Laura Young, an art collector, was browsing a Goodwill in Austin, Texas in 2018 when she came upon a find most bargain-hunters can only dream of: an authentic bust from ancient Rome, with a price tag of $ 34.99.
Young, who is often on the hunt for rare art pieces, bought the 52-pound marble bust and took it outside for a closer look under some natural light, she told The New York Times:
“He had chips to the base. He had clear repairs. He looks old. I’ve been to museums. I’ve seen Roman portrait heads before. ”
She then did what any antique enthusiast would do: she googled images of ‘Roman bust’ and realized: “They look a lot like my guy.”
Young strapped the bust, which still had a yellow price tag on its cheek, on the front seat and took it home, where she decided to follow her hunch.
For the next few years, she worked with art history experts at the University of Texas at Austin and auction houses across the US to help find some answers.
She also reached out to two auction houses, Bonhams and Sotheby’s, both of which confirmed that the bust dated back to ancient Rome. Young was on vacation celebrating her 40th birthday when she received the confirmation from Bonhams. She wanted to rush home:
“He was at my house, alone.”
Jörg Deterling, a consultant for Sotheby’s, eventually gave Young a solid lead. It appeared the bust was once housed in a German museum decades ago. At some point, the bust was acquired by the Bavarian king Ludwig I, who displayed it in a full-scale replica of a home in Pompei (called the Pompejanum) in Aschaffenburg, Germany.
The Pompejanum stood for more than a century before it was heavily bombed by Allied fighters during World War II. The Bavarian government confirmed the find, but told Young she couldn’t sell it.
The bust, which was produced in ancient Rome sometime between the late 1st century BC to the early 1st century AD, somehow disappeared. No one is quite sure how the bust turned up in Texas, where it laid unadmired on the floor of a Goodwill, under a table, like some ancient rebuke.
“It is a great story whose plot includes the World War II era, international diplomacy, art of the ancient Mediterranean, thrift shop sleuthing, historic Bavarian royalty, and the thoughtful stewardship of those who care for and preserve the arts, whether as individuals or institutions, ”Emily Ballew Neff, Kelso director at the museum, stated.
The bust will be displayed at the San Antonio Museum of Art until May 2023, after which it will be returned to Germany.
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