147. A Bust of Bacchus

Imperial Rome, late 1st century BC
Size: 11.5 cm high
Bronze, silver, copper

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An old friend and much-esteemed colleague bought this inlaid bronze bust at an auction in Amsterdam in 1968. It was catalogued as Renaissance, probably Mantuan. He wasn’t sure what it was, but knew it was beautiful. It stayed in his storage for 20 years, until one night when he was watching a programme on TV entitled ‘Lost Masterpieces of Great Britain’. There, suddenly, was a drawing of the Bacchus. It had been discovered in Lincoln Cathedral in 1800, was in two distinguished collections thereafter, but after 1880 was never heard of again. Originally it was part of a tripod for a wine-vessel made for Emperor Augustus; the two other busts are in the Capitoline museums in Rome. He contacted a friend at Oxford, who was very excited and begged to be able to publish it. He agreed, but then never got around to it, and forgot about the bronze for another 25 years. It is my good luck to have such a friend, and to be able to exhibit such a masterpiece with a story so poetic.

Provenance: Private collection, UK