Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Antiquities Objects

. August 14, 2012 . 0 Comments

Cleveland Museum of Art has acquired two antiquities objects, “Portrait Head of Drusus Minor” becomes the most important Roman marble sculpture in the museum’s renowned antiquities collection and Maya “Vessel with Battle Scene” showcases the mastery of Fenton Group artist.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is a collecting institution and has been acquiring antiquities since it was founded in 1913. These latest acquisitions highlight an ongoing commitment to enhancing the museum’s permanent holdings across the full scope of its collections with outstanding works of art. The museum studies, preserves and displays great works of art from various cultures, periods and genres while fully respecting appropriate collecting practices. Especially in fields where works are challenging to collect, the museum has built its holdings with an overriding emphasis on the quality and significance of individual acquisitions.

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor (13 BC–AD 23)
Exquisitely rendered masterpiece from Early Roman Empire becomes a new highlight of renowned antiquities collection

Portrait Head of Drusus Minor (13 BC–AD 23), a large-scale, marble portrait of the son of the Roman Emperor Tiberius that was carved during the early Imperial Period, possibly during the lifetime of Jesus Christ, is one of only approximately 30 large portraits of Drusus Minor to have survived from antiquity. This portrait head stands out among this group, owing to the powerful refinement and sensitivity of its carving, its excellent state of preservation and its monumental scale.

The newly acquired portrait of Drusus Minor was most likely created posthumously. When he died at age 37, the Julio-Claudian prince was next in line to the imperial throne after his father Tiberius. This masterwork was carved during a momentous transitional period in world history, at the intersection of the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions.

The head exhibits traces of original paint used to enhance the illusion of a living person, rendered on a monumental scale—well over life-size. Its distinctive facial features and hairstyle, as compared with other large portrait sculptures and coins, identify the subject as Drusus Minor. Ancient sources indicate that Drusus Minor was prone to fits of rage, made worse by heavy drinking. He relished gladiatorial blood sport and other ritualized killings, which shocked the Roman public and alarmed his father. Although not known for his speaking eloquence, in AD 14 he delivered a funeral oration for Augustus from the rostra in the Roman forum; the next year he was appointed to the high office of Consul. After the death of his adopted brother Germanicus, Drusus was the heir apparent, but he died at age 37, allegedly from poison at the hands of his wife.

The ownership history of the Drusus Minor portrait has been traced to the late 19th century, when it was the property of the Bacri family of Algiers, Algeria. Sometime before 1960, Fernand Sintes inherited the work, and in 1960 transferred it from Algiers to France. In 2004, it was sold at auction in France.

Vessel with Battle Scene, Late Classic Period (ca. AD 600–900)
Outstanding cylinder vessel belongs to a small group of ceramics painted by the same Maya master artist

This exceptional artwork, Vessel with Battle Scene, is one of several polychrome cylinder vessels known as the Fenton Group, painted by the same Maya master artist in the Nebaj region of Guatemala. The vessels portray a related series of events that involve Kan Xib Ahaw (Lord Kan Xib) and include the taking and presentation of prisoners as well as a ritual perhaps related to tribute payment or blood-letting.

In the Cleveland vessel, which is in very good condition, Kan Xib Ahaw turns to review a group of ten warriors, some clearly prisoners who have been stripped of battle regalia and others the victors, still elaborately dressed. Among the latter, one of the most elegant wears a jaguar skin tunic and grasps a long thrusting spear, a basic Maya weapon. The hieroglyphs encircling the rim form a dedicatory statement that indicates the vessel was used to drink an elite beverage made of cacao beans.

Mayan courtly art chronicles and glorifies the lives of royalty who governed independent city-states scattered across Guatemala’s rainforests and the Yucatán Peninsula. During the Late Classic Period (ca. AD 600–900), the Maya lived in a crowded political landscapes torn by rivalries in which elites scrambled to gain advantage through alliances and war. Vessel with Battle Scene, likely used in a gift exchange that helped to cement an important political relationship, commemorates the importance of such power struggles.

The Vessel with Battle Scene was in the Edward H. Merrin collection in New York by 1973, when the vessel was first published. Dated photographs place the vessel in New York City in March of 1969. Since the early 1970s, the vessel has appeared in at least a dozen print and electronic publications. www.clevelandart.org

Category: Antiquities

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