Ever noticed the impressive, large Bacchus and Ariadne that Elinor Penna is selling? Would you believe that this masterpiece owes its existence to a restoration error? No, the error is not in Elinor’s figure, which is correct. The problem began centuries ago.
Bacchus and Ariadne. Circa 1800. H: 24". Courtesy Elinor Penna.
Elinor’s Bacchus and Ariadne is modeled after a Graeco-Roman marble of Priapos and a Maenad. This marble had lost both figures’ heads and most limbs when it came to Britain from Rome circa 1770. Today we can confirm its identity as Priapos and a Maenad: a Graeco-Roman marble in Athens has Priapos’s head intact, and a group in Berlin preserves the maenad’s head.[i] But around 1770, something went very wrong. Faced with a headless, limbless trunk, an English restorer used his own initiative. He restored the marble incorrectly to resemble Dionysos (also known as Bacchus) and Ariadne —possibly he used a 4th century BCE bronze relief in the British Museum for "inspiration." The transformed marble was imitated as a smaller plaster and in bronze, which were in turn mimicked in pottery, giving rise to the pottery figure now known as Bacchus and Ariadne. [ii]
So what happened to the botched marble? Today, you can see it for yourself in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
[i] Vermeule, Cornelius. “Recent Museum Acquisitions: Priapos and Maenad (Boston Museum of Fine Arts”; Vol. 111, No. 795, (June 1969), p381-382
[ii] Poole, Julia. "Pagiarism Personified." p64.