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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes Bliss, December 26, 1929

29, Rue D’Astorg
Paris
26.XII.1929.Thursday.

Vignier’s mosaics.Only one mosaic is known and none was acquired. See letters of December 14, 1929; December 17, 1929 [1]; December 17, 1929 [2]; December 18, 1929; January 6, 1930; and March 1, 1930.

I am afraid that my telegrammes about Vignier’s mosaicsOnly one mosaic referenced in this letter is known. In a letter from Charles Vignier to Mildred Barnes Bliss, November 14, 1929, he gave the mosaics measurements as 150 cm high and 71 cm wide (approximately 59 in. high and 28 in. wide). The price quoted for the mosaic was 850,000 French francs. Byzantine Collection, Vignier file. were a disappointment. I have not seen the photographs which he sent to you, and, by the way, I should be very grateful if you would send then to me, since it is now difficult for me to ask Vignier for copies of them. The impression the Virgin made on me was that the mosaic, which has certainly been torn off the walls of a church, was either clumsily patched together, to the detriment of the drawing, or that it may originally have adorned a curved surface, and that the attempt to adapt it to a flat surface has resulted in distortion.

I imagine that it is of the XII Century, but I do not think it was ever of very high quality. The bust of a Saint in a medaillon, I liked much less than the Virgin, and its style seems to me decidedly poor. Quite apart from the enormous price Vignier was asking, neither of the objects appeared to me very desirable as possessions. Byzantine mural mosaics were always executed on the actual wall which they were meant to decorate. The lighting and the distance from the beholder were determining factors in the manner in which they were carried out. There is to me something painful about a wall mosaic, ripped off its proper place. The exact lighting in which it was made, and which is as essential to its effect as the cubes of which it is composed, can never be recaptured. However, my objection to the object now in question does not spring from my dislike of the whole principle of removing mosaics from their original place.

Vignier asked me point blank what I would say if you sought my advice about the mosaic, and I told him that I would not advise you to buy it, and gave him my reasons.

He has nothing else for the time being, except a few textiles which he has bought from Indjoudjian, and which we saw together at Indjoudjian’s last summer.

Other dealers.

There is great excitement at the Louvre about the two ‘Byzantine’ platesSee letters of February 5, 1929; February 9, 1929; February 12, 1929 [1]; February 16, 1929; February 28, 1929 [2]; March 11, 1929; and March 27, 1929. which they bought from Mallon, and which you know: one with a figure of a man and the other with a large cock in the middle of the dish. They bought these two things, together with a third with two lions on it from HirschDr. Jacob Hirsch (1874–1955), an antiquities dealer and collector in Geneva. of Geneva, a couple of months ago. Since then, a Greek dealer called SegredakisManolis Segredakis (1891–1948), a Parisian antiquities dealer. has turned up with a number of plates closely resembling those bought by the Louvre. Segredakis says that he bought these plates from a man who manufactured them at Salonica. I have seen Segredakis’s objects, and the resemblance between them and Mallon’s plates is very close, especially in point of technique. The figures are reserved in relief and the ground cut away. The colours are the same, and there is also the same feature of the enamel blistering. I am very much afraid that the three plates bought by the Louvre are wrong. The fact is, that since the war a large number of fragments of Byzantine ceramics have been dug up at Salonica and have been lying about in the church of St. George where anyone who cared to do so might have stolen them. The fakers have obviously taken some of these fragments and copied them. Their task has been simplified by the fact that this Byzantine pottery appears always to have been a popular handicraft, without any determinable relation with the main current of Byzantine Art. It is a great pity that the Louvre should have paid a real price for these objects. I understand that neither Salles nor Duthuit were at all keen about them.

The Cabinet des Médailles has bought the cameoWladimir de Grüneisen, Collection de Grüneisen: Catalogue raisonné (Paris: J. Schemit, 1930), 81, no. 434, pl. 26 (Cameo of Alexis V). from the Grüneisen saleThe Baron Wladimir de Grüneisen collection was auctioned at Sotheby’s, London, on July 2, 1929. which I pushed up to £300 for the South Kensington, and which Grüneisen bought in just over that figure. Grüneisen has since then tried to sell the cameo to Maclagan for £300, and Maclagan has refused it, quite rightly I think. I dont [sic] know how much the Cabinet des Médailles has given for it, but it must be less than £300.

Since dictating the above, I have heard that the man who makes the plates at Salonica rejoices in the name of Istik Oghlou Orphanides.Istik Oghlou Orphanides has not been identified. He really has got the coarse technique rather well, but his efforts to produce more interesting subjects than those found on the authentic fragments get him into trouble, as for instance in one of the dishes at Segredakis’s, which is adorned with two large fish, like the Pisces sign of the Zodiac, round which gambol a sportive band of monkeys.

Trip in South Eastern Europe.

I have just done, in 23 days, the following round: Vienna, Bucarest, Sofia, Budapest, Vienna and Prague.

It was my first visit to Bucarest, and the first time I had been in Prague since the war. It was enormously interesting seeing these five Capitals in such a short space of time. Prague is undoubtedly the one where things are going best. The Czechs are working hard and living frugally, and they are certainly going to succeed, unless internal politics, which do seem to be pretty virulent, trip then up. Czecho Slovakia has suffered less than any other of these countries from the dearth of foreign credit which has been prevailing for the last year and a half while the New York Stock Exchange was attracting all available funds. The other countries I visited which had, to a great extent, worked on foreign credit up to 1928, have felt the absence of it sorely, and have had to tighten their belts. Now, there are better prospects as far as foreign credits go, but even now, these unfortunate countries are being agitated by the backwash of happenings in America.The Wall Street stock market crash of October 29, 1929. Excessive customs barriers are perhaps their greatest curse. The League of NationsThe League of Nations, an international organization in Geneva whose principal missions were to maintain world peace, settle international disputes through negotiation and arbitration, and create stability within financial markets. has prepared the way for a Conference, to open next month and to try to get general agreement on a customs truce for two years.First International Conference on Concerted Economic Action, Geneva, February 17 to March 24, 1930. The likelihood of any substantial success now seems to be very slight, because the European countries, seeing what is happening in America, are on the look-out for American dumping of manufactured goods on a huge scale, and they wish to keep a free hand in order to protect themselves from it.

This was my third visit to Sofia, and each time I go there I am more impressed by the MuseumNational Archaeological Museum (Национален археологически музей,Natsionalen arheologicheski muzey), an archaeological museum in Sofia, Bulgaria. The museum was established as a separate entity in 1893 and was officially opened and inaugurated in 1905. there. It really does contain some 20 objects without parallel in any other museum, and it is being enriched year by year. A few months ago, a tomb was opened North of Philippopoli, in which were found half a dozen silver vessels and one gold plaque. The silver vessels are Greek, about 400 B.C.In 1929, the Bulgarian Archaeological Institute began excavations in various burial mounds near Duvanli (Dunvanlj), a village situated near Philippopolis. The silver finds included a kantharos bearing the gilt images of Dionysos, a bacchante holding a doe in her hands, a dancing bacchante, and a satyr and a phiale with the gilt images of chariot races. See Bogdan D. Filov, Die Grabhügelnekropole bei Duvanlij in Südbulgarien (Sofia: Staatsdruckerei, 1934) and its review in The Journal of Hellenic Studies 55, pt. 2 (1935): 241–42. They are admirably preserved, engraved with very spirited and tremendously accomplished representations of men and amazons on horseback, dancers, etc, partly gilded. There is nothing like them in the Louvre, the British Museum or any other Museum as far as I know. The gold plaqueGold breastplate with embossed decorations of an animal figure, from the Basova burial mound in Duvanli, Thracian, 5th century BCE., Natsionalen Istoritcheski Muzej (Archaeologicaland Art Museum), Sofia. has on it, in low relief, the figure of a wolf, in the very finest Scythian style. Apart from the conjectures and hypotheses dear to Rostoftseff, who dates such things as the golden stags from Zöldhalomi Puszta and Kostromka as early as the VII Century B.C.,Michael Ivanovitch Rostovtzeff (1870–1952), a Russian historian and authority on ancient Greek, Persian, and Roman history. Tyler is possibly referring to Iranians and Greeks in South Russia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922). I believe that this Bulgarian find presents a Scythian object together with the earliest Greek works of art ever found in such company.

There appear to be many thousands of tumuli awaiting excavation in Bulgaria, and though many of them have already been rifled, and many more are unlikely to contain anything remarkable, there will probably be some staggering things here and there.

It is very curious that there should be so little in Bucarest. There was, of course, the Petrossa treasure,The Petrossa Treasure (or Pietroasele Treasure), a late fourth-century Migration-period treasure found in Pietroasele, Buzău, Romania, in 1837 that originally included some twenty-two objects of gold. The treasure was shipped to Russia in December 1916, as the German armies advanced through Romania during the First World War, and it was not returned until 1956. which was entrusted to the Russians during the war and is still being carefully looked after by them. Apart from galvano reproductions of those tremendous objects, the Museum at Bucarest contains only one thing of any interest, which is a great solid gold helmet, covered with representations of men and beasts,The gold ceremonial helmet, probably Dacian, ca. 400 B.C.E., from Poiana Cotofenesti, now in the National Historical Museum, Bucharest, was found in 1928 in a farmer’s field. in, unfortunately, a wretchedly poor Scythian style, so poor, that if the piece turned up on the market, one would doubt its authenticity. It appears to have been found in the earth by a peasant in circumstances that exclude possibilities of fraud, and poor though it is in style, its subject matter will be of great value.

One wonders why the Sofia Museum should be so rich, and the Bucarest Museum so poor. Of course, one does not expect to find Greek or Thracian things North of the Danube, but there is no reason why Scythian and Gothic treasures should not be found there. I suspect that they are found, and that when the objects are made of gold, they are usually melted down by the finders. A great deal of careful training of such local authorities as parish priests and school masters is necessary in order to ensure that at least a part of the finds actually made actually get into the museum. I should not be surprised if the Bulgarians had taken a good deal more trouble in this respect than the Rumanians. They have their reward, and when people begin to realize what the Sofia museum contains, they will get some foreign visitors and have some invisible experts to reckon into their balance of payments.

Dark Ages Exhibition.Art in the Dark Ages in Europe (circa 400–1000 AD), an exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, in 1930. See Reginald A. Smith, “Art in the Dark Ages,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 57, no. 328 (July 1930): 3–10.

I have been promised the loan of things for this Exhibition, which is to come off next spring at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, from the big Vienna Museum and from Budapest. Fettich is being invited to join the Committee of the Exhibition, and to come to London to help arrange it and to collaborate in the catalogue. Thus he will be able to bring the objects loaned by the Budapest Museum. He will probably stop in Paris as well, and Koechlin wishes to get him to give some lectures here. He has now become a Privatdozent“Outside lecturer.” of the Budapest University, and is lecturing there, while of course giving most of his time to the Museum as before.

Byzantine Art Exhibition.

It is most kind of you to be willing to lend your Byzantine works of art. We have now got a formal promise of the Arts Décoratifs for May–June 1931. The chief problem will be to raise a sufficient sum to cover the insurance of the loans. Metman, who as you know has a long experience of these matters, thinks we will need at least 150.000 Francs. We shall have to give up half the gate money to the Arts Décoratifs. The other half will be available to refund to those who are willing to help us with the insurance fund in such proportion as the takings allow.

I am doubtful as to what we shall get from England, but I think we shall be able to secure some very important things from Germany and, I hope, from Italy. But even if the Exhibition were to be limited to the Byzantine works of art scattered about in France, it would be worth while. With the contents of the Louvre and the Cluny, the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Cabinet des Médailles, one would already have a pretty startling collection. To that, we shall be able to add the textiles from LyonCharles Diehl, Jean Ebersolt, and Royall Tyler, Exposition internationale d’art byzantin, 28 mai–9 juillet 1931 (Paris: Musée des arts décoratifs, 1931), nos. 230—31, 236—45, 250, 263—65, 269, and 288. and from Sens,Charles Diehl, Jean Ebersolt, and Royall Tyler, Exposition internationale d’art byzantin, 28 mai–9 juillet 1931 (Paris: Musée des arts décoratifs, 1931),nos. 203–05, 209, 253–56, 258–60, 266, 270, 274–78, 280–82, 287,291–93, 297–98, 301, 303, 308, 315, and 332. and probably a lot of little known, isolated, but most important pieces like the cope of Metz,Charles Diehl, Jean Ebersolt, and Royall Tyler, Exposition internationale d’art byzantin, 28 mai–9 juillet 1931 (Paris: Musée des arts décoratifs, 1931), no. 304, p. 110. the suaire de Saint Germain at Auxerre,“Shroud of St. Germain” fragment, ca. 1000, silk, Church of St. Eusebius, Auxerre. See Anna Muthesius, Byzantine Silk Weaving, AD 400 to AD 1200 (Vienna: Fassbaender, 1997), 184. This piece does not appear to have been lent to the exhibition. and the elephant stuff in the church of La Couture at Le Mans.This textile has not been identified and it does not appear to have been lent to the exhibition. We shall be hard up for enamels, I fear, unless we succeed in getting the Crown of Constantin Monomakos from Budapest,Crown of Constantine Monomachos, ca. 1042–1050, gold and cloisonné enamel, Magyar Nemzeti Muzeum, Budapest. which seems too much to hope for.The crown was in the Exposition internationale d’art byzantin. See letter of August 12, 1931.

Museum officials are getting impatient with these frequently recurring exhibitions, and one can’t help sympathizing with them. It is a great nuisance for them to have their cases robbed for months at a time of their brightest ornaments, to say nothing of the ever-present risks to the objects themselves. But there never yet has been any general exhibition of Byzantine art, and at the risk of making ourselves thoroughly unpopular, Georges Salles, Georges Duthuit, Hayford and I are determined to persevere. I shall attract far more odium than any of the others, as I am already making a nuisance of myself with the Burlington ExhibitionArt in the Dark Ages in Europe (circa 400–1000 AD), an exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, in 1930. See Reginald A. Smith, “Art in the Dark Ages,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 57, no. 328 (July 1930): 3–10. for the spring of 1930, and I am afraid that won’t have been forgotten by the time I start begging for the Byzantine show for spring 1931.

R. T.

 
Associated Concepts: League of Nations