Antiquities, Art & Archives, Behind the Scenes, Conservation, Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Villa, J. Paul Getty Museum

Apollo’s Drapery: An Unfolding Puzzle

Antiquities conservator Erik Risser working on Apollo’s drapery in the Conservation Studio at the Getty Villa

Antiquities conservator Erik Risser working on Apollo’s drapery in the Conservation Studio at the Getty Villa

A new exhibition opening at the Getty Villa, Apollo from Pompeii: Investigating an Ancient Bronze, marks the completion of an 18-month conservation project that developed in collaboration with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples.

The exhibition presents the different aspects of a Roman bronze statue of Apollo as an archer—its discovery in Pompeii in 1817 and 1818; how it was made in antiquity; and how it was reassembled after it had been discovered—but also highlights the variety of approaches that were employed, both in the laboratory and the library, to examine these issues.


Pre-conservation photo of Apollo as an Archer (Apollo Saettante), Roman, 100 B.C.–before A.D. 79. Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei—Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples

A conservator’s primary goal is to address any factors that are or could potentially be damaging to an object, and even before beginning work on the Apollo, we understood that the drapery ends hanging from its arms needed attention. They were clearly placing a significant strain on the figure, and we later discovered that their combined weight is around 80 pounds—almost as much as the rest of the statue. As the project developed and we studied these drapery ends in detail, we gleaned valuable insights about the restoration of the ancient statue after it had been unearthed.

One of the first methods of analysis was X-radiography of the whole figure. Besides allowing us to see “inside” Apollo, the X-ray images showed that the two bronze drapery ends were much thicker than the rest of the statue—which explained their disproportionate weight.

2009 X-ray of the Apollo Saettante

In addition, we could also see very clearly that the drapery ends had been attached to the arms with a series of screws. Investigation of these joins under magnification, combined with ultraviolet (UV) photography (shown below), helped us to identify the extent to which materials such as lead solder and colophony had been used both as reinforcements and to conceal the joins. Having conducted these visual—and non-invasive—studies, we made the decision to remove the two drapery ends for further analysis.

Apollo Saettante under ultraviolet light

Meanwhile, another feature had given us pause. In the earliest image of the Apollo (below, left), which dates to 1825, just a few years after the statue was discovered, the drapery ends looked rather different from the bronze parts we were dealing with.

Rather than depicting long heavy forms that terminate with a tassle and a weight, the engraving shows the Apollo with much shorter drapery, fluttering lightly by his side as he strides forward. The difference could be dismissed as artistic license, but other mid-19th-century images of the statue in books in the collection of the Getty Research Institute (such as the one below, right) show exactly the same features—and likewise, do not match the bronze drapery ends.

19th-century views of the Apollo. Left: <em>The Restored Statue of Apollo</em>, Engraving in Raffaele Gargiulo, <em>Raccolta de Monumenti più interessanti del Re. Museo Borbonico . . .</em>, Naples, 1825. The Getty Research Institute, 85-B19893. Right: <em>The Restored Statue of Apollo</em>, after F. Mori, engraving in Domenico Monaco, <em>Les monuments du Musée National de Naples</em>, Naples, 1879. The Getty Research Institute, 2573-379

19th-century views of the Apollo. Left: The Restored Statue of Apollo, Engraving in Raffaele Gargiulo, Raccolta de Monumenti più interessanti del Re. Museo Borbonico . . ., Naples, 1825. The Getty Research Institute, 85-B19893. Right: The Restored Statue of Apollo, after F. Mori, engraving in Domenico Monaco, Les monuments du Musée National de Naples, Naples, 1879. The Getty Research Institute, 2573-379

Once we had removed the drapery ends, we encountered another puzzle. There were holes in the arms, but they did not all correlate with the screws that were used to attach the sections of the bronze drapery. On the right arm, for example, there is a third hole that’s somewhat smaller than the other two.

Right arm of the Apollo Saettante showing three drill holes

This suggested that there had been two different interventions. The results of metallurgical analysis of samples taken from each of the bronze drapery ends also pointed in this direction. The samples matched one another, but their composition was not only different from the ancient metal alloy, but also from the metal alloy that had been used elsewhere in the restoration and reconstruction of the statue in the early 19th century.

The combination of these diverse analytical methods led to a single conclusion: that the bronze drapery ends were not only not ancient, but also not part of the statue’s original restoration in the early 19th century. They were rather part of a second phase of restoration, replacing the lighter-looking parts that we had encountered in the drawings.

Proof came with the assistance of our colleagues in Naples, who had access to the old museum inventories. In 1844, and again in 1849, it was recorded that the drapery ends were made of plaster. Evidently, therefore, the ancient fragments had not been recovered, and so the drapery ends had been fabricated in plaster when the statue was first restored. These were what we saw in the archival drawings.

When were the plaster ends replaced by the bronze parts? The earliest photographs of the Apollo on display in the Gallery of the Bronzes in the Naples Archaeological Museum date to the mid-1860s, and here the statue has the bronze drapery ends. Bringing together the available evidence, we concluded that the switch must have happened between 1849 and the mid-1860s. But we haven’t yet encountered any documentation recording the change, so can only speculate as to why. Perhaps the plaster ends were damaged, or no longer looked effective. Or there may have been a change in taste or practice at the museum, which demanded the fabrication of bronze repairs.

The questions raised in studying the drapery were critical to our understanding of the statue and the phases of its restoration. But as is so often the case, the answers we obtained only prompted new lines of inquiry. One of the most pressing, of course, was how to display the statue once we had removed the bronze drapery ends. We decided to fabricate replacement parts in epoxy, using the 19th-century archival images to guide us. These new drapery ends are mechanically attached to the statue using the pre-existing holes in the arms, and can be removed without any risk of damage to the ancient bronze. Thus, the Apollo that now graces our galleries looks similar to the way it did in Naples after it had first been reassembled.

Post-conservation photo of Apollo as an Archer (Apollo Saettante). Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei—Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples

Post-conservation photo of Apollo as an Archer; below, a detail of the drapery

Post-conservation photo of Apollo as an Archer: Detail of re-created epoxy drapery

All photographs of the statue of Apollo are courtesy of the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei.

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  1. Sera Baker
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the well-detailed summary of your work on the statue. It was absolutely fascinating to read of the discoveries of both the original ancient and the two modern re-constructions (surprise!) combined with beautiful illustrations.

  2. Jennifer Malin
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Nice job on the restoration, but where is his epoxy bow and arrow? ; )

    I’m only half-joking. Do we have an idea what the bow and arrow would have looked like? Did he perhaps hold a real (wooden) one, which is why it hasn’t survived?

    Hope to see this in person when I visit CA this May.


  3. David Saunders
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Dear Jen
    Your question is a good one. There is lead present in Apollo’s left hand, suggesting that he did indeed hold a bow (and there are also two holes in a shallow groove on the back, presumably for a quiver on his shoulder). As to its material, we simply don’t know. Wood is certainly the most ‘realistic’, but from a practical point of view, it would have been vulnerable to distortion and damage given the statue’s display outdoors. We can get some sense of the total appearance, though, by looking at other images of Apollo as an archer – on coins and sarcophagi, for example.

    As for recreating the bow and arrow today – that’s a project that we wouldn’t enter into lightly. The situation with the drapery is instructive. The reasons for fabricating new versions (which are, should the need require, easily removable with minimal risk to the statue) during the conservation here at the Getty were:
    (i) that the statue would have looked markedly less effective if the (existing, ancient) drapery stopped short on the arms
    and (ii) because we had a number of archival images of the Apollo that illustrate what the drapery looked like after the initial phase of restoration between 1818-25. We thus had a clear ‘model’ to work from, and since the Apollo’s surface is, essentially, a nineteenth-century creation (after they’d cleaned the statue, the restorers covered the entire surface with pigments to give it a coherent, ancient-looking appearance), reconstructing the drapery in this form made sense; in some ways, the statue is as much a nineteenth-century object as an ancient one.

    Suffice to say, we didn’t have such specific prototypes for a bow and arrow, and so to have reconstructed them would have been to go substantially beyond our remit. In sum, your question brings up a neat example of conservation ethics and practices, which are by no means static. What’s really interesting (to me now that the exhibition has opened and we’re writing up our research) is the fact that the bow hadn’t been restored in the nineteenth century. If you consider historical restorations of ancient sculptures, people certainly weren’t shy to add attributes, limbs, heads and so forth, so the fact that the nineteenth-century restorers chose not to add a bow (but were happy to add the drapery) reveals a decision-process that is worthy of further investigation and contextualisation.

  4. Corbin
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Great job, David and Erik. And it’s a beautiful gallery and show. Thanks!

  5. Kristine
    Posted March 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating and beautiful… the epoxy draping seems much more in proportion to the figure overall, and enhances the sense of action in the pose.

  6. Posted March 5, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    David, thank you so much for taking time to answer my question so thoroughly! It is indeed very curious that the 19th-century restorers held back from adding a bow — and I hadn’t even thought about a quiver.

    I look forward to seeing the results of your beautiful conservation work in person.

    • robin murphy
      Posted March 21, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      interesting question and answer thanks!, But it could still be an interesting project to try, even if just to
      generate a photographic record.

  7. IIC Facebook Administrator
    Posted March 6, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    The following comment was recently posted to the IIC Facebook page regarding the article in the Wall Street Journal on this project:

    “An interesting article but there is an implication that bronzes were never patinated, if I read it correctly. Is there evidence for that, is it possible to discern whether a patina is intended or accrued?” Posted by Andrew Thorn, objects conservator, Australia

    We would be happy to have you post a reply to his comment made on!/International.Institute.for.Conservation?sk=info

    Or we could post it for you.

    Many thanks!
    Amber Kerr-Allison
    IIC, Facebook Administrator

  8. majid
    Posted March 6, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    good job,Thank you .realy CSI in restoration.

  9. Erik Risser
    Posted March 8, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Dear Amber – Thank you for your interest and kind words. To respond to Andrew’s question, some ancient literary sources, in particular Plutarch and Pliny the Elder, have been variously interpreted to support the case for patination in antiquity. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that many bronzes still preserve evidence of various alloys or, indeed, different metals being used to create a single object (think of the lips, nipples and teeth of the Riace bronzes). These examples seemingly suggest that the color of the alloy or metal itself was sought after and not a particular patinated color. In the case of the Apollo, it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty that there was an ancient patina present since the surface was so heavily altered by nineteenth-century cleaning, removing any potential evidence. Because ancient bronzes do not come down through the ages unaltered, it would be difficult to discern whether a patina was intentional or accrued without knowing many factors associated with the object from its manufacture, practical life and use, burial environment and alteration since recovery. Even if some of these factors are known, the physical and chemical evidence are often the same, which would make it hard to interpret intent. The fact that ‘corrosion’ and ‘patina’ have often been used interchangeably suggests the difficulty in discerning between a natural or human product.

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