The Emperor's summer palace taken and sacked, affording immense spoil.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
As we went live at 10.20 am GMT it became clear that China was going to place restrictions on Christie's operations. This has now been clarified by a further report on Bloomberg: "China Slaps Controls on Christie’s After Bronzes Sale (Update3)" (February 26, 2009; 7.35 EST).
China said it will tighten control on the activities of Christie’s International, hours after the auction house sold a pair of Qing Dynasty bronzes in Paris for 31.4 million euros ($40 million), ignoring calls to return them.Would it best for these bronze heads to be displayed together in China as their Italian creator originally intended? The French courts may feel that there is no legal case to answer, but the moral cause is compelling. We wait to see what the new owner(s) of the heads will do with them.
London-based Christie’s must give details of the ownership and provenance of any artifacts it wants to bring into or out of China, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said today in a statement on its Web site. Antiques that are without papers won’t be allowed to enter or leave.
Tomorrow's (February 27, 2009) Times (London) has a leader on the story, and notes the link between the sack and the death of one of its reporters. It is unsympathetic: "A rich and proud China should have seized its chance to raise its arm and bid for the sculptures like anyone else."
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
In the letter Tompa comments on the movement of ancient coins and specifically those minted on Cyprus. In note 10 he observes that Athenian dekadrachms are not found in Greece. He then slips in an allegation about a recently acquired dekadrachm "which is thought to have been found in Turkey". Unlike the rest of the material in his letter such a comment is unsupported.
Who "thought" that this coin was found in Turkey? What are Tompa's documented sources for his information? What is his due diligence process? Does he know which (coin) dealers handled the dekadrachm? Will he confirm that that the dealer(s) is / are not linked in any way with the FOIA request relating to coins from Cyprus?
Such questions need to be asked because Tompa's "postings" sometimes need to be seen in context.
Tompa urges me to make an instant comment.
But it made me stop and think: Tompa and I have something in common. We both value empirical evidence.
So what is the basis of his allegation?
Monday, February 23, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Wayne Sayles, spokesman for the ACCG, told those attending the Jan. 10 meeting [of the New York International Numismatic Convention] that he is against the looting of archaeological sites, but feels the views of some activist archaeologists on how to protect the sites are too severe and too left wing in their approach.
What is his solution?
The article shows how far some coin collectors misunderstand the issues.
what do you do when a country demands the return of coins found buried within their borders but struck elsewhere (as in the case of the Decadrachm Hoard)Are they saying that it is acceptable to loot an archaeological site in Turkey because the coins found in the hoard were not minted within the territory of the modern state of Turkey?
And if we extend the logic,would it be fine to pillage Athenian red-figured sympotic pottery from Etruscan tombs because the pieces were made in Greece not within the confines of the modern Republic of Italy?
Thursday, February 19, 2009
It is interesting to read the section on Icklingham where the bronzes acquired by a New York collector - and defended by James Cuno - were apparently found. The "Nighthawking" report comments (6.3.2):
In 1989 the farmer began an 18 month long campaign to recover objects which did not receive official support from the UK authorities (Rescue News 53 1991). The outcome of the eventual court case will result in some artefacts eventually being given to the British Museum. Although suspects for the original theft were identified, the strength of the evidence was not felt sufficient for a prosecution to proceed.As far as I know there was no "court case" or "course action" (9.9.4) but rather a legal out-of-court agreement.
The report also seems to have been weak when it comes to the international dimension of the illicit market. Take the section on Italy (9.9.4):
the Italian courts are currently prosecuting a number of dealers and museum officials following a complex investigation.So who are all these dealers (plural) and museum officials (plural)? Or is this a reference to the Hecht-True case in Rome? A little more precision would have been helpful.
Some have been trying to play down ("getting the message across") the scale of the problem. Yet I read in the report comments from Norfolk County Council (in East Anglia) (9.10.3):
We are concerned that the nighthawking survey may not be able to assess fully and accurately the scale of the issue due to a lack of evidence. In Norfolk we suspect is that the problem is one of considerable dimensions with the (very few) prosecutions being merely the tip of an iceberg. We currently identify over 20,000 metal objects per annum in the county, which we estimate is only a proportion of the total recovered, leading to a concomitant unknown loss of knowledge. That said, we do not know how much of this additional knowledge is lost as a result of the deliberate non-reporting of finds, or how much of this information we might be able to capture if we had more resources to undertake outreach to metal-detectorists and farmers with whom we currently have no contact.
The lack of clarity is clear in the concluding sections, e.g. 10.1.2:
The results of the Nighthawking Survey show that in England on Scheduled Monuments, the level of Nighthawking is decreasing. ... It is likely that this figure is an underestimation of the problem, as was the original figure from the 1995 survey. ... Despite a national decrease in reported incidences, there is evidence to suggest that in some areas the incidence of Nighthawking is increasing on Scheduled sites, with some of these areas also showing a large number of non-designated sites also affected.In other words: data would suggest that "Nighthawking" is decreasing ... and increasing.
And before anyone tries to play down the impact of "Nighthawking" think about this comment (10.1.4):
In the case of unscheduled sites it is not possible to assess whether the level of Nighthawking is increasing or decreasing as this survey is the first to collect information about such sites.
The number of scheduled monuments that have been attacked and the number of archaeological units that have been reported where excavations have been attacked by nighthawking has declined, and we’re keen to get that message across.One of the issues to be emerging from the report is the under-reporting of looting from archaeological sites in the UK.
And if anyone is in any doubt about the issue they should consider the fields of John Browning at Icklingham, Suffolk.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The piece apparently surfaced at TEFAF in Maastricht (see background).
Monday, February 16, 2009
The fresco, showing the god Dionysos, was identified in an unspecified London gallery on October 29, 2008 and then handed over at the Italian Embassy in London on December 23, 2008.
- "Nighthawkers raid nation's archaeological heritage to sell on eBay", The Times February 16, 2009
- "Warning over metal detector crime", BBC February 16, 2009
- "On the treasure stealers' trail", BBC February 16, 2009
- Stephen Adams, "Metal detector thieves are plundering our history, English Heritage warns", Daily Telegraph February 16, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
My co-researcher Christopher Chippindale observed:
the corruption through looted objects is so deep and wide and long-lasting that even people of good character who bought things decades ago may inadvertently have acquired illicit stuff.
How can such material be avoided?
Museums and private individuals need to have a rigorous due diligence process. Was the object known, i.e. documented, prior to 1970? How reliable is the information?
The acquisition of antiquities requires more than "good faith" or a reliance on "good title".
The police search also recovered a .22 handgun, and (according to the Athens News Agency, February 13, 2009) a metal-detector.
Friday, February 13, 2009
It has been reported today that the 10 have been jailed ("Turkey jails 10 for stealing ancient treasures", Hurriyet January 13, 2009).
A coin and a gold brooch in the shape of a winged sea horse were taken from a museum displaying possessions of the wealthy king of Lydia who ruled in the 6th century B.C. ...
A court in the western city of Usak says museum director Kazim Akbiyiklioglu was imprisoned on Friday for nearly 13 years for theft and embezzlement. Nine others received lesser prison terms.
The treasures were replaced by fakes in 2006 and the original pieces have not been recovered.
The pieces were among items smuggled out of Turkey in the 1960s and returned to the country only in 1993.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
The two animal-heads -- a rabbit and a rat -- were severed from a water fountain at Beijing’s imperial Summer Palace when British and French troops plundered and burned the palace in October 1860.The pieces are lots 677 and 678.
Christie's have also issued a statement (covered by Bloomberg):
The auction house said last month that “each and every item” in the Berge Collection has a clear legal title. Today’s statement from Christie’s reiterates that, saying the objects, “including the fountainheads, have a clear and extensive history of ownership.” Proceeds from the sale will help set up a foundation for AIDS research.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The stated sources are:
- Galerie Akko van Acker, Paris: lot 695, marble Minotaur (1985; formerly French private collection 1970).
- Galerie Krimitsas, Paris: lot 679, torso of Narcissus (around 1980); lot 681, Attic bell-krater (around 1970-1980; formerly Woodyat Collection, 1912); lot 682, head of Dionysos (around 1980); lot 688, Attic bell-krater (around 1970-1980); lot 690, head of Diomedes (around 1980); lot 691, Egyptian anthropoid wooden coffin (1975); lot 693, Attic black-glossed hydria (1970)
- Galerie Marc Lagrand, Paris: lot 680, torso of athlete (1970-1980).
- Galerie Simone de Monbrison, Paris: lot 694, torso of Mercury (around 1975).
- Not stated: lot 687, torso of athlete (between 1970 and 1980); lot 689, Roman marble column (1970-1980); lot 692, Egyptian bronze of Mahes (between 1970 and 1980); lot 696, torso of athlete (between 1970 and 1980)
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Yet 2008 could also be seen as a singularly unfortunate year for the antiquities department at Bonhams. The sale of the Graham Geddes collection was a PR disaster: intervention by the Italian Government, lots withdrawn, objects left unsold. And to cap it all the sale had been showcased in the Bonhams magazine (even to the point of featuring on the cover).
The sale raised some key issues about the way that the antiquities department had been operating. This new press release talks about "interesting and long-established provenance" for objects. Certainly the "provenance" of objects that had passed through a certain London auction house was not only "interesting" but also highly significant: but the staff at Bonhams seem to have missed the signs.
Have Bonhams adopted a more rigorous "due diligence" process? What action has been taken by Bonhams management team? Have they put in place new procedures to avoid a repeat of 2008?
We wait to see the latest catalogue.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Presumably the negotiations initiated by Italy in January 2007 had not been making progress. The Post notes, "for more than two years the museum and the Danish culture ministry gave various reasons for not co-operating in the investigation". But the pressure has been stepping up:
In December 2008, the Italians presented a list of 100 artefacts that they believed were acquired illegally and wanted returned. The Glyptoteket management refused to oblige, stating that many of the objects on the list were purchased legally after the former administrators, who are suspected of purchasing the alleged illegal artefacts, left their positions at the museum.The paper also notes, "Many of the illegal artefacts purchased by Glyptoteket during the 1970s were from art dealers Robert Hecht and Giacomo Medici."
The Ny Carlsberg has been asserting that Italy has no legal claim. But perhaps its curatorial staff should consider more important questions. Did the museum acquire objects that were unknown prior to 1970? Were these acquisitions ethical?
So what could the museum do to move ahead? Why not publish the list of the 100 objects along with their collecting histories?
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I noticed that the webteam for Mihalis Liapis, the former Hellenic Minister of Culture, has posted a news clip about the Nostoi exhibition in the New Acropolis Museum. You get glimpses of the returned fragment of the Parthenon frieze from Palermo as well a shot of the reverse side of the Sarpedon krater.
Monday, February 2, 2009
We look forward to the opening of the New Acropolis Museum this spring. A video, celebrating the construction of the museum and the transfer of sculptures to it, is available on the official website.
I provide a link here to the same video on You Tube.