Thursday, May 26, 2016


AFTER more than a century of speculation and mystery, two halves of a marble face of Antinous have been brought together ... from both sides of the Atlantic ... to be joined as one for the first time in centuries in a stunning new exhibition.

Computer forensic imaging and cutting-edge investigative museum restoration skills have brought together the famous Chicago Antinous face fragment with the equally famous Ludovisi Bust of Antinous.

A FASCINATING EXHIBITION now through 28 August 2016  at the Art Institute of Chicago tells the story of how the museum managed to reunite the truncated face of a Roman marble portrait, long held in its collection, with its original sculptural bust housed at the Museo Nazionale Romano Palazzo Altemps.

Next stop after Chicago? In September the exhibition will travel to Rome where it will be on display at the Museo Nazionale Romano at Palazzo Altemps. It opens 15 September 2016.

Here is the basic story. 

At some point in its history, perhaps even before it entered the Ludovisi collection, the Antinous bust lost its ancient face. 

A new one was added by the mid 18th century at the latest. For it has emerged from the Art Institute’s investigation that the pioneering gay German art historian (saint of Antinous) JOHANN JOACHIM WINCKELMANN had noted that feature in the notes of his visit to the Villa Ludovisi in the year 1756.

The bust was in fragments and clearly came from a statue of Antinous. 

No one knows where the fragments of the torso and limbs are.

Someone combined the existing fragments into a bust and added bits to fill out the face … but no one knows who. 

And who reassembled the bust (which itself was in fragments) and carved the early modern face that Winckelmann already noted?

And where was the missing fragment of the face all this time?

Meanwhile,  the Art Institute of Chicago's first president, Charles L. Hutchinson (1854-1924) bought the missing Antinous face-fragment in Rome in April 1898 for his personal collection.

It was part of a bas-relief plaque. 

But as early as 1913, art history experts realized the face had once been part of a statue or bust. It was cut away from the plaque and mounted as an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 2005, an Egyptologist at the University of Chicago, W. Raymond Johnson, suggested to the Art Institute that the museum’s fragment was originally part of the bust of Antinous that is housed at the Palazzo Altemps in Rome.

Enter Karen Manchester, Chair and Curator of Ancient and Byzantine Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. 

In short (to borrow from the AIC's press release announcing this curatorial triumph), Manchester "led a decade-long quest to explore Johnson’s hypothesis through a first-of-its kind international partnership and collaborative endeavor between the Palazzo Altemps and the Art Institute. 

"Archival research of published and unpublished documents in Chicago and Rome provided new details about the history of the two works, and the two museums brought into play the tools of contemporary technology … laser scans, 3-D printers … to create a reproduction of the sculpture as it originally appeared."

"In the end," Manchester told this weblog, "we concluded that the two pieces were indeed once one, and we used 3D measurements and modeling techniques to create a plaster cast that approximates the sculpture's original appearance."

The eureka moment?

"In April 2013, I took [the] cast of our head to Rome to compare the two, and then again in June, when digital measurements were taken of both pieces, the 'modern' head [was] 'removed,' and our head put in its place." 

What is more, isotopic and petrographic analysis of samples extracted from the Chicago portrait and the Altemps bust reveals that both pieces were carved from Carrara marble, and very probably from the same block of stone.

We need not tell the whole complicated and engrossing tale here: the video (below) and especially Karen Manchester's entry in the online scholarly catalogue, Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (cat. #9) do that especially well.

As for the Chicago exhibition itself, the AIC press release rightly notes that it "is focused and rich in detail, exploring the modern methods used to rebuild the ancient past and featuring related portraits of Hadrian and Antinous, including one depicting Antinous in the guise of the Egyptian god Osiris which was re-discovered in 2010 and makes its first museum appearance here."

That Antinous-Osiris is said to be from Hadrian’s Villa, and was formerly in the collection of Thomas Hope (1769-1831). (When found, it was exhibited outdoors at Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire.) Support for this exhibition is provided by Fred Eychaner and the Jaharis Family Foundation, Inc.

See for yourself how this face of Antinous came together across the Atlantic:

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