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Bacchus 2.0

/ January 23, 2019

Back in the day, when the NCMA first learned that its sculpture of Bacchus, the god of wine, was composed of many marble fragments—the torso being a rare Roman artifact—the Museum was determined to free the ancient torso from the rest of Bacchus’s body and display it separately. Over the last months, the Bacchus Conservation Project team has been studying the statue, and now results of recent analyses conducted on our favorite composite sculpture have come in … Bacchus has dazzled us with science!

As NCMA conservator Corey Riley mentions in this video, our original derestoration project has made an about-face, based on compelling scientific, conservation, and curatorial data obtained over the last few months. It turns out that the NCMA’s Bacchus contains more fragments from ancient quarries than we previously thought, and displaying each fragment separately does not make much sense.

Together these ancient fragments create a wonderful statue of the god of wine, probably put together in the late 16th century (or early 17th century). That’s a fascinating aspect of the sculpture’s history that we do not want to lose. Our discoveries have made the composite sculpture more interesting as a whole, even though there is still that rare 2nd-century Roman torso embedded in it.

Instead of derestoration, we’re going for a rerestoration.

What does this mean for the Bacchus Conservation Project? We’re shifting gears, and instead of derestoration, we’re going for a rerestoration. Corey is going to consolidate the body to make sure all its limbs are nice and sturdy. Andrew Terrell, of Lysaght and Associates Structural Engineers, is helping us with that because we want to make sure nothing happens to the body when Corey puts the berries back on the head, and the head back on the torso!  We’re going to do something with that missing arm… and Andy needs to weigh in on that as well!

Until then, join us for the Toast to Bacchus, our lecture and wine-tasting event on January 26, 2019.

Caroline Rocheleau
Caroline Rocheleau is director of research and curator of ancient art at the NCMA.

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