The One That Got Away: The Via Labicana Augustus

Via Labicana Augustus
The “Via Labicana” Augustus in Palazzo Massimo, photo: TMK, April 2011.

Frederik Poulsen wasn’t always successful in getting the pieces he wanted for the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. In the second volume of his memoirs, I det gæstfrie Europa (1947), he discusses some of his experiences working under the direction of Carl Jacobsen as well as his occasional failures in acquiring a number of different sculptures, including the so-called “Via Labicana” Augustus that was found in 1910 (Arachne). It was first in the main Museo delle Terme and now in Palazzo Massimo (inv. 56230).

Prior to this, the NCG had had considerable success in acquiring sculpture from recent excavations in Rome (see, for example, the assemblages from the Horti Sallustiani and the “Licinian Tomb” that count among the Glyptotek’s most prized possessions).

Here’s a rough translation of the relevant passage (from p. 264). I have no idea whether there is any truth to FP’s accusations of dirty dealings on behalf of the Italian state. It could well be the case that he was eager to accept pretty much anything in order to explain away his failure and the disappointment of Jacobsen.

In 1911 I had a similar accident in Rome. It was the newly discovered, wonderful statue of Augustus from Via Labicana that was the goal, and I had been permitted to bid up to 120.000 Lire. Once again I had scouted out that the Italian state would offer 40.000 Lire for the statue and that the seller had to give up a fourth of the sum if it was sold to a buyer abroad and a permesso was required for its export. Professor Helbig, Jacobsen’s representative in Rome, and I agreed to bid 80.000 Lire to secure the purchase. Italy was victorious anyway. The owner was an engineer, and by offering him the sole rights to a harbour facility in Bari, the government succeeded in acquiring the statue for the Museo delle Terme.

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