Many people are familiar with the widespread availability of antiquities in Rome and Athens as late as the 1960s. Archaeologists and art historians working in the Mediterranean during this time often have private collections. A while ago I found a remarkable article that more than anything is testimony to this ‘innocent’ era of collecting – an era that was not as long ago as some people think.
Here’s David M. Robinson, then Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Mississippi and previously director of the University of Michigan excavations at Pisidian Antioch, writing about the acquisition of a group of Roman portraits, including an Augustus, in Rome in 1954 (p. 3, see full reference below):
My head [of Livia] was acquired in July of 1954, from a dealer in Rome who said it had recently been found near Rome. At the same time I secured a beautiful marble head of Livia’s son, the Emperor Tiberius, which along with a few heads of philosophers and of Aeschines I was not able to include in my article on “Unpublished Sculpture in the Robinson Collection” in the American Journal of Archaeology (59, 1955, 19-29, plates 11-12), where I do have (Plate 21, fig. 46) a unique marble head of Augustus.
Note that the Livia head had been ‘recently found near Rome’! The professor goes on to evaluate the new addition to the ‘Robinson Collection‘ (p. 4):
My head ranks higher than the one which I saw in the summer of 1954 in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen
Later, after a discussion of some other Livia heads, he muses on the artistic and historical value of his own recently aquired portrait of Livia and, more generally, the merits of the Augustan era (p. 4):
I am, then, very sceptical about the Holkham, Carthage, and Naples heads representing the great Roman Queen, and believe that the Copenhagen and my heads portray Livia, the towering personality, whose husband brought the Pax Romana into the world. Would that two such great personalities as Livia and Augustus would arise to-day to bring peace and rule the world as they did, with a golden age of literature and art and culture.
Oh, the nostalgia of a ‘true’ Classicist!
David M. Robinson. n.d. [1955?]. “A New Bust of Livia in the Robinson Collection”, pp. 1-8, in: Edward C. Echols (ed.) Classical Studies for Alexander David Fraser. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Weatherford Printing Company.