Woman Buys Statue at Goodwill for $35 and Discovers It’s a 2,000-Year-Old Roman Bust


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A post shared by Laura Young (@templeofvintage)

We've heard of some interesting thrift store finds before, but Laura Young‘s story may top them all. In 2018, Young, who has been selling antiques for about 10 years, was looking through a Goodwill in Texas when she stumbled across something that caught her eye. Tucked away under a table, there was a marble bust that was intriguing. It weighed about 50 pounds and cost $34.99. This was more than Young usually spent at Goodwill, but she followed her instinct and made the purchase. What happened next was incredible.

Curious about the marble bust, Young began reaching out to experts to see what she could discover about its history. Eventually, Sotheby's confirmed her suspicion that this statue was something special. According to their consultant, sitting in her living room was a Julio-Claudian-era Roman bust dating to the first century CE. While Young had thought that the sculpture looked Roman, she was still shocked to hear the news.

But how did a piece of antiquity such as this make its way across the ocean to Texas? While scholars are divided on who the bust portrays, they all can agree on its provenance. Records show that it once belonged to the collection of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who ruled from 1825 until 1848. He was a lover of the arts and had a large collection of antiquities.

He even constructed a reproduction of a villa from Pompeii in Aschaffenburg, Germany. Called Pompeiianum, it once housed this portrait bust, where it remained until World War II. In 1944, Pompeiianum was bombed by the Allied Forces. It is believed that the Pompeiianum was unguarded, allowing members of the military to come and go as they pleased. Though it's unclear how it made its way to the United States, we do know that the bust disappeared after that time, only to show up in Austin in 2018.

“We know that many of the objects were either destroyed in the Allied bombing campaign or looted afterward,” shares Stephennie Mulder, an art historian at the University of Texas at Austin. “Unfortunately, in this case it might have been a U.S. soldier who either looted it himself or purchased it from someone who had looted the object.”

Once Young was able to verify the provenance of her Goodwill bust, she promptly notified the German government about the piece of looted art. After arranging for its return to Bavaria, an agreement was struck for Young's find to go on loan to the San Antonio Museum of Art. It will remain on display in the museum until May 2023 before returning to Europe.

“He’d been hidden for 70 to 80 years, I thought he deserved to be seen and studied,” Young said. And while she's happy to have the bust seen by the public, she can't help but miss the sculpture, which has been a part of her life for many years.

“I liked him,” she mused. “I got attached to him in our house, right there in the entryway. You could see his reflection on the television. He became part of the house.”

Antique dealer Laura Young paid $34.99 for a marble statue she found at Goodwill that turned out to be a 2,000-year-old Roman portrait bust.


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A post shared by Laura Young (@templeofvintage)

The bust was looted during World War II and will return to Germany after going on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art.


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A post shared by San Antonio Museum of Art (@sama_art)

h/t: [Smithsonian, NBC News]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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