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Robert Woods Bliss to Royall Tyler, August 18, 1937

August 18, 1937

Royall Tyler, Esq

Finance Ministry

Buda-pest, Hungary.

Dear Royall:

We have received such a quick bombardment of letters from you that almost every day the past weeks has been a red-letter day, and I have much to acknowledge, in consequence.

Yours of July 25: It would be difficult to tell you how delighted we are at what you write in regard to the Emperor.BZ.1937.23. The only ‘fly in the ointment’ is that we must hold our impatience until we can see him on our return to Dumbarton Oaks, the first days of October. We are glad to know also that the material is marble and not limestone, for obvious reasons. What you write about his having come to Constantinople adds to the interest and value of His Majesty.

Many thanks for all the trouble you have gone to in sending us the photographs of the rest of the stuff belonging to the Prince.Photographs of the objects in Prince Leopold’s collection are retained in the Byzantine Collection, Royall Tyler correspondence file. We agree with you that there is little or nothing which we would care to add to the Collection, with the possible exception of the Virgin.BZ.1938.62. We think it is best to let the matter rest for the time being and wait to see what may develop in other quarters, as well as not to ride the horse too hard. It seems to me that some months hence, the owner might be approached gently, to find out what sort of a sum he would name for the Virgin.

We approve of your instructions to F in regard to the two wings of the dyptic [sic] at Hanover [sic] and Dresden;See letters of March 1, 1937; April 6, 1937; April 9, 1937 [2]; June 3, 1937; July 25, 1937; August 21, 1937; September 4, 1937; September 11, 1937; December 13, 1937; and December 20, 1937. if he is able to obtain them at the figure which you have given him, I think it will be decidedly worth while. We are disposed, as always, to leave those matters pretty much in your hands, but we have to go a little bit slowly now, in paying big sums even for fine things. Perhaps you will get a price for these and you can let us know if it exceeds the limit you have allowed him.

I do not remember the Dresden panel of two standing saintsSee letters of July 25, 1937; September 4, 1937; September 11, 1937; September 13, 1937; October 11, 1937 [2]; December 13, 1937; and April 15, 1938. and doubt whether Goldschmidt’s work on ivoriesAdolph Goldschmidt and Kurt Weitzmann, Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X.–XIII. Jahrhunderts, vol. 2, Reliefs (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1934). is to be found here in the library.

[Added in longhand in the margin]: GsGoldschmidt. book is not to be found here. I shall inquire, however, and if it is forthcoming, I shall add a paragraph to this in regard to how we feel about the panel. On the other hand, if I do not get hold of the Goldschmidt books, I am willing to abide by your good judgment as to their purchase at the maximum sum you mention.

In view of the ivories we already have, I think it would be more to our liking if we could annex the Deutz 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. so you may go ahead on that if there is any chance of getting it again at the figures you mention.

You are so very right, as usual, that one must jump at the very A.1. things that may suddenly be available and so we are grateful for your continued interest and help.

Now, about the continuation, dated July 29, of your said letter: Both Mildred and I like the well-headThis well-head is not catalogued in Gerd-H. Zuchold, Der “Klosterhof” des Prinzen Karl von Preussen im Park von Schloss Glienicke in Berlin (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1993). (#12) very much, but I think that we had better stay off, for a time, of such large and heavy sculpture, especially as we are totally lacking in anything to represent the field of Mss. and coins, both of which are important to round out the collection. I think Mildred went into this point when writing you from the ranch, but still we cannot help liking the Zierstein Relief mit Vogëln [sic] und Tieren.“Ornamental stone relief with animals and birds.” Relief sculpture with the Tree of Life and three pairs of animals and birds, third quarter twelfth century, marble, Schloss Glienicke, Potsdam-Berlin. See Gerd-H. Zuchold, Der “Klosterhof” des Prinzen Karl von Preussen im Park von Schloss Glienicke in Berlin (Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1993), 1: pl. 59b and 2:73, no. 52. It looks to be really very find and, as you say, most rare.

To come back to the Virgin,BZ.1938.62. we do not feel like paying out just now a sum as large as that which we paid for the Emperor,BZ.1937.23. and I think that if you really feel that we ought to acquire her, and it is advisable to start negotiations, at once, you should name a very much lower sum.

Thank you for your letter of the 29th giving the dimensions of the campiello Angaran roundel.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).

I remember very well the gold Byzantine crossBZ.1937.24. of which Stora has sent us a photograph, though I cannot recall just when it was previously offered to us. Anyway, I cabled Stora, making him an offer for the cross and the little capital,In a letter from Maurice Stora to Robert Woods Bliss, dated August 3, 1937, this capital is described as “un très beau petit chapiteau du IVme ou Vme siècle qui provident de Carthage. Il est en marbre très joli de couleur, un peu rosé.” (a very beautiful small capital from the fourth or fifth century which comes from Carthage. It is of marble very nice in color, a little pink.) On the back of the photograph of the capital, the dimensions are given as 14.5 cm high by 14.5 cm wide. Byzantine Collection dealer files, M. & R. Stora correspondence. but have had as yet no answer to my cable. It may come before this is typed and mailed. He did not vary the price for the cross from the sum he mentioned to you. I have offered to take both objects at that price, delivered to Washington. [added in longhand in the margin:] Stora has ans’d asking for time to negotiate.

The catalogue of the El Greco exhibitionGeorges Wildenstein et al., Domenico Theotocopuli, El Greco (Paris: La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1937). came several days after your letters referring to the pictures shown there, and I turned it over to Mildred without giving her access, for the moment, to your letters. She and I both preferred among all the pictures, the Betrothal of the Virgin.El Greco, The Marriage of the Virgin, 1613–1614, oil on canvas, National Museum of Art, Bucharest, Romania. This painting was a gift to Romania by King Carol II. We also liked very much that of Canon Bosio.El Greco, Canon Giacomo Bosio, ca. 1610–1614, oil on canvas, Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth. King Michael removed this painting to Switzerland in 1947 before his abdication. In 1976, he sold it to Wildenstein & Co., New York, who then sold it to the Kimbell Art Foundation in Forth Worth. The painting was the object of Romania’s unsuccessful lawsuits against both Wildenstein & Co. and the Kimbell Art Foundation in 1985. We agree with you that the Adoration of the ShepherdsEl Greco, Adoration of the Shepherds, ca. 1596, oil on canvas, National Museum of Art, Bucharest, Romania. This painting was a gift to Romania by King Carol II. is a very fine work, though it is more difficult to have a conception from the reproduction of that canvas than it is of the smaller one. We also like No. 2, Jesus taking leave of Mary,Possibly El Greco, Christ Taking Leave of His Mother, ca. 1595, oil on canvas, a variant of the painting in the Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo. This painting was represented by the dealer Lionel Harris of the Spanish Art Gallery in London. See Roger Fry, “Some Pictures by el Greco,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 24, no. 127 (October 1913): 2. The present whereabouts of this painting has not been identified. though it is not so interesting as the other three. Mildred rather fancied the St. Sebastian,Possibly El Greco, St. Sebastian, ca. 1600, oil on canvas, private collection. though I feel less enthusiastic about it than she does, judging from the reproduction.

As you say, it’s a bad business, and you should of course never have written us about this!—just the same, I am very glad you did and we shall await eagerly any further information you may have to give us. The Betrothal looks to be a most lovely picture.

The Romanesque bronze head,This Romanesque bronze head has not been identified. submitted to you by BorelliBorelli has not been identified. does look to be fine, but neither I nor Mildred would feel disposed to acquire it without having seen the object, unless you should insist that we ought to have it. It appears to be an object of interest and curiosity rather than one of beauty. I shall return the photographs to Borelli, as you request, with a statement merely that I am not interested in purchasing it, unless I could see it.

What is the ivory plaque of St. Jesus and St. ThomasProbably BZ.1937.7. In his letter of September 11, 1937, Royall Tyler says of this ivory: “The ivory plaque referred to by Borelli (Jesus & St. Thomas) must be the doubting Thomas. I suspect Borelli was asked, some time back, if he could place it, without ever having it in his hands.” to which Borelli refers in the 3rd paragraph of his letter?

We are hesitating as to what decision to make in regard to the two calcedony [sic] phalères.In a letter from Kalebdjian Frères to Robert Woods Bliss, dated August 3, 1937, the two phalerae are described as made of chalcedony-saphirine and measuring 57 mm high x 50 mm (no. 1) and 47 mm (no. 2) wide. Byzantine Collection, Kalebdjian Frèrer file. The reason of our hesitancy is that we would rather save the price asked to put into some object of much greater importance.

Since our last communications to you, the Mexican objectsPC.B.045, PC.B.056, PC.B.100, PC.B.101, PC.B.110, PC.B.160, PC.B.161, PC.B.162, and PC.B.249 have reached Dumbarton Oaks. Mrs. Sessions has written:

“I am sure that you will like some of them enormously; the whole collection together covers a wide range of types and, most interestingly, of materials. The fragmentary quartzite maskPC.B.056. is extremely fine, I think, as well as some of the miniature heads (particularly those pointed out by Mr. Tyler). You will like the red agate head,This red agate head has not been identified. and one of the jadeite onces. There is a jadeite plaque similar to the one you acquired this winter—a trifle smaller.

“I was intensely interested in the discussion of the obsidian objects. At first sight, their smoothness and polish seem too good to be true, but taken individually, they are distinguished and convincing, I think. The working of the material imposes an extreme simplification, yet at the same time a finesse which is unlike the rugged quality one is accustomed to in much of the other sculpture. It is perhaps this which at first glance might make one wonder. Yet in view of all that Mr. Tyler says I do not see how there can be any doubt.

“The gold necklacePC.B.100. is exquisite, quite worthy, in its way, of your other jewelry. (The tiny bell-pendants actually tinkle with a charming small music.) The workmanship is delicate and fine.

“I carefully checked everything with the Sotheby list. Individual objects are so vaguely described as to be at times difficult to identify, but the only discrepancy seems to be in Lot #145 which groups a number of objects including the small green head with perforations which Mr. Tyler liked. This lot should also contain “a small jade head of dark green tint” and “another of pale tint.” I find nothing in the whole shipment which quite corresponds with this dark jade “head”. The descriptions are so loose, however, that one of the small “masks” or relief heads may be meant.

“The total number of objects is right, since in another lot containing “seven” tiny and fragmentary objects, I count eight. Probably I have simply not been able to fit the individual objects in every case to the catalogue description.

“As you wish, we will not have the objects photographed till you have seen them and made your selection. It is a little hard to resist having some of the best things done, simply because I should so much like to have you see them. But I quite see that it is better to wait.”

I thought you might be interested in reading what Mrs. Sessions’s first impression is. She is very sensitive and I thought that her appreciation of the various objects was worth reporting to you, expecially as Americana is entirely out of her field of study.

Of course, I do not know what to say in regard to her report of the dark jade “head”. The sales catalogue is now at Dumbarton Oaks and we will have to let the matter rest until I return, but it seems to me that there is nothing to worry about.


Associated People: Barbara Sessions
Associated Things: M. & R. Stora, Paris