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Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss, November 15, 1939

Geneva . 15.XI.39

Dear Robert.

I have received from Kaleb photos of a big bronze vessel, two crosses and some other objectsBZ.1939.14.1–25; these objects are now considered to be modern forgeries. In correspondence from Robert Woods Bliss to Kalebdjian Frères, dated November 17, 1939, Bliss writes: “They present potentialities of much interest to students, provided they are genuine. I make this reservation because they have been doubted by several persons, including curators of museums. I am therefore going to have them subjected to very careful scrutiny and complete study to determine their authenticity, and I feel sure that no-one would be more desirous of determining this point than yourselves. I earnestly hope that these bronze pieces will prove to be all that we had anticipated. My purpose in writing you now in this respect is to acquaint you with the doubts which have been expressed about them, so that should the opinions of these persons prove correct it will not be a complete surprise to you if I so inform you. It is also my intention to prepare you for the possibility that it may be necessary for me to ask you to take back the objects at the price which was paid for them, but I most sincerely and earnestly hope that this will not prove to be the case.” Byzantine Collection, Kalebdjian Frères correspondence file. which are said to come from the same site as the lot you already have.BZ.1939.13 and BZ.1939.14.1–25. The owners ask £800 for them.

I have told Kaleb, in answer to his question, that he might send the photos to you, but that the big vessel & the crosses looked very late and poor in quality, & the price asked seemed absurd to me.

I’ll add, to you, that my only reason for telling him to send the photos was that the things were said (who knows if it’s true?) to come from the same site as the earlier lot. The representations incised on the big vessel are wretched in style, and look very late. Those two kneeling angels, indeed, must be late. I know of no kneeling angels in Byz. or near-Byz. of the time before Italian influences seeped in. Those angels look as if they must be post-Renaissance—and so do the two crucifixes. It’s quite possible, of course, that objects continued to accumulate in the said site for many centuries, but the later accretions aren’t much the more interesting for having been found in that spot, if indeed they were found there, & not somewhere else—in any case £80 would be nearer my idea of their worth than £800.

Kaleb also sent you the photo of a sarcophagus front,Sarcophagus front. Measurements are given on the back of the photograph: 61 cm high x 210 cm wide. Byzantine Collection, Kalebdjian Frères correspondence file. said to be from Arles and certainly of the Constantinian period. It looks pretty good from the photo., and the price isn’t exorbitant ($2000). I don’t urge you to buy it, but those things aren’t very common on the market, and you may want it. Your Barberini sarcoBZ.1936.65. is of course infinitely finer in every way. I think I told you how much I was impressed by it when I visited the Fogg last July (it seems years & years ago).

I have heard nothing yet from Steinmayer [sic]Fritz Steinmeyer, a dealer in association with Julius Wilhelm Böhler (d. 1966) in Lucerne and New York. (about a couple of panels from an altar,In correspondence from Barbara Sessions to Royall Tyler, dated October 16, 1939, she writes: “Some time ago Mr. and Mrs. Bliss saw in the University Museum at Princeton, a small Duecento panel representing the Annunciation (evidently part of a largert ensemble) which attracted them very much. We later learned that at least one panel which Offner considers as part of the same original altar piece, has been in the hands of Julius Böhler of Munich. After a good deal of investigation it transpired that Böhler’s Lucerne partner, M. Steinmeyer, had in fact sold two fragments, A Nativity and a Presentation, which evidently are those Offner remembers. Steinmeyer has sent us photographs from his own files, which Mrs. Bliss likes well enough to see the originals if Steinmeyer can produce them.” Byzantine Collection, Royall Tyler correspondence file. a panel from which you saw at Princeton). Please tell Mrs. Session [sic] that I’ve delayed answering her letter on that point in the hope I’d hear from Steinmayer [sic]. I’ll try & answer her soon. I’m very busy—more so than I’ve ever been here, trying to keep track of war economy & finance in Fritz’sRoyall Tyler’s slang for “Germans.” regions. Very absorbing & interesting, but requiring a fearful amount of drudgery in the shape of scavenging in the ill-printed columns of his technical publications, blast him.

I was happy to hear from Bill that you were much better. Much love to both of you


R. T.

Associated People: Barbara Sessions
Associated Things: Kalebdjian Frères
Associated Artworks: BZ.1936.65; BZ.1939.13; BZ.1939.14.1–25