Friday 25 October 2013

Leutwitz Apollo (8): Dr Marinescu Comes to Visit

One of the most intriguing, not to say mystifying, parts of the story of the Leutwitz Apollo is the involvement of a Romanian scholar. Dr Lucia Marinescu was once Director of the Romanian National Museum in Bucharest. She apparently knows her stuff when it comes to antique bronzes. She is one of the key eyewitnesses to the CMA's collecting history for the item. Her part in the story therefore deserves close examination. Let us follow it on the basis of Bennett's "definitive" book (2013). We begin with the first substantial section concerning Dr Marinescu:
I learned that the sculpture was to be discussed at an international scholarly conference. On May 27th 2003, Lucia Marinescu [...] presented the Apollo in a paper at the 16th International Congress of Antique Bronzes in Bucharest. She had asked the dealer for permission after finding out that the work was on the art market. In the mid 1990s while studying at the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin, Marinescu had heard about a gentleman living in Leutwitz , Mr Ernst-Ulrich Walter, who had assembled an eclectic collection  of artifacts and curios and set up a kind of a private museum on his recently reclaimed estate. She made a trip to see the collection, and viewed the Apollo in pieces. Walter told her then that the bronze figure was an eighteenth or nineteenth century garden sculpture.  The memory of the experience stayed with Marinescu and when several years later she saw a photograph of the reconstructed statue she realised that it was the very same bronze figure she had seen in Leutwitz. She contacted Phoenix Ancient Art, requesting permission to present the work at the conference (pp. 61-2).
There are a couple of questions about this passage, not least the source of the information Bennett cites (we will see why that is important later on). In what way and from whom did the curator at CMA "learn" that the statue he was considering buying "was to be discussed" in the near future? Another question is where and how this "photograph of the reconstructed statue" had reached her hands by (early?) 2003. The conference was a month after the sculpture was shipped from Geneva to Cleveland. Since nobody has been able to trace the path of the statue from Walter's "Dutch dealer" and the Aboutaams, how was she able to do this (nota bene according to her own account in the conference publication, she in fact had no contact with the Aboutaams). What was it about the reconstructed and cleaned statue which told her this was in fact the same object as the box of loose bits she is supposed to have last seen in a box a decade earlier? All this is a bit odd.  Note also this bit about "The memory of the experience stayed with Marinescu" for those ten years (and then read the post below this). Let us have a look at Bennett's later account. This begins oddly (p. 66) referring to July and August 2003:
At the same time I anticipated that Lucia Marinescu would soon write a letter relating her involvement with the statue.
What led him to "anticipate" this from a woman who has since steadfastly refused to be interviewed on the matter?  Who had assured him she would be writing? Anyhow, for whatever reason, CMA got their letter. This letter, despite its importance in establishing the object's pedigree in the face of recent criticism, has not been made available to the public or journalists. All we have is Bennett's summary from which we can perhaps gather a little of its tone and purpose (we are not told the language in which the text is written):
Marinescu wrote a letter to Katherine Read dated September 4th 2003 [CMA curatorial files] In it she confirmed that she had recently presented the Apollo Sauroktonos bronze at a conference in Bucharest [after a description of her seeing it]. Marinescu then stated in the letter that only after her visit did she realise that the distinctive hairstyle of the sculpture's bronze head was that of the famous Apollo Sauroktonos sculpture of Praxiteles. Only later did she begin to suspect that the statue might be ancient. Personal and professional obligations made it impossible for her to return to the Dresden area.  Her letter concluded: "It therefore brought me great satisfaction - at the close of my career - to be able to approach this Sauroktonos work once again, through the opportunity given to me by presenting such an important piece at the conference". 
So, basically when she saw it in pieces she could not work out the pose and significance (see below), it was only the hairstyle, and that after she'd come away from Leutwitz, which told her what she'd seen. So how can she ten years later affirm that the complete statue of the Aboutaams was made out of the bits she had been shown? In fact, why does she go out of her way to stress that her suspicions about the real date of the objject only came to her after she'd no opportunity (really?) to communicate them to Mr Walter? Seems an odd thing to mention, in the circumstances - but there must be a reason. One might wonder whether fear of being asked questions like this is the reason why she will not take part in interviews... It looks to me however that the writer of this letter thought her task was to convince the CMA (still considering whether or not to buy this object) of its importance. Note she stops just a little short of slipping in the notion that it "might" be a real Praxiteles - what the seller would like CMA to believe too (this motif appears in her publication of the conference too).

But to get to the nitty-gritty. In the letter she gives an account of her one and only encounter with the object:
She related that "out of a pure coincidence" she happened to see it in 1994 while studying at the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin. She had heard about an elderly lawyer, a certain Mr Walter [is this what she wrote?] who had set up a private museum in the manor house that had belonged to his family before WWII. Marinescu made a field trip to see Walter's modest museum, located near Dresden.  There she met him, an impeccably well-mannered and impressive gentleman in his seventies" who toured her through his collection, " a very personal mixture of Islamic art of all ages, which included Greek vases, a small number of Greek and Roman marble pieces, travel souvenirs, as well as furniture and decorative art objects from more recent periods". By chance she noted, lying on a shelf, a bronze head of classical style. When she asked about it, Walter explained that it was a work of the eighteenth and nineteenth century and not part of his collection. He told her that it had been on the estate from the 1920s through the '30s during his childhood. Walter then showed her a chest containing the statue's remaining parts. He added that he thought it had stood in the house since his grandfather's acquisition of the property around 1850.
Whose text is playing down the collection as a "modest" museum, and why? Where does "a certain" come from? Why does Mrs Marinescu feel obliged to give an account of the collection sounding very much like it's from a travel guide? If the gentleman has Greek and Roman marble pieces as well as later "decorative arts", in what was did the Apollo not belong in the collection? On what seems to have been a flying personal visit, did she actually get her host to take all the pieces out of the "chest" and if so why? Or did she only get a good look at the head? Indeed, did she even get a good look at the head (see a later post)? There are quite a few collectors in the region of Berlin, what was the "pure coincidence" which led her to the living room of "an elderly lawyer, a certain Mr Walter" and his modest private museum?

The other substantial mention of Mrs Marinescu is on pages 67 of Bennett's book.
Katherine Reid and I were determined to take our due diligence as far as we possibly could. In consultation with legal counsel, we decided that this effort should include follow-up telephone calls to Walter and Marinescu [....] I telephoned [...] Dr Marinescu on the 7th [November 2003], assisted by a museum staff member fluent in German [...] In our conversation with Marinescu [..] she confirmed that her September 4 letter accurately represented what she knew about the work's origins, adding that it was only after her visit to Walter's estate that she began to suspect that the statue might be ancient, rather than of eighteenth or nineteenth century date. She reiterated that Walter had shown her the bronze statue of Apollo in pieces during her visit to his estate.
 Interestingly "taking our due diligence as far as we possibly could" seems not to have taken into account what Dr Marinescu actually told that conference back in May - just six months earlier and which came out in print a few months after this conversation. It would seem that the claim that "the memory of the experience stayed with Marinescu" does not really match the facts if we confront these two accounts (see the post below this). Once again note that Bennett is stressing that for some reason she stressed that she only realised the statue was ancient after she could not inform the seller - this would explain, we are asked to believe, why - if we are to believe the CMA's reconstructed collecting history - he continued to believe it was a modern garden ornament.  This in turn explains why there is no documentation of its sale from the Leutwitz great-aunt's estate to a "Dutch dealer". Now why would Dr Marinescu back in Bucharest be so concerned to explain that away?

Steven Litt's article ('A god of myth cloaked in mystery, Museum takes heat over ancient Apollo' the Plain Dealer September 12, 2004) contains two possibly significant details:
Bennett said Marinescu hasn't shared with the museum the photographs she took during her 1994 visit to Walter. Through an interpreter, Marinescu declined to be interviewed. 
Are we sure that Dr Marinescu has any such photos? In the publication of the conference, she used other ones. 

Let us note that if Dr Marinescu had been a member of the Archaeological Institute of America, their code of ethics would have prevented her from getting mixed up with the trade in antiquities and publishing her observations on them. Sadly for her, she is now deeply embroiled in this case.

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