Monday, November 5, 2007

Puzzled over Princeton

Kelly Lack ("Art pieces relinquished to Italy",, November 5, 2007) has reported on the recent agreement between Princeton and Italy.

I remain puzzled why the agreement is so keen to list seven objects (acquired between 1989 and 2000) that will remain in Princeton. These include a Corinthian plate ("anonymous gift in memory of Isabelle K. Raubitschek and to honor Antony E. Raubitschek"), and an Attic red-figured cup, attributed to the Brygos painter ("anonymous gift in honor of J. Robert Guy").

A university spokeswoman, Cass Cliatt, is quoted as saying:
Regarding these specific items [that the University is keeping], we can now say with a clear conscience that the works we have are rightfully ours.
While we can accept this statement at its face value, it does not really address the issue.

Why were these seven pieces investigated in the first place?

I find it hard to believe that the Italians listed seven items on a whim. Did these seven pieces appear in the Polaroids seized in Geneva? Five were museum purchases, one was an anonymous gift, and the seventh a gift of an individual who is linked with an object that had to be returned to Italy in 2002 (a piece alluded to by Lack).

As Princeton now has a "clear conscience" over these seven pieces, please will it now release, without any restriction, the histories (i.e. "provenances") of each of them?

Cliatt also notes of the other pieces that will be transferred to Italy:
[The agreement] recognizes that legal title rested with Princeton before the transfer, and that the works were purchased by Princeton in good faith.
"Legal title" and "good faith" clearly did not convince either the Italian authorities or the Princeton officials that the antiquities had been removed from Italy in a legal manner. Again it would be more than helpful for Princeton to release the information about the previous histories of the eight pieces - in just the same way that the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu released details of the objects that they have returned.

Lack misses the point by inserting the issue of the Parthenon marbles into her report. I have commented on this elsewhere. We know where and when the Parthenon marbles were displayed. We do not know and will never know the precise (or even general) archaeological contexts from which each of the Princeton objects was removed. There has been a loss of knowledge.

Inlaid dagger and sheath (bronze, iron, silver, gold, niello). Roman, ca. first-second centuries A.D. One of seven objects to remain permanently at the Princeton University Art Museum.

Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

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