Love and war: Issues in the technical study of two Roman bronzes in the Getty Museum

Jeff Maish


Conservators are often called upon to collaborate with scholars in efforts to resolve questions of authenticity, attribution and technology. In the study of ancient material, traces are often very subtle and sometimes consider not only existing evidence, but the suggestions of missing components. The conservator’s role sometimes extends from simple investigator to that of a technical advocate providing evidence in support of (or against) a scholarly position in relation to an object. Several of these issues were addressed in the technical examination of two bronzes in the antiquities collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum. In the study of an unusual Mars statue from Gaul (125 – 175 AD) a scholar had questioned whether the base with identifying information actually belonged to the figure. In a second bronze, traces of iron and lead suggested that a figure of Dionysus (1st century AD) once possessed several attached, but now unknown, attributes (characteristic accessory objects). In both cases technical and radiographic examination advanced to scientific analysis of the metals using x-ray fluorescence and on one figure, lead isotope analysis. In the Mars figure, isotopic analysis appeared to not only confirm the figure’s origins in Gaul, but also revealed a close approximation of metal compositions between base and figure. The study of the Dionysus raised some questions regarding the observed and proposed attributes of the figure, and reopened discussion on the figure’s attribution as Dionysus. Further research of art historical parallels combined with the use of computer imaging has led to the probable reattribution of the figure as Eros.

2002 | Miami | Volume 9