Tag Archives: bronze

If It’s Baroque, Someone Should Fix It!

by Elizabeth Hahn Benge, previous ANS Librarian

Truer words could not be said by someone with a passion for ancient history, especially when the baroque takes over the ancient. Such is the case with a Roman Bust of Antinous in the collection of the Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, in Rome. After the original ancient Roman face was broken at some unknown time, the bust received a “new” baroque-style face that was added by the mid-18th century. To many viewers, it is apparent that the face does not match the style of the rest of the bust and is a restoration added later. But then what happened to the original face?

The answer can be found in a new exhibition titled A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts, at the Art Institute of Chicago that opened on April 2, 2016. Loans from the American Numismatic Society help introduce Antinous—the Greek youth and companion of Roman emperor Hadrian, who mysteriously drowned in the Nile River in A.D. 130—and his enduring interest throughout history. The ANS loans include four bronze coins of Antinous (1967.152.356; 1944.100.62226; 1944.100.58522; 1944.100.58531) and a 1711 book from the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Library. The coins demonstrate the same iconographic features that were likely inspired by sculptures of the same type of Antinous: broad shoulders, bare chest, and lush, curly hair.

ANS 1944.100.62226
ANS 1944.100.62226

The show brings together years of research that took place to determine whether or not the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous was the original face of the Bust of Antinous (inv. no. 8620) that belongs to the Palazzo Altemps museum, a suggestion first put forth by W. Raymond Johnson, Egyptologist at the University of Chicago. Since the “new” face that the Palazzo Altemps bust received is part of the sculpture’s history, it could not be removed, and added to the challenges of understanding if, and how, the Art Institute’s fragment might have fit. But—Spoiler Alert!—it did!

Left: Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson. Right: Bust of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman, with 18th-century restorations. Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Rome, 8620. Archivio Fotografico SS-Col, num. 589475. Photo by Stefano Castellani.
Left: Fragment of a Portrait Head of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman. Gift of Mrs. Charles L. Hutchinson.
Right: Bust of Antinous, mid-2nd century A.D. Roman, with 18th-century restorations. Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps, Rome, 8620. Archivio Fotografico SS-Col, num. 589475. Photo by Stefano Castellani.

This conclusion, and the years of research that led to it, are the focus of the exhibition. Modern 3D printing technology was used to create a mold from which a plaster replica was made in order for the team to effectively demonstrate that the two parts were in fact originally part of one ancient bust. The show is centered around these two parts: the fragment of a portrait head from the Art Institute and the bust from the Palazzo Altemps, which are displayed together along with the full-scale plaster cast reconstruction that gives the impression of its original appearance in antiquity.

The exhibition further tells how the fragment ended up in Chicago, an ocean away from its original location. A video documenting the research and creation of the plaster cast accompanies the show, while a timeline of events spans nearly 40 feet of wall in the gallery. I’ve had fun working on this project, and it is a fascinating story with a lot of content, which can be difficult to convey through photographs alone, and is one of many reasons I hope readers will be able to visit the show in person!

A Portrait of Antinous, in Two Parts will be on display through August 28, 2016, at The Art Institute of Chicago.

The exhibition website can be found here.

And the video that is also part of the exhibition can be found here.


Eight Antoniniani of Claudius Gothicus, 268-270 CE

Marcus Aurelius Claudius (213-270 CE) was an Illyrian of modest birth who worked his way up through the ranks of the Roman army during the tumultuous third century. According to the Scriptores Historiae Augustae, he was a fierce fighter and able commander who eventually became caught up in the imperial intrigues of the day. Claudius was commander of the the reserves of a force led by the reigning Emperor Gallienus in the summer of 268 that was besieging Milan, where the would-be usurper Aureolus had taken refuge. The supposed inefficacy of Gallienus as a ruler led to a conspiracy that ended in his assassination.

Worcester Art Museum, 1915.24
Worcester Art Museum, 1915.24

Whether or not Claudius was involved remains unclear, but he was the one chosen by the army to succeed Gallienus. In what was perhaps a related move, the Scriptores Historiae Augustae reports that the soldiers were promised twenty aurei each for their support. Claudius quickly made peace with Aueolus and then just as quickly betrayed and killed him. He then turned his attention to one of the many external threats facing the Roman Empire, namely an invasion of Pannonia by the Goths. It was in this context that Claudius earned the surname Gothicus (i.e. conqueror of the Goths) by which he is now commonly known after destroying a large Gothic army at the Battle of Naissus. Claudius thereafter quashed an incursion of Germanic tribes at the Battle of Lake Benacus and successfully campaigned to restore territories that had been lost by his predecessors to the Empire. The celebrated reign of Claudius Gothicus was ultimately brief, as he was felled by the so-called “Plague of Cyprian” (probably smallpox) in early 270.

The antoninianus was a new domination of silver coin that was introduced amidst the financial crises that gripped the Roman Empire in the early third century. Over the course of time it was debased until it was mostly bronze. As you can see by the mixed patinas of the eight antoniniani issued under the authority of Claudius at the top of this post, the metal content varied.


The common obverse features a radiate bust of the Emperor and Roman Imperial Coinage lists dozens of reverse types. The example above (RIC 168) was minted in Mediolanum (Milan) and its reverse features Spes, the personification of hope, holding a flower.

Matthew Wittmann

Odd Bronzes of the Georgian Golden Age

***This is a follow-up to Summer Seminar scholar Lara Fabian’s earlier post about the fascinating history of coinage from the Caucasus in the ANS collection.

During the late 11th and 12th centuries, the mountainous South Caucasus kingdom of Georgia flourished. It strategically exploited its position on the edge of the declining Byzantine and Seljuk empires, and succeeded in extending its sphere of influence from the northern coast of Anatolia all the way to the Caspian Sea.

A remarkable series of rulers from the Bagrationi dynasty oversaw this, including Georgi III (1156-1184) and his daughter, Tamar the Great (1184-1213)– a Queen who was addressed as “King” (მეფე mep’e). Stories about this Georgian Golden Age became central to the identity of medieval and modern Georgia as seen in the works of the Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli and the Russian Mikhail Lermontov. Even today, a portrait of Tamar Mepe graces the Georgian 50 lari note.

Georgian 50 lari note with Queen Tamar
Georgian 50 lari note with Queen Tamar

Amid the expansion of the Georgian kingdom and its cultural flowering, this period also produced some of the strangest and most fantastical coinage ever minted in the region. All coinage from this period was bronze (because of the ‘silver famine’ in the Middle East). While some pieces were struck on regular round planchets, others clearly were not– like this coin of Queen Tamar herself (ANS 1917.216.683).

ANS 1917.216.683
ANS 1917.216.683
Tamar's Monogram
Tamar’s Monogram

It is a so-called ‘irregular bronze.’ On the obverse, the central image is Queen Tamar’s monogram within a wreath. Surrounding this is a marginal legend written in the Georgian Asomtavruli script. Although not preserved fully here, it is possible to reconstruct it as: ႵႱႾႪႨႧႠ ႶႧႠ ႨႵႬႠ ႽႣႠႨ ႥႺႾႪႱႨ ႠႫႱ ႵႰႩႬႱ [–], In the name of God, this silver piece was struck in k’oronikon [–] . (The date is missing on this piece). Particularly interesting here is the specific mention of silver when, of course, the piece was bronze. This is repeated across all the irregular Bagrationi bronzes.

On the reverse is an extended 5 line Arabic legend in the center, reading:

الملكة المعظمة
جلال الدنيا والدين
تامار بنت كيوركى
ظهير المسيح
اعز الله انصار
The great Queen
Glory of the World and Faith
Tamar daughter of Giorgi
Champion of the Messiah
May God increase [her] victories

With a marginal legend of:

ضاعف الله جلالها ومدّ ظلالها وايد اقبالها

May God increase her glory and lengthen her shadow and strengthen her beneficence! (Lang and Dundua)

This piece also features two countermarks, which were very common on these irregular bronzes. One is unique to Tamar’s bronzes, while the other is the cypher of Tamar’s daughter, Queen Rusudan (Pakhomov, p. 124).

ANS 1922.193.1
ANS 1922.193.1

Above is another of Tamar’s bronzes (ANS 1922.193.1), which has the same legend but a different of Queen Rusudan’s cyphers. This piece can be dated to k’oronikon 430 (=1210 CE), by the letters ჃႪ just before the cross on the obverse (Lang). Although the irregular coppers are often simply irregular blobs, some of them, like this suspiciously bird-shaped one, seem to play off of forms from nature.

ANS 1917.216.687
ANS 1917.216.687

This is clearer in the fish-shaped planchets best known from the reign of Giorgi IV Lasha (1213-23) (ANS 1917.216.687). This particular ANS example is, according to Lang, likely an overstrike of a bronze of Giorgi IV Lasha from the reign of Queen Rusudan (1223-45).

ANS 1959.165.106
ANS 1959.165.106

Finally, there are the pieces of even more irregular form, like this coin of Giorgi IV Lasha (ANS 1959.165.106), which is recognizable by the bit of its two line obverse legend that is not off-flan:

Giorgi, son
of Tamar

Within a few short decades of the minting of this coin, Georgia would become embroiled in conflicts with Mongol invaders, from which it suffered greatly. As strange and unassuming as these blobs of bronze are, they participated in a true high point of Georgia’s early history.

Source: Odd Bronzes of the Golden Age | Barbarus hic ego sum