In one of my previous posts on this puzzing chunk of bronze I mentioned I wanted to have a better look at the base and see how the feet attached. The CNN video has some good shots toward the end, and while I’m still wondering about the attachment, there is another very interesting detail which might be worth noting. Here’s a screencap:
I’m not sure if it is a problem with the camera angle, but it seems to me that the right foot is a “Roman” foot (with the second and third toes the same length as the big toe). The left foot seems to be a “Greek” foot, with the second toe longer than the big toe. As many people who stare at ancient statues like to point out, the “Greek” foot was a sort of ideal, and is seen on most ancient statues … divinities almost always have the “Greek” foot. For the record, I’ve never seen a “Roman” foot on an ancient statue, but, as often, that doesn’t mean anything. That there seems to be a mix of styles again raises the question: Crappy artist or ancient fake? Or modern fake?
So I’m a Daylight Saving Time zombie here and am killing time wandering down assorted backroads of the internet and I came across a very interesting photo in an arabic newspaper:
Two things of interest here … obviously it’s a CNN exclusive, so it’s a screencap of some sort, and also it looks like the statue still has both eyes! Plenty of us wondered when/why the eye was missing (see, e.g., Sam Hardy’s useful post which includes another photo of the intact eye), so I managed too find the video:
… the shot comes from the beginning and I never did see this video on TV. Clearly, the statue has both eyes, and so the one must have been gouged out before that September ‘press conference’ we mentioned in our timeline post. So where did CNN get this video? This is the jeweller’s video! It’s also clear that the ‘patch’ — as Sam Hardy clarified today — is on the leg.
This video dates from February 16 … how did everyone (especially me) miss it?
UPDATE (a few minutes later): I also notice the left hand is missing quite a few fingers (as we already knew). You don’t suppose Hamas stepped in because they heard that whoever had custody of the statue was snipping off bits here and there? And maybe that ‘press conference’ was them taking custody?
In our previous installment(s) on the so-called “Apollo” of Gaza, we primarily questioned the apparently ever-developing story of the find as told by the fisherman of many names as reported by various news outlets. Now it is time to look at the statue itself and see if it’s possible, from the information we have been given, to discern whether this thing is a genuine antiquity or a fake.
At the outset, though, we should deal with another question related to provenance, specifically whether it was actually found in the sea or not. Despite the engaging story told by the fisherman, opinions on this seem to be divided. Our first opinion comes from the oft-quoted Jean-Michel de Tarragon of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem, who seems to be one of the few academics consulted on the issue by the press:
The apparently pristine condition of the god suggested it was uncovered on land and not in the sea, he said, speculating that the true location of where it was unearthed was not revealed to avoid arguments over ownership.
“This wasn’t found on the seashore or in the sea … it is very clean. No, it was [found] inland and dry,” he said, adding that there were no signs of metal disfigurement or barnacles that one normally sees on items plucked from water.
Jawdat Khoudary, who was one of the first ‘knowledgeable’ folks to observe the statue provides an interesting argument for it being found in the sea:
There’s no doubt the statue came from the sea, Khoudary says. Sitting in the lobby of his hotel on a December evening, he wraps his portly frame in a wool robe and warms his neck with a black-and-white keffiyeh, the emblem of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In his left hand he works a silver coin purchased minutes earlier from two beachcombing treasure hunters. One side of the coin, encrusted with black sand, bears the outline of a face. Khoudary says it’s Alexander the Great, who conquered Gaza in 332 B.C. en route to taking Egypt.
Khoudary lays out his grim reasoning as the lights go off and on, a result of Gaza’s fuel shortage. “I know how they excavate in Gaza, it’s by shoveling,” he says, making the motions of a mechanical backhoe with his hand. In his collection’s catalog, an entry for clay wine jars even lists “bulldozer trenches” as the method of discovery. Clandestine hunters usually dig until they hit something, a process that’s speedy but damages the finds. In the case of the bronze, however, “It’s not damaged,” he says. “It’s 100 percent from the sea.”
Not sure if we need to (cynically?) point out that the same logic could be used to suggest that the statue was never underground in the first place (i.e. It’s a fake).
The second ‘knowledgeable’ observer Bauzou disagreed, however (I’m still not sure of Bauzou’s first name):
Neither Humbert nor Bauzou believes Ghurab discovered the bronze underwater. “It does not come from the sea. It’s obvious,” Bauzou says. The giveaway, they say, is the lack of any sea encrustation or damage from hundreds of years underwater. Instead, they suspect the bronze came from a clandestine excavation somewhere on land. “This story has been fabricated to hide the real place where the statue was found so they can continue digging.”
To its credit, the lengthy Businessweek article (referenced above, of course) does try to weigh the apparent evidence for it not being found in the sea somewhat objectively:
It’s possible the fisherman’s story is an elaborate hoax. It is true the Apollo isn’t encrusted with barnacles, but not all submerged bronzes get crusty. Photos of the 1996 Croatian find and the 1964 Getty bronze show thick layers of sea growth, but the Riace bronzes from 1972 appear to have come ashore with skin as smooth as that of the Gaza bronze. It might be no coincidence they were found under similar conditions: in shallow water, partly buried in sand, by a swimmer.
Here’s the Croatian Athlete at the time of discovery(I have another post mentioning this one in another context … stay tuned; Sam Hardy’s article above has a different photo):
… Here’s the Getty’s ‘Victorious Youth”
… Finally, one of the famous photos of one of the Riace Bronzes:
This is possibly an important detail … if the “Apollo” of Gaza did actually come from the sea and came out looking, patina-wise, like the Riace Bronzes, then the frequently-mentioned concerns about its current condition probably are even more concerning now (given that we haven’t had any news reports of any conservation help actually being given). The CNN coverage of February 15 mysteriously downplayed the deterioration:
A green spot — a sign of decay — has formed on the leg of the statue, which is exposed to the air.
A (single?) green spot? Anyone who has seen any of the photos has seen a statue that seems to be suffering from the early states of ‘bronze disease’ (or something similar), which can be the result of emerging from the sea and being exposed to air, or it can be the result of highly humid conditions (which does appear to be the case in Gaza … check the weather network for today’s humidity there). It’s difficult to tell whether there has been any change as seen from the two previously-mentioned photos (taken perhaps two weeks apart):
… but it seems noteworthy that the more recent one seems to come from a place which is likely air-conditioned, which would, in theory, slow down the progress of deterioration. Then again, the Businessweek article concluded thusly:
The Apollo is in a Hamas Interior Ministry office, somewhere in Gaza, being kept away from sources of humidity, he says. It is propped up in a corner.
In regards to condition, we should also draw attention to another photo that was making the rounds from the ‘Smurf blanket’ phase:
What’s interesting in this photo is that the back of the statue (including the head)— which was, of course, in contact with the blanket/mattress and not really exposed to air — is largely free from any signs of the green patina. Does this give us an indication of the original condition? Or did moving it on and off the mattress do something to the patina (unlikely). If it does indicate the original condition, according to our timeline, all that green patina would have accumulated in less than a month and we can only hope that something more than ‘propping it up in a corner of an office’ is being done about it.
Outside of conservation issues, the statue itself raises a number of questions. A photo from the Palestinian Tourism folks which accompanied the Businessweek article (and appeared elsewhere) seems to touch on many of them:
A major item that has been bugging me from the outset is the reported weight of this thing: 450 kg/1000 pounds. Why does it weigh so much? Although it is roughly the same size (possibly a bit smaller), it is almost double what each of the Riace Bronzes weighs, and if it is the actual weight, it probably suggests a rather massive core, which certainly wouldn’t be in line with traditional statue construction methods of the time (as far as I’m aware).
The graphic marvels that the feet are intact, but what seems to be more interesting is that they are not only intact, but are attached to their original base. I’m sure someone can correct me on this, but finding bronzes of this size still attached to their base is pretty rare. I’d be very interested to know whether the base was cast with the feet or whether it was later attached.
Two other items on the graphic raise other questions. We are told that three fingers are missing — we know the fisherman had one, his “cousin” (or jeweller) had one too. How did the third go missing? And what happened to the thumb? We also wonder about the eye and are unsure whether it was always missing or was gouged out/fell out later (more on the surviving eye in a bit). In one of the news reports, it “sounds” like it was something that happened later, but that might be just one of those things that comes during the translation of an interview:
Ahmed Elburch, an official at the Hamas-run Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in Gaza, says he last saw the statue in October. He was concerned about its condition, he says, as the colour appeared to be changing, and one of the eyes had been cut out.
That said, over the past few weeks a number of us (namely, Sam Hardy, Vernon Silver, Justin Walsh, and myself) have engaged in an on-again, off-again discussion of the statue on Twitter and much of what follows is the result of those discussions. Stylistically, as several, including Sam Hardy have noted the head of the statue seems to have great affinities with a head from Herculaneum, which includes the very interesting ‘dreadlocks’ hair treatment, although they seem a bit more ‘orderly’ along the brow (the photo, by the way, comes from an article by Carol Mattusch on early bronze statuary which is definitely an appropriate read for this: Changing Approaches to Classical Bronze Statuary)
The twisty curls also appear in another head from Herculaneum, albeit flatter and in a clearly non-Apolline context (as Vernon Silver reminded me). Here’s Ptolemy Apion in the Naples Museum:
In passing, we should note that the condition of the ‘free’ curls on the Gaza example is probably one of the best bits of evidence that the fisherman’s story of the recovery of the statue (by the ‘cartwheel technique’) is less-than-truthful. I have a very difficult time believing that those curls would have survived recovery according to his description.
As long as we’re looking at the head, I’m wondering if I’m the only one who finds the face of the statue to be somewhat strange. In some of the photos, depending on the angle, it does seem to be a reasonable ‘Greek’ visage, but in others (especially straight on) it does not and is certainly not the ‘idealizing’ sort of thing one might expect. The aforementioned ‘bronze disease’ also has almost ‘outlined’ a certain part of the face, which makes it look like it was somehow attached to a faceless head. I’m honestly not sure if that is the case or if that’s just an illusion caused by the deterioration, but clearly it would be an oddity. Indeed, when I first saw the outline, it struck me that this looked more like the face of a Roman cavalry mask than anything else. Here are the “headshots” from the BBC:
Also worth noting about the head is that it really isn’t unusual that a bronze might have lost its inlaid eyes (which were usually made from glass paste or other materials). What is interesting here, however, is the one eye that remains in the head is apparently blue and made from some sort of stone (maybe; not sure if a trained ‘eye’ determined that or not).
The pose of the statue is one which comes close to many statue styled an “Apollo” or “Kouros” or “Ephebe” but the closest analog seems to be the so-called ephebe of Selinunte, now in the Palermo Museum (tip of the pileus to Justin Walsh and Adrian Murdoch for helping me track this one down, there’s a huge version of the photo if you click on it):
The Ephebe from the ‘House of the Ephebe” in Pompeii also seems to have affinities both in terms of height and pose, sort of (and we might wonder if the Gaza statue carried something in its now largely broken left hand, but seems to be the product of a more-talented artist:
Another stylistic analog, but again the product of a better artist, would be the somewhat smaller (1.15 m) Piombino Kouros, originally from Etruria but now in the Louvre (this is a cast from Cambridge’s archive):
Perhaps related to this notion that the Gaza “Apollo” is the product of a less-talented artist is an observation which came up just last week: a photo which clearly shows a square hole on the back of one of the legs or upper arms (Sam Hardy has recently dealt with the confusion many of us had trying to figure out where this ‘hole’ is: Is it an arm? Is it a leg? What the hell is that hole?). Similar squares on other ancient bronzes usually indicate the site of a repair done in ancient times. Depending on where it is, however, it might also indicate where a statue attached to something else for stability purposes. If it is on the upper arm, it seems to be a patch. If it’s on a leg, it could be a patch or an attachment spot. Until some genuine conservationist/art historian gets an in-person look at the statue, I doubt we’ll know for sure.
I’m also not sure how much should/can be read into the above observations (I can’t really call them evidence) that all of the analogs for the Gaza “Apollo” seem to come from southern Italy/Sicily. As far as I’m aware, most of the bronzes which have survived to this point come from that part of the world. At the same time, Herculaneum for a long time was the site of numerous thefts, including a spectacular break in in the early 1990s, although no large scale statuary seems to have gone missing in that one (tip o’ the pileus to Dorothy King for help with that reference). Whatever the case, it’s obviously highly improbable that a statue might have been taken from southern Italy to Gaza to create a provenance, and then suddenly be subject to deterioration.
Which brings us to the bigger question: is the Gaza “Apollo” genuine or is it a clever fake? It’s interesting, I think, to note that the head from Herculaneum and the Piombino Kouros are considered in the category of ‘ancient fakes’ (I.e. Fakes/replicas made in antiquity to appeal to a contemporary market). Even so, I keep hemming and hawing on this issue and I still can’t come down firmly on one side or the other. The provenance strikes me (and most critical observers, it appears) as obviously manufactured. The weight, the face, and the survival of the base of the statue also combine to lead me to think there’s something very much amiss with this one. I’m still not too sure about the hair treatment either. Why Hamas (or whoever is in possession of it) is not giving scholars access to it to do some basic conservation and examination is puzzling and doesn’t lend any confidence to claims of authenticity. Despite all those considerations, it still seems possible that it is genuine and perhaps an archaizing sort of thing like the head from Herculaneum or possibly simply the product of a crappy artist. The whole situation is clearly being mishandled and I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t hear anything more about this one for a year or two, if at all.
This is another addendum to our initial post on the so-called “Apollo of Gaza” stemming from the Arabic press coverage and photos which were brought to my attention yesterday. While there were issues with different names being involved (via Google Translate), what was most interesting was the photo of the “Apollo” laying on a mattress which did NOT have the erstwhile ever-present Smurf blanket beneath it. As Sam Hardy has pointed out much more clearly than I did, the new photo clearly indicates a change of location for the statue (When was the “Apollo” of Gaza taken into “custody”?).
What needs to be done, I think, is to try and fit this photo into our timeline from the other day. The photo dates (at the latest) from October 4th, which coincides with the period we suggested was when the Louvre and other such institutions were likely consulted. This makes sense, I think, and allows us to possibly further create the following scenario:
We know the bulk of the photos out there seem to come from a major photo session on September 19th. The initial photos released from that day were of the laying-down-on-the-smurf-blanket variety, but later photos (especially the ones from Reuters and/or the) also include photos of the statue standing up. I’d suggest that they were standing up the statue because on September 19th they were moving it to another location. The photos from that session were the ones which which shown to Khoudary and/or Bauzou, the latter of whom seems to have been enlisted to write a report of some sort for purposes of getting the Louvre or other institutions interested. It seems likely that someone mentioned that the smurf-blanket-photos were probably inappropriate if they wanted to impress Louvre-types and so some new photos were taken in early October. Coincidentally, the smurf photos were used to advertise the item on eBay, perhaps to gauge interest and/or get people talking. The text of the ad and the haste in which the item was taken down might suggest there was no real intent of selling it, but was just ‘getting the word’ out that the rumoured statue actually did exist. At about the same time, a La Repubblica reporter was approached to write a news backgrounder; perhaps significantly, it was published on the internet in both Italian and English (which is, as far as I can remember, unheard of for something of archaeological interest), in order to gain the widest possible audience. Also noteworthy is that the La Repubblica coverage is the first to include the Fisherman’s Tale, which is certainly more compelling from a creating interest point of view than what seems to have appeared in the Arabic press sources. Sadly, the initial Fisherman’s Tale didn’t quite make sense, and so a new and improved version was revealed by another unconventional avenue in Business Week in late January. That’s when the major press organizations sat up and took notice.
… let’s say that’s our working hypothesis at this point.
UPDATE (an hour or two later): An Arabic language forum post includes the ‘new’ picture with a date of September 26th, which seems to add to the credibility of our scenario above …
This is an appendage to my previous post on our initial foray into the
“Apollo of Gaza” and it’s a fresh post so those who have read the previous one will get it. (hence part ia)
Tip o’ the pileus to Vernon Silver on Twitter for pointing us to some coverage in the Arabic press. I do not read Arabic but can get the gist, of course, from Google Translate. Your mileage may vary.
The first one comes from SamaNews on September 24 … I’m not positive it refers to our find (the photo doesn’t match and the names are different, but it seems to be a stock photo). It does suggest an Egyptian origin for the statue!
The second one is far, far, far, more important. It comes from something called Dostorasly and dates to October 4th. The name seems to be the same one as in the previous article (and it isn’t the one we know). More importantly, however, we get a non-‘photoshoot’ photo from the Palestine Press News Agency. Ecce: