Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looting Matters: A Review of 2008

This time last year I suggested that we were likely to see resolutions over the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Shelby White collection. The return of material from the White-Levy collection was announced in January, and from Cleveland in November. January also saw the arrival of the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater in Rome.

Other material returned to Italy was recovered by Operation "Ghelas", Operation "Ulisse" and Operaton "Online". Apulian pottery seized in Spain was handed back, as well as the contents of a warehouse belonging to a dealer in Basel. A new Euphronios fragment turned up at Cerveteri. Some of this returning archaeological material was displayed in the second Nostoi exhibition in the Palazzo Poli in Rome; Nostoi moved to Athens in September.

Greece has been more active in calling for the return of antiquities. A major conference on cultural property was held in the New Acropolis Museum back and this led to renewed calls for the return of the Parthenon marbles; small fragments of returned pieces of the Parthenon have gone on display. Other returns included a statue stolen from Gortyn on Crete that surfaced with a Swiss antiquities dealer, and a marble lekythos. Shelby White announced that two items from her collection would be returning to Greece.

Antiquities have also been returned to Egypt, Libya (Cyrenaica) and Algeria. The appointment of Brent R. Benjamin of the St Louis Art Museum to CPAC is likely to bring further tensions with Egypt. The scale of looting in Iraq has been the subject of rigorous discussion.

I have mapped trends in the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's (New York). Meanwhile Bonham's (London) had a bad year. They had to withdraw an Egyptian lot in May and the sale of the Graham Geddes collection in October attracted much adverse publicity.

Institutions have begun to respond to the debate about the way that antiquities surface on the market. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) launched its Object Register in June, and in November the first item was posted. The AAMD also issued "New Standards on Collecting of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art". The Milken Institute sponsored a conference and report about the antiquities market.

Two books have attracted much publicity during the year: James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? (Details of reviews) and Sharon Waxman's Loot!

The search for a successor to Philippe de Montebello at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art was announced. This brought a distinctive tribute from Lee Rosenbaum of CultureGrrl. An exhibition celebrating the de Montebello years went on display. Thomas P. Campbell was appointed in September.

This is just a sample of the stories covered in 2008.

Looting Matters wishes its readers a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Neil MacGregor: Briton of the Year

The Times (London) has named Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, as "Briton of the Year" (The Times December 27, 2008; see also Leader). The article touches upon the successor to Philippe de Montebello at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
[MacGregor] declined the Met on principle. It was not a public institution, he said. And he wanted to stay at a museum that was free to everyone. MacGregor, it would appear, is profoundly democratic. Refocusing upon the founding ideals of the institution that was established by Act of Parliament in 1753 as a museum for the world, he has radically redefined the role that it can play in public life.
There is discussion of the Museum's exhibition policy:
Helping to release the power that lies implicit in the world’s ancient artefacts, MacGregor has turned the British Museum into an arena in which some of our most fraught and contentious contemporary political debates can be approached with a freshened sensitivity and depth of understanding that can surely be a great help in fostering peace.
The Times "Leader" restates the value of the Universal Museum:
Neil MacGregor has ensured that the British Museum is not just a venerable but little visited institution, is not just part of an antique cultural landscape, but is vital to the nation's lifeblood. While other museums may wither, MacGregor has made it impossible to imagine a cultural future for Britain that does not feature the British Museum close to its heart. It is a huge legacy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Sevso Treasure Revisited

Time Team covered the Sevso Treasure on (UK) Channel 4 on December 26, 2008 ("The mystery of the Roman treasure"). Channel 4's website has plenty of useful links including a quiz on "the illegal antiquities trade".

As Channel 4 recommends "Looting Matters" in its list of resources to "Find Out More" here are previous postings on the Sevso Treasure:

James Cuno Responds to Roger Bland

James Cuno has responded to Roger Bland's review of Who Owns Antiquity? ("Yesterday Nebuchadnezzar . . .", London Review of Books 30, no. 24, December 18 2008). He claims that Bland has "misread" the book and states, "My argument is that cultural property is a political construct put to the service of modern governments’ agendas [sic.]". Cuno places an emphasis on Iraq in his response.

He concludes:
Bland calls my arguments ‘US cultural imperialism at its worst’. On the contrary, my book is an argument against the nationalism of culture (on the part of the US and all other governments) in favour of encyclopedic museums like the British Museum (Bland’s employer).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasonal Greetings

Looting Matters wishes all its readers a Happy Christmas.

Nadolig llawen i chi!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Sheer persistence pays dividends": Head of Amenhotep III Returns to Egypt

The head of Amenhotep III, once handled by Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, has been returned to Egypt ("Priceless Egyptian Sculpture To Be Returned Home after 18 Year Absence" (press release, Mishcon de Reya, December 19, 2008).
Dr Zahi Hawass personally retained Karen Sanig, Head of Art Law at Mishcon de Reya to assert the ownership rights of the Arab Republic of Egypt and to effect repatriation of the Head. The case was extremely complicated as the Head was the subject of two criminal proceedings, in the UK and the US, it had passed through the hands of innocent parties unaware of its chequered history and travelled to various jurisdictions which gave rise to other alleged ownership rights. Despite all this, as a result careful negotiation, led by Karen Sanig, the Head has today gone home and avoided making its third court appearance in the High Court in London.

Karen Sanig added:
In this case the determination of Dr Zahi Hawass backed by the Egyptian Government enabled a successful resolution without recourse to litigation. Other countries affected by looting and trafficking of their cultural heritage property often have neither the resources of the Arab Republic of Egypt nor the dedication of its most important archaeologist, Dr Hawass. However the return of the Head does show that sheer persistence pays dividends in this area.

Trends in the Sale of Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's


I have been doing some further analysis of the Egyptian lots in the sales of antiquities at Sotheby's New York. While the median has been increasing steadily since 1998, both sales in 2008 showed a downturn. There have been drops before, but it does look as if the present financial crisis is having an impact on sales.

I have excluded two special sales (in 1999 and 2004) for this study. (The median for the one in 2004 was $14,400, in the middle of the two others for that year.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Financial Innovations and the Sponsorship of Archaeological Excavations

This post will address the second of the Milken Institute's proposals to fund archaeology (see my earlier comments on leasing). The second solution is to "Develop museum/collector partnerships to sponsor archaeological digs".

This solution advocates the role of the private collector.
Because museum lease models include only a few of the players within the value chain, another option would include a limited participation level for individual collectors who have spending power to generate substantial revenues. Countries of origin have been historically reluctant to lease items to personal collections. However, the bias against collectors ignores the demand that drives the trade, creating a vacuum in which billions of dollars cross through the black market.
In one sense this is an old model. Private individuals (and museums) supported bodies such as the Egypt Exploration Fund (see the example of Sir Henry Wellcome) and then received a share of the finds (so-called partage which I have discussed before). Thus the Middle Kingdom blue faience hippopotamus found at Abydos in the EEF's excavations passed into the collection of the Revd William MacGregor (and from there eventually into the George Ortiz collection).

The Milken Institute report suggests that a collector sponsors an archaeological museum whose staff will then conduct excavations.
A portion of the yield would be distributed among all funders through either a loan or, potentially, a purchase, with the most prized and unique pieces staying in the home country. Should the dig produce nothing of salable value, the local museum would use as collateral either excess inventory from previous excavations or the loan of a currently exhibited piece.
This immediately raises questions. While archaeological museums are repositories for archaeological material, are they also initiating archaeological work? And should excavations be conducted merely to generate finds that can be passed to the market? And would such excavations favour the type of sites that would produce "museum quality" items? But what about non-elite sites? There is nothing here about a research-driven archaeological strategy. After all, we are dealing with a finite resource.

And who would make the selection of finds? What would be the criteria? Would distribution take place after full study, conservation and publication?

I wonder what the J. Paul Getty Museum feels about the way it is presented in the report.
The Getty Museum, for example, might partner with two private collectors to fund a dig in Italy.
Would "source" countries prefer to see an archaeological project sponsored by an institution rather than by private collectors?

There is another issue. Would collectors sponsoring excavations sign up to an ethical code? Would they stop acquiring antiquities that surface on the market without histories (prior to 1970)? Would they apologise if they have acquired such antiquities in the past?

Financial Innovations and the Lease of Antiquities

I have been reading the Milken Institute's Financial Innovation Lab Report on Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation (December 2008) [pdf: registration required].

Three "Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation" are presented. (It is a pity that the innovations did not cover discovery, conservation and publication.)

The first solution is to "Promote long-term museum and exhibit leases". The report highlights the income generated by the recent treasures of King Tutankhamun tour which is expected to generate US $40 million for the new Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
These tours, while generating capital for the companies that sponsor them, could work within lease models, with museums collaborating on the exhibition of specific collections from countries of origin to create shared revenue pools.
There have been models for such collaborative loan schemes: a good example was provided by "The Emory University Museum International Loan Project" (EUMILOP) from the 1980s.

Would such leases cover the more eye-catching pieces? What about the less significant objects? Would such schemes encourage detailed publication (as EUMILOP achieved)? Would the money generated be returned to the conservation, preservation, display and publication of archaeological monuments and finds in the countries of origin? Or would the money be seen as part of a country's income stream?

Who would be the brokers in such leases? What would be their "cut"?

Who would decide on the choice of items? Museum curators? National archaeologists?

There are a plenty of questions and this only relates to the least controversial of the three "solutions".

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's


I have been following the sale of antiquities at Sotheby's New York over the last decade. 2008 came fourth in the ranking for the proportion of sales for Egyptian lot: 40% of the value of the two lots for the year. This was worth some US $7.16 million (out of a total US $ 17.83). (The top three years are 2004, 2003 and 1998.)

Sotheby's New York has sold just under US $50 million worth of Egyptian antiquities since 1998. This is some 22% of the sales of antiquities (worth US $230.97 million). This is slightly distorted by the sale of the Guennol lioness in 2007, even though this year saw the fourth highest sum raised for Egyptian antiquities (US $6.58 million).

I have also been keeping an eye on past collecting histories. Some 67% of the Egyptian lots in this period (1998-2008) do not appear to have been known prior to 1973 (the date of the declaration by the Archaeological Institute of America). Some 95% of the lots have no recorded find-spots.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Farmer arrested in Italy

A 6th century BCE sanctuary to the south of Rome has been systematically looted (Ariel David, "Farmer digs up ancient sanctuary in Italy", AP December 17, 2008). The farmer's home was raided by the Carabinieri and some 500 objects were seized. The sanctuary, indicated by votives, was located near Aprilia.

The Carabinieri also revealed further finds including a 3rd-4th century CE mosaic removed from one of the Roman catacombs. The present proprietor had claimed it had been given to his family by Vatican authorities.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sir Norman Rosenthal on Provenance Research

Sir Norman Rosenthal, the exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts in London (1977-2008), has written about the impact of "provenance research" ("The time has come for a statute of limitations", The Art Newspaper December 11, 2008). "Provenance" is used here to describe the collecting history of a painting or object: the former owners, the collectors, the dealers and the auction-houses through which a piece has passed since its creation.

Rosenthal concentrates on material taken by the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s, but states, "If valuable objects have ended up in the public sphere, even on account of the terrible facts of history, then that is the way it is." He is unsympathetic to claims that the objects should be restored to families.

Rosethal extends the issue to antiquities and in particular the Sarpedon (or Euphronios) krater returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Italy earlier this year.
The outgoing director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello, was forced to send the Metropolitan Euphronios vase back to Italy earlier this year. This begged the question, does Italy really need another vase by this artist, when there are others? Italy has so many great objects of this kind that one piece, however outstanding, makes little difference. To the best of my knowledge, this vase is not even on public view at the moment. At the Metropolitan, however, it could quite easily have inspired young people to get involved in, or spend their lives with, classical culture.
But what is the "provenance" of this krater?

We know something about the sequence of its passage through the antiquities market: a tombarolo in Cerveteri, a Zurich conservation laboratory, and its arrival in America courtesy of TWA. But what about its archaeological history? It is assumed that the krater was found in an Etruscan tomb at Cerveteri, but details of the precise find-spot are lost. Its discovery in a scientific excavation could also have "inspired" a new generation.

The krater, incidentally, has been forming part of the Nostoi exhibition in the New Akropolis Museum in Athens. (And before this in Mantua.) It has been displayed alongside a range of antiquities that remind us that recently-surfaced antiquities have been acquired for public and private collections without too many questions being asked.

Did Italy need the krater back? This is an outstanding piece. And the same museum has returned the Morgantina silver - surely a significant group of Hellenistic plate.

Rosenthal misses what is, surely, the key issue about the returns to Italy: the disincentive for museums to indulge in the acquisition of pieces that have no recorded histories - or what he would term "provenances" - prior to 1970.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cycladic at Auction: over $1 million

Today's auction at Sotheby's, New York, saw a Cycladic figure of Spedos type fetch US $1,022,500 (lot 27). The piece was first known as the property of Michel Dumez-Onof of Mount Street, London, (October 1980). It then appeared in the exhibition, "Classical Antiquities from Private Collections in Great Britain. A Loan Exhibition in Aid of the Ashmole Archive," Sotheby's, London, (January 15th-31st 1986), before passing into the hands of Stanley J. Seeger.

Two Egyptian pieces fetched over US $1 million. First was a royal figure, perhaps from one of the boundary stelai of Amarna (lot 15, $1,082,500). This was known to be in the hands of Leo Mildenberg, Zurich, in 1960. It then formed part of the collection of Denys Sutton, editor of Apollo. The second was an Egyptian greywacke figure of a man that was said to have been discovered by Henry Salt "in the Temple of Bubastes, Lower Egypt" (lot 17, $1,650,500). It subsequently formed part of the Warwick Castle collection, and, after its sale at Sotheby's in 1997, a private collection.

An Assyrian foundation plaque from Tukulti-Ninurta's temple of Ishtar at Assur, and acquired in 1917, sold for $932,500 (lot 62). Two of the three lots formerly from the Villa Rufolo collection were sold (Lot 50, $28,125; Lot 58, $31,250).

The sale fetched $8,899,375, substantially more than was raised at Christie's yesterday ($4,735,100). Overall this year's antiquities sales at Christie's and Sotheby's in New York have raised over $28 million.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Antiquities at Christie's: Results

The sale of antiquities at Christie's, Rockefeller Plaza today (December 9, 2008) generated US$4,735,100.

The Cobham Hall Hadrian (lot 164) realized $902,500 (well above the upper estimate of $550,000). The (apparent) third century bronze portrait of the first century emperor Vespasian (lot 180) --- once in the possession of Atlantis Antiquities (in 1982) --- appears to have been left unsold.

Vespasian was one of five "highlights" that failed to sell (see Christie's pre-sale press release). Two others were "an early Christian silver patten" (lot 186) and a Bactrian copper alloy seated female figure (lot 45). The latter had once passed through Koutoulakis, Paris (prior to 1989) before entering a French private collection. The fourth was a Late Period to Early Ptolemaic figure of a treasurer from a European private collection (lot 35). The fifth was a marble portrait of Faustina the Younger (lot 166) from a British private collection ("Acquired by the current owner's father in the 1960s").

The only other "highlight" to sell was a Roman marble figure of a woman, 1st-2nd centuries CE, that had passed through the Merrin Gallery in 1989 before entering a New York private collection (lot 159). This sold for $218,500, below the lower estimate of $250,000.

The press release had suggested the anticipated combined sum from antiquities and ancient jewelry would be in the region of US$7.5 million. In fact the combined sum was far less ($4,735,100 and $641,188).

Antiquities from the Villa Rufolo at Sotheby's: Update

Yesterday I noted the concerns of "Ravello Nostra" about the sale of antiquities once displayed in the Villa Rufolo. Sotheby's has now issued a statement refuting the suggestion that the pieces were "stolen" in 1974.

Statement from Sotheby’s
December 8, 2008

Sotheby’s is aware of a report in the Positano News alleging that three objects (Lots 50, 58 and 94) in Sotheby’s Antiquities auction, to be held in New York on December 10, 2008, supposedly were taken out of Italy improperly from the Villa Rufolo in Ravello, Italy in 1974 when the Italian villa was sold to the Ente Provinciale per il Turismo di Salerno. The allegations cannot be squared with the results of the extensive due diligence and research Sotheby’s conducted in connection with the consignment of the three objects, and while Sotheby’s will consider any specific evidence that is presented to us, it is important that the record be clear.

A Sotheby’s specialist personally inspected the three objects in Paris in June 2008 with the consignor present. The appearance of all three objects was consistent with having been part of an old collection and out of the ground for a long time. The consignor told us that she and her mother had lived in and owned the Villa Rufolo, located in Ravello, Italy, and that they were forced to leave Italy in or about 1939 by the fascist regime of Mussolini. When the family fled Italy, they took many of their household belongings with them, including the three objects at issue. The consignor further told Sotheby’s that these objects remained in France with the family continuously ever since.

In keeping with Sotheby’s standard practice and procedure with respect to ancient artifacts offered for sale, Sotheby’s conducted further due diligence and research into the history of the objects.

As to the provenance of the objects, the specialist conducted independent research documenting the pieces as out of the ground for hundreds of years. The provenances for the vase (Lot 58) and the sarcophagus (Lot 50) date back to the 1800’s. Through independent research, Sotheby’s located a publication of the urn (Lot 94), in a book dated 1724. Sotheby’s published this history in detail in the catalogue, and there is no question that these objects have been above ground and in private collections for hundreds of years. They have what is considered an impeccable ownership history for archeological objects.

Also in keeping with Sotheby’s standard practice, the specialist asked the consignor for any documents or other evidence to support what she told us about the history of the objects, in particular how and when they were taken out of Italy. The consignor reported that her family brought the pieces to France in or about 1939; the consignor also produced a letter, dated 1957, written at the request of her mother by a family friend, Ellen Lubszynski, who resided in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. At the consignor’s mother’s request, Ms. Lubszynski wrote a letter to an Australian scholar specializing in Southern Italian vase painting, Dale Trendall, seeking Mr. Trendall’s opinion regarding the vase and asking if any institutions would be interested in acquiring it. The consignor showed the specialist the original letter, dated 1957, that Mr. Trendall wrote in response. In this letter, Mr. Trendall acknowledged that the vase was “once” in the family collection at Villa Rufolo, in Ravello Italy, and that it had been published in Dionisio, VIII, 1939, Page 162. In addition, the consignor produced copies of photographs of the vase that Ms. Lubszynski sent to Trendall in 1957. The photographs are dated May 1954 and have the French photographer’s address on the back (Phatam, 125 Boulevard du Général Koenig, Neuilly-sur-Seine). In addition, the entry for the same vase in Dale Trendall’s 1987 book on Paestan vases (referenced in Sotheby’s catalogue), mentions the vase as “Once Ravello, Tallon-Lacaita coll., then Neuilly-sur-Seine, Ellen Lubszinsky.” All of this documentation, taken together with the consignor’s inherently credible and corroborated tale of fleeing the fascist Mussolini regime, fully corroborates that the vase left Italy prior to the 1974 sale of the villa.

Sotheby’s research into the history of Lot 50, the sarcophagus fragment, also confirms that the piece left Italy with the owner in 1939, not in 1974 as the recent allegations state. Sotheby’s researched the piece and learned that Lot 50 was first published in 1904 as being in the Villa Rufolo, Ravello, and was last published in 1975 in a book by Dr. Guntram Koch. The entry in the 1975 publication (referenced in our catalogue) describes the sarcophagus fragment as “once Ravello, Palazzo Rufolo. Not found by H. Sichtermann on his visit in 1972.” (emphasis added) This publication thus corroborates the consignor’s statement that the fragment came with the family to France, as it was not in the villa in 1972 when a scholar went there to examine such fragments. This publication also confirms that the fragment was not taken out of Italy in connection with the 1974 sale, as it was not there in 1972.

If there is any specific evidence to contradict the research and documentation Sotheby’s uncovered concerning these items as part of our regular due diligence process, we will be very interested to see it as soon as possible. However, Sotheby’s believes that the results of its due diligence process have produced substantial evidence that these ancient artifacts, that have belonged to one family for generations and have been in private antiquities collections for hundreds of years, may now be legally and properly be put up for auction.
The objects were clearly known from the 19th century and their early collecting history is not in doubt.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Antiquities from the Villa Rufolo at Sotheby's

This Wednesday (December 10, 2008) Sotheby's (New York) is due to auction three antiquities formerly in the Villa Rufolo, Ravello. All three are stated as being the property of an anonymous French private collection.

All three peices had formed part of the collection of Francis Nevile Reid (1826-1892) at the Villa Rufolo. They then passed to Charles Carmichael Lacaita (1853-1933) and Mrs. Tallon-Lacaita, both of the Villa Rufolo. In 1939 the three pieces are reported to have moved to Paris and then "by descent to the present owner".

However the cultural group "Ravello Nostra", as well as the Soprintendenza di Salerno, and the Carabinieri responsible for archaeological sites in Campania, have raised concerns about the three pieces ("Ravello, si attivano i Carabinieri per l'asta di Sothebys", Postiano News December 6, 2008). Paolo Imperato, the mayor of Ravello, has voiced his concern and called for their return to the town:
Faremo di tutto per recuperare queste opere ..., dobbiamo tornare in possesso di ciò che appartiene alla città e questo deve avvenire in maniera legittima e quindi verificare se queste non siano state sottratte indebitamente.
It is suggested that the pieces were not removed in 1939, but rather in 1974 when the Villa Rufolo was sold to the local tourism council for Salerno.

The case is now in the hands of the Nucleo di Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale dell´Arma.
  • Lot 50. A Roman Imperial marble relief fragment, Antonine. Estimate: US$20,000-30,000. Publ. Carl Robert, Die antiken Sarkophagreliefs, part III.2: Einzelmythen (Berlin, 1904) no. 289 or 289a, pl. 89; Guntram Koch, Archäologischer Anzeiger (1973) p. 293, no. 12, fig. 12; Guntram Koch, Die mythologischen Sarkophage, part VI: Meleager (Die Antiken Sarkophag-reliefs, vol. 12) (Berlin, 1975) no. 97, pp. 115-116, fig. 7. The Catalogue notes: "A 19th Century photograph taken in a vaulted chamber at the Villa Rufolo shows the present fragment, as well as another fragment from the same sarcophagus leaning against a column. Until now both these fragments were only known from line drawings."
  • Lot 58. A Paestan red-figured bell-krater, attributed to Python. Property of a French private collecition. Estimate: US$15,000—25,000. Publ. Dr. Pesce, Dionisio. Trimestrale di studi sul teatro antico, vol. 7 (1939) p. 162; Archäologischer Anzeiger (1940) cols. 497 and 512-513, fig. 40; John D. Beazley, "A Paestan Vase," American Journal of Archaeology 48, no. 4, (October-December 1944) p. 365; A.D. Trendall, "Paestan Pottery: a Revision and a Supplement," Papers of the British School at Rome 20 (1952) p. 102, no. 166; A.D. Trendall, The Red-figured Vases of Paestum (London, 1987) p. 159, no. 282, pl. 102f.
  • Lot 94. A Roman marble cinerary urn. First recorded in the "Monastery of the Conventual Fathers, Amalfi, from before 1718 until about 1860"; then "house of the Raffi family, Ravello". Estimiate: US$5000-8000. Publ. Francesco Pansa, Istoria dell'antica repubblica d'Amalfi, (Bologna, vol. II, 1724) p. 184; CIL X: Inscriptiones Bruttiorum, Lucaniae, Campaniae, Siciliae, Sardiniae Latinae, ed. Th. Mommsen, 1883, p. 68, no. 570, and p. 1005, ad n. 570; Inscriptiones Italiae, vol. 1, Regio 1, fasc. 1, Vittorio Bracco, ed., (Rome, 1931) no. 196.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christie's Withdraws Jewellery Lot

It was announced today that lot 215, a piece of jewellery apparently from Iraq, has been withdrawn from next week's sale of Antiquities at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza (Jane Arraf, "Christie's takes disputed earrings off auction block", The Christian Science Monitor December 5, 2008).

The report adds:
The gold neo-Assyrian earrings were claimed by Iraq but awaiting the highest bidder Monday in New York. Just days before the sale of ancient art and antiquities, however, Christie's took the jewelry, believed to be from the treasure of Nimrud, off the auction block.

Christie's says it is cooperating with an investigation into whether the earrings were in fact stolen from Iraq.

"When Christie's learned that there might be an issue with the provenance of the earrings they withdrew the lot from the sale," says Sung-Hee Park, a spokeswoman for the auction house in New York. "The lot is still with Christie's in New York, but we are cooperating in the investigation."

As of Wednesday night, when a Monitor story detailed an Iraqi petition to stop the sale, the earrings were still part of the Dec. 9 auction. On Thursday morning, the auction house website said Lot 215 – a pair of neo-Assyrian earrings believed to be between 9,000 to 10,000 years old – had been withdrawn.

US officials say they have been involved for at least several weeks in trying to prevent the earrings from being sold after they were alerted that the ancient jewelry might have been part of the treasures of Nimrud, one of Iraq's greatest archaeological finds.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Atlantis Antiquities in the Press: an Overview

I have been reviewing the appearance of Atlantis Antiquities in the press.

One of the earliest mentions was back in 1988: Rita Reif, "Archaic Smiles Have Persisted For 2,000 Years", New York Times June 19, 1988. This commented on the exhibition, ''Greek and Etruscan Art of the Archaic Period" [Catalogue]
The exhibition is the first in memory at a New York gallery to present a broad view of the Archaic Period, and the first major show presented at Atlantis, which opened 21 months ago. The 70 works in terra cotta, marble, painted clay, bronze, amber and gold were selected by Robert Hecht Jr., an American antiquities dealer based in Paris. Mr. Hecht is a part-owner of the gallery, along with Jonathan Rosen, a real estate developer and collector of ancient art. Andrea Hecht, the dealer's daughter, is the director of the gallery.
The gallery then featured in a report on antiquities from Turkey (Geraldine Norman, "Talking Turkey; Who owns the treasures of antiquity? The Turkish government has been fighting American museums for the return of some splendid hoards. But only laws that ensure finders fair compensation will prevent smuggling", The Independent June 13, 1993).
It was the sculpted marble leg of a very grand Hellenistic table, which they found on show at Atlantis Antiquities, a New York gallery that he [sc. Hecht] managed for Jonathan Rosen - a millionaire lawyer who is also a keen collector of antiquities. The sculpture depicts a Scythian slave sharpening the knife with which he intends - on Apollo's instructions - to flay Marsyas, who is strung up on a nearby tree.
The sculpture was reported to have been traced back to a farmer Philadelphia in Turkey. The case was resolved when the piece was donated to the American Turkish Society.

Atlantis Antiquities has also been in the news over some of the antiquities returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Hugh Eakin, "Embattled Getty Curator Steps Down", The New York Times October 4, 2005). In October 2005 a bronze Etruscan candelabrum was handed over to Italian officials.
The Getty acquired the candelabrum in 1990 from Atlantis Antiquities, a New York gallery, for $60,000, according to evidence in the indictment. But Italian police have traced the object, along with another Getty acquisition named in the indictment, to a private collection in Florence, from which it was stolen. The other object, a bronze tripod, was returned by the Getty to Italy in 1997.

Italian prosecutors say that in both cases the objects were smuggled by Giacomo Medici, an Italian dealer based in Geneva, and passed on, via a third party, to Robert Hecht, the owner of Atlantis Antiquities.
Among the more recent returns to Italy that had passed through Atlantis Antiquities was an Apulian loutrophoros attributed to the Metope group that was purchased by the Getty in 1984 (formerly inv. 84.AE.996) as well as an Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to the painter of Berlin 1686, once in the Fleischman collection. Two pieces once in Boston had passed through the same gallery: an Attic black-figured lekythos attributed to the Diosphos painter (formerly inv. 1989.317) and an Apulian amphora attributed to the Darius painter (formerly inv. 1991.437).

Looting Matters: Listings

Looting Matters appears in the "Top 100 Anthropology Blogs" from onlineuniversities.com.
University students, academics, professors and those who just love anthropology have helped to create a great assortment of online discourse about the field. We’ve compiled a list of 100 that are definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Highlights at Christie's: Late Antique Silver

I noticed that one of the highlights in next week's sale of antiquities at Christie's at the Rockefeller Plaza, New York (December 9, 2008) is "an early Christian silver patten" (lot 186). This piece of Late Antique silver (i.e. late 4th-early 5th century AD) is decorated with the Traditio Legis (Christ, Peter and Paul). There is an ancient weight inscription: 2 lbs, 2 scr. (the patten weighs 638.4 g).

The piece was apparently in a "European private collection" in 1978 and it is being sold by "a U.S. private collector". There are no named owners and no list of previous publications.

The catalogue entry has been prepared with the assistance of Ruth E. Leader-Newby, author of Silver and Society in Late Antiquity (2004) [WorldCat] [review by me in Classical Review].

The patten has clearly been the subject of scientific analysis:
A laboratory report number 93075 issued by Conservation and Technical Services Limited, London, analyzing the condition and method of the manufacture accompanies this lot.
Conservation and Technical Services Limited, London describe their services:
Conservation and Technical Services Ltd provide analytical and conservation services to numerous museums and cultural institutions throughout the world as well as for practicing conservators, auction houses, art dealers and collectors.
A client list appears on their website.

Where was this piece of ancient silver found? The eastern Mediterranean? Italy? Northern Europe? The catalogue entry keeps the options open: "the stylistic influences of Constantinople and the iconographic influences of Rome itself". There are intellectual consequences for interpreting objects that have no recorded find-spots.

Further Fragment of the Parthenon Returned

A small fragment of the Parthenon removed by an Austrian soldier during World War II has been returned to Athens (press release). The piece is inscribed with the date of its removal, February 16, 1943. The fragment was returned from Sweden by Martha Dahlgren, the granddaughter of the soldier.

This is in addition to recent returns of Parthenon fragments from collections in Palermo and the Vatican.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sharon Waxman on Transparency

Sharon Waxman was written a short piece in the New York Times ("How Did That Vase Wind Up in the Metropolitan?", December 1, 2008; see also "NYT Op-ed: Thoughts for Tom Campbell at the Met", December 1, 2008). Some of the examples are derived from her new book, Loot!

Waxman comments on the importance of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and relates it to the recent returns of antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:
The Association of Art Museum Directors has already readied a path for Mr. Campbell [the incoming director of the MMA]. This past summer, the association finally issued new guidelines, which recognize that buying unprovenanced antiquities encourages their illicit trade and recommend that its members purchase only antiquities that can be proven to have been legally exported after 1970, or else removed from their country of origin before that date. (It was in 1970 that Unesco adopted an international convention barring the illegal export and transfer of cultural property.)
Waxman also calls for more transparency from the Met.

Mr. Campbell could also undertake a project more fundamental, and more profound. The Metropolitan needs to come clean about its past of appropriation of ancient art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And it needs to tell a much fuller story about its more recent role in purchasing looted and smuggled antiquities.

The Met’s galleries and Web site are mysteriously devoid of recent facts about the provenance of many artifacts. Most visitors have no idea how the treasures on display in the Greek and Roman rooms, the Egyptian antiquities department, or the Byzantine, African, Asian and Oceanic collections came to be housed in the museum.
The full collecting histories of the items returned to Italy have yet to emerge. However things are changing as seen in the details histories provided for items in the Philippe de Montebello exhibition.

Some histories are complex such as the capital from Sardis acquired in 1922 in the aftermath of the Smyrna tragedy. (For a similar history see the pieces in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.)

Waxman concludes with a call for transparency to counter claims for repatriation:

This state of affairs must not continue. Mr. Campbell can inaugurate a new era of transparency for all museums, and to recalibrate the Met’s relations with countries that feel aggrieved.

By publicly acknowledging the controversial or otherwise dubious histories of some artifacts and by making the recent past as much a part of the artifacts’ stories as the ancient past, Mr. Campbell can set an example for all museums and build new bridges of respect and cooperation.

Transparency may not end every demand for repatriation. But it will disarm those critics in source countries who know — but rarely acknowledge — that regardless of past transgressions, their treasures may be safer, better preserved and more widely adored in the world’s great museums like the Met.
Will transparency disarm calls for repatriation? Or will it allow a more meaningful dialogue to take place so that our cosmopolitan heritage can be preserved?

Image
NYT.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two Collectors Arrested in Italy

Two Italian collectors are reported to have been arrested on Thursday November 27, 2008 ("Two arrested with antiquities hoard", ANSA November 27, 2008). The summary notes:
Among the objects found at the house near Modena were two rare pre-Medieval weapon tips, one from a javelin and one from a lance, several Roman coins from the pre-imperial era, and Longobard (Lombard) and Goth buckles. A fragment of a votive vase from a Greek colony in southern Italy was dated to the sixth century BC.
A little more detail appears in Il Nuovo Giornale di Modena (November 29, 2008).

Image
Il Nuovo Giornale di Modena

Renfrew as Collector

There is a short profile of Lord Renfrew as a collector in the Financial Times (Mary Jane Checkland, "My favourite things", November 29, 2008). He talks about his collection of contemporary art and adds a comment on collectors of antiquities:
I’m much in favour of collecting, so long as it doesn’t involve objects recently taken from the ground. In my opinion all too many collections are scandalous for this very reason. I don’t mind so much people buying antiquities looted a century ago, but not if the items in question entered the market post-1970 when the convention on the illegal trade in antiquities was signed.

Friday, November 28, 2008

War Booty Goes on Display in Berlin

The exhibition, "The Return of the Gods – Berlin’s Hidden Olympus", opened in the Pergamonmuseum (Antikensammlung), Berlin this week (27 November 2008 - 5 July 2009). It celebrates the 50th anniversary of the return of antiquities from the (then) Soviet Union.
To also mark the occasion, the Collection of Classical Antiquities will be placing 170 art works on display, which, for restoration purposes, had had to remain in storage until now. The sculptures, vases and craftwork objects stand as representatives for thousands of art works which came back to Berlin after a period of exile in Moscow and St. Petersburg lasting thirteen years, the most important of which was the frieze of the world famous Pergamon Altar.
A short report has been issued (Brittani Sonneburg, "Berlin museum shows off antique gods", AP, November 27, 2008). The pieces were mostly derived from Italy, Turkey and Greece and formed part of the collection Frederick the Great.
In 1945, at the close of World War II, invading Soviet Soldiers seized the collection and sent it back to Russia, which was the fate of many artistic treasures in Germany. Russia declared the art had been seized as retribution for the 27 million Soviet lives lost and destruction of entire cities during the conflict. The two nations are still negotiating the return of many pieces.

But the Pergamon's antiquities were returned to East Germany 13 years later as a symbol of Cold War camaraderie between the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic, as East Germany was known.
The restoration of the collection has been made with the support of a contribution from the Brazilian foundation, FAAP.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Philippe de Montebello Years ... and Robin Symes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is exhibiting "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions". Antiquities feature in the show.

Some of the pieces come from old collections. Take, for example, the Attic red-figured plate with the "signature" of Epiktetos as "painter" (inv. 1981.11.10). Its history is given as:
Found at Vulci, on the property of Lucien Bonaparte, 1828/29; W. W. Hope (Jean de Witte, Description d'une collection de vases peints [Paris, 1837], no. 177); sale, Christie's, London, February 13, 1849 (Archäologische Zeitung 10 [October 1849], col. 100, no. 74); second marquess of Northampton; sale, Christie's, London, July 2, 1980, no. 39; Mr. Fritz Bürki, Zurich.
It was then purchased by The Bothmer Purchase Fund, and Norbert Schimmel Foundation Inc. and Christos G. Bastis Gifts, 1981.

Among the other acquisitions was a Roman statue of Pan (inv. 1992.11.71). Its collecting history is given as:
European private collection and market, 19th and early 20th century; London market, late 1970s; [Robin Symes, London, by 1983]; sale, Sotheby's, New York, May 20, 1983, lot 142; Mrs. Barbara Johnson, Princeton, N.J.; sale, Sotheby's, New York, December 17, 1992, lot 72.
Which European private collection? Which market? Is any of this history documented?

Then there is a Hellenistic marble head of Athena (inv. 1996.178). Its history is given as:

[Robin Symes, London, by 1991]; [Acanthus Gallery, New York]; Mr. and Mrs. Morris J. Pinto, New York, 1992–96 (on loan to MMA, 1995–96).

Where was the marble head prior to 1991? Had it, too, resided in some old European collection?

Robin Symes also presented a terracotta figure to the MMA (though it does not feature in the exhibition).

Image
Head of Athena, late 3rd–early 2nd century
b.c.
Greek, Hellenistic
Marble; H. 19 in. (48.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.178)
www.metmuseum.org (Terms and conditions of use)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Egypt renews calls for the return of mummy mask

Zahi Hawass has renewed calls for the return of the mummy mask excavated at Saqqara and presently residing in the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) (Marjorie Olster, "Egypt faces obstacles in recovering antiquities", AP, November 23, 2008). The AP report quoted Zahi Hawass:

"This is the No. 1 case ... Egypt has a right to the mask."

The history of the piece has been rehearsed elsewhere (also here). My personal view is that SLAM, and its director Brent Benjamin, need to press the gallery where the mask was purchased for authenticated documentation. This would demonstrate the veracity of the alternative account. Benjamin continues to take the position:

To date, we have not seen information that we believe is compelling enough to return the object.

Apparently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now investigating the acquisition at the request of Hawass.

Hawass also comments on the new Egyptian law relating to the theft of antiquities.

"Our new law will give us the power to take people to court in Egypt," Hawass said. "(Benjamin) will be wanted in Egypt."

The fight will only intensify after Benjamin's controversial appointment to CPAC.

The Cleveland Museum of Art: why the history of the returned pieces should be released

Steven Litt ("Analysis: Museums often pay the price for looted antiquities", cleveland.com November 23, 2008) has a long comment about the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art. He explores the implications of the September 1995 raid on the Geneva Freeport warehouse of Giacomo Medici. And Litt seems to link the returning antiquities specifically to Medici:
The paper trail linked the activities of Italian tomb robbers, or tombaroli, to networks of art dealers who sold the artworks eventually to some of the greatest museums in the world, including the Cleveland Museum of Art.

On Wednesday, the Cleveland museum agreed to return 13 ancient artworks to Italy, based in part on evidence gleaned from the 1995 raid, according to Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian state lawyer who negotiated the deal.
Litt interviews some of the museum staff. Among them is Timothy Rub the director:
But Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, said that lack of exculpatory evidence about an artwork's origins doesn't prove a wrongdoing was committed -- or that the work should be relinquished on demand.

"If I've inherited as director custody of an object that doesn't have a provenance before a certain date and somebody says, 'It's ours, give it back,' that's a pretty tough thing," he said. "I've got to ask you to make a case."
But this is why it is so important for the Cleveland Museum of Art to be transparent about its acquisitions. What were the recorded histories for the pieces? Which dealers handled the items? Did they pass through auctions? Who had consigned them? Studies of the returns are beginning to confirm the detail of the network of dealers through which such recently surfaced antiquities passed. The names of some dealers and even a conservator feature time and again.

And Rubb's position reminds us why the due diligence process before acquisition is so important. Museums would not be in this position if their curatorial staff had checked if the histories of the pieces extended before 1970

There is a level of naivety expressed by Michael Horvitz, co-chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The world is filled with people who want to cast a taint over objects in order to try to get them back ... We don't want to get ourselves in a situation where every time somebody says, 'This object was sold to you by a dealer we don't like,' we just cave in.
But museums need to recognise that there are some dealers who have been linked to recently-surfaced antiquities that have been returned to their countries of origin. Cleveland's unwillingness to disclose such histories does not reflect a spirit of transparency. And it is not the objects that are tainted: the "tainting" is attached to the museums that made the acquisitions.

While Medici's archive has been important, it is not the only dealer's archive that has been seized. Remember the paperwork associated with the return of antiquities from a warehouse in Basel to Italy: some 10000 further Polaroids are waiting to be processed. And then there are the Polaroids seized in Greece which have yet to be exploited to the same degree as Italy.

Curatorial staff should be going back through acquisitions to investigate their histories. The AAMD has developed an object register. This could be the appropriate vehicle to share that information if transparency is going to be the new characteristic in the post-Medici Conspiracy age.

Image
Corinthian krater (formerly Cleveland Museum of Art 1990.81). Source: MiBAC.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Cleveland Museum of Art: "rigorous provenance research"

The Cleveland Museum of Art has issued a press release (November 19 2008) about the return of antiquities. Timothy Rub, the director, is quoted:
This transfer demonstrates our commitment to build and maintain a collection of art from around the world and across time that is acquired in good faith using the highest ethical standards and after rigorous provenance research.
Steven Litt ("Cleveland Museum of Art strikes deal with Italy to return 14 ancient artworks", cleveland.com November 19, 2008) has indicated that Italian sources are suggesting some of the pieces are linked to:
But which objects are linked to which of these individuals? And what was the extent of Cleveland's "rigorous provenance research"?

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum have released the full information about the previous histories of the pieces returned to history. Why is Cleveland reluctant to do the same?

Archaeological Evidence for Looting in Antiquity

What is the archaeological evidence for looting in antiquity? The distribution of inscribed Middle Kingdom statues outside Egypt hint at systematic looting during the Second Intermediate Period. Inscribed silver plate from funerary contexts in Macedonia and the Kuban provide evidence for looted sanctuaries. Booty from sanctuaries in the Greek world appearing in contexts in Persia.

I will be addressing these issues in a conference paper today, "Booty and triumph", at "Rituals of Triumph in the Mediterranean World from Antiquity to the Middle Ages" hosted by the School of Humanities at Swansea University.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cleveland Museum of Art: More Decisions Ahead?

Yesterday's announcement about the return of antiquities from Cleveland to Italy presented a rather mixed bag. But Elisabetta Povoledo ("Pact Will Relocate Artifacts to Italy From Cleveland", New York Times November 19, 2008) has indicated that two further pieces are under consideration.
Yet not all has been resolved. A committee will be set up to discuss two other objects in Cleveland: a first-century chariot attachment depicting a Winged Victory with a cornucopia, and a renowned fourth-century B.C. bronze statue of Apollo slaying a lizard, which the museum attributes to the classical Greek sculptor Praxiteles.
The Roman bronze Victory with Cornucopia, Roman (1984.25) is known to have “traveled through the art market and conceivably found with [63-65]” (Gods Delight, no. 66). The three other pieces, nos. 63-65 in the exhibition catalogue are now in the J. Paul Getty Museum. So discussions with Italy have implications beyond Cleveland.

The Apollo has been the subject of previous comment.

Povoledo also quotes Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art:
Mr. Rub said the museum acted in good faith when it acquired the pieces, but when presented with evidence of problems, it resolved to “honor our obligation to acquire in a manner that is ethical and transparent” and returned the works “to their rightful owner.”
As the museum acted in good faith, why is the museum refusing to provide the sources for the pieces?

Steven Litt ("Cleveland Museum of Art strikes deal with Italy to return 14 ancient artworks", cleveland.com November 19, 2008) reported:
Rub said the agreement with Italy is based on the understanding that neither the museum nor its directors or curators are in any way tainted by the return of objects.

Instead, Rub said, the understanding is that the museum innocently acquired objects that "clearly were associated with bad actors" at some point in their past.

Rub also said the museum purchased all the artworks in question after the 1970 UNESCO convention governing international trade in antiquities, aimed at halting illegal trade in antiquities.

The majority of the objects were purchased between the 1970s and the 1990s. Rub declined to give names of dealers involved in the histories of the objects.
I am left puzzled by this. Did the curatorial staff at Cleveland not have any suspicions if the objects had no recorded histories prior to 1970? And would the disclosure of the names of dealers help to close this disturbing period for American museums? Are other museums in North America, Europe and the Far East holding material from the same sources? Disclosure would help other museums to re-examine their due diligence processes.

Image
Corinthian krater (formerly Cleveland Museum of Art 1990.81). Source: MiBAC.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cleveland: the List

Further to my earlier posting here is the detailed list.

Greece
1. Donkey-Head Rhyton, Greece, 5th Century BC c. 475 BC (1977.92).

Corinthian
2. Column Krater, Greece, Late Early Corinthian-Early Middle Corinthian c. 600-590 BC (1990.81).

Apulian
3. Apulian Volute-Krater, Darius Painter c. 330 BC (1988.41).
4. Apulian or Campanian Red-Figure Lid with Bowl, South Italy, Apulia, 4th Century BC 4th century BC (1986.200). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
5. Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC 340-320 BC (1986.201). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
6. Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC c. 340-320 BC (1986.202). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
7. Apulian Gnathia Lekythos, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC 340-330 BC (1986.203). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.

Campanian
8. Campanian Red-Figure Acorn Lekythos, South Italy, Campania, 4th Century BC c. 350-320 BC (1986.204). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
9. Campanian Bird Askos, South Italy, northern Campania, late 4th-ealy 3rd Century BC c. 310-280 BC (1987.209. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman.

Sicilian
10. Sicilian Plastic Vase in the Form of a Pig, Sicily, provincial Greece, 5th Century BC c. 425 BC (1975.91).

Etruscan
11. Red-Figure Duck Askos, Italy, probably Chiusi (ancient Clusium), Etruscan, 4th century BC c. 350 BC (1975.23).
12a. Bracelet, Italy, Etruscan, 6th Century BC 6th century BC (1996.16). Gift of Edoardo Almagia and Courtney Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff
12b. Bracelet, Italy, Etruscan, 6th Century BC 6th century BC (1996.17). Gift of Edoardo Almagia and Courtney Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff

Sardinian
13. Warrior, Sardinia, 9th-8th Century BC 900-700 BC (1990.1).

There is one later piece:
14. Processional Cross, Italy, Tuscany, Siena, 14th century c. 1350 (1977.75).

Cleveland Museum of Art: Announcement

The announcement about the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art has been made this afternoon.

  • 1) Pig-shaped Feeding Vessel/Vaso plastico a porcellino.
  • 2) Mule Head Rhyton/Rython a testa di mulo.
  • 3) Sardinian Warrior/Bronzetto nuragico.
  • 4) Apulian Volute Krater by the Darius Painter; Departure of Anphiaros/Cratere a volute a figure rosse.
  • 5) Etruscan Red-figure Duck Askos/Askos ad anatra a figure rosse.
  • 6) Bird Askos/Askos campano ad uccello.
  • 7) Dog “Lekanis” Bowl with Lid/Coppa e coperchio a figure rosse.
  • 8) Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
  • 9) Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
  • 10) Apulian Gnathia Lekythos/Lekythos tipo Gnathia.
  • 11) Acorn Lekythos: An Eros Serving a Lady/Lekythos campana a figure rosse.
  • 12) Corinthian Krater/Cratere a colonnette corinzio.
  • 13) Pair of Bracelets/Due coppie di armille in argento.
  • 14) 14th Century Italian Processional Cross/croce processionale in rame dorato del sec. XIV.

Image
An Apulian volute-krater, attributed to the Darius painter (Formerly Cleveland Museum of Art 1988.41). Image source: MiBAC.

Cleveland Museum of Art: Breaking Story

The Italian Ministry of Culture (MiBac) will be holding a press conference this afternoon, 2.30 pm (local time). The subject will be accord with the Cleveland Museum of Art. This will include the return of objects and the development of a cultural exchange programme.

Sandro Boni (Minister), Giuseppe Proietti (Secretary General) and Timothy Rub (Director, Cleveland Museum of Art) will be present.

Here is the speculative list.

Increase in the Reporting of Portable Antiquities

The annual report (2007) on finds of 'Treasure' in the UK will be published later today; "Treasure hunters boost gold finds", BBC News November 19, 2008. Apparently:
In total, the number of finds containing gold and silver which were reported by the public rose by more than a tenth last year.
Does this mean that chance finds went up by 10%? Reporting went up by 10%? Or that metal-detecting activity went up by 10%?

The BBC report:
The Treasure and the Portable Antiquities Scheme said it was partly down to the popularity of metal detectors, but also because more people are reporting what they have found.
Image
From the Snodland, Kent hoard. From the BBC.

Beyond the Medici Conspiracy: a legal dialogue

This afternoon (or morning, depending on your global position) I will be meeting (via videolink) students from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at the Northern Kentucky University. The students are taking an cultural property law course with Jennifer Kreder, Associate Professor. (For her work on the legal and ethics issues related to antiquities: here.)

We have a full agenda. The universal museum, the proportion of newly-surfaced antiquities on the market, collecting histories, the links with organised crime, and the AAMD guidelines will be under discussion.

But there are two major topics which I hope we can explore together:
  • the appropriate course of action to prevent further looting.
  • the impact of the returns to Italy on the collecting policies of major museums.
I am sure that other topics will arise.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Antiquities Wars": a misnomer?

Tomorrow's New York debate "Antiquities Wars: A Conversation About Loot and Legitimacy" has brought an extended comment from Dr Kwame Opoku. He suggests:
We are not involved in any war but in a dispute about heritage and ownership rights in an area where most of us agree that there has to be cooperation and understanding if we are to find acceptable solutions.
I thought that it would be interesting to trace the history of the term "Antiquities Wars".

One of the earliest uses of the phrase comes from 1984 (Gregory Jensen, "Melina Mercouri's demand for Elgin Marbles opens Pandora's box for world's art museums", UPI January 29, 2984). The context was the call for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece, though the term was used to describe the 19th century scramble for power over antiquities.
The most blatant plunder came in a nine-year ''antiquities war'' between Britain and France while Napoleon was ransacking Europe and Egypt to stock the Louvre Museum in Paris.
(For the context of such acquisitions see the recent study by Debbie Challis.)

Catherine Fox ("Emory's Roman exhibit calm as antiquities wars rage", The Atlanta Journal-Constitution August 18, 2006) used the phrase in a report on the loan exhibition "In Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite". As Jasper Gaunt, the curator, commented:
"The goal is to bring great work to Atlanta," he says. "You can buy or borrow. If you can borrow 'Flora,' why buy?"
The report continued:
The recent repatriations of objects and the trials of collectors have had a big effect, Gaunt says. "The market has shrunk enormously. There are fewer dealers, which is a good thing. Auction houses are more circumspect. Documented objects are more expensive."

But Gaunt is not about to give up acquiring objects for the Carlos collection. In June, for example, he bought an important sculpture of Aphrodite.

"I still love the hunt," he says, "and there is plenty to hunt for."
The term "Antiquities Wars" switched from the classical worlds to the New World in February 2008 with an editorial in The Santa Fe New Mexican ("Our view: a promising victory in antiquities wars", February 12, 2008). This commented on the raids on "a private gallery and four museums in Southern California".
Buyers of the illicit goods, now there are laws and treaties against looting, tend to be well-heeled collectors who keep the stuff out of sight. But not always, as the raid on those museums indicates: The day is fast fading when such institutions can buy on the sly, then take on superior airs for their role in educating and entertaining the great unwashed.
The present use of the term "Antiquities Wars" seems to have been used by the members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). It appears in a short report "The Antiquities Wars" in The Salem News (Beverly, Massachusetts) June 13, 2008.
The executive director of the Peabody Essex Museum made news last week as a spokesman for a group of museum directors who announced tough new guidelines for collecting archaeological treasures. That's a hot topic in the museum world and has led to international fights over the ownership of valuable art objects.

Monroe was chairman of a subcommittee that drafted guidelines for the Association of Art Museum Directors aimed at discouraging the looting of archaeological treasures.
This was linked to the AAMD report "Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art" (see comment). Lee Rosenbaum then presented two pieces on the "Antiquities Wars" on Culturegrrl (I, II).

But Dr Opaku is right. We need to find an alternative to "Antiquities Wars".

How about the "Antiquities Scandal"?

Philippe de Montebello and the Leon Levy Foundation

The Leon Levy Foundation has issued a press release ("Leon Levy Foundation Names Philippe de Montebello Special Advisor for Culture and the Arts", November 11, 2008).
The Leon Levy Foundation today named Philippe de Montebello, outgoing director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as special advisor for culture and the arts. Mr. de Montebello will join the Foundation in January 2009.

Mr. de Montebello said, "This is a natural extension of my life's work to expand and enrich the appreciation of art among all people, regardless of age and geography. I would very much like to see the Foundation's resources devoted to bringing creative approaches to untapped areas that hold special promise for broadening knowledge in the visual arts and other aspects of culture."

Shelby White, founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, said, "We are pleased that Philippe will bring to the Leon Levy Foundation his knowledge and experience as an international leader in the arts and humanities to help us develop innovative programs in these areas."
Leon Levy is described as "a legendary investor with a longstanding commitment to philanthropy".

Monday, November 17, 2008

Antiquities Wars: a Conversation

This Wednesday (November 19, 2008) the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU will be hosting an event: "Antiquities Wars: A Conversation About Loot and Legitimacy".

The "conversation" will be between:
  • Sharon Waxman, former New York Times correspondent, author of the newly released Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World.
  • James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage.
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton Philosophy Professor, author Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.
  • Daniel Shapiro, an attorney specializing in art law and the president emeritus of the International Cultural Property Society.
Here are some relevant links to my comments on three of these speakers:
For more on the "Antiquities Wars":
There are still outstanding issues from the claims made by Italy and Greece:

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