Friday 25 October 2013

Further Musings on the Leutwitz Apollo (1)

"This is a settled issue," Bennett said.
known for a long time that the statue
  has been outside its archaeological
context for at least 100 years." 

Steven Litt, 'Cleveland Museum of Art's Apollo sculpture
is a star with intriguing past
', The Plain Dealer June 20, 2010 .

Having now got a piece of work out of the way and a backlog of posts on material sent to me earlier, I can come back to my musings on the Leutwitz (aka Cleveland) Apollo based on Michael Bennett's study "Praxiteles: the Cleveland Apollo" (Cleveland masterworks Series 2 Cleveland 2013). To make matters easier I'm splitting them into several posts.

Bennett's book is billed as "a rigorous art-historical re-examination of one of the most significant works to survive from antiquity". As to the latter part of that statement, I reserve judgement (it certainly looks a bit wonky when you put the missing tree back). I am an archaeologist, not an art historian and do not profess to be able to tell whether this is a Greek or Roman bronze.  Neither do I care at the moment, it is certainly an ancient bronze, and it's been dug up somewhere. That's what interests me. My interest in the present book is that it is billed as "rigorous", so - although personally I consider it very lightweight, this is apparently the best Cleveland can currently offer in the way of a definitive account. As I will attempt to show, it is supremely arrogant of Mr Bennett to assume that this "matter" is settled. Not only have they not published any of the actual evidence on which they hang their case (the actual documents they obtained from eye-witnesses, the actual reports of the scientific texts with their supporting material and caveats), but as I will show, they've totally ignored some vital evidence which contradicts the story they concocted from snippets provided mostly (it seems) by the dealer, without going beyond the scheme they outline to test the veracity of what they were constructing by approaching it from another angle. I refuse to believe that this is the best American scholarship can do.  

For the purpose of this blog, I propose calling the discussed item the Leutwitz Apollo, as it was from its reported stay (however long that was) in that small hamlet in Saxony that this piece gains the proffered collecting history. Those who support that history should therefore have no objections to using the name to remind us of that. And I think it s worth reminding ourselves where that estate at Leutwitz is and what it is.

As I have said earlier, my main interest in the book is in the promise of the results of the scientific analyses. I love metal corrosion products, and here's a whole pile of trust resting on precisely the analyses of the corrosion crud.

This series of posts will therefore have two parts, posted on different days, the first series (posted in the reverse order from that in which I intend them to be read - i.e., starting at the top and reading down will be titled Leutwitz Apollo and deals with some unanswered questions about the collecting history which Bennett's book raises. The ninth post in the series is the most worrying and suggests that CMA's "due diligence" was so scanty that it satisfied itself with what fell into its hands, but seems not to have done any real searching from independent sources, even the most obvious. The second series of posts (possibly up on Sunday or Monday) will be called "Analysing Leutwitz" and will concentrate on the technical evidence quoted which is rather more problematic than art historian Bennett seems willing to admit (or is aware). 

Throughout, "CMA" refers to the Cleveland Museum of Art and "the book" (or simply by page number) refers to Michael Bennett's "Praxiteles The Cleveland Apollo" (Cleveland masterworks series 2, 2013). Comments are invited, though in your phrasing them, please consider what I can and rather cannot publish here.


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