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Showing posts from December, 2009

Happy New Year - and Happy New Decade!

Looting Matters would like to thank all its readers and contributors for their support during 2009. There have been over 110,000 visitors this year (not counting those who view by email or RSS subscription). I look forward to welcoming you back in 2010.

Happy New Year!

© David Gill

Nefertiti: Hawass plans action

I have earlier commented on the acquisition of the head of Nefertiti from Amarna. The head was the main subject of a meeting of the Egyptian National Committee for the Return of Stolen Artifacts this week. Zahi Hawass notes that the session "discuss[ed] the procedures needed to make a formal request for the return of the Bust of Nefertiti now on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin".

Hawass gave the immediate outline of the case:
Earlier this month Dr. Seyfried met with Dr. Hawass and presented him with copies of all of the key documentation held by the Berlin Museum concerning this iconic piece. This includes the protocol of 20 January, 1913, written by Gustav Lefébvre, the official who signed the division of finds on behalf of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, and excerpts from the diary of Ludwig Borchardt, the excavator of the Bust.
The case was made in an earlier report about Hawass' visit to Berlin:
Dr. Seyfried presented Dr. Hawass with copies of all of the key docu…

Where should the remains of St Nicholas reside?

One of the news stories on the BBC today related to the bones of St Nicholas, perhaps better known as Santa Claus (Jonathan Head, "Turkey seeks return of Santa Claus' bones", BBC December 28, 2009). Nikolaos was Bishop of Myra in Lycia in southern Turkey. His body was placed in a sarcophagus in the Byzantine church in the city. (This Byzantine church was restored in the 19th century by the Russian Tsar, Alexander II.)

The remains were removed by Italians in 1087 and placed in the church at Bari in southern Italy.

Now a Turkish archaeologist, Professor Nevzat Cevik, from Demre (the modern town on the site of Myra) has called for the bones to be returned, and Turkish authorities are reported to be taking the claim seriously.

The issue will no doubt provide fascinating discussions: a culturally Greek Christian bishop from a now Muslim Turkey. But I suspect the publicity will help to boost visitors to Demre and the town's famous plastic Santa.

Seasonal Greetings!

Looting Matters wishes all its readers a Happy Christmas.

Nadolig llawen i chi!

What are "redundant antiquities"?

The AAMD written testimony to the CPAC review of Article II of the MOU with Italy is now available [pdf]. The submission by Kaywin Feldman, Director and President of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is one of the pieces made available (dated, November 13, 2009). Feldman took a critical position against the Italian authorities. (Members of the AAMD need to remember that several of their institutions had been happily buying, no doubt in "good faith", recently surfaced antiquities ripped from archaeological contexts in Italy.)

Feldman appears to misunderstand archaeological material when she wrote:
The spirit of support and cooperation emphasized in the MOU would be much better served if American museums could acquire redundant antiquities and borrow objects for long-term loan from Italian museums. AAMD believes that the United States government should encourage developed countries, such as Italy, to make redundant antiquities available to the legitimate market as a way to cur…

"A growing NY Times campaign to disparage source-country claimants"

Lee Rosenbaum on CultureGrrl has written a thoughtful response to the news coverage of China's research into the dispersal of antiquities from the summer palace in Beijing.

Looking back over 2009

I started the year by looking ahead.

I suggested that we would continue to see fallout from the Medici Conspiracy. This has included the seizure of a Corinthian krater from Christie's in New York, as well as two pieces that had passed through a gallery in California. A further mural fragment from the J. Paul Getty Museum has been returned to Italy; this seems to form part of a series of fragments that had formed parts of two separate New York collections. Giacomo Medici's appeal against his conviction failed, while the Rome trial of Marion True and Robert Hecht has continued. Returned objects from the Cleveland Museum of Art went on display in Rome. However the case of the Cleveland Apollo remains unresolved. A new exhibition of returned objects went on display in the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

The situation with the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and the Miho Museum remains unresolved, though in the former case more information has become available.

Italian authorities recovere…

The Rosetta Stone: "an icon of our Egyptian identity"

Matt Bradley has written about Zahi Hawass' claims for the return of cultural property from European and North American museums (Matt Bradley, "Indiana Jones, but in reverse", The National December 19. 2009). Bradley anticipates the 2010 conference that is expected to have representations from 12 different countries (including China, Greece, Italy, and Mexico). An earlier Reuters interview is cited where Hawass restated his desire for the Rosette Stone to be returned to Egypt.

Among those interviewed for the piece were James Cuno, Katja Lembke (director of the Pelizaeus Museum), and myself.

©David Gill

"Arguments for doing nothing"

Fans of the Cambridge classicist Francis Cornford (1874–1943) [ODNB] will know his Microcosmographia Academica (subtitled "being a Guide for the Young Academic Politician"), first published anonymously in 1908. (A centenary edition was published in 2008 by Cambridge University Press as University Politics [CUP].)

Chapter VII addresses the issue of "Argument": "There is only one argument for doing something: the rest are arguments for doing nothing".

Cornford then expounds:
The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.
Should Cornford be requ…

The Rosetta Stone: Clarification from Hawass

Zahi Hawass has commented further on the request for the Rosetta Stone (Harpreet Bhal, "Egypt to ask British Museum for Rosetta Stone", Reuters, December 14, 2009). In an interview held over last weekend, Hawass told Reuters:
I did not write yet to the British Museum but I will. I will tell them that we need the Rosetta Stone to come back to Egypt for good ... The British Museum has hundreds of thousands of artefacts in the basement and as exhibits. I am only needing one piece to come back, the Rosetta Stone. It is an icon of our Egyptian identity and its homeland should be Egypt.
He seems to have moved his position from his earlier request of a loan for the opening of the Giza Museum in 2012. Reuters commented that Hawass "would no longer settle for just a loan".

I was interviewed for the report and talked about the issue of other issues in the collection:
The whole issue for the British Museum is if they say we're going to give you back the Rosetta Stone, it set…

The Rosetta Stone: The Times Responds

Graham Stewart, a columnist for The Times (London) has responded to the publicity surrounding the Rosetta Stone ("The booty included the four bronze horses of St Mark's, Venice", The Times December 12, 2009). Stewart confuses two separate issues: significant cultural objects that left their countries long before 1970; and the recent (i.e. post 1970) looting of archaeological sites to provide material for the market.

Stewart presents a simplistic view of those who argue for the return of cultural property:
"To those who believe antiquities must be repatriated to the land that created them it is all about honouring context and respecting national identity."First, archaeological objects can be understood when they are retrieved from archaeological contexts in a scientific manner. Second, archaeological objects lose their contextual information when looted. Third, recently looted archaeological objects should be returned to the country from which they had been loote…

The Rosetta Stone and the Global Village

I noticed a letter in today's Independent by Alan D. Foster in response to the Rosetta Stone debate (December 14, 2009):
... Taken to its logical conclusion, every significant cultural artefact from another country currently housed in the British Museum would have to be repatriated. But how dull, then, if our country boasted only its own heritage and culture. Surely part of living in the global village is learning to share and value each other's art and history? ...
But is Egypt asking for the emptying of all the Egyptian sculpture galleries in the British Museum, or asking for the loan of a single, unique document that is iconic for the study of Egyptology?

Italy and US co-operate over antiquities

There is further evidence of the close working relationship between Italy and US authorities. It has been reported that 1700 antiquities have been seized ("Italian police recover hoard of looted artifacts", AP, December 11, 2009). At least 19 people appear to be under investigation.

The objects seem to have been derived from tombs around Naples and in north-eastern Italy. Among the finds was a bronze bust of Augustus.

It appears that some of the material had already been sent to North America. Who were the dealers involved?

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are reported to have recovered "47 ceramic and bronze statutes that had been looted from a tomb in southern Italy dating between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C."

Looting Matters and PR Newswire

Looting Matters: Archaeological Institute Offers Views on Italian Antiquities

Looting Matters: Archaeological Institute Offers Views on Italian Antiquities

The AIA submission to the CPAC review of the MOU with Italy.

Sotheby's results: market still nervous over antiquities

Today's auction of Egyptian, Classical, and Western Asiatic Antiquities at Sotheby's shows that the market is still unsettled. The $5.8 million raised today brings 2009's total to just under $8.6 million. The value of sales in 2008 was $17.8 million.

Egyptian antiquities are playing an increasingly small part in the sale, down to 17% in value. This makes 2009 the third lowest component of Egyptian antiquities since 1998. While the median value shows a slight increase on December 2008, the market seems to be back at 2004 levels.

The reason may be more complex than the recession. Have the recent actions by Egyptian authorities (and in particular Zahi Hawass) had an impact on the market?

© David Gill, 2009

CPAC review of MOU with Italy: the AIA version

I have already given a comment on the CPAC review of Article II of the MOU with Italy that related to "the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy".

I had noted that Sebastian Heath's presentation on behalf of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) had caused concern. A collector advocacy group issued a press release in the wake of the review and described the AIA presentation as "a wakeup call for thousands of private collectors, museums and independent scholars".

Sebastian Heath has now placed a report (as well as the text of his submission to CPAC) on the website of the AIA ("Politics & Archaeology: A First-Person Account of the CPAC Meeting Reviewing Italian Import Restrictions"). He commented on the response from the museum community:
When we had all finished, I was pleased to note that the speakers representing museums generally praised t…

Hawass: "We are not the Pirates of the Caribbean"

The Rosetta Stone was debated on this morning's BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme. Sarah Montague interviewed Zahi Hawass and Roy Clare (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council).

Hawass rejected a short-term loan. He commented on the security of the new museum in Cairo: "Security will be perfect". He rejected the suggestion that Egypt would not return a loan: "We are not the Pirates of the Caribbean."

He asked for the return of the Rosetta Stone as part of Egypt's identity: "I want the Rosetta Stone to be back in Egypt".

Clare presented the legal position and the role of the Trustees of the British Museum. He made it clear that he did not want a discussion about the "recovery" of the Rosetta Stone. Clare stated that it is an "icon for global culture", in effect making a case for the universal museum. He described the British Museum as a centre for world culture.

Montague asked if Hawass would get the Rosetta Stone back: &…

A "Lydian" silver bowl at auction

I have commented before on the level of looting in ancient Lydia. I drew attention to the study by Christopher H. Roosevelt and Christina Luke that demonstrated in their survey of Lydia, "Of the 397 tumuli personally inspected, 357 or 90 percent showed signs of looting".

My attention has been drawn to a 'Greek silver bowl' that is being offered at auction later this week (Christie's December 11, 2009, lot 87). Its collecting history is stated as, "Japanese Private Collection, 1970s."

A parallel is offered: "For a similar example from Sardis see no. 14 in von Bothmer, A Greek and Roman Treasury." This parallel piece, now in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art 26.164.13, was found at Sardis and given by The American Society for the Exploration of Sardis.

So what is the full collecting history of this second "Greek", or more likely Lydian, silver cup? And why describe it as "Greek" when the closest parallel comes from Sa…

The Journal of Art Crime: Fall 2009

The Fall 2009 number of the Journal of Art Crime edited by Noah Charney and published by the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (details here) is now available.

Those interested in antiquities will be interested in the following items:

Issues in Identification and the Authenticity of Artist’s Signatures,  Graham Ospreay: 3-11Art Crime Archives, Bojan Dobovšek, Noah Charney, and Saša Vučko: 25-33A Permanent International Art Crime Tribunal? Judge Arthur Tompkins: 35-41Lessons in Looting, Stephanie Goldfarb: 43-49
Context Matters, “Looting in the Balkans”, David Gill: 63-66An Empty Frame: Thinking About Art Crime, “Are Police Posters Art?”, Derek Fincham: 67-69Art Law and Policy, “Holocaust Era Cases Reviewed”, Donn Zaretsky: 71-73Cultural Heritage, “Protection of the Concept and Profiles”, Col. Giovanni Pastore: 75-81 (English and Italian)

Understanding the Motivations Behind Art Crime and the Effects of an Institution’s Response,  Mar…

Conference to discuss the return of antiquities

Zahi Hawass has announced that Egypt will be hosting a conference (date to be set) to discuss the return of antiquities ("Egypt wants to host international meeting to return relics", AFP December 6, 2009). Hawass has already outlined some of the pieces that he would like to see back in Egypt.

The release states that Greece and Italy will be invited.

Looting Matters: Antiquities Returned to Italy

Looting Matters: Antiquities Returned to Italy

Comment on the handing over of two antiquities - a wall-painting from Boscoreale and a Corinthian krater - to Italian authorities.

Toxic Antiquities: the sales of 1985

Today's news that two antiquities had been handed over to the Italian authorities is a reminder of the continuing issue of toxic antiquities. The Corinthian krater had apparently been handled by Giacomo Medici and had then surfaced on the market in 1985 through Sotheby's in London ("ICE returns stolen artifacts to Italy", ICE December 2, 2009).

It is significant that an Attic bell-krater that had surfaced at Sotheby's in 1985 had to be withdrawn from a sale at Bonham's in London in October 2008.

Two other pieces that have been returned to Italy had  passed through Sotheby's in 1985. An Attic black-figured neck-amphora was returned from the Royal Athena Galleries, and an Attic black-figured amphora of Panatheniac shape had formed part of the collection of Shelby White and the late Leon Levy.

It is a matter of concern that two auction-houses --- Christie's and Bonham's --- have been willing to offer material from sales that are known to have contain…

Antiquities returned to Italy

Two antiquities that had been due to be auctioned in New York in June this year have been handed over to Italian officials ("Looted artifacts being returned to Italy from NYC", AP December 2009). One was a fragment of Roman wall-painting that had been found at Boscoreale (see earlier comments). Five other fragments from the same series have also been recovered from other locations. The other piece is a Corinthian krater that was recovered from Christie's (see earlier comments). It had apparently been handled by Giacomo Medici and sold at Sotheby's in 1985.

Other items that apparently passed through Christie's this summer have also been seized (see earlier comments).

Why is such material passing through a major auction-house?