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Title:Reliquary Bust of a Woman
Date:19th century in 15th century style
Medium:Silvered copper (bust); mercury-gilded bronze with traces of enamel (medallion).
Dimensions:H. 37.2 cm
Credit Line:Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
The reliquary bust is of a woman in a religious habit shown in frontal view. An anonymous note about this piece was written on 2 January 1964: “Bust a bust! I have seen others.”(1) There was indeed every reason for suspicion, as this representation of an unidentifiable female saint has all the characteristics of a nineteenthcentury forgery. The rather primitively chased head has a modern manifestation; it seems to have been intentionally given an old, worn, and incomplete appearance. The head has been attached to the torso with late screws; no other, older means of attachment has been found. The two gems were also applied in that manner. The head has been silvered in an unusual way, which does not correspond to medieval practices, as X-ray fluorescence analysis by Richard E. Stone has revealed. It was made of a fairly clean copper with considerable amounts of silver and mercury, but no gold. The presence of mercury and the absence of gold are surprising, according to Stone: [because] it is essentially impossible to silver with mercury as you can with gold. . . . The silver on this bust survives only in patches which have all tarnished black. It is almost as if the silver was applied as a very thin patina rather than as a coherent coating. Presumably the copper was locally amalgamated and silver applied as either leaf or even as a powder, with the excess silver being brushed away. However, I know of no Renaissance piece in which this mercury method was ever used. The few silvered pieces of the Renaissance copper alloys which I have seen were either clad with silver or flooded with a layer of silver-solder.(2) The bust rests on a copper band with an a jour pattern, which is not of a fifteenth-century design. The only medieval part of the bust seems to be the medallion with a winged lion that has been attached to the front (see detail ill.). Finally, there are three inexplicable holes on the back of the torso, and four on the front, the two larger of which are under the medallion, which is probably French, from about 1300, and was likely taken from a book binding. It must have belonged to a set of four, representing the evangelists’ symbols. Its presence on a female bust cannot be explained. This reliquary bust could have been the work of the Parisbased, Italian art dealer and forger Luigi Parmeggiani 1860 – 1945), better known under his adopted French name Louis Marcy, who was particularly active in the field of faking medieval metalwork, often with enameled decorations. Among his clients was J. Pierpont Morgan.(3)
Catalogue entry from: Frits Scholten. The Robert Lehman Collection. European Sculpture and Metalwork, Vol. XII. Frits Scholten, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Princeton University Press, 2011, pp. 240-241.
Notes: 1. Note in the Robert Lehman Papers. 2. Information kindly provided by Richard E. Stone, conservator emeritus, Objects Conservation department, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, letter of 30 March 2009. 3. Fake? The Art of Deception. Exhibition, British Museum. Catalogue edited by Mark Jones, with Paul Craddock and Nicolas Barker. London, 1990, pp. 185 – 87; Campbell, Marian and Claude Blair. "‘Vive le Vol’: Louis Marcy, Anarchist and Faker." In Why Fakes Matter: Essays on the Problems of Authenticity, edited by Mark Jones, pp. 134 – 47. London, 1992; Campbell, Marian. "Imitation et création: La redécouverte de l’émail champlevé limousin au XIXe siècle." In L’oeuvre de Limoges: Art et histoire au temps des Plantagenêts; actes du colloque organisé au Musée du Louvre par le Service Culturel les 16 et 17 novembre 1995, edited by Danielle Gaborit-Chopin and Élisabeth Taburet-Delahaye, pp. 47 – 81. Translated by Jeanne Bouniort. Paris, 1998.
Charles Ducatel, Paris; Ducatel sale, Paris, 21-26 April 1890 (to Henri Mahoû); Henri Mahoû, Paris; Mahoû sale, Paris, 29-30 January 1904; J. Pierpont Morgan, New York.
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