26 March 2014

Jewel History: Authenticity of the Tiara (1903)

Detail of the Tiara of Saitapharnes [1]
"Authenticity of the Tiara"
(originally appeared in the Washington Post, 26 Mar 1903)

The present argument on the subject of the authenticity of the "Tiara Saitapharnes" [2] of the Louvre collection of antiquities is a renewal of the discussion which has been going on at intervals during the last seven years with more or less virulence. The tiara occupies a small window in a case in the Salle des Bijoux, being one of hundreds of ornaments shown. Owing to the doubts long existing, the ordinary guide books say that the authenticity of the tiara is disputed.

The recent charges have emphasized these doubts, which promised to cast discredit on the entire collection, and the fine arts minister accordingly ordered an investigation for the purpose of protecting the good name of the Louvre. This has brought on a fierce controversy among the scientists concerning the tiara's authenticity, which some of the leading newspapers treat as being more amusing than serious.

This evening M. Heron de Villefosse, the curator of the Louvre, published a letter denying having had dealings with Hochmam, a Vienna dealer, who was alleged to have sold the tiara to the Louvre. Theodore Reinach, who furnished the funds to buy the tiara, has also written a letter declaring that the doubts recently expressed are only reiterations of former aspersions, which do not affect his belief in the genuineness of the tiara.

Le Figaro ridicules the controversy, pointing out that whether it is real or false the tiara is of trifling historical value. The result of the investigation is being awaited with interest, owing to the charges of the disputants that the fabrication of "antiquities" is being conducted systematically.

Note: The Louvre was indeed duped -- the "ancient" headdress was a fake! It was made in 1894 by Israel Rouchomovsky, a goldsmith from Odessa (in present-day Ukraine), who was told by the men who had commissioned the piece that the headdress was intended to be a gift for an archaeologist. The tiara still in storage in the Louvre today, but it is taken out and exhibited occasionally as a part of retrospectives on Rouchomovsky's work. Rouchomovsky was an incredibly talented artist in his own right, and he's the one who revealed to the Louvre that the work was not authentic after he learned that the men who had commissioned it had passed it off as a a genuine ancient piece to the museum.

1. Cropped version of an image available via Wikimedia Commons; source here.
2. Saitapharnes was king of Scythia around the third century BCE. Scholars know about him largely because he is mentioned in the famous decree of Protogenes. The decree states that the people of Olbia had to pacify Saitapharnes with elaborate gifts; this "artifact" was thought to be concrete, material proof of the veracity of this ancient narrative. (It wasn't.)