Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tiffany Jenkins on James Cuno

Tiffany Jenkins has written a review of James Cuno's Whose Culture? Neil MacGregor's contribution is described as "one of the book’s weakest chapters" that "charts a one-sided history of the British Museum which neglects its historical association with the state and in particular the British Empire".

I am not sure Jenkins has understood the complexity of the issues. She writes, "Italy not only keeps what is found in Italy, but prevents export of artefacts and pushes for artefacts found in Italy but held abroad to be returned". But why has Italy pressed for the return of well over 100 objects from a variety of university and civic museums as well as a dealer and a private collector? Surely it is to discourage the "no questions asked" acquisition policies that have allowed recently looted objects to enter public and private collections. [See my essay on "Nostoi".] Museums may well play an "invaluable role ... in the preservation, presentation and study of artefacts". But have some museum curators also turned a blind eye to the looting that was taking place to provide stunning acquisitions for their galleries?

Jenkins also overlooks the fact that some of the essays have been recycled and not updated in the light of the recent returns.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Does blogging matter?

Chuck Jones has raised the issue of blogging ("Does Blogging Matter?") on the Ancient World Bloggers Group. This coincides with the third post of Looting Matters on PR Newswire (a topic that in itself has attracted discussion).

So why blog about archaeological ethics?

Here are some preliminary thoughts ...

First, it allows a day by day response to what is happening on the antiquities market. And things can happen quite suddenly. Take Friday October 26 2007: Bonhams withdrew a piece of Lydian silver from a sale in London, an article was published on incantation bowls at UCL, and then to finish the day, Princeton announced that it would be returned some of its antiquities to Italy. Web 2.0 technology allows for a swift response; without it, the response would have to be submitted to a journal, and the piece would appear months (at best!) later.

Second, it allows a commentary to develop about issues. The July 2008 announcement that Bonhams would be selling antiquities from the Graham Geddes collection in October 2008 gave an opportunity for a sustained series of comments on the sale. It brought about calls from Italy for lots to be withdrawn - and they were.

Third, it allows a dialogue to develop with interested parties. Web 2.0 permits people to interact with comments and to post questions. I was even invited to take part in a videoconference seminar on cultural property - and the live discussion had as its background the press release for the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Fourth, it provides a resource for those involved in discussing cultural property whether in academic books and articles or in the wider media. The post can provide links to academic articles as well as to news reports.

Fifth, it is a resource that people are using. There were just under 100,000 visits to Looting Matters in 2008 and that excludes email subscribers or those who view through a reader. Visitors range from academics, museum curators, dealers, government officials, and members of the public. Virtual visitors come from right round the globe, though there is an emphasis on North America and the UK (sharing just over 70% of the visits). A story from Looting Matters that was released earlier today had 66 links by the evening.

But blogging is no substitute for academic research that passes through a process of peer review. During the life of Looting Matters related research has appeared in, for example, the International Journal of Cultural Property [link] and the Journal of Field Archaeology [link] as well as chapters in books [link]; there has also been a major review article in the American Journal of Archaeology. There are advanced plans for a study of "toxic antiquities" (and earlier this week we had a lively videoconference to go through the issues); essays on "provenance" and the material and intellectual consequences of collecting the Euphronios krater are in press.

Finally, while the destruction of archaeological sites continues, I hope that Looting Matters will be there to offer comment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"The market to sell stolen antiquities in the United States is freezing up"

Seven Egyptian antiquities stolen from the Bijbels Museum in Amsterdam on July 29,2007 have been recovered. The pieces were spotted by staff of the Art Loss Register (ALR) and were recovered from a "Manhattan auction house" by officers of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ("ICE recovers Egyptian artifacts stolen from a museum in the Netherlands", May 27, 2009). The pieces include a ushabti, and bronze figures of Imhotep of Harpokrates.

Which auction house? Who was the vendor? What histories for the pieces had been provided?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

When on Google Earth 43




Looting Matters is hosting When on Google Earth 43 (WOGE 43) after I identified the Medieval Motte at the University of Wales Lampeter. So Lindsay Allen passes the baton to me ...

All you have to do is identify the place and the archaeological feature.

The rules again:

Q: What is When on Google Earth?
A: It’s a game for archaeologists, or anybody else willing to have a go!

Q: How do you play it?
A: Simple, you try to identify the site in the picture.

Q: Who wins?
A: The first person to correctly identify the site, including its major period of occupation, wins the game.

Q: What does the winner get?
A: The winner gets bragging rights and the chance to host the next When on Google Earth on his/her own blog!


Regular readers should bear with me!

Please leave identifications in the comment box.

Nighthawking Survey: version 3

Back in February there was quite a stir when the Nighthawking Survey ("Nighthawks & Nighthawking: Damage to Archaeological Sites in the UK & Crown Dependencies caused by Illegal Searching & Removal of Antiquities. Strategic Study. Final Report. Issue no. 2") commissioned by English Heritage was published (see my earlier comments, February 16, 2009). A month later, as Paul Barford observed, the report was no longer available online.

Issue no. 3, dated April 2009 is now available online. But, as Barford notes, there are significant differences. The first case study is on Icklingham in Suffolk, now sections 6.3.2-3.6 [sic.]. The second case study on Wiltshire in version 2 (6.3.8-3.9) no longer appears. Section 3.2.20 seems to have been expanded.

I cannot see a note in the text of issue no. 3 to explain the changes and differences that have been made. Barford makes a valid point:
I do not know what other changes have been made in this document, but certainly the text needs to be treated with caution. The same goes for the conclusion it draws. The way which the absence of a paper publication allows manipulation of the official record of what the Study found out ...
Why was it necessary to withdraw issue no. 2?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Art and Crime: New Essays

A new edited volume arrived today:
Noah Charney (ed.), Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Praeger, 2009). [WorldCat] [Praeger] [ARCA]
Art crime has received relatively little attention from those who study art to those who prosecute crimes. Indeed, the general public is not well-aware of the various forms of art crime and its impact on society at large, to say nothing of museums, history, and cultural affairs. And yet it involves a multi-billion dollar legitimate industry, with a conservatively-estimated $6 billion annual criminal profit. Information about and analysis of art crime is critical to the wide variety of fields involved in the art trade and art preservation, from museums to academia, from auction houses to galleries, from insurance to art law, from policing to security. Since the Second World War, art crime has evolved from a relatively innocuous crime, into the third highest-grossing annual criminal trade worldwide, run primarily by organized crime syndicates, and therefore funding their other enterprises, from the drug and arms trades to terrorism. It is no longer merely the art that is at stake.

Through the use of case examples and careful examination, this book presents the first interdisciplinary essay collection on the study of art crime, and its effect on all aspects of the art world. Contributors discuss art crime subcategories, including vandalism, iconoclasm, forgery, fraud, peace-time theft, war looting, archaeological looting, smuggling, submarine looting, and ransom. The contributors offer insightful analyses coupled with specific practical suggestions to implement in the future to prevent and address art crime. This work is of critical importance to anyone involved in the art world, its trade, study, and security.

Essays on antiquities include:
  • Derek Fincham, "The fundamental importance of archaeological context"
  • David Gill, "Homecomings: learning from the return of antiquities to Italy"
  • Toby Bull,"Lack of due diligence and unregulated markets: trade in illicit antiquities and fakes in Hong Kong"

Switzerland's Place in the Return of Antiquities

There have been some major returns of antiquities from Switzerland in recent years. The police raid in the Geneva Freeport in the mid-1990s brought to light the major movement of archaeological material from Italy to the antiquities markets of Europe, North America and the Far East. Photographic evidence seized in these raids has been instrumental in identifying objects that passed through the hands of certain dealers; many of the objects returned from museums and private collections in North America over the last few years were known from these Polaroid images.

Since this initial intervention there have been others. In 2001 a Swiss-Italian raid on a warehouse in Geneva recovered some 100 archaeological items. In May 2002 three warehouses linked with Gianfranco Becchina were raided and some 5000 objects seized. A fourth warehouse in Basel was raided in September 2005. This haul included some 10,000 images of archaeological objects. Three truck-loads of antiquities, about 4400 items, were returned to Italy in November 2008. (500 or so antiquities derived from other cultural areas apparently remain in Switzerland.)

Such returns continue. In May 2009 Italian authorities revealed the fruits of "Operation Phoenix" that had led to the return of 251 items, worth approximately 2 million Euros, from an unnamed gallery in Geneva run by two Lebanese brothers.

The raids have not all been linked to material derived from Italy. In the summer of 2003 some 280 to 300 Egyptian antiquities were seized in the Geneva Freeport and handed over to Egypt. The subsequent trial in Cairo convicted a number of people; the ringleader is reported to have received 35 years. A Canadian passport holder (and resident of Geneva) alleged to be linked to the case was detained at Sofia airport in September 2008 though he was soon back in Switzerland.

Individual items have also been returned from Switzerland: the eye from a statue of Amenhotep III from the Antikenmuseum in Basel; an Etruscan bronze from a Swiss private collector; a marble lekythos from a Swiss-based dealer; and a marble statue of Apollo excavated at Gortyn on Crete and stolen in 1991. In 2002 a bronze statue of Dionysos was returned to Turkey (via the United Kingdom) after being seized in Switzerland as part of the assets of a convicted drug trafficker.

Other recently returned items had passed through Switzerland. These include the "Morgantina" silver hoard returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Italy, and the gold wreath returned to Greece from the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Since 2005 Switzerland has taken a much more firm line about "illicit" antiquities. How much recently surfaced archaeological material continues to pass through Switzerland?

James Cuno on loans from Italy

Richard Lacayo has interviewed James Cuno again ("More Talk with Jim Cuno", Time May 21, 2009). Although the main thrust of the interview is about charging to museums, the interview closes with the topic of antiquities and the encyclopedic museum. Lacayo asks, in the light of the returns to Italy, "Are there still developments in this area you'd like to see?"

Cuno expresses slight scepticism about the new attitude of the Italian authorities to make loans to North American museums.
What I hear about loans, it seems to be that those are going to particular museums with which the Italians had problematic relationships [that were mostly settled to their satisfaction] — Boston, the Getty, the Met. But I don't know if I were in Omaha that the Italian government would respond as generously. We need to see the extent to which they are generous generally.
There are, of course, still some outstanding concerns about pieces in a number of museums.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Butrint Return

In 1991 a marble head of Asclepius was stolen from the Butrint Museum. It had been found in 1932 at the site of Butrint in Albania (see official site). The head had been traced to a private collection in Italy and was seized by police in 2004; it has now been returned to Albania ("Looted Albanian sculpture returns home", AP May 21, 2009).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Operation Phoenix: The Geneva Link

The Italian authorities revealed more than the Medieval Frescoes seized on Schinoussa from "the home of Greek shipping heiress Despoina Papadimitriou. She is the sister of the late Christo Michailidis, a London-based art dealer who supplied Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities to the Getty" ("Italy recovers lost Byzantine frescos from Greece", AP, May 19, 2009 [link]). (For an antiquity presented to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in memory of Michailidis see here.)

But these were not the only pieces on display:
Police also showed off some of the 251 artifacts, worth a total of some €2 million, discovered as part of another investigation, dubbed Operation Phoenix, into looted antiquities found in Switzerland.

The goods were handed over to Italian authorities by two Lebanese brothers who operated a Geneva antiquities gallery. Police said they hoped that such a gesture would be repeated by anyone who had illicit antiquities in their possession.

It does not say when these antiquities were seized or provide the names of the two Lebanese brothers in Geneva. (See also the report by Adam L. Freeman, "Swiss Gallery Surrenders EU2 Million in Antiquities to Italy", in Bloomberg, May 19, 2009.)

I can only find mention of a Swiss-Italian raid on a Geneva warehouse back in 2001 that included less than 100 terracotta items (mostly pots) reportedly found in Italy.

Is UK cultural property for sale to the highest bidder?

The UK government has recently placed temporary export bans on two archaeological finds.

The first is a bronze mirror, dating to 75 BCE, that was found by a metal-detectorist in a shallow grave at Chilham Castle in Kent. (Part of the grave group now resides in the Canterbury Museum.)

The second is a bronze horse and rider found just outside Cambridge in eastern England.

Bronzes do not count specifically (in England and Wales) as “Treasure” under the terms of the 1996 Treasure Act as they do not have “metallic content of which at least 10 per cent by weight is precious metal”. The Act does allow for such finds to be included if “The Secretary of State may by order … designate any class of object which he considers to be of outstanding historical, archaeological or cultural importance.”

Both pieces are clearly important in cultural terms. The mirror is described as follows:
As the only Iron Age mirror to have been discovered in Kent, it is important for the study of this type of object. Only 17 complete decorated mirrors dating from the Iron Age have been found in Britain. This is one of the earliest, and is especially significant because it comes from a known context which was subsequently investigated by archaeologists using modern excavation techniques.
The justification for stopping the export of the bronze rider is stated:
the statuette is of outstanding aesthetic importance, and of outstanding significance for the study of art, religion and society in Roman Britain.

The two pieces will leave the country unless the money is found: £35,000 for the mirror £22,066.81 for the rider.

Such prices only encourage some to conduct deliberate searches for archaeological material. Damage to archaeological sites remains a problem in England and Wales in spite of the much publicised Portable Antiquities Scheme. Only this month it was noted that North American coin dealers can claim to offer coins "straight from the ground" of Suffolk (see report). In the wake of the 2009 publication of the “Nighthawking Survey” Keith Miller, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage, is reported to have said, "To say the problem has gone is absolutely untrue".

Icklingham in Suffolk yielded Roman bronze figures that were acquired by North American collectors. And the site continues to attract regular searches in spite of the opposition of the landowner.

Yet it now seems that archaeological finds that are deemed to be “especially significant” or “outstanding” for English national culture are being offered to market forces.

And worse than that. In the case of the horse and rider from Cambridgeshire, the “ransom” price seems to be more than twice the figure that the market could achieve.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Returns to Greece


The Hellenic Minister of Culture, Antonis Samaras, was present at the National Museum in Athens today (May 19, 2009) to receive the return of antiquities from Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom (see press release in Greek). The finds from Germany, some 96 pots and bronzes, were seized in a lorry at Nuremburg; they apparently came from a cemetery in Thessaly. The iconostasis from the UK appears to have come from a Byzantine church somewhere in the region of the Plaka.

Samaras spoke about the international co-operation to return cultural property to Greece - and thanked all those who were involved.

Image from Hellenic Ministry of Culture.

Greece and Italy: sequel to the Schinoussa raid

The two Medieval frescoes removed from a tomb near Naples in 1982 and recovered from the Greek island of Schinoussa have been put on display in Naples (ANSA 19 May 2009; see earlier comments).

Will this herald the release of images seized during the same raid? Their publication could prove to be more revealing than the raid in the Geneva Freeport.

Straight from Suffolk

Nathan Elkins has reported uncleaned coins "straight from" the ground in Suffolk, England, that are being passed by metal detectorists to a North American coin dealer ("Having Cake and Eating it too: Unrecorded and Freshly Dug British Coins Sold in the USA"). Another dealer has been advertising "English dugups".

Please could the offers and staff of the Portable Antiquities Scheme investigate these reports? Have these finds of coins been reported and recorded?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Chilham Mirror: "Private collection threat"

The case of the Chilham Mirror has been raised by Keith Parfitt, Tina Parfitt and Nigel Macpherson-Grant in a letter to Current Archaeology (231, p. 48).
It was discovered by a metal detectorist in a shallow cremation grave at Chilham Castle in Kent in 1993.
The material was subsequently sold at auction.

The CA letter notes that since the sale, "the metalwork has resided in that shadowy world of the private antiquities collector". Now the present owner wishes to export it and there is a temporary ban ("Celtic mirror export bar", MLA Press Release; "Culture Minister defers export of Iron Age Celtic mirror", DCMS Press Release; "Export ban on rare Celtic mirror", BBC News March 2, 2009). Clearly the piece is seen as significant:
As the only Iron Age mirror to have been discovered in Kent, it is important for the study of this type of object. Only 17 complete decorated mirrors dating from the Iron Age have been found in Britain. This is one of the earliest, and is especially significant because it comes from a known context which was subsequently investigated by archaeologists using modern excavation techniques.
It is not clear if the ban is still in place.
The decision on the export licence application for the mirror will be deferred for a period ending on 1st May inclusive. This period may be extended until 1st August inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the mirror at the recommended price of £35,000 (excluding VAT) is expressed.
Should the mirror and two brooches (one apparently found by Parfitt, Parfitt and Macpherson-Grant "in the backfilling of the original metal-detectorist's pit") be reunited with the cinerary urn and cremated remains in the Canterbury Museum?

Market values and inflation

My posting on the Roman horse and rider found just outside Cambridge has prompted a few interesting (private) comments. The piece was sold on May 1, 2008 for £10,200. I added:
The piece can remain in Britain if a purchaser is willing to acquire it "at the recommended price of £22,066.81"
So although market forces in May 2008 suggested that the piece was worth £10,200, its present owner (a client of TimeLine Originals) places a higher value on it. (I am grateful to Brett Hammond for confirming this today.)

Then consider the fourteenth century astrolabe quadrant "Found during an archaeological watching brief in Canterbury by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust in 2005"; elsewhere, "It was found in 2005, associated with other medieval material on the site of an earlier inn just outside Canterbury Westgate on the road to London." It was then sold at Bonhams for £138,000 in March 2007 (see BBC News). A temporary export bar was placed on the astrolabe (see "Time ticks on rescue of rare 14th century pocket astrolabe quadrant", DCMS Press Release). The new price was much higher: "at the recommended price of £350,000 excluding VAT". It was saved for the nation thanks to grants from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (£125,000) (press release), The Art Fund (£50,000), and the British Museum Friends (£175,000). The Art Fund website gives the vendor as Trevor Philip and Sons Ltd.

Let me give another example, the gold coin of Coenwulf, king of Mercia "Discovered by a metal detector user near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire in 2001." The piece was then sold for £230,000 at Spinks (see BBC News). Its export was halted (see "Culture Minister Defers Export Of Rare Gold Coin", DCMS Press Release) and the coin was saved for the nation in 2006 for a sum of £357,832 (see BBC News). This included support from The National Heritage Memorial Fund (£225,000) (Press Release) and The Art Fund (£60,000). The coin was purchased from Davissons Ltd.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Artful Tom: "Have you paid for that thing?"

Thomas Hoving has been serialising his memoir (Artful Tom) on Artnet. It includes his reaction to seeing the Getty Kouros: "Have you paid for that thing?"

He also recalls his role in the return of the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater with his advice to the Italian authorities: "Don’t be too harsh on the Met."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Looting Matters and PR Newswire

From today Looting Matters will be releasing a weekly story via PR Newswire. This week's featured post is on the Euphronios krater: "Why Does the Return of the Euphronios Krater to its Original Home Awaken Debate?".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Whoa! More on the Cambridgeshire Rider

The Roman bronze horse and rider from Cambridgeshire has been attracting further observations. Paul Barford talked about this specific piece back in November 2008 as it featured on the cover of the Review of the Portable Antiquities Scheme published by the MLA (2008) [pdf]. Paul has now commented on appeal to save this "stattuette ... of outstanding significance for the study of art, religion and society in Roman Britain" (DCMS Press Release, originally entitled "Culture Minister reigns in export of statuette of horse" (sic.)).

Barford notes the name of the original finder which led me to this report in The Times (London) (Dalya Alberge, "Metal detectives are a national treasure", November 23, 2007).
Duncan Pangborn, who first started metal detecting about five years ago, came across the Roman figurine, which dates from the 3rd or 4th century and is extremely well preserved, in an arable field in Cambridgeshire. "It was a shock," Mr Pangborn, a project manager from North Wymondham, told The Times, recalling the moment he lifted the figurine from a clump of earth close to the surface.

Asked about the thrill of his hobby, he said: "It's about finding something that hasn't been seen, in this case, for 1,700 or 1,800 years. It's about being the first person to handle it since the Roman owner, the link with the past."

The British Museum described the figurine as the most artistically distinctive and accomplished example so far discovered. Thought to have been a votive figure from a rural shrine or temple, it reflects the high level of horsemanship in Roman Britain: the gait of the horse and its pricked ears suggest that the animal is alert and paying direct attention to the commands being given by the rider.
The rider was sold at Bonhams in May 2008 and the new owner wants to export it: hence the appeal announced by the UK Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS).

I am also intrigued by the Press Association release ("UK buyer sought for rare Roman-era statuette", April 7, 2009):

The statuette was sold at Bonham's auction house in London last May for £10,200, and the culture minister Barbara Follett placed a temporary export bar on it until June 6 following advice from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

...

The bar can be extended to September 6 if someone comes forward with a serious proposal to raise the £22,000 the Government has set as the recommended price for the statuette.
I had assumed that the piece had been purchased for £10,200 and that the new owner had asked for £22,000. But it seems I was wrong. If I understand this correctly, the market thought the piece was worth £10,200 and the Government set the "recommended price" at £22,000. Who was responsible for setting this higher price? Or is this press release incorrect?

Barbara Follett is the
Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism (see also the BBC).




Rider heading to the west?

"If you want to get into metal detecting to make a profit, forget it". The quotation comes from Trevor Austin, the general secretary for the UK's National Council for Metal Detecting (Mary Jordan, "In Britain, Guys With Metal Detectors Find Respect Along With History", Washington Post May 11, 2009).

Yet an anonymous ("unknown or access restricted") metal-detectorist has not done too badly from his October 2006 search near, what a press release from the UK Government Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) describes as, "a temple site" located "in Stow Cum Quy, Cambridgeshire" ("Culture Minister reins in export of statuette of horse", April 7 2009).

The find of a bronze horse and rider was recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The find is noteworthy and the DCMS release describes it in the following terms:
the statuette is of outstanding aesthetic importance, and of outstanding significance for the study of art, religion and society in Roman Britain.
The finder appears to have sold the piece at Bonhams on May 1 2008 (lot 273) for £10,200. And this significant bronze is due to leave the UK though there is a temporary ban on its export (which is due to be reviewed on June 6, 2009). The piece can remain in Britain if a purchaser is willing to acquire it "
at the recommended price of £22,066.81".

Think about the process. The piece has been removed from cultivated land (the PAS website records the land owner as "not defined"); there is no record of associated finds or context. The rider was subsequently recorded on the PAS database. It was then sold at public auction and the new owner hopes to export it - or, apparently, do rather well out of the deal if a new purchaser can be found.

Details on how to retain this part of England's cultural heritage can be found here.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Stewardship of Classical Antiquities in a post-Euphronios World

Trust in North American public museums has taken a major knock over the last few years: well over 100 objects have been returned to Italy, and a museum curator is currently standing trial.

What has been the issue? Museums have been seeking to develop their classical Greek and Roman collections - but had not been asking too many questions about how the stunning objects had been appearing on the antiquities market.

What were the sources for these acquisitions? Italy had not been releasing items found in excavations as these were retained in regional museums. So were they from previously unrecorded private collections?

In the mid 1990s a raid in the Geneva Freeport brought to light a major dossier of images and documentation that provided an insight on how objects moved from ancient burials in Italy through Switzerland and onwards to collections in Europe, the Far East and North America. This photographic evidence brought about a major shift: museums were only too keen to negotiate some returns.

Now Italy has responded positively to the co-operation. Antiquities are being placed on loan to North American collections: among them the symbolic statue of Eirene (Peace) to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. These are loans, not purchases. And some North American museum directors still try to address yesterday's debate about ownership - and they miss the point.

The shared aim of archaeologists and museum curators is to present and explain the past through finds, many of which are displayed in museums and galleries around the world. And objects excavated by scientific methods can be understood in far greater detail than something ripped from an ancient burial that loses all its associated information.

So as the Euphronios krater goes on display at the Villa Giulia in Rome, surrounded by finds made in the great ancient cemeteries of Etruria, the debate can turn to how our shared cosmopolitan heritage can be protected and preserved for future generations. Can we be good stewards of the past?

Image
Detail from the Euphronios krater once displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and now in Rome. Sleep and Death lift the body of Sarpedon from the field of battle before Troy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

ALR reports and e-commerce


Last week saw the opening of the new e-tiquities website "by Phoenix Ancient Art" (see earlier comments). Yet one week on there has been a major change. Last week you could read the on-line reports from the Art Loss Register (ALR): now the links to the reports have been removed and replaced with a logo and a little message, "All e-Tiquities have been searched in the Art Loss Register database."

Why the change? Is the ALR unhappy about having its reports posted on the web? Do the reports demonstrate in black-and-white terms that the collecting histories for some of the pieces cannot be extended back to 1970?

But what about transparency? How can potential buyers be sure about the "provenance" of the pieces?

Perhaps the time has come, as Larry Rothfield has proposed, for an archaeological body to be responsible for vetting these histories.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Euphronios at the Villa Giulia

The Sarpedon krater once displayed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has gone on display in the Villa Giulia, Rome ("Una casa a Villa Giulia per il vaso d'Eufronio; da oggi al Museo Romano insieme con tesori restituti dagli USA", ANSA May 7, 2009). The exhibition containing the pot was opened by the Italian under-secretary Francesco Giro and by Annamaria Moretti representing the archaeological service of Lazio.

The exhibition includes another 14 pieces returned from North American public and private collections. The items include:
  • the Onesimos cup from the J. Paul Getty Museum [see earlier comment]
  • the psykter attributed to Smikros from the Metropolitan Museum of Art [see earlier comment]
  • a Caeretan hydria showing a panther and a lioness from the Shelby White collection (and previously on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art) [see earlier comment]
  • an Attic black-figured lekythos attributed to the Diosphos painter from the Museum of Fine Art, Boston [see earlier comment]
  • a Pontic amphora attributed to the Tityos painter from the Royal-Athena Galleries [see earlier comment]
The press release suggests that the pieces have one thing in common: they had been removed from tombs in Italy before passing onto the antiquities market.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Egypt and Bulgaria revisited

I have read the latest Art & Cultural Heritage Law Newsletter with much interest: Leila Amineddoleh, "Phoenix Ancient Art and the Aboutaams in hot water again", vol. 1, issue 5, Spring 2009, pp. 13-15 [download]. She discusses the Egyptian Tarek el-Suesy case and the arrest in Bulgaria. The Cleveland Apollo and the Egyptian mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum also feature.

The article raises this question:
And how does this [decision] affect the nation's [sc. Egypt] efforts to crack down on the smuggling and looting of antiquities?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Proposal: a database for the "real vetting" of archaeological material

Larry Rothfield has responded to my earlier post about antiquities and e-commerce. Rothfield suggests that there needs to be an alternative to the Art Loss Register. He notes that this new database would provide "a real vetting of archaeological material to leave no doubt about whether provenance passes muster". He continues:
To be credible to the archaeological community, archaeologists appointed by major archaeological associations would be officially in charge of a registering commission. Dealers would have to pay for the costs of the commission's work -- and one could tack on an additional charge (or if the commission were legally sanctioned, a tax) to raise money to help pay for site guards in countries where antiquities are being looted.
It would be good to have some feedback here or on The Punching Bag. What do readers think about Rothfield's proposal?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

e-boutaam: "an easy way to expand ... collections"

Phoenix Ancient Art has launched an online service selling antiquities, e-tiquities.com ("Phoenix Ancient Art launches its first e-commerce platform", PR Newswire May 4, 2009 [also available in, at least, Spanish, German and French]). This e-commerce service promised to open "the world of high-end antiquities ... to a larger audience than ever before".

Hicham Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art is quoted:
"In launching e-tiquities(TM) by Phoenix Ancient Art, we hope both to introduce a new audience to the cultures of the ancient world, and to give our existing clients an easy way to expand their collections ... One of the things which makes Phoenix Ancient Art special in our field is the guarantee of authenticity that we provide to our clients, whether they buy works in our galleries or on our new website. Over the years, we've developed procedures to establish provenance (chain of ownership) to ensure that our pieces are both authentic and on the market in accordance with international law."

Aboutaam adds:
"Given current economic conditions, people of all financial status are looking for safer havens for their investments ... Antiquities have always been a good alternative through both booms and busts, and unlike stocks or bonds, the return on investment includes a piece of timeless beauty."
The new president of e-tiquities.com,
Alexander Gherardi, is quoted:
Many people are intimidated by the thought of purchasing antiquities. They fear buying something that is inauthentic, illegally acquired or overpriced. E-tiquities.com eliminates this anxiety. Our researchers have worked to make e-tiquities(TM) an educational site as well as an accessible way to collect elegant, guaranteed authentic antiquities. It is truly an innovation in the field.

One of the features of the new e-commerce site is a downloadable certificate from the Art Loss Register (ALR). I clicked on the link for an archaic Greek black-figured lydion of the 6th century BCE ("
Ex- Swiss private collection, collected in the 1960" [sic.) to find that the ALR report prepared by William Webber (May 30, 2005) described it as "Civilization: Roman", which raises some interesting issues.

But what about findspots and past histories? I initially checked two areas. First "Cycladic" where there is an Early Cycladic marble "plate" (or dish), "
Ex-Swiss private collection; acquired on the Swiss art market in 2004". The piece apparently passed through Phoenix Ancient Art in 2006. The ALR report is attached. Second "South Italian" where there is a pottery Messapian trozella for sale. The Provenance is provided: "Acquired in Switzerland, 1993". The ALR report is available.

Elsewhere my eye caught an archaic Siana cup, "Swiss Art Market, acquired in 1999". [The link to the ALR report gives information about another object]. Or in the Etruscan section a black-figured amphora with siren, "Acquired in 1998".

The ALR reports also include a statement:
The [ALR] database does not contain information on illegally exported artefacts unless they have been reported to us as stolen.
It would be interesting to know the documented histories of all these pieces prior to 1970. When did they emerge from their archaeological contexts?


Whose Culture?: FYROM

David I. Owen has written a passionate essay, "Censoring knowledge: the case for the publication of unprovenanced cuneiform tablets", for Whose Culture? His focus is on Mesopotamia and his essay concludes,
"... concerted efforts ... must be made by local and international authorities to eliminate the organized looting and smuggling of antiquities" (p. 130).
I do not agree with Owen's overall position and I have discussed the AIA Policy on publication in my review of Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity?

Owen looks beyond Iraq in his essay. He reminds us of the scale of looting in the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), "the estimated 1 million artifacts ... smuggled out of the country since independence in 1991 ..." (p. 138 n. 12) [see my earlier comments on this report]. Among the pieces discussed by archaeologists from the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is the Koreshnica krater, reported to be from an elite burial and said to reside in a New York private collection. The scale of the looting is indeed shocking and Owen is right to condemn it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Collecting Antiquities: The Missing Contributions

I have been reading the conference announcement for "Museums and the Collecting of Antiquities: Past, Present and Future" (May 4, 2006) (available on the AAMD website). The purpose of the conference was twofold:
• To present an overview of the contribution art museums have made to the preservation and understanding of ancient art and culture through the collecting of antiquities, and how this mission can responsibly be continued; and
• To present panel discussions among relevant experts from within and outside the museum profession on the role of collecting in the continuing research on, and appreciation of, ancient art and culture. Panelists will include archaeologists, museum directors, curators, and other scholars.
James Cuno's Whose Culture? (p. ix) tells us this conference has led to this edited volume:
The discussion that day made it clear that a book was needed that would present the point of view of museum directors, curators, and university-based scholars regarding the value of the museum in the context of the current debate over the acquisition of antiquities. That is that book.
But if so, where are essays by the following scholars?
  • Michael Barry, Lecturer in Persian, Princeton University and Curator of Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Malcolm Bell, Professor of Art History, University of Virginia
  • Glen Bowersock, Professor of Ancient History, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, NJ
  • Michael Coe, Professor of Anthropology Emeritus and former Curator of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University
  • David Freidel, University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University
  • Patty Gerstenblith, Professor of Law, DePaul University
  • Richard Leventhal, Director, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
  • Jane Waldbaum, President, Archaeological Institute of America and Professor Emerita of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Yet four of the essays in Whose Culture? are reprint articles. Why? Were the above contributors unable to submit an essay? What would, say, Malcolm Bell, Patty Gerstenblith, Richard Levanthal, or Jane Waldbaum have to say on these issues?

Or is there another reason why their essays do not appear here?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Wordle on Looting Matters: 3

Wordle: Looting Matters 3

Here is the Wordle image for Looting Matters taken at the beginning of May 2009.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Acquired on the London art market": known before 1970?

I was interested in the collecting histories of pieces at the Bonhams sale this past week (April 29, 2009).

Christos Tsirogiannis in Cambridge has drawn my attention to six lots.
  • lot 48: Roman limestone funerary male bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", £13,200
  • lot 49: Roman limestone funerary female bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", £13,200
  • lot 50: Roman limestone funerary male bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", apparently unsold
  • lot 51: Roman limestone funerary female bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", £6,600
  • lot 52: Roman limestone funerary male bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", apparently unsold
  • lot 53: Roman limestone funerary male bust, Eastern Mediterranean, "Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French passport", apparently unsold

They seem to form a coherent group. Which London dealer or gallery handled the pieces in 1998? What was their collecting history prior to 1998? Have they been in a French collection?

What does the "French passport" imply?


Friday, May 1, 2009

Whose Culture? and the returns to Italy

I have already made a preliminary comment on James Cuno's minimalist views (in his 2009 edited volume, Whose Culture?) on the return of antiquities from North American museums to Italy. I have begun to read the book and have been looking (in vain) for a response from Cuno and his like-minded contributors to these returns.

Kwame Anthony Appiah in his (reprinted) essay merely makes the outdated statement, "Italian authorities are negotiating about the status of other other objects from both the Getty and the Metropolitan Museum" (p. 71). Elsewhere he notes that the Metropolitan had at one point been "close to a deal" over the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater (p. 76) - yet this Athenian krater has been returned to Italy (January 2008) and has even been on exhibition in Athens.

Philippe de Montebello does address the return of the Sarpedon krater (p. 61). He protests at the Italian description of the pot as a cosa morta, but concedes "it would have been clearly preferable to know the totality of the krater's original, found context" (p. 65).

Sir John Boardman also notes the return (p. 121). There is a strange discussion about the krater moving from Athens ("a pagan (in our terms) society whose cultural heritage is nevertheless claimed by a Christian orthodox country") to Etruria (in Italy) ("another pagan society now in a Christian Orthodox (of different persuasion) country"), then being pillaged by "Christian (no doubt) excavators" (sic.) (pp. 121-22). However he does concede, "it would be good to know the details of the krater find and cofinds and we mourn their loss" (p. 122).

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