Bacchus Conservation Project

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, engineering, conservation, and curatorial data obtained over the last few months. There are more fragments from ancient quarries than previously thought, and displaying each separately does not make much sense. Together, these 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.

The Bacchus project team reformulated the conservation treatment and the interpretive strategy for the display of this fascinating composite statue in the Museum’s Classical Gallery. 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 (from an old photo and an 1837 drawing) to have been held aloft holding a bunch of grapes, will be created and attached to the sculpture, following reversible conservation standards and procedures.

About the Project

The Bacchus Conservation Project is a multidisciplinary and multiphase endeavor that has involved curators, conservators, classicists, art historians, geologists, engineers, 3-D specialists, artists, and even a basketball player. In addition to historical research, scientific analysis, and conservation treatment, the project includes a special exhibition, a catalogue, and public programming.

Explore the science and restoration of Bacchus in this 360-degree video of the NCMA’s conservation lab.

The Bacchus Conservation Project is made possible by:

Bank of America

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (MA-30-16-0264-16)

Additional support provided by Steve and Frosene Zeis and Don Davis and Peggy Wilks.

Support for collection research and initial study of the statue of Bacchus is made possible by Ann and Jim Goodnight/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fund for Curatorial and Conservation Research and Travel.

Behind the Scenes

The Bacchus Conservation Project is a multidisciplinary and multiphase endeavor. Take a look at the slide show to see the exhibition history of the sculpture and view images of the preliminary phases of the systematic study of the classical marble sculptures. Visit often to see Bacchus transform before your eyes!


Media Contact and Press Releases

The NCMA communications team is happy to work with members of the press to coordinate interviews, schedule photo shoots, and provide images. Email or call Kat Harding, Assistant Director of Communications and Marketing, at (919) 664-6795. 

Press Releases

The Bacchus Conservation Project: The Story of a Sculpture Catalogue

Buy Catalogue

Softcover, full color
Edited by Caroline M. Rocheleau
107 pages
8 5/8 x 11 in.
ISBN: 978-0-88259-908-3

$30 + tax in-store purchase (please see our current hours of operation)

$35.39 online purchase (includes tax and media mail shipping to contiguous United States); $30 + tax and  international shipping; please contact us for price (varies by country)

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