Statue surgery—ancient Roman nose industry revealed

The Nasothek display in Denmark’s Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum is filled with partial faces sculpted to repair damaged classical Roman statues.

Noses were one of the first features to break off of ancient statues as they were moved, lost, buried, and dug up  later.

Ancient art dealers found that complete sculptures sold better, so they hired craftsmen to replace the missing pieces—noses, ears, chins, brows, and sometimes whole limbs.

“When art dealers were selling off ancient sculpture, the collectors expected it to be more or less as it would have been in ancient times and of course missing limbs, missing noses, ears, hands, feet, like that, didn’t sell very well,” said Jan Kindberg Jacobsen, curator of ancient art at the Glyptotek museum.

Because the pieces were old, but not ancient, originality didn’t matter as much as appearance.

Sculpture repair became quite the thriving industry.

One museum visitor, Claus Andersen, from Denmark, said, “It’s quite interesting that you can actually have a collection of noses, that aren’t antique per-se but they’ve been added to statues in order to make them more lifelike and more complete.”

Fast forward to the present, and the emphasis has changed. Museums now want to display only the original, ancient works, and not the patches and Band-Aids added over the years.

All those removed facial features ended up in the Nasothek collection.

Nasothek has 156 noses, ears, chins, and brows—all the features most commonly broken off and replaced.

“You have to remember that these sculptures are very old, 2,000 years and more, they would have been in the soil for quite some time, maybe re-used in buildings, things like that, and of course in the course of time, they have been worn down,” Jacobsen explained.

Nasothek is a mix of Greek and Roman words meaning “nose container.”

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum is open weekly, Tuesday to Sunday.

 
 
 
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