An ancient Roman bust that went on display this week at a museum in San Antonio, Texas, has a special story: In 2018, the bust was purchased from a Goodwill store in Austin, Texas. The buyer, Laura Young, was looking for items to resell and had no idea she had picked up an artifact dating from the first century BC or AD.
The bust once resided inside a life-size model of a Pompeii house in Aschaffenburg, Germany, according to the San Antonio Museum of Art. The exhibit, known as the Pompejanum, was built by Ludwig I of Bavaria and during World War II was badly damaged by Allied bombers.
The sculpture had mysteriously disappeared after Aschaffenburg was targeted. The US military remained in the area until the end of the Cold War and it is believed that a US soldier took the bust and brought it back to Texas, according to the museum.
Apparently, Texas was where he stayed for decades, until Young unknowingly bought him.
Young bought the ancient Roman bust for just $34.99, she told The Art Newspaper. The sculpture is believed to depict ancient Roman commander Drusus Germanicus, according to the newspaper.
An image of the bust after Young bought it shows him strapped to his car seat, a yellow price tag stuck to his cheek.
After noticing how old and worn it looked, Young was curious about its origin, the museum said in a press release. She embarked on a year-long journey, interviewing experts from the classics and art history departments at the University of Texas at Austin. She also called auction houses across the United States
Eventually, Sotheby’s consultant Jörg Deterling identified the bust and put Young in touch with German authorities.
“There were a few months of intense excitement after that, but it was bittersweet because I knew I couldn’t keep or sell the (bust),” Young said. “Anyway, I’m glad I got to be part of a small part of (his) long and complicated story, and he looked great in the house while I had him.”
The artwork will be on display at the museum until May 2023, when it will be returned to its rightful home, the Bavarian State-owned Palace Administration in Germany.
“It’s a great story whose plot includes the era of World War II, international diplomacy, the art of the ancient Mediterranean, the search for thrift stores, historic Bavarian royalty and the thoughtful management of those who care for and preserve the arts, whether as individuals or institutions,” said Emily Ballew Neff, director of Kelso at the museum and holder of a doctorate in art history.