Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss, March 31, 1938

L. of N.

Geneva

31.III.38

Dear Robert.

Thanks for your cableSee telegram of March 30, 1938. about the Juritzky columns.BZ.1940.78–79. I’m so glad you find them very fine. I’ve instructed my bankers to pay Juritzky, as agreed.

Yesterday I called on Fiedler & saw the Prince L.Prince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia. Virgin.BZ.1938.62. She seemed to me, on actual inspection, more Byz. than I had expected from the photo: less sweetly pretty in the Ital. way, graver. The end of the nose has suffered a little, & so have the lips in a way that comes out (in the photo) in an almost cloying sweetness. Not so in the original. She is very well preserved, on the whole—indeed except for the above-mentioned points, & the weathering, due to long exposure, she is intact. The marble is of the Greek sugary kind, with crystals that show even through the patina, & not at all the soapy Italian variety. This speaks for a Greek origin, though not conclusively, as Greek marble may well have been used by Venetian sculptors, as it was by Roman sculptors in the middle ages.

Dimensions of the relief: H. 103.5 cm. W. 49 cm. The slab is ca. 7 cm. thick; the relief, at its highest, is 5 cm. high, & the frame is 4 cm. high: i.e. the relief, in parts, is higher than the frame.

By the way, I was in Venice just before seeing it, & made a point of studying, photo in hand, the half dozen comparable Virgins in S. Marco.The orant Virgin sculptures in the church of Saint Mark, Venice, variously located in the north aisle, on the northwest pier of the cupola, and on the west facade. See Otto Demus, The Church of San Marco in Venice: History, Architecture, Sculpture (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University, 1960), pls. 36, 37, and 43. The Prince L. one is finer than any there, & more Greek, with the one exception of the Madonna Della Grazia“Madonna della Grazia,” at the Porta di San Pietro entrance to the church of Saint Mark, Venice. According to Charles Davis, Byzantine Relief Icons in Venice and along the Adriatic Coast: Orants and Other Images of the Mother of God (Munich: fondamentaARTE, 2006), 18, a photograph published in 1888 shows the Virgin’s hands hung with paternostri, and a line of hooks forms an arc around her shoulders, all of which must have been hung with devotional objects and ex-votos. (she is the type with raised hands in the orans attitude, known as Πλατυτέρα: i.e. “vaster than the Heavens.” Prince L’s MadonnaBZ.1938.62. must, from her attitude, have been the L. fig. of a Deesis group:Deësis, the traditional Byzantine representation of Christ enthroned and holding a book flanked by the Birgin Mary on the left and Saint John the Baptist on the right. the Christ between the Virgin & St. John the Bapt.), which looks to me ever finer, & of a rather nobler, more severe style—but she is so hung over with tin hearts that it’s hard to tell, & my impression may not be right. MarangoniLuigi Marangoni (1872–1950), an Italian architect and the proto or custodian of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. See Otto Demus, The Church of San Marco in Venice: History, Architecture, Sculpture (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1960), 198. has promised to try & get the Patriarch to let him remove the hearts for a few minutes & have a good photo taken. By the way, I showed Marangoni the Prince L’s Madonna photo, without telling him where it came from. He greatly admired it, & said it must be Greek, & not Venetian. He was full of curiosity about it.

It’s a superb thing, all right, and I should think the chances of another of that style & quality ever turning up are nil. I greatly hope you may secure it for the Oaks. None of the museums has anything like it, the one at SalonikiOrant Virgin Mary from the church of Profitis Ilias, Byzantine, early eleventh century, marble, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki, inv. no. AG 776. & the one at StamboulOrant Virgin Mary from the church of Hagios Georgios Monastery, Byzantine, marble, Archaeological Museums, Istanbul, inv. 3914 T. being headless, & a Mad. Relief“Maria Orans” from the church of the Theotokos Peribleptos, Psamatia, marble, Bode Museum, Berlin. See Reinhold Lange, Die byzantinische Reliefikone (Recklinghausen: A. Bongers, 1964), no. 3. in the Kaiser Fried. Mus. Berlin being altogether inferior & highly probably Venetian. Prince L’s seemed far better than I had expected.

As to price, F.Hermann Fiedler. hadn’t been able to get the Prince to name a figure, but he did say that Volbach considered the MadonnaBZ.1938.62. finer and more valuable than the Emp.BZ.1937.23. I said (may God forgive me!): (a) the Madonna seemed to me later than the Emp.—XIIth century to his Xth; (b) her style showed certain weaknesses: head too big, hands too small; (c) it would be crazy to expect to get as much for her as for the Emp., both because of the intrinsic quality of the object, & because of the catastrophic conditions in the market in general, & the N.Y. stock exchange, & if Prince L. wanted to sell it at all he had better hurry up and name an attractive price.

F.Hermann Fiedler.said he’d shortly see Prince L., & would communicate with me.

He expects soon to have photos. of the archaic sculpture.These sculptures, which are described as reliefs in the letter of April 6, 1937, have not been identified. As I think I’ve written to you before, I don’t like the idea of your branching out into that field. But in this instance, if the things are anything like what Volbach says, they’d probably be irresistible to some of the big museums, & by doing an all-in deal for them, & the 2 Dresden & 1 GothaSee letters of April 8, 1937April 8, 1937April 9, 1937; April 9, 1937April 16, 1937April 16, 1937May 22, 1937June 3, 1937June 16, 1937June 26, 1937July 6, 1937July 25, 1937August 21, 1937September 4, 1937October 25, 1937November 23, 1937December 13, 1937February 28, 1938July 10, 1938July 29, 1938August 10, 1938August 16, 1938December 20, 1938; and January 3, 1939. ivories, you might arrange to get the ivories for less than you’d otherwise have to pay. However, it may be that the ivories come along first, & have to be decided on by themselves. I think you should be prepared to give up to $5000 for Gotha, & $25000 for the two Dresden ones, together, as they are world famous & of the highest possible quality. Please confirm. It appears that the time to act in Dresden will come soon, when the present director (one of the old school) is replaced by a Nazi. At Gotha, the legal point of possession (Duke or State) hasn’t yet been decided, but it is to be soon, according to F.Hermann Fiedler.

I went to see Loewy [sic] in Venice, but he had nothing for us. A bit of “Byz” mosaic, with birds, which looked to me wrong.

Political prospects being what they are, I’m tempted to ask the hospitality of the Oaks for our chaliceBZ.1955.18.—without prejudice to an eventual sale—I’d just lend it. It’s in a vault at the Bank of Paris, but if there was a war. . . . It may indicate a defective sense of proportion to worry about the chalice in the hypothesis of Paris being blown to blazes—but on the other hand, if one did lose the chalice, it wd. be no consolation to reflect that Paris had sauté.“Lept.” Mal de muchos, consuelo de tontos.“What’s bad for many is the consolation of fools.” If you would like to take it as a loan, sans prejudice, send me a cable & I’ll ship it off, via Delarancheraye,De La Rancheraye et Cie., a shipping company in Paris. or bring it myself.

Well, tomorrow, April 1st, I start at the Secretariat.The Permanent Secretariat of the League of Nations in Geneva comprised a body of experts in various spheres. The principal sections of the secretariat were: Political; Financial and Economics; Communications and Transit; Minorities and Administration (Saar and Danzig); Mandates; Disarmament; Health; Social (Opium and Traffic in Women and Children); Intellectual Cooperation and International Bureaux; Legal; and Information. Each section was responsible for all official secretarial work related to its particular subject, and it prepared and organized all meetings and conferences held in that connection. ¿que te parece?“What do you think?”

It was nice to see StablerJordan Herbert Stabler (1885–1938), an American diplomat, merchant, and author. in Pest.

Love to you both—

Yrs

R. T.

 
Associated Artworks: BZ.1937.23; BZ.1938.62; BZ.1940.78-79; BZ.1955.18