Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Praxiteles Book Comes: Piecing Things Together - they don't Fit.

Just now my copy of "Praxiteles, the Cleveland Apollo" has arrived, my first reaction it is a horribly pretentious, and in places patronising, book with very little real substance. There's a lot of special-pleading ("curatorial") Cunoesque whingeing in the middle. I skipped in my first skimming as I found some of it highly offensive (more on that later). One wonders what it's doing there - surely entirely superfluous if the Museum believe the reported collecting history. I went for the reports of the results of the "scientific tests", and the metal corrosion products (my first love) only to be immensely disappointed, they are presented in a way which make them less than useless for assessing the author's claims. What is that lead isotope dating stuff? It seems a bit dodgy saying that the scientific tests as a whole "support" the reconstructed collecting history (when the details of the manner in which they do are not stated) and then suggesting that any alternative reconstruction of the collecting history has to match those results, when they are not anywhere published (footnotes only say "CMA Curatorial files" - that is not a publication).  It's also interesting that one of the experts cited is the same as was involved with the Queen's Warehouse Rhyton who says his tests show one thing, when it looks increasingly like they should have told him something else. It seems to me however that the author is selectively presenting his arguments and skimming over a whole lot here.

There is a huge logical flaw in the discussion of the attachment to that modern base, but I am going to read the book more thoroughly before I present that here. There is also a huge problem with the "patina" issue.

I think the author would have done better to actually present the statue properly, the results of the technical analyses (apparently they have x-rays, where are they?), telling us which bits are reconstruction (it turns out the head was off when Mariniescu saw it in 1994) - this is important as the alleged 'integrity' of the corrosion layer is held up as "proof" of licit origins, but the fact that the "documentary photos" of this in the book show no join on the neck. The patina has been tampered with here to disguise the join - so why not anywhere else? The feet are soldered onto a new base, we are told, so where has the "buried-in-the-earth" corrosion Northover discusses been removed to allow the bond to be clean (done any soldering Mr Bennett?), if Christman can see no join?   Instead of a proper presentation of the object we get a lightweight "how jolly clever I am" presentation of "how I saved the statue from the Aboutaams" (eh?) and "how clever I am, only I know how to interpret it - good job it's in America!".    Thiis is supposed to be a flagship publication of a flagship object in a flagship US museum, and what we get is a smug, self-congratulatory, directionless, superficial mess of a publication.

If he's so clever and wants to share his knowledge with us all, why does Bennett not present a reconstruction of what the statue in a Saxon garden looked like when whole? It seems pretty obvious to me. Now we have a number of what we think are relatively close copies so it should be pretty easy. There's the trace of solder (supposedly) of the tree on the base. Its a bit close to the feet and further forward than on the copies, but that's where the base says we should see the base of the tree-trunk in the complete original. Lets put the arms of the Louvre copy on the Leutwitz object, put a slender tree on that base and see what Praxiteles made for the Americans. Here it is (right). Well, I am no art-historian, but that's rubbish. The base we have on it today (by the way, Bennett apparently provides no dimensions for it in the book) is obviously too small for a statue that leans over so far to the right. Anyone attaching a base to that statue when dug up complete and baseless (unless blind drunk, or just plain imbecilic) would obviously have chosen a broader plate, wouldn't they? That stands to reason. So what do we make of the fact that the plate it stands on now, which we are asked to believe was put on by the original owners after the complete statue was dug up "long long ago", is obviously far too small? Why would it have solder marks on it if no tree was there? And if there was a sloping tree there supporting a heavily leaning adolescent, why was a bigger plate not used? That's a puzzle isn't it? Why is this not discussed in Bennett's book? Did Praxiteles really cast something that looked like this? If so, why do the later copies miss out the most striking feature, the sloping tree and the sloping gap between the boy and the tree? Did this statue (as cast in antiquity) originally stand on a sloping base and was wrongly mounted by whoever attached the base we have now? These are not the only problems with that base, but I'll leave further discussion of that for a later post.

But the left hand? While we are thinking about what the statue looked like whole, let's give that a moment's thought. Twice in the book Bennett stresses that it has details on the palm, which "nobody would have seen" (it's difficult to see how, but this seems to be one of the things that apparently clinches it as a real Praxi for Bennett). But if we take a look at the copies (as presumably Bennett has), we can see that the figure lounging against the tree has his hand hanging limply down (NOT "grasping the tree" p. 12) and therefore sculpting the lower side would be nothing unusual, indeed it is necessary. This is not the only place in the book where I found it difficult to follow the gist of Bennett's argument.

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