Drusus and the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art has reversed the recent trend (it seems) of museums studiously avoiding acquiring antiquities (whether the provenance is secure or not) and recently announced the acquisition of a head of Drusus (and a Maya piece which is outside of this blog’s purview … fwiw, I’ve never seen a ‘bicultural’ acquisition announcement like this before; is the announcement of the acquisition of one piece meant to distract from some missing details of the acquisition of the other?). Here’s the salient bit from their press release:

The Cleveland Museum of Art is a collecting institution and has been acquiring antiquities since it was founded in 1913. These latest acquisitions highlight an ongoing commitment to enhancing the museum’s permanent holdings across the full scope of its collections with outstanding works of art. The museum studies, preserves and displays great works of art from various cultures, periods and genres while fully respecting appropriate collecting practices. Especially in fields where works are challenging to collect, the museum has built its holdings with an overriding emphasis on the quality and significance of individual acquisitions.

“I am pleased we can add these important works of art to the museum’s Classical and Pre-Columbian holdings and continue our collecting of the finest examples of art from across cultures and time periods,” stated David Franklin, the Sarah S. and Alexander M. Cutler Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “I believe museums play an invaluable role in society as repositories and presenters of the world’s art history, and through responsible collecting, museums make accessible the world’s art objects for the public’s enjoyment and education.”

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor (13 BC–AD 23)
Exquisitely rendered masterpiece from Early Roman Empire becomes a new highlight of renowned antiquities collection

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor (13 BC–AD 23), a large-scale, marble portrait of the son of the Roman Emperor Tiberius that was carved during the early Imperial Period, possibly during the lifetime of Jesus Christ, is one of only approximately 30 large portraits of Drusus Minor to have survived from antiquity. This portrait head stands out among this group, owing to the powerful refinement and sensitivity of its carving, its excellent state of preservation and its monumental scale.

The newly acquired portrait of Drusus Minor was most likely created posthumously. When he died at age 37, the Julio-Claudian prince was next in line to the imperial throne after his father Tiberius. This masterwork was carved during a momentous transitional period in world history, at the intersection of the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions.

The head exhibits traces of original paint used to enhance the illusion of a living person, rendered on a monumental scale—well over life-size. Its distinctive facial features and hairstyle, as compared with other large portrait sculptures and coins, identify the subject as Drusus Minor. Ancient sources indicate that Drusus Minor was prone to fits of rage, made worse by heavy drinking. He relished gladiatorial blood sport and other ritualized killings, which shocked the Roman public and alarmed his father. Although not known for his speaking eloquence, in AD 14 he delivered a funeral oration for Augustus from the rostra in the Roman forum; the next year he was appointed to the high office of Consul. After the death of his adopted brother Germanicus, Drusus was the heir apparent, but he died at age 37, allegedly from poison at the hands of his wife.

The ownership history of the Drusus Minor portrait has been traced to the late 19th century, when it was the property of the Bacri family of Algiers, Algeria. Sometime before 1960, Fernand Sintes inherited the work, and in 1960 transferred it from Algiers to France. In 2004, it was sold at auction in France. […]

… and here’s a photo of the piece:

The collecting history for the piece (alas) is not as secure as it appears at first blush; one should definitely read David Gill’s growing series of posts on the matter:

cf. in the New York Times:

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