BUSTE DE VIBIA SABINA (vers 130 ap. J.-C.) BUST OF VIBIA SABINA (circa 130 AD..)
Conseil à l'achat, expertise, direction des opérations de valorisation patrimoniale (restauration, présentation muséographique et scénographique) Consultancy for aquisition ; Authentification and Identification ; Curating
White marble with medium grains and crystals from Cape Vathy on Thasos (?) Bust height: 58 cm, Length: 45.5 cm, Depth: 25 cm
The bust is whole, except for restored projections (the nose, the tip of the chin, a portion of the lower lip, a small edge of the turban braiding at the back and five folds in the draping), a break on the cheek, some spalls and the missing original pedestal. The neck is broken in three fragments. Prior restorations (18th (?), 19th and 20th centuries)
PROVENANCE (completed in 2012) Pietro Stettiner (b. 1855), Rome, prior to 1912 François Olive, Saint-Lys, France, acquired in the 1950s/1960s Drouot, Paris, Blanchet et associés, commissaires-priseurs, Paris, December 21st, 2005, no. 190, illus.
Restoration end of 2008 by Patrick Jallet under the direction of Laure Chevalier (AGALMATA) – mandated by the owner of the bust. Expertise carried out by Laure Chevalier (Ph.D. in archaeology and ancient world history, member of the Union Française des Experts – specialist in antique marble sculpture). Pedestal created in 2009 by Emmanuel Bougenaux assisted by Patrick Jallet, under the direction of Laure Chevalier (AGALMATA). Filmed presentation (2009) by Thomas Gilson and Raphaël Chipault, under the direction of Laure Chevalier (Production AGALMATA).
Expertise notes The feminine bust, unpublished to date (2008), is an extremely rare portrait. On the one hand the imperial figure is represented here according to an unknown portrait type, of which only a few coins, two gems and less than ten related statues record the image. On the other hand, this antique has not been greatly marked by the ravages of time. Its condition is remarkable, its completeness exceptional and the beautiful restorations carried out at an early date convey an exceptional pedigree.
The restoration carried out under my direction by my collaborator Patrick Jallet revealed the quality of this beautifully developed work which had survived in its entirety excepting restored projections, some spalls, a break on the check and the missing original pedestal.
The life size effigy shows a female figure in a frontal position that is interrupted by the movement of the head, which is imperceptibly lowered and turned to its right. The assembly of the antique fragments between the torso and the head restored a slender neck whose modeling is animated by the oblique projection on the left side with the tension of the sterno-mastoid muscle. All of these elements combine to create a work of careful, delicate and harmonious handling. The position of the head is in accordance with the notations of movement at the base of the neck and on its fragments. The depth of the modeling, the fineness of the execution and the refinement of the eurythmic corrections to the face and hair show that it is an independent sculpture in the round which was made to be seen up close and handled in a synthetic manner joining realism and idealism.
The relative chronology, iconographic formula (precise position of the head, hairstyle, morphology of the face and clothing) permit a comparison with a statuary type representing Vibia Sabina: the bust studied here fits into a sequence of disparate documents (statuary works, coins and gems), originating essentially, if not exclusively, from the Greek Orient. It is probably a Greek workshop that produced this magnificent work, the portrait of Vibia Sabina, Emperor Hadrian’s wife. It is the first portrait created during her lifetime, in 129 A.D. or shortly before, during her visit to Continental Greece and Asia Minor. If we consider the coins and gems as representative evidence of what the original work was like, our example constitutes, if not the archetype (which however, I maintain), then at the very least an excellent version of it that is contemporary or slightly later.
Is it necessary to insist on the importance to our heritage of this fascinating marble, of which only the unusual related conditions of burying, discovery and conservation have allowed its remarkable preservation? The quality of execution on the bust reveals the skill, gestures and point and chisel of a great master sculptor of antiquity, which the owners of the work had not failed to notice by observing the nature, age and high quality of the restorations carried out prior to ours.
L.C.* (Revised excerpts from the 13 page Scientific Report)
*Laure Chevalier has a doctorate in archeology and ancient world history. As a qualified expert, she is a member of the Union Française des Experts (French Antiques Appraisers) specializing in antiquities and objet d’art (certification in antique marble sculpture). In 2006 Laure Chevalier created Agalmata Inc., which she directs. She is a member of the Centre d’Archéologie Générale directed by Professors Alexandre Farnoux and Pierre-Yves Balut, and she teaches Greek art history at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
Each stage of the restoration is noted in a summary annexed to the Scientific Report: below is an excerpt from the Technical Survey.
The conditions of the discovery of this antique sculpture and of its later conservation prior of the beginning 20th century are unknown. It was found a long time ago, as indicated by the type and number of restorations.
The different kinds of materials found while cleaning the surface and opening the joints between the fragments show that there were several restoration campaigns previous to ours: several types of adhesive and filling coexist (colophane resin found under the tasselli and under the plaster fillings in the neck: ferrous and cuprous dowels, synthetic plaster, acrylic resin). If the preceding campaign, unfortunately interventionist, is recent (2007), the others however are impossible to date with certainty. Perhaps the synthetic plaster found in the fillings of the neck and for the modeling of the ears (assuming it is the same) dates from the second quarter of the 20th century. Other interventions are certainly earlier: the colophane provides a chronological reference point (its use in antique marble restoration predates the 20th century), as do the types of dowels that secure the tasselli or the modern incisions that mark the pupils.
It remains that the remarkable quality of the complements shows the skill of great restorers. The perfect integration of the tasselli, the precision of the restitution of the original position of the head, like the pertinence with which the neck was reassembled goes back to an old sociological reality, when restorers where simultaneously technicians, sculptors and marble workers. These interventions evoke the best restorations of the beginning of the 19th century (an artist such as Canova comes to mind), or even those of the 18th century. (Excerpt from the 13 page Expert Report Part II, Technical Survey)
L.C.* and P.J.*
*Laure Chevalier has a doctorate (Ph.D.) in archaeology and ancient world history. As a qualified expert, she is a member of the Union Française des Experts (French Antiques Appraisers) specializing in antiquities and objet d’art (certification in antique marble sculpture). In 2006 Laure Chevalier created Agalmata Inc., which she directs. She is a member of the Centre d’Archéologie Générale directed by Professors Alexandre Farnoux and Pierre-Yves Balut, and she teaches Greek art history at the Paris-Sorbonne University.
*Patrick Jallet is a sculpture restorer with a national diploma for sculpture restoration from the regional Fine Arts University at Tours in 1986. He has worked on pieces for major national museums (the Louvre, Quai Branly, Château de Versailles, Guimet, Cluny, Petit Palais and others) and on prestigious sites such as the Lascaux Caves. He teaches conservation and restoration techniques for cultural property at the Paris I / Panthéon-Sorbonne University.