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Author Topic: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)  (Read 7560 times)

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Taras

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Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« on: June 08, 2014, 01:22:21 pm »
I will try to briefly outline some notes translated from an article I'm writing in Italian, on the biography of the greatest collector of Tarentine coins, whose name is still today, after almost a century, inextricably linked to the coinage of the ancient Greek polis of Magna Graecia, Taras. Unfortunately I have not been able to find many sources about the life of Vlasto. I gathered these notes using the preface from the famous Oscar E. Ravel's catalog on Vlasto collection, integrating with other information taken from the website of the National Museum of Athens, the site of the British Museum, a couple of reviews of exhibitions of pieces from his collection in Athens (in modern Greek, without google translate I would not have known where to start!), the wikipedia page on the Ralli Brothers and the chapter on Vlasto family from Chios, on the Golden Book of Mediterranean Nobility. The pictures are taken from Ravel-Vlasto, from the website of the National Museum of Athens and the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum.


Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)




Michel P. Vlasto was  descendant from a famous Greek family who emigrated in 1092 from Crete to Byzantium. The Golden Book of Mediterranean  Nobility tells how Byzantium sent twelve rulers and their families to Crete, establishing a stronghold in the fertile plain of Messara, with a mandate to help the Greek population against the invading Arabs. From there, the Vlasto family emigrated to Chios in the sixteenth century, and later in Venice (where a Vlasto was nominated Knight of St. Mark by the Doge Pasquale Cicogna), then Genoa, Livorno, and finally to Marseilles. Despite all these moves the Vlasto maintained over the centuries a purely Greek patriotic spirit.

Michael P. Vlasto was born in Athens, February 1, 1874, he was the second son of Pantaleon Pandely Vlasto (Knight of the Order of the Redeemer) and Penelope Capari. After completing his studies in Marseille, the young Michel began working for the Ralli Brothers' firm, one of the most flourishing mercantile enterprises of the Victorian era. The Ralli family, also of Greek origin, was tied to Vlasto family by cross-recurring marriages since the early nineteenth century, as was common custom among the noble families of the time.
Michel worked in the early years in Liverpool, and was later transferred to Houston, Texas. From the USA he returned to Marseilles to work as manager of the French branch of the Ralli Company, a position he held until 1932, the year in which Michel, 50 years old, he left his job in Marseilles and settled in Athens, a city he had always considered the ideal place to spend the rest of his life. Unfortunately he had not much time to enjoy his Athens, as he died suddenly a few years later, in 1936. During the last years of his life he was among the founders of the "Association of Friends of the National Museum of Athens", to which he devoted much of his time and of which he was elected president from 1934 until 1936, the year of his death. The Association is currently still active.

In his life Michel Vlasto was a successful businessman, much appreciated by all. Ravel called him a "born artist", an excellent draftsman. His drawings were executed with great skill, and showed an understanding of Greek style rarely achieved by other professional draftsmen. His artistic sensibility made ​​him a true worshiper of Greek Art. Vlasto was fond of saying that, if he could, he would live in a museum as it was at home. He had a refined taste, Ravel argues that any piece attracted his attention was certainly to be judged a masterpiece. In fact Vlasto was not only a numismatic collector, as he put together an important collection of Greek art, consisting of approximately 760 objects, including sculptures, paintings, vases and other artifacts of exquisite workmanship.







At the time of his death the collection passed to his daughter Julia Penelope, wife of John Serpieri. During the tragic years the Nazi occupation the collection was hidden by Serpieri in the basement of his home in Athens, but the house was seized by the Germans, and the collection was taken into custody by the International Red Cross, and later returned to their rightful owners. On the death of Julia Penelope, in 1985, the collection was donated by Serpieri to the National Museum of Athens, finally respecting the final wishes expressed by Michel P. Vlasto before his death. The actual acquisition of the collection by the museum took place three years later, in 1988. Several of the pieces are now on display at the National Museum of Athens in the halls 60 and 61, with the name of “Vlastos-Serpieri Collection”. Many of the pieces have been lost in the vicissitudes of previous years, and some were probably sold by the same Serpieri, but today the collection of the Museum of Athens still contains 452 artifacts, from prehistoric times to the fourth century BC.
In the room 60 are displayed pieces from the Bronze Age, found in Egypt, Crete, Cyclades and Mycenaean Greece (showcase 1), Corinthian vases (showcase 2), the Beotia ( showcase 3) Attic ( showcase 5-8).
On the death of Michel P. Vlasto also remained unfinished a project of Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, of which the museum displays some preparatory sketches drawn by Vlasto himself (showcase 9), along with other documents related to the personality of Michel and the formation of his collection.





Room 61 displays artifacts from the Greek world of fifth and fourth centuries BC (showcase 10-17), and finally the last two showcases (18-19) display artifacts from the Spartan colony of Taras, consisting of vases, antefixes and pieces of jewellery.



The intense pleasure Michel felt while admiring a work of Greek Art was such strong as to make him say that he could not imagine a life without Art, and that there is no happiness without Beauty. His studio was a kind of temple, where Vlasto spent his hours surrounded by perfect examples of Greek Art. Apparently he was regardless of expenses in his passion for collecting. However, the greatest passion of Vlasto was undoubtedly the coinage of Taras, who represented his main area of research, both as a scholar and collector. Vlasto perfectly knew the history of the polis, having read every historical and literary sources concerning Taras. He put together a personal library of historical and archaeological topic including hundreds of volumes, which was donated after his death to the National Museum of Athens. We can consider the collector MP Vlasto as a model for what the Italian art historian Federico Zeri called the "atypical researcher": a man who prefers the direct relation with ancient objects, with materials and techniques, in other words the kind of collector who is not confined to accumulate objects only because obsessively attracted by their material value, but a man who is deeply interested in the history and meaning conveyed by those objects, by studying them and building a strong culture,  even so self-taught, a culture comparable to that of professionals historians or archaeologists.

In his preface Ravel adds some details concerning the numismatic knowledge of Vlasto, like he was almost a sort of mythological omniscient figure, quote: "He knew practically everything about Greek Numismatics. His memory was almost uncanny; he was a kind of living numismatic encyclopedia. The writer himself often went to him for information. He could tell at once, and without any hesitation where a coin was published and by whom, at which sale a similar coin was sold and by whom, and even name the price it fetched. If he did not know a coin, it was certain to be unpublished".
Ravel tells that knowledge of Vlasto about the coinage of Taras was unsurpassed, it seems that there was not a single coin from Taranto in public and private collections that he did not know. This knowledge emerges from several publications Vlasto  produced in his life: (Didrachmes inédites de ma collection, J.I.A.N. 1898; Monnaies rares ou inédites de Tarente, R.B.N. 1899; Les Monnaies de Bronze de Tarente, J.I.A.N. 1899; Les Monnaies d'Or de Tarente I p., J.I.A.N. 1899; Les Monnaies d'Or de Tarente II p., J.I.A.N. 1901; Choix de monnaies rares ou inédites de Tarente, R.N. 1904; Unpublished Coins of Tarentum, N.C. 1907; On a recent find of coins struck during the Hannibalic occupation of Tarentum, N.C. 1909; Taras Oikistes, Contribution to Tarentine Numismatic, N.N.&M. n.15 1922; Alexander Son of Neoptolemos, with the Carosino and Molossian finds, N.C. 1926; The Warren hoard of Tarentine Horsemen, N.c. 1930).

In scientific and numismatic Clubs  Vlasto was considered the greatest expert in the world on the coinage of Taras. In the last years of his life he was even invited by the Italian authorities to go to Taranto, to classify the collection of the Archaeological Museum. Vlasto was very honored by this invitation, as rarely in those years the Italian museums invited foreign scholars tto compile their catalogs. Unfortunately, the sudden death made impossible the realization of this project, we can say that it was a huge loss for the world of Numismatics, if he had only lived a few years longer, probably today we would have a SNG Taranto signed by MP Vlasto!

The Taras collection by Vlasto was without a doubt the most extensive and comprehensive that has ever existed, so that the catalog compiled by Ravel can almost be considered a repertoire of types for the mint. There are many unique specimens or extreme rarity, but what is most surprising is the excellent state of preservation of most of the specimens. Vlasto confided to Ravel that he had bought for some types up to six specimens, finding each time a better one than the last, and yet for some types he was never completely satisfied. As stated by the son Pandely, Vlasto had expressed its intention to publish a catalog of his collection, but the sudden death would not let him. The catalog edited by Oscar Ravel was published in 1947, nine years after Michel's death, at the request of his son Pandely M. Vlasto, who in the same year sold the whole collection of his father, by Spink & Son. Ravel compiled the catalog according to the order in which Vlasto had kept its coins, using catalogation and descriptions Vlasto had written by his own hand. A curiosity: Ravel, by his own admission, he compiled the entire catalog without taking direct view of the collection. Dr. W. Schwabacher sent him the casts of all the coins in the collection, and Ravel made copies produced by melting (we are talking about more than 1800 specimens!). So the coins photographed in the plates of Ravel's work are not the original coins, but the copies made by casting.
A final observation about coin collecting: it seems that Vlasto in his life he had collected not only Tarentine coins, in fact at the British Museum is stored a collection of bronze coins from Thessaly, from Vlasto's collection, sold to the British Museum in 1933, when Vlasto was in life.

To conclude I quote once again Oscar E. Ravel, who wrote in the preface to the catalog: "Any collector would be proud to have just one of them in His collection". I can not blame him, I think I was never so happy (from the point of view of collecting) as the time in which I could win this coin, not the rarest or the most beautiful in my collection, but certainly one that evokes in me much emotion, thinking to whom it belonged about a century ago (as long as it is not the cast copy by Ravel!  ;D)




CALABRIA, Tarentum. Circa 272-240 BC. AR Nomos (19mm, 6.46 g, 10h). Warrior on horseback left / Phalanthos riding dolphin left, holding hippocamp and trident. Vlasto 930 (this coin); HN Italy 1044. VF, toned, some roughness.

From the Ronald J. Hansen Collection. Ex Noble 70 (11 July 2002), lot 3088; ex M.P. Vlasto Collection.


P.S apologies if my translation is not good.
Regards :)
Nico

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2014, 05:34:36 pm »
Excellent write-up, Nico.  Your coin is beautiful!

Offline Meepzorp

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2014, 01:15:13 pm »
Hi Taras,

Thanks for the info. I never knew anything about him, aside from the fact that he once owned the greatest collection of Taras coins, probably even better than the Ratto-Cote collection.

I also never knew that he was Greek. I had always assumed that he was an Italian from Taranto, and that he collected Taras coins because of "local pride". If he was Greek, I wonder why he had a fascination with Taras coins. He could have selected any Greek coins to specialize in.

Meepzorp

Taras

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2014, 03:59:49 pm »
Quote from: Meepzorp on June 09, 2014, 01:15:13 pm
Hi Taras,

Thanks for the info. I never knew anything about him, aside from the fact that he once owned the greatest collection of Taras coins, probably even better than the Ratto-Cote collection.

I also never knew that he was Greek. I had always assumed that he was an Italian from Taranto, and that he collected Taras coins because of "local pride". If he was Greek, I wonder why he had a fascination with Taras coins. He could have selected any Greek coins to specialize in.

Meepzorp

Dear Meepzorp,
maybe your alien nature prevents you from fully grasping the aesthetics of us humans ;)

Seriously, there's no need to live in Taranto to appreciate the beauty of tarentine coins, or to realize that historically it was the greatest polis of Magna Graecia (when I say Magna Graecia I say Greek Italy, technically Greek Sicily was not "Magna Graecia").

Just some samples of men who have devoted their studies to Taras, no one of them was moved by any form of local pride:

Michel Vlasto....................... French of Greek origins.
Claudius Côte....................... French.
Arthur Evans........................ English.
Pierre Wuilleumier................ French.
George Brauer..................... American.
Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert....... German.

I think that local pride is not the best motivation to study, as it makes little unbiased.
I myself, in my own very small way as collector and aspiring scholar, I am not moved by any local proud. Taranto is the city where I was born, but I spent there the shortest part of my life and I am not in any way attached to it now. I consider myself more half Florentine and half Neapolitan, cause I lived in those cities the very formative years of my life. Eventually I consider myself simply Italian, not closely tied to any city.

A final note, it could seem foolish, but I can tell you that today most of the inhabitants of Taranto have only a remote idea of the great past of the city in which they live, vaguely reminiscent of some of the lessons in elementary school maybe, and nothing more. Let alone the boy on dolphin, probably only 1% of them knows that it was the main type minted on the coins of the ancient Taras, for Tarentines of today the boy on dolphin is simply the symbol of the city's football team, and the main logo seen during their parties with alcohol... inter alia... the team sucks, and the beer is disgustingly undrinkable.
 ;D

Bye
Nico

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2014, 09:30:02 pm »
Nico, we thank you for the article!
For me is not strange that Michael Vlastos has specialised with coins from Taras.
He was greek and Taras was a greek colony.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taranto

Perikles
Ἐξ ἀνάγκης ἡ τοῦ νομίσματος ἐπορίσθη χρῆσις...,ὃ τῶν χρησίμων αὐτὸ ὂν εἶχε τὴν χρείαν εὐμεταχείριστον πρὸς τὸ ζῆν.
Ἀριστοτέλης, Πολιτικά

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2014, 08:51:57 am »
A final note, it could seem foolish, but I can tell you that today most of the inhabitants of Taranto have only a remote idea of the great past of the city in which they live, vaguely reminiscent of some of the lessons in elementary school maybe, and nothing more. Let alone the boy on dolphin, probably only 1% of them knows that it was the main type minted on the coins of the ancient Taras, for Tarentines of today the boy on dolphin is simply the symbol of the city's football team, and the main logo seen during their parties with alcohol... inter alia... the team sucks, and the beer is disgustingly undrinkable.
 ;D

Bye
Nico

Hi Taras,

You can say that about the inhabitants of any ancient Greek/Italian city that is still heavily populated today.

As many members of this forum already know, my maternal grandparents came from Naples, which is one of the main reasons why I specialize in collecting Campania coins. And, as we discussed in another thread here, probably 99% of the current inhabitants of modern Naples know absolutely nothing about ancient Neapolis or its customs. Being a third generation American, I am 2 generations removed from Naples, but I probably know 10,000 more things about ancient Neapolis than 99% of its current inhabitants.

By the way, I've always wanted to get a copy of Vlasto's book, but I never got one. I have a reprint copy of the Ratto-Cote book.

Meepzorp

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2014, 12:10:18 pm »
Quote from: Meepzorp on June 10, 2014, 08:51:57 am
A final note, it could seem foolish, but I can tell you that today most of the inhabitants of Taranto have only a remote idea of the great past of the city in which they live, vaguely reminiscent of some of the lessons in elementary school maybe, and nothing more. Let alone the boy on dolphin, probably only 1% of them knows that it was the main type minted on the coins of the ancient Taras, for Tarentines of today the boy on dolphin is simply the symbol of the city's football team, and the main logo seen during their parties with alcohol... inter alia... the team sucks, and the beer is disgustingly undrinkable.
 ;D

Bye
Nico

Hi Taras,

You can say that about the inhabitants of any ancient Greek/Italian city that is still heavily populated today.

You could say that about virtually any historic city anywhere. I stayed with some non-classically educated Italian friends recently in an apartment overlooking Porte Maggiore, the Servian wall gate with the bakers tomb outside in the shape of a bread oven and with dedications to Claudius and Titus above, near St. John Lateran basilica, the popes church as bishop of Rome. None of what I've described just now was remotely familiar to my Roman hosts. To them it was just an old wall with some ruins and a typical Italian church nearby. I suspect this isn't only a Tarentine or Roman phenomenon. Most people in most cities in the world are clueless about local sights and ruins.

Taras

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2014, 12:55:38 pm »
I agree with both of you my friends, but there is a subtile difference.
Maybe today many Neapolitans and Romans know little of their cities, monuments etc., but they are still well aware of the great past of their cities, and they are proud of it.
To Tarentines has not even remained that pride!
The memory of a great past has been completely erased from the collective consciousness, and today only those who know ancient history can associate it with the name of the town.
This because, after the Second Punic War, Tarentum was never relieved by the defeat, and has remained an insignificant provincial town from then to this day.

Bye :)
Nico

Taras

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2014, 02:52:32 pm »
The catalog edited by Oscar Ravel was published in 1947, nine years after Michel's death, at the request of his son Pandely M. Vlasto, who in the same year sold the whole collection of his father, by Spink & Son. Ravel compiled the catalog according to the order in which Vlasto had kept its coins, using catalogation and descriptions Vlasto had written by his own hand.

I just won at a German auction the original 1947 edition.
I've been searching one for years, I will finally add it to my shelf.
I'm enormously happy!!
 :laugh:

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2014, 03:31:09 pm »
No one deserves it more than you!  Congratulations!

Offline Meepzorp

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2014, 10:09:06 pm »
Hi Taras,

Congratulations!!! :)

Meepzorp

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2014, 10:38:56 pm »
congratulations Nico, an invaluable resource for the specialist.

i got mine a couple of years ago for $25!   :P

~ Peter

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #12 on: June 18, 2014, 02:51:35 am »
Thank you all :) I already had a copy of Ravel, but it is the Forni reprint, which has worst quality plates. I wanted to get the original copy for that reason, and also for my bibliophile interest as collector.

Wow, Peter, $25 for the 1947 edition was the greatest deal of your life!!  :o Congratulations!  +++
Currently there is only one for sale on online bookstores, for about $1000.

Best :)
Nico

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #13 on: June 18, 2014, 10:33:47 am »
Congratulations, Nico.  I won a lot in the same auction. Overall, I thought the prices were quite reasonable, and I paid well below my maximum for the lot that I won. Now, I'm anxiously awaiting the invoice to see the shipping charges to the USA! Shipping costs to and from Europe have been obscene lately.

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #14 on: June 18, 2014, 10:40:23 am »
Quote from: Carausius on June 18, 2014, 10:33:47 am
Congratulations, Nico.  I won a lot in the same auction. Overall, I thought the prices were quite reasonable, and I paid well below my maximum for the lot that I won. Now, I'm anxiously awaiting the invoice to see the shipping charges to the USA! Shipping costs to and from Europe have been obscene lately.

I wanted Calciati but was outbid by about $1,000 if you include fees and shipping, which for that set was estimated at 80-100 euros, putting me at a serious disadvantage to EU bidders.  It sold for over $2,000 all in.  I couldn't believe it.

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #15 on: June 18, 2014, 10:55:53 am »
Of course, there were plenty of exceptions. The Sicily volume was quite expensive; but Calciati ' s Pegasi went cheap, I thought, compared to US comparable sales. I would have bought Pegasi in that price range, if I was not after the Banti Republic set. Cunetio was another one I was interested in, but it went for crazy money as well.

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #16 on: June 18, 2014, 10:39:09 pm »
i got mine a couple of years ago for $25!   :P
~ Peter

Hi Enodia,

How on Earth did you obtain a copy of Vlasto's book for only $25???!!! An original???!!!

I've seen copies of that book sell for thousands of dollars in auctions!

Meepzorp

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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #17 on: June 18, 2014, 10:46:24 pm »
i asked.

i posted on another board that i was interested in a copy, and i would have been happy with the Forni reprint. but a very generous member who had bought the 1947 book a few years earlier but whose collecting interests had changed offered it to me for $25 US. of course it cost me another $50 to ship it to Oregon, but it was still a good deal.
it has a small blemish on the cover and the pages are only a bit yellowed on the edges, but i'm quite happy with it.

gloating, but only slightly,
~ Peter


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Re: Michel P. Vlasto (1874-1936)
« Reply #18 on: March 01, 2015, 01:28:48 am »
i may as well use this old thread to ask anyone who has a $25 copy of Fischer-Bossert to please PM me at your earliest convenience. i might even go as high $35.

but i also wanted to thank Nico for posting this thread, something i neglected to do earlier. nice stuff!

~ Peter

 

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