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Showing posts from July, 2008

Some Thoughts on the Benin Bronzes

James Cuno (in Who Owns Antiquity? [2008]) takes six objects from the holdings of the Art Institute of Chicago to demonstrate its character as an "encyclopedic museum". The third piece is a bronze plaque from Benin that was acquired in 1933; Cuno speculates that it probably "left" the kingdom of Benin following the punitive raid by the British in 1897.

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Cosmopolitanism [2006]) also uses the Benin bronzes as he asks the question, "Whose Culture Is it, Anyway?"
Some of the heirs to the kingdom of Benin, the people of Southwest Nigeria, want the bronze their ancestors cast, shaped, handled, wondered at. They would like to wonder at—if we will not let them touch—that very thing. The connection people feel to cultural objects that are symbolically theirs, because they were produced from within a world of meaning by their ancestors—the connection to art through identity—is powerful. It should be acknowledged. The cosmopolitan, through, wants …

Legal and Ethical Aspects of Collecting Antiquity

I have recently read two legal overviews of the recent returns of antiquities to Italy.
The first is a short piece by Jennifer Anglim Kreder (Northern Kentucky University - Salmon P. Chase College of Law) "Behind Italy's Recent Successes in Cultural Patrimony Recovery", Art & Cultural Heritage Newsletter, American Bar Association, Chicago, Illinois, Winter 2008 [SSRN]. These comments feature in a longer collaborative study: Jennifer Anglim Kreder, Monica Dugot (Christie's), Thomas R. Kline (Andrews Kurth LLP), and Lucille A. Roussin (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law), "Legal and Ethical Issues in Art Restitution" [SSRN].

The longer piece mentions that there have been "calls" for the "release" of the "provenience history" of the bronze krater on loan from the White/Levy collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Attic Funerary Stelai

The announcement that Shelby White will be returning two antiquities to Greece later this month has caused me to go back through my notes.

One of the two pieces is a bronze calyx-krater said to be from Pieria in northern Greece. The second is "A fragmentary marble funerary stele with a warrior and young man dating to the 4th century BCE" that is reported (in the press release) to fit a fragment excavated by the Greek Archaeological Service near Porto Raphti in eastern Attica during the 1960s.

One of the exhibits from Glories of the Past - a catalogue well known to readers - is a "Fragment of a grave stele with a warrior and a youth" (no. 97). The two figures are named: Menon and Kleobolos. Elizabeth J. Milleker, the author of the catalogue entry, dates the marble fragment to "About 400-375 B.C." It seems possible that this is the piece mentioned in the press release. (Could this have been mentioned in the statement?) If this connection is correct, the disc…

Collecting Histories Matter

I am not sure that the due diligence process is working when it comes to the acquisition of antiquities. Museums, private collectors and dealers can buy objects "in good faith" only to find the newly purchased piece is disputed. It is even possible that the piece has been checked against a list of items known to have been stolen from recorded collections. But something straight out of the ground will not be featured.

So how do we move forward? A study of the recent returns to Italy (and to a lesser extent Greece) has begun to show a pattern of names. And the willingness of institutions such as the MFA in Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum to provide such information demonstrates the new spirit of curatorial co-operation that is needed to address the problem of recently looted antiquities that enter the marketplace.

Do we need to see a more rigorous form of the due diligence process taking place? Do histories need to be presented in such a way that dates of surfacing or gaps i…

Tomb of Iurudef: Ushabti Returned from Holland

In May there were two linked news stories relating to Egyptian antiquities: the fragment from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410) being offered at auction by Bonhams, and a second piece in Holland. The news story had appeared in Daily News Egypt on May 1, 2008:
They also announced that in collaboration with Egypt’s ambassador to Holland, a 19th Dynasty green ushabti figure of a woman called Hener was also taken out of an auction sale and will be returned to Egypt.The figure had been stolen from a Saqqara storehouse and is now at the Leiden Museum awaiting its journey back in accordance with an Amsterdam court verdict.A press release, "A stolen ushebti found in The Netherlands returns to Egypt" (July 22, 2008), has now been issued. There are several things to note.First, the 19th Dynasty faience ushabti of a woman, Hener, came from the tomb of Iurudef at Saqqara. This tomb had been excavated by a team from Leiden in 1985.
Second, the piece seems to have been stolen from the "Sekh…

A Big Hunk O'Antiquity: Headlines

"Elvis" up for auction

A Roman head apparently known as "Elvis" --- "because of its strong resemblance to the King of rock and roll" --- is due to be auctioned at Bonhams in London this October (Angus Howarth, "All shook up by £1m antiquities auction", The Scotsman July 23, 2008). The head appears to be part of a second century CE sarcophagus.

This piece is part of "a £1 million collection of antiquities which is about to come to auction" and the report is full of superlatives: "one of the world's most stunning private collections of ancient art". There are due to be 150 lots "which once belonged to the Australian collector Graham Geddes". The pieces include "rare Greek and Roman vases and marble reliefs portraying battle scenes".

Bonhams have as yet to provide details of the sale. However, the press release quotes Chantelle Waddingham, Head of Antiquities at Bonhams:
The Graham Geddes Collection represents an enduring passion for the cl…

Promoting Licit Markets

Michael Conforti, president of the AAMD, has used an interview with the Art Newspaper to call for an opening up of the "licit market" in antiquities (Helen Stoilas, "New guidelines for US museums acquiring antiquities", The Art Newspaper July 17, 2008).
Some archaeologists would prefer that institutions not purchase such works at all, to ‘pretend they didn’t exist’ and thus not encourage the market for them.” But he says that there is still a market for such work outside of institutional buying. As a means of curbing the looting of archaeological sites, the AAMD promotes the creation of “licit markets” through which countries could legally export archaeological objects and “strongly urges all nations to provide a legal method for the sale and export of art.It is a topic Conforti addressed earlier in the year, and last August (2007) I reviewed the potential sources for antiquities with "secure" histories.

Conforti also draws attention to the new AAMD's d…

Portable Antiquity Collecting

Paul Barford has shown true tenacity, resolve and patience in the way he has raised issues about portable antiquities. He now has his own blog Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues in addition to being an invited commentator on Safecorner.

Here is a flavour of what he plans to talk about:
Even a perfunctory perusal of the websites, “discussion” (sic) lists, forums and blogs of the advocates of a (‘leave us alone’) status quo for portable antiquity collectors will reveal that they have a number of common characteristics. There are a canon of justificatory mantras which portable antiquity collectors tend to repeat to each other as some form of self-affirmation of identity and personal faith. There are usually some perturbing views expressed, for example on what is ethical and responsible basically comprising little more than an ‘it’s legal innit?’ argument. If it goes beyond that, collectors concentrate attention on the isolated object rather than the information its original …

Good Faith: A Common Phrase?

I find myself in agreement with James Cuno: "due diligence and good faith inquiries are no longer sufficient" (the quote is now published in Who Owns Antiquity? [2008] 4). He continues:
It means only that unprovenanced antiquities are not being acquired by U.S. art museums to the extent that they were in the past. Instead, undocumented antiquities are going elsewhere in greater numbers, either remaining in the private domain of private collectors and dealers or being sold or donated to museums in countries that do not enforce foreign patrimony laws as the United States does. (p. 5)And how often have we heard the phrase "good faith" in the last year as antiquities have been returned from museums, auction-houses and private collectors in Europe and North America?

For example, Bonhams offered an Egyptian fragment removed from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410) that has now been returned to Egypt. A spokesperson for the auctioneers said that they "would not identify the s…

Commenting on "News" Stories

Earlier this week I reported on one cultural property commentator citing a five year old story as contemporary news. (I checked again today: it still gives the story issue date as 11 July 2008 and there is no hint that it is out of date; see further comments by Paul Barford.)

Now another dated story is doing the rounds. I spotted it on Derek Fincham's usually reliable "Illicit Cultural Property". He says:
these repatriations and cooperation may be a very good thing, however the real test of these efforts remains how well sites are protected, and whether there remains a workable heritage management policy in these nations. Recent news out of Greece suggests they are not. It seems last month the Greek parliament has taken a step last month to allow divers to access the entirety of the Greek coastline. This would be very good for tourism, but how are the objects these divers find going to be managed or educated? How will sites be affected?The link to recent news takes you…

Does Looting Matter? One Year On

Today is the first birthday of Looting Matters.

Some 350 posts later and with an average of 7000-8000 page loads a month (USA 51%, UK 11%), it looks as if there continues to be interest in the discussion of archaeological ethics and the issues surrounding the damage to archaeological sites.

Does raising the issue of looting make a difference? Has public opinion changed?

Certainly the AAMD's new policy on the acquisition of antiquities (and see also the one for short-term loans) seem to indicate that there is a shift in attitude.

How far has this to do with the returns of antiquities from various North American public and private collections to Italy - and "celebrated" by the two Nostoi exhibitions in Rome?

And Greece, too, seems to be claiming returns from dealers and private collections.

Buyers at sales are now placing a premium on pieces with good collecting "histories". (I do hope in the next year the term "good provenance" can be dropped in favour of &q…

Greece and Italy Agree Joint Policy over the Smuggling of Antiquities

Italy's success in securing the return of antiquities from North American collections seems to be encouraging the Greek Minister of Culture, Mihalis Liapis, who is in Rome for negotiations ("Culture Minister Liapis holds talks in Rome", Athens News Agency, July 15, 2008; MiBAC Press Release). Italy and Greece signed a new memorandum of cooperation on cultural issues.

As part of the agreement the "Nostoi" exhibition will be travelling to the New Acropolis Museum, Athens in September. (Will objects recently returned from a North American private collection to Greece form part of the show?)

There will be a joint approach to the smuggling of antiquities. Liapis is quoted:
We will coordinate our efforts in a common front aiming at the protection of our cultural heritage and the return to their country of origin of all antiquities that have been stolen by antiquity smugglers.And in a parallel statement, Sandro Bondi, the Italian Minister for Culture, commented:
Our…

Looting in Iraq: "it may not be typical of the country as a whole, and the situation could be worse further north"

Melik Kaylan published a story yesterday on looting in Iraq ("So Much for the 'Looted Sites'", Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2008) arising from Martin Bailey's story in The Art Newspaper earlier this month.

Kaylan actually cites Professor Lawrence Rothfield's recently edited book, Antiquities under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War (AltaMira, 2008), where it is estimated "that, every year, roughly 10% of Iraq's heritage was being destroyed".

Kaylan also quotes from Dr John Curtis of the British Museum, commenting on the observation there has been no further looting 8 out of some 10,000 sites in Iraq "it may not be typical of the country as a whole, and the situation could be worse further north."

Now Rothfield has responded to Kaylan:
I've already detailed, below, the evidence for looting, much of which comes from those political radicals the Polish civil-military brigade and the Italian carabinieri. (I shared all…

Kamel Supplied Coptic Forgeries

Further details about the forged Coptic sculptures (and the forthcoming exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum) has appeared (Kate Taylor, "Brooklyn To Exhibit Fake Art", New York Sun, July 15, 2008).

Taylor interviewed several people including Jerome Eisenberg.
One New York dealer, Jerome Eisenberg, acknowledged in a phone interview that he had sold the museum one piece now considered to be fake, a roundel with a border of palm fronds and a central bust. The museum acquired the piece in 1960.

Asked where he bought the roundel, Mr. Eisenberg said that he purchased it from a "very reliable, very ethical" dealer in Cairo, a Copt named Kamel Hammouda. Asked if he knew where Mr. Hammouda got the sculpture, Mr. Eisenberg said that it was against the rules of the trade at the time to ask such questions.Among the other museums accepting that forged Coptic sculptures had been acquired was the Princeton University Art Museum.

The issue to note is that these forgeries were coming ont…

The Risley Park Lanx: Intellectual Consequences

Tom Flynn reminded me of the "Risley Park Lanx" and it prompted me to think about the intellectual consequences of this acquisition. This Roman silver dish was found in 1729 at Risley Park in Derbyshire. In 1981 Catherine Johns published an account of the dish in the Antiquaries Journal.

Then amazingly the dish was offered for sale at Sotheby's in London by George Greenhalgh (for further details by Tom Flynn). The lanx had apparently been bequeathed to the Greenhalgh family of Bolton; it was claimed that they had welded bits of it together. The dish was sold and subsequently acquired by the British Museum where it was put on display in August 1992.

Norman Hammond, writing in The Times (August 15, 1992), had a note of caution:
Analysis by the museum showed the silver to be Roman but the object itself was not. The most likely course of events seems to have been that the fragments were assembled shortly after their discovery and a mould made from them. The original pieces were…

Observations on Cultural Property

Commentators on the collecting of archaeological material and the looting of ancient sites often touch on sensitive areas. This is especially true for the situation in Iraq where the Baghdad Museum has been looted and satellite imagery has suggested a continued problem with illicit digging. And some even try to find consolation that 8 out of some 10,000 sites in Iraq have not suffered from further looting. (For a corrective view see Larry Rothfield, "Yet More Evidence of Looting in Southern Iraq").

Mistakes can be made in such commentaries: and it was a mistake for Peter Tompa---the self-styled "Cultural Property Observer"---to post a report, "BBC Report on Exaggerated Looting of Iraq Museum", as if it was contemporary news (he included the misleading copyright line, "Published: 7/11/2008").

In fact the original report appeared more than five years ago: Jason Burke, "Priceless treasures saved from looters of Baghdad museum", The Observe…

The Bronze Krater said to be from Pieria, Greece

Further brief reports on the return of two antiquities from the Shelby White collection to Greece have appeared today ("US collector to return two ancient artifacts", Kathimerini, July 12, 2008; Julie Bloom, "Collector to Return Antiquities to Greece", New York Times, July 12, 2008; "New York Collector to Return 2 Antiquities to Greece", New York Times, July 12, 2008). One of the NYT pieces notes that the second object
is a bronze calyx krater dating from around 340 B.C. Greek archaeologists believe it was probably found in illegal excavations in a royal tomb near where it originated in Pieria in northern Greece.Beryl Barr-Sharrar (The Derveni Krater: Masterpiece of Classical Greek Metalwork, ASCSA 2007, p. 98, fig. 89 [Googlebooks] [post]) illustrates a bronze calyx-krater found in 1986 by M. Bessios at Sevaste in Pieria (and now in the Archaeological Museum at Thessaloniki; see also I. Vokotopoulou, "The Kalyx Krater of Sevaste in Pieria", in I…

Shelby White to return two antiquities to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture announced today that Shelby White will be returning two pieces in her collection to Greece later this month ("Greece strikes deal with US collector for return of 2 looted antiquities", IHT, July 11, 2008).

The pieces are:
a. A fragmentary marble funerary stele with a warrior and young man dating to the 4th century BCE. It is reported that the lower part of the stele was excavated in the 1960s near Porto Rafti in Attica (and I presume this is the fragment on display in the entrance hall to the Brauron Museum).
b. A bronze krater dating to c. 340 BCE. It is reported that the piece "was probably found during an illegal excavation in northern Greece".

The Ministry is quoted as saying that Shelby White purchased the pieces "in good faith".

No further details appear to be available at the present time.

Postscript: A Ministry press statement has suggested that the krater was found in Pieria, Macedonia; it also confirms that the bottom …

"The Chinese Question"

James Cuno raises some key questions about antiquities from China in Who Owns Antiquity? (Princeton UP, 2008). He draws attention to the way that the China Cultural Relics Recovery Program has been seeking to buy up Chinese objects that come on the market so that they can be returned "home".

He describes the complex relationship between the Poly Art Museum, the Poly International Auction Co., Ltd., the China Poly Group Corporation, and Poly Technologies, Inc. He continues:
The Poly Group and its Art Museum are aggressively seeking to purchase—and the Poly International Auction Co., Ltd., is trying to sell—the very kind of material that the Chinese government is requesting the U.S. government to ban. (p. 105)Details of the request from China are posted on the U.S. State Department website. The nature of the problem is outlined with a number of specific examples and this gives a flavour:
This huge demand for Chinese cultural artifacts has caused serious damage to ancient tombs an…

Export of Charles Townley's Portrait on Hold

The Townley Collection lies at the heart of the British Museum's sculpture gathered on the Grand Tour. It was announced today that a portrait of Charles Townley (1737-1805) by Joseph Nollekens has had a temporary export ban placed on it by the UK Minister for Culture, Media and Sport (see press release).

The portrait was on loan to the Towneley Hall Art Gallery, Burnley, Lancashire (1926-2007). A sum of £308,750 (excluding VAT) is required to "save" the piece from export. The statement adds, "every possible effort should be made to raise enough money to keep it in the country".

Apulian Pottery Returned to Italy

The Italian authorities announced today that France has handed 50 pieces of Apulian pottery dating to the 4th-3rd centuries BCE [press release]. The objects are reported to have been seized back in 2000 from an Italian citizen by French customs officials at one of the border crossings with Spain. Sandro Bondi, the Italian Minister, paid tribute to the co-operation between France and Italy.

Spain (and a dealer in antiquities based in Barcelona) also appeared in details of "Operation Ghelas" that related to looting in Sicily, Lazio and Puglia.

Are these 50 pieces the tip of a continuing trade? And would they have surfaced with a history, "from an old Spanish collection"?

Iraq: "Chippindale's Law" and the Scale of Looting

Larry Rothfield has continued to post significant information through the day. In his latest posting, "Some Known Knowns and Known Unknowns about Extent of Site Looting", he discusses the work of Professor Elizabeth Stone in southern Iraq (published earlier this year).

I was very struck by this statement:
The [satellite] imagery she is working with reveals that the area destroyed by looters is roughly 50 times the size of the area dug by archaeologists, and this is only for southern Iraq.
Consider the numbers.

To put them into perspective, Gill and Chippindale suggested that some 85% of the archaeological record of the Early Bronze Age Cyclades had been destroyed through the search for marble Cycladic figures. And we thought that this was catastrophic.

But "Chippindale's Law" kicks in ...

If Stone is right, we may need to think in terms of 98% of the archaeological record of southern Iraq being lost for ever. Now this is a pessimistic figure (and I sincerely hope it …

New Response to James Cuno

There is a new review of James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? by Peter Stone, professor of heritage studies at Newcastle University ("Clinging on to their marbles", THE July 3, 2008). Stone disagrees with Cuno over cultural objects relating to indigenous groups in the US, and addresses the issue over historic items such as the Rosetta stone ("What many, if not most, archaeologists would lament is the loss of additional information that may well have been provided had the stone been excavated carefully from its archaeological context.").

Stone agrees with Cuno over the distribution of objects around the world "to better ensure their preservation, broaden our knowledge of them, and increase the world's access to them" (Cuno). But Stone asks how this distribution is to be made.

He then alludes to what I presume is the example of the Harvard acquisition of pottery fragments. (I presume Stone means 1995 when he gives the date of 1998.) Stone continues:
That …

Looting in Southern Iraq

Safecorner has posted a video of the slides from a lecture (April 2008), "Protection and Documentation: The Archaeological Sites in Southern Iraq", by Dr Abdulamir Hamdani, Director of Antiquities, Nasiriya Province, Southern Iraq. This puts a different perspective on the situation as presented by The Art Newspaper earlier this week.

Iraqi Cultural Heritage: "to protect and preserve"

The invasion of Iraq has had its consequences: humanitarian, social, political, and economic. (A flavour of the situation can be gained from the excellent Revolution Day: the Human Story of the Battle for Iraq [2004] by the former BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar.)

Looting Matters has tried to confine itself to issues of cultural property and archaeological ethics. Over Iraq I would endorse the British Museum's official statement (read again today), that there is,
a pressing need for action to protect and preserve the Iraqi cultural heritage.The statement continues:
The problem is multi-faceted. It is not just about the looting of the major museums, particularly Baghdad and Mosul, but the destruction of libraries and archives, the damage to historic buildings, the extensive looting of archaeological sites, the illicit trade in antiquities, and now the undermining of the higher education system.A recent report in The Art Newspaper has stirred up a hornets' nest. It is has been pointe…

Looting in Britain

A railway guard from Kent has been a three-year conditional discharge for looting at some 20 known archaeological sites in England ("Guard Raids Roman Sites", The Gloucestershire Echo, June 28, 2008; see also "Man Accused of Illegal Digs at Historic sites", The Guardian June 11, 2008). These included:
Richborough, KentReculver, KentChilham, KentChanctonbury, West SussexSpoonley Wood, Gloucestershire (where he removed part of a mosaic)Sadly it is a good reminder that the destruction of archaeological sites is taking place close to home.

Looting in Iraq: Getting the Facts Straight

Yesterday Martin Bailey reported in the The Art Newspaper, "Archaeological sites in south Iraq have not been looted, say experts" (July 1, 2008).
An international team of archaeologists which made an unpublicised visit to southern Iraq last month found no evidence of recent looting—contrary to long-expressed claims about sustained illegal digging at major sites.Larry Rothfield has now responded on Safe Corner ("No Recent Looting on 8 Sites in Southern Iraq: What does it show us? Not what the Art Newspaper thinks it does"; [mirror]). He points out that the archaeological team visited 8 out of some 10,000 registered sites (and there will be other unknown sites). Rothfield also includes comments from Donny George about why these 8 sites had not shown signs of looting.

These 8 locations do not form a representative selection of archaeological sites in Iraq.

Professor Elizabeth Stone, who was part of the visiting team, has been using satellite imaging to study the impact o…

The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Coptic Art

The Art Newspaper (July 1, 2008) has carried a story by Martin Bailey that "A third of the Coptic sculptures at the Brooklyn Museum of Art are modern fakes". The identifications had been made by Dr Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

And the problem does not stop at Brooklyn:
Brooklyn curator Dr Edna Russmann, who is concluding a study of the works, warns that other museums which acquired Coptic sculptures in the past 50 years are likely to face similar problems.Apparently the pieces were acquired in the 1960s and 1970s due to desire by museums to augment their collections.
The fakes were mainly bought in the 1960s and 70s, and can be traced back to major antiquities dealers in New York and in Switzerland, to where they were shipped from Egypt. Dr Russmann believes that the dismissal of these works will encourage scholars to “re-evaluate Coptic art”.

What is striking about the fakes is that they place a greater emphasis on Christian iconography than the…