Text to the Muse from “Der Anspruch der Dinge” (The Claim of Things):
Comparable to the fame of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, there was also a puzzling sensational find in the 18th century. In 1729, during excavations in the Roman villa of Julii Aspri on the Via Latia, an hour’s ride south from Rome’s center, five ancient statues are found one after the other. One more beautiful than the other. Everyone recognizes this, although they are in terrible condition, heads and arms missing. Especially a torso leaning on a rock, casual yet elegant, moves the minds. A cardinal commissioned the excavation, Melchior de Polignac, Archbishop of Auch in Gascony, Dr. of Theology and Ambassador to Rome. Pope Benedict XIII entrusted him with the deaconry of Santa Maria in Portico, a church in the ruins of the Baths of Diocletian. Artfully pleated cloaks envelop the ancient figures; here, for once, he sees nothing that could cause offense. One of the headless beauties, however, shows an irritating bulge in the crotch in the delicately fluttering garment. Now the cardinal is not a member of the Académie française, patron and promoter of the arts for nothing. One discusses four or five years about the interpretation and decides for a star of the antiquity: Achilles. Of the most famous of all war heroes, several poets of Greek mythology report that he actually preferred to sit out the Trojan War, or his family didn’t want to let him go… In any case, he went to live with the father of his bride, Deidameia, to avoid being recruited by Odysseus. When the latter arrived, they put the then probably still tender youth in a dress and mixed him with his sisters-in-law, the daughters of Lycomedes. Odysseus, the list-rich one, had fashionable accessories built up and put the newest weapon models beside it. Achilles could not control himself and became unmasked, famous and fell before Troy.
The story was a good explanation of the delicate buried memefact. Lambert Sigisbert Adam was just the most famous talent on the scene, a sculptor scholar who received commissions from the cardinal. Now, however, is not reconstructed, although ancient models in Rome are sufficiently available. For better dissemination of the meme and for the glory of the cardinal, the chiton of this “autra fille de Lycoméde” gets á la mode: puffed sleeves. Lambert Sigisbert designs the most impressive view as a showpiece, so that the head looks to the right shoulder. With topknot and tiara, quite baroque. The “Deidamea” is now considered a Greek work of the first rank and travels to Paris with Melchior de Polignac. After the death of the cardinal, his collection comes on the market, more than 300 antiquities are acquired by the young Prussian king Frederick, at that time not yet the “Great” and certainly not the “Old Fritz”. He has just won the First Silesian War and is building and philosophizing.
He has just won the first Silesian War and builds and philosophizes. He even builds his own temple of antiquity for these sculptures and soon several copies are found in his parks. Voltaire dedicates flattering verses to him:
All these busts want to tell you already
what were we doing in Rome in the midst of ruins
of the fine arts, of the empire,…Let us rather stay in the palace here, the temple of genius;
with a king who is a true king
be our stay, Rome is sacred only and everything else with him. Voltaire, October 2, 1742
Not everyone will have commented so kindly on the departure of the famous beauties from Paris. Napoleon Bonaparte later “brought them back” as spoils of war. As showpieces of the “Musée Napoleon” they are copied and drawn even more often, there is a porcelain edition of Sèvre. Then the sculptures travel back to Prussia and Napoleon to St. Helena. In Berlin, after the wars of liberation, people no longer want to see art exclusively at the king’s, but to exhibit it publicly. Karl Friedrich Schinkel designs today’s “Old Museum” on Berlin’s Museum Island. And once again, the “Revolted Figure” inspires debates that last several years. It is now recognized as the muse Polyhymnia with Apollo in singer’s dress, because the motif had already been frequently copied and quoted in ancient Rome. Philiskos from Rhodes is considered the actual creator, whose originals are dated around 140 BC. The baroque French additions were in any case wrong,- and old-fashioned.