Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Analysing the Leutwitz Apollo (2) Shrapnel

On page 14 of Bennett's book is the first reference to the Red Army. Bennett presents himself as on a plane musing over what Hitcham Aboutaam had told him in a Geneva gallery. It is not clear whether this is what he was actually told, and in what way, or whether this is back-projection of later thoughts:
At the end of World War II the area [of Leutwitz] had been overrun and ransacked by the Red Army, sustaining considerable damage. Presumably at that time, in the mid 1940s the sculpture was forcibly separated from its base and broken into pieces I thought of the jagged edges of the severed left hand and forearm and upper right arm, the crushed torso at the right side, and the dent on the outer right thigh (see figs. 5-7, 23-4).

The motif of the object being broken in the War crops up again, on page 54, we find the same sort of statement:
In the mid 1940s a ferocious ground war between Soviet and German forces raged in the area surrounding the property likely resulting in much of the damage now visible on the statue. Artillery shells or incendiary bombs might have been the cause, either directly or indirectly damaging the statue via flying or falling debris. This was probably the time when the figure was forcibly separated from its modern base, perhaps along with the slender tree that was once mounted to it"
This "broken up by barbarians in the War" motif is used to construct the argument that (by whatever means) the sculpture is "better off" in an American museum than over in barbarian Yurope.

The "in the aeroplane scene" passage is quite a remarkable one. First of all, where else in the book is there any mention of the sculpture and the base being separated, or being separate? "Nowhere" is the answer to that one. In fact quite the opposite, later on in the book, the reported unaltered state of the corrosion between the feet of the statue is used as evidence that the plate now under the statue was added in the deep past and has never been removed - thus it dates when the object was above ground. Nowhere there is it explicitly stated (though this seems to be the case) that two separate objects are being discussed and this is not indicated by any of the illustrations.

Now we learn in fact that this corrosion is not intact, because (Bennett says) the statue was separated from its base in 1944. Why this discrepancy? Why do we not have an objective and detailed description (with microphotographs) of that all-important join in this "exhaustive" and "rigorous" book? It is a key point. Is the plate now attached to the bottom of the feet by ancient solder or modern epoxy glue? Was the plate on the feet when the object was (allegedly) stored in a "chest" in Mr Walter's back room?

Was this statue broken into pieces in 1944? If the breaks on the arms are 1944 vintage and the leaded bronze object was stored in pieces in the house or a shed (and even if it was outside in 49 winters) would they have the degree of corrosion on the breaks that they did? Remember this is precisely the region from which Peter Northover's samples probably came (again, such a vital piece of information as the precise spot sampled is missing from the art-historian's account, but we may assume - given the value of the object and what it says about the samples Northover received - they sawed pieces out from the breaks where they were less noticeable and could be gap-filled). Northover says the corrosion at precisely that point was consistent with long-term burial in the earth. The arms were missing before burial and not after being dug up.

I doubt whether Mr Bennett has actually seem shrapnel and shell damage to metal structures. I suggest he might like to visit war-torn places (like Warsaw) where you can still see what munitions used in the Second World War did to buildings and metal elements. The hole in the Apollo's thigh (and calf) is not, I would say, modern war-damage. In any case, the depressed area has the same earth-grown corrosion in it as the area around. Being violently hit there in 1944 would cause this to flake off. The damage to the object which we see today seems therefore to be due to something which occurred in antiquity, perhaps connected with the events at an unknown place and time which led to it being buried in such a way that it was not found by scrap-metal looters of antiquity.

But actually Bennett writes not of the object being "blown to pieces" by Red Army (or Nazi) gunfire. The phrase he uses is "broken into pieces". For example as an act of vandalism, or for melting down, or maybe transport. David Gill raises the question of what the X-rays taken by Cleveland Museum show about the breaks and distortions of this object. They are not published by Bennett and it is a puzzle why  in an "exhaustive" and "rigorous" account the reader is not supplied with that information - after all Bennett describes how the construction of the object from separately cast pieces is evidence of its ancient origin. So why is there not an image of these breaks, or at least a diagram showing where they are? That seems a very superficial approach to the matter of the technology of the piece and its later history. Perhaps there is something there that Cleveland would rather was not discussed?

However fanciful that may seem, suspicions are raised by the fact that a lot of trouble went into showing that the object was reportedly "in pieces" ("in a chest") in Leutwitz still in 1994. The testimony of two eye-witnesses is utilised to "establish" that point in Bennett's book. But then Bennett's book inexplicably omits an important fact. There is a published account which places the object in reconstructed form in a (German?) restorer's workshop two years earlier, in 1992. How to explain away not only the discrepancy, but also the fact that the CMA's "exhaustive" and "rigorous" account fails to mention the existence of this testimony, let alone attempting to explain away why they reject it and prefer the other testimony (from the same eye-witness written only a few weeks after the Bucharest conference)? Is that an example of the "exhaustive" and "rigorous" approach to a decade's research establishing the facts we can expect from scholars at the Cleveland Art Museum? If so, that is pretty pathetic.

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