is almost loving the way the eagle seems to have this snake protected under its wing as he looks back at it tenderly. The snake, whose head is missing, is coiled and almost standing on the coils. It is almost menacing, so one wonders what exactly is depicted; was the intent of the sculpture to show an eagle surprised […]

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The eagle; what species is it?

The eagle against black One thing struck me in particular about the eagle, the fur-like treatment of the feathers on the neck and body of the eagle. It resembles the pelt of a bear or the mane of a lion more than the feathers of a bird. I recalled seeing such treatment of the f Roman sculptures of eagles, but was finding very few examples in my books or online. I have a pretty good visual memory, so if I think I saw it, I am sure I did, it is just a matter of finding it again. Strangely, once I started looking for Roman representations of eagles, I found very few. While we strongly associate the eagle with Imperial Rome, when looking for representations of eagles at the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, I found hardly any. In Rome I believe there are more, but I can find few illustrated in my books. I will have to make a trip to Europe to […]

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The Eagle cleaned and examined

Above is a screen grab from Christie’s website showing the eagle with the shiny black patina it had when I first saw it and bought it.  photo by Telyfoto Inc. Above is the eagle as it now looks, after I cleaned it. I experimented with different solvents, and it was turpentine that worked to dissolve and remove the black. Amazingly, under it was a green patina, which looks like what you would see on an ancient Roman bronze. If this bronze was really 17th Century, under the black would have been bare metal. Patina is misleading when it comes to Renaissance bronzes as generally a patina is a reaction of a surface to its environment.  In the Renaissance they often applied layers of shellac and varnish with colors to achieve a satiny look to the surface.  And then other times they would apply chemicals to alter the surface inducing a chemical patina to imitate that on ancient bronzes.  But they would not have put black on top of a green patina, what would the point […]

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Discovery: Bronze Eagle with Serpent

Saturday, October 8, 2011 Dear Reader, I am going to tell another story of making of a discovery, and the effort to confirm it.  I am generally reticent to disclose where I buy things, but in this case I am going to relate the entire experience of discovery and research as I attempt to prove my case.  By sharing this with you, I hope to give the reader a sense of what goes on behind the scenes with art dealers.  The story will also illustrate a problem that both benefits and works against me – the blindness and superficiality of many of the experts in the field of ancient art.  What I mean by this will become clearer as I tell the tale. In June of last year I went to New York to preview the antiquity auctions, and while at Christie’s noticed a sign for a Decorative arts sale that included property from the collection of Michael Hall.  Michael is someone I have known well for many years.  He is a prominent, if controversial, […]

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World’s First Mullet

What a great portrait, soulful, romantic, he has high cheekbones, who could ask for a sexier guy? I was at the Metropolitan Museum this past Tuesday, just going through the Greek and Roman Galleries, and came across this head, always a favorite of mine. From the front, he is a beauty. But from the side, it hit me, he has a mullet haircut! My god, who would have thunk it! Just proves the point, there is nothing new under the sun. Here you being to see, the haircut is very precise, a Caesar cut from the front, carefully arrange locks very correct and formal, but the back, long loose tresses. Business up front, party in the back; isn’t that what a mullet is? Here you see the full view of the side. To be fair, this is a beautiful Roman portrait from the early 2nd Century A.D., and probably depicts either a barbarian, with a distinctive hairdo, or a member of a cult, whose haircut reflects his dedication to a deity. But isn’t it a […]

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Montreal, again and Napoleon

Montreal’s own mini St. Peters, the Cathedral of Mary, Queen of the World. I just made a brief trip to Montreal last week, the first time in awhile. The excuse for going was to pick up a display cabinet allowing me to put jewelry in the window, made by a company near Montreal. The cost of shipping was high enough to nearly pay for a trip up to pick the piece up, and I love Montreal, so it was a great reason to go. One of the acts, on a slack wire, pretty fantastic, in Ovo. I went to the Cirque du Soleil’s new show, Ovo, under a big tent on the waterfront. I always enjoy Cirque, the incredible feats of their acrobats gives me renewed respect for us as a species, truly amazing what training can do, no other animal has the range of abilities that we do. Not only was the show great, but the crowd was as well, beautiful, well dressed, interesting looking and lacking in the feverish transparent ambition that typifies […]

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Graffiti on the side of a building on St. Catherine St. I was taken by the scale of the image, against the relatively human scale of the buildings that typify Montreal, which is much more human scale than NYC. After visiting my family for Christmas in Vermont, I thought I would take myself on a little vacation to Montreal, since I was two thirds of the way there; that is how far North my family is. I went to Montreal for the first time last summer for just two nights, and totally enjoyed it; of course the main attraction are the gay strip bars, which are unlike anything in the States. There I worship before the altar of another sort of beauty, than usually reviewed in these pages. But in addition to the wonderful freedom Montreal offers, it also has some really good art to be seen. I have only begun to explore the art there, focusing mainly on the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which is pretty big, and has allot to see. But […]

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Most incredible thing I saw last week

Bronze head of a sacred Bull. Roman, ca 1st Century A.D. from Octodurus, in Switzerland.  This monumental bronze head is nearly two feet tall at least, and is displayed on a very tall pedestal giving it real majesty. On loan to the Metropolitan Museum from the Gallo-Roman Museum in Martigne Switzerland, this is apparently the finest Roman bronze found in Switzerland. What strikes me about it is that it looks Near Eastern and hardly looks Roman, the treatment of the hair on the forehead is so spiky, each lock is a pyramid, almost flame like, in a stylized non naturalistic manner more akin to Persian or early archaic Greek sculpture than Roman. It apparently had a third horn in the center of the forehead, as a marker of its sacred nature, as if the sheer energy of the piece did not already make that plain. It really is a beautiful and arresting sculpture and wonderful to see. What strikes one about this head is the sense of the sacred found in nature, which the Romans […]

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