Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Stephan Lehmann, Alexander der Grosse -- einst in Stendal. Original -- Kopie -- Falschung? Kataloge und Schriften des Archäologischen Museums der Martin-Luther-Universität, Bd. 2. Halle an der Saale: Beier & Beran, 2009. Pp. 42; figs. a-c + 62. ISBN 9783941171299.
Reviewed by Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, Bryn Mawr College

On July 15, 2000, the exhibition "Alexander der Grosse - König der Welt: Eine neuentdeckte Bronzestatue" opened at the Winckelmann Museum in Stendal, Germany. It was accompanied by a catalogue with the same title, edited by Max Kunze and published as a special edition by the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft. It presented for the first time a bronze fragmentary statue allegedly depicting Alexander the Great, of which only the upper part was preserved, from head to mid-torso, including the stumps of both arms at mid-biceps, obviously the points of attachment for the forearms now missing. The bronze was said to belong to a private collector and to have been tested by a technical laboratory (Northover) in Oxford that had confirmed its antiquity. Both the name of the collector and the possible findspot of the "newly found" bronze were left unmentioned, and the sculpture's present location is now unknown, since it left the Stendal Museum in September 2000, when the exhibition closed.

Doubts about the true nature of the sculpture were first raised in newspaper accounts, and the matter was then more fully explored in a lecture by Lehmann (Nov. 2, 2009) which now appears as the small book under review, in amplified format with abundant photographs. It first describes and illustrates the Stendal bronze in detail; the exhibition catalogue had suggested that the complete figure would have resembled in pose the so-called Alexander Rondanini in Munich (here figs. 15, 47-49), but the position of the upper arms is so different that the comparison is correctly discounted. A survey of Alexander's portraiture focuses on four types: Azara, Erbach-Akropolis (Athens), Schwarzenberg, and Dressel, although selected coins, gold medallions, and even a bronze statuette (A. with the Spear in the Louvre) are also illustrated. The Stendal A. conforms to none of those types although incorporating traits from some of them, including the Rondanini, especially in its classicizing face. Admittedly, however, all depictions vary so much from each other that only a few distinctive traits (anastole, youthfulness, long hair) can be used to validate identification.

A possible origin of the Stendal statue in the Hellenistic or Roman period is then tested against bronze originals from those phases, but the differences are so vast that the exercise seems futile. The Hellenistic example here chosen is the "only extant portrait of a ruler": the recently excavated head of Seuthes III, king of the Odrysians (ca. 310 B.C.E.) now in the Kazanlak Museum (fig. 17). Although from a secure ancient context, this heavily bearded and mature image from Bulgaria has nothing in common with Alexander's iconography, which must have introduced a new conception for a ruler-- yet both have long hair, as noted. This latter feature is therefore dismissed as exclusively characteristic of the Macedonian. Equally irrelevant is a comparison with the head of the Emperor Macrinus (217-218 C.E., figs. 51, 53) as correctly noted, and not solely on stylistic grounds. Thus, creation in the second/third century C.E. is also eliminated. What remains (as the catalogue had suggested) is the possibility of a late 2nd c. C.E. copy or adaptation of an original datable around 300 B.C.E., shortly after Alexander's death, but here the previous description of anomalies militates against the supposition. This entire section seems to me too general to be considered probative. The case for modern manufacture is more thoroughly argued. The scientific analysis of the alloy was never published in detail, as promised, and too little of it was revealed in the Stendal catalogue. The joining of the separately cast lower arms and head was said to have been accomplished through "soft solder" (the head as secondary repair, although corresponding "point for point"): a procedure disclaimed for antiquity. The thickness of the bronze varies and seems too thin in places. Moreover, the break at the lower end of the chest looks peculiar and may suggest that the piece was conceived as a torso. This last point seems to me convincing.

The owner of the Stendal A. seems to have been a dealer rather than a collector: London's Robin Symes. A New York sales catalogue, Royal Portraits and the Hellenistic Kingdoms, circulating at the end of November 1999, was authored by Symes and Max Kunze. It included four bronze heads with undisclosed provenience, now widely believed to be forgeries "by a Spanish workshop" (p. 37, n. 56, quoting the newspaper Der Spiegel of March 2008). The Stendal A. was not part of that sale, yet the association of the dealer with the then President of the Winckelmann-Gesellschaft was thus established and Symes' ownership of the Alexander confirmed by Kunze's oral statement cited in the same article (here p. 39 n. 61). Symes has since declared bankruptcy and been thoroughly discredited for dealing in illicit antiquities; his connection with a reputable scholar, well known for his expertise of the Pergamon Altar, is therefore highly disturbing. It is suggested that the fake Alexander was first exhibited in a provincial town, under the alleged auspices of a respected archaeological society, in order to give it credence.

The final message of Lehmann's booklet is a warning against modern forgeries--now facilitated by recent publications on ancient bronzes--and an appeal to scholars to adhere to a canon of honesty and professional conduct.

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