In 1830, someone decided to cut down a forest that stood on a hill about eight kilometers from Montealegre del Castillo (Albacete), but instead of collecting wood, he ended up collecting the dozens of strange Iberian sculptures that covered the land.
So many found that the news spread soon, and a priest from Valencia named Francisco Javier Biosca even showed up at the place to find out first-hand what was happening, since the hill where it was found is known as Los Santos.
You never know.
Thus, a spectacular archaeological site had been discovered that ended up generating an authentic operetta of scientific nonsense that culminated, in turn,
Seventy years after the discovery of the spectacular statue of the god Mithras in an orchard in Cabra
However, at least 13 sculptures - half - were the product of the imagination of the forger Vicente Juan y Amat, who took advantage of the interest in the site of the recently created National Archaeological Museum (MAN) to do business: between real piece and piece, put a fake
In fact, some of them are on display, duly identified today at the MAN, just when the 150th anniversary of the Austrian exhibition is about to take place, in which Spain opened its pavilion two months after the inaugural ribbon was cut and the Jury would have distributed the prizes to the
It was not until 1860, three decades after it was discovered, when the academic world focused its attention on the Albacete site and its unique characteristics.
The visits from archaeologists, profiteers and neighbors multiplied, until a French sculptor and stonecutter named Carlos Bollier, a friend of Amat, said he had extracted an amazing seated female figure that left everyone speechless.
Nothing like it had been seen.
The chronicler of Yecla Pascual Giménez Rubio, who observed the figure in 1865, described it as an “imitation of an Egyptian mummy due to the appearance of its dress and aptitude;
although from her appearance, necklaces and enormous earrings [earrings], she could also be an idol of Gentilism [idolaters] ”.
The renowned archaeologist Juan de Dios Aguado y Alarcón initially identified the site as a "sanctuary with a
[building] from the Visigothic period”, something that many colleagues ratified.
The first studies described the Iberian site as a Visigothic sanctuary”
In 1870 the excavations began by the Piarist Fathers of Yecla.
They wrote a report that reached the new National Archaeological Museum which, with its shelves practically empty, sent an official commission to investigate and acquire whatever was interesting.
50 sculptural remains were purchased from Amat, an atrocious character also known as the
Watchmaker of Yecla
So spectacular and enigmatic were the figures acquired that a second commission bought another fifty works from him a month later.
A third delegation of experts acquired another 30 from an antique dealer named Miró, among which was the
Grand Dame offering
―this is authentic― in such a way that, in 1873, the museum had more than 300 pieces from the hill of Los Santos.
The expectation raised by the set was maximum and provoked the admiration of the Emperor of Brazil and the archaeologists and curators of the British Museum, “who significantly appreciated the collections, but without providing interpretations that would clarify their cultural affiliation.
Nobody understood anything.
These circumstances prompted those responsible for the institution to seek other ways of international dissemination.
The Universal Exhibition in Vienna revealed itself as the perfect place”, recall Julio González Alcalde, from the Collections Department of the National Museum of Natural Sciences, and Teresa Chapa Brunet, emeritus professor of History at the Complutense University of Madrid in their research
The Iberian sculptures of the hill of the Saints in the Universal Exhibition of Vienna (1873).
The list of pieces sent to Vienna included a 'Three-headed Monster' and an 'Obelisk with terrifying representations'.
The Government of Amadeo de Saboya (1870-1873) established itself as a firm defender of sending the sculptures to Austria because Spain "must rush to occupy the position of honor designated to it, and demonstrate the degree of prosperity and culture to which they border their industry, their arts and their scientific knowledge”.
However, and for security reasons, the original pieces were not packaged, but an exact casting of them in plaster and plaster.
30 “very exact” copies were made, among which the most noteworthy were
Monster with three heads and the lower part of a human figure
Head with ornament and miter
Rhinoceros, Plinth with a two-faced head, Obelisk with symbolic or terrifying representations,
among others .
two months late
On May 1, 1873, Emperor Francisco José I inaugurated the exhibition, but he could not access the Spanish Mudejar pavilion because it was unfinished "since serious difficulties were encountered for the construction that had been planned," according to the journalist Navarro Reverter, sent to the event. by the magazine
La Ilustración Española y Americana
The planned building had the shape of an ax, it had to be made of brick, but since the Spanish commission did not find "this material or the means to carry out the work according to the plans, they made it of wood, trusting that the exterior coverings would hide the absence of brick”, read Navarro's article.
The Government affirmed that it was a “fully national” artistic group and that it was necessary to “gather opinions from the scientific world”
The precipitation and the lack of adaptation of the materials had a very unfavorable effect on the pavilion, causing delays that prevented the placement of the exhibitors until almost two months after the opening of the exhibition.
In addition, the auction of the works “was carried out in poor conditions, with the wet plaster, the rains cracked the wood, the building, not being adjusted to the plans, turned out to be too small;
the staircase to go up to the main floor was insufficient and with the lack of decoration all the pieces were snubbed”, the surprised journalist wrote.
Drawings of casts from Cerro de los Santos included in Henzlsmann's study, in 1877. All are supposedly false except those numbered 1 and 3.
Meanwhile, in Spain, scientists debated whether the pieces were of Visigothic origin (Amador de los Ríos) or from a “Bastetano town, destroyed by Hannibal in the 3rd century BC.
"Academic opinion had yet to be defined and, probably for this reason, sending a sample to Vienna was considered a real opportunity, where internationally recognized specialists could see the copies and give a well-founded opinion," recall Chapa Brunet and González Alcalde.
But foreign specialists did not agree either, and even the Hungarian archaeologist Imre Henzslmann found parallels with figures called
who linked the Spanish site with the burial mounds (kurgans) built in Ukraine and all of southern Russia between the VII and XII centuries AD Therefore, the strange art exhumed in Montealegre del Castillo would have arrived in Hispania through the Gothic migrations from Eastern Europe.
Spain opened its damp-filled pavilion two months after the exhibition opened”
No one, however, doubted the authenticity of the sculptures, they only disagreed about their origin, until the archaeologist Juan de Dios Rada y Delgado gave his entrance speech to the Royal Academy of History in 1875,
Antiquities of Cerro de los Santos in the term of Montealegr
In it he included numerous plates with the materials and inscriptions found, which allowed specialists to observe in detail many pieces of an inexplicably heterogeneous set: there were three-headed monsters, African animals and seated ladies covered by huge headdresses.
Suspicions arose, but “in the academic context of the time, in which the principle of authority was excessively respected, there was no one with sufficient prestige and knowledge to refute Rada's proposals.
However, there began to be a state of unfavorable opinion that did not surface publicly, but it is fair to say that before it was said abroad and in block letters that among the Yecla objects there were forgeries, it was being said here between Spanish archaeologists and fans”, explains the study.
Above, original design of the Spanish pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Vienna in brick.
Below, the final result, in wood. The Spanish and American Enlightenment
It was the German epigrapher Emil Hübner, of enormous international prestige, who clearly stated his conviction that all the materials from the Los Santos hill were false.
Mistrust, from then on, settled.
The release of the pieces for the Paris Exposition in 1878 provoked new reports, among them that of José Ramón Mélida y Alinari, who was the first to separate, to a great extent, the false from the authentic.
Juan Vicente Amat, a tradesman and watchmaker by profession, without any academic preparation, was finally awarded the commendations of Isabel la Católica and Carlos III, “for having collected so many figures and sold the bulk of his collection to MAN”.
Amat ended his days in an insane asylum, but his
-properly marked- remains on display at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, and when its director, Andrés Carretero, is asked about the matter, he answers with a shrug: "All museums exhibit some counterfeit, but we know which ones."
And let out a smile.