Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Cleveland Museum of Art: Moving Towards "a Happy Conclusion"?

Two weeks ago ANSA issued a statement quoting Francesco Rutelli ("Beni Culturali: Bondi, su di me enorme responsabilità", and "Beni Culturali: Rutelli, accordo fatto con Museo Cleveland", May 9, 2008). Rutelli appeared to suggest that an agreement with the Cleveland Museum of Art had been concluded, and that 16—not 8 as had originally been thought—antiquities would be returning to Italy.

Steven Litt ("Italians, museum aren't on same page", Plain Dealer (Cleveland), May 10, 2008) has clarified the situation by quoting a museum spokesperson:
No agreement has been reached, nor has the museum agreed to transfer any objects to Italy.
There have been persistent rumours about the list of antiquities under discussion ("Cleveland: the Italian List?"): some 23 items have been placed under the spotlight.

Some have been quick to condemn Rutelli for using the media to put pressure on Cleveland (and other institutions) ("Cleveland Kerfuffle: Italy Again Engages in Repatriation-by-Press", CultureGrrl, May 10, 2008). But there are some key questions to ask.

Which are the eight antiquities sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art by Robert Hecht? What are the previous histories of these pieces? Did they follow the same or similar pathways through the market as other antiquities returned to Italy from other institutions in North America?

What are the collecting histories for the bronze Lar and Herakles (1987.2-3) “purchased together and conceivably found [together]"? Or what about the Roman bronze Victoria with Cornucopia (1984.25)?

Why has the museum been so silent about these controversial antiquities? All it needs to do is to release details of their acquisitions that would demonstrate the due diligence process.

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