Bernard von Bothmer (1912-1993)

Egyptologue et historien de l’art américain de renom, Bernard von Bothmer fut conservateur au Museum of Fine Arts de Boston, au Brooklyn Museum et Professeur à l’Institute of Fine Art de l’Université de New York. Il consacra l’essentiel de ses recherches à la sculpture égyptienne tardive et créa le Corpus of Late  Egyptian Sculpture. Les archives Bothmer sont conservées au Brooklyn Museum, ainsi qu’à l’Università degli Studi di Milano[1].


Le 10 octobre 1958, Bernard von Bothmer adressa une lettre à Jean Sainte Fare Garnot, qui dirigeait alors à l’étude de la collection d’antiquités égyptiennes du musée Rodin. Il y dressait une liste d’œuvres susceptibles de l’intéresser en vue d’une prochaine publication.



Dear Jean :


Now, finally, I get around to replying to your letter of September 24th for which I want to thank you ever so much. I am very sad not to have seen you upon your return to Paris, but my mother was in town and since she is very aged I could not leave her alone and had to spend my last three days entirely with her.


I want to thank you also for your generous permission to record the Late pieces in the Musée Rodin and to make use of them. The latter will hardy come off for the time being since we have three more years until publication of the Corpus can be contemplated.


The inventory of the Egyptian pieces in Rodin’s collection was made in pencil by Bénédite in 1913, and these notes as well as a clean copy (one of several I suppose) used to be in Vandier’s office, and years ago, by comparing the two, I found that the clean copy gives everything contained in Bénédite’s original notes.


At that time I made from Bénédite’s description a list of the following pieces which have to be of interest to the Corpus, some of which I have not found, some of which are now in the Louvre and have been recorded by me and some of which are recorded at the Musée Rodin, thanks to you, last month. Here they are : -


Bénédite no. 9 = Louvre E.15545 [Co.00983]

      //       no. 16 = Louvre E.15546 [Co.01116]

     //       no. 48 = Not found [Co.03381]

     //       no. 52 = Not found [Co.03396]

     //       no. 53 = Not found [Co.03398]

     //       no. 65 = Not found [Co.00787]

     //       no. 66 = Perhaps Louvre E.15548 [Co.00654]

     //       no. 71 = Not found [Co.05697]

     //       no. 79 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.01414]

     //       no. 81 = Not found [Co.01420]

     //       no. 83 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.01421]

     //       no. 87 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.00881]

     //       no. 88 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.00880]

     //       no. 90 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.03496]

     //       no. 92 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.03378]


Bénédite no. 126 = Not found [Co.00770]

     //       no. 145 = Not found [Co.00784]

     //       no. 191 = Not found [Co.03408]

     //       no. 234 = Not found [Co.00796]

     //       no. 284 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.01194]

     //       no. 286 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.01115]

     //       no. 288 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.00962]

     //       no. 289 = Recorded by me, Sept., 1958 [Co.03382]

     //       no. ? = Head of Osiris, inscribed on back pillar, recorded by me, September, 1958. [Non localisée]


There is furthermore a small head, about 9 cm. high, on which Jack Cooney took some notes in 1947 and which I cannot find any more at the Musée Rodin [Co.00787]. It seems to have been made of grey-green basalt and has no back pillar, and showed a full face with deep furrows. It seems to equal Bénédite’s no. 65 (see above), but I cannot understand how it could have disappeared in the last ten years. Is it perhaps locked away somewhere in a cupboard ?


I understand perfectly that we have to do everything in our power so as not to embarrass the Director and Curator of the Musée Rodin. Bur I hope that you will eventually be able to make a thorough search of the entire premises, at the Hôtel Biron and at Meudon because I really do not think that these missing pieces have really perished. None of them is made of limestone, and no. 81 for instance, the torso of Nectanebo I, is so heavy that it would take a truck ant three men to move it. My negatives are just being developed, and what I have seen thus far seems to have come out well. Eventually you will receive prints of all of them. Yet, I am afraid, the results will not be perfect. The hard-stone pieces should have been carefully washed before being photographed, and it was very difficult to manage the two heavy statues in the coal cellar. Perhaps I can do a better job some other year and by then, I hope, the missing pieces will have turned up.


One more many thanks and all good wishes,


Sincerely yours,

Bernard V. Bothmer



Dans une seconde lettre datée du 26 décembre 1958, il indiqua à l’égyptologue français le mauvais état de certaines œuvres et l’invita à un nettoyage soigneux d’une partie de la collection. Il joignit quatre-vingt-une photographies des œuvres qu’il a pues admirer à Paris.



Dear Jean,


Today, finally, I can send you sample prints of al the photographs I was able to take of the Egyptian pieces in the Musée Rodin by your kind permission last September. I am very grateful to you for all you have done to facilitate my work and I want to assure you that Herman De Meulenaere and I are only too willing to cooperate in any plan you may have with a view to publication.


Here are 81 prints in all, but some of them are not very good because, as you know yourself, the collection has been so shockingly neglected that a good deal of work will hate to be done before the pieces are in a presentable condition. Most of them will have to be cleaned carefully, and I hope that work will soon begin in order to save these valuable documents from further deterioration. For a museum man like myself it is especially sad to see these important pieces under such sad circumstances, and, frankly, I cannot quite understand it considering how many Egyptologists there are in Paris.


There are three pieces among the enclosed photographs which I photographed although they do not belong to “my” period. They are :

  1. The Ramesside relief, which  I photographed for Jean Yoyotte [Co.05879]
  2. A limestone relief of the Old Kingdom which should be of interest to Helen Wall and to Bill Smith, and I would like to ask your permission to notify these two of the existence of this offering-bearing lady, [Co.03384]
  3. A detail of a limestone stela which I photographed in order to use the last frame of  my film just for the fun of it. [Non localisée]


Did you receive my letter of October 10th? I am, of course, very much concerned about the missing pieces, especially a Late realistic head which John Cooney saw at the Musée Rodin about ten years ago and which is certainly not among the groups I found in various parts if the building.


Unfortunately my back view of no. 289 [Co.03382] did not come out very well and I will have to repeat it on my next visit to Paris.

Wishing all of you a Happy New Year, I am Sincerely yours,


Bernard V. Bothmer



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