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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, April 23, 1931

Paris 23.IV.1931.Thursday.

Dearest Mildred,

I got back this morning, and at noon DreyProbably Paul Drey (1885–1953), a senior partner of the Paul Drey Gallery, New York, founded in 1920. came to see me, bringing the Burns enamelled cross. He has promised to send you a photograph of it.

It is 9.5 centimetres high and 6.25 centimetres broad. Only one side is enamelled, and it bears a representation of Christ on the cross, with an inscription over the head of the cross IC XC O BACIΛEC THC ΔOZHC ‘Jesus Christ the King of Glory’. The enamelled side is as it were the cover of a cross shaped box, about one centimetre deep, which doubtless originally contained a fragment of the Holy Wood. The cover is not now attached to the under part.

The colours are:

1) an opaque obsidian black—the wood of the cross, Our Lord’s hair and beard.
2) Lapis blue—the ground of the border outside the cross, and of the inscription.
3) White—the loin-cloth, the inscription and the skull at the foot of the cross.
4) Flesh colour.
5) Sealing wax red—a narrow border running all round the cross, round Our Lord’s halo, edging the cross bars in the halo, and a line in the loin-cloth.
6) Translucent green—the ground of the halo and of the trefoil surrounding the skull at the foot of the cross.

The black, blue, red and white are all opaque. The flesh colour not quite opaque. The green quite translucent.

The body of the cross is of gold with a pretty, simple, filigree scroll running round the narrow side of the cross.

The enamel has been injured in parts; from the lower part of Our Lord’s beard half way down his body most of the enamel has fallen out and has been replaced by wax, as have also parts of the border.

The drawing of the figure of Our Lord, the disposal of the cloisons,Gold wires. especially in the loin-cloth, are of very fine quality. You will be able to judge this, I hope, from the photograph. There is no doubt whatever about its authenticity. It was published by Labarthe (1865)Jules Labarte, Histoire des arts industriels au moyen âge et à l’époque de la renaissance, vol. 3, Peinture, Émaillerie (Paris: Ve A. Morel & Cie, 1865), 423–24. and by Rosenberg,Where Marc Rosenberg published this enamel is not known. and Drey has letters from FalkeOtto von Falke (1862–1942), a German art historian who specialized in the decorative arts and who succeeded Wilhelm von Bode as general director of the Berlin State Museums in 1920. and GoldschmidtAdolph Goldschmidt (1863–1944), a medieval art historian and teacher. stating that they consider it genuine. The Germans consider it to be what they call ‘Georgian-Byzantine’, Xl° or Xll° century, but even without their opinions, I would have no hesitation as to its genuineness.

Hayford was prepared to pay for it anything up to $15.000, but I advised him not to buy it, though I had not seen it at the time, because I think the sum is too big for him to spend on any one object. He has decided not to compete for it.See letters of April 11, 1931, and April 12, 1931.

I told Drey this morning that I could hardly advise anyone to pay the price he was asking ($16.000). Drey said that the least he could consider taking was $14,500. He added that he had sold it for more than this to Walter Burns,Walter Spencer Morgan Burns (1891–1929), British art collector and financier, was a nephew of J. Pierpont Morgan and a partner in his firm, J. P. Morgan & Co., as of December 31, 1897. and had bought it back after Walter Burns’ death. My information in London is that Walter Burns either did not pay for the cross, or at any rate had not paid the full price agreed on before his death.

Drey left the cross with me this morning to study, and I have it before me now.

Drey may let us have it for the Byzantine Exhibition.Exposition internationale d’art byzantin, 28 mai–9 juillet 1931 (Paris: Musée des arts décoratifs, 1931), 146, no. 497. I do not imagine that he has any other client in view at the present moment. The object is certainly an exceedingly fine one, and in spite of the fact that it has been damaged in places, it seems to me (and to Hayford and Eric Maclagan) to be the best piece of enamel I have ever seen offered for sale. It is in quite a different class from any of the Botkin enamelsMikhail Petrovich Botkin (1839–1914), a Russian artist and collector in Saint Petersburg. When his collection of cloisonné enamels was published in 1911, it contained some 160 examples, 150 of which had no known provenance and are today mostly considered forgeries. See Mikhail Petrovich Botkin, Collection M. P. Botkine (St. Petersburg: Tovarish︠c︡hestvo R. Golike i A. Vilʹborg, 1911). When the Botkin collection came on the market, nine enamels were purchased by A.S. Drey (Munich), some of which were sent to the United States and exhibited in 1931 in the exhibition Byzantine and Early Christian Art of the East at the University of Chicago (October 27–November 15, 1931). In 1948, Paul Drey (1885–1953) (New York) sold the Botkin Saint John Chrysostom enamel to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, who presented it to Dumbarton Oaks in 1963 (Byzantine Collection, BZ.1963.4). Although published as eleventh-century (Anna Gonosová, “A Study of an Enamel Fragment in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 32 [1978], 327–33), its authenticity was questioned in 1981 (Susan Boyd and Gary Vikan, Questions of Authenticity Among the Arts of Byzantium [Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1981), 28–29, no. 3. For a review of the Botkin enamel forgeries, see David Buckton, “Bogus Byzantine Enamels in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.,” The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 46 (1988): 11–24. I have seen, and Hayford says the same after having been able to compare it in New York, with a lot of the Botkin pieces which are now over there. It is more important and on the whole finer, as enamel, than the little crossProbably an enameled reliquary cross, acquired by Adolphe Stoclet and now in the British Museum, London, acc. no. M&ME 1965, 6-4, 1. See also letters of April 29, 1928; May 10, 1928; September 12, 1928; July 24, 1929; and October 23, 1929. and broochThis brooch has not been identified. belonging to Stoclet, and which I first saw in the hands of AndronicosLittle is known about the Istanbul antiquities dealer Andronikos. and sent you photographs of, though the goIdsmith’s work on the Stoclet cross is much finer than that on the body of this cross. Stoclet paid £7000 for his lot. I do not think $14.500 an unreasonable price for the Burns cross.

Please let me know as soon as possible whether you want it or not.

P. S. (25.IV.31).Saturday.

I have your cable of yesterday, Renonçons émail. Vermeer au dela moyens. Désire photographie et opinion mosaïque. Rien de Hayford chèque part Lundi Caparcona.“We are giving up the enamel. Vermeer beyond means. Want photograph and opinion [of the] mosaic. Nothing from Hayford. Check goes off Monday, Cap Arcona.”

I have no more news of the mosaic,Hayford Peirce acquired the icon from Géza Dános (1886–1990), a Jewish Hungarian collector, in Paris in 1931, and his widow, Polly, gave it to the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in his memory in October 1947. but I expect I may before long.

Now, I received a cable from Hayford, before getting yours, telling me that he was sending me $6000 with which to try for the mosaic. Considering that chance willed it that he should hear of the mosaic before you did, I think it is fair that it should go to him if it can be secured at his price ($6000). I should be surprised if it could be got for that price, and I should regard it as well worth $10,000. If he doesn’t get it, and you would like to have a shot, please let me know. I don’t believe it is likely to be sold in a great hurry—but of course one never can tell. I asked Hayford to write to you, and I expect he has done so. I’ll send a photo of the mosaic as soon as I can get one, and also my opinion as soon as I have examined it. Drey has gone away, and has left me the Burns cross, which is sitting in my safe. I have re-examined it since writing the above, and it’s a most distinguished object, all right. You’ll see the photo, which Drey says he’ll send you, and perhaps you may feel like making an offer.

The Louvre have bought the other two Persepolis reliefsOne relief is Man Carrying a Kid Goat and Climbing a Staircase, fifth century BCE, limestone, Musée du Louvre, Paris, acc. no. AO 14050. from Stora, which I wrote to you some time ago they were considering.

Bill has just left for Oxford. He is very well indeed, and has had a superb time in Spain, and learnt Spanish remarkably well for a 3 months’ stay. Thank God I was able to get back in time to have 2 days with him here.

Very much occupied with the Show.

Much love, dearest Mildred.

R. T.

Associated Artworks: BZ.1929.2; BZ.1936.20; BZ.1947.24