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January 12, 2006



Art Object

How do archaeologists and connoisseurs learn about ancient artifacts that have been separated from their historical contexts? With "The Connoisseur's Collection: An Exhibition of the Richard C. Bull Collection," archaeology graduate student Catherine Person gives visitors to Rhys Carpenter Library a glimpse into the process. Person took on the exhibition as the first NEH-funded Bryn Mawr curatorial intern in a program funded by a challenge grant to the Graduate School of Arts and Science. Comprising 26 diverse objects that probably originated in Iran, the Russian Steppes, Turkey and Syria, between the third millennium BCE and the eighth century CE, the exhibition will remain on display in the Kaiser Reading Room through February during library hours.

Richard Bull, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, was an enthusiastic collector of Asian and Near Eastern antiquities and the husband of Josephine Rothermel Bull '34. He began collecting Chinese antiquities as a law student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1930s; later his interests grew to embrace antiquities from around the globe. He purchased most of the objects in his collection from art and antiquities dealers in Philadelphia and New York. "He was friendly with several scholars of Asian art and history [who] helped to guide Mr. Bull with his personal research," says the brochure Person wrote to accompany the exhibit. The Bulls also traveled extensively and made some of their purchases abroad. In the mid-1980s, the couple donated their collections to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the University Museum at Penn and Bryn Mawr's Art and Archaeology Collections.

Art Object

Collections like the Bulls' "were usually assembled with an understanding of the pieces and the cultures from which they come," Person writes, "but almost always the pieces came from art dealers. This means that the objects did not have a verifiable context." Information about a given object's date of manufacture, uses and significance can be deduced from its precise location in the ground at an excavation site and how that placement relates to that of "other objects, building remains or other features," Person explains.

The absence of such verifiable context made the Bull collection an interesting research problem for Person. An interview with Josephine Bull gave her more information about how the objects were collected, and her exhibition notes document her research into collections containing similar objects whose excavation contexts are known. She also benefited from a consultation with Jeanny Vorys Canby '50, Ph.D. '59, an expert in a type of Syrian bronze probably represented in the collection.



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