Curious Objects: The Mystery of the Michelangelo Bust

Benjamin Miller and Michael Diaz-Griffith Curious Objects

This month, Ben and Michael present a conversation with Jennifer Tonkovich, curator of drawings and prints at the Morgan Library and Museum. The focus is an odd bronze bust of a crying child—once believed to have been sculpted by Michelangelo—but the discussion quickly branches out. Ensconced in J. P. Morgan’s silk-walled study, the trio considers subjects as diverse as the collector/connoisseur divide in the nineteenth century; the role of “creative restorers” in the history of antique fakery; and the intercontinental flow of fine and decorative arts treasures from Europe to the private collections of tycoons like Morgan, and from there into the public sphere. 

Q&A with Jennifer Tonkovich

After the interview, we asked our followers on social media to submit their questions about the “Michelangelo” bust, Tonkovich’s career, or the Morgan Library. Below, Tonkovich gives her answers to the questions we received:

“Can you tell us about the fakes museum dealer Jacques Seligmann once considered founding?”

“What are other objects in the Morgan collection that have unique backstories? Do you have a favorite?”

“What’s the most surprising part of being a curator? The oddest?”

“Anything else you can tell us about how Morgan perceived the Near East? Did he write about it?”

“What’ve you been working on during the COVID-19 shutdown?”

“Why was there a market for Lazzaroni’s ‘creative restorations’? I thought that limbless torsos and armless goddesses were already in fashion by JP Morgan’s time.”

Jennifer Tonkovich is the Eugene and Clare Thaw Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Morgan Library and Museum. This spring she will publish the third and final volume of Inside the Morgan, a book series that unravels the story behind the creation of the luxurious interiors of Pierpont Morgan’s library. Jennifer is deeply intrigued by the stories behind objects that have been dismissed for decades as Gilded Age bric-a-brac and what they can tell us about what collecting meant to Pierpont Morgan.