Chestertown, MD, July 18, 2006 — For nearly two decades, Donald McColl, the Nancy L. Underwood Professor of Art History at Washington College, has immersed himself in one of art history's mysteries—the origins and function of a group of early Christian sculptures, called the "Jonah Marbles", representing Jonah and the Good Shepherd, which first appeared on the New York art market in the mid-1960s and now reside in the Cleveland Museum of Art.
"The sculptures are extraordinary works, and are exceedingly rare examples of pre-Constantinian sculpture in the round," says McColl. "Yet lingering doubts as to their authenticity, attributable in large part to their having no verifiable provenance—that is, either a verifiable archaeological context or a long and continuous record of ownership—to say nothing of the sheer exuberance of their forms, which recall pagan, Hellenistic art—have had the effect of excluding the works from important discussions of Early Christian art."
This June—courtesy of a 2006 Summer Fellowship in Byzantine Studies from Harvard's Dumbarton Oaks Library and Research Collection—McColl began to take stock of his decade-long researches on the origins of the sculptures, which have included travel to Turkey; isotopic analyses of the marble from which the objects were carved, conducted in conjunction with conservators from the Cleveland Museum and the Center for Archaeological Sciences, University of Georgia; and examining the papers of the late Ernst Kitzinger, former Director of Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks and one of the most important scholars to have made a close study of the works.
The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, located in Washington, DC, is an international center for scholarship, providing resources for study and publishing scholarly works in Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape Studies. Begun as a private collection by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss in 1920, and given to Harvard University in 1940, the library and collections include art, objects, artifacts, manuscripts, and rare books.
McColl joined the faculty of Washington College in 1997 after receiving his Ph.D. in art history from the University of Virginia, and completing postdoctoral study at Northwestern University, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He holds a B.A. in art history and criticism from the University of Western Ontario (1986) and an M.A. in art history from Oberlin College (1992). His professional research focuses on the visual culture of northern Europe in the early modern period and on late antique/early Christian art and archaeology. He is currently working on a book titled Troubled Waters: Seeing the Samaritan Woman in the Reformation World.