The paper trail linked the activities of Italian tomb robbers, or tombaroli, to networks of art dealers who sold the artworks eventually to some of the greatest museums in the world, including the Cleveland Museum of Art.Litt interviews some of the museum staff. Among them is Timothy Rub the director:
On Wednesday, the Cleveland museum agreed to return 13 ancient artworks to Italy, based in part on evidence gleaned from the 1995 raid, according to Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian state lawyer who negotiated the deal.
But Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, said that lack of exculpatory evidence about an artwork's origins doesn't prove a wrongdoing was committed -- or that the work should be relinquished on demand.But this is why it is so important for the Cleveland Museum of Art to be transparent about its acquisitions. What were the recorded histories for the pieces? Which dealers handled the items? Did they pass through auctions? Who had consigned them? Studies of the returns are beginning to confirm the detail of the network of dealers through which such recently surfaced antiquities passed. The names of some dealers and even a conservator feature time and again.
"If I've inherited as director custody of an object that doesn't have a provenance before a certain date and somebody says, 'It's ours, give it back,' that's a pretty tough thing," he said. "I've got to ask you to make a case."
And Rubb's position reminds us why the due diligence process before acquisition is so important. Museums would not be in this position if their curatorial staff had checked if the histories of the pieces extended before 1970
There is a level of naivety expressed by Michael Horvitz, co-chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The world is filled with people who want to cast a taint over objects in order to try to get them back ... We don't want to get ourselves in a situation where every time somebody says, 'This object was sold to you by a dealer we don't like,' we just cave in.But museums need to recognise that there are some dealers who have been linked to recently-surfaced antiquities that have been returned to their countries of origin. Cleveland's unwillingness to disclose such histories does not reflect a spirit of transparency. And it is not the objects that are tainted: the "tainting" is attached to the museums that made the acquisitions.
While Medici's archive has been important, it is not the only dealer's archive that has been seized. Remember the paperwork associated with the return of antiquities from a warehouse in Basel to Italy: some 10000 further Polaroids are waiting to be processed. And then there are the Polaroids seized in Greece which have yet to be exploited to the same degree as Italy.
Curatorial staff should be going back through acquisitions to investigate their histories. The AAMD has developed an object register. This could be the appropriate vehicle to share that information if transparency is going to be the new characteristic in the post-Medici Conspiracy age.
Corinthian krater (formerly Cleveland Museum of Art 1990.81). Source: MiBAC.