The Collection's History

The Wanamaker Bronzes have a history that extends more than 100 years. John Wanamaker (1838-1922) purchased them for the Penn Museum’s collections from J. Chiurazzi & Fils, a foundry established in 1870 and based in Naples, Italy, at the turn of the 20th century. Wanamaker was a Philadelphia native, perhaps best known as a visionary department store founder. 

John Wanamaker. Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

He also served as Postmaster General under President Benjamin Harrison from 1889 to 1893, and in 1896 he joined the Museum’s Board of Managers, a position he fulfilled for more than 25 years. In addition to the purchase of the bronzes, Wanamaker made other donations to the Museum and supported excavations at the Etruscan site of Orvieto in 1896. This interest in the ancient world and its works of art perhaps developed during his numerous visits to different world’s fairs and international expositions. Wanamaker was highly involved with Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exposition, and he opened his “Grand Depot” store at 13th and Market Streets in Philadelphia that same year. An 1871 visit to see the vast structures of London’s Great Exposition of 1851 helped inform his choice of a large, open building filled with goods for his new department store. He also attended expositions in Paris in 1889 and 1900, and traveled to Chicago in 1893 for their World’s Columbian Exposition. The Palace of Fine Arts at the World’s Columbian Exposition featured reproductions of works from Pompeii; not long after this display, interest in reproductions grew immensely and museums in the United States began to add them to their collections as a way of making ancient works, often in museums overseas, accessible to visitors. Wanamaker also traveled throughout the Mediterranean in 1896, during which time he supported the excavations at Orvieto, and made a second trip in 1901 that saw him reach as far east as India. In 1902, on his way home, he made a stop in Naples and Pompeii. It was on this trip that he came into contact with J. Chiurazzi & Fils. Their large foundry was housed in the Albergo dei Poveri, and one of their showrooms was located across from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, in the Galleria Principe di Napoli.

Facade of the Chiurazzi Showroom in Naples. Source: J. Chiurazzi & Fils, Fournisseurs de Cours et Musées. Salles d'Exposition et Vente. Naples. Milan 1900.

The Chiurazzi Showroom in Naples. From J. Chiurazzi & Fils, Fournisseurs de Cours et Musées. Salles d'Exposition et Vente. Naples. Milan 1900.

This was a prime location for enticing the museum’s visitors, who, having just seen the museum’s spectacular collections, might want to take home a copy of their own. J. Chiurazzi & Fils created reproductions of ancient works in media like bronze, terracotta, and marble based on molds made from the original works housed in Naples’ archaeological museum. They were well-known for the excellent quality of their work, and when Wanamaker visited their showroom in 1902 he must have agreed. He left Naples having purchased some 454 bronze reproductions of a wide range of objects, mainly from Pompeii and Herculaneum, to fill out the Penn Museum’s classical collections. The large order of bronzes was not immediately sent to the Penn Museum, however – Wanamaker agreed to first loan the bronzes to the Royal Italian Pavilion at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. This fair was in honor of the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase, and like other fairs and expositions it featured galleries devoted to the fine artistic and engineering accomplishments of various nations. The Royal Italian Pavilion was designed by Giuseppe Sommaruga, a Milanese architect, and was meant to resemble an imperial Roman villa.

The exterior of the Italian Pavilion. Source: Missouri History Museum, St. Louis

The exterior of the Italian Pavilion. Image courtesy of the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis.

A focal point in this pavilion was Chiurazzi’s reproduction of the Borghese Satyr, the large bronze statue that currently graces the Warden Garden at the Kamin Entrance to the Museum. Many of the other bronzes filled the rest of the pavilion.

The Borghese Satyr and other works in the Italian Pavilion. From Louisiana and the Fair: An Exposition of the World, Its People, and Their Achievements. Ed. J. W. Buel. St. Louis 1904-1905; v. 6, after p. 2126.

By displaying these bronzes, the Italians could show off the remarkable archaeological finds of Pompeii and Herculaneum without moving the originals, and J. Chiurazzi & Fils could attract more buyers. Indeed, a catalogue was available to any interested guests, and Salvatore Chiurazzi, who ran the foundry at the time, was on hand to take orders. Theodore and Edith Roosevelt were two of the popular pavilion’s more famous visitors, and Salvatore Chiurazzi presented them with a reproduction of the dancing faun from Pompeii’s House of the Faun. The St. Louis World’s Fair had been a successful venture for both the Italians and the Chiurazzi foundry, and even John Wanamaker left with more than the bronze collection. He also acquired the large bronze eagle and organ that adorn his store in Philadelphia, and purchased additional Egyptian objects for the Museum. When the fair closed in 1904, the bronzes were packed up and finally sent to Philadelphia.

A letter from 1904 concering the shipment of the bronzes from Salvatore Chiurazzi to Sara Yorke Stevenson, the president of the Museum at the time. Image courtest of the Penn Museum Archives, Sara Yorke Stevenson Mediterranean Section Records.

They arrived in the early months of 1905. Many were initially displayed in Pepper Hall, then the “Graeco-Roman Section,” and the main staircase, while several also became fixtures in the various gardens. (Today only the Borghese Satyr remains outdoors, as mentioned above; it receives yearly conservation treatments to protect it from the weather.)

The bronzes in Pepper Hall. Image courtesy of the Penn Museum, Image #148681.

Over the years the bronzes were moved indoors and into storage as the Museum’s collection of classical antiquities grew and interest in reproductions waned. Though only a handful of the bronzes are displayed today, the collection remains a valuable tool of study for students and visitors and is a lasting testament to the generosity and legacy of John Wanamaker.