Monday, November 26, 2007

The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum: some ethical issues

I have recently suggested, "The fascicules of the CVA for museums outside Greece and Italy map the history of the collecting of Greek pottery from the Grand Tourists of the 18th century to the tombaroli of the late 20th and early 21st centuries" (Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 226-27).

The recent returns of Greek pottery from North American museums to Italy has drawn attention to the problem of flawed acquisition policies that have allowed looted material to enter permanent collections. If the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (CVA) is to be a record of permanent collections two issues need to be addressed.

1. Loans. Loan collections have featured in the fascicules of the CVA from its earliest years. For example, the collection formed by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon was loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge University) and published by Winifred Lamb in the second fascicule of the CVA (1936). The collection was bequeathed to the museum (by Shannon) in 1937. The Kestner-Museum in Hannover included in CVA 2 (Deutschland 72) a red-figured cup attributed to Douris (and which appeared in Beazley's lists, archive no. 205161), ex-Swiss private collection, which is on "permanent" - whatever that means - loan. Should loan collections form part of the definitive publication record of permanent museum collections?

2. Recently Surfaced Material. The Kestner-Museum included in its CVA recently surfaced material that had been derived from the anonymous art market. Should the CVA encourage transparency and avoid anonymity?

I have suggested this:
The CVA is an ideal place to record the history of each object catalogued, especially given the contemporary concerns about widespread looting and the destruction of archaeological sites. The full record from the moment the pot emerged in an archaeological excavation or surfaced on the antiquities market should be documented.

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