Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looting Matters: A Review of 2008

This time last year I suggested that we were likely to see resolutions over the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Shelby White collection. The return of material from the White-Levy collection was announced in January, and from Cleveland in November. January also saw the arrival of the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater in Rome.

Other material returned to Italy was recovered by Operation "Ghelas", Operation "Ulisse" and Operaton "Online". Apulian pottery seized in Spain was handed back, as well as the contents of a warehouse belonging to a dealer in Basel. A new Euphronios fragment turned up at Cerveteri. Some of this returning archaeological material was displayed in the second Nostoi exhibition in the Palazzo Poli in Rome; Nostoi moved to Athens in September.

Greece has been more active in calling for the return of antiquities. A major conference on cultural property was held in the New Acropolis Museum back and this led to renewed calls for the return of the Parthenon marbles; small fragments of returned pieces of the Parthenon have gone on display. Other returns included a statue stolen from Gortyn on Crete that surfaced with a Swiss antiquities dealer, and a marble lekythos. Shelby White announced that two items from her collection would be returning to Greece.

Antiquities have also been returned to Egypt, Libya (Cyrenaica) and Algeria. The appointment of Brent R. Benjamin of the St Louis Art Museum to CPAC is likely to bring further tensions with Egypt. The scale of looting in Iraq has been the subject of rigorous discussion.

I have mapped trends in the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's (New York). Meanwhile Bonham's (London) had a bad year. They had to withdraw an Egyptian lot in May and the sale of the Graham Geddes collection in October attracted much adverse publicity.

Institutions have begun to respond to the debate about the way that antiquities surface on the market. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) launched its Object Register in June, and in November the first item was posted. The AAMD also issued "New Standards on Collecting of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art". The Milken Institute sponsored a conference and report about the antiquities market.

Two books have attracted much publicity during the year: James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? (Details of reviews) and Sharon Waxman's Loot!

The search for a successor to Philippe de Montebello at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art was announced. This brought a distinctive tribute from Lee Rosenbaum of CultureGrrl. An exhibition celebrating the de Montebello years went on display. Thomas P. Campbell was appointed in September.

This is just a sample of the stories covered in 2008.

Looting Matters wishes its readers a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Neil MacGregor: Briton of the Year

The Times (London) has named Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, as "Briton of the Year" (The Times December 27, 2008; see also Leader). The article touches upon the successor to Philippe de Montebello at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
[MacGregor] declined the Met on principle. It was not a public institution, he said. And he wanted to stay at a museum that was free to everyone. MacGregor, it would appear, is profoundly democratic. Refocusing upon the founding ideals of the institution that was established by Act of Parliament in 1753 as a museum for the world, he has radically redefined the role that it can play in public life.
There is discussion of the Museum's exhibition policy:
Helping to release the power that lies implicit in the world’s ancient artefacts, MacGregor has turned the British Museum into an arena in which some of our most fraught and contentious contemporary political debates can be approached with a freshened sensitivity and depth of understanding that can surely be a great help in fostering peace.
The Times "Leader" restates the value of the Universal Museum:
Neil MacGregor has ensured that the British Museum is not just a venerable but little visited institution, is not just part of an antique cultural landscape, but is vital to the nation's lifeblood. While other museums may wither, MacGregor has made it impossible to imagine a cultural future for Britain that does not feature the British Museum close to its heart. It is a huge legacy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Sevso Treasure Revisited

Time Team covered the Sevso Treasure on (UK) Channel 4 on December 26, 2008 ("The mystery of the Roman treasure"). Channel 4's website has plenty of useful links including a quiz on "the illegal antiquities trade".

As Channel 4 recommends "Looting Matters" in its list of resources to "Find Out More" here are previous postings on the Sevso Treasure:

James Cuno Responds to Roger Bland

James Cuno has responded to Roger Bland's review of Who Owns Antiquity? ("Yesterday Nebuchadnezzar . . .", London Review of Books 30, no. 24, December 18 2008). He claims that Bland has "misread" the book and states, "My argument is that cultural property is a political construct put to the service of modern governments’ agendas [sic.]". Cuno places an emphasis on Iraq in his response.

He concludes:
Bland calls my arguments ‘US cultural imperialism at its worst’. On the contrary, my book is an argument against the nationalism of culture (on the part of the US and all other governments) in favour of encyclopedic museums like the British Museum (Bland’s employer).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasonal Greetings

Looting Matters wishes all its readers a Happy Christmas.

Nadolig llawen i chi!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Sheer persistence pays dividends": Head of Amenhotep III Returns to Egypt

The head of Amenhotep III, once handled by Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, has been returned to Egypt ("Priceless Egyptian Sculpture To Be Returned Home after 18 Year Absence" (press release, Mishcon de Reya, December 19, 2008).
Dr Zahi Hawass personally retained Karen Sanig, Head of Art Law at Mishcon de Reya to assert the ownership rights of the Arab Republic of Egypt and to effect repatriation of the Head. The case was extremely complicated as the Head was the subject of two criminal proceedings, in the UK and the US, it had passed through the hands of innocent parties unaware of its chequered history and travelled to various jurisdictions which gave rise to other alleged ownership rights. Despite all this, as a result careful negotiation, led by Karen Sanig, the Head has today gone home and avoided making its third court appearance in the High Court in London.

Karen Sanig added:
In this case the determination of Dr Zahi Hawass backed by the Egyptian Government enabled a successful resolution without recourse to litigation. Other countries affected by looting and trafficking of their cultural heritage property often have neither the resources of the Arab Republic of Egypt nor the dedication of its most important archaeologist, Dr Hawass. However the return of the Head does show that sheer persistence pays dividends in this area.

Trends in the Sale of Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's


I have been doing some further analysis of the Egyptian lots in the sales of antiquities at Sotheby's New York. While the median has been increasing steadily since 1998, both sales in 2008 showed a downturn. There have been drops before, but it does look as if the present financial crisis is having an impact on sales.

I have excluded two special sales (in 1999 and 2004) for this study. (The median for the one in 2004 was $14,400, in the middle of the two others for that year.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Financial Innovations and the Sponsorship of Archaeological Excavations

This post will address the second of the Milken Institute's proposals to fund archaeology (see my earlier comments on leasing). The second solution is to "Develop museum/collector partnerships to sponsor archaeological digs".

This solution advocates the role of the private collector.
Because museum lease models include only a few of the players within the value chain, another option would include a limited participation level for individual collectors who have spending power to generate substantial revenues. Countries of origin have been historically reluctant to lease items to personal collections. However, the bias against collectors ignores the demand that drives the trade, creating a vacuum in which billions of dollars cross through the black market.
In one sense this is an old model. Private individuals (and museums) supported bodies such as the Egypt Exploration Fund (see the example of Sir Henry Wellcome) and then received a share of the finds (so-called partage which I have discussed before). Thus the Middle Kingdom blue faience hippopotamus found at Abydos in the EEF's excavations passed into the collection of the Revd William MacGregor (and from there eventually into the George Ortiz collection).

The Milken Institute report suggests that a collector sponsors an archaeological museum whose staff will then conduct excavations.
A portion of the yield would be distributed among all funders through either a loan or, potentially, a purchase, with the most prized and unique pieces staying in the home country. Should the dig produce nothing of salable value, the local museum would use as collateral either excess inventory from previous excavations or the loan of a currently exhibited piece.
This immediately raises questions. While archaeological museums are repositories for archaeological material, are they also initiating archaeological work? And should excavations be conducted merely to generate finds that can be passed to the market? And would such excavations favour the type of sites that would produce "museum quality" items? But what about non-elite sites? There is nothing here about a research-driven archaeological strategy. After all, we are dealing with a finite resource.

And who would make the selection of finds? What would be the criteria? Would distribution take place after full study, conservation and publication?

I wonder what the J. Paul Getty Museum feels about the way it is presented in the report.
The Getty Museum, for example, might partner with two private collectors to fund a dig in Italy.
Would "source" countries prefer to see an archaeological project sponsored by an institution rather than by private collectors?

There is another issue. Would collectors sponsoring excavations sign up to an ethical code? Would they stop acquiring antiquities that surface on the market without histories (prior to 1970)? Would they apologise if they have acquired such antiquities in the past?

Financial Innovations and the Lease of Antiquities

I have been reading the Milken Institute's Financial Innovation Lab Report on Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation (December 2008) [pdf: registration required].

Three "Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation" are presented. (It is a pity that the innovations did not cover discovery, conservation and publication.)

The first solution is to "Promote long-term museum and exhibit leases". The report highlights the income generated by the recent treasures of King Tutankhamun tour which is expected to generate US $40 million for the new Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
These tours, while generating capital for the companies that sponsor them, could work within lease models, with museums collaborating on the exhibition of specific collections from countries of origin to create shared revenue pools.
There have been models for such collaborative loan schemes: a good example was provided by "The Emory University Museum International Loan Project" (EUMILOP) from the 1980s.

Would such leases cover the more eye-catching pieces? What about the less significant objects? Would such schemes encourage detailed publication (as EUMILOP achieved)? Would the money generated be returned to the conservation, preservation, display and publication of archaeological monuments and finds in the countries of origin? Or would the money be seen as part of a country's income stream?

Who would be the brokers in such leases? What would be their "cut"?

Who would decide on the choice of items? Museum curators? National archaeologists?

There are a plenty of questions and this only relates to the least controversial of the three "solutions".

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's


I have been following the sale of antiquities at Sotheby's New York over the last decade. 2008 came fourth in the ranking for the proportion of sales for Egyptian lot: 40% of the value of the two lots for the year. This was worth some US $7.16 million (out of a total US $ 17.83). (The top three years are 2004, 2003 and 1998.)

Sotheby's New York has sold just under US $50 million worth of Egyptian antiquities since 1998. This is some 22% of the sales of antiquities (worth US $230.97 million). This is slightly distorted by the sale of the Guennol lioness in 2007, even though this year saw the fourth highest sum raised for Egyptian antiquities (US $6.58 million).

I have also been keeping an eye on past collecting histories. Some 67% of the Egyptian lots in this period (1998-2008) do not appear to have been known prior to 1973 (the date of the declaration by the Archaeological Institute of America). Some 95% of the lots have no recorded find-spots.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Farmer arrested in Italy

A 6th century BCE sanctuary to the south of Rome has been systematically looted (Ariel David, "Farmer digs up ancient sanctuary in Italy", AP December 17, 2008). The farmer's home was raided by the Carabinieri and some 500 objects were seized. The sanctuary, indicated by votives, was located near Aprilia.

The Carabinieri also revealed further finds including a 3rd-4th century CE mosaic removed from one of the Roman catacombs. The present proprietor had claimed it had been given to his family by Vatican authorities.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sir Norman Rosenthal on Provenance Research

Sir Norman Rosenthal, the exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts in London (1977-2008), has written about the impact of "provenance research" ("The time has come for a statute of limitations", The Art Newspaper December 11, 2008). "Provenance" is used here to describe the collecting history of a painting or object: the former owners, the collectors, the dealers and the auction-houses through which a piece has passed since its creation.

Rosenthal concentrates on material taken by the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s, but states, "If valuable objects have ended up in the public sphere, even on account of the terrible facts of history, then that is the way it is." He is unsympathetic to claims that the objects should be restored to families.

Rosethal extends the issue to antiquities and in particular the Sarpedon (or Euphronios) krater returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Italy earlier this year.
The outgoing director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philippe de Montebello, was forced to send the Metropolitan Euphronios vase back to Italy earlier this year. This begged the question, does Italy really need another vase by this artist, when there are others? Italy has so many great objects of this kind that one piece, however outstanding, makes little difference. To the best of my knowledge, this vase is not even on public view at the moment. At the Metropolitan, however, it could quite easily have inspired young people to get involved in, or spend their lives with, classical culture.
But what is the "provenance" of this krater?

We know something about the sequence of its passage through the antiquities market: a tombarolo in Cerveteri, a Zurich conservation laboratory, and its arrival in America courtesy of TWA. But what about its archaeological history? It is assumed that the krater was found in an Etruscan tomb at Cerveteri, but details of the precise find-spot are lost. Its discovery in a scientific excavation could also have "inspired" a new generation.

The krater, incidentally, has been forming part of the Nostoi exhibition in the New Akropolis Museum in Athens. (And before this in Mantua.) It has been displayed alongside a range of antiquities that remind us that recently-surfaced antiquities have been acquired for public and private collections without too many questions being asked.

Did Italy need the krater back? This is an outstanding piece. And the same museum has returned the Morgantina silver - surely a significant group of Hellenistic plate.

Rosenthal misses what is, surely, the key issue about the returns to Italy: the disincentive for museums to indulge in the acquisition of pieces that have no recorded histories - or what he would term "provenances" - prior to 1970.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cycladic at Auction: over $1 million

Today's auction at Sotheby's, New York, saw a Cycladic figure of Spedos type fetch US $1,022,500 (lot 27). The piece was first known as the property of Michel Dumez-Onof of Mount Street, London, (October 1980). It then appeared in the exhibition, "Classical Antiquities from Private Collections in Great Britain. A Loan Exhibition in Aid of the Ashmole Archive," Sotheby's, London, (January 15th-31st 1986), before passing into the hands of Stanley J. Seeger.

Two Egyptian pieces fetched over US $1 million. First was a royal figure, perhaps from one of the boundary stelai of Amarna (lot 15, $1,082,500). This was known to be in the hands of Leo Mildenberg, Zurich, in 1960. It then formed part of the collection of Denys Sutton, editor of Apollo. The second was an Egyptian greywacke figure of a man that was said to have been discovered by Henry Salt "in the Temple of Bubastes, Lower Egypt" (lot 17, $1,650,500). It subsequently formed part of the Warwick Castle collection, and, after its sale at Sotheby's in 1997, a private collection.

An Assyrian foundation plaque from Tukulti-Ninurta's temple of Ishtar at Assur, and acquired in 1917, sold for $932,500 (lot 62). Two of the three lots formerly from the Villa Rufolo collection were sold (Lot 50, $28,125; Lot 58, $31,250).

The sale fetched $8,899,375, substantially more than was raised at Christie's yesterday ($4,735,100). Overall this year's antiquities sales at Christie's and Sotheby's in New York have raised over $28 million.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Antiquities at Christie's: Results

The sale of antiquities at Christie's, Rockefeller Plaza today (December 9, 2008) generated US$4,735,100.

The Cobham Hall Hadrian (lot 164) realized $902,500 (well above the upper estimate of $550,000). The (apparent) third century bronze portrait of the first century emperor Vespasian (lot 180) --- once in the possession of Atlantis Antiquities (in 1982) --- appears to have been left unsold.

Vespasian was one of five "highlights" that failed to sell (see Christie's pre-sale press release). Two others were "an early Christian silver patten" (lot 186) and a Bactrian copper alloy seated female figure (lot 45). The latter had once passed through Koutoulakis, Paris (prior to 1989) before entering a French private collection. The fourth was a Late Period to Early Ptolemaic figure of a treasurer from a European private collection (lot 35). The fifth was a marble portrait of Faustina the Younger (lot 166) from a British private collection ("Acquired by the current owner's father in the 1960s").

The only other "highlight" to sell was a Roman marble figure of a woman, 1st-2nd centuries CE, that had passed through the Merrin Gallery in 1989 before entering a New York private collection (lot 159). This sold for $218,500, below the lower estimate of $250,000.

The press release had suggested the anticipated combined sum from antiquities and ancient jewelry would be in the region of US$7.5 million. In fact the combined sum was far less ($4,735,100 and $641,188).

Antiquities from the Villa Rufolo at Sotheby's: Update

Yesterday I noted the concerns of "Ravello Nostra" about the sale of antiquities once displayed in the Villa Rufolo. Sotheby's has now issued a statement refuting the suggestion that the pieces were "stolen" in 1974.

Statement from Sotheby’s
December 8, 2008

Sotheby’s is aware of a report in the Positano News alleging that three objects (Lots 50, 58 and 94) in Sotheby’s Antiquities auction, to be held in New York on December 10, 2008, supposedly were taken out of Italy improperly from the Villa Rufolo in Ravello, Italy in 1974 when the Italian villa was sold to the Ente Provinciale per il Turismo di Salerno. The allegations cannot be squared with the results of the extensive due diligence and research Sotheby’s conducted in connection with the consignment of the three objects, and while Sotheby’s will consider any specific evidence that is presented to us, it is important that the record be clear.

A Sotheby’s specialist personally inspected the three objects in Paris in June 2008 with the consignor present. The appearance of all three objects was consistent with having been part of an old collection and out of the ground for a long time. The consignor told us that she and her mother had lived in and owned the Villa Rufolo, located in Ravello, Italy, and that they were forced to leave Italy in or about 1939 by the fascist regime of Mussolini. When the family fled Italy, they took many of their household belongings with them, including the three objects at issue. The consignor further told Sotheby’s that these objects remained in France with the family continuously ever since.

In keeping with Sotheby’s standard practice and procedure with respect to ancient artifacts offered for sale, Sotheby’s conducted further due diligence and research into the history of the objects.

As to the provenance of the objects, the specialist conducted independent research documenting the pieces as out of the ground for hundreds of years. The provenances for the vase (Lot 58) and the sarcophagus (Lot 50) date back to the 1800’s. Through independent research, Sotheby’s located a publication of the urn (Lot 94), in a book dated 1724. Sotheby’s published this history in detail in the catalogue, and there is no question that these objects have been above ground and in private collections for hundreds of years. They have what is considered an impeccable ownership history for archeological objects.

Also in keeping with Sotheby’s standard practice, the specialist asked the consignor for any documents or other evidence to support what she told us about the history of the objects, in particular how and when they were taken out of Italy. The consignor reported that her family brought the pieces to France in or about 1939; the consignor also produced a letter, dated 1957, written at the request of her mother by a family friend, Ellen Lubszynski, who resided in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. At the consignor’s mother’s request, Ms. Lubszynski wrote a letter to an Australian scholar specializing in Southern Italian vase painting, Dale Trendall, seeking Mr. Trendall’s opinion regarding the vase and asking if any institutions would be interested in acquiring it. The consignor showed the specialist the original letter, dated 1957, that Mr. Trendall wrote in response. In this letter, Mr. Trendall acknowledged that the vase was “once” in the family collection at Villa Rufolo, in Ravello Italy, and that it had been published in Dionisio, VIII, 1939, Page 162. In addition, the consignor produced copies of photographs of the vase that Ms. Lubszynski sent to Trendall in 1957. The photographs are dated May 1954 and have the French photographer’s address on the back (Phatam, 125 Boulevard du Général Koenig, Neuilly-sur-Seine). In addition, the entry for the same vase in Dale Trendall’s 1987 book on Paestan vases (referenced in Sotheby’s catalogue), mentions the vase as “Once Ravello, Tallon-Lacaita coll., then Neuilly-sur-Seine, Ellen Lubszinsky.” All of this documentation, taken together with the consignor’s inherently credible and corroborated tale of fleeing the fascist Mussolini regime, fully corroborates that the vase left Italy prior to the 1974 sale of the villa.

Sotheby’s research into the history of Lot 50, the sarcophagus fragment, also confirms that the piece left Italy with the owner in 1939, not in 1974 as the recent allegations state. Sotheby’s researched the piece and learned that Lot 50 was first published in 1904 as being in the Villa Rufolo, Ravello, and was last published in 1975 in a book by Dr. Guntram Koch. The entry in the 1975 publication (referenced in our catalogue) describes the sarcophagus fragment as “once Ravello, Palazzo Rufolo. Not found by H. Sichtermann on his visit in 1972.” (emphasis added) This publication thus corroborates the consignor’s statement that the fragment came with the family to France, as it was not in the villa in 1972 when a scholar went there to examine such fragments. This publication also confirms that the fragment was not taken out of Italy in connection with the 1974 sale, as it was not there in 1972.

If there is any specific evidence to contradict the research and documentation Sotheby’s uncovered concerning these items as part of our regular due diligence process, we will be very interested to see it as soon as possible. However, Sotheby’s believes that the results of its due diligence process have produced substantial evidence that these ancient artifacts, that have belonged to one family for generations and have been in private antiquities collections for hundreds of years, may now be legally and properly be put up for auction.
The objects were clearly known from the 19th century and their early collecting history is not in doubt.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Antiquities from the Villa Rufolo at Sotheby's

This Wednesday (December 10, 2008) Sotheby's (New York) is due to auction three antiquities formerly in the Villa Rufolo, Ravello. All three are stated as being the property of an anonymous French private collection.

All three peices had formed part of the collection of Francis Nevile Reid (1826-1892) at the Villa Rufolo. They then passed to Charles Carmichael Lacaita (1853-1933) and Mrs. Tallon-Lacaita, both of the Villa Rufolo. In 1939 the three pieces are reported to have moved to Paris and then "by descent to the present owner".

However the cultural group "Ravello Nostra", as well as the Soprintendenza di Salerno, and the Carabinieri responsible for archaeological sites in Campania, have raised concerns about the three pieces ("Ravello, si attivano i Carabinieri per l'asta di Sothebys", Postiano News December 6, 2008). Paolo Imperato, the mayor of Ravello, has voiced his concern and called for their return to the town:
Faremo di tutto per recuperare queste opere ..., dobbiamo tornare in possesso di ciò che appartiene alla città e questo deve avvenire in maniera legittima e quindi verificare se queste non siano state sottratte indebitamente.
It is suggested that the pieces were not removed in 1939, but rather in 1974 when the Villa Rufolo was sold to the local tourism council for Salerno.

The case is now in the hands of the Nucleo di Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale dell´Arma.
  • Lot 50. A Roman Imperial marble relief fragment, Antonine. Estimate: US$20,000-30,000. Publ. Carl Robert, Die antiken Sarkophagreliefs, part III.2: Einzelmythen (Berlin, 1904) no. 289 or 289a, pl. 89; Guntram Koch, Archäologischer Anzeiger (1973) p. 293, no. 12, fig. 12; Guntram Koch, Die mythologischen Sarkophage, part VI: Meleager (Die Antiken Sarkophag-reliefs, vol. 12) (Berlin, 1975) no. 97, pp. 115-116, fig. 7. The Catalogue notes: "A 19th Century photograph taken in a vaulted chamber at the Villa Rufolo shows the present fragment, as well as another fragment from the same sarcophagus leaning against a column. Until now both these fragments were only known from line drawings."
  • Lot 58. A Paestan red-figured bell-krater, attributed to Python. Property of a French private collecition. Estimate: US$15,000—25,000. Publ. Dr. Pesce, Dionisio. Trimestrale di studi sul teatro antico, vol. 7 (1939) p. 162; Archäologischer Anzeiger (1940) cols. 497 and 512-513, fig. 40; John D. Beazley, "A Paestan Vase," American Journal of Archaeology 48, no. 4, (October-December 1944) p. 365; A.D. Trendall, "Paestan Pottery: a Revision and a Supplement," Papers of the British School at Rome 20 (1952) p. 102, no. 166; A.D. Trendall, The Red-figured Vases of Paestum (London, 1987) p. 159, no. 282, pl. 102f.
  • Lot 94. A Roman marble cinerary urn. First recorded in the "Monastery of the Conventual Fathers, Amalfi, from before 1718 until about 1860"; then "house of the Raffi family, Ravello". Estimiate: US$5000-8000. Publ. Francesco Pansa, Istoria dell'antica repubblica d'Amalfi, (Bologna, vol. II, 1724) p. 184; CIL X: Inscriptiones Bruttiorum, Lucaniae, Campaniae, Siciliae, Sardiniae Latinae, ed. Th. Mommsen, 1883, p. 68, no. 570, and p. 1005, ad n. 570; Inscriptiones Italiae, vol. 1, Regio 1, fasc. 1, Vittorio Bracco, ed., (Rome, 1931) no. 196.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christie's Withdraws Jewellery Lot

It was announced today that lot 215, a piece of jewellery apparently from Iraq, has been withdrawn from next week's sale of Antiquities at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza (Jane Arraf, "Christie's takes disputed earrings off auction block", The Christian Science Monitor December 5, 2008).

The report adds:
The gold neo-Assyrian earrings were claimed by Iraq but awaiting the highest bidder Monday in New York. Just days before the sale of ancient art and antiquities, however, Christie's took the jewelry, believed to be from the treasure of Nimrud, off the auction block.

Christie's says it is cooperating with an investigation into whether the earrings were in fact stolen from Iraq.

"When Christie's learned that there might be an issue with the provenance of the earrings they withdrew the lot from the sale," says Sung-Hee Park, a spokeswoman for the auction house in New York. "The lot is still with Christie's in New York, but we are cooperating in the investigation."

As of Wednesday night, when a Monitor story detailed an Iraqi petition to stop the sale, the earrings were still part of the Dec. 9 auction. On Thursday morning, the auction house website said Lot 215 – a pair of neo-Assyrian earrings believed to be between 9,000 to 10,000 years old – had been withdrawn.

US officials say they have been involved for at least several weeks in trying to prevent the earrings from being sold after they were alerted that the ancient jewelry might have been part of the treasures of Nimrud, one of Iraq's greatest archaeological finds.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Atlantis Antiquities in the Press: an Overview

I have been reviewing the appearance of Atlantis Antiquities in the press.

One of the earliest mentions was back in 1988: Rita Reif, "Archaic Smiles Have Persisted For 2,000 Years", New York Times June 19, 1988. This commented on the exhibition, ''Greek and Etruscan Art of the Archaic Period" [Catalogue]
The exhibition is the first in memory at a New York gallery to present a broad view of the Archaic Period, and the first major show presented at Atlantis, which opened 21 months ago. The 70 works in terra cotta, marble, painted clay, bronze, amber and gold were selected by Robert Hecht Jr., an American antiquities dealer based in Paris. Mr. Hecht is a part-owner of the gallery, along with Jonathan Rosen, a real estate developer and collector of ancient art. Andrea Hecht, the dealer's daughter, is the director of the gallery.
The gallery then featured in a report on antiquities from Turkey (Geraldine Norman, "Talking Turkey; Who owns the treasures of antiquity? The Turkish government has been fighting American museums for the return of some splendid hoards. But only laws that ensure finders fair compensation will prevent smuggling", The Independent June 13, 1993).
It was the sculpted marble leg of a very grand Hellenistic table, which they found on show at Atlantis Antiquities, a New York gallery that he [sc. Hecht] managed for Jonathan Rosen - a millionaire lawyer who is also a keen collector of antiquities. The sculpture depicts a Scythian slave sharpening the knife with which he intends - on Apollo's instructions - to flay Marsyas, who is strung up on a nearby tree.
The sculpture was reported to have been traced back to a farmer Philadelphia in Turkey. The case was resolved when the piece was donated to the American Turkish Society.

Atlantis Antiquities has also been in the news over some of the antiquities returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Hugh Eakin, "Embattled Getty Curator Steps Down", The New York Times October 4, 2005). In October 2005 a bronze Etruscan candelabrum was handed over to Italian officials.
The Getty acquired the candelabrum in 1990 from Atlantis Antiquities, a New York gallery, for $60,000, according to evidence in the indictment. But Italian police have traced the object, along with another Getty acquisition named in the indictment, to a private collection in Florence, from which it was stolen. The other object, a bronze tripod, was returned by the Getty to Italy in 1997.

Italian prosecutors say that in both cases the objects were smuggled by Giacomo Medici, an Italian dealer based in Geneva, and passed on, via a third party, to Robert Hecht, the owner of Atlantis Antiquities.
Among the more recent returns to Italy that had passed through Atlantis Antiquities was an Apulian loutrophoros attributed to the Metope group that was purchased by the Getty in 1984 (formerly inv. 84.AE.996) as well as an Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to the painter of Berlin 1686, once in the Fleischman collection. Two pieces once in Boston had passed through the same gallery: an Attic black-figured lekythos attributed to the Diosphos painter (formerly inv. 1989.317) and an Apulian amphora attributed to the Darius painter (formerly inv. 1991.437).

Looting Matters: Listings

Looting Matters appears in the "Top 100 Anthropology Blogs" from onlineuniversities.com.
University students, academics, professors and those who just love anthropology have helped to create a great assortment of online discourse about the field. We’ve compiled a list of 100 that are definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Highlights at Christie's: Late Antique Silver

I noticed that one of the highlights in next week's sale of antiquities at Christie's at the Rockefeller Plaza, New York (December 9, 2008) is "an early Christian silver patten" (lot 186). This piece of Late Antique silver (i.e. late 4th-early 5th century AD) is decorated with the Traditio Legis (Christ, Peter and Paul). There is an ancient weight inscription: 2 lbs, 2 scr. (the patten weighs 638.4 g).

The piece was apparently in a "European private collection" in 1978 and it is being sold by "a U.S. private collector". There are no named owners and no list of previous publications.

The catalogue entry has been prepared with the assistance of Ruth E. Leader-Newby, author of Silver and Society in Late Antiquity (2004) [WorldCat] [review by me in Classical Review].

The patten has clearly been the subject of scientific analysis:
A laboratory report number 93075 issued by Conservation and Technical Services Limited, London, analyzing the condition and method of the manufacture accompanies this lot.
Conservation and Technical Services Limited, London describe their services:
Conservation and Technical Services Ltd provide analytical and conservation services to numerous museums and cultural institutions throughout the world as well as for practicing conservators, auction houses, art dealers and collectors.
A client list appears on their website.

Where was this piece of ancient silver found? The eastern Mediterranean? Italy? Northern Europe? The catalogue entry keeps the options open: "the stylistic influences of Constantinople and the iconographic influences of Rome itself". There are intellectual consequences for interpreting objects that have no recorded find-spots.

Further Fragment of the Parthenon Returned

A small fragment of the Parthenon removed by an Austrian soldier during World War II has been returned to Athens (press release). The piece is inscribed with the date of its removal, February 16, 1943. The fragment was returned from Sweden by Martha Dahlgren, the granddaughter of the soldier.

This is in addition to recent returns of Parthenon fragments from collections in Palermo and the Vatican.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sharon Waxman on Transparency

Sharon Waxman was written a short piece in the New York Times ("How Did That Vase Wind Up in the Metropolitan?", December 1, 2008; see also "NYT Op-ed: Thoughts for Tom Campbell at the Met", December 1, 2008). Some of the examples are derived from her new book, Loot!

Waxman comments on the importance of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and relates it to the recent returns of antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:
The Association of Art Museum Directors has already readied a path for Mr. Campbell [the incoming director of the MMA]. This past summer, the association finally issued new guidelines, which recognize that buying unprovenanced antiquities encourages their illicit trade and recommend that its members purchase only antiquities that can be proven to have been legally exported after 1970, or else removed from their country of origin before that date. (It was in 1970 that Unesco adopted an international convention barring the illegal export and transfer of cultural property.)
Waxman also calls for more transparency from the Met.

Mr. Campbell could also undertake a project more fundamental, and more profound. The Metropolitan needs to come clean about its past of appropriation of ancient art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And it needs to tell a much fuller story about its more recent role in purchasing looted and smuggled antiquities.

The Met’s galleries and Web site are mysteriously devoid of recent facts about the provenance of many artifacts. Most visitors have no idea how the treasures on display in the Greek and Roman rooms, the Egyptian antiquities department, or the Byzantine, African, Asian and Oceanic collections came to be housed in the museum.
The full collecting histories of the items returned to Italy have yet to emerge. However things are changing as seen in the details histories provided for items in the Philippe de Montebello exhibition.

Some histories are complex such as the capital from Sardis acquired in 1922 in the aftermath of the Smyrna tragedy. (For a similar history see the pieces in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.)

Waxman concludes with a call for transparency to counter claims for repatriation:

This state of affairs must not continue. Mr. Campbell can inaugurate a new era of transparency for all museums, and to recalibrate the Met’s relations with countries that feel aggrieved.

By publicly acknowledging the controversial or otherwise dubious histories of some artifacts and by making the recent past as much a part of the artifacts’ stories as the ancient past, Mr. Campbell can set an example for all museums and build new bridges of respect and cooperation.

Transparency may not end every demand for repatriation. But it will disarm those critics in source countries who know — but rarely acknowledge — that regardless of past transgressions, their treasures may be safer, better preserved and more widely adored in the world’s great museums like the Met.
Will transparency disarm calls for repatriation? Or will it allow a more meaningful dialogue to take place so that our cosmopolitan heritage can be preserved?

Image
NYT.

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