To be fair, it’s a great story: A historian (in this case, the brilliant and pithy Mary Beard) preparing for a lecture searches Google for images of a tapestry that had been lost for hundreds of years—and finds it being sold in a rug shop in New York City. That’s how it was reported, first by the London Times and then later by the Telegraph. Here’s the latter on the discovery, which was presented with the headline “Mary Beard stumbles upon ‘priceless set of Henry VIII tapestries’ in New York City rug shop”:
A priceless 16th century tapestry commissioned by Henry VIII is thought to have been found in a rug shop in New York by Mary Beard, the academic and television presenter.
The giant tapestry, which depicts scenes from the life of Julius Caesar, was recognized by Ms. Beard after she saw a picture of it while researching on the internet....
The Caesar tapestries, last seen in the background of a watercolour painted in the 19th century, had since mysteriously disappeared and their whereabouts was not known until now.
Professor Beard believes she may have stumbled across one of them at Persian Gallery, a shop selling antique carpets in mid-town Manhattan.
It’s as if Indiana Jones traded his whip for a modem. The only problem is, the historian in question doesn’t think that’s what happened, and specifically asked the Times not to portray it as such.
Beard did grant an interview in which she acknowledged that the tapestries could be authentic—she says she did so to give tapestries, which are largely overlooked today, some badly-needed publicity. But it seems that she also cautioned against the angle the papers have run with, which is “Mary Beard is our Indiana Jones”—she is much more skeptical of the authenticity of the tapestries than either account what suggest. Here’s her take on the Times interview, from her blog:
As I recall, I gave the story much as above, and responded negatively to some wilder speculations about the tapestries. And I insisted that M Beard should not emerge from this as some Indiana Jones style discover. Anyway, what appear is this article in the Times (to see it all, you need to subscribe) , and the BBC Radio news has an item on how Mary Beard has found one of Henry VIII’s lost tapestries. Aggghh.
Later, on Twitter, she was more succinct:
Of course, that’s exactly what someone who just found a priceless set of Henry VII tapestries would say, isn’t it?