A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The Louvre's magnificent Greco-Scythian crown is a fake & Israel Rouchomovski takes a bow
Debate over the authenticity of a massive gold crown known as the Tiara of Saitaphernes divided Paris in 1896. According to an inscription on the tiara, it was a gift from Olbia, a Greek colony on the Black Sea coast, to the 3rd-century B.C. Scythian king Saitaphernes. Russian art dealer Schapschelle Hochmann's tale was that it was found at Olbia, near Odessa in present-day Ukraine. The inscription on it even matched an ancient one that had already been published. But it later became clear that the tiara's new owner, the Louvre, had not performed adequate research into its origins before buying.
Taken by the desire to acquire the tiara, the Louvre had missed warning signs that could have saved them considerable embarrassment. The tiara was flawed: there were traces of modern tools, there was modern soldering (though cleverly concealed), and an inscription was raised in relief. And then there was the preservation, ridiculed in a World Today article in 1907:
There are a lot on indentations on the tiara and these furnish a comical note in this affair. They were supposed to have been caused by the falling of stones of the mouldering tomb. These stones certainly possessed a rare and discriminating appreciation of art, since they had avoided falling on any of the numerous figures in relief, but had dented in most of the smooth spaces. What was more, unless the worthy Scythian potentate had turned around a few times in his tomb one could not explain why dents were found on all sides of his tiara. However there had been no miracle, the bumps and indentations were made by using alternately the ends of a common ballpane hammer.
The Louvre still owns the Tiara of Saitaphernes, though it is no longer on display. The World Today article quoted above predicted that "It would indeed be very surprising if the tiara was ever again exhibited." But in 1954 the Louvre included it in "Salon of Fakes," along with eight Mona Lisas. In 1997 the Israel Museum in Jerusalem had an exhibition about Rouchomovksi at which the tiara was displayed. Today, in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is a small installation with three pieces. One is a replica of the Tiara of Saitaphernes. Another is a double-sided silver engraving showing the fall of Saitaphernes, perhaps a fitting metaphor for the embarrassment the Louvre suffered in the scandal. And there's a plaque that tells about Rouchomovski and his crowning hoax.