Sunday 16 February 2020

"Looks Like" Iulia or Julie? Ungrounded Stone Head on Sale, by a Dealer who "Knows"

Looking through the same dealer that has an incantation bowl with no decent collecting history given upfront, I found this, about which the same can be said:
Hixenbaugh 'Ancient art'
Roman Marble Portrait Head of a WomanAn ancient Roman marble portrait bust of a woman. The oval face is framed by a voluminous, shoulder-length coiffure, styled in even waves loose around the ears and formed into two plaits which were loosely coiled to form a flat spiral at the nape of the neck. Ca. early 3rd century AD. Height: 13 1/2 in. (33 cm). This hairstyle of the individual is typical of the Severan period. The coiffures of the empresses Julia Domna and Plautilla served as models. Cf. Fittschen-Zanker 1983, no. 144, pls. 171-172.
Formerly in a New York private collection; previously in a Swiss private collection, acquired between 1960-1980.
Inv#: 7402
Price on Request
Guaranteed Authentic

Hmm, so Randall Hixenbaugh bought from a New York Collector who'd bought it (some time before 1980?) from a dealer who told him that is was from "an Old Swiss Collection" - ahem... What a shame that an object that looks like this is not better grounded.

Right first of all, "Fittschen-Zanker 1983" may sound awfully "professional-I-know-what-I'm-talking-about", I tend to think that vagueness is a suggestion of quite the opposite. I imagine that if he gave the full reference it would have been:
Fittschen, Klaus, Paul Zanker, and Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Katalog der römischen Porträts in den Capitolinischen Museen und den anderen kommunalen Sammlungen der Stadt Rom. Mainz am Rhein: Von Zabern, 1983 [ja?].
And I imagine (because I've not got the book) that this, in the Esquiline is the sort of thing he's Cf-ing it with. Perhaps more from this angle (mouth).

Now, I am an archaeologist. If I were writing this up, I'd get it in a box, and there would be a label that it came from layer 1143. A quick look on the excavation database would tell me that this was a dump of sand on the floor of Severan Building number 11 with nothing much in it except a little pottery and a coin of Severus Alexander. That, the matrix says, was under several discontinuous layers (probably representing truncation of the sequence), but the whole stack of layers was sealed by 765, a thick dump of rubble containing many artefacts covering most of the west half of the excavation trench (including the place the excavation plan shows the head was found) and it contained a large series of late Roman pottery and a coin series that ends in the 320s. I'd be happy that the head was lopped off the (pre-existing) statue before the 320s, and probably about a century earlier than that, in late Severan times. I reckon I could say that all that shows it is Guaranteed Authentic, and if somebody asks me why, I can show them the plans and photos of layer 765 and it can be seen nothing is dug through it into the layers underneath. They can go through all the documentation, finds sheets, photos... Difficult to argue with that, and then the precise dating would rest on that haircut and the artefacts in 1143. OK.

Mr Hixenbaugh however only has that "an Old Swiss Collector" was once persuaded that this is Roman ("Guaranteed Authentic sir"), because... it looks like it is. But, like Mr Dershowitz, the Old Swiss Collector seems to have decided to exclude it from their collection and it ended up with a New York Collector, who also was persuaded (by whom?) that "it looks like" it is Roman ("Guaranteed Authentic sir"). Then Mr Hixenbaugh thought the same and now he's trying to persuade us of that ("Guaranteed Authentic sir").

But "it looks like" is a very subjective judgement, and it is only that. Dress it up and call it connoisseurship all you want (Marlowe 2013), that is all it is. Randall Hixenbaugh says "it looks like" an authentic Roman portrait bust of a Severan lady (why? "because I say it does, and I know"). The rest of us can agree or not. Personally, I think it looks a bit like a portrait of the German-born Slovak operatic soprano Patricia Janečková (b. June 1988). Anyway, cute, but this portrait has crooked eyes. She looks a bit of a sociopath to me.

Elizabeth Marlowe 2013, 'Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship and the History of Roman Art' (Bloomsbury Academic Press)

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