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Showing posts from May, 2008

Newly Surfaced Archaic Greek Objects

My attention has been drawn to two separate lots from the sale of "The Stanford Place Collection of Antiquities" auctioned at Christie's (London) on Wednesday April 26, 2006. (It is a collection I have discussed before.)

They illustrate some of the intellectual consequences of recently-surfaced antiquities.
Lot 3: 'a Greek silver-gilt repoussé plaque'. 'circa 540-525 BC'. 'With winged Nike in a frontal chariot with facing quadriga, each pair of horses with heads turned to opposing sides, with finely incised details, bound lotus filling motifs, pierced around the edge for attachment, from an arm-guard'. 6.8 cm high. Unsold.Lot 18: 'Three Laconian bronze helmeted warriors'. '6th century BC'. 'Each animated nude standing figure standing with right arm outstretched to the side and left arm raised, with fists clenched, wearing tall crested helmet'. 6.4 cm high (max). £30,000.
Both were acquired from "Ward & Company Works o…

James Cuno on the Icklingham Bronzes

One of the issues that I hoped would be addressed by James Cuno was the decision to display one of the Icklingham bronzes in a loan exhibition, The Fire of Hephaistos (1996) no. 31, at Harvard University Art Museums. The piece, on loan from Shelby White and Leon Levy, was "Found in Suffolk, in southeastern England; purchased in 1988".

And here is the issue, on the very first page of Chapter 1, "Political Issues", of Who Owns Antiquity? (I received my review copy today.) Cuno notes the Fire of Hephaistos exhibition included bronzes from some private collections. One of Cuno's Harvard colleagues "objected to our borrowing a work from a particular private collection and claimed that it had been purchased in contravention of international law". Cuno explains in a rather vague way (without giving too much detail for the casual reader):
The work in question had been part of a controversy involving the British Museum and when I sought that museum director'…

The Acquisition and Exhibition of Classical Antiquities: Review

Derek Fincham has reviewed Robin F. Rhodes' edited volume The acquisition and exhibition of classical antiquities: professional, legal, and ethical perspectives (2007) for Bryn Mawr Classical Review. He notes:
This collection should serve primarily as an introduction to the more substantive work of the participants. Any reader familiar with cultural heritage scholarship will find many of these arguments familiar; though the paper-response approach clarifies the points of agreement thereby moving beyond a mere entrenched debate to foster productive dialogue. I have also commented on aspects of this volume:
Robin Rhodes on the role of university museum directorsStefano Vassallo on the continuing problem of looting in Sicily
Nancy Bookidis on the loss of contexts for Corinthian pots
Rhodes, R. F. Editor. 2007. The acquisition and exhibition of classical antiquities: professional, legal, and ethical perspectives. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press. [press site]

The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Corinthian Pottery

I was very struck by a recent comment by Nancy Bookidis who has excavated at Corinth since the late 1960s. In an extended discussion of the 1990 theft of antiquities from the museum at Corinth she noted:
This year I suggest a dissertation topic to a graduate student at the American School in Athens, who is interested in trade between Greece and the West. I proposed that she examine the foreign find-places of Corinthian vases that have been attributed to specific painters or workshops in order to determine whether or not certain cities only bought from a limited group of artists. Ultimately, she gave it up—too many vases with unknown proveniences.In other words, the student was proposing to study the export of Corinthian pottery to Italy and Sicily (and beyond). What percentage of Corinthian pots in, say, Tuscany come from scientifically excavated tombs?

In another (but related) context I have noted that only some 13% of the Attic red-figured pots attributed to the "Berlin painter&q…

Indiana Jones and the AAMD

Kimerly Rorschach, Adjunct Professor and Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum, Duke University has issued a press statement ("New Indiana Jones Movie Raises Issues of Looted Art", Thursday May 22, 2008) to coincide with the launch of the latest Indiana Jones movie.
Generally speaking, all exporting is illegal, in an effort to stem the tide of looting. University art museums face the dilemma of wanting to collect antiquities for legitimate educational purposes but not wanting to contribute to illegal looting and smuggling.So far, so good.

But then the release adds:
Rorschach has written about these issues, and is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which articulates best-practice standards for collecting that museums must follow.What are these "best-practice standards for collecting" that are reflected by the AAMD? (See "Museums and Professional Responsibilities".)
Collecting "recently surfaced" antiquities t…

The Cleveland Museum of Art: Moving Towards "a Happy Conclusion"?

Two weeks ago ANSA issued a statement quoting Francesco Rutelli ("Beni Culturali: Bondi, su di me enorme responsabilità", and "Beni Culturali: Rutelli, accordo fatto con Museo Cleveland", May 9, 2008). Rutelli appeared to suggest that an agreement with the Cleveland Museum of Art had been concluded, and that 16—not 8 as had originally been thought—antiquities would be returning to Italy.

Steven Litt ("Italians, museum aren't on same page", Plain Dealer (Cleveland), May 10, 2008) has clarified the situation by quoting a museum spokesperson:
No agreement has been reached, nor has the museum agreed to transfer any objects to Italy.There have been persistent rumours about the list of antiquities under discussion ("Cleveland: the Italian List?"): some 23 items have been placed under the spotlight.

Some have been quick to condemn Rutelli for using the media to put pressure on Cleveland (and other institutions) ("Cleveland Kerfuffle: Italy Again …

Intellectual Consequences: can we trust the find-spot?

I was keen to follow the "find-spot" of a piece of Attic black-figured pottery which surfaced before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
a. The original dealer's catalogue gave no indication of find-spot.b. The initial publication in a British archaeological journal gave the find-spot as "reputedly" from a named site in Tuscany.c. The pot's publication in a study of related pieces stated, "Provenance: probably Italy (... alleged [Tuscan] provenance ...)".d. The Beazley Archive database does not give any indication of find-spot in its "provenance" field - though it does note, "said to be from [Tuscany]" in the record section.e. The museum in which it resides gives the Tuscan site as the database entry under "Field Collection". Did I mention that the dealer was Robert Hecht?

This amphora highlights the problem with language. Many pieces of this type of pottery have been found at Cerveteri in Etruria. The alleged Tuscan …

Intellectual Consequences for the Study of Ancient Trade

It is easy to be distracted by the scale of looting. Yet there are also intellectual consequences as find-spots and contexts are lost or fabricated. What are the implications for the study of ancient trade? I was considering the commercial mark on an Attic black-figured neck-amphora of Panathenaic shape that passed through Sotheby's in London (July 17, 1985, lot 313).

The mark falls into Alan Johnston's (Trademarks on Greek Vases: Addenda) Type 25A. There are thirteen examples. Eight of them (all but this one Type B amphorae) are attributed to 'Group E'. Three of the amphorae are said to have been found at Vulci in Etruria (as well as possibly a column-krater now in the Vatican). In addition to the amphora of Panathenaic shape, a Type B amphora, also attributed to Group E, passed through Sotheby's in London the year before (July 9-10, 1984, lot 314); it is now in Canberra (84.02). What was the history of the two pieces before they were auctioned at Sotheby's? Wh…

The "Morgantina" Silver Hoard

The antiquities returned to Italy from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have been dominated by the pottery:
The Sarpedon kraterFour pieces of Laconian, Attic and Apulian pottery
However the return also included a major hoard of Hellenistic silver dating to the 3rd century BCE and acquired in 1981, 1982, and 1984 (inv. 1981.11.15-22; 1982.11.7-13; 1984.11.3). The pieces were said to have originated in Turkey and had been purchased via Switzerland.

Indeed the official line is that this was a "hoard" and that it was "presumably found together a generation ago" (D. von Bothmer, A Greek and Roman treasury. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, nos. 92-106).

In reality the sequence has been reported as follows (see P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, p. 106):
Vincenzo Bozzi and Filippo Baviera, tombaroliSold to Orazio Di Simone of Lugano, Switzerland for the equivalent of $27,000Sold to Robert Hecht for $875,000Sold to the MMA for $3 million

Looting in Italy: "a continuing, daily experience"

It is perhaps easy for some collectors and museum curators to convince themselves that their pursuit of the perfect acquisition has no impact on the archaeological record. Stefano Vassallo's comments on the situation in Sicily give a glimpse on the impact of looting (and see also "Operation Ghelas"). He talked about work at the Greek colony of Himera:
clandestine nighttime digs systematically devastate the archaeological layers uncovered the day before.
Against the background of the discussion of "ownership" Vassallo asks a key question and then answers it:
When an object is authentic but its original context is lost, what is left of it? Only an aesthetic object remains, beautiful to look at, but which has little to do with the way we look today at ancient art. It is not just beauty that catches out attention today, but the way works of art functioned within their society, the response to them by their public, and their reception by later generations and cultures…

Bonhams Withdraws Egyptian Inscription from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410)

More details are beginning to emerge on the Egyptian inscription withdrawn from the sale of antiquities at Bonhams on May 1, 2008 ("Egypt secures auction pullout for artefacts in London and Holland", Egypt Daily News, May 1, 2008).

The text has removed from "a wall in the 26th Dynasty tomb of Mutirdis in Asasif in Luxor". This tomb (TT410) was excavated by Jan Assmann in 1969 so it looks as if the story about the Australian seafarer collecting the piece perhaps as far back as the 1940s lacks substance. A photograph of the text appears in “Das Grab der Mutirdis” (1977).

Bonhams need to make a statement about this. Who translated the text for them? Did the person recognise the text but keep quiet? Were the staff members of the Department of Antiquities at Bonhams unable to conduct a thorough due diligence search? Why were they unable to link the personal names that appear here with the tomb of Mutirdis?

And what other antiquities consigned to Bonhams came from the "…

James Cuno on Antiquities: What I Hope Will Be Addressed

James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity is certainly getting publicity. Andrew Herrmann ("You can't have your stuff back", Chicago Sun-Times, May 4, 2008) notes:
Critics are seething over the book, which won't be out until May 28 but already is in circulation for review and causing a buzz.I have yet to see the book but it seems that it contains an implicit attack on the Archaeological Institute of America's stance on not publishing recently surfaced antiquities. The AIA's policy is:
In keeping with the revised (2004) policy of the Archaeological Institute of America, the AJA will not accept any article that serves as the primary publication of any object or archaeological material in a private or public collection after 30 December 1973 unless its existence is documented before that date or it was legally exported from the country of origin.
It will be interesting to see if Cuno touches on the issue of the the inscribed ivory pomegranate ‘thought to be the only reli…

Acropolis Museum Preview

The BBC has been given a preview of the new Acropolis Museum by Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis. The video provides views of the Parthenon from the museum. The juxtaposition of fragments remaining in Athens and casts of originals now in London is explained in detail.

The programme suggests that the return of the Parthenon sculptures would be a "natural" progression.

Bonhams Withdraws Egyptian Antiquity From Auction

Last October Bonhams withdrew a piece of Lydian silver from auction after questions were raised here about its possible links with Turkey.

I noticed that the auction house has had to take similar eleventh hour action last week when Egypt challenged the sale of lot 99:
An Egyptian carved limestone relief fragment
Late Period, 26th Dynasty, circa 665-525 B.C.
With six vertical columns of blue-filled hieroglyphs, column 1: about journeying by water, column 2: 'horizon. Oh Osiris supervisor of the female followers [of?]', column 3: 'Nitikret (Nitocris) may she live Mutirdais', column 4: 'true of voice, ie. justified...', column five: '...gods fear...', column 6: unintelligible, 11¾in (32.5cm) diam, mounted

Estimate: £3,000 - 4,000 AFP ("Egypt secures auction pullout for ancient artefact", April 30, 2008) has reported that lot 99 from the sale of antiquities on May 1, 2008 had to be withdrawn:
Egyptian Culture Minister Faruq Hosni said in a statement th…

Towards a Bibliography for Archaeological Ethics

I have been preparing an introductory bibliography on Archaeological Ethics for my postgraduate students. This is at present located as a list on WorldCat. You can easily see the location of the nearest copy of the book to you (just type in your postcode or zipcode), or download (including to Endnote).

What would readers of Looting Matters recommend?

Leave a comment!

Francesco Rutelli and Antiquities

This is an appropriate moment to pay tribute to Francesco Rutelli, the out-going Italian Minister for Culture.

He came into post in May 2006 and his name was quickly associated with the fight to combat the looting of Etruscan cemeteries.
"The Tomb of the Roaring Lions" at Veio (June 2006). Rutelli: "Sometimes the smugglers arrive before the archaeologists, but luckily they could not remove the frescoes" ("Suspected tomb raider leads archaeologists to frescoed Etruscan tomb near Rome", AP, June 16, 2006).
Within a month he was negotiating with the J. Paul Getty Museum:
Rutelli: "When I talk about cooperation, it is also to give the new Getty management the opportunity to show they want to close an era" (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Italy Calls Its Talks With Getty Productive", New York Times, June 20, 2006).In September 2006 thirteen antiquities were returned from Boston, and the Getty returned forty pieces to Italy in November 2006 and August 2…

Iraq: "We want to strip the commercial value of Iraqi antiquities"

Yesterday I commented on Dr Bahaa Mayar's hope (expressed on the BBC) that the British Museum would one day return its Mesopotamian antiquities to Iraq.

Today The Independent (Arifa Akbar, "Iraqi expert accuses West over antiquities trade", May 1, 2008) provides further details of Dr Mayar's comments made at the British Museum (though the report misses his subsequent call for the return of antiquities). Some of the report repeats what was said in the BBC interview, and Dr Mayah "called for an immediate global ban on the sale of at least 100,000 artefacts that have been stolen since the invasion." He added:
This is a problem of illegal trade that should be of concern to the international community. We want to strip the commercial value of Iraqi antiquities. There is also a comment from Professor Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University in New York who
said Iraq had been depleted of 15 per cent of its ancient artefacts. Ever since Baghdad's National Museum …