Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Identifications and the Medici Dossier

The Italian authorities have a major task on their hands: the identification of more than 10,000 antiquities that feature in the so-called Medici Dossier. And there will be another 10,000 or so from the seizures in Basel. (And we should not forget the Symes photographic dossier in the hands of the Greek authorities.)

We know that the Italians have acted generously with several North American museums. The list of objects returned to Italy is much smaller than the list of disputed pieces that feature in the photographic archives. But would it be worth the legal tussle and the bad publicity arising from a court case if museums disputed the cases?

But now North American lawyers are complaining (or at least are reported to have been complaining) that the Italian authorities are identifying recently-surfaced material that turns up at New York auction-houses. No doubt cultural property lawyers will be cross that material is being seized rather than being dragged through the courts.

The Italians hold a substantial dossier. Auction-houses have a choice. They can either handle material that has surfaced subsequent to 1970 (and face possible consequences and bad publicity if the pieces turn out to feature in the dossier) or they can take a more ethical approach.

Wise lawyers dealing with cultural property cases will no doubt be offering their clients some sensible advice.


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