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From the Boston College Collection
This terracotta head, depicting the Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, is from a life-size bust given to the University in 1966 by Boston fine arts dealer Edward S. Ryan ’31. The bust bears the inscription “houdon an. 1790″—leading Ryan to think it was the work of renowned French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741–1828). A 1989 Oxford University analysis, however, dated the piece to after the artist’s death. For her senior honors thesis, Lauren Zajac ’11, a chemistry and studio art major, worked with Greg McMahon, research associate in the University’s Integrated Sciences Clean Room and Nanofabrication Facility, to examine bits of the sculpture using scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy. Her data suggest the bust was fabricated around Houdon’s time with methods and materials common to his studio (surface chemical traces point to a 20th-century glaze). High quality copies of Houdon’s work were popular even in the artist’s time. The provenance remains a mystery.