The Ashmolean Museum Celebrates A Major Benefaction From The Leon Levy Foundation
The Ashmolean recently received a substantial grant from the Leon Levy Foundation in support of the Museum’s Restoring the Past Gallery. In recognition of this grant, the Gallery has been named in memory of Leon Levy, the distinguished financier whose wide range of interests and philanthropies included the ancient world, the arts and humanities. His charitable ideals are continued by the Foundation established in his memory by his widow, the author, collector and philanthropist, Shelby White.
Restoring the Past: The Leon Levy Gallery is one of two conservation galleries at the Ashmolean, which is the only major museum of art and archaeology to have permanent galleries devoted to this crucial area of all museums’ work.
The Gallery illustrates the history of conservation through objects from the Ashmolean collections. Visitors are shown how in the Ancient World everyday objects were skilfully repaired and adapted to prolong their usage, hence pots were plugged, bound and glued with resins, while a fragment of broken Iron Age sword was recycled as a knife. When the practice of restoration began in the Renaissance, the aim was the reconstruction of the original – often with poetic licence – and so the Roman statue of Venus bought by the Earl of Arundel in the early 1600s has 17th-century feet and an 18th-century head. Cross-cultural perspectives on the aesthetic appeal of damage and repair are also considered. A Japanese plate shows how a repaired area became an integral part of a new decoration, while in Europe the most highly rated repairs are those that go unnoticed.
At the beginning of the 20th century the craft of restoration began to develop into the science of conservation. The Ashmolean’s first conservator, William Young, was at the forefront of this emerging discipline, and several examples of his work are on display, each of which he signed “Neos” (the Greek for “young”).
By taking a historical look at the changing approaches and practices in conservation (many of them undertaken by the Ashmolean itself) Restoring the Past: the Leon Levy Gallery explores important ethical questions relating to the care of objects in museums and collections the world over.
Dr Christopher Brown, Director of the Ashmolean, said, ‘This gallery is of great importance to us, helping us to highlight for our visitors the crucial role of the science of conservation, both today and in the past. We are honoured to name the gallery in memory of Leon Levy, and are extremely grateful to the Foundation for its support.’
Shelby White, trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, said, ‘The Ashmolean Museum’s archaeological restoration initiative coincides precisely with Leon Levy’s passion for the ancient world and the Foundation’s efforts over many years to identify, preserve and safeguard important historical objects’.