New from 2012: Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts wins “Acquisition of the Year” accolades for colossal ex-Ludovisi ‘Juno’

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Christine Kondoleon, the MFA’s George D. and Margo Behrakis Senior Curator of Greek and Roman Art, with the colossal ‘Juno’ (in process of conservation) and a cast of the statue’s head. Photo: Corey Brennan

Talk about hiding in plain sight. A colossal female Roman sculpture with the head of the goddess Juno stood prominently for more than 100 years in the gardens of a famed Italianate estate in Brookline, Massachusetts. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) managed to purchase it in 2011, after five years of negotiation and careful planning.

In spring 2012 the MFA painstakingly moved the 13 foot tall, seven ton goddess to its George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing for Art of the Ancient World, for permanent installation in the Gallery that also bears the Behrakis name. (An 80 foot crane had to lower the statue through a skylight to get it into the building.) And there the Museum staff has continued the work of consolidation and restoration it had started at the sculpture’s previous site at the Brandegee estate in Brookline. It so happens that the MFA “Juno” is the largest classical marble statue in the United States.

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March 2012: ‘Juno’, encased in a specially built protective cage, is lifted by crane, and then lowered through a skylight into the Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: MFA

The provenance? It turns out that the sculpture formed part of the collection of none other than Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595-1632), nephew of Pope Gregory XV Ludovisi (1554-1621-1623). The MFA has compiled an excellent list of the statue’s appearances in various inventories and descriptions of the family’s famed art collection here. Observers variously identified her as a “Julia” (1633), an “ancient Empress” (1641), “Faustina” (first in 1693, and then often), and “Juno” (1789). Theodor Schreiber in his masterly 1880 catalogue of ancient works in the Ludovisi collection thought the sculpture’s drapery suggested identification with the goddess Demeter.

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“Le Matin: Vue des jardins della Villa Lodovisi à Rome (1801). A somewhat loose depiction of the ‘Juno’ by François Jean Sablet (1745-1819). The base has been elongated to make the statue seem even taller. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

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The statue in 1885, as it stood for about 275 years, close by the Aurelian Walls that bounded the Villa Ludovisi to the north. Photo: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913). Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

One major snag for the identification is that the head is not original to the body. It is made of a different marble, and does not fit all that well. In all likelihood the body dates to the first century BC, and the head somewhat later—almost certainly to the first or second centuries AD. But it seems the two had been paired since the days when Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi set up his gardens.

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Identification of the colossal statue as “Faustina” in Pietro Rossini, Il Mercurio errante delle grandezze di Roma (1693). Source: Google Books

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View—from a distance—of the ‘Juno’ as it stood in 1885, at the terminus of the Villa Ludovisi’s Viale dei Cipressi. Photo: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913). Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

In the Villa Ludovisi the statue long served as the focal point at the terminus of a 350-meter long allée known as the Viale dei Cipressi, that stretched northeast from the Palazzo Grande to the Aurelian Walls. After the dissolution of the Villa Ludovisi in 1885, it appears the ‘Juno’ remained for a dozen years in sad isolation at the corner of the Via Campania and Via Abruzzi in the newly-built Rione Ludovisi.

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By Guglielmo Mangiarelli (1846-1917), a contemporary (dated 20 December 1886) study of Juno as the clearing of the Villa Ludovisi progressed. Museo di Roma.

But there it caught the eye of Richard Norton, then director of the American School of Classical Studies (later, American Academy) in Rome. In the year 1897, or soon after, US Congressman Charles F. Sprague and his wife Mary Pratt Sprague purchased the statue from Prince Rodolfo Boncompagni Ludovisi through Norton’s help and had it shipped to New England. Oral tradition has it that it took 12 oxen to drag the statue into place at the Brookline estate around 1904, but there are no clear records.

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The general location of the “Boston Juno” as it looks today: on Rome’s Via Campania, near the intersection with Via Abruzzi, looking east. Photo: Google Streetview

The colossal statue’s new home at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts dramatically highlights the MFA’s many other ex-Ludovisi items in its collection, about a dozen and a half in all. These include the famed “Boston Throne” (a large three-sided mid-fifth century Greek relief, with a close analogue in the Ludovisi Throne in Rome’s Palazzo Altemps), fine portrait heads (in particular, one of the Emperor Maximinus), an Imperial Roman Priapus, and a number of cameos and gems.

Indeed, the Boston area has a fair claim to have the best collection of Ludovisiana in North America. Nearby to the MFA, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has a further three sculptures from the Villa Ludovisi, including a well-known Odysseus creeping on his knees. And the Harvard Art Museums have, among numerous relevant drawings and prints, three especially important depictions of the 17th century Villa Ludovisi: by Johann Wilhem Baur of the Palazzo Grande and Casino Aurora (each 1636), and Israël Silvestre of the Casino Aurora (ca. 1650).

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Article in Apollo magazine (May 2012) detailing the Boston MFA’s discovery, purchase and transport of the Ludovisi colossal ‘Juno’ found in nearby Brookline, and the Museum’s conservation efforts

The unlikely Boston saga of the jumbo ‘Juno’ has attracted much media attention, ranging from The Boston Globe, to local PBS affiliate WBUR, to the Wall Street Journal. But it was Apollo (“The International Magazine for Collectors”) in its May 2012 issue that told the story in its fullest form.

There Christine Kondoleon, the MFA’s George D. and Margo Behrakis Senior Curator of Greek and Roman Art, and conservator Susanne Gänsicke, from the MFA’s Department of Conservation and Collections Management, detailed Juno’s progress from the Ludovisi Gardens in Rome to the Sprague estate of Faulkner Farm in Brookline, a veritable Odyssey that “offers a glimpse into the activities of Boston Brahmin society, a group of elites who aspired to build grand homes with important collections in the style of Europeans.” Looking back at 2012 this past December, Apollo named the MFA’s purchase of the colossal sculpture the “Acquisition of the Year”.

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To meet the numerous conservation challenges that the statue poses, the MFA has turned to the public. “The MFA’s acquisition of Juno”, said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum in the press release that heralded the acquisition, ” provides a unique opportunity for everyone in the Museum family to be involved in the conservation of the largest Roman statue in the United States.” “Visitors will be able to observe the detailed process needed to return her to her former glory and can also support the effort through the MFA’s public appeal.”

This MFA video shows well the statue in its earlier Brookline setting, and the preparations for its move:

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Jean-Louis Lachevre, conservation engineer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, shows a cast he has made of Juno’s 350-pound marble head as part of preparations for the statue’s treatment. Photo: Corey Brennan

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Above three photos: the MFA’s “Conservation in Action” efforts for the ‘Juno’ in the George D. and Margo Behrakis Gallery of the Behrakis Wing. Engineers evaluated the existing gallery floor loading capacities, and a wide base was constructed to distribute her weight between floor beams. Photos: Corey Brennan

In 1897, Richard Norton wrote of the sale of the colossal female statue, “I am staking my whole reputation on this one thing because it will become well known at once.” Alas, it was not to be. Charles F. Sprague, a two-term US Congressman, died in a Providence RI insane asylum not quite five years after the statue’s purchase, in 1902.

Mary Platt Sprague soon was remarried, to Edward Deshon Brandegee, head of a great wholesale clothing firm in Utica NY (and close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt). But despite their connections and immense combined wealth—she had inherited many millions from her grandfather the shipping magnate William Fletcher Weld—it does not seem that appreciation of the ex-Ludovisi colossus extended beyond their immediate social circle, if that.

Perhaps the trouble was that the vast spread known as Faulkner Farm dwarfed even the giant statue. The firm of Little, Browne & Moore built the Spragues’ oversized mansion in Brookline. Landscape architect Charles Adams Platt had designed the grounds, and his creation—generally considered America’s first (and certainly best-known) Italian garden—seems to have turned the ‘Juno’ into just one decorative feature among many. For instance, Barr Ferree, in his lavish 1906 book American Estates and Gardensoffers nine evocative views of the Faulkner Farm , with no ‘Juno’ in sight. One challenge for the months and years to come will be to find more views of the colossal statue in this most evocative (and well-studied) American garden.

The Archivio Digitale Boncompagni Ludovisi weblog warmly thanks the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for its help in gathering material for this post, especially Christine Kondoleon and Susanne Gansicke. Special thanks to Dr. Valeriya Kozlovskaya (Brookline, Mass.), who first alerted the weblog Editor to the MFA’s acquisition in March 2012.

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The ‘Juno’ as it stood in 1885, at the terminus of the Viale dei Cipressi of the Villa Ludovisi. Photo: Prince Ignazio Boncompagni Ludovisi (1845-1913). Collection of HSH Prince Nicolò and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome.

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View (looking north) from Rome’s Via Abruzzi toward the intersection with Via Campania and the Aurelian Walls. This will have been the original setting for the ‘Juno’. Photo: Google Streetview

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  1. […] the Museum of Fine Arts acquired in 2011. Recently on this blog we detailed how the MFA received “Acquisition of the Year” accolades in December 2012 from Apollo magazine for the discovery and inspired purchase of the statue. We’ll let the Boston Globe tell the […]

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