The Ancient and Modern Biography of a Cypriot Statuette

Ann-Marie Knoblauch



Limestone figure of a Woman Cypriot, Late 6th century BCE The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76 Acc number 74.51.2558 Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art (

In the 1870’s, Gaston Feuardent, a prominent New Yorker and art restorer helped broker the sale of thousands Cypriot antiquities between Luigi Palma di Cesnola and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Board of Trustees.  The deal paved the way for Cesnola, a prominent 19th century looter of Cypriot sites, to become the museum’s first director.  Shortly thereafter, Feuardent had a change of heart and accused Cesnola of allowing certain objects in the collection to be improperly restored and their findspots inaccurately recorded. The result was a four-year scandal that played out in the popular press, often bringing the newly opened museum and its director into the headlines.

This paper considers a limestone statuette of a female at the heart of Feuardent’s accusations(on which he claimed Cesnola had authorized recarving to create a mirror in the figure’s hand, and thereby affecting the identification as Aphrodite). The statue began its life as a votary in a Cypriot sanctuary—one of thousands to be found—but then was transformed, becoming the accidental and dramatic centerpiece in a late 19th century discussion about authenticity, acquisition practices, and the politics of the modern museum.  Here I argue that the secondary biography of this object arguably surpasses that of its archaeological value. Archaeologists tend to put most value on the “earliest chapters” of an object’s life when considering its biography, but this Cypriot statuette, in its later life, served a critical role in propelling archaeological methodology into a modern era.



FullSizeRender-1Dr. Knoblauch is a Mediterranean archaeologist and has been involved in the excavations of Idalion, Cyprus since1998. Dr. Knoblauch is currently publishing the sculpture found during the current excavations, mostly limestone votaries from local sanctuaries dating to around 500-400 BCE.  Dr. Knoblauch is especially interested in the role of women and international visitors at Cypriot sanctuaries (and the offerings they left behind), as well as the logistics of the local sculpture industry.