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Royall Tyler to Robert Woods Bliss, February 25, 1938 [1]

Finance Ministry



Dear Robert.

I have just received the enclosed from Volbach, and hasten to send it to you so that you may think it over. I haven’t yet heard from F.Hermann Fiedler. since his return.

It seems that they are very anxious to do a deal on the archaic figures,These sculptures, which are described as reliefs in the letter of April 6, 1937, have not been identified. See also letter of March 1, 1937. and that they will try to tie the two (or 3) ivoriesSee German Ivories. The Gotha diptych leaf, a Byzantine, tenth-century ivory diptych leaf in the Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein, Schlossmuseum, Gotha, Germany, which depicts a gemmed cross centered by a medallion of the blessing Christ. The plaque measures 28.8 cm high, 13.3 cm wide, and 8 mm thick. On the back is the inventory number (Z.V.2388). It is the companion leaf to the Dumbarton Oaks diptych leaf (BZ.1937.18). The right panel of a diptych with Christ meeting the Marys in the Garden and the Descent into Hell, Byzantine, mid-tenth century, ivory, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden, and the left diptych panel with the Crucifixion and the Deposition, mid-tenth century, ivory, August Kestner Museum, Hannover. up with the archaic figures. I haven’t yet seen any photos of the archaic figs., & have no idea of their quality. Two possible courses appear to be open here:

a) If the archaic figs. really are what they’re cracked up to be, you might care to get some of the big, very big public museums interested, your own interest being limited to the 3 ivories. Extreme caution would be necessary, as you will appreciate.

b) If the archaic figs. don’t seem to be overwhelming, or if you don’t think you’d care to take any steps as suggested in a), then I’d try to get F.Hermann Fiedler. to realize that if they want to do anything with the archaic figs., they must hurry up & deliver the 3 ivories, more or less as ground-bait.

I’ll go to see the MadonnaBZ.1938.62. as soon as I can—probably toward the end of March. I expect to leave here about March 20–23, & might take her in on the way. I’ll send photos. of the archaic figs. as soon as I can get hold of them.

Much love.


R. T.


Rome, February 21, 1938

Dear Mr. Tyler,

First of all my heartiest congratulations on the highly successful termination of your work in Budapest.

Yesterday I met Herr F.Hermann Fiedler. on his return from Berlin: he gave me news of his activity there. The affair of the archaic figuresThese sculptures, which are described as reliefs in the letter of April 6, 1937, have not been identified. See also letter of March 1, 1937. is going forward well and he seems to have successfully overcome the last difficulties. On the outcome (of his negotiation) the affair of the ivories also depends; it should then be an easy matter. He hopes that he will be able to show you photographs of the sculptures before you leave.

Things are going even better as regards the Berlin Madonna.BZ.1938.62. The PrincePrince Friedrich Leopold of Prussia. has definitely won his point and has the piece in his hands again.The sculpture apparently had been sold in a forced sale ordered by Emperor Wilhelm II. Friedrich Leopold’s mother, Luise Sofie von Schleswig-Holstein (1866–1952), writes in her autobiography, Behind the Scenes at the Prussian Court (London: John Murray, 1939), 248 and 253: “At a forced sale of a part of my son’s collection—even though it was wartime—higher prices were obtained than those originally paid . . . Later, we traced with the utmost difficulty a priceless carved Madonna; Bode, the curator of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, had his eye upon it; but we finally managed to buy it back.” “Over the law case my poor son had some intensely disagreeable interviews. One was with the curator Bode who joined the fray because, as I have already said, he coveted some of the beautiful things my son possessed – particularly the carved Madonna. I heard later from Lubszynski that my son withstood Bode’s attacks very calmly and with great dignity, so much so that his antagonist finally returned looking very small and defeated.” It will be brought to F.Hermann Fiedler. in the next few days. In the matter of price also Herr F.Hermann Fiedler. has been able to arrive at a basis for discussion. He thinks that for the moment he can succeed in holding the piece at thirty-five thousand, but in his opinion the price could be somewhat reduced if the beautiful early deer reliefStags and vase relief, probably marble. 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. 122 and 2:148, no. 130. were to be taken also and reckoned in with the price. I find the piece magnificent, and an early Byzantine relief such as one would have difficulty in finding again. I would strongly advise Mr. Bliss to make sure of this piece also. However, I assume that you yourself will soon be with F.Hermann Fiedler.and will see the reliefs in the original.

For now, hearty greetings.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed) F. Volbach

Associated Artworks: BZ.1937.18; BZ.1938.56