Cleveland Museum of Art to Unveil its Apollo

 Steven Litt reports on this bronze Apollo acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) in 2004 for a reported $5 million.  It may be the only surviving original work by the Greek master Praxiteles. 

In fact it is slated to be the centerpiece of the CMA’s renovated classical gallery. Given the CMA’s returns to Italy of a number of other objects, and the recent acquisition of this piece, there was a joint scientific study of the statue.  Reportedly, evidence suggests the sculpture has been excavated for perhaps 100 years, though Greece has argued it was salvaged from the Adriatic in the 1990s and then illegally sold. The history of the object seems suspect to say the least. Its recent history stems from Ernst-Ulrich Walter, a retired German lawyer who said he found the statue lying in pieces when he recovered his family’s estate in the former East Germany.

It was then sold to a Dutch art dealer, then sold to the Phoenix Ancient art gallery which then sold it on to the CMA. We have no idea where or how this stunning statue was unearthed.  What a tragedy that its history is unknown.  This could be one of only 30 large bronzes from the ancient Greeks which survived to modern times, or it might very well be a forgery. There is no contextual information. Was it really in pieces for 100 years? There is no evidence it was stolen, looted or illegally exported. Rather, there exists a paucity of information about its origins and a curious recent history. That is not enough to base a legal claim, and the CMA are confident enough about the object that they ave decided to make it the centerpiece of their ancient galleries which opened Saturday.  Yet the CMA have not been real eager to release all the collecting details for the bronze. 

Prof. Patty Gerstenblith wonders at the end of the piece “I don’t know who they’re protecting by secrecy.” The question may be rhetorical, as we don’t know perhaps exactly how the bronze came to Cleveland, but the fewer questions the museum asks about the history of this bronze, the easier it will be for the museum to keep the bronze.

  1. Steven Litt, Cleveland Museum of Art’s Apollo sculpture is a star with intriguing past, Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 20, 2010, http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2010/06/cleveland_museum_of_arts_apoll.html (last visited Jun 21, 2010).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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