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Renzo Piano designed the home for one of America’s largest private art collections that runs from prehistoric to Picasso. It has more than a thousand everyday Byzantine objects – stamps, seals, rings, keys and buckles – most acquired from the dealer J.J. Klejman in 1964. For a time it also had in its care 13th-century frescoes from northern Cyprus, now returned to the Byzantine Museum in Nicosia.
The Menil collection’s artefacts from the Ancient World include marble and stonewear from the Cyclades, and Greek and Roman ceramics.
John de Menil, a French banker, and his wife, the heiress Dominique Schlumberger, were both keen collectors. At the outbreak of the Second World War they left Paris and emigrated to the USA where he became president of the oilfield services company, Schlumberger Overseas, based in Houston. Devout Catholics, they built the Rothko Chapel beside the Museum, with 14 of the Russian-American artist’s specially commissioned paintings paintings, as a sanctuary for all faiths.
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