The NCMA recently received a (matching) federal grant for a project I elaborated with Mark the marble guy, Corey the objects conservator and the staff in the Museum’s Art Conservation Centre (you can read the press release here). This grant will help us to complete a de-restoration project begun on the Statue of Bacchus more than 30 years ago. (Not kidding!)
You see, the Statue of Bacchus is a composite made of two ancient parts: a head (dating to the 1st-3rd century) and a magnificent torso (2nd century) as well as postantique legs, a left arm, a tree trunk and a base that were brought together to create a whole sculpture in either the late 16th or early 17th century. (Originally, it also had a right arm, but that’s been missing since before it came to the museum.) The Statue of Bacchus was donated to the NCMA in 1958 and by 1961 the Director was asking specialists in classical art what they thought of the sculpture. They pointed out that the head and the torso were not from the same ancient statue and suggested that the statue be de-restored so the antiquities could be exhibited separately. At the time, the Museum had neither the money nor the staff to tackle such a project…
So Bacchus languished until the 1980s when it was determined that indeed the two ancient components were made from different marbles and the head was removed from the torso. A few years later, in 1990, the post-antique leaves and grape clusters were removed from the head, which was displayed in the galleries. Unfortunately, the rest of Bacchus went back to storage… until rescued and displayed in the Kunstkamer between 2002 and 2013–not good enough to be in the Classical galleries.
While the statue of Bacchus did need a little cosmetic treatment to hide some unsightly damage, the torso embedded in it is more than good enough. It is spectacularly rare and should definitely be on display! It is one of five torsos of this type dating to the Roman imperial period in the whole world! (Seriously!) And the only one in the Americas. While today completely de-restoring sculptures is rare done, leaving such an amazing and rare sculpture in art historical limbo, half de-restored is unthinkable. (As a wise Jedi Master once said, Do. Or do not. There is no try. In other words, you either completely de-restore the statue. Or you leave it whole. You don’t half de-restore it.) So the project is to continue and finally complete this 30-year-old de-restoration.
However, all of us working on the project felt very strongly about the postantique fragments. These limbs, tree trunk and plinth have art historical value and we believe should not be relinquished to the art historical dust bin. Technology and conservation techniques have greatly improved since the 1960s and 1980s, and part of the project is to create replicas of the ancient components (head and torso) and recreate Bacchus as he was 300+ years ago by adding these replicas to the postantique, historical core. We’ll even have a new right arm sculpted for him! Furthermore, the de-restoration also gives us a very rare opportunity to study the methods and materials used to create this complete sculpture from various fragments.
All of this art + science is very cool and exciting and we’ll have an exhibition at the end of the project and lots of education programming. We already have a web page about the Bacchus Conservation Project and, because we need to match the grant before we can start, we also have a donation area (click on the ‘donor list’).
Back in the 1960s, the Museum Director suggested that they leave this important project to a future generation. I guess we are The Next Generation!
(Cue the Star Trek TNG soundtrack! Ha!)