Archive for February, 2018

Ugly Sweater-wearing idiot steals thumb of terracotta warrior

Saturday, February 17th, 2018

An individual who can only be described as a complete dumbass has been busted by the FBI for breaking the thumb off a Terracotta Warrior on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and hiding it in his desk drawer. It’s incalculably sad that this 24-year-old loser who still lives at home with Mommy and Daddy was at the museum on the evening of December 21st just to attend an Ugly Sweater Party. He was able to access the room where 10 priceless terracotta warriors, among them the Cavalryman standing next to a horse, were on display simply by walking through a door carelessly left unlocked by (Keystone) rent-a-cops and stepping over the black rope capable of cordoning off nothing and nobody.

He got a couple of his friends to join him, but they quickly left because they’re not complete dumbasses. He lingered a bit, looking at the statues with light from his cell, putting his arm around the Cavalryman and taking a selfie like an idiot. Then he deliberately with malice aforethought snapped off one of the statue’s thumbs and slipped it in his pocket before decamping.

We know all this now because the FBI’s crack Art Crime squad reviewed security tape footage and saw it all go down. The museum staff only noticed the damage to the Cavalryman on January 8th, more than two weeks after it was looted. That’s when the FBI stepped in. FBI Special Agent Jacob Archer compared the surveillance footage to credit card receipts for the night and identified the thief as Michael Rohana of Bear, Delaware.

When the agent showed up at the Rohana household, Michael folded like an origami crane.

In front of his father, Rohana admitted it that he had stashed the thumb in his desk drawer.

A U.S. attorney has decided to charge him with theft of a major artwork from a museum, concealment of major artwork stolen from a museum, and interstate transportation of stolen property.

He was arrested and released on a 15,000-USD bail, on the condition that he hand over his passport, consent to drug testing, and refrain from leaving the country before trail.

Meanwhile, the museum has reviewed its security systems and procedures in the wake of this debacle.

The actions of one jackhole and the failure to follow any number of responsible security protocols shouldn’t irredeemably taint the exhibition. This particular group of warriors and artifacts have only been shown in two museums in the US. The first was the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, from which they all survived unscathed. The Franklin is the second and therefore the only one on the East Coast. It’s the first time in 30 years that the City of Brotherly Love has had any Terracotta Warriors come stay for a while and given the colossal miscarriage of stewardship, it may be more than 30 years before they come back. Plus, they’ve created a nifty Augmented Reality app that allows visitors the chance to see the warriors in virtual close-up and to view them with digital versions of the original weapons and accessories that have long since been destroyed or lost. The Cavalryman would likely have held his horse’s reins in one hand and a spear in the other. The digital view includes those long-gone accoutrements.

Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor runs through March 4th of this year.

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Medieval carved Gonzo demon found in Lincolnshire

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Archaeologists excavating the route of the Lincoln Eastern Bypass highway in Washingborough, just outside of Lincoln city, Lincolnshire, have discovered a stone sculpture of the Muppet Gonzo that dates to the Middle Ages. Technically it’s a corbel, carved in the shape of a grotesque of the beakhead type, terminology that I’m sure is deeply offensive to members of the Gonzo species, whatever that might be.

The Romanesque style dates it to the middle of the 12th century when it was probably used to adorn a church or chapel. The bug eyes, long, downward-facing beak or nose, not to say the human face between its jaws, were intended to strike fear in the heart of the congregants, to avoidance of sin and failing that, repentance so as to avoid being devoured by beaked demons from Hell.

Beakhead corbels were particularly in vogue in the century or so after the conquest of Britain by the Norman French in 1066.

Before then, most village churches were simple wooden buildings, but William the Conqueror’s invasion force and their descendants set about rebuilding in stone, driving home the message that they were now the new landowners. Our example is particularly finely sculpted.

The exact source of the Gonzo-faced corbel is unclear. It’s possible that there was a carving workshop there instead and our cruelly and unfairly maligned Muppet friend was made on site but intended for another destination. The Network Archaeology team has found evidence there was an extensive medieval monastic grange nearby that was active from the Norman Conquest until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It was sure to have had a chapel and the corbel could have come from the grange’s early years.

The contract archaeology firm has been digging along the bypass route since September 2016 and they have unearthed an unprecedented wealth of artifacts and human remains from every major time period — Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Medieval, Post-Medieval. The team has recovered 40,000 objects and pieces of archaeological material, including flint weapons and tools going back as far as 12,000 years ago, Bronze Age barrows, pottery, intact and in fragments, the foundations of several stone buildings, lime kilns, pottery kilns and wells from the Roman period, and more than 150 skeletons dating to the Middle-Saxon period (700-900 A.D.) given a Christian burial.

The Lincolnshire County Council has a big photo album of the discoveries on their Facebook page.

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Sea monsters and murder scandal in one dress

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

The Yale Center for British Art recently acquired a portrait of a young lady by renowned Jacobean painter William Larkin. The panel painting is believed to be a depiction of Lady Jane Thornhaugh, wife of Sir Francis Thornhaugh, because its ownership history can be traced back through family inheritance to an 18th century Thornhaugh. The inscription provides a date for the portrait — 1617 — and the age of the subject as 17. Assuming on solid grounds that the sitter was a Thornhaugh, only Lady Jane could fit the date and age.

William Larkin’s portraits of early 17th century aristocracy and nobility capture more than just the individuals’ looks. They are invaluable records of the fashions, textiles, accessories, furnishings and styles of the most rarified denizens of James I’s court. Lady Thornhaugh’s gown in this portrait provides a glimpse into the playful motifs popular in Jacobean times, and is even a little scandalous, and I don’t mean the more than generous décolleté.

She is wearing a masque costume with a pale yellow lace collar and a silk gown embroidered with fantastical flora and fauna, including insects, birds and numerous sea monsters diving in and out of the embroidery. As if that weren’t cool enough (and it is), the yellow color of her lace collar and cuff is a nod to a huge scandal that rocked high society shortly before the portrait was painting.

It all started with a poem in praise of the ideal wife. The poet was Sir Thomas Overbury, one of King James I’s favored courtiers. He introduced his bestie Robert Carr to court and Carr quickly rose in the ranks of the king’s retinues, soon becoming his favorite and among the most powerful men in England. Overbury was seen as Carr’s puppetmaster, largely because he was. When Carr began an affair with Frances Howard, Countess of Essex, Overbury protested that it would harm his standing at court as she was notoriously unchaste. Carr ratted him out to Frances Howard, so when Overbury wrote and circulated A Wife, she was sure that was a direct hit on her as the embodiment of none of those wifely virtues.

The Countess schemed to take Overbury down, spreading malicious gossip about him and then convincing the King to offer him an ambassadorship to Russia which Overbury would turn down, offending James. Overbury got thrown in the Tower of London for that offense, and was dead within months.

Two months after Overbury’s death, Frances Howard had successfully secured an annulment from her husband and remarried to none other than Robert Carr. That’s when the rumors started that there was some kind of shenanigan afoot. Overbury had died too conveniently and too quickly. Could Frances Howard have had a hand in it?

It took two years for anyone to look into it, but when King James I reluctantly agreed to an investigation, famed jurist Edward Coke and philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon were selected to lead it. The trial in 1616 revealed that Frances Howard had definitely had a hand way up in it. She had replaced the Lord Lieutenant of the Tower with one of her minions and got a new gaoler appointed to tend to Overbury. The gaoler, Richard Weston, poisoned Overbury with sulfuric acid. He was aided in this by Anne Turner, another minion of Frances Howard’s who was well-known for her skills as a yellow starcher who produced the pale yellow collar and cuffs so favored by the fashionable set at court and so sharply detailed in Larkin’s portrait.

Frances Howard and Robert Carr were convicted of the murder, but quickly pardoned by King James. Anne Turner was hanged from her neck until dead, a neck adorned, as poetic justic would have it, with a yellow starched ruff.

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Baby cradled in mother’s arm is oldest infant burial in the Netherlands

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Dutch archaeologists have discovered a 6,000-year-old Stone Age burial of a woman with a baby cradled in her arm in the central Netherlands city of Nieuwegein. It is the oldest infant burial ever found in the Netherlands.

Nieuwegein is rich with archaeological material from the Swifterbant culture, a Neolithic-era culture who transitioned from hunter-gathering to cattle farming in settlements along the riverbanks and wetlands of what are today the Netherlands between 5300 and 3400 B.C.

An abundance of Swifterbant artifacts and remains, about 136,000 of them (far more than were discovered at the type site in Swifterbant, Flevoland province), have been found under six and a half feet of clay and peat at Nieuwegein’s Het Klooster business park. Artifacts include hundreds of pieces of flint, a grindstone worn to a smooth surface by the second grinding stone used the mill grains and cereals, a striking jet pendant, animal bone chisels and earthenware pottery. The clay and peat have kept the objects and remains in an unusually good state of preservation for thousands of years. One of the pottery vessels still had a layer of food in it.

Mother and infant burial from the Neolithic Swifterbant Culture, ca. 6,000 years ago. Photo courtesy RAAP.They also discovered four skeletons which they cut out of the clay en bloc and transported to the Leiden laboratory of RAAP Archaeological Consultancy for careful excavation. One of them was the skeleton of a young adult woman who was 20-30 years old at time of death. When the remains were first unearthed, archaeologists didn’t realize they’d just found the oldest infant burial in the Netherlands. They didn’t realize it was an infant burial period. There was no osteological material immediately visible pointing to the presence of a baby buried with the young woman. It was the woman’s right arm bent at a 90 degree angle with her elbow out that suggested to archaeologists there was something anomalous in that spot. The Swifterbant culture buried their dead with their legs outstretched and arms straight by their sides.

When the remains were excavated in the lab, archaeologists discovered small bone fragments in the crook of the woman’s right arm: pieces of the clavicles, skull, a leg bone, a mandible complete with milk teeth. The teeth were so small they could have belonged to a newborn (there are teethlets in their wee jaws, they just haven’t erupted yet) or a baby up to six months old.

“It really makes an impression when you find little baby teeth buried in clay for 6,000 years and see how similar they are to all those milk teeth that are kept in matchboxes by parents everywhere!” [Dutch broadcaster] NOS quotes [project leader Helle] Molthof as saying.

This is an exceptionally rare discovery. Infants have such soft bones that they disintegrate within months of burial. The waterlogged conditions of this burial, the thick alluvial clay deposits and the peat, preserved these fragile remains for 6,000 years.

The archaeological team hopes to determine whether the adult woman and the baby she was laid to rest cradling are, as one would suspect, mother and child, using DNA analysis.

DNA testing will have to determine whether the woman is the baby’s mother, although there seems to be little doubt that she is, and the sex of the baby. The archaeologists hope the find will tell them more about the burial ceremonies of the Swifterbant people. “We know how they lived, what sort of food they ate, what their houses were like but we don’t know very much yet about how they buried their dead and what happened to the children,” Molthof told the broadcaster.

Isotope analysis will have to show if the woman was born in the area or whether she travelled there at a later date.

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Trail of mammoth footprints found in Oregon

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

A team of scientists have unearthed a Pleistocene-era Columbian mammoth trackway at Fossil Lake, Oregon. The fossilized footprints are about 43,000 years old and include tracks left in the volcanic soil by adult, juvenile and infant mammoths. There are 117 footprints, a large enough number and wide enough range of ages that studying the track will lend new insight into how mammoths interacted with each other as a herd.

The first footprints were discovered in 2014 by paleontologist Greg Retallack of the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History during a field trip with UO students to study fossil plants. The site is administered by the Bureau of Land Management, so last year BLM researchers partnered with researchers from the University of Oregon (including Retallack) and University of Louisiana researchers to explore the trackway.

Initially, the UO-led team, which included Adrian Broz, now a doctoral student of Retallack’s who had been in the fossil class, quickly zeroed in on a 20-footprint track exhibiting some intriguing features.

“These prints were especially close together, and those on the right were more deeply impressed than those on the left — as if an adult mammoth had been limping,” said Retallack, who also is a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences.

The limping animal wasn’t alone, the six-member research team reported in a study published online ahead of print in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. Two sets of smaller footprints appeared to be approaching and retreating from the limper’s trackway.

“These juveniles may have been interacting with a limping adult female, returning to her repeatedly throughout the journey, possibly out of concern for her slow progress,” said Retallack, the study’s lead author. “Such behavior has been observed with wounded adults in modern, matriarchal herds of African elephants.”

Trace fossils such as those found in trackways can provide unique insights into natural history, Retallack said.

“Tracks sometimes tell more about ancient creatures than their bones, particularly when it comes to their behavior,” he said. “It’s amazing to see this kind of interaction preserved in the fossil record.”

The team also studied the soil layers at the trackway site. It appears the climate and plants in the Fossil Lakes area in the Ice Age were not dissimilar to its modern counterpart, although the lakes were larger, it was drier in the summer and precipitation was higher in the winter. There was also more lowland grassland, one of the Columbian mammoth’s preferred foods. The mammoths and other grass-eaters (a prehistoric horse print was also found at the trackway) were essential to the grassland ecosystem. They fertilized it with their dung and suppressed other plants by trampling and uprooting them during grazing. It’s likely that the fertile grassland of the Ice Age succumbed to desertification after the extinction of the mammoths and other large native grass-eaters 11,500 years ago. Hence the dry lake beds and their precious cargo of fossils.

There are some killer drone’s eye views of the trackway and the wild dessert beauty of the Fossil Lake area in this video:

The study, still in the corrected proof stage, is available for purchase here.

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Footballers take tax break, leave chateau to ruin

Monday, February 12th, 2018

The Château de Tancarville, a historic castle near Le Havre in Normandy largely built in 18th century incorporating remnants of earlier structures going back to the 11th century, is in a parlous state. The current owners, an association of a dozen footballers chaired by midfielder Rémi Gomis, now a member of the Swiss team FC Wil, acquired it in 2013, receiving a tax exemption from the government premised on the stipulation that they would see to its renovation. The idea was to convert the remains into rental apartments.

It didn’t happen. Nothing has happened. The town hasn’t heard from these guys since early 2017 when a law firm representing them made contact. Since then, it’s been complete radio silence as the castle falls to pieces.

The silence of the owners worries the mayor even more as the site is gradually deteriorating: wild vegetation, unsecured wells, stones that gradually break from the medieval ruins … [Mayor] David Sablin had to take measures to ensure the safety of places.

“The town hall has filed a prohibition order to the site, with its main access. We also contacted the prefect of Seine-Maritime, to consider a danger and order the owners to act quickly on this listed building.”

Left without maintenance, the remains dating back to the 12th century deteriorate. Below the rocky outcrop, the parking of a carpool area is threatened by falling rocks. Finally, regular intrusions on the site have been noted. Sometimes devastating for this heritage at risk.

Jean-Loup Diviné, president of the association of the Friends of the Castle of Tancarville, is also in constant fear at the deterioration of the site.

“On the weekend of January 30, people again got into the castle and tore stones off the ruins. The association has repeatedly placed locks to close access to the castle, but they are regularly demolished. There is a complete lack of reaction from the owners and if we do nothing, there will be nothing left of the site in a few years.”

The first castle built on the picturesque and easily defensible site, a spur overlooking the Seine, belonged to Raoul de Tancarville, chamberlain of William the Conqueror. All that remains today of that castle is the square tower. Subsequent Lords of Tancarville rebuilt it and added to it. A 15th century chapel survives, but the bulk of what remains today was the new castle built on the ruins of the medieval one from 1709 to 1717 for Louis Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Count of Évreux. (A few years later Louis Henri would have a Paris crash pad built then known as the Hôtel d’Évreux and now known as the Élysée Palace, official residence of the President of France.)

The castle’s revival was cut short by the French Revolution. It was pillaged and sacked to the point of near-destruction. By 1793, it was in ruin. With the restoration of the monarchy in the 19th century, the castle’s fortunes took a positive turn. It was restored for the Count Leonce of Lambertye, a preeminent gentleman botanist whose books were widely read in scientific circles, in the mid-1800s. It was listed by the French government as a historic monument in 1862.

Staring in the 1990s, the castle passed through numerous hands. It has at various points been a private home, an art gallery and a restaurant. The sale to the association was a Hail Mary pass, a less than ideal plan for the preservation of the architecture, but the only option left that would keep the walls up in some form. Now that those hopes have proved vain, the Friends of the Castle of Tancarville have reached out to journalist, television and radio presenter and expert in royal families Stéphane Bern who has recently been charged by President Macron with creating a list of monuments and historic structures in France that are in particular peril and helping to secure financing for desperately-needed repairs. Inclusion on that list, or even just getting the word out on a national stage, might spur the owners into actually keeping to the terms they agreed to when they bought the property.

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Mauritshuis identifies “copy” as original Jan Steen

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

A work in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) long believed to be an 18th century copy of Jan Steen’s The Mocking of Samson has been identified as an original painting by the Dutch Golden Age master himself. The KMSKA, currently closed for renovations, sent the painting to the Mauritshuis in The Hague as part of a long-time collaboration that has born such extraordinary fruit that a new Jan Steen has now been added to the museum’s permanent collection.

The painting caught the eye of Mauritshuis conservation experts when they were considering which works were good candidates for inclusion in the upcoming exhibition dedicated to Steen’s Histories, i.e., his depictions of scenes from Biblical and Classical mythology.

Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis: “During the process of selecting the loans for the Jan Steen’s Histories exhibition, our curator Ariane van Suchtelen had a strong suspicion that The Mocking of Samson was not a copy, but had actually been painted by Jan Steen himself.

After further research, restoration and technical examination we have come to the conclusion that not only is this painting by the master himself, but that it is still in excellent condition. It’s as if the canvas is fresh out of Jan Steen’s studio – thrilling!”

Conservators were surprised to find when looking at the back on the canvas that unlike most 17th century paintings, Samson had never been relined. The practice of gluing a second canvas to the back of the first to support it was widespread, but this painting was the original canvas alone still on its original strainer (fixed wooden supports that, unlike stretchers, cannot be adjusted at the corners to tighten the frame when the canvas slackens) attached with its original nails, no less.

Fragmentary evidence added more authentic detail. There are additional holes at the canvas edge where string had once been threaded through to connect the canvas to the frame when Steen was creating the painting. Some fragments of that string are still in those holes.

Then, when the yellowed and cracked varnish layer on top of the painting was removed during conservation, the paint itself was found to be in superior condition, with brilliant colors, clear brushstrokes and negligible wear and tear. It’s very rare for a 17th century painting to make it to the 21st in such exceptionally good condition. Perhaps its years of misidentification was salutary to its long-term survival, as nobody bothered trying to restore it with practices that would later prove destructive.

The Mauritshuis has been working assiduously with Shell researchers for six years in an attempt to pin down the chronology of Steen’s oeuvre. Very few of his works have firm dates — about 10% of his surviving paintings — so museum experts have teamed up with experts at the Shell Technology Centre in Amsterdam to examine as many Steens as possible. They use a scanning electron microscope with energy dispersing X-rays to examine the pigments and determine the chemical makeup of the paint and the concentrations of each element.

One of the pigments, a bright green earth color that wasn’t used much in the 17th century, appears unusually frequently in Jan Steen’s late period shortly before his death when he had returned to his hometown of Leiden. As luck would have it, The Mocking of Samson also contains the tell-tale green earth pigment. It was used in the stash of the standard-bearer on the right. That dates the work to the 1670s.

The newly rediscovered painting, now fully restored and ready for primetime, will join its thematic brethren in Jan Steen’s Histories when it opens at the Mauritshuis on February 15th. Once some of his most popular and expensive paintings, Steen’s histories fell out of fashion in latter part of the 18th century. His humorous, playful, juicy depictions of the great soap opera-like dramas of Samson and Delilah, Lot and his daughters and the worshipping of the Golden Calf, so enjoyed by 17th century patrons, were held to be in poor taste a century later, and were somewhat ostracized by collectors and institutions. Even the Mauritshuis only added one of Steen’s history paintings to its fabled collection in 2011. That’s a long time for a category of works by such an important artist to be on the outside, lurid little faces pressed against the glass. The museum is making up for lost time by putting on this exhibition with the work in its collection, Moses and Pharaoh’s Crown, and loans from other collections around the world.

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Digging the Carnoustie Bronze Age Hoard

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

If you’re at a loss on how to fritter away some time this weekend, I have a solution for you. Watch a couple of videos about the hoard of Bronze Age weapons discovered at the former Newton Farm in Carnoustie, eastern Scotland.

The first video captures the excavation in GUARD Archaeology’s Glasgow laboratory of the soil block containing the hoard. When I first wrote about this story last February, the only video available of the painstaking excavation of the 175-pound block of soil was a continuous scene a few seconds long of archaeologists scratching at the soil in minute movements. This video, uploaded to YouTube in December, summarizes the excavation and finds. There’s still minute scratching, which is awesome, but there’s so much more, plus descriptions of what you’re seeing.

In addition to the sensational weapons hoard, postholes and pits from two Neolithic rectilinear timber halls, one the largest Neolithic structure ever discovered in the British Isles, and gulleys and hearth remains from at least 12 Bronze Age roundhouses were found at the site. There wasn’t a great deal of information about these finds in February 2017, but in May, GUARD Archaeology Project Officer Alan Hunter Blair delivered a lecture packed with details, photographs and diagrams of the structures. That lecture is now available on YouTube.

He also covers the discovery of the hoard, its excavation in the lab and includes great pictures of the organic remains like the pouch the spearhead was found in and the fragment of strap still attached to the pommel of the sword. That part begins around the 15:45 mark.

I should warn you that he speaks very quickly, which is both a blessing and a curse. The former because it keeps the video nice and short at about 20 minutes; the latter because he zooms through it without looking up from his paper so delivery is a little dry and rushed. The information is fascinating, however, and the visual aids illuminating so it’s well worth watching.

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Getty acquires 5th c. B.C. Etruscan sun god appliqué

Friday, February 9th, 2018

The J. Paul Getty Museum is the proud new owner of an exceptional Etruscan bronze appliqué depicting the sun god Usil. Dating to the early 5th century B.C. (500-475 B.C.), the striking piece is eight inches high and features Usil standing with arms at his sides, fingers splayed, a nimbus of solar rays adorns his head and large wings spread from his shoulders. He wears a mantle draped over both shoulders and a diadem.

As with the Greek and Roman sun deities, Usil drove the sun from the eastern sea west across the sky on his chariot, and it’s likely this piece was used to decorate just such a vehicle, albeit a more terrestrial iteration. The back of the bronze is unworked and flat and there are four places for attachment pins (two pins have survived) in the center and base which were used to mount it to something made of wood. Etruscan nobles were often buried with their chariots, and ornaments like the bronze appliqué of Usil would be attached to them to link them to the mythological motif of the sun being driven through the sky.

A very similar fitting was discovered in excavations between 1760 and 1775 at the Roma Vecchia estate on the Appia Antica by gemstone carver Antonio Pazzaglia. This was the first conscious discovery of an archaic chariot, although people at the time thought it was Roman, not Etruscan, and Pazzaglia put the extant pieces back together in something of a fanciful manner with interpolations from other locations and time periods, a commonplace practice at the time. Engraver Francesco Piranesi, eldest son on the famous documenter of antiquities Giovanni Battista Piranesi, indulged in a fancy of his own when he depicted it as a triumphal chariot from the Augustan era in a 1778 he co-authored with his father. It looks nothing like that today — now in the Vatican Museums, it was restored to our best knowledge of historical accuracy in the 1990s — but the print clearly shows the Usil plaque, the first of its kind ever discovered.

This plaque was one of four similar ones unearthed in 1845 in the Tomb with the Quadriga in Vulci, a spectacular chariot burial that included the skeletal remains of horses along with the chariot they would have pulled in life. Each of the appliqués are slightly different, with variations in plate form, size, rivet position and facial features, but the evidence suggests they were all made by the same bronze-casting shop in Vulci, a prominent Etruscan city that was known for its outstanding metal work.

Two of the plaques from the Quadriga Tomb are in the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia in Rome and one in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. This was the only one of the group in private hands, and is the best preserved of all of them. It sold at a Christie’s auction in December 2017 for £296,750 ($410,400). Now we know the buyer was the Getty Museum.

“This bronze appliqué that probably decorated an Etruscan chariot or funeral cart is of exceptional quality, representing the peak period of an artistic milieu in which Greek and Italic aesthetics merged to create a distinctively Etruscan style,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Bronze statuettes and reliefs are a particular strength of the Getty’s collection of Etruscan art and the Usil appliqué’s rarity and quality will assure it a significant presence in the newly reinstalled gallery at the Villa dedicated to this fascinating culture.” […]

This newest acquisition will go on display in the reinstalled Getty Villa when it opens in April 2018, and will join several related Etruscan bronzes, including a vessel foot depicting Usil in winged boots running over the crests of waves; and a lion head attachment with glass paste eyes, which likely capped the end of a chariot pole. A pair of candelabra with finials of a youth dancing and playing castanets is also attributed to a Vulcian workshop, which produced fine metalware for an international Mediterranean clientele.

The appliqué was acquired in the 1920s in Monte Carlo by Sylvie Bonneau-Arfa (b. about 1907), née Fatma-Enayet Arfa, the daughter of the Persian ambassador to the Russian court. In 1970 the appliqué went up for auction but failed to sell and was returned to the family. It had been brought to the attention of the Swiss archaeologist Hans Jucker in 1968, and was subsequently on loan to the Historisches Museum in Bern, Switzerland during the 1970s. The Getty acquired it at auction from the descendants of Ms. Bonneau-Arfa.

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Portrait of Henry VIII is truly Tudor

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

An oil on panel portrait of King Henry VIII in the Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery long believed to be a 19th century reproduction has been found to be a genuine Tudor-era artwork. It was donated to the Bath & North East Somerset Council in the 1800s and was thought to be a copy of a copy. This particular portrait of Henry was originally a mural in his apartment at Whitehall Palace by the king’s favorite court painter Hans Holbein, but the original is long gone. It was destroyed in the fire that burned down the palace in 1698.

The Whitehall mural was copied by many artists, and once the mural was lost, the copies were copied. The Victoria Art Gallery’s version is of higher quality than most of the other later copies, however, so when the painting had to be sent to specialists for conservation, the council had the wood panels dated using dendrochronology. Counting tree rings and matching their patterns doesn’t always work for thin panels (as opposed to logs or thick timbers), but researchers got lucky this time. The portrait was painted between 1537 and 1557, which makes it one the earliest surviving portraits of Henry VIII, who died exactly halfway through the estimated date range.

The dating of the painting was paid for by the Friends of the Victoria Art Gallery. The Chairman, Michael Rowe, said: “The Friends of the Gallery are committed to supporting original research into the gallery collections and were delighted to fund the dendrochronology. We look forward to further research into the origins of this important picture.”

Councillor Paul Myers, cabinet member for Economic and Community Regeneration, said: “This is one of the oldest and best pictures of Henry VIII in the world, and we are very fortunate to have it in the council’s public art collection. The painting will soon be back on display at the Victoria Art Gallery, where visitors will be able to see it for free in the Upper Gallery.”

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