The year is 1804. James Bowdoin III, now the American minister to Spain, comes across a marble sculpture while visiting Paris. Believing that Thomas Jefferson would enjoy it, he ships the piece to Virginia with a letter written, “a Cleopatra copied and reduced from the ancient one now at Paris.”
In Virginia, Jefferson receives the piece and replies that “it shall be deposited [at Monticello].” For a decade, the marble likeness sits on display in Monticello’s Entrance Hall, assumed to be Cleopatra, until Jefferson stumbles upon the appropriate illustration in his copy of Augustine Legrand’s Galeries des Antiques (1803). It was then that Jefferson realized that his statue was not Cleopatra, but instead a depiction of Ariadne, Greek princess and daughter to King Minos of Crete.
Over the past 90 years, Ariadne has been on display Monticello’s Entrance Hall exposed to dirt, dust, and the attention of visitors. In the early twentieth century, it was common to coat marble statues with a layer of wax. Yet as conservation techniques have evolved, we now understand that wax does not offer protection for marble in a museum environment. Indeed, wax often acts as an adhesive, collecting dirt and debris.
With modern cleaning techniques at the ready, Monticello’s Curatorial department removed old layers of wax, cleaned the built-up dirt, and repaired Ariadne’s damaged hands, fingers, and toe.
Our sincerest thanks to The Anne Carter Robins and Walter R. Robins, Jr. Foundation, for their generous support of Ariadne's restoration. With the help of conservators Amy and Greg Byrne, this restoration was a success. Enjoy the video, and plan to visit Monticello to see Ariadne for yourself.