Scholarly interest in the NCMA’s Statue of Bacchus arose in the 1960s when classical art experts identified it as a patchwork, comprising a rare 2nd-century Roman torso, a head from a different ancient statue, and limbs, hair locks, berries, and leaves that were put together in the late 16th or early 17th century. Scholars strongly advocated for the complete derestoration of Bacchus, which could not be accomplished at the time. The derestoration began in the mid 1980s with the removal of the head, with a second phase in 1990 to remove the berries, leaves, and locks of hair from it. The treatment, however, did not extend to the rest of the sculpture. The Bacchus Conservation Project was established in 2013 to study the sculpture, understand how it was put together, trace its history, and complete the derestoration begun decades ago.
The original derestoration project has made an about-face, based on compelling scientific, conservation, and curatorial data obtained in late 2018. There are more marble fragments from ancient quarries than previously thought, and displaying each separately does not make much sense. Together, these ancient fragments create a wonderful statue of the Roman god of wine, probably put together in the late 16th or early 17th century. The recent discoveries make the composite sculpture more interesting as a whole, even though there is still that rare 2nd-century Roman torso embedded in it.
Instead of a derestoration, the project is now a re-restoration aimed at bringing Bacchus back to its original appearance. The sculpture will be consolidated, and the head—newly adorned with the old berries, leaves, and hair locks—will be reattached to the body. The right arm, missing since before the statue came to the Museum but known to have been held aloft holding a bunch of grapes, will be created and attached to the sculpture, following reversible conservation standards and procedures.
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. John D. Humber