Saturday, November 29, 2008

Two Collectors Arrested in Italy

Two Italian collectors are reported to have been arrested on Thursday November 27, 2008 ("Two arrested with antiquities hoard", ANSA November 27, 2008). The summary notes:
Among the objects found at the house near Modena were two rare pre-Medieval weapon tips, one from a javelin and one from a lance, several Roman coins from the pre-imperial era, and Longobard (Lombard) and Goth buckles. A fragment of a votive vase from a Greek colony in southern Italy was dated to the sixth century BC.
A little more detail appears in Il Nuovo Giornale di Modena (November 29, 2008).

Image
Il Nuovo Giornale di Modena

Renfrew as Collector

There is a short profile of Lord Renfrew as a collector in the Financial Times (Mary Jane Checkland, "My favourite things", November 29, 2008). He talks about his collection of contemporary art and adds a comment on collectors of antiquities:
I’m much in favour of collecting, so long as it doesn’t involve objects recently taken from the ground. In my opinion all too many collections are scandalous for this very reason. I don’t mind so much people buying antiquities looted a century ago, but not if the items in question entered the market post-1970 when the convention on the illegal trade in antiquities was signed.

Friday, November 28, 2008

War Booty Goes on Display in Berlin

The exhibition, "The Return of the Gods – Berlin’s Hidden Olympus", opened in the Pergamonmuseum (Antikensammlung), Berlin this week (27 November 2008 - 5 July 2009). It celebrates the 50th anniversary of the return of antiquities from the (then) Soviet Union.
To also mark the occasion, the Collection of Classical Antiquities will be placing 170 art works on display, which, for restoration purposes, had had to remain in storage until now. The sculptures, vases and craftwork objects stand as representatives for thousands of art works which came back to Berlin after a period of exile in Moscow and St. Petersburg lasting thirteen years, the most important of which was the frieze of the world famous Pergamon Altar.
A short report has been issued (Brittani Sonneburg, "Berlin museum shows off antique gods", AP, November 27, 2008). The pieces were mostly derived from Italy, Turkey and Greece and formed part of the collection Frederick the Great.
In 1945, at the close of World War II, invading Soviet Soldiers seized the collection and sent it back to Russia, which was the fate of many artistic treasures in Germany. Russia declared the art had been seized as retribution for the 27 million Soviet lives lost and destruction of entire cities during the conflict. The two nations are still negotiating the return of many pieces.

But the Pergamon's antiquities were returned to East Germany 13 years later as a symbol of Cold War camaraderie between the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic, as East Germany was known.
The restoration of the collection has been made with the support of a contribution from the Brazilian foundation, FAAP.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Philippe de Montebello Years ... and Robin Symes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is exhibiting "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions". Antiquities feature in the show.

Some of the pieces come from old collections. Take, for example, the Attic red-figured plate with the "signature" of Epiktetos as "painter" (inv. 1981.11.10). Its history is given as:
Found at Vulci, on the property of Lucien Bonaparte, 1828/29; W. W. Hope (Jean de Witte, Description d'une collection de vases peints [Paris, 1837], no. 177); sale, Christie's, London, February 13, 1849 (Archäologische Zeitung 10 [October 1849], col. 100, no. 74); second marquess of Northampton; sale, Christie's, London, July 2, 1980, no. 39; Mr. Fritz Bürki, Zurich.
It was then purchased by The Bothmer Purchase Fund, and Norbert Schimmel Foundation Inc. and Christos G. Bastis Gifts, 1981.

Among the other acquisitions was a Roman statue of Pan (inv. 1992.11.71). Its collecting history is given as:
European private collection and market, 19th and early 20th century; London market, late 1970s; [Robin Symes, London, by 1983]; sale, Sotheby's, New York, May 20, 1983, lot 142; Mrs. Barbara Johnson, Princeton, N.J.; sale, Sotheby's, New York, December 17, 1992, lot 72.
Which European private collection? Which market? Is any of this history documented?

Then there is a Hellenistic marble head of Athena (inv. 1996.178). Its history is given as:

[Robin Symes, London, by 1991]; [Acanthus Gallery, New York]; Mr. and Mrs. Morris J. Pinto, New York, 1992–96 (on loan to MMA, 1995–96).

Where was the marble head prior to 1991? Had it, too, resided in some old European collection?

Robin Symes also presented a terracotta figure to the MMA (though it does not feature in the exhibition).

Image
Head of Athena, late 3rd–early 2nd century
b.c.
Greek, Hellenistic
Marble; H. 19 in. (48.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.178)
www.metmuseum.org (Terms and conditions of use)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Egypt renews calls for the return of mummy mask

Zahi Hawass has renewed calls for the return of the mummy mask excavated at Saqqara and presently residing in the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) (Marjorie Olster, "Egypt faces obstacles in recovering antiquities", AP, November 23, 2008). The AP report quoted Zahi Hawass:

"This is the No. 1 case ... Egypt has a right to the mask."

The history of the piece has been rehearsed elsewhere (also here). My personal view is that SLAM, and its director Brent Benjamin, need to press the gallery where the mask was purchased for authenticated documentation. This would demonstrate the veracity of the alternative account. Benjamin continues to take the position:

To date, we have not seen information that we believe is compelling enough to return the object.

Apparently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now investigating the acquisition at the request of Hawass.

Hawass also comments on the new Egyptian law relating to the theft of antiquities.

"Our new law will give us the power to take people to court in Egypt," Hawass said. "(Benjamin) will be wanted in Egypt."

The fight will only intensify after Benjamin's controversial appointment to CPAC.

The Cleveland Museum of Art: why the history of the returned pieces should be released

Steven Litt ("Analysis: Museums often pay the price for looted antiquities", cleveland.com November 23, 2008) has a long comment about the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art. He explores the implications of the September 1995 raid on the Geneva Freeport warehouse of Giacomo Medici. And Litt seems to link the returning antiquities specifically to Medici:
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.

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.
Litt interviews some of the museum staff. Among them is Timothy Rub the director:
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.

"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."
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.

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.

Image
Corinthian krater (formerly Cleveland Museum of Art 1990.81). Source: MiBAC.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Cleveland Museum of Art: "rigorous provenance research"

The Cleveland Museum of Art has issued a press release (November 19 2008) about the return of antiquities. Timothy Rub, the director, is quoted:
This transfer demonstrates our commitment to build and maintain a collection of art from around the world and across time that is acquired in good faith using the highest ethical standards and after rigorous provenance research.
Steven Litt ("Cleveland Museum of Art strikes deal with Italy to return 14 ancient artworks", cleveland.com November 19, 2008) has indicated that Italian sources are suggesting some of the pieces are linked to:
But which objects are linked to which of these individuals? And what was the extent of Cleveland's "rigorous provenance research"?

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum have released the full information about the previous histories of the pieces returned to history. Why is Cleveland reluctant to do the same?

Archaeological Evidence for Looting in Antiquity

What is the archaeological evidence for looting in antiquity? The distribution of inscribed Middle Kingdom statues outside Egypt hint at systematic looting during the Second Intermediate Period. Inscribed silver plate from funerary contexts in Macedonia and the Kuban provide evidence for looted sanctuaries. Booty from sanctuaries in the Greek world appearing in contexts in Persia.

I will be addressing these issues in a conference paper today, "Booty and triumph", at "Rituals of Triumph in the Mediterranean World from Antiquity to the Middle Ages" hosted by the School of Humanities at Swansea University.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cleveland Museum of Art: More Decisions Ahead?

Yesterday's announcement about the return of antiquities from Cleveland to Italy presented a rather mixed bag. But Elisabetta Povoledo ("Pact Will Relocate Artifacts to Italy From Cleveland", New York Times November 19, 2008) has indicated that two further pieces are under consideration.
Yet not all has been resolved. A committee will be set up to discuss two other objects in Cleveland: a first-century chariot attachment depicting a Winged Victory with a cornucopia, and a renowned fourth-century B.C. bronze statue of Apollo slaying a lizard, which the museum attributes to the classical Greek sculptor Praxiteles.
The Roman bronze Victory with Cornucopia, Roman (1984.25) is known to have “traveled through the art market and conceivably found with [63-65]” (Gods Delight, no. 66). The three other pieces, nos. 63-65 in the exhibition catalogue are now in the J. Paul Getty Museum. So discussions with Italy have implications beyond Cleveland.

The Apollo has been the subject of previous comment.

Povoledo also quotes Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art:
Mr. Rub said the museum acted in good faith when it acquired the pieces, but when presented with evidence of problems, it resolved to “honor our obligation to acquire in a manner that is ethical and transparent” and returned the works “to their rightful owner.”
As the museum acted in good faith, why is the museum refusing to provide the sources for the pieces?

Steven Litt ("Cleveland Museum of Art strikes deal with Italy to return 14 ancient artworks", cleveland.com November 19, 2008) reported:
Rub said the agreement with Italy is based on the understanding that neither the museum nor its directors or curators are in any way tainted by the return of objects.

Instead, Rub said, the understanding is that the museum innocently acquired objects that "clearly were associated with bad actors" at some point in their past.

Rub also said the museum purchased all the artworks in question after the 1970 UNESCO convention governing international trade in antiquities, aimed at halting illegal trade in antiquities.

The majority of the objects were purchased between the 1970s and the 1990s. Rub declined to give names of dealers involved in the histories of the objects.
I am left puzzled by this. Did the curatorial staff at Cleveland not have any suspicions if the objects had no recorded histories prior to 1970? And would the disclosure of the names of dealers help to close this disturbing period for American museums? Are other museums in North America, Europe and the Far East holding material from the same sources? Disclosure would help other museums to re-examine their due diligence processes.

Image
Corinthian krater (formerly Cleveland Museum of Art 1990.81). Source: MiBAC.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cleveland: the List

Further to my earlier posting here is the detailed list.

Greece
1. Donkey-Head Rhyton, Greece, 5th Century BC c. 475 BC (1977.92).

Corinthian
2. Column Krater, Greece, Late Early Corinthian-Early Middle Corinthian c. 600-590 BC (1990.81).

Apulian
3. Apulian Volute-Krater, Darius Painter c. 330 BC (1988.41).
4. Apulian or Campanian Red-Figure Lid with Bowl, South Italy, Apulia, 4th Century BC 4th century BC (1986.200). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
5. Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC 340-320 BC (1986.201). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
6. Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC c. 340-320 BC (1986.202). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
7. Apulian Gnathia Lekythos, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC 340-330 BC (1986.203). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.

Campanian
8. Campanian Red-Figure Acorn Lekythos, South Italy, Campania, 4th Century BC c. 350-320 BC (1986.204). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
9. Campanian Bird Askos, South Italy, northern Campania, late 4th-ealy 3rd Century BC c. 310-280 BC (1987.209. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman.

Sicilian
10. Sicilian Plastic Vase in the Form of a Pig, Sicily, provincial Greece, 5th Century BC c. 425 BC (1975.91).

Etruscan
11. Red-Figure Duck Askos, Italy, probably Chiusi (ancient Clusium), Etruscan, 4th century BC c. 350 BC (1975.23).
12a. Bracelet, Italy, Etruscan, 6th Century BC 6th century BC (1996.16). Gift of Edoardo Almagia and Courtney Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff
12b. Bracelet, Italy, Etruscan, 6th Century BC 6th century BC (1996.17). Gift of Edoardo Almagia and Courtney Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff

Sardinian
13. Warrior, Sardinia, 9th-8th Century BC 900-700 BC (1990.1).

There is one later piece:
14. Processional Cross, Italy, Tuscany, Siena, 14th century c. 1350 (1977.75).

Cleveland Museum of Art: Announcement

The announcement about the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art has been made this afternoon.

  • 1) Pig-shaped Feeding Vessel/Vaso plastico a porcellino.
  • 2) Mule Head Rhyton/Rython a testa di mulo.
  • 3) Sardinian Warrior/Bronzetto nuragico.
  • 4) Apulian Volute Krater by the Darius Painter; Departure of Anphiaros/Cratere a volute a figure rosse.
  • 5) Etruscan Red-figure Duck Askos/Askos ad anatra a figure rosse.
  • 6) Bird Askos/Askos campano ad uccello.
  • 7) Dog “Lekanis” Bowl with Lid/Coppa e coperchio a figure rosse.
  • 8) Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
  • 9) Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.
  • 10) Apulian Gnathia Lekythos/Lekythos tipo Gnathia.
  • 11) Acorn Lekythos: An Eros Serving a Lady/Lekythos campana a figure rosse.
  • 12) Corinthian Krater/Cratere a colonnette corinzio.
  • 13) Pair of Bracelets/Due coppie di armille in argento.
  • 14) 14th Century Italian Processional Cross/croce processionale in rame dorato del sec. XIV.

Image
An Apulian volute-krater, attributed to the Darius painter (Formerly Cleveland Museum of Art 1988.41). Image source: MiBAC.

Cleveland Museum of Art: Breaking Story

The Italian Ministry of Culture (MiBac) will be holding a press conference this afternoon, 2.30 pm (local time). The subject will be accord with the Cleveland Museum of Art. This will include the return of objects and the development of a cultural exchange programme.

Sandro Boni (Minister), Giuseppe Proietti (Secretary General) and Timothy Rub (Director, Cleveland Museum of Art) will be present.

Here is the speculative list.

Increase in the Reporting of Portable Antiquities

The annual report (2007) on finds of 'Treasure' in the UK will be published later today; "Treasure hunters boost gold finds", BBC News November 19, 2008. Apparently:
In total, the number of finds containing gold and silver which were reported by the public rose by more than a tenth last year.
Does this mean that chance finds went up by 10%? Reporting went up by 10%? Or that metal-detecting activity went up by 10%?

The BBC report:
The Treasure and the Portable Antiquities Scheme said it was partly down to the popularity of metal detectors, but also because more people are reporting what they have found.
Image
From the Snodland, Kent hoard. From the BBC.

Beyond the Medici Conspiracy: a legal dialogue

This afternoon (or morning, depending on your global position) I will be meeting (via videolink) students from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at the Northern Kentucky University. The students are taking an cultural property law course with Jennifer Kreder, Associate Professor. (For her work on the legal and ethics issues related to antiquities: here.)

We have a full agenda. The universal museum, the proportion of newly-surfaced antiquities on the market, collecting histories, the links with organised crime, and the AAMD guidelines will be under discussion.

But there are two major topics which I hope we can explore together:
  • the appropriate course of action to prevent further looting.
  • the impact of the returns to Italy on the collecting policies of major museums.
I am sure that other topics will arise.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Antiquities Wars": a misnomer?

Tomorrow's New York debate "Antiquities Wars: A Conversation About Loot and Legitimacy" has brought an extended comment from Dr Kwame Opoku. He suggests:
We are not involved in any war but in a dispute about heritage and ownership rights in an area where most of us agree that there has to be cooperation and understanding if we are to find acceptable solutions.
I thought that it would be interesting to trace the history of the term "Antiquities Wars".

One of the earliest uses of the phrase comes from 1984 (Gregory Jensen, "Melina Mercouri's demand for Elgin Marbles opens Pandora's box for world's art museums", UPI January 29, 2984). The context was the call for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece, though the term was used to describe the 19th century scramble for power over antiquities.
The most blatant plunder came in a nine-year ''antiquities war'' between Britain and France while Napoleon was ransacking Europe and Egypt to stock the Louvre Museum in Paris.
(For the context of such acquisitions see the recent study by Debbie Challis.)

Catherine Fox ("Emory's Roman exhibit calm as antiquities wars rage", The Atlanta Journal-Constitution August 18, 2006) used the phrase in a report on the loan exhibition "In Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite". As Jasper Gaunt, the curator, commented:
"The goal is to bring great work to Atlanta," he says. "You can buy or borrow. If you can borrow 'Flora,' why buy?"
The report continued:
The recent repatriations of objects and the trials of collectors have had a big effect, Gaunt says. "The market has shrunk enormously. There are fewer dealers, which is a good thing. Auction houses are more circumspect. Documented objects are more expensive."

But Gaunt is not about to give up acquiring objects for the Carlos collection. In June, for example, he bought an important sculpture of Aphrodite.

"I still love the hunt," he says, "and there is plenty to hunt for."
The term "Antiquities Wars" switched from the classical worlds to the New World in February 2008 with an editorial in The Santa Fe New Mexican ("Our view: a promising victory in antiquities wars", February 12, 2008). This commented on the raids on "a private gallery and four museums in Southern California".
Buyers of the illicit goods, now there are laws and treaties against looting, tend to be well-heeled collectors who keep the stuff out of sight. But not always, as the raid on those museums indicates: The day is fast fading when such institutions can buy on the sly, then take on superior airs for their role in educating and entertaining the great unwashed.
The present use of the term "Antiquities Wars" seems to have been used by the members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). It appears in a short report "The Antiquities Wars" in The Salem News (Beverly, Massachusetts) June 13, 2008.
The executive director of the Peabody Essex Museum made news last week as a spokesman for a group of museum directors who announced tough new guidelines for collecting archaeological treasures. That's a hot topic in the museum world and has led to international fights over the ownership of valuable art objects.

Monroe was chairman of a subcommittee that drafted guidelines for the Association of Art Museum Directors aimed at discouraging the looting of archaeological treasures.
This was linked to the AAMD report "Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art" (see comment). Lee Rosenbaum then presented two pieces on the "Antiquities Wars" on Culturegrrl (I, II).

But Dr Opaku is right. We need to find an alternative to "Antiquities Wars".

How about the "Antiquities Scandal"?

Philippe de Montebello and the Leon Levy Foundation

The Leon Levy Foundation has issued a press release ("Leon Levy Foundation Names Philippe de Montebello Special Advisor for Culture and the Arts", November 11, 2008).
The Leon Levy Foundation today named Philippe de Montebello, outgoing director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as special advisor for culture and the arts. Mr. de Montebello will join the Foundation in January 2009.

Mr. de Montebello said, "This is a natural extension of my life's work to expand and enrich the appreciation of art among all people, regardless of age and geography. I would very much like to see the Foundation's resources devoted to bringing creative approaches to untapped areas that hold special promise for broadening knowledge in the visual arts and other aspects of culture."

Shelby White, founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, said, "We are pleased that Philippe will bring to the Leon Levy Foundation his knowledge and experience as an international leader in the arts and humanities to help us develop innovative programs in these areas."
Leon Levy is described as "a legendary investor with a longstanding commitment to philanthropy".

Monday, November 17, 2008

Antiquities Wars: a Conversation

This Wednesday (November 19, 2008) the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU will be hosting an event: "Antiquities Wars: A Conversation About Loot and Legitimacy".

The "conversation" will be between:
  • Sharon Waxman, former New York Times correspondent, author of the newly released Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World.
  • James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage.
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton Philosophy Professor, author Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.
  • Daniel Shapiro, an attorney specializing in art law and the president emeritus of the International Cultural Property Society.
Here are some relevant links to my comments on three of these speakers:
For more on the "Antiquities Wars":
There are still outstanding issues from the claims made by Italy and Greece:

Another recently-surfaced Minoan larnax

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

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

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

Shelby White seems to have close links with MFAH:

Shelby White has been linked to

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

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

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

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

So why the silence?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Germany: what is "important" cultural property?

Derek Fincham has responded to my comment on a Germany as a developing "hub" in the antiquities market. My report was based on reported interviews with two German practitioners (one in a museum, the other in the police service) who felt that the German legislation would not be adequate to address the issue of recently surfaced antiquities.

Fincham comments on Article 5 of the UNESCO Convention with its emphasis on the establishment of "a list of important public and private cultural property". The Article also talks about "the formation of draft laws and regulations designed to secure the protection of the cultural heritage and particularly prevention of the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of important cultural property" (emphasis mine).

What is important? Would a single Apulian krater fall into that category? What about a pair of kraters? What about a set of South Italian cavalry armour?

Some could argue that these items are not "important" in the overall scheme of things. However if you accept that some 95% of the corpus of Apulian pots do not have a recorded find-spot, then you will also have to acknowledge that major harm is being (or has been) sustained by the "important" archaeological record of Apulia.

The UNESCO Convention requires an attitude shift. Do museums continue to acquire and to display objects that have no recorded history prior to 1970? Do dealers continue to handle antiquities that have no recorded history prior to 1970? Do academics continue to publish antiquities that have no recorded history prior to 1970?

And if a German museum curator and a German law enforcement officer feel that their own German laws are not adequate (fit for purpose?) to address the issue of recently-surfaced antiquities then we should listen to them.

And it is appropriate to draw attention to them here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Universal Museum: another view?

I have written about the Universal Museum and it is the end of another week.

So as an antidote to postings about truckloads of antiquities trundling back to Italy or withdrawn lots at London auctions .... and in the spirit of BBC Radio 4's "I'm sorry I haven't a clue" (the self-styled "antidote to panel games") ... here is the "Encyclopaedic Museum Starter Kit!".

The archive section covers themes addressed on "Looting Matters":
  • repatriation
  • Coptic sculptures
  • the Parthenon marbles
  • the level of looting in Iraq

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Germany: "it's like an antiquities laundry"

Last week's news story that more than 4000 antiquities will be trucked back to Italy from Switzerland ended by noting that Germany is now a major centre of antiquities.

Germany ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in November 2007. The reason for the action was given in a press release issued after the German Cabinet had made the appropriate decision in February 2006.
Minister of State for Cultural Affairs Bernd Neumann presented the cabinet with a draft bill that will implement in German law the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The cabinet approved the bill at its meeting today. This legislation is among the most important projects on the government's agenda in the framework of a 100-day program of action in the cultural affairs arena.

This concludes an unusually long ratification process on the part of the German government. Bernd Neumann noted: "It is very important to me to be able to present this long overdue bill that will finally harmonize German laws on the protection of cultural property with international standards. There is an urgent need to curb trade in stolen cultural property, such as we have seen recently in Iraq in particular, by means of coordinated measures on the part of the international community."

The purpose of the bill is to help fight illegal trade in cultural property at the international level. With it Germany will be able to guarantee compliance with cultural property protection laws in other countries who are parties to the convention, in particular with regard to returning illicitly obtained cultural property as well as preventing illicit imports and exports thereof. Under the bill Germany also assumes the obligation to do everything it can to protect its own cultural property against illegal digging, theft, and illicit exports.
While this sounded like good news, notes of caution were also sounded. A helpful overview was presented by Andrew Curry, "German Law Stirs Concern Illegal Artifacts Will Be Easier to Sell", Science Vol. 315. no. 5818 (16 March 2007) pp. 1479 - 1480. He interviewed one of the critics of the new law, Michael Müller-Karpe of the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Mainz.

Curry reported the concerns:
Whereas the United States and many of the other 112 signatories to the convention restrict or prohibit trade in broad categories of artifacts, the German law passed last Friday requires countries to publish lists of specific items they consider valuable to their cultural heritage. Only those items will be protected under German law, which means trade in undocumented artifacts, such as those looted from archaeological sites, will be difficult to restrict. “This is a bad signal,” says Michael Mueller-Karpe, an archaeologist at the Roman-German Central Museum in Mainz. “It tells the world that whatever isn’t published isn’t worth protecting.”
The main concern in 2007 was that Germany would take over from Switzerland as the country where antiquities were handled.
German archaeologists fear that the country’s loopholes could make it a destination where dealers turn stolen property into legal merchandise that can then be traded worldwide. Until now, objects with no proof of origin have been assumed stolen. But under the new law, if they’re not listed, they can be presumed legal and potentially sold with Germany as their country of origin—making it easier to move them to the United States or elsewhere. “It’s like an antiquities laundry,” says Mueller-Karpe.
One of the critics of the scope of Germany's ratification was Eckhard Laufer, a police officer who has been part of a unit looking at material from illicit excavations:
“We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m afraid it’s totally inadequate,” Laufer says. “The new law won’t make any improvement, and the situation can’t get much worse than it is right now.”
Laufer is now the target of criticisms by those involved in the numismatic trade (see Paul Barford's "Raubgrabung and the European Trade Reaction").

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Fully provenanced": overheard in a New York gallery

A key issue in the discussion of recently-surfaced antiquities is the establishment of a documented history, or as some choose to call it "the provenance". Professor Elizabeth Marlowe of Colgate University teaches an interesting-looking module, "Small Classical Bronzes in the Picker Art Gallery: Looting, Faking and Collecting Antiquities in the Post-Colonial World". One of the aims of the course is to "examine the epistemological and ethical problems inherent in the study and collecting of unprovenanced antiquities".

In mid-October the class had a field trip to New York City, and apart from visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the home of a private collector, there was time in a gallery selling antiquities. (I am aware of the name of the gallery but will not disclose it here; for some New York dealers in antiquities click here).

I am grateful to Professor Marlowe for allowing me to summarise (and post) what happened next. The class apparently witnessed a potential customer wanting to buy a piece of ancient jewellery. The client asked if it "had provenance". The salesperson then assured him that it had "excellent provenance" because it had been published three times. The proof was then produced: three recent sales catalogues of that particular gallery.

There was a subsequent discussion between the class and the owner of the gallery about the nature of "provenance"; the owner suggested that publication gave "provenance". When Professor Marlowe explained to the class, "this is related to what we were talking about last week, the difference between provenance and provenience and the problematic ambiguity of those terms", the owner responded:
yes isn't it just ridiculous what passes for provenance these days, but you know, that's the way it works .
The owner apparently remained steadfast in their assertion that the gallery's pieces were fully "provenanced".

Professor Marlowe asked me to comment on this "interpretation" of "provenance". There are several things to observe.
  1. Do the publications demonstrate that the object was known prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention?
  2. Do "in-house" publications merely provide a "paper trail"?
  3. Paper trails do not always provide "good provenance". Consider that at least seven of the pieces returned to Italy from North American museums, a dealer, and a private collector had the "provenance" of well-known London auction-house (which no longer trades in antiquities at that location). Reflect also that many of the pieces withdrawn from the London sale of another auction-house also had the same "provenance".
  4. Publication in a sale catalogue does allow the object to come to public notice. Many of the large auction-houses now put this information on-line. So how widely are the catalogues distributed? (I checked the distribution list for the New York gallery in question on WorldCat. I found a single catalogue listed - some 3200 miles from where I am sitting.)
  5. Is it enough to check with an outside agency, such as the Art Loss Register, that the piece has not been stolen? (Antiquities can get stolen from museums and the ALR can assist with their return.)
  6. Should galleries check with the cultural section of relevant embassies? Should they distribute their catalogues to foreign governments?
But what to readers think about this? Do in-house publications count as "provenance"? Leave a comment!


Ny Carlsberg: In the Spotlight

Jette Christiansen has written about the requests made by Italy against the Ny Carlsberg in the 2008 Annual Report ("I mediernes søgelys", Ny Carlsbergsfondets Årsskrift (2008) pp. 138-45 [pdf]). Back in January it seemed that the Italian authorities would be turning their attention to Denmark (and Japan). It has been reported that some items had been purchased from Robert Hecht and that at least one had passed through the hands of Giacomo Medici.

Christiansen reviews the recent press coverage of the Ny Carlsberg's acquisitions. The formal request from the Italian authorities was made in 2002 in connection with the Roman trial of certain dealers and museums curators; nobody is mentioned by name. It appears that there is documentation for transactions that were made through Switzerland. Renewed requests were made by the Italian authorities in January 2007.

Christiansen asserts that Italy has no legal claim in the Ny Carlsberg's collection. However there is an admission that possible exchanges are being discussed.

The report concludes with a mention that the international antiquities trade has now shifted to Dubai.

I am grateful to "Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Speaks Out on Hecht-Medici Case", www.iconoclasm.dk for alerting me to this report.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Icklingham: Continued Looting

The fields of Icklingham in Suffolk were the site of a notorious piece of looting in the 1980s when a series of Romano-British bronzes were extracted, removed from Britain, and sold through a New York gallery to a pair of North American private collectors (complete with apparently fictitious history about having been in a Swiss private collection).

Now Paul Barford has drawn attention to a recent newspaper report about John Browning, the farmer at Icklingham ("Thieves target historic site", East Anglian Daily Times, November 7, 2008). The paper reports:
Last night [John Browning] told how his fields had been targeted three times in the past five days by night-time thieves carrying metal detectors. It is understood they dig up the area looking for valuable Roman artefacts following the discovery there of a number of bronze heads and statuettes.

They are the latest in a string of incidents involving treasure hunters. At least 50 people have been caught and penalised over the years and Mr Browning believes more than 100 incidents have gone unpunished.
There are several things to notice. First, that (some) metal detectorists target known (recognised) archaeological sites. Second, that deliberate destruction of an archaeological site (looting?) continues apace. Third, such activity is intense.

And if this is true for Icklingham, what about other scheduled archaeological sites in England and Wales?

Image
EADT

Razia Iqbal on the British Museum

The BBC's Arts Correspondent, Razia Iqbal, has written about the British Museum's latest exhibition, Babylon: Myths and Realities, which opens later this week.
And then, what hits you in the final room of the exhibition is the tragedy of what is happening in what is present-day Babylon, southern Iraq. The British Museum does not mince its words. It accuses the coalition troops who are serving there of having caused irreversible damage to what it describes as one of the world's most important archaeological sites.

The extent of this destruction is made public for the first time in the exhibition. After the fall of Saddam, many historic sites were looted by Iraqis, hunting for antiquities; Babylon was spared that fate, only to fall to a worse one, from which the Museum says it will never recover: Occupation by more than 2,000 soldiers.

It was the digging of long trenches for military purposes, levelling areas of the site, driving vehicles around it, establishing a helipad in one of the most famous sites of the ancient world that the Museum regards as scandalous.

The institution has been politically prescient in many of its shows, from the 2005 Persian exhibition to capturing the mood of terracotta diplomacy in its China blockbuster, The First Emperor. This exhibition is contained and detailed, but hits its target very hard.

Wordle on Looting Matters


This is a Wordle image generated by recent postings from Looting Matters.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Iraq and Antiquities: Looking Back to 2003

It seems to be "fashionable" to be looking back to "old" news stories about Iraq ... so I had better warn you now that this comment looks back to 2003.

As the missiles started to fall on Baghdad, The Times (London) reported the fears for archaeological sites and objects in Iraq (Dalya Alberge, "War and its aftermath threaten Iraqi treasures", The Times, March 26, 2003).

Lord Renfrew was said to be "demanding to know whether a coalition of American collectors and curators is seeking to acquire Iraqi antiquities after the fall of President Saddam Hussein." This coalition was described as:

A group of wealthy and influential arts figures calling themselves the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP) is arguing that the legitimate dispersal of cultural material is one of the best ways to protect it. The coalition's members wield such influence that they secured a high-level meeting in January with US State and Defence Department officials, to the alarm of archaeologists.
The Times noted that members of the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP) included "Shelby White, a leading antiquities collector, as well as museum directors and curators". The claimed aim of the group was "to save the country's wealth of archaeological sites".

Renfrew asked the question:

What on earth are they doing seeking to meet with the US Defence Department at this sensitive time?


These collectors and curators want to be free to buy antiquities that come from archaeological sites and relax the export laws. They want the antiquities legislation of Iraq to be relaxed in the aftermath of war. If there's an intervention, there's a real risk of serious looting.
It looks as if Renfrew was right.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Renfrew on Cuno: Museums as Custodians

Earlier this week Lord Renfrew was in debate with James Cuno on the BBC. Renfrew's view of James Cuno's position is now made crystal clear in his review of Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? for the Burlington Magazine. Renfrew noted the "readable and lucidly argued book James Cuno sets out what might, ten years ago, have been described as the art museum director’s case on the proprieties of ownership and acquisition". Cuno's position is considered to be "traditional" (and by implication rather dated).

Renfrew notes a weakness in Cuno's approach:
But the issues in the two cases – modern, clandestine looting, versus colonial or imperial appropriation, mainly during the nineteenth century and by the leading world powers of the day – are not the same.
Such a mix does however come together in the present Nostoi exhibition in Athens where recent returns from Italy and Greece are placed alongside returns of parts of the Parthenon frieze (Palermo and the Vatican).

Renfrew concludes his review with a critical assessment of Cuno's position and the way that he has ignored the evidence of looting from Italy (a point that I will be making in my review which is now in press):
There are many interesting arguments here. And it should indeed be possible to ensure that the great universal museums of the world can fulfil their mission without at the same time conniving in the illicit traffic in antiquities which funds the continuing destruction of archaeological sites today. But Cuno’s implication that the rich institutions of the modern world can be left to regulate their own affairs, without clear acquisition codes and without international regulation, is belied by recent evidence. Peter Watson’s book, The Medici Conspiracy: the Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities, from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums (New York 2006) makes all too clear how museum curators and widely respected dealers have sometimes been complicit in the traffic in looted antiquities. Acquisitive museums have too often been in league with wealthy collectors, encouraging them to amass substantial assemblages of antiquities without any exercise of due diligence, and then accepting these by gift or bequest, some years later, on the grounds that they have now become ‘recognised collections’. This is the unpleasant reality that has recently led the Association of Art Museum Directors to move towards the acceptance of the 1970 rule, a position which the Museums Association of the United Kingdom, like the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, adopted some years ago. Most of us would share the aspiration underlying Cuno’s question ‘Who owns art?’ that the past is the inheritance of us all. More dubious, however, is the fitness of institutions such as the one he directs, to be the custodians of this inheritance. Until they accept and publish an ethical acquisitions policy, their position – like that of the author – will be open to question.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Warehouses, Antiquities and Basel

There has been much attention given to the raids on the warehouses belonging to Giacomo Medici in the Geneva Freeport. But these were not the only storage facilities in Switzerland to be raided.

Premises associated with Gianfranco Becchina were raided in May 2002. Some 5000 objects were reportedly recovered from three warehouses. A fourth warehouse in Basel was raided in September 2005. Some 10,000 photographs were recovered as well as some 200 "bundles of receipts" (Kazuki Matsuura, "Records tie Japan to art theft; Italian prosecutors discover link to Japanese antique dealer", The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo) January 16, 2007).

Papers from these raids have been mentioned in the Rome trial of Marion True and Robert Hecht (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Photographs of Getty Griffins in Car Trunk Shown at Rome Trial",
The New York Times June 1, 2006):
In trial testimony Giuseppe Putrino, an officer with the art theft squad, described documents recovered in a raid last summer on the offices of Palladion Ancient and Fine Art in Basel, Switzerland, run by Ursula Becchina, the wife of the Sicilian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.

Gianfranco Becchina: some recent links

It is three years since the relentless return of antiquities from museums and collections to Italy started. One of the first items to return was the "Asteas krater" from the J. Paul Getty Museum
("Vase seized by ICE from Getty Museum returned to Italy", States News Service, November 10, 2005; see also the Getty press release October 3, 2005). The piece, made in the region of Paestum in southern Italy, was handed over to the Italian authorities and flown back to Rome.

It was reported that the krater had been discovered in the 1970s; the finder exchanged it, reportedly, for a pig. By 1978 the pot was in a "private collection" in Switzerland where it was seen by a curator from the Getty. The krater was then placed on loan to the Getty and purchased three years later from Gianfranco Becchina for US $275,000. The first official request for the krater's return was made in 1999.

Among the other returns from the Getty to Italy was an Attic red-figured amphora showing Herakles and Apollo struggling for the tripod (formerly inv. 79.AE.139). It was purchased in 1979 from Palladion Antike Kunst, Basel. This gallery was run by Becchina's wife, Ursula Juraschek, also known as "Rosie".

Palladion Antike Kunst handled three items that have been returned to Italy by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:
  • Attic black-figured hydria, attributed to the circle of the Antimenes painter (formerly inv. 1979.614)
  • Attic red-figured pelike, attributed to the Nausicaa painter (formerly inv. 1979.40)
  • Apulian bell-krater, attributed to the Hoppin painter (formerly inv. 1988.532)
These three pieces are discussed in detail by Gill and Chippindale.

Becchina also sold the controversial kouros to the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1985. He has been the focus of attention during the Rome trial of Robert Hecht and Marion True (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Focus in Getty trial shifts to a Sicilian antiquities dealer." New York Times April 27, 2006: 3). Povoledo reported:
In more than four hours on the stand, Giuseppe Putrino, an officer with the art theft squad of the Italian military police, or carabinieri, expounded on documents, including faxes, invoices, money transfers, letters and Polaroid photographs, confiscated during police raids on Mr. Becchina's warehouses in Basel and his home in Castelvetrano, Sicily.
There are likely to be more revelations.

Major Return to Italy from Switzerland

It has been announced that Switzerland will be returning some 4,400 antiquities to Italy (Frank Jordans, "Swiss to return stolen antiquities to Italy", AP November 6, 2008). The antiquities, which will fill three lorry-loads, were seized in 2001 from storage facilities of two Basel-based antiquities dealers. The return is the culmination of an extended legal battle to keep the "stock" in Switzerland.

Apparently half the items had been derived from tombs in Apulia, reminding us of the problem of looting in this area. (Several Apulian pots have been returned from North American collections to Italy; Italy has also been seeking the return of Apulian material from Leiden.)

Guido Lassau, a Swiss archaeologist, made the key point that will strike a chord with colleagues:
They're very well preserved because they spent the last 2,000 years in a virtual time capsule until they were plundered by grave robbers ... But the tragic thing is that a lot of the archaeological information was lost when they were removed.
The scale of looting in Apulia has been the subject of significant comment by Ricardo Elia.

Lassau also commented on the scale of the haul:
This is a vast haul on a dramatic scale that would have saturated the market if they had been sold.
The dealers have not been identified due to Swiss privacy laws, though it was noted that both were "under investigation in Italy and Switzerland". However the report added:
The woman could face prosecution in Switzerland for handling stolen goods, and her husband is the subject of criminal proceedings in Italy for allegedly exporting cultural antiquities illegally, handling stolen goods and belonging to a criminal organization.
There is one husband-and-wife team with links to Sicily and Basel - and who have been linked to some of the returns to Italy. We should wait for an official announcement, but if this pair are who I think they are then we should expect further claims made on private collectors and public museums (and not just in North America).

This is not the end of revelations. Apparently a further 1400 antiquities were seized in 2001 and it is not yet clear from which country they had been removed. Does this mean Greece and Turkey will also be expecting returns?

The newspaper report reminds us that Switzerland is no longer the centre for the trade in antiquities which has now shifted to Germany.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Another Parthenon Fragment In Athens

It is reported that the Vatican returned a small fragment of the Parthenon frieze to Athens yesterday, November 5 (Daniel Flynn, "Vatican lends Parthenon Marbles fragment to Greece", Reuters, November 5, 2008; press release). The piece comes from Slab V of the North Frieze and shows the head of one of the tray-bearers who proceed the men carrying hydriai (Slab VI, in Athens). It forms part of the collection of the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco (inv. 1014) in the Vatican. The fragment was presented to the Vatican in 1804 by the wife of R. Fagan, the British consul in Sicily and the Ionian Islands.
The loan of the fragment, one of three in the Vatican Museum's vast collection of antiquities, follows a request for its return by Greece's late Orthodox Archbishop Christopoulos at a meeting with Pope Benedict in 2006.
The Hellenic Minister of Culture, Michalis Liapis, commented:
This is a very important event ... It should be an example to follow for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.
This is in addition to the fragment returned from Palermo last month.

Plutocracy and Cultural Policy

The dust had hardly settled on the parties to celebrate the historic victory of Senator Barack Obama before a pro-collecting Washington lobbyist had started to grumble.
wealthy collectors have also provided support for Obama. One would also suspect they would act as counterweights to the "archaeology over all" perspective of Professor Gerstenblith, SAFE and others.
Peter Tompa - the lobbyist and former president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) - has called for more transparency in matters relating to cultural property. What we need to see is integrity.

The world's archaeological heritage belongs to us all, not just to a plutocratic collecting minority.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cuno and Renfrew on recently-surfaced antiquities

James Cuno and Lord Renfrew discussed the issue of recently surfaced antiquities on the BBC's flagship Today news programme. They were interviewed by Sarah Montague who brought a crispness to the proceedings.

Cuno stressed the ownership of the world's ancient past and returned to his oft-quoted theme that there was no direct link between antiquity and modern nation states.

Renfrew agreed that antiquity belongs to us all, but reminded the listeners that this shared ownership also brings responsibilities. He then changed the direction of the interview towards the issue of looting: "The great problem at present is the destruction of the record of the past through looting." He suggested that museums and private collectors should not be free to buy recently-surfaced antiquities.

While Cuno accepted the issue of looting, Renfrew criticised Cuno for not using the 1970 UNESCO Convention as a benchmark. Cuno responded that he did not accept 1970 as a "legal" date and placed his emphasis on national laws. Montague was quick to remind Cuno that from 1970 museums should have been aware of the ethical issues.

Renfrew dismissed Cuno's position: "It isn't good enough". He then emphasised that museums should only acquire objects that were "Safely out of the ground before 1970".

The discussion was firm and polite - and for once Cuno was firmly on the defensive.

Match to Renfrew.


Image
© David Gill.

Shanks: "if there were no market for looted antiquities, looting would stop"

Hershel Shanks of Biblical Archaeology Review has written a provocative and, in my opinion, wrong-headed piece, "First Person: A Radical Proposal. Why don’t the archaeologists join the looters?", BAR 34:06, Nov/Dec 2008.

Here is Shanks' comment on the archaeological "suggestion" for limiting the looting of sites:
The archaeological establishment’s principal suggestion that will supposedly stop the looting is—well, not to put too fine a point on it—stupid. “Don’t buy looted antiquities” is the strategy. Admittedly, if there were no market for looted antiquities, looting would stop. If the looters could not sell their loot, they would discontinue looting.
The antiquities recently returned to Italy and Greece from North American collections have reminded us that objects need to have histories that can be documented prior to 1970. If a tombarolo discovered another Attic red-figured krater attributed to (or "signed" by) Euphronios in an Etruscan tomb, I have a suspicion that no responsible museum curator would touch it with a barge-pole. Would the museum want all the adverse publicity? And even if a private collector bought it, the piece could never (I suspect) be placed on a short- or a long-term loan in a museum without drawing some unfavourable comment. So I have to agree with Shanks: "If the looters could not sell their loot, they would discontinue looting."

Shanks suggests that the result of this policy is that archaeological objects (by now stripped of their meaningful archaeological contexts) end up in some private collection away from public view. But remember that the Nostoi exhibitions of returned antiquities have included pieces that have formed part of major North American private collections, including the Leon Levy and Shelby White collection, and the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection. So these private collections are not beyond public scrutiny.

Then we move into areas where I disagree with Shanks. He writes:
The second strategy adopted by the archaeological establishment is even stupider: Forbid study by scholars of looted objects.
There is a balance to be struck between making the acquisition of newly surfaced antiquities transparent, and safeguarding the corpus of knowledge. Thus a new acquisition of, say, a Minoan larnax by a North American museum should be published in an annual report (complete with photograph) and posted on the museum's website. (In these days of electronic documents that is not exactly difficult.) In addition, the piece can be posted on the AAMD database, in the way that the Portland Art Museum has done for an Indian sculpture.

But, for example, should a fragmentary Greek funerary stele enter the corpus of knowledge through a scholarly discussion of the iconography that is published in an academic journal - only to find, several years later, that the conclusions are undermined when the true context is revealed. The article will become redundant. What happens when forgeries of Cycladic marble figurines are allowed to enter the corpus of known pieces? Shanks underestimates the scale of the issues.

Shanks has been supporting a long-running campaign ('The Publication of Unprovenanced Artifacts'), backed by numerous academics. The targets are the publishing policies of bodies such as the AIA and ASOR. I have addressed this issue before, and I continue to believe Shanks' proposal is flawed - and it is not unconnected to the recent discussion of inscribed incantation bowls that appear to have come from Iraq.

Then we come to Shanks' main proposal:
Compete with the looters. Professional archaeologists should professionally excavate areas subject to looting—and fund their excavations by selling the “loot.” After all, we are assured by Giorgio Gligoris, “profits are phenomenal.” The “loot” from these professional excavations must, of course, be available for study and publication. And we will always know where they are in an open market—just as we know about the location of a Renoir painting.

Moreover, much of this professionally excavated loot will end up in museums. Indeed, museums will be some of the prime purchasers—with money provided by their benefactors. Other pieces will later be donated to museums by private purchasers. Such gifts provide the donor with a tax deduction in many countries—a nice inducement.

Paul Barford has discussed why it is not a good idea to dispose of the datasets from archaeological excavations. And the proposal to have tax-deductible gifts of antiquities will ring disquieting bells in the heads of informed archaeologists and museum curators.

Shanks closes with a discussion of Brian Rose's comments on the excavation of a tumulus in Turkey (I presume in Phrygia).
I recall a conversation I had with the current president of the Archaeological Institute of America, Brian Rose (before he became president). He had just given a paper decrying the looting of a rich tumulus in Turkey. There were several other tumuli at the site, so I suggested to Brian that professional archaeologists should excavate these other tumuli before the looters got hold of them; finance the dig through the sale of the artifacts to museums, where they would be available for study and publication. I’m sorry to say the suggestion had no appeal.

I am not surprised that Shanks' suggestion "had no appeal". And if you realise that a recent (i.e. 2006) study of tumuli in Lydia (also in Turkey) suggests that some 90% have been looted, you are likely to accept (or at least acknowledge) the reasons why archaeologists are reluctant to adopt a policy that could lead to a further destruction of the finite archaeological record.

Shanks thinks that his "suggestion here will no doubt fall on deaf ears". Actually, his piece shows that he has not been listening to what archaeologists have been saying.

Congratulations to Barack Obama

Congratulations to Senator Barack Obama on his historic win to be the next President of the United States of America.

This also has implications for those who follow cultural property affairs. The Obama National Arts Policy Committee includes Professor Patty Gerstenblith of De Paul University who will provide an informed voice in any debates relating to these matters.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Coins by Post

The Yemen News Agency has reported on the interception of a parcel of antique gold and silver coins at Sana'a Airport ("Authorities seize postal parcels contain antique coins", November 2, 2008). It appears that the home of the sender was raided and a further 310 bronze coins were seized.

The report concluded with a seizure made in the previous week: "authorities seized three parcels in Sana'a Airport contain golden coins date back to Islamic Era and silver coins date back to different ages."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Collecting Histories and Lack of Transparency

Over the last few months I have requested information about four items from two North American museums that are members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). All four items have been acquired since 2002; three come from one museum, one from the other. Both museums have declined to respond or even to acknowledge the requests.

Yet the “2008 Report of the AAMD Subcommittee on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art” stated in the Principles:
D. AAMD is committed to the exercise of due diligence in the acquisition process, in particular in the research of proposed acquisitions, transparency in the policy applicable to acquisitions generally, and full and prompt disclosure following acquisition.
Moreover in the Guidelines the report emphasises:
E. Member museums normally should not acquire a work unless provenance research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970. The museum should promptly publish acquisitions of archaeological materials and ancient art, in print or electronic form, including in these publications an image of the work (or representative images in the case of groups of objects) and its provenance, thus making this information readily available to all interested parties.
One item appears unillustrated in the Annual Report of the museum (but without acquisition number), and the other three pieces do not yet appear to have been published.

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