Monday, November 17, 2008

Another recently-surfaced Minoan larnax

Earlier this autumn (fall) I noted the acquisition of a Minoan larnax by the Michael C. Carlos Museum in 2002. So it was interesting to observe the acquisition of another Minoan larnax by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH): The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Annual Report (2006-2007) p. 83 [pdf].

The Houston larnax is listed as "Gift of Shelby White". The only other information provided is the date (1600–1100 B.C.), material ("Terracotta and paint"), and dimensions (17 5/8 x 40 1/8 [45 x 102]). No inventory number is provided and there is no picture. Even the precise date of acquisition is unclear (though it was within the period 2006-2007).

Was this originally a loan? See Patricia C. Johnson, "Borrowing trouble; Long-term loans don't let museums off the hook", Houston Chronicle July 16, 2006: "The 11th loaned piece is a Minoan terracotta "larnax'' (a kind of bathtub/sarcophagus) dated 1600-1000 B.C., on long-term loan from another private collection". (The report was in the context of 10 Roman portraits from the Shelby White collection including one of Hadrian.) Or was this loan yet another recently-surfaced larnax?

Shelby White seems to have close links with MFAH:

Shelby White has been linked to

Remember also that earlier research with Christopher Chippindale suggested that 93% of the antiquities in the Shelby White and Leon Levy had no information about the find-spot. To Shelby White such research was just the presentation of "meaningless numbers". But history has shown that our research was meaningful given the record of returns.

So what is the collecting history of the Houston larnax? When and where did Shelby White acquire it? Or did she just provide the means for MFAH to purchase it from a third party? What is the collecting history of the larnax? Was the larnax known prior to 1970? What rigorous "due diligence" research did the curatorial staff of MFAH undertake?

These are not unreasonable questions to ask - and curatorial staff in Houston have been asked by email.

Such information needs to be disclosed. The MFAH as a member institution of the AAMD and should provide "full and prompt disclosure" and make "information readily available to all interested parties".

So why the silence?

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