Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shelby White: "it’s not as though she is hiding anything"

Back in 2006 Frances Marzio, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, was interviewed for The New York Observer (Jason Horowitz, "How Hot Vase It?", February 19, 2006). The context was the investigation by Italian authorities into objects in the Shelby White collection including an Attic red-figured calyx-krater attributed to the Eucharides painter.
The krater is one of several objects named some time ago in documents obtained by The New York Observer, in which Italian prosecutors charge that several key treasures in Ms. Shelby’s collection were mined illegally from Italian soil.
Horowitz continued:
On Monday, Paolo Ferri, a leading prosecutor in the Italian investigation, told The Observer that his team had unearthed fresh evidence on Jan. 31 linking new items in Ms. White’s collection to the Aboutaam family, the owners of the Phoenix Ancient Art gallery and the target of several investigations and convictions in Egypt and New York. ...

“Now we have new documents through Aboutaam,” said Mr. Ferri. “We have photographs and paper trails that link even more of the Levy-White collection to the Aboutaams and [Giacomo] Medici ... The connection is very strong.”

He would not specify which new pieces in Ms. White’s collection were coming under scrutiny as a result of the Aboutaam evidence.
How did Shelby White respond back in 2006?
Let me put it this way: We bought in good faith, we published everything, we supported archeology, and we supported conservation ... We acted in good faith, and if we did anything wrong, I am prepared to address that.
And that probably explains why on mid-January she handed over nine antiquities to Italian authorities (and a tenth will follow). (We are still waiting for the publication of the list, though nine of the pieces are going on display in Rome.)

So it was back in 2006 that Frances Marzio was asked about her views on Shelby White:
“In the case of people like Shelby White, it’s not as though she is hiding anything,” said Frances Marzio, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. “She is lending things internationally, publishing things. I don’t see any deviousness; she funds excavations. If you don’t put things out there, how will we learn about their history? You take a risk by putting things out there. People could claim it.”
What we now know is that at the time a bronze krater was on loan from Shelby White to Houston.

Frances Marzio reassures us about Shelby White:
it’s not as though she is hiding anything.
Shelby White has been quoted as saying:
I want to be helpful.
So there is nothing to hide and Shelby White wants to be helpful.

Please could the collecting history for the bronze krater in Houston be disclosed?

Image

Attic red-figured calyx-krater attributed to the Eucharides painter. Once in the Shelby White collection; once on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; perhaps handed over to Italian authorities. Source: The New York Observer.

Crawling out of the Blast Crater: Who Owns History?

Richard Lacayo has reflected on the recent return of antiquities to Italy and asks the question, "Who Owns History?" (Time, February 21, 2008). Through the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, museums (and private collectors) in North America (and in Europe and the Far East) acquired antiquities that had been recently looted from sites in Italy. And then the Italian authorities asked for them back.

Why?

Not because the returning pieces could be given back their contexts when displayed on Italian soil.

But because (some) museum directors, (some) curators, (some) dealers and (some?) collectors did not believe that acquiring recently surfaced archaeological material had a direct link with the destruction of archaeological sites in Italy.

And then came the break through with Giacomo Medici. And one after another institutions, two dealers (one in London and the other in New York) and even a collector have handed over a sample from their collections. Lacayo puts it so well:
In the months that followed, one museum after another went through something like the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross stages of accepting death. They bridled, they denied, they negotiated. Finally, they came to terms. In the case of the Getty, it agreed to return 39 objects in short order but got a temporary reprieve on the goddess until 2010.
So are we entering a new era?

Lacayo thinks so:
I'm betting now it will be a long time before a U.S. museum director buys another ancient treasure with a wink and a nod or anything less than a documented-ownership trail longer than an Old Testament genealogy and much more credible.
But why acquire when you can have long-term loans?

But let us move on. Lacayo next presents:
the ordinary museumgoer, who has a crucial stake--being able to see the widest spectrum of culture that humankind has produced.
There is nothing wrong with this. I know what an impact the British Museum had on my own view of the ancient world. But should "
the ordinary museumgoer" feel comfortable with viewing potentially looted antiquities? (The exception must be the "Nostoi" exhibition in Rome that celebrates the homecoming of so many objects ripped from Italian soil.)

Indeed
"the ordinary museumgoer" should feel distinctly uncomfortable when archaeological material loses its context that can never be recovered. We do not know the last resting place of the Sarpedon krater --- and that is a loss to human culture. Looting has intellectual consequences.

But Does Lacayo get sidetracked by the ownership issue? Should the bust of Nefertiti be in Cairo or Berlin? Should the Pergamon altar be in Turkey? Are the Parthenon marbles best displayed in a purpose-built museum that has a visual link with the Athenian akropolis? But in one sense there are no intellectual consequences linked to a decision to transfer ownership. Nefertiti was found in a sculptor's workshop at Amarna. The Pergamon altar dominated the skyline of the Attalid royal city. The Parthenon was constructed during the 440s and 430s BCE.

But we do not know where the acrolithic female statue of "Aphrodite" acquired by the Getty was found. Where was the tomb in which the ex-Princeton's red-figured psykter was placed? This information is lost.

There need to be solutions and Lacayo rehearses the issues of partage and leasing.

But he is wrong about one thing. It was not the "Rutelli campaign" that created the "blast crater" from which these North American public institutions are now emerging. It was the greed and short-sightedness of (some) museum curators, (some) directors, (some) trustees, and (some ?) benefactors who wanted to "own" part of antiquity.

Image
The reconstructed Pergamon Altar in Berlin. © David Gill

Homecomings: North American Private Collections

The exhibition of antiquities returned to Italy ("Nostoi: Capolavori ritrovati") now includes material from these four private North American collections:
The exhibition serves as a reminder that private individuals, as much as public institutions, need to conduct a due diligence process when developing their private collections.

Homecomings: Additions to the Exhibition

Elisabetta Povoledo ("Tempelsman Sculptures Return to Italy", New York Times, February 26, 2008) has reported on the display of the acrolithic sculptures once owned by Maurice Tempelsman and previously on loan to the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville. They will be displayed alongside other ex-Tempelsman material in the "Nostoi" exhibition in Rome.

Povoledo also reports:
The [Tempelsman] statues ... arrived in Rome on Friday along with nine classical antiquities from the private collection of the New York philanthropist Shelby White that were ceded to Italy in January under a separate pact. Italy says Ms. White’s artifacts were also looted from Italian soil.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Relief from Cyrenaica Recovered in Paris

It has been reported ("Stolen Piece of Antiquity Retrieved", Mathaba, February 23, 2008) that a Roman relief showing Hermes (?, "Hurmuz"), stolen from an archaeological store in Libya, was recovered from an auction in Paris.
The director of the Board of Antiquities said the piece was found in Shahat during excavating work in 1973 and disappeared in 1999.

Search led to the piece being in the possession of Athens Hall Auction House owned by an American with branches in London and New York.

It was disclosed that the piece was acquired by the Hall in June from a antiquities trader in Zurich, Switzerland.
I wonder if the report is a little confused and has lost detail in translation. I know of no auction house called "Athens Hall". But I presume this is an antiquities dealer with branches in New York and London.

Shahat is otherwise known as Cyrene, so it is safe to presume that this theft is linked to material from the site (Mark Rose, "Stolen Sculptures from Cyrene, Libya", Archaeology, January 30, 2001).
Alerted of the theft by Emanuela Fabbricotti of the Italian Mission to Cyrene, White and Kane created a website, www.cyrenethefts.org, on which they posted information about the loss his January 22. Two heads--one of a male and the other possibly of Demeter--were relocated within as many days of the appearance of the website, thanks, says White, "to the energetic interventions of Jean-David Cahn, president of the International Association of Ancient Art Dealers, and Jerome M. Eisenberg, director of the Royal-Athena Galleries." The case highlights the potential of the web in publicizing the theft of antiquities and helping in the recovery of stolen artifacts.
The website is no longer functioning.

Donald White issued this statement back in 2001 [archived]:
In 1969 an international team of investigators began excavating the Extramural Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone at Cyrene in the province of Cyrenaica of what is today eastern Libya. The project was begun under the sponsorship of the University of Michigan's Kelsey Museum and was taken over in 1973 by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Fieldwork ceased in 1981 after nine seasons of activity directed by Penn's Dr. Donald White, largely because of the deteriorating relations between the governments of Libya and the United States. During the years between 1969 and 1981 a very substantial quantity of stone sculpture was unearthed from the sanctuary's ground. Professor Susan Kane at Oberlin is the principal investigator responsible for the publication of this material. It now our sad duty to report that a major theft of this material was carried out some time in late 1999 or early in 2000. A gang of persons as yet largely unidentified broke into the University of Pennsylvania's storerooms through a broken window and removed what appears to have been a total of 15 marble heads. These objects represent some of the most interesting and archaeologically valuable artifacts found by us in the course of the entire excavation. A list of the stolen pieces was provided to us by Professor Emanuela Fabbricotti of the Italian Mission to Cyrene in November 2000. While the current location of the stolen pieces is still a matter of speculation, it is likely that they were transported across the border into Egypt fairly soon after the initial theft. None of the principals responsible for the thefts have been apprehended by the Libyan authorities, and many details surrounding this event remain obscure owing to the on-going absence of direct communications between us and the Libyan Department of Antiquities headquartered in Tripoli. Fortunately we possess a complete documentation of all of the pieces reportedly lost. In the meantime we appeal to the public at large as well as to all of our scholarly colleagues to report to us any information they might have about the missing pieces.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Bronze Krater on Loan to Houston: Poll

A bronze krater is on loan from Shelby White to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (and its presence in Houston has been confirmed by the curatorial staff).

Should the museum disclose the collecting history?

I would suggest that the answer is yes. Why?
  1. In February 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art" (also cited as a report on "Incoming Loans of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art"). As part of the process of considering a loan of archaeological material "museums should (emphasis mine) inquire into their provenance history, seeking to obtain all relevant information from the lender, and an appropriate warranty of their legal ownership of the work" (II.C). (See "Loans of Archaeological Material").
  2. Loans to public institutions should be transparent. (See "Loan Exhibitions and Transparency")
  3. Long-term loans "with incomplete relevant provenance histories should be evaluated under criteria comparable to those for acquisitions" (AAMD "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art"). (The curatorial staff tell me that the krater has been in Houston for four years.)
  4. Shelby White had to return ten of her antiquities to Italy in January 2008. (The list has not yet been released and that indicates an unwillingness to release key information.)
  5. On Shelby White's death, Romano-British bronzes ("The Icklingham Bronzes") in her collection will apparently be bequeathed to the British Museum.
  6. Research by Christopher Chippindale and myself (and published in the American Journal of Archaeology) suggested that 93% of the antiquities in the Shelby White & Leon Levy exhibition "Glories of the Past" had no stated find-spot.
Have the curatorial staff of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston a professional duty to disclose the collecting history for this bronze krater?

What do you think? Take the poll now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Loan Exhibitions and Transparency

In 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued guidelines on the accepting the loan of archaeological material. Hugh Eakin ("Museums Assert Right On Showing Antiquities", New York Times, February 25, 2006) was quick to comment on them, noting the context for two contemporary collections of classical antiquities:
The issue is particularly delicate as foreign governments press claims on works from two of the most prominent private American collections, the Lawrence A. and Barbara Fleischman collection and the Leon Levy and Shelby White Collection. The J. Paul Getty Museum displayed the Fleischman collection before acquiring it in 1996, and some works from the Levy-White collection are on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The issue was demonstrably delicate as parts of the Fleischman collection are now on display in Rome, and part of the Shelby White collection has been handed over to Italian authorities (though the precise list has yet to be disclosed more than one month on).

Eakin continued:
Some museum directors argue that the current wave of antiquities claims against museums and collectors actually resulted from active efforts by museums to display the works and publish articles about them.
He quoted Peter C. Marzio, the director of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and a member of the AAMD working party that drew up the guidelines on loans:
That's the ultimate irony ... Most of these claims would never have been made if the institutions and the collectors have not been this open and transparent.
It is clear that the publication of antiquities from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, and the Shelby White and Levy White collections have allowed Italian authorities to identify objects shown in the Polaroids seized in the Geneva Freeport, and thus establish a link with Giacomo Medici. Hopefully Marzio and other responsible museum directors would condemn the deliberate looting of archaeological sites to supply objects for the antiquities market. We are not talking about chance finds, or pots that have been collecting dust in a Grand Tourist's stately home.

I also observe that Marzio was soon embroiled in an issue over archaeological loans soon after the publication of the AAMD report (Patricia C. Johnson, "Borrowing trouble; Long-term loans don't let museums off the hook", Houston Chronicle, July 16, 2006). The issue then was over the loan of ten Roman portraits from "the controversial Shelby White Levy" (as Johnson phrased it). Shelby White was said to have asserted that "all the antiquities in her collection were bought in good faith". Indeed, Jasper Gaunt, of the Carlos Museum at Emory University, reported that some of the sculptures could be traced back to the eighteenth century and had substantial documentation.

Be that as it may, Shelby White has still had to hand over some of her antiquities to the Italian authorities, and she is said to have indicated that some Roman-British bronzes, apparently looted from Suffolk, England, will be left to the British Museum on her death.

Johnson quoted Frances Marzio, a curator in Houston:
Policies on loans are very clear ... For a traveling exhibition, the organizing institution is responsible for documenting provenance. For long-term loans, the responsibility is ours as borrower.
So, if long-term loans are the responsibility of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, can I ask some simple questions about a bronze krater that curatorial staff at Houston tell me has been in their collection for some four years, a length of time most would consider to be "long-term"? The krater in question is on loan from Shelby White.

Please could a member of the curatorial staff at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, release the "documenting provenance" for this krater? And by that I mean information about when it was acquired by Shelby White (and Leon Levy), the name of the dealer, the names for former owners, documented dates of surfacing and display, and the reported find-spot.

The AAMD Guidelines on the loan of archaeological material called for transparency. Indeed, Peter C. Marzio, helped to phrase this report:
AAMD supports the open exchange of information among researchers and institutions as they collaborate on loans, exhibitions and other scholarly projects. Through this process, the most complete, accurate and useful information about works of art becomes available to a broad public.
So, in the spirit of "the open exchange of information", please could I have some "accurate and useful information" about this krater?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The 1970 UNESCO Convention and Local Laws

The objects returned from North American museums to Italy seem to have surfaced after the 1970 UNESCO Convention. This is in spite of the USA not signing up to the Convention until 1983. (The UK was quite a bit later in 2002.) There are advocates of the 1983 cut off point but the Italian Government has been effective in applying the 1970 deadline. (See "Cultural Ceasefire: is 1970 the right date?")

But some disputed cultural property could have surfaced before that crucial date. Take for example these three examples:
  • The Lydian Hoard returned to Turkey from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (see "Bonham's, Lydian Silver and a Code of Ethics" a related piece offered by Bonham's in London in 2007)
  • The Keros Haul from the Cycladic islands in Greece
  • The monumental Roman bronze portrait statues from Bubon in Turkey
Can notorious acts of looting be overlooked because they apparently took place before 1970?

Is the 1970 merely a helpful and convenient marker? Is it hard for a museum (or a private collector) acquiring antiquities since 1970 to say that they were unaware of the issues?

And where do national laws on antiquities fit into all of this?

And what about objects that were acquired before the creation of modern nation states?

Marion True and Greece: The Rome Trial Continues

The Rome trial of Marion True has continued (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Antiquities Trial Continues in Rome", New York Times, February 21, 2008). Daniela Rizzo has been giving evidence in court as a prosecution witness.
A prosecution witness painstakingly presented the court with photographs and documents on Wednesday in an effort to establish that more than a dozen looted artifacts had made their way into the Getty’s collection.
Some of the objects illustrated in court are now exhibited in Rome,
"Nostoi: Capolavori Ritrovati": 43 items were formerly in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum. These include 11 pieces formerly in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection (one of the returning Roman wall-painting fragments appears to be from the same room as a fragment returned by Shelby White), and three from the Maurice Tempelsman collection.

Many of these returning objects were acquired during the curatorship of Marion True (see "Marion True: some preliminary thoughts on the New Yorker Interview").

Commenting on images of objects clearly fresh out of the ground, Rizzo said:
If it came from an authorized dig, it would say so and give a date ... The fact that it doesn’t makes you think, doesn’t it?
Indeed it does.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Operation "Ulisse": Further Antiquities Returning to Italy

The LA Times ("Italy shows off seized artifacts", February 20, 2008) has reported on the return of some 400 antiquities that have just returned to Italy.

This is part of the outcome of the three year duration Operation "Ulisse" noted in the Italian press earlier this week ("GDF Roma recupera reperti, c'è affresco Pompeiano", ANSA, February 19, 2008). It is said that the objects were removed from archaeological sites in Tuscany (sc. ancient Etruria) and Lazio, and had then moved to Milan, Geneva and Brussels.
Some of the most precious antiquities, including the fragmented fresco, were found at an elegant Paris mansion owned by a French publishing magnate, whose name was not disclosed. The Italian authorities said they had pressed charges against 31 people, including the publisher.
Among the recovered items are:
  • "An ancient mosaic of a dark-haired boy"; "a virtually intact mosaic showing a young boy with cropped black hair and large black eyes"
  • "a fresco from Pompeii"; "The fragments show gardens, fountains and parts of a villa that was once home to Poppea Sabina, the wife of Emperor Nero." (ANSA identifies the location as Oplontis.)
  • "Etruscan goblets"
  • "large Greek vases" (some, according to AP, "Italians recover looted ancient artifacts", IHT, February 19, 2008, from Apulia)
  • a Greek kalpis
Is the trade in antiquities dead? It looks as if it is still very much alive.

Image
Poppaea's Villa at Oplontis (from ANSA)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Bronze Krater in the Levy-White Collection

I can remember how moved I was when I saw the "Vix krater" for the first time. It was displayed in a darkened room at the heart of an exhibition, "Die Hallstattkultur: Frühform europäischer Einheit", in Steyr, Austria (1980). Such complete archaic bronze kraters are few and far between (though the cast attachments from others have survived).

Winifred Lamb, in Greek and Roman Bronzes (1929), had a section on archaic "Bronze Vases" and noted:
The surviving bronze vases are few, but those of which the provenance is known still fewer. Fewest of all are the vases which can, like pottery, be associated with excavation (p. 133).
She also noted,
An even more magnificent crater ... was discovered, during the last months of the war [sc. 1918], in a cemetery north of Lake Ochrida (p. 135).
The find-spot was Trebenishte (in the present Republic of Macedonia, close to the present frontier with Albania).

Such archaic kraters are rare which is why there is so much interest in the one on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Its present proprietor is Shelby White. This appears to be the krater discussed by Conrad M. Stibbe in a review article, "The krater from Vix again" (in his Agalmata: Studien zur griechisch-archaischen Bronzekunst. BABesch. Suppl. Leiden: Peeters, 2006 [Google Books]). In his discussion of the unique nature of the volute-krater from Trebenishte (p. 318), he appends a footnote (p. 321 n. 57):
We have now a second bronze volute krater with the same pattern on its foot. See my forthcoming publication in the volume in memory of Leon Levy.
This newly surfaced krater appears to be important. So it would be helpful to have some answers to the following:
  • Does the Shelby White krater have a reported find-spot?
  • When was the Shelby White krater acquired? Who sold it?
  • When did the Shelby White krater first appear?
  • Has it passed through the hands of any other collectors?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Koreschnica Krater

Over the last week the press in the Republic of Macedonia have been discussing the looting of an archaic cemetery at Koreshnica some ten years or so ago. Pasko Kuzman, director of the Cultural Heritage Protection Office (CHPO) of the Republic of Macedonia, has traced a bronze krater (of "Trebeniste type") to a private collection in New York.

For older material on this see "A Bronze Krater from the Republic of Macedonia".

The Cleveland Apollo: New Comments

The bronze Cleveland Apollo has surfaced in the news again (Steven Litt, "Gaps in history of Cleveland museum's Apollo make it a focus of debate over global antiquities trade", Cleveland.com, February 17, 2008). This statue appears to be separate from the list of antiquities that have emerged as a result of the Hecht/True trial in Rome (see "Will the Cleveland Museum of Art be Next?", January 28, 2008).

Details of the acquisition are provided on the Cleveland Museum of Art website ("Cleveland Museum of Art Acquires Rare Monumental Ancient Bronze Sculpture of Apollo Sauroktonos", press release issued on June 22, 2004).
The statue had been a part of a private estate in the eastern part of Germany, later to become communist East Germany (GDR), well before World War II. The work was installed in the garden and considered to be late 18th or 19th century.

After German reunification in 1990, Ernst-Ulrich Walter reclaimed his family's estate and rediscovered the sculpture in pieces. In 1994, Dr. Lucia Marinescu, former Director of the National History Museum of Romania first viewed the work in fragments while touring the estate. In 1994 the sculpture was sold and subsequently reassembled and restored. In May 2003, Dr. Marinescu presented a paper on the sculpture at the 16th International Congress of Antique Bronzes. The work was acquired from the Geneva gallery of Phoenix Ancient Art S.A.
Further analysis claimed to have added this information:
Preliminary scientific tests on the statue and base show that the sculpture was excavated well before 1900. The base of the sculpture dates from the 17th-19th century. Additional tests are ongoing.
This has now been clarified. Timothy Rub, the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Michael Bennett, the museum's curator of ancient Greek and Roman art, supplied the statement:
scientific tests performed since the museum bought the work have shown that the lead solder used to join the piece to its Renaissance-era base is in the vicinity of 100 years old.
But as Litt points out, this scientific report is not in the public domain and so no firm conclusions can be drawn by scholars from outside the museum.

The statue hit the headlines in 2006 when Greece drew attention to its collecting history (Helena Smith, "It's art squad v tomb raiders as Greece reclaims its pillaged past", Guardian, July 21, 2006). Donna Brock, speaking for the Cleveland Museum of Art, was reported:
[We] acquired the Apollo ... after over a year of extensive research. An international team of specialists thoroughly considered the acquisition from legal, art-historical, and technical perspectives, including laboratory testing. An emphasis was placed on research into its history.
Ali Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art was also quoted,
We stand by its provenance.
Greece refused to let items from its museums, notably the bronze from Marathon, be displayed alongside the Cleveland Apollo in an exhibition of work attributed to the Greek sculptor Praxiteles at the Louvre (Guy Weill Goudchaux, "Praxiteles & Co un-Ltd: the Louvre's ambitious exhibition on the great 4th-century BC sculptor has suffered from Greek cultural blackmail", Apollo, vol. 165, June 1, 2007).
Its success or otherwise has been affected by the decision earlier this year by the Archaeological Museum in Athens that it would not lend the famous Ephebe of Marathon, discovered in the sea in 1925. This was the Greeks' right. However, their government has also been responsible for another notable absence, the only known large-scale bronze version of the Apollo Sauroktonos ('the lizard slayer'), from the Cleveland Museum of Art. A few months ago, the provenance of this sculpture, which the museum bought in 2004, was described as 'dubious' in the Greek press, following the lead of the country's ministry of culture. But the Apollo is from an old German collection, as the exhibition catalogue reveals. Technical analysis demonstrates that its base is a century old. Yet the Greek authorities made it clear that if the Louvre accepted the loan they would no longer lend to French museums.

Thus the cultural patrimony witch-hunt that has spread from the British Museum to the Metropolitan and the Getty has reached France. If any exhibition deserves the loan of the Cleveland bronze it is the Louvre's. Comparison with the Ephebe of Marathon would have revealed, as photographs cannot, if it is an early or late copy of Praxiteles. Greek nationalism is now threatening the freedom of exhibition curators. This is surely intolerable. It is time that the great museums of Europe and America made a united stand against cultural blackmail. But would the Louvre participate? Despite the way it has been treated, it has agreed that the exhibition can travel to the new museum on the Acropolis in Athens.
But is it "cultural blackmail" for Greece to raise concerns about a statue that does not yet appear to have convincing documentation prior to 1994?

Hicham Aboutaam, of Phoenix Ancient Art, was quoted (
Ron Stodghill, "Do You Know Where That Art Has Been?", New York Times, March 18, 2007):
The Apollo was proven to have been in circulation more than 100 years ago. The Greeks are not saying that the Apollo shouldn't be here or that it was stolen. It is just their way of scoring a P.R. coup.
An international conference is being planned. But the Apollo's archaeological context has been lost for good. But we look forward to the release of documentation that demonstrates conclusively that the statue was displayed in a German garden during the nineteenth century and certainly prior to 1994.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Bronze Krater on Loan to Houston

There is a bronze krater on loan from the Shelby White collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. (I am grateful to the curatorial staff for confirming the details last week.)

It arrived for the travelling exhibition, The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art (February 22 - May 16, 2004), and then featured in the Houston exhibition, Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White and Leon Levy (January 29 - July 10, 2005).

It continues to be displayed.

Prior to Houston, the krater had been exhibited in The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art at Princeton University Art Museum (October 11, 2003 - January 18, 2004).

The krater was not included in the exhibition catalogue:
The krater has now been in Houston for four years (less a week) so can be considered a long-term loan.

Loans are covered by the February 2006 "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art" issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). The MFA Houston is a member.

As part of the due diligence process, according to these guidelines,
museums should inquire into their provenance history, seeking to obtain all relevant information from the lender, and an appropriate warranty of their legal ownership of the work.
Long-term loans "with incomplete relevant provenance histories should be evaluated under criteria comparable to those for acquisitions" (AAMD).

So some questions need to be asked:
  • When did Shelby White (and Leon Levy) acquire this krater?
  • Who sold it to them?
  • Who conserved the krater?
  • Are the previous owners or dealers known?
  • When was it first known?
  • What is the published record?
  • Does it have a reported find-spot?
  • What due diligence process has been undertaken to receive this long-term loan?
I contacted Houston last week with a similar range of questions - but there has been no acknowledgment.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Loans of Archaeological Material

In February 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art". There are several points to note.
1.C. AAMD deplores the illicit and unscientific excavation of archaeological materials and ancient art from archaeological sites, the destruction or defacing of ancient monuments, and the theft of works of art from individuals, museums, or other repositories.
I would avoid using the word "excavation" when clearly illicit and unscientific looting is meant.

There are positive things to say about collaboration and transparency:
1.E. AAMD supports the open exchange of information among researchers and institutions as they collaborate on loans, exhibitions and other scholarly projects. Through this process, the most complete, accurate and useful information about works of art becomes available to a broad public.
As a researcher I have been impressed with the generosity of some museum curatorial staff, notably at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

AAMD makes the case for loans:
1.F. ... Lenders of archaeological material and ancient art provide a valued public service by making their works available to a broader public and to scholars. ... Loans from private collections also provide new opportunities for the public and scholars to study the art of the ancient world, and in particular are an important means of bringing significant works of art into public view where they can contribute to ongoing dialogue and reassessment.
Loans from private collections can be valuable for studying the material culture of the ancient world. But private collections rarely have items from excavated contexts. An example would be the Middle Kingdom blue faience hippopotamus in the George Ortiz collection that comes from an excavated tomb and passed into the Revd William Macgregor collection in return for his support for the archaeological project.

But there are problems with material from private collections: think of the exhibitions of objects from the Shelby White and Leon Levy ("Glories of the Past") and the Barbara and Laurence Fleischman ("A Passion for Antiquities") collections that were explored in detail by Gill and Chippindale in the American Journal of Archaeology (2000).

AAMD then steps into a more difficult area.
1.G. AAMD recognizes that archaeological material and works of ancient art for which provenance information is incomplete or unobtainable may deserve to be publicly displayed, conserved, studied, and published because of their rarity, historical importance, and aesthetic merit. Importantly, in addition to inspiring fresh scholarship, the display of such works in public museums may serve to facilitate the discovery of further information regarding their ownership and provenance history.
So could it be argued that a museum should display an archaeological object which has an incomplete history - I dislike the word provenance which is, in my opinion, imprecise - because it is rare, historically important or beautiful? I would, though, have to accept that the public display of objects from the White-Levy and Fleischman collections has brought to light "further information regarding their ownership and provenance history" - which is why objects from these two private collections have been handed back to Italy.

AAMD then reviews legal considerations and draws attention to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, though there is more to the trade in looted antiquities than items removed from "an official archaeological excavation" (II.B). AAMD also agrees to abide by the 1970 date rather than the 1983 date of ratification. (And the recent returns of antiquities to Italy have shown 1970 to be the marker.)

As part of the process of considering a loan of archaeological material "museums should (emphasis mine) inquire into their provenance history, seeking to obtain all relevant information from the lender, and an appropriate warranty of their legal ownership of the work" (II.C). Is this tight enough? Is it possible to have "legal ownership" of objects which were removed illegally from their country of origin after the 1970 UNESCO Convention? The return of antiquities to Italy has shown that objects purchased "legally" from dealers in Basel, London and New York do not have a secure history (or "provenance").

AAMD recommends a due diligence process. Has the piece been published? Has it been exhibited? Are there any rival claims to ownership? Does it appear in any database of stolen items? But bear in mind items looted from archaeological sites (and not previously known) do not tend to be registered in such databases.

There is then discussion of loan exhibitions and the preparation of "a list of the ownership histories of the works in the exhibition". Are these public documents to accompany a public exhibition? Are they available on request (in the spirit of 1.F)? And what if a loan appears in an exhibition but is not featured in the catalogue?

The AAMD report then addresses "Incomplete Information on Relevant Ownership / Provenance History". Display is considered acceptable if it "may best serve the interests of the object, the culture it represents and the public". Long-term loans "with incomplete relevant provenance histories should be evaluated under criteria comparable to those for acquisitions".

The purpose of this AAMD report was the "emphasize the need for openness, transparency and due diligence in research on and negotiation for loans".

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Oscilla and the Miho Museum

I have been reflecting on which museum would be the next to return antiquities to Italy. Francesco Rutelli has pointed a finger at the Miho Museum in Japan.

Most sources are quiet on this lead, but last June there was a hint from the Hecht/True trial in Rome (Kazuki Matsuura, "Witness fingers Japanese museum in Italian art-trafficking case", The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo), June 4, 2007 [archived]).

It was reported:
The expert witness for the prosecution in a trial in Italy over the trafficking of stolen art objects to the United States has claimed a Japanese museum is housing items unearthed illegally in Italy.

As the witness named the Miho Museum in Koka, Shiga Prefecture, the Italian prosecutors likely will begin a full-scale investigation into possible trafficking of stolen items into Japan, sources said.
An example was cited:
some artwork housed in the Miho Museum, including a decorative sculpture of marble from ancient Rome, known as an oscilla, were identified from pictures of stolen items seized from a smuggling syndicate by the prosecutors.
I presume the 'pictures' were the Polaroids seized in Geneva.

But what about the oscilla?

Intriguingly, the Miho Museum has "Two Oscilla with Mythological Figures". They are 34 cm in diameter and made of marble.

The catalogue entry describes them as follows (and I have put line breaks in to make the text easier to follow):
On one side of tondo A is a standing, bearded satyr wearing an animal's skin tied around his neck and gesturing toward a theater mask that is positioned atop a rocky outcrop. On the reverse, a youthful Artemis wearing a chiton and tall boots sits on a rock and aims her arrow at a target outside the frame. Her hound, at her feet, leans forward, sniffing the air.

Tondo B likewise juxtaposes a generic Dionysiac figure shown standing and a specific deity depicted seated on a rock. This time, a fully draped maenad holds a thyrsus with her right hand as she leans against a stepped pillar in front of which a small herm is placed. The other side of the sculpture features a youthful, semidraped Ganymede holding out a bowl to a thirsty and eager Zeus, who has transformed himself into an eagle.
The Miho Museum catalogue entry makes the point that parallels for such oscilla are known from "excavations at Pompeii and other Vesuvian sites destroyed in the eruption of A.D. 79".

So what is the source for these oscilla in the Miho Museum? Where were they found? Was it Italy? Which dealer sold them to the museum?

Or are there other oscilla in the collection?

Image from the Miho Museum.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Coins and Cyprus: Update on the FOIA Request

Back in November I noted the FOIA request served on the US State Department by:
The ACCG website (Feb 4, 2008) reports on the schedule for disclosure: "requested records may be released or exemptions may be requested no later than May 9, 2008". So it looks as if we will have to wait.

Needless to say, nothing is posted on the IAPN or PNG websites.

Portable Antiquities Scheme: Straw Poll Results

Last month I drew attention to the straw poll conducted by Current Archaeology. The results are out (CA 216 March 2008). 96% voters were 'in favour of a nationally co-ordinated PAS scheme and database'. There were 527 votes.

There is still voting on the website. 690 people have voted with 94.2% in favour of the national scheme.

The Downing Street petition closes on this Wednesday, February 13. UK citizens can add their names to the 2025 existing signatories.

Learning from the Gaps in the Display Cases

Drake Bennett ("Finders Keepers", Boston Globe, February 10, 2008) has reflected on the return of antiquities to Italy from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
These returned objects are only the most visible recent fruits of a powerful movement aimed at moving some of the world's most prominent ancient treasures from the hands of foreign museums and collectors back to the so-called source countries.
Drake continues:
These governments argue that to allow such objects to remain abroad as trophies only encourages the continued pillage of their national patrimony. Their position has won broad moral support and increasingly become the norm among academic archeologists, who see ancient objects as historic artifacts inseparable from their place of discovery.
In other words, does the return of antiquities to source countries stop looting? I suspect not.

But what it does do is send a very clear signal to museums and private collectors that acquisition policies and patterns have to change (and that includes loans). I doubt that institutions such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts or the J. Paul Getty Museum will be in a rush to accept as purchases, gifts, bequests or loans, objects that have no secure documentation prior to 1970.

Drake balances the return with views from James Cuno (see my "James Cuno on antiquities"):
What's at stake ... is the world's right to broad and general access to its ancient heritage.
What is at stake is the loss of archaeological heritage and scientific knowledge - all for the pursuit of "beautiful objects" to display in public museums of art or to place on the sideboards of private collectors.

The reported claim by Cuno that such moves to return antiquities "present an existential threat to great "encyclopedic" museums like the MFA or Metropolitan Museum, places that provide a unique opportunity to see the full breadth and diversity of the world's cultural history in one place" is perhaps misleading.

Have the Italian authorities asked the Museum of Fine Arts for its complete collection of South Italian pottery? No.

Has the Greek Government asked the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the return of its entire collection of archaic Athenian sculpture? No.

And nobody is expecting them to do so.

Archaeologists have as their focus recent acquisitions (and loans) because so often they are derived from destroying archaeological deposits such as graves ... and that is happening now.

But Cuno is in a difficult position. He is clearly being tipped as a possible successor to Philippe de Montebello and it is a matter for public record that one of the people on the search committee is a private collector who has just handed over ten of her antiquities to Italy (even if she is still unable to issue a press release about it). We can hardly expect Cuno to condemn the actions of private individuals or indeed museums.

Drake also quotes de Montebello about the benefits of the movement of antiquities across national frontiers. There is a big difference between the transport of Athenian figure-decorated pottery from Greece to Etruria in the sixth century BCE, and the transfer of looted antiquities from Etruscan graves to (say) Japanese museum display-cases in the early third millennium CE.

Drake does make the archaeological point:
For archeologists, the problem with looting is not simply that it is stealing, but that it destroys archeological sites, erasing irreplaceable information. A funerary jug scrubbed clean and presented for sale to a museum has far less to offer an archeologist than one found in the ground, where everything from its location and positioning to its contents and the composition of the soil around it - in short, its context - can offer clues to the sort of culture that made and preserved it.
He ends with the two contrasting positions:
  • Cuno who "would like to see a loosening of those laws to allow for a larger licit trade in antiquities" (and see my "Can there be a 'licit' trade in antiquities?").
  • Archaeologists who pose the question, "Why not ... treat antiquities the way we treat African ivory, as something that, with a few exceptions, can't be bought and sold at all?"

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Bronze Krater from the Republic of Macedonia

Two days ago I mentioned the issue of looting in the Republic of Macedonia. I closed with some reported words from Pasko Kuzman (in late 2006),
One of my dreams . . . is to bring back to Macedonia a bronze bowl with a beautiful relief, which was recently traced to New York.
There have been a few comments left on the original posting with a link to "Pasko Kuzman Wants to Return Krater from New York", Macedonia Daily, November 7, 2006. (The image is not the one; it comes from an excavated tomb at Derveni in northern Greece). Apparently the krater was looted from an archaeological site in the southern part of the Republic of Macedonia, sent to Switzerland, passed through the United Kingdom, and finally sold in New York.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Loans: Checking Histories

As antiquities in North American collections have been packed up and flown back to Rome, we have been seeing archaeological finds and art objects winging their way westward to fill their place. There is a new sense of optimism and transparency. Archaeological ethics are on the agenda. Museum acquisition policies are being tightened.

But hang on a minute. Somebody has raised a really important comment on my discussion of the looting of antiquities from the Republic of Macedonia. I do not want to go into the possible identification of the bronze here (after all, I just wanted to draw attention to what was happening in a particular country). There is a suggestion that antiquities are being "displayed" in public exhibitions --- but in such a way that they do not enter the public record via the printed catalogue (or on-line supporting website). The owner can presumably claim that the piece was "exhibited" in a particular show and that anybody with a claim on the object should have known about it.

Do museum policies address the issue of short- and long-term loans in an adequate way?

Elisabetta Povoloedo ("Antiquities Trial Fixes on Collectors' Role", New York Times, June 9, 2007) discussed a “sophisticated method of laundering” antiquities. She interviewed Peter C. Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, who talked about collectors and museums "conducting 'diligent provenance inquiries' on artifacts that change hands".

But loans do not change hands. Loans remain the property of the owner.

What due diligence process is being undertaken for such loans?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Bronze from the Republic of Macedonia: a New York Link?

My attention has been drawn to the scale of looting in the Republic of Macedonia. In 2006 it was estimated (Jasmina Mironski, "In Macedonia, archaeological riches at looters' mercy", AFP, December 27, 2006; see also Isa Marvinci, "Le sud de la Macédoine, paradis des pilleurs de sites archéologiques", AFP, 23 décembre 2006) that
one million artefacts to have been smuggled out of Macedonia since independence in 1991 are jewellery, decorative ornaments, weapons and armour of ancient foot soldiers, and statues.
This was so graphically described by Konstantin Testorides ("In Macedonia, Raiders of Lost Artifacts; Experts Say Few Sites Not Pillaged", Washington Post, April 22, 2007). Irena Kolistrkoska Nasteva, a prominent archaeologist in Macedonia, was quoted:
Macedonian bronze is trendy. It is world-famous because of the style, and it can fetch very high prices on the black market ... Even the smallest piece can be sold for 1,000 euros.
Pasko Kuzman, head of the National Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, claimed that "during excavations at Isar Marvinci between 1995 and 2003, an estimated 2,500 artifacts were stolen." He went on,
One of my dreams . . . is to bring back to Macedonia a bronze bowl with a beautiful relief, which was recently traced to New York.
Is this "bronze bowl with a beautiful relief" --- which I presume to be a krater --- in a private collection? Has it appeared in any public exhibitions? Are there any plans for publication?


Shelby White: Waiting for the Press Release, Week 3

For some reason Shelby White does not yet appear to have issued a list of the antiquities handed over to the Italian authorities some three weeks ago.

Is there some good reason for restricting access to this information?

I am not the only one waiting. A contact from Italy reminded me of the lists that were available at the time of the 2004 trial of Giacomo Medici. I am informed that these lists were divided into separate collections and indicated (in Italian),
The above artifacts are reproduced in photographs seized from Giacomo Medici at the Geneva Freeport.
A selection of lists ("Dossier") appeared in the back of Peter Watson and Celia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy (2006). I used the Medici Conspiracy's "Dossier" ("Antiquities in the Levy-White Collection Shown in the Polaroids Seized in Corridor 17 in Geneva") to compile a possible list (including the three certain items the New York Times had included).

But the "Medici Trial" list appears to be slightly different. A possible reason is that The Medici Conspiracy was based on the list compiled by Maurizio Pellegrini from his study of the Geneva Polaroids (see chapter 6: "The Paper Trail, The Polaroids, and The 'Cordata'").

In the "Medici Trial" list and known to be on the list of returns according to the New York Times:
i. An Attic red-figured calyx-krater. A: Zeus and Ganymede. B: Herakles and Iolaos. Attributed to the Eucharides painter. Glories of the Past no. 117.

In the "Medici Trial" list; status not yet declared (and also in the Medici Conspiracy "Dossier"):
ii. Bronze statue of naked youth. Glories of the Past no. 87.
iii. Chalcidian neck-amphora. Attributed to the painter of the Cambridge Hydria Cavalcade. Glories of the Past no. 102.
iv. Attic black-figured neck-amphora of Panathenaic shape. Attributed to the painter of Louvre F 6. Glories of the Past no. 104.
v. Attic black-figured neck-amphora. Attributed to the Bucci painter (by J. Robert Guy). Glories of the Past no. 106.
vi. Attic black-figured neck-amphora. Attributed to a painter of the Medea group. Glories of the Past no. 107.
vii-viii. Two Caeretan hydriae. One showing a panther and lioness; the other showing Odysseus and Polyphemos' cave.

That makes eight items.

And the New York Times identified two more certain returns:
ix. An Attic red-figured calyx-krater. Herakles slaying Kyknos. Euphronios.
x. A fragment of Roman fresco. Glories of the Past no. 142. [See possible reconstruction]

And that makes ten.

But they need not be the ten being returned to Italy.

Indeed, there may be a totally innocent reason why eight of these pieces appeared in the Geneva Polaroids.

So why is Shelby White holding back on this information? Is there something to hide? Who supplied these ten pieces? Will she disclose their full histories?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

US Army Pilot, Egypt, and a Museum Theft

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued a Press Release, "U.S. arrests Army pilot for dealing in stolen Egyptian antiquities" (February 6, 2008).

It announces "the arrest of Edward George Johnson, an active U.S. Army helicopter pilot, on charges relating to his sale of stolen Egyptian antiquities". His role is given:
Johnson, 44, a Chief Warrant Officer with the United States Army whose duties include piloting and commanding attack and scout helicopters, was deployed to Cairo from February to October of 2002.
The objects, derived from excavations, are reported to have been stolen from a museum:
In late September 2002, approximately 370 pre-dynastic artifacts were stolen from the Ma'adi Museum near Cairo, Egypt. The artifacts, dating to 3000 B.C. and earlier, were originally discovered during an excavation in Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s.
The statement goes on:
In January 2003, Johnson contacted an art dealer in Texas and offered to sell the dealer a collection of Egyptian antiquities. Johnson told the art dealer that his grandfather had acquired the antiquities when he worked in Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s, and that the antiquities had remained in the family ever since. Based on Johnson's representations regarding the antiquities' provenance, the art dealer paid approximately $20,000 to Johnson for approximately eighty pieces. The art dealer later consigned pieces from that collection to galleries and collectors in New York, London, Zurich and Montreal.
But if 370 pieces were stolen, and Johnson handled eighty, what has happened to the other 290?

Robin Symes and the Met

The death of Christo Michailidis on July 4, 1999, during a dinner party hosted by Leon Levy and Shelby White is well documented (see Peter Watson, "The Fall of Robin Symes", Culture Without Context, 15, Autumn 2004).

The following year Symes presented the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with a terracotta in memory of Michailidis. The on-line catalogue entry does not provide information about the figure's previous owners or where it was found.

Image
Statuette of a Draped Goddess, late 5th–4th century B.C. Greek Terracotta; H. 14 3/4 in. (37.5 cm) Gift of Robin Symes, in memory of Christo Michailidis, 2000 (2000.163) www.metmuseum.org

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ethics and Partage

Richard Lacayo has followed up his interview with James Cuno. This time he talks to Alex Barker, director of the Museum of Art & Archeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and chair of the Ethics Committee of the Society for American Archeology ("A Talk With: Alex Barker", Time, February 4, 2008).

The agenda remains that set by Cuno, namely that of partage. Sharing finds from excavations is one possible way forward. Loans are another way as recently explained by Thomas Noble Howe, "A New Way Forward for U.S. Museums".

Lacayo and Barker also discuss John Merryman's proposal for a "licit" trade in antiquities. It is a question I posed last August. Barker gives a rather abbreviated reply. I had earlier commented on Merryman's flawed model for the "licit" trade where he gave the Getty as a good example of a museum following correct "due diligence" procedures. And given recent events we now know that trust was misplaced.

I would have liked the interview to have picked up on Cuno's suggestion about reasonable acquisition policies for museums.

For more on this topic see the Society for American Archaeology's Ethical Issues in Archaeology (AltaMira 2003). Barker has a chapter, "Archaeological Ethics: Museums and Collections".

Monday, February 4, 2008

Why Context Matters: Learning From Raids in California

I have been following the raids on Museums in Southern California with some interest. Today's report by Matthew L. Wald ("Tax Scheme Is Blamed for Damage to Artifacts", New York Times, February 4, 2008) shows the implication of the collecting pattern.

He interviewed Joyce C. White, director of the Ban Chiang Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. She is reported as saying:
the items smuggled and sold in the United States tend to be those that are intact, and that for each intact item removed there were doubtless many broken ones. When properly excavated, she said, the ensemble of items establishes the date of the intact artifact and yields countless details about historical and social context.

The looting of “any one piece of intact pottery represents the huge complete erasures of books and books and books that would have, could have, been written had the research been done,” she said in a telephone interview.

...

“Intact artifacts tend to come from burials,” Ms. White said. “What you’re seeing is the remains of graves from all over Southeast Asia being commercially passed around, with all the knowledge about human remains — race, sex, age, genetic makeup, the animal remains that tell what food was eaten, the crucibles that show you how they were making the metals — all thrown out.”
These comments could be made for complete Greek figure-decorated pots removed from Etruscan tombs as much as for south-east Asian ceramics.

Looting has both material and intellectual consequences.

The question should now be asked, 'Who is destroying antiquity?'

Friday, February 1, 2008

Algeria, Marcus Aurelius and the Views of (Some) Collectors

Last month I commented on the return of a Roman marble portrait of Marcus Aurelius to Algeria. It all seemed straightforward as the head had been stolen from the Skikda Museum in 1996.

Wayne Sayles has commented:
The imperial busts used throughout the empire were typically made in Italy and sent out to show the world what their emperor looked like. Does the display of an object thereby make it the cultural patrimony of a country? Should a Roman coin stolen from a display in New York be returned to NY or to Italy? This whole concept is a mine field with lots and lots of booby traps and a million possible scenarios to account for. Cultural Property Nationalism is simply an unworkable concept in a world of globalism.
When challenged, he clarified his position:
The reason to return the MA [Marcus Aurelius] bust to Algeria is that in our small window of world history the object belonged to Algeria when it was stolen. To the extent possible under international law, recognizing that there are statutes of limitation and other legal issues in some cases, an object proven to be stolen should be given back to the people it was stolen from. That is a matter of justice, not of heritage. Trying to apply issues of heritage to a place that did not even exist in antiquity and to a people who now occupy the land by conquest and have no vested interest whatever in the culture before them, is like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. As I said, Cultural Property Nationalism is simply an unworkable concept in a world of globalism. I'm surprised that you would try to defend it.
Can the theft of archaeological material from a collection, and its legitimate return, really be misinterpreted in this way?

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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