Austin-Based Art Collector Stumbles Upon the Discovery of a Lifetime

The ancient artifact will be on view at the San Antonio Museum of Art through 2023 before returning home to Germany.

Roman Bust; SAMA; Art
Laura Young and the historic bust. Photos courtesy of the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Stops at the thrift shop can be a chance for people to find knick-knacks to spruce up their homes, but for Austin-based art collector Laura Young, a visit to a local Goodwill yielded an unexpected and valuable centuries-old treasure.

Young happened upon a sculpture once belonging to the collection of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The Roman bust, once housed in the courtyard belonging to the King in Aschaffenburg, was part of a full-scale replica of a villa from Pompeii and dates from the late first century B.C. to the early first century A.D.

The ancient object is now known to have disappeared following World War II and will be returned to Germany in 2023. Until then, the work will be on view at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) through May 2023, providing an opportunity for the San Antonio community to learn more about its storied past and a glimpse into the history of an era from long ago.

The Roman Bust Is a Unique Opportunity for SAMA

For Young, the multi-year experience spurred a mix of emotions.

“My husband and I were on a road trip when I got an email from Bonhams confirming the head was indeed ancient Roman, but without provenance, they could be of no further assistance. Soon after that, Sotheby’s got in touch,” Young said. “There were a few months of intense excitement after that, but it was bittersweet since I knew I couldn’t keep or sell the (bust). Either way, I’m glad I got to be a small part of [its] long and complicated history, and he looked great in the house while I had him.”

For SAMA, the ability to exhibit the piece signals a boon for the art world and spotlights the ways art serves as a bridge to learning about past civilizations and how these continue to impact our world today.

“It’s a great story whose plot includes the World War II-era, international diplomacy, art of the ancient Mediterranean, thrift shop sleuthing, historic Bavarian royalty, and the thoughtful stewardship of those who care for and preserve the arts, whether as individuals or institutions. We are so pleased that the Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces agreed to allow us to have the sculpture on view at SAMA before it returns to its rightful home,” The Kelso Director at SAMA, Emily Ballew Neff, Ph.D., said. “A wonderful example of international cooperation, this is another critical way in which our art museums participate in diplomacy around the globe.”


Looking for more information?

Visit SAMA to view this neat piece of history.

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