For antique dealers, finding a long-lost valuable artifact from another era is the best part of hunting.
Laura Young is an art dealer from Texas. In 2018, she was rummaging through a Goodwill store near Austin when she found an item she found “interesting”: a marble bust of a Roman man. Laura bought the bust, strapped it in her car and drove it home with the $34.99 price tag still plastered on her stone face.
Once she brought it home, Laura began researching where it came from and how much it might be worth. She contacted auction houses for information, and eventually Sotheby’s found the answers she was looking for. What they told him is every antique hunter’s dream!
The bust is 2,000 years old, originating from Roman times. He was modeled after Sextus Pompey, a Roman military leader who was the son of Pompey the Great, one of Julius Caesar’s allies.
But wait, there’s more!
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the bust was purchased by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The German king had commissioned a replica of a house in Pompeii, called Pompejanum, and this bust was displayed within these columned walls.
Experts were even able to find a photo of the bust inside the Pompejanum in a digital photo database from the 1930s.
The bust remained in Germany until World War II, when all Pompejanum artifacts were stored. This turned out to be a very good thing, because the Pompejanum was eventually bombed during the war.
In 1950 all the objects were unpacked and put on display in the reconstructed Pompejanum – except no one noticed that this particular bust was not among the other artifacts.
“It appears that between the time it was put into storage and around 1950, someone found it and took it,” said Lynley McAlpine, postdoctoral fellow in conservation at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA). “Since it ended up in the United States, it seems likely that an American who was stationed there got their hands on it.”
Fast forward a few decades…and here is the priceless marble bust in a Texas thrift store! Neither Laura nor art experts know where the piece was from 1950 to 2018, but now that it has been found it is destined to return to its original owner in Bavaria.
The bust will be on display at SAMA for the next year, but eventually it will return to the Pompejanum where it belongs.
Laura says she would like to hear from the person who donated the bust to Goodwill, but either way she is thrilled to hear the story behind her find. She is now part of the story herself, irrevocably linked to a priceless work of art she came across.
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