Bust of Menander, The Getty Villa

The bust’s connection with Lincoln rests on Bernard Ashmole, who served as Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art between 1956 and 1961.

Bust of Menander

Typically this series highlights an item or space within Lincoln's collection but this connection was too good not to share. Below, find a piece from Dr David Saunders.

I have the very good fortune to work at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles as a curator in the Antiquities Department. With a vantage point off the Pacific Coast Highway, The Getty Villa often feels as far as it's possible to be from Lincoln College. Yet this Roman bronze bust in our collection offers an indirect link back to Turl Street. It depicts the Greek playwright Menander, whose brand of comedy was full of domestic crises, love affairs and confusions of identity, all played for laughs and typically ending happily ever after. The bust’s connection with Lincoln rests on Bernard Ashmole, who served as Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art between 1956 and 1961. After he retired, he assisted J. Paul Getty with a number of purchases, providing advice and an expert pair of eyes. Ashmole devotes a chapter to this period in his excellent autobiography (Bernard Ashmole, 1894-1988: an autobiography (1994), edited by Donna Kurtz, who was my doctorate supervisor when I was at Lincoln), and this little bronze bust was one such object for which Getty sought Ashmole's expert opinion. At the time, a number of portraits of this type were known, but for decades their identity had been uncertain. Some scholars had proposed that they depict Menander, others Virgil. But it was only when Ashmole studied this particular example - when he was looking at it for Getty in London – that the identity was settled. For inscribed on the base - now scarcely visible – is Menander’s name in Greek. Ashmole published his discovery in "Menander: An Inscribed Bust. American Journal of Archaeology 77 (1973). Not long after he made the purchase, Getty lent the bust for a time to the Ashmolean Museum.

All of this took place long before my time at both Lincoln and the Getty. But these happy connections continue today. A couple of years ago, we received a donation of two Athenian black-gloss vessels, datable to around 400 BC.  They had previously been in the collection of Sir Walter Oakeshott (1903–1987), Rector of Lincoln College (1954–1972), who recorded buying them in Athens whilst he was lecturing for Swan Hellenic Cruises in the very late 1950s or early 1960s (for more information, see this blog post). A scholar of medieval and Renaissance English art and literature, his papers are now housed in the Getty Research Institute. As vice-chancellor of Oxford University, Sir Walter played a key role in the establishment of the Beazley Archive (now easily accessible online), preserving the notebooks, drawings, and photographs of Sir John Beazley, who had been Lincoln Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology prior to Bernard Ashmole.

Portrait Bust of Menander, 25 B.C.–A.D. 50, Bronze
17 × 8.1 cm (6 11/16 × 3 3/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Click here if you would like to connect to the Getty Villa entry of the bust. 


Give Now