Monday, 21 June 2010

I Found it in My Garden

It is not unknown for metal detectorists to say they found something "in their gardens". The first recorded owner of the Cleveland "Sauroktonos" which has fancifully been ascribed to the hands of Praxiteles himself was Wuppertal lawyer Ernst-Ulrich Walter. He says he found this mega-buck statue in pieces in his back garden, and that he vaguely remembers a garden ornament looking something like this back when he was a kid. Anyway, not being interested in such stuff, he offloaded it onto a Dutch dealer whose name he does not remember for 1,600 Deutsch marks. The rest is (almost) history, it passes through other hands before ending up with the Aboutaam brothers, who sell it to Cleveland.

Now I must admit to being very curious about this garden ornament story. Let's have a look for Ernst-Ulrich Walter in the Internet. We find the article discussed today by David Gill Katlen Trautmann ("Der Schatz von Göda", June 6, 2004). Göda is a village west of Bautzen in Lausitz. Earlier than that is another article of similar content and tone: Anon, Dem Traum ein Stück näher on the website for the hamlet of Leutwitz west of Göda. It is here that the collector regained his grandfather's Dreiseithof which had been seized by the German Democratic Republic. Presumably this is the garden where the Sauroktonos had been found. Now the nobility of central Europe were every bit as prone to go on the Grand Tour as anyone else and bring back bits and bobs of marble, pottery and other displayable "art". The problem is that we know about most of these objects from the copious literature generated at the time, some of my academic colleagues have spent their working lives collating all this information. If a life size bronze Greek figure had been brought back here in the eighteenth, nineteenth or early twenieth century, why is no record surviving?

If an ancient Greek statue was standing in a garden in the DDR, why was it not noticed by the state antiquities service and taken to a museum? The East Germans were very thorough about surveying the countryside inventorising ancient monuments. Secondly such an item not included in any inventory was asking to be smuggled out of the country for hard currency (OK, the Iron Curtain made that extremely difficult, but smuggling did take place).

Vignette: Sauroktonos with no passport. Photo: Leutwitz near Bautzen on Google Earth, that's it folks, the Grand Tour item was reportedly found in one of those farmyards. Isn't that strange?

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