Friday, February 1, 2008

Looking Back to the Icklingham Bronzes

Readers will know that I have been waiting for the release of details about the return of antiquities from the Shelby White collection to Italy. After all, which pieces can still be cited as "New York, private collection" - or will we now need to use, perhaps, "said to be Rome, Villa Guilia" or "reputedly in Tarquinia"? Somebody serious about collecting knows the importance of such information.

While I have been waiting ... I have been doing some background research on Shelby White and (the late) Leon Levy. John Browning, a farmer from Suffolk, England, published his thoughts on the looting of antiquities, the Icklingham bronzes, from his land.

In 1995 he wrote:
After very lengthy negotiations between my US lawyers and lawyers representing Leon Levy and Shelby White and the Ariadne Galleries the saga of the Icklingham Bronzes was settled some 18 months ago, and, due to some strange complications in documentation, a statement, prepared by all parties, concerning the settlement was never released at that time.
He actually read the press release at the 1993 conference. It concluded as follows:
As part of the settlement, Leon Levy and Shelby White have agreed to bequeath the Bronzes to the British Museum upon the latter of their deaths. The remaining terms of the settlement are confidential.
Browning added:
This statement still has not been released by any other parties!

Browning was quoted in The Financial Times (Gerald Cadogan, "Bronzes bequeathed to BM", January 30, 1993):
A bequest to a third party is not really my idea of what to do when you're caught with your trousers down. But the goods will come back to their country of origin. That is what is important.
But the interview for the New York Times (Rita Reif, "Ready-Made Collections For a Hefty Price", January 31, 1993) reflected his frustration:
It is my wish that they will not be looked at as Mr. Nice Guys.
It looks as if we seeing a standard approach to restrict transparency in such transactions.

Reference
Browning, J. 1995. "A layman's attempts to precipitate change in domestic and international 'heritage' laws." In Antiquities trade or betrayed: legal, ethical and conservation issues, edited by K. W. Tubb, pp. 145-49. London: Archetype.

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