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Showing posts from December, 2007

2007: looking back

This has been an eventful year. Research with Christopher Chippindale (and published in 2000) had presented indicators for the "history" and "archaeology" of antiquities. One of the contemporary collections that we had explored had belonged to Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman: it was subsequently sold (or donated) to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Part of the Fleischman collection was returned to Italy from the Getty in 2007 confirming our earlier hypothesis.

Peter Watson has drawn attention to the role of Giacomo Medici. Watson's exploration of the movement of antiquities has created the climate in which North American museums have agreed to return objects to Italy. The expanded Getty list reflected a willingness to resolve the dispute (and see the discussion of the 2006 list). To these have been added antiquities from the Princeton University Art Museum and the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville. But objects have not just been recovered from publ…

Marion True: some preliminary thoughts on the New Yorker Interview

Marion True has presented her side of the recent saga of returning antiquities in an extended interview with Hugh Eakin ("Treasure Hunt: The Downfall of the Getty Curator Marion True", New Yorker, December 17, 2007). True became curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1986.

By the second paragraph Eakin had inserted the fact:
In 1995, True had persuaded the Getty to adopt ethical standards requiring objects proposed for acquisition to have been documented and written about by scholars.The implication is clear. True acted with integrity. And this was a point stressed by Malcolm Bell III in his opinion piece, "The Getty's Italian Job", in The New York Times, November 28, 2005.
Mr. Ferri's outrage at the looting of Italy's heritage is justified. By laying bare the archives and warehouses of major dealers, he has revealed corruption at the core of the market. But in prosecuting Marion True, he has used decades-old evidence against a curator who b…

Recovered Masterpieces: ex Tempelsman collection

Among the antiquities displayed in the Rome exhibition, "Nostoi: Capolavori ritrovati", are objects formerly residing in well-known North American museums and significant private collections.

These include part of the former Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection that had been sold or donated to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Three further pieces had once formed part of the Maurice Tempelsman collection. These include a pair of griffins attacking a doe that featured in the Rome trial against Robert Hecht (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Photographs of Getty Griffins Shown at Antiquities Trial in Rome", New York Times, June 1, 2006):
According to court documents, the Getty bought the griffins from the New York diamond magnate Maurice Tempelsman in 1985 in a deal totaling $6,486,004. The sale was handled through the London dealer Robin Symes, the documents indicate.Hecht reported the find-spot for the two polychome pieces was from Orta Nova. Giacomo Medici is quoted as saying tha…

Robert Hecht: some "orphans"

Suzan Mazur has responded to Hugh Eakin's New Yorker interview with Marion True and highlighted some of the unasked questions ("Bob Hecht: Fragments Of An Antiquities Conspiracy?",, December 28, 2007). Mazur draws attention to Rita Reif's 1988 New York Times commentary on the Atlantis Antiquities sale (Suzan Mazur, "Add New York Times To Bob Hecht Antiquities Ring "Organigram"?,, August 17, 2006).

Fragmentary Attic cup showing Thracian boxer sold by Atlantis Antiquities.

Recovered Masterpieces: ex Fleischman collection

The Rome exhibition, "Nostoi: Capolavori ritrovati", contains objects from a number of sources. One of the blocks of material formed part of the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection which was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum largely in 1996.

These include (citing the exhibition handlist numbers):
4. Attic black-figured amphora (Type B). Attributed to the painter of Berlin 1686 (by Dietrich von Bothmer). Herakles and Geryon. Reassembled by Fritz Bürki (1988); Atlantis Antiquities (1988). Ex Malibu 96.AE.92. Bibl. Passion no. 34; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Table 6, no. 2.

5. Attic black-figured amphora (Panathenaic shape). Attributed to the Three-line group (by Dietrich von Bothmer). Alkestis and Admetos. Fritz Bürki (1989). Ex Malibu 96.AE.93. Bibl. Passion no. 35; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Table 6, no. 3.

13. Attic red-figured cup (Type B). Attributed to the Nikosthenes painter and to the potter Pamphaios (by J. R. Guy). Robin Symes (1988). Ex Malibu 96.AE.97. Bibl. P…

What not to buy for Christmas

Still wondering what to buy for Christmas?

I was rather surprised to read the rather unbalanced and uncritical article by Maria Baugh, "Antiquities: The Hottest Investment", Time, December 12, 2007. She has clearly been distracted by the sale of the Guennol lion. But Time does seem to have moved into a pro-collecting-and-ignore-the-consequences position reflected in interviews with Philippe de Montebello, as well as reports on the restrictions of coin imports from Cyprus.

Baugh quotes Hicham Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art:
Check the authenticity of the piece. Who is selling it and who has seen it in terms of scholars or experts?Perhaps the buyer needs to do a little bit more than that. Is the piece known before 1970? Is the documentation secure? Who were the previous collectors? Are they named or anonymous?

And certainly check who is selling it. This is important given the associations between certain North American dealers and the antiquities returned to Italy over the last…

eBay and the cuneiform tablet

The BBC has reported that the sale of a cuneiform tablet "thought to have been smuggled from Iraq" has been stopped ("eBay Iraq relic auction stopped", December 18, 2007). Apparently "Police confiscated the tablet at a storage facility in Zurich".

The seller has not been named, but does "a storage facility" hint at more than a private address?

To what extent does eBay continue to serve as a conduit of newly surfaced antiquities?

For further comments - though six years old - on this means of selling see C. Chippindale and D.W.J. Gill, "On-line auctions: a new venue for the antiquities market", Culture Without Context 9 (Autumn 2001).

Recovered Masterpieces: The Objects

A full list of the objects that appear in the Rome exhibition, "Nostoi: Capolavori Ritrovati", has now been issued. (The numbers refer to the official handlist.)

Objects from the following museums are listed:
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts (12): 6, 8, 15, 17, 28, 29, 41, 42, 44, 50, 53, 67.

Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum (44): 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 37, 39, 40, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 68.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (5): 3, 9 [Sarpedon krater still in New York on loan], 14, 16, 51.

Princeton, University Art Museums (1): 1.
There are also items from dealers:
The Royal Athena Galleries, New York (5): 21, 33, 35, 38, 64.

Robin Symes (1): 60.As far as the fabrics and types of object are concerned:
Protocorinthian: 1, 2
Laconian: 3
Attic, black-figured: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Attic red-figured: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31

Homecomings: Recovered Masterpieces

An exhibition, "Nostoi. Capolavori ritrovati", is about to open in the Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome (press statement; Elisabetta Povoledo, "After Legal Odyssey, Homecoming Show for Looted Antiquities", New York Times, December 18, 2007; Ariel David, "Looted Art Displayed in Rome", AP). Some 68 antiquities will be displayed. They include material returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Princeton University Art Museums. Among the pieces is the ivory mask handled by Robin Symes and seized in 2003. Some of the objects had passed through private collectors such as Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman. Five pieces were returned from the Royal Athena Galleries.

Missing from the display is the Sarpedon krater on loan to the MMA. It is perhaps the acquisition of this krater by the MMA that generated such intense debate about the collecting of recently surfaced antiquities.

There are sti…

Coins and Cyprus: the ACCG responds

The ACCG triumvirate of Peter Tompa, Wayne Sayles and David Welsh have come together in another posting, "ACCG Queries Cypriot Director of Antiquities" (December 15, 2007), about the US restrictions on the import of coins from Cyprus.

Their implication is that the "best repositories" for these coins are the cabinets of ACCG members.

As usual they miss the archaeological point. This discussion is not about ownership. It is about the protection of archaeological sites and cultural information.

Tompa's lack of a grasp on archaeological methodology is made clear in his comments to one of my recent postings:
Suffice to state, only ancient coins from "secure contexts," i.e. under flooring have any real use for dating purposes. Even then, the long periods of circulation of ancient coins makes them of much less use for dating than other artifacts, notably pottery shards.Are "floors" the only archaeological sites that can be considered to be "secure…

Bonham's, antiquities and a postive spin?

Bonham's have not been receiving too much positive publicity about the sale and display of antiquities. But now it is being suggested that it was Bonham's that helped to unmask the forgers behind the Bolton Amarna princess.

Ivan Macquisten reports in the Antiques Trade Gazette (archived):
The British Museum were credited with uncovering the fraud that led to the jailing of serial faker Shaun Greenhalgh two weeks ago, while auction houses and the trade were criticised for selling his work.
... it was trade specialists who raised the alarm after the British Museum had enthusiastically endorsed examples of Greenhalgh’s work as genuine, unwittingly giving him and his family the verification they sought to pursue their fraud.These revelations are made by Richard Falkiner
who chairs the antiquities vetting committees at both the Grosvenor House and Olympia fairs, and is consultant to auction houses, dealers and collectors, first came across one of the Greenhalgh fakes in early 2006 on a…

From Switzerland to Italy: Another Etruscan Return

The seizure of Polaroids in Geneva continues to have an impact. ANSA reported last week (December 5, 2007) on "Etruscan Bronze Recovered in Switzerland". The 2nd century BC bronze figure is said to have been taken from an Etruscan tomb at Vulci in modern Tuscany. It was identified, thanks to the evidence provided by the Polaroids, in a Swiss private collection and the owner has agreed to return it to Italy. The name of the collector has not been released.

Coins and Cyprus: a response from the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus

Jessica Dietzler has interviewed Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos, the director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus ("The case for Cyprus", SAFE Interviews). It includes discussion of the US decision to restrict the import of coins from Cyprus. Flourentzos comments:

We deeply appreciate the decision of the Department of State to include ancient Cypriot coins in the MOU [sc. Memorandum of Understanding]. This act shows sensitivity to the importance of preserving world cultural heritage, a principle highly esteemed by the international scientific community.He makes the point that is understood by archaeologists but not by some in the collecting community that coins form an integral part of the archaeological record and should not be treated as a special case.

You have very rightly pointed out that coins are an essential part of the corpus of the archaeological data. Actually, there is no scientific reason to set coins apart from the rest of archaeological finds. And it is important…

The Robert E. Hecht Collection: any buyers?

Nathan Elkins ("A Legitimate Trade in Ancient Coins?", Safecorner, December 10, 2007) has drawn attention to the sale of the Robert E. Hecht collection of Byzantine Seals. These are on offer by the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (Triton Sale XI, lots 1116-1215).

Hecht has been been catching the full glare of the media spotlight for his links with some of the antiquities returned from North American collections to Italy. And his name features prominently in The Medici Conspiracy.

Elkins draws attention to a recent posting on Moneta-L where this question was posed:
With such a reputation I am wondering how people feel about a collection of his [sc. Hecht's] coming to market. Does it make you want to stay away from his material, are people more interested in it because of his colorful past?
It will be interesting to see how the sale of Part 1 of the Hecht collection goes.

"The cultural heritage of the world is in serious trouble"

I was very struck by this quotation from one of the more extreme voices in the debate surrounding the international movement of cultural objects.

The writer is Wayne Sayles ("Excellence to ACL = Gee-Gaws to archaeologist", Ancient Coin Collecting, November 30, 2007).

Apparently the threat to the cultural heritage of the world comes not from looters but, according to Sayles, from archaeologists. His objection is to the tone of attacks made on the outreach scheme Ancient Coins for Education (ACE).

The cultural heritage of the world is in serious trouble while there continue to be radical advocates of the right to collect irrespective of the irreversible damage to the archaeological record.

Coins and Cyprus: the IAPN breaks silence

At long last the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) has broken its silence in the legal case against the US State Department - and not before time (see Coins and Cyprus: what are the motives of the IAPN?).

Paul Davies, president of the IAPN, has published a response - not on the IAPN website as you might expect - but on the website of the ACCG thoughtfully posted by Wayne Sayles (ACCG, December 8, 2007).

Interestingly Davies makes a statement that the IAPN - like the ACCG - "opposes looting of archaeological sites". But he perhaps forgot to read the discussion "Coins, ethics and scheduled monuments" posted back in September. It would have helped him to think through the issues.

I wonder if Davies would consider adopting the amendment I proposed for the ACCG Code of Ethics:

Coin Collectors and Sellers will not buy coins that they know or reasonably suspect were removed from archaeological sites or stolen from museum or personal collections.

The Sale of Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's: a Reflection

The sale of the Guennol Lioness - "said to have been found at a site near Baghdad" and displayed at the Brooklyn Museum since 1948 - at Sotheby's in New York this week for US$57.161 million has captured attention.

But this is the third best year since 1998 for the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's with a total of US$6.586 million in 2007. First place is 2004 with US$9.414 million, and second is 1999 with US$6.811 million.

Egyptian antiquities now represent 16% of the total sales of antiquities for the period 1998-2007 fetching some US$42.826 million. Antiquities in general - and that includes the Guennol Lioness - have raised some US$216.306 million for Sotheby's.

And what are the sources for these Egyptian antiquities?

Just over 95% lots have no stated find-spot. And some 68% were first known after 1973.

Figures revised in December 2008.

The Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art

Robin Pogrebin ("Fordham Opens Its Gift: An Antiquities Museum ", New York Times, December 6, 2007) has reported on today's opening of the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art. This collection was formed by a former classics student of Fordham. The NYT reports:
For some four decades, William D. Walsh browsed auction catalogs in search of the ancient artifacts that would gratify his passion for classical antiquity. In other words during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and in this decade, Walsh has been buying antiquities at auction. Pogrebin continues:Mr. Walsh said he acquired every piece at public auctions — not through a private dealer — and therefore hopes that the provenance of his artifacts is clean and accounted for. “I’ve always focused on keeping the auction house between myself and the seller,” he said.But it is well documented that antiquities have been surfacing through auction houses. Why did one well-known auction house close down its antiquities departme…

"Always a background of quasi-socialist sentiment"

The coverage of recent rumours of impending US restrictions on antiquities provides some insights into the thinking behind some of those who appear to support or defend the unrestricted collecting of cultural objects (Jeremy Kahn, "Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don't Ask", New York Times, April 8, 2007).

One of the more colourful comments was from William G. Pearlstein who describes himself as counsel at Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell and Peskoe LLP. He is listed as representing "Private dealers and collectors of fine art and antiquities" as well as the "National Association of Dealers in Ancient, Oriental and Primitive Art, Inc."

Pearlstein came up with this wonderful statement (if we accept the veracity of NYT):

In a lot of anti-collecting bashing or museum bashing that goes on there is always a background of quasi-socialist sentiment.And what is the evidence for this sweeping statement? Does "always" mean "always"? And wh…

Coins and Cyprus: what are the motives of the IAPN?

The International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) are one of three groups taking legal action against the US State Department. Their stated objectives are (and I quote in full):
The IAPN is a non-profit organisation of the leading international numismatic firms founded 1951. The objectives of the Association are the development of a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade conducted according to the highest standards of business ethics and commercial practice.Peter Tompa has now commented (in response to my posting where I stated, "But there is also an active lobby apparently seeking to liberalise the market"):
I don't understand why you think we stand for "liberalizing" the trade.Really?

Even when one of the three bodies taking legal action has a stated objective to develop "a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade".

Even when the IAPN states in the legal papers that "the material sought in these FOIA requests will assist the IAPN in…

"We are ushering in a new era"

A conference attended by North American museum directors and Italian cultural authorities was held in Rome held this week (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Progress Seen in Talks on Antiquities", New York Times, December 1, 2007). This is a positive move after the return of antiquities from Boston, Malibu, New York, and Princeton.

Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli not only claimed "We are ushering in a new era" but:
The phase that was tied to illegal activity through unacceptable channels is closed, and we have arrived at a turning point where we have become partners against illegal traffic.There is a new spirit of collaboration. Does this mean that other North American museums have come to an agreement with the Italian authorities?

It is perhaps a pity that, in this week of constructive dialogue, Philippe de Montebello of the Metropolitan Museum of Art chose to release a defiant message through his interview with Richard Lacayo. Was the timing a coincidence? Or are de Montebel…