Skip to main content

Cultural Ceasefire: is 1970 the right date?

Lee Rosenbaum ("My Ceasefire Proposals for the Cultural-Property Wars", Culturegrrl, November 19, 2007) has proposed a cultural ceasefire on the return of "illicit" antiquities. As part of that proposal she has posed the questions:
Should the known provenance have to go back to before the 1970 date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? Or should the date be in 1983, the year when the U.S. officially became a party to the UNESCO Convention?
I am not sure this takes account of the present situation.

We need to remember that the earliest object returned from Boston to Italy, a Lucanian nestoris, was acquired in 1971. Likewise the Roman fresco fragments were purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1971.

In fact if the 1983 date was used it would have excluded six of the thirteen antiquities from Boston, and at least twelve of the 40 items on the list from the Getty. (Princeton would have been unaffected.) The Euphronios krater (and part of the Hellenistic silver hoard) would not have been returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A more interesting question is this: would the 1983 date exclude the Athenian volute-krater in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) acquired from Robin Symes in 1983? And remember that the incoming director of MIA is Kaywin Feldman who also acts as secretary to The Association of Art Museum Directors which "recommends" that an archaeological object can be acquired if it has been out of its "probable" country of origin for ten years.

This idea that awareness of the problem of looted antiquities is a recent one recalls the quote from Shelby White, "It is hard to apply current standards to something that happened thirty years ago" (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007). But there was general awareness of the issue from December 1973 when the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) passed the resolution that included:
The Archaeological Institute of America believes that Museums can henceforth best implement such cooperation by refusing to acquire through purchase, gift, or bequest cultural property exported subsequent to December 30, 1973, in violation of the laws obtaining in the countries of origin.
This strengthened its 1970 resolution that included:
The Archaeological Institute of America calls upon its members, as well as educational institutions (universities and museums) in the United States and Canada, to refrain from purchasing and accepting donations of antiquities exported from their countries of origin in contravention to the terms of the UNESCO Draft Convention.
Christopher Chippindale and I earlier adopted 1973 in our research as a key date for acquisitions. But we had been considering lowering it to 1970 in the light of the successful actions by the Italian Government. A move to 1983 would, in my opinion, be a shift in the wrong direction.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.