Roman busts return after 60 years

Tabatha Donaldson, a NT Conservation Cleaner at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire as she cleans a Roman bust of Caracalla

Tabatha Donaldson, a NT Conservation Cleaner at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire as she cleans a Roman bust of Caracalla

First published in National News © by

Four Roman busts have been returned to a National Trust home after an absence of more than 60 years.

The marble 17th century Italian sculptures had been displayed at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire since at least the 1770s but were sold by the estate's last private owner, Elsie Bambridge.

The first two busts, those of Caracalla and an unknown philosopher emperor, have been returned after being accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax from an unnamed estate, while two others, depicting Trajan and another so far unidentified emperor, were purchased using a grant from the Art Fund.

They have now been reunited with a fifth bust of a young Marcus Aurelius already at Wimpole and go on public display today.

Wendy Monkhouse, National Trust curator, said: "It is wonderful to repatriate the four 17th century Italian marble busts of Caesars to Wimpole where they will be reunited with that of Marcus Aurelius.

"Their redisplay in the entrance hall will transform its character, and help visitors to enjoy some of Wimpole's original 18th century grandeur and glamour."

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund said the busts will help the public gain an insight into the importance of classical history in eighteenth and nineteenth century British society.

"These important busts were once an integral part of the decorative scheme at Wimpole Hall, and we are so pleased to be supporting their return," he added.

The emperor Trajan ruled between 98 and 117 AD and is considered one of Rome's "good" emperors, credited with expanding the Roman Empire to its widest reach and leaving Hadrian as his heir.

In contrast Caracalla, who ruled from 211 to 217 AD, is mostly remembered for his cruelty and violence.

His bust was very popular in eighteenth century England, partly because it captured his brooding and angry character.

The identity of the remaining two busts is still unclear, with different identities having been ascribed to them over the centuries.

This is the subject of continuing research by the National Trust.

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