You are here:Home/Resources/ Bliss-Tyler Correspondence/ Search the Letters/ Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss, March 1, 1937
Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss, March 1, 1937

Finance Ministry


1 March 1937.

Dear Robert,

I got down to Rome the other day and had a talk with our friend. I heard from him that he had already written to you on similar lines to those of my recent letters. He is delighted with your reply which he has just received.

With regard to Limburg,Reliquary of the True Cross (Staurotheke), Byzantine, ca. 960, gold, gems, and enamel, Cathedral Museum, Limburg an der Lahn. the matter is a pretty complicated one and he is not at all sure that it is practicable. He will investigate and report.

Where it is a question of objects in State possession, the matter is much simpler, and he thinks that, if the right time is chosen and the deal is properly prepared, there should be no insurmountable difficulty.

Going on the assumption that you are not interested in anything but objects of the very first quality, you might perhaps consider having a try for the following:

The ivory diptych, representing the Crucifixion and Christ appearing to the Magdalen in the garden / sauf erreur“Unless I’m mistaken.” / one leaf of which is in Dresden and the other in Hannover.See letters of April 6, 1937; April 9, 1937 [2]; June 3, 1937; July 25, 1937; August 18, 1937; August 21, 1937; September 4, 1937; September 11, 1937; December 13, 1937 [3]; and December 20, 1937. Both are reproduced in Goldschmidt and WeitzmannAdolph Goldschmidt and Kurt Weitzmann, Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X.–XIII. Jahrhunderts, vol. 2, Reliefs (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1934), 37, no. 40 (Hannover) and 41 (Dresden), pl. 17. latest volume where you might look them up (Vol II. Nos. 40 & 41a & b plate XVII). As for quality, they seem to me to come very near the Romanos and Eudoxia ivory in the Bibliothèque Nationale.Christ Crowning Romanos and Eudoxia, ca. 945–949, ivory, Département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris.

The so-called Sassanian textile in the Schlossmuseum in Berlin, representing Bahram lion hunting. Reproductions in Falke,Otto von Falke, Decorative Silks (New York: W. Helburn, 1922), 5. and also in my article in last July’s [sic] Burlington,Hayford Peirce and Royall Tyler, “The Prague Rider-Silk and the Persian-Byzantine Problem,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 68, no. 398 (May 1936): 214, 219, fig. 3A. of which I sent you a copy.

The lion silk,Lion Silk, Byzantine, late tenth–early eleventh century, Saint Heribert Diocesan Museum, Cologne-Deutz. The twelfth-century shrine of Saint Heribert, archbishop of Cologne (d. 1021), at Saint Heribert, Cologne-Deutz, has an imperial Byzantine lion silk with an inscription suggesting a date of ca. 976–1025 for the textile. See Michael Brandt and Arne Eggebrecht, Bernward von Hildesheim und das Zeitalter der Ottonen, vol. 2 (Hildesheim, 1993): no. II-19. with an inscription dating it in the early Xe century, belonging to the St. Heribert shrine at Deutz near Cologne. Now that the Siegburg lion silk has been ruined, this is the grandest representative of the style in existence. I have written to have photographs of this silk sent to you.

These four objects are the finest Byzantine works of art in German State possession known to me, and our Roman friend, to whom I mentioned them agrees. If you feel the same way about them, after considering the photographs, you might think it worth while to empower the Roman friend to negociate, after having agreed a maximum price with him, in the determination of which I would of course be glad to help if you wish me to do so.

Since speaking with our friend, it has occurred to me that you might also like to try for the superb Hippiatrica MSHippiatrica, Byzantine, mid-tenth century, Staatsbibliothek, Berlin, Codex Phillips 1538. in the Prussian State library in Berlin / Codex Phillips 15387 / of which you will find reproductions in Weitzmann’s “Byzantinische Buchmalerie des IX und X Jahrhunderts”Kurt Weitzmann, Byzantinische Buchmalerie des IX. und X. Jahrhunderts (Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1935). Planches XIX, XX, XXI. There are no figure paintings in this book, but the head piece decorations are the most magnificent I know, and the whole MS is in the most sumptuous style of the reign of Constantine Porphyrogenetos.Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (905–959), a Byzantine emperor who reigned from 913 to 959. As it is also State property, it might be available.

The Roman friend’s plan of campaign, which I think is probably a good one, would be for him to send his wifeVivyan Praz née Vivyan Leonora Eyles (1909–1984), the Australian wife of Mario Alcibiade Praz (1896–1982), an Italian author and art historian. She was not legally Volbach’s wife at the time of this letter, although she lived with him and they had a son, Julian (Giuliano). Vivyan Praz left her husband in 1942 and took Julian to England. She married Volbach in 1948. on the errand. She is on good personal terms with Prince Philip of Hesse,Philipp, Prince and Landgrave of Hesse (1896–1980), governor of Hesse-Nassau (1933–1943) and head of the Electoral House of Hesse (1940–1980). He joined the Nazi Party in 1930, but he fell out with the Nazis by 1943, when he was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, where he remained until being liberated by U.S. forces. See Robert S. Nelson, “Royall Tyler and the Bliss Collection of Byzantine Art,” in A Home of the Humanities: The Collecting and Patronage of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, ed. James N. Carder (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010), 42. Goering’sHermann Wilhelm Göring (1893–1946), a German politician, military leader, and leading member of the Nazi Party (NSDAP). Aide-de-Camp, who is a former art dealer himself.Göring was not an art dealer by profession, although he used his position in the Nazi Party to acquire or loot artworks, amassing the largest private collection in Europe. I do not know her personally, but he tells me that she is thoroughly-versed in all these questions. He adds that there is no doubt whatever about present willingness to sell from State collections, as the great Carlo CrivelliCarlo Crivelli (ca. 1435–ca. 1495), an Italian Renaissance painter. from the Berlin MuseumPossibly The Magdalen, tempera on panel, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. This painting was in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin, in July 1935, when it was acquired by the dealer Isaak Rosenbaum in Amsterdam. has recently been sold.

He tells me that he has sent to you photographs of three sculptures belonging to Prince Leopold of Prussia. One of them is a tondo,BZ.1937.23. enclosing an Emperor: the pendant to the one preserved in the Campiello Angaran in Venice.Roundel with Emperor Alexios I (?), Byzantine (?), twelfth century, marble, immured in the Campiello de Ca’ Angaran, Venice. See Matteo Bezzi, Iconologia della sacralità del potere: Il tondo di Angaran e l’etimasia (Spoleto: Fondazione Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2007). The two others represent an AngelA stone lectern in the form of an angel, South Italian, third quarter of the twelfth century, sandstone or limestone. See Gerd-H. Zuchold, Der “Klosterhof” des Prinzen Karl von Preussen im Park von Schloss Glienicke in Berlin (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1993), 1:fig. 119 and 2:146–47, no. 128. and the Virgin;BZ.1938.62. They are all very fine,These sculptures were in the “Klosterhof” of the Schloss Glienicke in Berlin-Potsdam before being removed to Lugano. See Gerd-H. Zuchold, Der “Klosterhof” des Prinzen Karl von Preussen im Park von Schloss Glienicke 1 (Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1993): 69–72. and I think the tondo itself may actually be Byzantine. The Angel and Virgin I think are Venetian, though of course under strong Byzantine influence. They would be very good acquisitions. The owner is at present living in Switzerland, but our friend thinks he could arrange to get the three objects, which are still in Potsdam,“Klosterhof” of the Schloss Glienicke in Berlin-Potsdam. out of Germany.

In addition to the above, there is another matter of which our friend only spoke with bated breath and of which he asked me not to communicate with you unless I could be absolutely certain that the message would reach you without interception. There are in the vaults of the Museum in Berlin several archaic statues,These sculptures—which are described as reliefs in the letter of April 6, 1937—have not been identified. according to our friend of the very finest style of the VI° century B.C. These statues were excavated in the island of Samos some time ago, without the knowledge of the Greek authorities, and discreetly smuggled out of Greek territory. The Germans have never dared to exhibit them, for fear of trouble with the Greek Government. Our friend believes that the State may be willing to sell these statues, no question being asked or information being given as to their provenance, in which case if the point were to be raised later, the State would be alone responsible.

Our friend has no photographs of them, and I told him that I did not think it was much good talking to you about them unless photographs could be supplied. They might be extremely interesting.

I have told our friend that if he needs any advance of funds for traveling expenses connected with this matter I will let him have what is necessary.


R. T.

Associated People: Friedrich (“Fritz”) Volbach
Associated Places: Budapest (Hungary); Rome (Italy)
Associated Artworks: BZ.1937.23; BZ.1938.62