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Case 13: Collecting Roman Sculpture

Dr John Disney, collector (1779-1857)


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Is this Apollo?

Only the torso of this statuette is ancient. The arms, legs, head and quiver of arrows were added in Rome in 1793 by the British artist John Flaxman (1755-1826), and the Italian sculptor Antonio D’Este (1754-1837). These additions turned the ancient torso of an unknown man into a statuette of the god Apollo. Far from seeing these additions as detracting from the ancient piece, Flaxman was proud of his work. Disney and other experts of the time knew which parts were modern and praised their quality. But at the same time they debated which ancient Apollo-type the statuette originally represented, even though it was precisely because of Flaxman and D’Este’s modern work that the piece was identified as Apollo at all.

Production place: Attica, Greece
Date: around AD 50 
Find spot: Italy
Marble (Pentelic)
Given by Disney, John, Dr

Object Number: GR.2.1885

see the online collections database




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Faking Antiquity: Medallion showing the Emperor Nero

Selling 'antiquities' was a thriving business in Italy in the 18th century, but many of the objects were not genuine. Thomas Hollis bought this roundel, showing the head of the Emperor Nero, thinking it was ancient. He believed it to be one side of an oscillum, a stone disc decorated on both faces which would have hung from the ceiling in an ancient public building (see GR.39.1850 and GR.40.1850 for an ancient example). Hollis was told that it came from Greece and hung over a doorway in Attica and that the other face, showing a personification of Rome, had just been sold to another Englishman. In fact this piece had been made in Italy only two hundred years earlier, and was a copy of an ancient coin type.

Production place: Italy
Date: around AD 1450–1600 
Marble (Carrara)
Given by Disney, John, Dr

Object Number: GR.63.1850

see the online collections database




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