Skip to main content

The Drusus and Tiberius portraits from Sessa Aurunca

Drusus Minor. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
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 identified by a companion piece. The head of Tiberius appears to be the one in a North American private collection ("The Magdalene Tiberius")  and published by John Pollini (Pollini 2005; Scarpati 2008-11: 361 figs. 11-14). It was reported to have formed an old French collection in Marseilles dating to the 1960s. It was said to have been found in North Africa (a good reminded of the intellectual consequences of collecting recently surfaced archaeological material). It was acquired by its present proprietors in 2004. The source appears to have been the Royal-Athena Galleries (Art of the Ancient World 15 [2004] no. 24; Scarpati 2014: 33 fig. 9). Will those owners be contacting the Italian authorities in the light of the return of the Drusus portrait?

It is interesting that the (recent) collecting histories of both portraits now do not seem to go back beyond 2004 (i.e. 34 years after the UNESCO Convention). What were their collecting histories immediately prior to 2004?

The Drusus Minor return is merely serving to open up the discussion. Was the Cleveland Museum of Art aware of Scarpati's research prior to the portrait's acquisition?

Now is probably also a good time for the museum staff to revisit the documented collecting history of the Leutwitz Apollo.


Gill, D. W. J. 2013. "Context matters: The Cleveland Apollo goes public." Journal of Art Crime 10: 69-75. []
Pollini, J. 2005. "A new marble head of Tiberius. Portrait typology and ideology." Antike Kunst 48: 55-72. [JSTOR]
Scarpati, G. 2008-11. "Un ritratto di Tiberio da Sessa Aurunca ritrovato note su un probabile ciclo Suessano di statue onorarie Giulio-Claudie." Rendiconti della Accademia di Archeologia Lettere e Belle Arti 75: 345-68. []
Scarpati, G. 2014. "Il ritratto di Druso minore dal ciclo statuario Giulio-Claudio di Sessa Aurunca." Bollettino d’Arte 24: 29-38. []

Press Release
"Cleveland Museum of Art to Transfer Roman Sculpture of Drusus Minor to the Republic of Italy", Cleveland Museum of Art April 18, 2017. [press release]
"Il Cleveland Museum of Art restituisce all’Italia una scultura romana di Druso Minore", MiBACT April 18, 2017. [press release]

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


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 …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.