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Showing posts from April, 2017

The Tiberius and the Drusus heads

Documented collecting histories are important. The portrait heads of Drusus Minor and Tiberius excavated at Sessa Aurunca have parallel histories.

Both passed through the sale of PIASA in Paris on 17-18 March 2003, lot  569, and 29 September 2004, lot 340. Both came from the same source ("Cette tête de même provenance que la tête vendue le 18 Mars 2003 ").

The Drusus was reported to have been purchased by Phoenix Ancient Art, who then sold it to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2012. It was displayed in the New York exhibition, "IMAGO: Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture", with the information that it had formed part of a 19th century Algerian collection ["Phoenix Ancient Art to Exhibit Collection of Roman Portraits, Unveil Its Newly Renovated New York Gallery", 29 November 2007].

The Drusus appeared in Randy Kennedy's article, "Museum Defends Antiquities Collecting" (originally from the New York Times, 12 August 2012). The article specifical…

The Drusus and Tiberius portraits from Sessa Aurunca

The return of the head of Drusus Minor to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art has been in part thanks to the diligent research of Giuseppe Scarpati. He has discovered the photographic records of sculptures discovered during the mid-1920s during the excavations of Sessa Aurunca.

The head of Drusus Minor is clearly recognisable from the archive photographs (Scarpati 2008-11: 357, fig. 7, 358 fig. 10). The head passed through PIASA in Paris in 2004, a source that is not without some interest. It was acquired from Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012. (See Gill 2013: 72 for oral histories and objects linked to this dealer, and with a specific mention to the portrait of Drusus.)

David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, defended the acquisition of the head at the time. (He resigned from the museum in 2013.) The museum is probably wishing that it had not claimed that the collecting history had been traced back to the 19th century.

The trail of the Drusus portrait had been…

Cleveland Museum of Art to return portrait of Drusus

In 2012 the Cleveland Museum of Art purchased a portrait head of Drusus that was reported to be from "an old Algerian collection" (see earlier report). The head had been purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art.

It has been announced that the head will be returned to Italy (Steven Litt, "Cleveland Museum of Art returns ancient Roman portrait of Drusus after learning it was stolen from Italy in WWII", April 18, 2017). It is now understood that the portrait was excavated at Sessa Aurunca, Campania in the mid-1920s. It appears that the head was stolen from the museum there around 1944.

This now raises questions about the due diligence process surrounding the acquisition as well as other material handled by the same dealer. The curatorial team will no doubt be releasing the basis of their pre-acquisition enquiries.