Herakles, Weary No More: Boston Museum Returning Top Half of Famous Statue to Turkey

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Boston Globe

At long last, “Weary Herakles” will find his other half.

The Boston Globe recently reported that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) will return the top portion of the 1,800 year-old “Weary Herakles” statue to its native Turkey, where its legs and lower torso reside.

The MFA purchased the Roman sculpture’s top half in 1981 together with a New York couple, whose gifts to several museums around the US have been subject to scrutiny. Herakles went on display in Boston in April 1982. It is now in storage, having last been seen by museum visitors during a 2007 exhibition.

In 1980, archaeologists found the bottom half of the statue in eight pieces in the city of Perge. This portion is now in a museum in Antalya. No one documented the discovery of Herakles’ top half, but archaeologists insist it was discovered around the same time and place. However, Mohammed Yeganeh, the dealer who sold the sculpture’s top half, said that it came from his mother’s collection and, before that, from a German dealer around 1950.

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The first recognition that the two halves were part of the same whole came when the top portion was on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Connoisseur magazine made the connection but the MFA’s curator of classical art at the time, Cornelius C. Vermeule III, at first denied any correlation. Nevertheless, he suggested that one way to find out would be to make casts of the two halves and see if they fit together. Turns out they did.

After years of discussion and disagreement, the MFA now expects to formalize the return the upper half of the statue within the next year. However, plans are already in the works for the full statue to return to Boston on short-term loan as early as 2012.

For those in Turkey, the return symbolizes another victory in a larger effort for the repatriation of works of antiquity that they feel were stolen from Turkey in years when the means by which museums acquired works were often less ethical.

In May, the New York Times reported that the German government would return a Hittite statue of a stone sphinx that had been removed to Berlin archaeologists in 1917 and never brought back Turkey. Turkey’s Culture Minister, Ertugrul Gunay, had previously threatened not to renew German licenses for archaeological digs if the sphinx was not returned. “This is a revolution,” the Times reported that Gunay said about the resolution with the Germans, adding, “We will fight in the same way for the restitution of the other artifacts.”

And now with the return of “Weary Herakles,” the Turkish seem to be winning the fight. Literally, one piece a time.

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