Sunday, 2 October 2011

Schinoussa Protomes and a Prettyfying Restorer

David Gill indicates that two items coming up for sale by Christies "look awfully like" two items pictured in the Schinoussa Archive of Robin Symes objects, and asks when or whether it is legitimate to call a dealer's stock "an old collection". I must admit I had a few moments of doubt poring over the two sets of photos, the Christies lot 63 objects are lit in a different manner from the grubby, encrusted and badly reassembled Schinoussa pieces. The one on the right however under the crud has the same inverted v-shaped scar on its right (our left) cheek by the mouth, it is the same object. But what a difference. When Symes had it the object was missing a triangular area on the neck - somehow mysteriously disappeared on the Christie's shot. There is narry a crack visible in the auction house's zoomable publicity shots. The object has been restored in such a manner as to make it appear that it had never been broken. This is against the ethics of modern conservation (and even restoration), one wonders who did this work and how many other ethical liberties were taken to make it more collectable/saleable.

I was disturbed by the grey painted lines on the lower part of the object on the right. There are grey smudges on the Shinoussa photo which have been transformed into a pendant on the Christie's object. How and why? There is grey pigment in the encrusted object which has been removed, how much of the drawing of the pendant is original and what is reconstruction? This is a justifiable question as precisely the same kind of line passes right over the restored triangular area on the neck. Also how many of the lines on the viewer's right side have been added to what seems on the Schinoussa photos to have been a vacant clean ceramic surface for graphic effect? Is there a conservation report for these objects with photos of the state before cleaning and retouching?

Comparison of the two sets of photos of the example on the left raises similar questions, where are the traces of the break lines? Is there really a clear band of red paint under the crud on the headdress as seen on the Christie's shots? But more importantly on the Schinoussa photos the hair is quite clearly black. That colouration is rendered all but invisible in the restored state in the Christie's publicity photos, giving a much 'cleaner' overall impression (like the scrubbed Parthenon marbles). So how was it possible to preserve the painted details of the headdress if the hair colour was stripped off by whatever cleaning method was applied here? Why do the Christie's objects have a glossy sheen to them? This is ceramic after all, not waxworks.

Certainly the comparison of the two sets of photos justifies the statement that the objects now on the market are a falsification of the state in which they were preserved down through the centuries. Where is the beginning and end of authenticity in this kind of collecting? What is the point of buying authentic artefacts if they are then 'disneyfied' to make them more attractive to suit the modern tastes of a collector who sees them as pretty geegaws rather than a document?

UPDATE 6/10/11: Dorothy King has a post on these objects and shows two revealing photos of her own of the BACK of these pieces (note the dust on the stand on one).

Vignette: Two Archaic Protomes ("Private collection, London, U.K., Private collection, USA; acquired in London, 1999") as seen in the Schinoussa archive. Where did they come from? What happened to them? (Looting Matters)

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