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Showing posts from February, 2008

Shelby White: "it’s not as though she is hiding anything"

Back in 2006 Frances Marzio, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, was interviewed for The New York Observer (Jason Horowitz, "How Hot Vase It?", February 19, 2006). The context was the investigation by Italian authorities into objects in the Shelby White collection including an Attic red-figured calyx-krater attributed to the Eucharides painter.
The krater is one of several objects named some time ago in documents obtained by The New York Observer, in which Italian prosecutors charge that several key treasures in Ms. Shelby’s collection were mined illegally from Italian soil.Horowitz continued:
On Monday, Paolo Ferri, a leading prosecutor in the Italian investigation, told The Observer that his team had unearthed fresh evidence on Jan. 31 linking new items in Ms. White’s collection to the Aboutaam family, the owners of the Phoenix Ancient Art gallery and the target of several investigations and convictions in Egypt and New York. ...

“Now we have new documents throug…

Crawling out of the Blast Crater: Who Owns History?

Richard Lacayo has reflected on the recent return of antiquities to Italy and asks the question, "Who Owns History?" (Time, February 21, 2008). Through the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, museums (and private collectors) in North America (and in Europe and the Far East) acquired antiquities that had been recently looted from sites in Italy. And then the Italian authorities asked for them back.


Not because the returning pieces could be given back their contexts when displayed on Italian soil.

But because (some) museum directors, (some) curators, (some) dealers and (some?) collectors did not believe that acquiring recently surfaced archaeological material had a direct link with the destruction of archaeological sites in Italy.

And then came the break through with Giacomo Medici. And one after another institutions, two dealers (one in London and the other in New York) and even a collector have handed over a sample from their collections. Lacayo puts it so well:
In the months …

Homecomings: North American Private Collections

The exhibition of antiquities returned to Italy ("Nostoi: Capolavori ritrovati") now includes material from these four private North American collections:
The Bunker Hunt collection (as part of the Shelby White collection)The Maurice Tempelsman collectionThe Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection
The Shelby White collectionThe exhibition serves as a reminder that private individuals, as much as public institutions, need to conduct a due diligence process when developing their private collections.

Homecomings: Additions to the Exhibition

Elisabetta Povoledo ("Tempelsman Sculptures Return to Italy", New York Times, February 26, 2008) has reported on the display of the acrolithic sculptures once owned by Maurice Tempelsman and previously on loan to the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville. They will be displayed alongside other ex-Tempelsman material in the "Nostoi" exhibition in Rome.

Povoledo also reports:
The [Tempelsman] statues ... arrived in Rome on Friday along with nine classical antiquities from the private collection of the New York philanthropist Shelby White that were ceded to Italy in January under a separate pact. Italy says Ms. White’s artifacts were also looted from Italian soil.

Relief from Cyrenaica Recovered in Paris

It has been reported ("Stolen Piece of Antiquity Retrieved", Mathaba, February 23, 2008) that a Roman relief showing Hermes (?, "Hurmuz"), stolen from an archaeological store in Libya, was recovered from an auction in Paris.
The director of the Board of Antiquities said the piece was found in Shahat during excavating work in 1973 and disappeared in 1999.

Search led to the piece being in the possession of Athens Hall Auction House owned by an American with branches in London and New York.

It was disclosed that the piece was acquired by the Hall in June from a antiquities trader in Zurich, Switzerland.I wonder if the report is a little confused and has lost detail in translation. I know of no auction house called "Athens Hall". But I presume this is an antiquities dealer with branches in New York and London.

Shahat is otherwise known as Cyrene, so it is safe to presume that this theft is linked to material from the site (Mark Rose, "Stolen Sculptures from …

A Bronze Krater on Loan to Houston: Poll

A bronze krater is on loan from Shelby White to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (and its presence in Houston has been confirmed by the curatorial staff).

Should the museum disclose the collecting history?

I would suggest that the answer is yes. Why?
In February 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art" (also cited as a report on "Incoming Loans of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art"). As part of the process of considering a loan of archaeological material "museums should (emphasis mine) inquire into their provenance history, seeking to obtain all relevant information from the lender, and an appropriate warranty of their legal ownership of the work" (II.C). (See "Loans of Archaeological Material").Loans to public institutions should be transparent. (See "Loan Exhibitions and Transparency")Long-term loans "with incomplete relevant provenance histories …

Loan Exhibitions and Transparency

In 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued guidelines on the accepting the loan of archaeological material. Hugh Eakin ("Museums Assert Right On Showing Antiquities", New York Times, February 25, 2006) was quick to comment on them, noting the context for two contemporary collections of classical antiquities:
The issue is particularly delicate as foreign governments press claims on works from two of the most prominent private American collections, the Lawrence A. and Barbara Fleischman collection and the Leon Levy and Shelby White Collection. The J. Paul Getty Museum displayed the Fleischman collection before acquiring it in 1996, and some works from the Levy-White collection are on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.The issue was demonstrably delicate as parts of the Fleischman collection are now on display in Rome, and part of the Shelby White collection has been handed over to Italian authorities (though the precise list has yet to be disclosed more …

The 1970 UNESCO Convention and Local Laws

The objects returned from North American museums to Italy seem to have surfaced after the 1970 UNESCO Convention. This is in spite of the USA not signing up to the Convention until 1983. (The UK was quite a bit later in 2002.) There are advocates of the 1983 cut off point but the Italian Government has been effective in applying the 1970 deadline. (See "Cultural Ceasefire: is 1970 the right date?")

But some disputed cultural property could have surfaced before that crucial date. Take for example these three examples:
The Lydian Hoard returned to Turkey from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see "Bonham's, Lydian Silver and a Code of Ethics" a related piece offered by Bonham's in London in 2007)
The Keros Haul from the Cycladic islands in GreeceThe monumental Roman bronze portrait statues from Bubon in Turkey
Can notorious acts of looting be overlooked because they apparently took place before 1970?

Is the 1970 merely a helpful and convenient marker? Is…

Marion True and Greece: The Rome Trial Continues

The Rome trial of Marion True has continued (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Antiquities Trial Continues in Rome", New York Times, February 21, 2008). Daniela Rizzo has been giving evidence in court as a prosecution witness.
A prosecution witness painstakingly presented the court with photographs and documents on Wednesday in an effort to establish that more than a dozen looted artifacts had made their way into the Getty’s collection.Some of the objects illustrated in court are now exhibited in Rome, "Nostoi: Capolavori Ritrovati": 43 items were formerly in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum. These include 11 pieces formerly in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection (one of the returning Roman wall-painting fragments appears to be from the same room as a fragment returned by Shelby White), and three from the Maurice Tempelsman collection.

Many of these returning objects were acquired during the curatorship of Marion True (see "Marion True: some preliminary…

Operation "Ulisse": Further Antiquities Returning to Italy

The LA Times ("Italy shows off seized artifacts", February 20, 2008) has reported on the return of some 400 antiquities that have just returned to Italy.

This is part of the outcome of the three year duration Operation "Ulisse" noted in the Italian press earlier this week ("GDF Roma recupera reperti, c'è affresco Pompeiano", ANSA, February 19, 2008). It is said that the objects were removed from archaeological sites in Tuscany (sc. ancient Etruria) and Lazio, and had then moved to Milan, Geneva and Brussels.
Some of the most precious antiquities, including the fragmented fresco, were found at an elegant Paris mansion owned by a French publishing magnate, whose name was not disclosed. The Italian authorities said they had pressed charges against 31 people, including the publisher.Among the recovered items are:
"An ancient mosaic of a dark-haired boy"; "a virtually intact mosaic showing a young boy with cropped black hair and large black eye…

A Bronze Krater in the Levy-White Collection

I can remember how moved I was when I saw the "Vix krater" for the first time. It was displayed in a darkened room at the heart of an exhibition, "Die Hallstattkultur: Frühform europäischer Einheit", in Steyr, Austria (1980). Such complete archaic bronze kraters are few and far between (though the cast attachments from others have survived).

Winifred Lamb, in Greek and Roman Bronzes (1929), had a section on archaic "Bronze Vases" and noted:
The surviving bronze vases are few, but those of which the provenance is known still fewer. Fewest of all are the vases which can, like pottery, be associated with excavation (p. 133).She also noted,
An even more magnificent crater ... was discovered, during the last months of the war [sc. 1918], in a cemetery north of Lake Ochrida (p. 135).The find-spot was Trebenishte (in the present Republic of Macedonia, close to the present frontier with Albania).

Such archaic kraters are rare which is why there is so much interest in…

The Koreschnica Krater

Over the last week the press in the Republic of Macedonia have been discussing the looting of an archaic cemetery at Koreshnica some ten years or so ago. Pasko Kuzman, director of the Cultural Heritage Protection Office (CHPO) of the Republic of Macedonia, has traced a bronze krater (of "Trebeniste type") to a private collection in New York.

For older material on this see "A Bronze Krater from the Republic of Macedonia".

The Cleveland Apollo: New Comments

The bronze Cleveland Apollo has surfaced in the news again (Steven Litt, "Gaps in history of Cleveland museum's Apollo make it a focus of debate over global antiquities trade",, February 17, 2008). This statue appears to be separate from the list of antiquities that have emerged as a result of the Hecht/True trial in Rome (see "Will the Cleveland Museum of Art be Next?", January 28, 2008).

Details of the acquisition are provided on the Cleveland Museum of Art website ("Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Rare Monumental Ancient Bronze Sculpture of Apollo Sauroktonos", press release issued on June 22, 2004).
The statue had been a part of a private estate in the eastern part of Germany, later to become communist East Germany (GDR), well before World War II. The work was installed in the garden and considered to be late 18th or 19th century.

After German reunification in 1990, Ernst-Ulrich Walter reclaimed his family's estate and rediscovere…

A Bronze Krater on Loan to Houston

There is a bronze krater on loan from the Shelby White collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. (I am grateful to the curatorial staff for confirming the details last week.)

It arrived for the travelling exhibition, The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art (February 22 - May 16, 2004), and then featured in the Houston exhibition, Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White and Leon Levy (January 29 - July 10, 2005).

It continues to be displayed.

Prior to Houston, the krater had been exhibited in The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art at Princeton University Art Museum (October 11, 2003 - January 18, 2004).

The krater was not included in the exhibition catalogue:
Padgett, J. M., W. A. P. Childs, and D. S. Tsiaphakis. 2003. The Centaur's Smile: the Human Animal in Early Greek Art. Princeton: Princeton University Art Museum.The krater has now been in Houston for four years (less a week) so can be considered a long-term loan.


Loans of Archaeological Material

In February 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art". There are several points to note.
1.C. AAMD deplores the illicit and unscientific excavation of archaeological materials and ancient art from archaeological sites, the destruction or defacing of ancient monuments, and the theft of works of art from individuals, museums, or other repositories.I would avoid using the word "excavation" when clearly illicit and unscientific looting is meant.

There are positive things to say about collaboration and transparency:
1.E. AAMD supports the open exchange of information among researchers and institutions as they collaborate on loans, exhibitions and other scholarly projects. Through this process, the most complete, accurate and useful information about works of art becomes available to a broad public.As a researcher I have been impressed with the generosity of some museum curatorial staff, notably at …

Oscilla and the Miho Museum

I have been reflecting on which museum would be the next to return antiquities to Italy. Francesco Rutelli has pointed a finger at the Miho Museum in Japan.

Most sources are quiet on this lead, but last June there was a hint from the Hecht/True trial in Rome (Kazuki Matsuura, "Witness fingers Japanese museum in Italian art-trafficking case", The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo), June 4, 2007 [archived]).

It was reported:
The expert witness for the prosecution in a trial in Italy over the trafficking of stolen art objects to the United States has claimed a Japanese museum is housing items unearthed illegally in Italy.

As the witness named the Miho Museum in Koka, Shiga Prefecture, the Italian prosecutors likely will begin a full-scale investigation into possible trafficking of stolen items into Japan, sources said.An example was cited:
some artwork housed in the Miho Museum, including a decorative sculpture of marble from ancient Rome, known as an oscilla, were identified from pictures of…

Coins and Cyprus: Update on the FOIA Request

Back in November I noted the FOIA request served on the US State Department by:
The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG)
The International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN)The Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG)The ACCG website (Feb 4, 2008) reports on the schedule for disclosure: "requested records may be released or exemptions may be requested no later than May 9, 2008". So it looks as if we will have to wait.

Needless to say, nothing is posted on the IAPN or PNG websites.

Portable Antiquities Scheme: Straw Poll Results

Last month I drew attention to the straw poll conducted by Current Archaeology. The results are out (CA 216 March 2008). 96% voters were 'in favour of a nationally co-ordinated PAS scheme and database'. There were 527 votes.

There is still voting on the website. 690 people have voted with 94.2% in favour of the national scheme.

The Downing Street petition closes on this Wednesday, February 13. UK citizens can add their names to the 2025 existing signatories.

Learning from the Gaps in the Display Cases

Drake Bennett ("Finders Keepers", Boston Globe, February 10, 2008) has reflected on the return of antiquities to Italy from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
These returned objects are only the most visible recent fruits of a powerful movement aimed at moving some of the world's most prominent ancient treasures from the hands of foreign museums and collectors back to the so-called source countries.Drake continues:
These governments argue that to allow such objects to remain abroad as trophies only encourages the continued pillage of their national patrimony. Their position has won broad moral support and increasingly become the norm among academic archeologists, who see ancient objects as historic artifacts inseparable from their place of discovery.In other words, does the return of antiquities to source countries stop looting? I suspect not.

But what it does do is send a very clear signal to museums and private collectors that acquisition policies and patterns have to cha…

A Bronze Krater from the Republic of Macedonia

Two days ago I mentioned the issue of looting in the Republic of Macedonia. I closed with some reported words from Pasko Kuzman (in late 2006),
One of my dreams . . . is to bring back to Macedonia a bronze bowl with a beautiful relief, which was recently traced to New York.There have been a few comments left on the original posting with a link to "Pasko Kuzman Wants to Return Krater from New York", Macedonia Daily, November 7, 2006. (The image is not the one; it comes from an excavated tomb at Derveni in northern Greece). Apparently the krater was looted from an archaeological site in the southern part of the Republic of Macedonia, sent to Switzerland, passed through the United Kingdom, and finally sold in New York.

Loans: Checking Histories

As antiquities in North American collections have been packed up and flown back to Rome, we have been seeing archaeological finds and art objects winging their way westward to fill their place. There is a new sense of optimism and transparency. Archaeological ethics are on the agenda. Museum acquisition policies are being tightened.

But hang on a minute. Somebody has raised a really important comment on my discussion of the looting of antiquities from the Republic of Macedonia. I do not want to go into the possible identification of the bronze here (after all, I just wanted to draw attention to what was happening in a particular country). There is a suggestion that antiquities are being "displayed" in public exhibitions --- but in such a way that they do not enter the public record via the printed catalogue (or on-line supporting website). The owner can presumably claim that the piece was "exhibited" in a particular show and that anybody with a claim on the object …

A Bronze from the Republic of Macedonia: a New York Link?

My attention has been drawn to the scale of looting in the Republic of Macedonia. In 2006 it was estimated (Jasmina Mironski, "In Macedonia, archaeological riches at looters' mercy", AFP, December 27, 2006; see also Isa Marvinci, "Le sud de la Macédoine, paradis des pilleurs de sites archéologiques", AFP, 23 décembre 2006) that
one million artefacts to have been smuggled out of Macedonia since independence in 1991 are jewellery, decorative ornaments, weapons and armour of ancient foot soldiers, and statues.This was so graphically described by Konstantin Testorides ("In Macedonia, Raiders of Lost Artifacts; Experts Say Few Sites Not Pillaged", Washington Post, April 22, 2007). Irena Kolistrkoska Nasteva, a prominent archaeologist in Macedonia, was quoted:
Macedonian bronze is trendy. It is world-famous because of the style, and it can fetch very high prices on the black market ... Even the smallest piece can be sold for 1,000 euros.Pasko Kuzman, head of …

Shelby White: Waiting for the Press Release, Week 3

For some reason Shelby White does not yet appear to have issued a list of the antiquities handed over to the Italian authorities some three weeks ago.

Is there some good reason for restricting access to this information?

I am not the only one waiting. A contact from Italy reminded me of the lists that were available at the time of the 2004 trial of Giacomo Medici. I am informed that these lists were divided into separate collections and indicated (in Italian),
The above artifacts are reproduced in photographs seized from Giacomo Medici at the Geneva Freeport.A selection of lists ("Dossier") appeared in the back of Peter Watson and Celia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy (2006). I used the Medici Conspiracy's "Dossier" ("Antiquities in the Levy-White Collection Shown in the Polaroids Seized in Corridor 17 in Geneva") to compile a possible list (including the three certain items the New York Times had included).

But the "Medici Trial" list appears…

US Army Pilot, Egypt, and a Museum Theft

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued a Press Release, "U.S. arrests Army pilot for dealing in stolen Egyptian antiquities" (February 6, 2008).

It announces "the arrest of Edward George Johnson, an active U.S. Army helicopter pilot, on charges relating to his sale of stolen Egyptian antiquities". His role is given:
Johnson, 44, a Chief Warrant Officer with the United States Army whose duties include piloting and commanding attack and scout helicopters, was deployed to Cairo from February to October of 2002.The objects, derived from excavations, are reported to have been stolen from a museum:
In late September 2002, approximately 370 pre-dynastic artifacts were stolen from the Ma'adi Museum near Cairo, Egypt. The artifacts, dating to 3000 B.C. and earlier, were originally discovered during an excavation in Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s.The statement goes on:
In January 2003, Johnson contacted an art dealer in Texas and offered to sell the dealer a c…

Robin Symes and the Met

The death of Christo Michailidis on July 4, 1999, during a dinner party hosted by Leon Levy and Shelby White is well documented (see Peter Watson, "The Fall of Robin Symes", Culture Without Context, 15, Autumn 2004).

The following year Symes presented the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with a terracotta in memory of Michailidis. The on-line catalogue entry does not provide information about the figure's previous owners or where it was found.

Statuette of a Draped Goddess, late 5th–4th century B.C.GreekTerracotta; H. 14 3/4 in. (37.5 cm)Gift of Robin Symes, in memory of Christo Michailidis, 2000 (2000.163)

Ethics and Partage

Richard Lacayo has followed up his interview with James Cuno. This time he talks to Alex Barker, director of the Museum of Art & Archeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and chair of the Ethics Committee of the Society for American Archeology ("A Talk With: Alex Barker", Time, February 4, 2008).

The agenda remains that set by Cuno, namely that of partage. Sharing finds from excavations is one possible way forward. Loans are another way as recently explained by Thomas Noble Howe, "A New Way Forward for U.S. Museums".

Lacayo and Barker also discuss John Merryman's proposal for a "licit" trade in antiquities. It is a question I posed last August. Barker gives a rather abbreviated reply. I had earlier commented on Merryman's flawed model for the "licit" trade where he gave the Getty as a good example of a museum following correct "due diligence" procedures. And given recent events we now know that trust was misplaced.

I …

Why Context Matters: Learning From Raids in California

I have been following the raids on Museums in Southern California with some interest. Today's report by Matthew L. Wald ("Tax Scheme Is Blamed for Damage to Artifacts", New York Times, February 4, 2008) shows the implication of the collecting pattern.

He interviewed Joyce C. White, director of the Ban Chiang Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. She is reported as saying:
the items smuggled and sold in the United States tend to be those that are intact, and that for each intact item removed there were doubtless many broken ones. When properly excavated, she said, the ensemble of items establishes the date of the intact artifact and yields countless details about historical and social context.

The looting of “any one piece of intact pottery represents the huge complete erasures of books and books and books that would have, could have, been written had the research been done,” she said in a telephone interview.


“Intact artifacts t…

Algeria, Marcus Aurelius and the Views of (Some) Collectors

Last month I commented on the return of a Roman marble portrait of Marcus Aurelius to Algeria. It all seemed straightforward as the head had been stolen from the Skikda Museum in 1996.

Wayne Sayles has commented:
The imperial busts used throughout the empire were typically made in Italy and sent out to show the world what their emperor looked like. Does the display of an object thereby make it the cultural patrimony of a country? Should a Roman coin stolen from a display in New York be returned to NY or to Italy? This whole concept is a mine field with lots and lots of booby traps and a million possible scenarios to account for. Cultural Property Nationalism is simply an unworkable concept in a world of globalism.When challenged, he clarified his position:
The reason to return the MA [Marcus Aurelius] bust to Algeria is that in our small window of world history the object belonged to Algeria when it was stolen. To the extent possible under international law, recognizing that there a…

Looking Back to the Icklingham Bronzes

Readers will know that I have been waiting for the release of details about the return of antiquities from the Shelby White collection to Italy. After all, which pieces can still be cited as "New York, private collection" - or will we now need to use, perhaps, "said to be Rome, Villa Guilia" or "reputedly in Tarquinia"? Somebody serious about collecting knows the importance of such information.

While I have been waiting ... I have been doing some background research on Shelby White and (the late) Leon Levy. John Browning, a farmer from Suffolk, England, published his thoughts on the looting of antiquities, the Icklingham bronzes, from his land.

In 1995 he wrote:
After very lengthy negotiations between my US lawyers and lawyers representing Leon Levy and Shelby White and the Ariadne Galleries the saga of the Icklingham Bronzes was settled some 18 months ago, and, due to some strange complications in documentation, a statement, prepared by all parties, con…