Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"The result of a traumatic action": Hecht and Copenhagen

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen appears to have made several acquisitions from Robert Hecht over the years (see earlier discussions). Elisabetta Povoledo ("Danish Museum Resists Return of Disputed Artifacts", New York Times March 17, 2009) reports on the continuing negotiations.

So what are the issues?
  • a. Did the Ny Carlsberg acquire objects from Hecht?
  • b. What were the recorded and documented histories for the pieces?
  • c. Were the pieces known for certain prior to 1970?
Povoledo records that in the February hearing in Rome,
correspondence from the early 1970s between him [sc. Hecht] and former Glyptotek officials regarding the sale of dozens of objects to the museum — including an Etruscan calesse, or two-wheeled horse-drawn carriage, excavated near Fara in Sabina, just north of Rome — was presented as evidence against him.
The tomb in the Colle del Forno necropolis had apparently been looted by tombaroli prior to its excavation in 1970. Material from the grave allegedly passed to the Ny Carlsberg. Daniela Rizzo commented:
They were visibly the result of a traumatic action ... It would have been impossible not to know that it had been illegally excavated. Archaeologists can read between the lines.

Hecht now claims that he firs saw the objects in Switzerland. Can he remember where? Who had them in their possession at the time?

The Italian prosecutor, Paolo Giorgio Ferri, is now reported to be preparing a legal case against staff at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

The list of items said to have been acquired from Hecht and Giacomo Medici include:
  • an acroterion of a winged sphinx
  • an Etruscan terra cotta antefix ("similar to one returned by the Getty last year"; see report)
  • terra cotta reliefs of warriors on horseback.
The curatorial authorities at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek now need to demonstrate that they are willing to resolve the situation. Will they publish the documentation relating to each of the contested pieces?

A mature decision would lead to the negotiation for the return of a selection of the disputed pieces. Procrastination will only tarnish the reputation of the museum.

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