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A Genuine Fake Poniatowski Gem?
October 23, 2008 2:19 PM   Subscribe

The Neoclassical Gem Collection of Prince Poniatowski - Prince Stanislas Poniatowski was the vastly wealthy nephew of the last King of Poland. Living in Rome, he built up a stunning collection of gems depicting scenes like Hercules Bagging the Pygmies in the Skin of the Nemean Lion. The collection was sold by Christie's at auction in 1839 and that's when the questions started… [pdf]
posted by tellurian (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
My suspicions were aroused right away by the Deadalus and Icarus being carved on Gummi Worm.
posted by jfuller at 4:32 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thank you for posting this. The PDF mentions something about ebay, were you able to find any copies there?
posted by omegar at 5:13 PM on October 23, 2008


This one of Mercury took my breath away. Exquisite. Such incredibly detailed intaglios.

Interesting the writers spell it cornelian. I only know that stone as carnelian.

Sad these beauties are faked artifacts because they are gloriously lovely.

A page in Polish with a couple more images of the work of Giovanni Calandrelli, the artist who created these wonderful fakes at the sumptuous Palace Museum (click on the room numbers in red to see rooms in the palace).
posted by nickyskye at 7:32 PM on October 23, 2008


PS I love royal family gem intrigue stories.
posted by nickyskye at 7:33 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


nickyskye: Cornelian is different from carnelian, and apparently commonly used for intaglios
posted by infini at 11:56 PM on October 23, 2008


No omegar, there only seem to be coins and paraphernalia from his uncle. I don't think they'd crop up too often if they are interested in them at the Ashmolean. Despite them not being the genuine article they are still collectable as historic items.
What intrigues me about this whole affair is the degree of complicity that Poniatowski may have had. Why would a man of limitless wealth create a collection of fake classical jewellery that he then didn't let anyone see? What joy could he get from looking at it himself if he knew it was manufactured? Was he taken in by Calandrelli? Also, how sick would Tyrrell have felt, seeing pieces pass hands for as little as $2?
posted by tellurian at 6:22 AM on October 24, 2008


good questions tellurian, not being facetious but feels like those mysteries of the universe nimoy kept chasing
posted by infini at 6:30 AM on October 24, 2008


those mysteries of the universe nimoy kept chasing
Google gave me a Six Degrees that might tickle your fancy, infini. On January 17th 1732, Stanislaw II August Poniatowski last King of Poland (1764-95) was born. On the same day in 1985, Nimoy got his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Dun dun dun!
posted by tellurian at 7:14 AM on October 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Dear infini, "Carnelian, sometimes spelled cornelian, is a red or reddish-brown variant of chalcedony."

What intrigues me about this whole affair is the degree of complicity that Poniatowski may have had. Why would a man of limitless wealth create a collection of fake classical jewellery that he then didn't let anyone see? What joy could he get from looking at it himself if he knew it was manufactured? Was he taken in by Calandrelli? Also, how sick would Tyrrell have felt, seeing pieces pass hands for as little as $2?

You're right tellurian. That is so bizarre. Could Poniatowski have enjoyed the beauty of the gems but knew they were not antiquities so they had to keep them to himself?

And if Calandrelli were blackmailing the prince, why didn't he ask for money straight out? To go to such incredible lengths by creating those intaglios, it is sooo strange. I wonder if anyone knows the inside story to this fascinating tale? It was hard enough to find any additional picture of the intaglios.

And I'd feel sick seeing any one of those pieces pass for $2 because they're so beautifully made. How could that have happened?
posted by nickyskye at 7:47 AM on October 24, 2008


Only tangentally related: I have (at home sadly and not able to be posted here) a great photo I took on a vacation to Greece of a tiny orange tabby kitten sitting framed by the columns of the ruins of the temple of Zeus in Nemea. The kitty looks enormous from the angle, but really she was teensy-weensy. Since it just looks like a shot of a kitty at some random classical ruins though, it's only an inside joke for nerds. I also have some shots of me mugging that I am being attacked and am fighting by the teensy kitty between the columns. God, I'm such a nerd.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:57 AM on October 24, 2008


This is all very interesting, indeed, and those are pretty good questions. I actually know a direct descendant from a brother of the last king of Poland, so I'll ask her if she knows anything about this. She might not tell me anything beause she hates being reminded of her royal ascendence, but if she does tell me anything, I'll post it here.
posted by omegar at 8:56 AM on October 24, 2008


Ah! I wondered! So Hercules carried around a lion skin (possibly from when he was 18 years old) on the off-chance he would need to stuff something in it.

Would love to see the reenactment Pollomacho (sans skinned cat and stuffing of pygmies).

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 2. 22 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.):
"[Ostensibly a description of an ancient Greek painting at Neapolis (Naples) Herakles among the Pygmaioi (Pygmies). While Herakles is asleep in Libya after conquering Antaios, the Pygmaioi set upon him with the avowed intention of avenging Antaios; for they claim to be brothers of Antaios, high-spirited fellows, not athletes, indeed, nor his equals at wrestling, but earth-born (gêgenes) and quite strong besides, and when they come up out of the earth the sand billows in waves. For the Pygmaioi dwell in the earth just like ants and store their provisions underground, and the food they eat is not the property of others but their own and raised by themselves. For they sow and reap and ride on a cart drawn by pigmy horses, and it said that they use an axe on stalks of grain, believing that these are trees. But ah, their boldness! Here they are advancing against Herakles and undertaking to kill him in his sleep; though they would not fear him even if he were awake. Meanwhile he sleeps on the soft sand, since weariness has crept over him in wrestling; and, filled with sleep, his mouth open, he draws full breaths deep in his chest, and Hypnos (Sleep) himself stands over him in visible form, making much, I think, of his own part in the fall of Herakles. Antaios also lies there, but whereas art paints Herakles as alive and warm, it represents Antaios as dead and withered and abandons him to Ge (Earth).
The army of the Pygmaioi envelops Herakles; while this one phalanx attacks his left hand, these other two companies march against his right hand as being stronger; bowmen and a host of slingers lay siege to his feet, amazed at the size of his shin; as for those who advance against his head, the Pygmaios King has assumed the command at this point, which they think will offer the stoutest resistance, and they bring engines of war to bear against it as if it were a citadel--fire for his hair, mattocks for his eyes, doors of a sort for his mouth, and these, I fancy, are gates to fasten on his nose, so that Herakles may not breathe when his head has been captured. All these things are being done, to be sure, around the sleeping Herakles; but lo! he stands erect and laughs at the danger, and sweeping together the hostile forces he puts them in his lion’ skin, and I suppose he is carrying them to Eurystheus." [source]
posted by tellurian at 8:57 AM on October 24, 2008


nickyskye: Gracias! I shoulda checked wiki properly first
posted by infini at 10:32 AM on October 24, 2008


Tellurian, c'est vrai fascinating ... i love patterns ;p (i'm such a nerd)
posted by infini at 10:33 AM on October 24, 2008


Who was that painter whose masterpiece fakes were so good that he himself could have been a master? reminds me of that, where the fakes themselves have value in and of themselves
posted by infini at 10:35 AM on October 24, 2008


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