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Greek And Roman Antiquities

( Originally Published 1914 )[an error occurred while processing this directive]

THE claim is now often made that in England more art treasures of the past lie hid awaiting identification than anywhere else in the world. The most important recent addition to the recognised sculptures of the Parthenon was a fine fragment discovered on a rockery at Colne Park, Essex. I myself found employed as an ornament in an English garden one of the splendid wind-blown acanthus capitals made to the order of Theodoric the Ostrogoth for a church at Ravenna, and afterward used in Italy as a well-head. The old gardens of England doubtless possess a still unsuspected treasure of such objects. I have a drawing of a very elaborately sculptured mediaeval cross-head, described as having been made from a stone in the rockery of a Rectory garden. Several fonts of great antiquity have been rescued from pig-sties, farmyards, and the like unkenned localities. The only antique marble bust which it has been my good fortune to acquire was bought out of a back garden at Cambridge. The owner thought he remembered to have been told by his father that some old don brought it home from Italy a long time ago. The story sounds quite eighteenth century. Dons nowadays seldom come home from their holidays with a marble bust in their luggage.

The bust in question is of Greek marble. The head has evidently been broken off at the root of the neck from a full-length figure. Its left shoulder droops slightly, and there is a corresponding inclination of the neck, with the head somewhat turned toward an erect position. The fragment is inserted into draped shoulders supported by a base, carved in late Renaissance style out of a coarser and greyer marble than the head. The waving locks of hair enframing the forehead are deeply grooved by means of a drill in a manner characteristic of the time of the Antonines. The crown of the head is merely roughed out, and was originally surmounted by some kind of head-dress, probably of metal, The stump of the pin which fixed it remains embedded in the marble. I have not found it possible to point to any definite original from which this copy has been taken. At a first glance the type appears to go back to the fifth century, but the soft, rounded oval of the face, the massive neck, the small, slightly opened mouth, and the form of the eyes, are all features characteristic rather of the followers of Scopas, and in particular of the Niobide group. Probably the Roman copyist had some original by an eclectic sculptor before him. The Barberini Hera is nearest to the required type. Furtwangler attributes the original of that to Alkamenes. Helbig's idea is that it was the work of some Hellenistic artist of about the second century B.C., who combined fifth and fourth century types of head and body. In these misty regions of conjecture as to copies of lost originals by unidentifiable artists, who derived their style by imitation of the styles and traditions of earlier artists, whose work in their turn is only known from vague descriptions and probably inaccurate copies, it seems to me that definite assertions by one who makes no claim to be a specialist in these matters may be spared. The head has never been exhibited, nor have I had the advantage of discussing it with any of the recognised major authorities on ancient sculpture.

Far more attractive than this marble bust is another on a smaller scale, sculptured in that most refractory of all stones—porphyry. It represents a youth, as it were, a young David, with head erect on a long, slender neck, the smooth surface of the finely formed face and delicate features being set off delightfully by the loosely flowing hair, which, in contrast to the finish of the face, is only roughly blocked out. It is the very incarnation of high breeding and youthful purity, like some youth beloved of Leonardo—alert, confident, and keen, without forebodings and without regrets.

One of the most remarkable achievements of those earliest Egyptians of whose work we possess survivals was the discovery how to work the hardest rocks supplied to them by nature in the neighbourhood of their homes. Bowls and dishes of granite, diorite, and other hard stones in considerable number have been found in tombs of the earliest dynasties, not roughly hammered out, but truly and exquisitely wrought to a high degree of finish. Already by the time of the Middle Empire magnificent monumental statues were made, and the traditions of this art were maintained thenceforward. Who that has beheld it can ever forget the majesty of the great Ramses II. at Turin ? It is an error to say, with Helbig and others, that fine modelling is not as possible of attainment in porphyry and diorite as in marble, and that, therefore, sculpture in the hardest rocks must be inferior in quality. Fine modelling is possible in any material, but not the same kind of fineness. The Ramses II. is finely modelled in a style proper to diorite. The Hermes of Praxiteles is finely modelled in a style proper to marble. To model porphyry as though it were marble would not be to model it finely. Egyptian sculptors preserved throughout the whole course of their history a complete understanding of how to work the hardest stones, and of what could properly be done with them. In the Hellenistic period the workshops of Alexandria turned out both porphyry and basalt sculpture, whilst in early Roman Imperial days attempts were made to introduce a taste for objects of this class into Rome. It was not, however, till the time of the Antonines that sculpture in the hardest stones became popular. Marble heads were then fitted into coloured shoulders, and draperies were imitated in variegated polished stones. It was a vulgar and unseemly degradation of the ancient dignified art of Egypt, and only had vogue for a short time, as a fashion among the wealthy rather than a taste among the refined. Finally, in the fourth century, a return was made to the traditions of a better period, and a certain number of notable portrait-figures and sarcophagi were turned out by Alexandrian craftsmen. Such are the figures in the Museums of Ravenna and Cairo, and the portrait groups in the Vatican and on the outside of the Treasury of St. Mark's at Venice. Soon afterwards the art of working porphyry fell into neglect, though mediaeval craftsmen were still able to cut sections of antique columns and work them into mosaic pavements. The thirteenth-century porphyry sarcophagi of Frederick II. and other members of his house must also have been contemporary work. Later on, however, the art of shaping porphyry seems to have fallen into total oblivion. Vasari (Milanesi edition, I., p. log) relates how efforts were made by Leon Battista Alberti and others to rediscover the lost craft, and how, at last, in 1555, success was attained in fashioning a large fountain basin in porphyry for the Grand Duke, and presently there-after in certain portrait bas-reliefs.

This brief résumé of the history of porphyry sculpture proves clearly enough that the beautiful little porphyry bust of a lad in my possession is not, as I at first supposed it to be, a Florentine work of the fifteenth century, because no one alive in the fifteenth century knew how to sculpture porphyry at all. If it recalls in some degree the David of Verrocchio, it is because it was antique work of this type that Verrocchio endeavoured to rival when he modelled the David. The workshop from which this bust came was not in Florence, but in Alexandria, and the traditions it incorporates are not Tuscan, but Hellenistic.

By a curious coincidence the crown of the head of this bust, like that of the marble bust previously described, was originally covered with some kind of metal head-dress, and the stump of the rivet that held it firm here likewise remains embedded in the stone. Probably a metal wreath surmounted the rich ring of curly hair that so charmingly sets off the severe form of the face. Careful examination shows a number of polished, metal-stained spots remaining on the stone where the head-dress used to rub against it. The pedestal is a modern addition. The only injuries are a large chip at the root of the neck in front and a breakage that cuts right through the neck and the thick mass of hair behind, dividing the whole stone in half. This breakage may have been produced by the sculptor himself. As to the history of the head before it came into my hands, I know nothing, except that it was acquired in Italy.

Judging from the rapid increase in the departments of classical antiquities in American and other museums, the supply of ancient sculpture obtainable has by no means come to an end. The sale of such objects is, however, mainly carried on sub rosa, despite the opposition of Governments, and it does not become me here to relate what little I may have been told about it. Chances have now and again come in my way, as, for instance, many years ago at Alexandretta, when a person of ill-defined profession visited me on a steamer anchored in the bay, and produced photo-graphs of some half-dozen marble sculptures he had for sale. They were all, he said, safely out of reach of the Turkish authorities, and he named a French port where I could see them. But what is an ordinary householder to do with life-size marble figures ? I was obliged to decline to become their possessor. A few years later I saw one of them comfortably housed in the fine gallery of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek at Copenhagen. It is a high, almost round relief, representing Attis, and came from Cyzicus, where it appears to have adorned the side-post of a doorway, the pendant to it being a Cybele. There is a similarly attached figure, also from Cyzicus, at Liverpool.

In Smyrna I once had a notable afternoon's entertainment. That was in the days when the supply of genuine and fine terra-cottas had not ceased, though the number of excellent forgeries put into circulation was already very large. Smyrna was supposed to be a centre of the industry. Examination of one or two dealers' stores there showed me that a market of forgeries must be near at hand, and I eagerly desired to run it to earth. As if anxious to obtain a large number of terra-cottas for some foreign market, I intimated that I did not greatly care whether they were genuine or not. After much negotiation and going from place to place, ultimately I was taken to what appeared to be the workshop of an Italian plasterer. The front room was full of plaster casts of modern works. Behind that was the moulding-room, and further back, across a little courtyard, what proved to be the headquarters of the local Tanagra-forgery. Here I was shown a number of genuine antique moulds which had been dug up, some in Greece, others in Asia Minor. There were also many modern moulds taken from genuine originals. The clay used came from the neighbourhood, and was believed to be the very clay which the ancient potters had used over two thousand years ago. It was thus easy for a skilful workman to cast and bake figurines which were practically identical with the antiques they were intended to be taken for. These new figurines, fresh from the oven, were delightful objects, but I was not permitted to acquire any of them. The next stage was generally to break them up. A large trade was done in heads, arms and legs, backs, etc. Very few even approximately complete figures or groups were allowed to go forth. The best were carefully painted, and then " aged " in a fashion too disgusting to be described. Armed with the knowledge thus acquired, I was better able to distinguish genuine from false thereafter, and I succeeded in obtaining out of Smyrna and Athens three perfect figures. One was a delightful winged Eros, with traces of paint on the delicately modelled body. He was skilfully constructed, so that he stands firmly balanced on one foot and just a toe of the other. Even his little fingers are almost complete. Round his head is a floral wreath. The two others are ladies fully draped, and each holding a fan—a common type at Tanagra. One of these retained its old surface in very good preservation, and I was particularly proud of it. Many years later I was showing it to an expert, and to my surprise he said it looked Like a forgery. I examined it closely, and lo! the surface was wholly new—every trace of the old coloration was gone. Domestic investigation at length brought forth an explanation One day while I was in India the thing had been moved, and broken. The fragments were taken to a mender, who joined them together, and washed the whole over to hide the breaks. The figure was put back into its glass case with the others, and years passed before I chanced to notice what had been done.

At Athens it was easy enough to buy antiquities, but difficult to get them out of the country. While I was considering a small Greek stele, and wondering how, if I bought it, I could get it away, the representative of a German museum carried it off between sunset and sunrise. The dealer was really a delightful person. As usual, I was in an impecunious state at the end of a prolonged journey. There were a number of things I wanted to carry away—an archaic bronze priestess as a mirror handle, some vases, a fine Albanian belt in silver filigree and enamel, and some other trifles. I told the man if he would keep them for me I would buy them three months later, and he could send them. He agreed ; but added that it would save him a lot of trouble if I would take them with me and send him the money three months later. I had no objection. He vanished into an inner room, and came out with a paper in his hand. This proved to be a receipted bill for the things.. I said, " This is not a bill, but a receipt." " I know it," he replied. " I've been thinking that when you send me the money I shall have to send you the receipt ; and it may go wrong in the post ; and then you'll have to write and say you have not got it, and I shall have to write again. Now if you take the receipt with you all that trouble will be saved for both of us "!

Cyprus also was a place where genuine antiquities of many kinds were easy to acquire. When I was there, Syrian glass of early Roman Imperial date was obtainable in considerable quantities, but the difficulty was to bring it safely home, so tender was the surface, so frail the fabric_ Most of this glass, recovered from ancient tombs, was originally colourless ; but time has endowed much of it with a brilliant iridescence, sometimes of extraordinary beauty. I carried off several examples, and actually took them home in my hand to London, where they arrived in safety. The iridescence does not seem to have altered in any way during upwards of twenty years, but it is not so bright, and never was, as that on a broken fragment of a modern wine-bottle which was dug the other day out of a filled-in part of the moat at Allington.

It is scarcely worth while relating other such small adventures among Levantine dealers. The really sporting way to acquire antiques is to excavate for them, and no chance of so doing has yet fallen to my lot except in Kent. There I have emptied filled-in moats and dug up the foundations of ancient buildings, but discovered nothing older than George III. ha'pence. Outside the north wall of Allington Castle there does indeed remain, undiscovered as yet, a very precious buried treasure. This is nothing less than a Golden Pig, which has been hidden there from a remote antiquity. The trouble with that, however, is that the man who finds it thereupon always " softly and silently vanishes away, and never is heard of again." The last time that happened was some fifty years ago. Currant-bushes then grew on the site, and a certain labourer was seen hoeing among them. He has never been beheld since. The conclusion is obvious. He found the Golden Pig! The question remains : did he take it away ?



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