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House of Worth Ball Gown: Behind the Scenes at The Costume Institute Conservation Laboratory

Fragmentary colossal marble head of a youth
Greek, Hellenistic period, 2nd century B.C.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Although this extraordinary head has long been known, its function and importance have only recently been understood.  The youth, with long curling locks and a brooding expression, was originally part of a draped bust set into a marble roundel almost four feet in diameter.  It is probably among the earliest known sculptures of this type (imagines clipeatae) in marble and over life-size in scale.  It would have been one of several that adorned the walls of a particular grand space in the gymnasium of ancient Pergamon.  He may represent a young god or possibly Alexander the Great.  Even in its damaged condition, the head exemplifies the combination of sensitivity and presence characteristic of the finest Hellenistic Pergamene sculpture.

Inkstand with A Madman Distilling His Brains

Italian, probably Urbino, ca. 1600
Tin-glazed earthenware
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

In this whimsical maiolica sculpture, a well-dressed man leans forward in his seat with his head in a covered pot set above a fiery hearth.  The vessel beside the hearth almost certainly held ink.  The man’s actions are explained by an inscription on the chair: “I distill my brain and am totally happy.”  Thus the task of the writer is equated with distillation— the process through which a liquid is purified by heating and cooling, extracting its essence.