Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Intellectual Consequences of Forgeries

I attended the Second AHRC Workshop | Art, Crime and Criminals: Painting Fresh Pictures of Art Theft, Fraud and Plunder at RUSI in London yesterday. I was very struck that some of the issues that I have explored with Christopher Chippindale in our work on Cycladic sculptures were emerging for other works of art and from so many different cultures. Undetected forgeries corrupt the corpus of knowledge and undermine the genuine pieces.

Some of the lessons derived from the conference should be that academics need to be more cautious about providing attributions and opinions as these can be used to authenticate the forgeries. Secondly, the due diligence needs to be far more rigorous.

I will be revisiting Cycladic figures in February as part of a presentation in Cambridge and I expect modern creations will feature in the discussion.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Sarcophagus fragment reported to have been seized

Image from Becchina archive. Source via Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
I was in London for a conference today and was informed that US authorities seized a fragmentary sarcophagus in New York over the weekend. Full details have yet to be confirmed and I also understand that the fragment remains on display in the gallery.

It seems likely that the piece of sculpture has associations with northern Greece.

The fragment featured in the Becchina archive.

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Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Benin Bronzes in London

© David Gill
I have commented on the acquisition of the Benin Bronzes before (see here). The display of what can only be interpreted as plunder as a result of the 1897 Benin Punitive Expedition sits uncomfortably in an internationally important encyclopaedic museum. 

I feel unhappy with the emphasis presented by Tiffany Jenkins (p.288):
In some circumstances ... the very sculptures and plaques that some would like to see returned to Nigeria were made from the proceeds of slavery, exchanged for men and women. Are these artefacts tainted by how the material was acquired?
She somehow seeks to justify the continued presence of the bronzes in London by looking back over the centuries to the context for how these works of art were created.

Johanna Hanink makes an important point about the Benin Bronzes in her review of Jenkins:
When not ignoring them outright, Jenkins over-simplifies, mocks, and dismisses the arguments in favor of artifact repatriation that detail the more abstract, lasting damage their (oftentimes violent) seizure caused.
Kwame Opoku adds in his important response to Jenkins:
Jenkins should be careful. If we apply her argument to Britain we could argue that Britain derived all her wealth from slavery and colonization and therefore all objects made in Britain, ignoring British industry, agriculture and manufacture, may be looted/stolen because they derived from slavery and colonization. Surely, this would be going too far. She should abandon this way of thinking which stretches ideas as far as possible to cover whatever view she shares even if the result is patently absurd.
If anything Jenkins has strengthened the cause for those who actively seek the return of cultural property.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

A sarcophagus passing through the Swiss market

Image from Becchina archive. Source via Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
When an object has a recorded collecting history of the 'Swiss market' it is likely to draw attention to itself.

I am grateful to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for drawing my attention to a series of images from the Becchina archive that relate to a fragmentary Roman sarcophagus.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

The London market: Christie's


I have been presenting a regular overview of the New York sales of antiquities at Sotheby's and at Christie's. However this chart shows the value of antiquities sold at Christie's in London (in South Kensington and at Duke Street).

Some of the more expensive pieces included an Egyptian sculpture of Isis for £3.6m (October 2012), the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet for £2.2 (October 2010), and the portrait head of an Hellenistic ruler for £1m (October 2012).

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Due diligence searches and appropriate rigour

One of the recurring claims from dealers and auction-houses in the last year is that those from outside 'the trade' are spotting toxic antiquities. Members of the trade need to examine is why their due diligence searches are not picking up this material. Are they placing too much confidence in searchable databases? Are they aware that these databases will be unlikely to pick up archaeological material fresh out of the ground?

But then there are the other clues. For example, if the personal name on an Egyptian relief is linked to a known tomb in Egypt, it could be worth checking the publication. If the vendor of a group of material appears in published lists linked to the "Medici Conspiracy", then it is worth checking the material a little more carefully. If an object is similar to material that has been returned to Turkey, then ensure that the collecting history can be authenticated. If a lot is linked to a dealer known to have handled material whose collecting histories are suspect, then dig a little deeper.

The appropriate response from the members of the trade is to improve the rigour of their due diligence searches and to work with members of the academic community to protect our universal archaeological heritage.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Metal-detecting and archaeology

Displays in Lincoln © David Gill
The recent archaeological survey work at the Anglo-Saxon vicus at Rendlesham in Suffolk has reminded me of the contribution of controlled metal-detecting on archaeological sites. But the account of the discovery of this significant site is partly due to the unauthorised activity of metal-detectorists on the site.

The archaeological community needs to be reminded that there is a difference between scientifically excavated material and finds that are scooped out of the ground and literally carried away in a supermarket carrier bag. Contrast the difference between the Lenborough Hoard (and see my discussion here) and the Beau Street Hoard. I was full of praise for the excavation of the Beau Street Hoard (e.g. "It is a good reminder of the amount of information that can be gleaned from a properly excavated, conserved and studied Roman coin hoard").

As we start 2017, would it be possible for there to be a sensible discussion of how the archaeological heritage of England and Wales can be protected from unauthorised disturbance?

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Monday, January 2, 2017

New York Auctions: Overview

There has been a marked decrease in the value of antiquities sold at auction in New York during 2016. This is partly due to the splitting of sales between London and New York rather than the usual two sales a year. The combined sales of Sotheby's and Christie's in New York for 2016 were half that of the combined sales in both 2014 and 2015.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Ahead: 2017

As we look ahead for 2017 there are likely to be some key themes.

The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill is likely to complete its passage through Parliament and pass onto the statute book. However it is likely to be applicable to material coming from conflict areas in the Middle East and a new legal response will be required. I also remain unconvinced that there is sufficient resource within London (and certainly not outside it) to enforce the legislation. The Cultural Property APPG will be changing its focus to museums and there is likely to be discussion about repatriation.

It is not clear how Brexit negotiations and intentions will affect the protection of the UK's cultural property or co-operation with other European nations to enforce the restrictions on movement of recently surfaced cultural property. The Heritage Alliance is clearly watching this brief.

Due diligence is a theme that has emerged from the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. Although we hear that auction houses and galleries are conducting due diligence checks, it is also clear that suspect material continues to surface on the market (including known material from Syria). There is a need to move away from an over-reliance on art databases, and to replace it with solid research on the authenticated collecting histories.

Even so, I suspect that we will see more material identified from the Schinoussa, Medici and Becchina archives.

Heritage Crime is a continuing problem in the UK. I am acutely aware that the theft of lead from medieval churches in East Anglia is damaging the fabric of some of the finest heritage structures we have in the region. However it is also clear that there is a passive acceptance in most of the archaeological and heritage communities of the use of metal-detectors on archaeologically sensitive sites in England and Wales.

I am also aware that heritage more broadly, and archaeology more specifically, will need to be seen to be contributing to the economy of the UK (and indeed other countries). Some of these broader trends will be addressed though our research unit, Heritage Futures (heritagefutures.org.uk), in collaboration with Professor Ian Baxter.

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking back over 2016

Source: Schinousa Archive
This has been a year when more of my focus has been on the economic impact of heritage including an analysis of the economic contribution of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece. Last year I anticipated further developments around Syria and Northern Iraq, as well as on-going pillaging of archaeological sites in England and Wales. I also suspected that Madrid and the Michael C. Carlos Museum would not be handing over their disputed objects in a hurry (and so they can continue to receive a mention here).

However, some of the themes that have emerged.

Westminster
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Cultural Property has been meeting in Westminster. One of themes was damage to the archaeological record in the UK. Part of its business has been to prepare the legislation in order to ratify the Hague Convention. The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill started its way through Parliament and some of the debate was instructive. Some of the honing of the wording is underway. Lord Ashton discussed the Bill at the Heritage Alliance Day.

Returns to Italy
The head of Hades was returned to Italy from the J. Paul Getty Museum in January reminding us that disputed cultural property continues to reside in major museum collections. Material from a warehouse associated with Robin Symes has been returned consisting of 45 cases. This includes material linked to Giacomo Medici. Some 350 items have now been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections. Some of the material returned to Italy featured in the catalogue for the Sicily exhibition at the British Museum. The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen agreed to return a large number of objects to Italy.

Syria and Iraq
Channel 4 produced a programme on antiquities from Syria and Iraq. During the preparation for the programme the team identified a recorded lintel from Syria on sale in London.

Returns to Egypt
A relief of Seti I was returned from London, as was a relief from the temple of Hatshepsut. My overview of recent looting in Egypt was made available. Sarah Parcak is conducting important work on remote sensing to detect the extent of looting in Egypt (and elsewhere).

Greece
A network of suppliers was disrupted in Greece.

Parthenon Marbles
2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.

Metal-detecting in the UK
In January I observed that unauthorised and illegal metal-detecting had been taking place at one of the Roman Saxon Shore forts at Bradwell on Sea in Essex. Yet there is the public presentation of 'treasure hot-spots' without open acknowledgement that damage is being sustained to the archaeological record. An Anglo-Saxon find from Norfolk was declared Treasure.

Coins
Nathan Elkins published important work on coins and the market and specifically the ACCG Test Case. The BM has published a useful book on Hoards.

Due diligence
The conflict in Syria and northern Iraq has re-invigorated the debate about "due diligence" and auction-houses. Some of the commentators have overlooked some of the material appearing in London. I keep suggesting that we need to outline collecting histories for objects and to drop the use of the word "provenance". Two lots were withdrawn from Christie's in New York after concerns had been raised about their associations with Becchina and Medici. Christie's in New York sold a Roman mosaic in spite of concerns being raised about its earlier collecting history. In October the same auction house attempted to auction a sculpture that was identified from the Schinoussa Archive. An Attic amphora due to be auctioned at Christie's in London was identified from photographs taken during a police raid in Greece and subsequently withdrawn. Bonhams in London offered an ex-Chesterman terracotta that had been identified from the Medici Archive and subsequently withdrew it. This raised questions about the Chesterman Collection sold to a major UK university museum. Failure to address the issue undermined the position of dealers and galleries contributing to the discussions at the APPG on Cultural Property. This lack of due diligence also appears to apply to major museums that continue to acquire objects with incomplete collecting histories.

A Munich auction house offered a number of items with questionable collecting histories: some had been identified when they were offered by a gallery in New York.  A New York dealer has been charged in relation to handling material from south-east Asia.

Heritage Crime
Charges have been made over the theft of lead from churches in Norfolk. Dinosaur footprints on Skye were damaged.

Thefts from Museums
There was a theft from the Dunblane Museum.

Trafficking Culture
The Trafficking Culture project in Glasgow ended.

Publication Policy
The SBL published a new policy relating to publication of recently surfaced material.

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