"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
February 10, 2014
The Fakes that Embarrassed the Met, Part 2: The Big Warrior Completes the Trio
by Lawrence Jeppson

After frustrations, discouragements, tantalizings, unsettling rumors, and a cat and mouse chase that went on for years, in 1921, John Marshall finally found and bought the greatest Etruscan trophy of all, the elusive, gigantic Big Warrior. It cost him $40,000, a prodigious amount. He shipped it off to New York, in pieces.

Big Warrior

Now, at last, the Metropolitan possessed the three biggest Etruscan trophies that had ever been found. By moving like secret agents, the New York museum had beaten everyone to all three. The shadowy chase had taken five years. The rest of the museum world would look at the Met with envy and hope. Maybe the Met wouldn’t get the next one.

No one knew that no more large statues would be found.

It took time for the Met to put the Big Warrior pieces back together. Even so, the three statues were not put on public view until 12 years later, February, 1933!

Instantly they became “must see” attractions.

Scholars would not know for almost another three decades that all three history-changing terracottas–the Old Warrior, the Colossal Head, and the Big Warrior--were fakes.

John Marshall, the English architect who represented the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Italy for 22 years, looked in vain for the place where the huge Etruscan terracotta warrior head had been excavated. He had dispatched the pieces of the Colossal Head across U-boat infested seas to New York in four large crates.

Archaeological discovery of traces of the statue’s original workshop would be a secondary bonus of astonishing importance.

Wartime communication between Italy and America was difficult. Marshall went to London to attend an auction at Christie’s. On 3 August 1917, he sent the Met a 22-page report. He said the Colossal Head was found at Boccaporco, an unmapped site supposedly about five crow-flight miles south of Orvieto. He wrote:

The whole place which was being excavated had to be covered up and sown over with wheat. Nothing can be done until the harvest here is over: but I expect news of some sort when I get back.

The reassembled Colossal Head was seen by “the leading ceramic expert in the country” (Art News) Charles Binns, Director of the New York State School of Clay Working and Ceramics at Alfred University. He declared that its firing furnace had been built around it and starting from 960 degrees Centigrade, the carefully controlled temperature had been slowly diminished to keep the clay from cracking. The cooling would have taken several months.

That gives some idea of the challenges the fakers faced. But they couldn’t go on to their next triumph just yet. Riccardo Riccardi and Adolfo Fioravanti found their artistic careers temporarily suspended. While Marshall trampled around Orvieto looking for clues that did not exist, they were taken into the Italian army.

As soon as the Armistice was signed, the band of fakers set about on their dream project, a really big Etruscan warrior.

They took their inspiration from a five-inch Etruscan bronze in Berlin’s Old Museum. None of the conspirators had ever seen the little standing warrior in Berlin, but they did have a photograph.

They set out to make their big standing warrior on the ground floor of an old house they rented in Orvieto. In both esthetics and techniques, Etruscan potters followed Greek leadership. Greek ceramic statuary shows sand marks on the bottom. The fakers put sand on the floor where their sculpture would stand.

They began by building the lower legs of solid clay to support considerable weight. They built the hollow upper legs and torso using clay rolls copiously plastered on the inside with additional clay to strengthen the walls. The crotch joint was strengthened by a large internal buttress of clay. No inner skeletal armature was used to support the heavy figure, which must have weighed a thousand pounds before drying.

There was no mathematician among the cousins. By the time the figure had reached waist high, it became obvious to the fakers that the ceiling of the room was too low to accommodate a figure of the same elegant proportions as the Berlin model. They were unwilling to tear the figure down and start over. As it was modified to fit available space, their warrior developed rather stocky proportions.

The room was so small they could not get a perspective of their work. Even if there had been enough room, it would not have mattered. To keep the clay from drying, the lower part of the figure had to be swathed constantly in wet rags. The body was further hidden by a scaffolding of slats and rods. It was difficult, then, for the men to judge the interrelation of parts of the body, and the left arm was made too long.

Any paint or decoration had to be put on before the piece went to fire. The Riccardis knew that manganese dioxide would turn black when fired, and they ordered it from a supply house in Milan. They did not know that this method was not the one used to obtain Attic black colorations, but at that time, neither did anyone else.

The Riccardis had no large furnace. After the completed warrior had been allowed to air dry, they pushed it over and broke it up. They fired their statue piece by piece, pulling down and then rebuilding the walls of their furnace for each piece. The clay and the decorative slip had slightly different coefficients of expansion. This caused some fine cracking of the glaze.

After firing, the pieces had to fit back together perfectly to give the impression the statue had been fired in one piece. Because of the use of sand clay and pottery grog, there was minimum shrinkage. Even so, because the pieces were of unequal mass and shape, firing did cause some pieces to warp slightly. Where the edges did not match perfectly, the men chipped them off so the mismatch would not show. Eventually, the pieces would be fitted back together quite nicely.

Before the job was finished, Riccardo felt the need for some R&R. He went horseback riding, was thrown and killed.

Fioravanti would direct the final seduction of Marshall, but without Riccardo (the other two Riccardi cousins were fools), the ring could not survive.

The chief negotiator for the ring appears to have been the Orvieto police chief. This worked nicely until he was transferred to another city.

Rumors floated everywhere, rumors that probably had been set in motion to whet Marshall’s appetite. C. Densmore Curtis of the American Academy in Rome wrote:

Marshall himself was leaving for Bagni di Lucca but had left word that his agents (presumably including the chief of police) were to telegraph for him in case of anything of importance required his presence. They have a huge terracotta statue all excavated, but it is so carefully guarded we could not see it... All we could find out about the statue is that it is of a different type than the one in New York, of very heavy build, and that the helmet has a huge well-preserved crest which is modeled but not painted, and reaches far down the back. The site is being worked by three brothers of whom the capable one died in an accident last winter. The one with whom we deal is apparently half crazy, so you can imagine negotiations are difficult and will take a long time.

In 1919 an associate of John Marshall telegraphed the Met:

John Marshall requested us to telegraph you as follows: Have seen the new find Mars Fighting 260 or 270 centimeters high. Wonderful preservation. Same artist as big head. Most important thing ever offered us. Cannot get photograph. Price asked quite fantastic.

The sellers kept Marshall dangling. After a quick Christmas visit to the United States he returned to Italy and did not dare leave again during the entire following year. In July, 1920, he wrote to Gisela Richter at the Met, “I am nailed to this spot waiting for a big matter.”

Finally, in early 1921, he took possession of the Big Warrior and shipped the pieces to New York. This time there was no U-boat worry.

The Met, it supposed, now owned the three most important Etruscan masterpieces ever discovered.

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About Lawrence Jeppson

Lawrence Jeppson is an art consultant, organizer and curator of art exhibitions, writer, editor and publisher, lecturer, art historian, and appraiser. He is America's leading authority on modern, handwoven French tapestries. He is expert on the works of William Henry Clapp, Nat Leeb, Tsing-fang Chen, and several French artists.

He is founding president of the non-profit Mathieu Matégot Foundation for Contemporary Tapestry, whose purview encompasses all 20th-century tapestry, an interest that traces back to 1948. For many years he represented the Association des Peintres-Cartonniers de Tapisserie and Arelis in America.

Through the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the American Federation of Arts, the Museum of Modern Art, and his own Art Circuit Services he has been a contributor to or organizer of more than 200 art exhibitions in the United States, Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. He owns AcroEditions, which publishes and/or distributes multiple-original art. He was co-founder and artistic director of Collectors' Investment Fund.

He is the director of the Spring Arts Foundation; Utah Cultural Arts Foundation, and the Fine Arts Legacy Foundation

Lawrence is an early-in-the-month home teacher, whose beat is by elevator. In addition, he has spent the past six years hosting and promoting reunions of the missionaries who served in the French Mission (France, Belgium, and Switzerland) during the decade after WWII.

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