Weary Hercules to be Returned

This is one of those annoying stories which either has coverage that is way too detailed or way too short and I grow weary of waiting for some decent coverage. We first heard of Turkey’s plans to try to repatriate the half of the ‘Weary Hercules” which was in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts a couple of years ago: Turkey and Repatriation. Here’s an excerpt from the lengthy Boston Globe coverage on how the MFA came to have their half (inter alia, of course):

Though there is no documentation detailing the discovery of the MFA’s half, Turkish archeologists say they are sure it was found in the same place – and around the same time – as the lower section of the statue.

That place is Perge, a city about 10 miles east of Antalya and, in ancient times, a wealthy center of cultural and political life. Today, Perge is a huge tourist attraction, home to one of the country’s longest-operating archeological sites. Digs have been underway since the 1940s.

It was in 1980 that Turkish archeologists found the southern baths where, in about 15 feet of rubble, lay a dozen statues. One of the discoveries was the bottom section of “Herakles,’’ a Roman statue in eight pieces.

The top half was probably in the area at the same time, though it wasn’t spotted by the archeologists, according to Inci Delemen, a professor at Istanbul University and today the deputy director of the Perge excavations.

In a recent phone interview, Delemen said that security was lax in those days, and that she suspects one of the crew members found the upper half and hustled it out of the site. It is simply too much of a coincidence that the top half emerged in public in 1981, one year after the discovery of the bottom half, said Delemen.

The MFA purchased the piece in 1981 with New York collectors Leon Levy, a Wall Street millionaire, and his wife, Shelby White, from a German dealer named Mohammad Yeganeh. The arrangement called for the MFA to take possession of the work – it went on display on April 2, 1982 – but to receive the remaining 50 percent ownership only after Levy’s death.

As for the top half’s origin, Yeganeh told the collectors that it came from “his mother’s collection and before that from a dealer in Germany about 1950,’’ according to MFA records.

It’s an explanation that has always rung hollow for Delemen and other experts.

“It was obviously taken from the excavation,’’ she said.

… further on, we get this interesting bit:

Cornelius C. Vermeule III, the MFA’s legendary curator of classical art, dismissed the notion of the two halves being linked. He said that because the statue was one of more than 100 copies of a fourth-century BC bronze original by the Greek sculptor Lysippos of Sikyon, it would be difficult to determine where the sculpture was from.

“ ‘Weary Herakles’ turn up from Britain to the Rhineland, from Portugal to Mesopotamia, from Southern Russia to Upper Egypt,’’ he told the Boston Globe at the time. “Do you send out 50 letters from Iran to Ireland saying, ‘We’ve got a ‘Weary Herakles.’ Do you have the rest of it?’ ’’

… we should note here that the statue itself is nothing ‘special’ (even though all ancient statuary is). Even without seeing a photo, I’m sure everyone reading this has in his/her mind’s eye an image of a resting Herakles (a.k.a. the Farnese Hercules) which they have seen countless times in countless books and/or museums. They probably had a prof somewhere along the way with a version of this in their office or in the deparmental coffee lounge.

Vermeule, who died at 83 in 2008, would later admit that the museum did not know whether some works in its collection had been illicitly removed from other countries before finding their way into the MFA. Eventually, the museum told him not to speak to the press. He avoided interviews in his final years, at one point impersonating an elderly lady on the telephone to pretend he was unreachable.

But in 1990, when confronted by the Connoisseur article, Vermeule did offer a compelling idea: If there were questions about the statue, he said, the first step would be to make plaster casts of the two halves and see if they fit.

… so on to testing:

The puzzle pieces The test took place on a Friday in September at the MFA.

Nineteen years later, Brunilde S. Ridgway remembers the moment well.

Then a Bryn Mawr professor of classical and Near Eastern archeology, Ridgway had been asked by the Turkish government to observe the test. Also in the room were MFA research director Arthur Beale, Vermeule, attorney Scott Tross, and archeologist Jale Inan, who had found the bottom section.

“I was a little uneasy about it because, of course, Cornelius Vermeule was a friend, and Emily, his wife, was a Bryn Mawr alumna,’’ said Ridgway, now retired. “He kept saying, ‘No, they are not the same statue. They are two different pieces.’ Everybody thought, since they were putting two casts together, they would need to prop them up and make some adjustments. Well, they practically clicked. It was so perfect, so completely obvious. Cornelius didn’t even say a word.

via: Making ‘Herakles’ whole after all these years | Boston Globe

After that, it seems there was some hemming and hawing, and now the MFA has finally decided to return it. In any event, the author of the Boston Globe piece also is behind a very nice little video on all of the above (tip o’ the pileus to Francesca Tronchin for alerting us to this a few days ago):

The BBC’s coverage (tip o’ the pileus to Adrian Murdoch) is very brief and spins it a bit differently, but not significantly so:

As covered by other news outlets:

On other blogs:

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