A Museum Keeps The Fake Noses That Once Replaced Those Missing on Ancient Sculptures

The exhibit is a testament to art restoration’s changing values

Medusa bust
Like many ancient statues, this Medusa is missing a nose Franz-Marc Frei/CORBIS

Sometimes the best intentions in art preservation can go awry (even stupendously awry). Most professional restorations are careful, but people still debate how far they should go. There’s a museum exhibit in Copenhagen that showcases the results of this ever-evolving discussion, reports Joshua Foer for Atlas Obscura. It’s a collection of noses.

The Ny Carslberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen contains thousands of works of art, including many statues from ancient Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian civilizations. However, the white marble often used by ancient sculptors breaks easily and by the time their work makes it to modern days, noses and even arms are missing

In the 19th century, it was common practice to fashion new noses to replace those missing, but in the 20th century museums began to favor the "more authentic" display of noseless artwork as time has rendered them. The result was a lot of leftover noses, writes Foer.

Hands literally full of noses that once graced some of history's most prized countenances, curators were to decide what to do with the physical evidence of their ancestors’ art crimes. Rather than bury them, the Nasothek was born, which takes its name from the Latin for “nose” and Greek for “container.”

Not all body parts are lost by the ravages of time, of course. Noses and other body parts on sculptures have long attracted the ire of those seeking to deface the art for one reason or another. Now the Nasothek gives a home to pieces of art history while simultaneously offering a kind of memorial to the bits that were lost.

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