Antique portraits in ViennaPreparation of a scientific collection catalogue of the portrait sculptures of the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities of the Kunsthistorisches Museum
forMuse - Research in the museum
A support programme of the Federal Ministry of Science and Research
Project management: Dr. Manuela Laubenberger
Owing to the generous support of the Federal Minsitry of Science and Research in the financing of extra staff, the realisation of the extensive research project has been safeguarded over a period of three years.
Among the sculptures held by the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities of the Kunsthistorisches Museum there is a large number of portraits, mainly including marble busts from Roman times with several changes from late antiquity. These supplementations and revisions are closely connected with the history of the collection that evolved over years and with respective fashions of the time.
The sculptures - of which the majority had belonged to the Habsburgs - decorated gardens and fountains as well as state rooms. Unlike the modern museum approach to works of art as pieces to be ‘merely' kept and conserved in the best possible way, since the end of antiquity most art works were adapted in keeping with the proper contemporary tastes and purpose. This insight facilitates the approach to changes that antique portraits underwent since their discovery. Hence a prime concern of the research project is the relevant question which criteria can be applied in the evaluation of a sculpture, which is located in a historically grown collection and - unlike archaeological finds - has not been preserved in its original condition, but underwent several changes since its finding.
Out of about 250 portraits of the collection (not counting the finds of Ephesus) about a fifth is on display, the remaining pieces are deposited and, for the greater part, have not been published yet. Preparatory works have taken place within the repositioning of the collection in 2003 and 2005: the portraits that haven been on display since September 2005 are newly restored, installed, photographed and scientifically documented.
The aim of the research project is the scientific reprocessing of the collections in chronological, typological and hermeneutic order.
Apart from the complete documentation of the individual portraits (location, previous owner, acquisition, history within the collection) provenance research is particularly important as it provides stylistic and technical analyses as well as insights into the timing of alterations/supplementations.
The main focuses are on the identification and registration of supplementations and revisions as well as the restorative care of the objects and their photographic recording. Camera-ready copies of the art works form the basis of the projected new catalogue: the project aims for the publication of an inventory catalogue with a commented catalogue and a plate volume.
The three-year research project involves the creation of the first volume, including a total of 55 paintings of named and unnamed empresses, women, girls and poetesses. In accordance with the structuring of similar inventory catalogues of European museums, the catalogue is subdivided into pre-Roman, Roman (Republican, imperial and late antique) and post-antique portraits. The results of research will also be included in an already existing image database of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and will be presented at an exhibition.
The project team:
The project team is composed of a classical archaeologist (Dr Manuela Laubenberger) and an art historian (Dr Ulrike Müller-Kaspar) who are responsible for the scientific processing of the portraits; a classical archaeologist (HR Dr Alfred Bernhard-Walcher) responsible for the history of the collection and three-person team of restorers (head: Mag. Viktor Freiberger, Mag. Brigitte Proll and Alexander Freiberger). The analysis of binders and supplementary materials is carried out by employees of the scientific laboratory (head: DI Dr Martina Griesser and Dr Vaclav Pitthard). The photographic studio of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (head Stefan Zeisler) undertakes the photographic documentation.
Cooperation partners are an internationally renowned research institution (Vienna, Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut with Dr Maria Aurenhammer) and two major European museums (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado with Dr Stephan Schröder and München, Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek with Prof Dr Raimund Wünsche). The collections of the latter two museums can be compared to the Viennese collection in that they have similar origins - namely in royal estates - and functions (such as decoration). We expect methodical suggestions and a lively exchange of experience in the discussion of similar questions.
The project complies with the guidelines of the research strategy of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and contributes to the internationalisation of Austrian museum research.