- Chloe Kim
- From BBC News in Washington
In 2018, American Laura Young bought a Roman bust at Goodwill, a thrift store in Austin, Texas, for just $35. She photographed the object strapped to the passenger seat of her car.
An independent seller of antiques, she told the BBC she entered the store “hoping to find something nice”.
Upon closer inspection, outside the store, she saw that the bust might be “very, very old.” She did a quick Google search for Roman marble busts and noticed similarities with the item she had just purchased.
After further research, Young discovered that his statue was a 2,000-year-old Roman bust — from the 1st century BC or 1st AD — an item of incalculable value.
“I don’t even know if it’s possible to assign significant monetary value to something that has such an important history,” says Lynley McAlpine of the San Antonio Museum of Art. She said the bust may be of Sextus Pompey, a Roman military leader who fought Julius Caesar.
Further investigation indicates that the bust came from a replica of Vila Romana in Germany, which displayed original artifacts alongside replicas.
The Pompejanum in the Bavarian town of Aschaffenburg was built in the 1840s and was severely damaged by Allied bombing during World War II.
It is unknown how the bust got from Aschaffenburg to Austin, but it seems likely that an American soldier took the statue to the US. American troops were in Aschaffenburg during the Cold War.
And since this was probably an item looted during the war, Young didn’t want to sell it as an antique.
Instead, she negotiated a loan of the bust to the San Antonio Museum of Art before its eventual return to Bavaria.
Negotiations took several years—and during that time Young kept the bust in his living room.
“He looked really cool. And he’s been there staring at us for over three years,” she said.
Delivering the bust to the San Antonio Museum of Art was a difficult time, Young said, because she knew she would likely never find anything like it again.
“Even if I found something more valuable and managed to sell it and make a profit, it would probably still be the best thing,” she said.
The bust is currently on display in San Antonio and will be returned to the Pompejanum in May 2023. This past weekend, she visited the bust at the museum.
“It was so nice to see him there where he was supposed to be.”
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