Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Loans from Italy: Maxwell Anderson Makes His Position Clear

It is good to see that North American museums have been receiving a number of loans from Italy in the wake of the return of some 130 or so "recently-surfaced" antiquities. The most recently heralded example is from the Cleveland Museum of Art (Steven Litt, "Cleveland Museum of Art's new galleries include antiquities on loan from Italy", cleveland.com June 20, 2010). The details are outlined:
The fruits of this agreement -- four objects from archaeological museums in Reggio Calabria and Paestum -- will go on view in the newly reinstalled galleries of ancient, African and medieval art, which open Saturday.
One of the objects is an enthroned female statuette, made in terra cotta -- a fired, red-orange clay. Another is the head of a Kore, an ancient Greek maiden, made in a refined, pinkish-yellow form of terra cotta.
Also on view are a cast bronze mirror emblazoned with a winged siren, and a terra-cotta plaque depicting Persephone and Hades enthroned with clusters of flowers and wheat.
Dating from 500 to 400 B.C., the works all stem from a period when Greece colonized Sicily and coastal regions of southern Italy, leaving a deep imprint on the native Etruscan civilization and later on the Roman republic and empire.
Other AAMD collections to benefit from the scheme include Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One of pioneers in this field was Maxwell L. Anderson with his EUMILOP project back in the 1980s. I note that the Indianapolis Museum of Art (where Anderson is now the director) has now received a number of loans from Italy (press release):
the objects include three life-size portrait busts and a marble funerary urn from the Vigna Codini Columbarium II, a major Roman tomb discovered in 1847.
This group of material was the subject of the Roman Portraits in Context Exhibition at Emory University in 1988-89 (complete with excellent catalogue).

Anderson repeats his position from the late 1980s:
American museums have few examples of ancient art which can be displayed with their complete context understood ... The Vigna Codini Tomb contents from the Julio-Claudian and Flavian periods open a window to understanding that only long-term loans can provide, since the acquisition of archaeological material with inadequate ownership history is no longer acceptable.
It is good to hear somebody who clearly understands the issues about acquiring recently-surfaced antiquities.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

So-called Research Institute Fails to Deliver?

In 2009 the Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI) was launched with a proposed number of projects. In November 2009 the CPRI published its first preliminary report, "Project on Unprovenanced Ancient Objects in Private US Hands". There were serious flaws. The CPRI has yet to to publish the names of the authors of the report, the sources for information, the extent of the data, or the nature of the peer review process.

In January 2010 I discussed the potential use of a register of antiquities in private hands. The CPRI was due to deliver a report on "Developing different models for a registry that can be applied to privately-owned objects" by the end of 2009. It has yet to appear.

The CPRI also promised to announce the details of another project by the end of 2009, "Exploring the effect of source country policies on damage to archaeological sites and objects".
Source country policies toward development, private ownership, enforcement and export, among other matters, can have profound consequences for the integrity of archaeological sites and the preservation of individual objects. Using a small, selected group of source countries, the CPRI will seek to gather and collate information on such policies, their effect on site damage, and possible remedies. This will be an ongoing research project with milestones and publication outcomes to be determined before the end of 2009.
Perhaps something has been determined but it has not been made public.

At the same time a director of the CPRI (and Washington lobbyist) has shown ignorance of the basic academic literature on looted antiquities.

Are the CPRI's board of directors unable to deliver?

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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Cleveland Apollo: The German Connection

It is reported that the Cleveland Apollo was found in the garden of premises inherited by Ernst-Ulrich Walter in eastern Germany. Who is this individual?

There is a helpful discussion of his collection by Katlen Trautmann ("Der Schatz von Göda", June 6, 2004). I presume it is the same individual. The Ohio press describes Walter as a retired lawyer and Trautmann states: "Ende 2003 gab er nach über 50 Jahren als Anwalt die Kanzlei in Wuppertal auf".

Trautmann describes entering Walter's farm:
Buddhas und Bodenvasen, Schnabelkannen und Schwerter, Korane und Gewänder aus den entlegensten Ländern des Ostens und Südens fügen sich zu märchenhaften orientalischen Zimmern - mitten in der Lausitz.
But where did this material come from?
Die Stücke sind weder geerbt, noch vom Himmel gefallen. Zeit seines Lebens bereiste Walter die arabische Welt und Südostasien, er kennt sie nun wohl so gut wie seinerzeit Sindbad, der Seefahrer.
Walter clarified: "Von jeder Tour bringt er Kunstwerke mit."

So was the Apollo indeed in the German garden for a hundred years or so? Or is there a possibility that it could have been collected on Walter's post-war travels?

There has been subsequent discussion of the "collecting history" of the Cleveland Apollo in the German press (Matthias Schulz, "Waldgeist im Fischernetz", Der Spiegel 26. Mai 2007).
Dass die wohl einzige Original-Praxiteles-Skulptur der Welt in der sächsischen Provinz herumgammelte, klingt unwahrscheinlich. Die Griechen halten die Version denn auch für Quatsch. Das Landschloss sei nichts anderes als eine "Weißwaschanlage", um die wahre Herkunft des Objekts zu verschleiern.
The Cleveland Museum of Art has a responsibility to make the full documentation relating to the Apollo public. Curators at the museum may not be aware of the AAMD position on this:
AAMD is committed to the exercise of due diligence in the acquisition process, in particular in the research of proposed acquisitions, transparency in the policy applicable to acquisitions generally, and full and prompt disclosure following acquisition.
Can we expect "full and prompt disclosure" in the near future?

But there are other questions to ask.

When were the tests done? How were they supervised? How were the samples protected? Can we be sure the samples came from an attachment that was fixed to this statue? Could the attachment have been added at a subsequent date? Are the results secure?

Or are they open to other interpretations?


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The Cleveland Apollo: "I don't know who they're protecting by secrecy"

In 2009 the Cleveland Museum of Art returned 14 antiquities to Italy. Among them was a piece donated by Edoardo Almagià who has been linked to a recent report with the Princeton University Art Museum. At the time of the announcement about these returns it was reported that a special committee had been set up to look into the collecting history of the controversial acquisition of a bronze Apollo. (Another committee was also looking into the collecting history of a Winged Victoria.)

The statue, attributed to the sculptor Praxiteles, is said to have been purchased for around $5 million from Phoenix Ancient Art. Its collecting history is far from clear. One of the reasons for confidence on Cleveland's part lies in the fact that the Art Loss Register (ALR) "found no claims on the piece". But recently surfaced antiquities will not appear in the ALR (unless those removing the objects took photographs and those photographs passed to the ALR).

Cleveland is now being upbeat about its aquisition (Steven Litt, "Cleveland Museum of Art's Apollo sculpture is a star with intriguing past", cleveland.com June 20, 2010).
Michael Bennett is a confident man these days. The Cleveland Museum of Art's curator of ancient Near Eastern, Greek and Roman art believes that he made the purchase of a lifetime in 2004, when he persuaded the museum to buy a beautiful and controversial ancient bronze statue of Apollo Sauroktonos, or Apollo the Lizard Slayer.
Although the museum has yet to reveal all the details it holds, Cleveland's interim director, Deborah Gribbon, commented: "The issue is not that there are things to hide, it's that some of this is ongoing research and other elements are proprietary information".

If there is nothing to hide, why not make all the information public? And when will this committee report?

Patty Gerstenblith was also interviewed:
It's a public institution supported by the taxpayers and the government ... I think they should come forward with the evidence they have. I don't know who they're protecting by secrecy.
Why is the Cleveland Museum of Art acting as if there is something to hide? What else was purchased from this source? After all, Michael Bennett claimed he had been dealing with the individuals concerned "for years". When will Cleveland make the findings of its internal report public?

And let us not forget that we do not know where this Apollo was originally displayed.



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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Looting Matters on PR Newswire 4

Here is a list of the recent PR Newswire Press Releases (nos. 31-35):
For earlier releases: nos. 1-20, 21-25, 26-30.

May saw the completion of the first year of this partnership with PR Newswire. This relationship has generated some discussion from certain commentators.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The New York Market and Antiquities


During June 2010 there have been two major sales of antiquities at Christie's and Sotheby's. Over $26 million worth of antiquities were sold. These half-year results show that 2010 is ahead of the total sales for 2005, 2006 and 2009. 2007 was an exceptional year with the sale of the Guennol Lioness at Sotheby's for a record-breaking $57 million.

Christie's accounted for just under $8.7 million. Their top-selling piece was a Roman bronze lamp-stand with a youth that went for $1.1 million. Christie's had been faced with calls for three objects to be withdrawn from the sale as the lots appeared to be similar to objects shown in photographs that appeared in the Medici Dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport. One of the three pieces, an Apulian rhyton, apparently failed to sell, while the marble youth with a cockerel sold for less than when it appeared at the same auction house in 2004. Overall, Christie's only sold 64% of their lots.

Sotheby's seem to have a strategy of offering fewer objects but with carefully researched collecting histories. Over $14.5 million was accounted by three lots: the Giuistiani head of Athena, a Roman marble group of three satyrs fighting a serpent, and a Roman torso of a Julio-Claudian emperor.

These sales suggest that when auction-houses conduct thorough due diligence research on their lots and present fuller collecting histories (sometimes unhelpfully called "provenance" ), buyers have more confidence.

Image
Chart © David Gill, 2010

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Stonehenge Visitor Centre

One of the casualties of the UK spending review is the cancellation of the proposed £25 million visitor centre at Stonehenge (BBC News, June 17, 2010; "Coalition government axes £2bn of projects", BBC News June 17, 2010). The plan for the visitor centre had been approved in 2007 and then then Prime Minister had endorsed the project in October 2009. The final approval for the project had been given on January 10, 2010.

English Heritage has made a statement today:
English Heritage is obviously extremely disappointed that the £10 million promised by Gordon Brown, then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 13 May, 2009, will not now be forthcoming. 
Stonehenge is a project of global significance. It is Britain’s premier World Heritage Site. It was a key feature in Britain’s bid for the London Olympics. Transforming the monument’s setting and the visitor experience is vital to Britain’s reputation, and to our tourism industry, especially in 2012 but also thereafter. 
This does not necessarily mean this is the end of the project. We will be discussing the withdrawal of Government financial support with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We will be making an announcement as to the future of the project after the English Heritage Commission meets on 30 June.
A video of the cancelled project can be found here.

Image
© David Gill, 2010.

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"Preserving this rich heritage"



I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to colleagues at Swansea University's Egypt Centre. In a speech to be delivered later today, Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) Heritage minister Alun Ffred Jones will be launching a new museum strategy for Wales ("Welsh Museums Look to the Future", WAG Press Release June 16, 2010 [Welsh language version]; "Museums in Wales urged to appeal to the young", BBC June 16, 2010). This will take place in the Swansea Museum, founded in 1841 and also home to Egyptian antiquities.

The minister is quoted:
"Wales is a unique and enriching place in which to live and work, with a distinctive character ... The museums of Wales play a critical part in both preserving this rich heritage and in sharing the excitement of their stories locally, nationally and internationally. Museums need to build on their tradition of working together to make effective use of resources.
The strategy document draws attention to the award-winning volunteering scheme at the Egypt Centre. The BBC report has an interview with Assistant Curator Wendy Goodridge.

Bibliography
Gill, David W.J. "From Wellcome Museum to Egypt Centre: Displaying Egyptology in Swansea." Göttinger Miszellen 205 (2005): 47-54.


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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A krater from a United Kingdom private collection

Among the images recovered from the island of Schinoussa is a series relating to an Attic red-figured volute-krater showing a Dionysiac scene. The krater is said to have once resided in a private collection in the United Kingdom. It is also reported to have had a previous "home" in a Swiss "private collection".

Are these images suggesting that "private collection" means little more than the stock of certain dealers in antiquities? Is it time that the names of such private collections be revealed?

Image
Detail from the Schinoussa Dossier (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis).

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Journal of Art Crime: Spring 2010

The Journal of Art Crime 3, 1 (Spring 2010) is now available. The journal is edited by Noah Charney. For journal details see here.

Those interested in antiquities will be interested in the following items:

ACADEMIC ARTICLES
  • David W.J. Gill: Collecting Histories and the Market for Classical Antiquities, 3-10 [abstract]
  • Helen E. Scott: Responding to Art Vandalism in British Museums and Galleries: A Survey of the Situation, 11-22
  • Miranda Vitello: The Getty Kouros Mystery, 23-30.
  • Olivia Sladen: Faking History: How Provenance Forgery is Conning the Art World 41-52.
  • Simmy Swinder: The Looting of the Iraq Museums: An Examination of Efforts to Protect Universal Cultural Property, 53-74
REGULAR COLUMNS

  • David Gill: Context Matters. “Italy and the US: Reviewing Cultural Property Agreements”,  81-85.
  • Colonel Giovanni Pastore: Cultural Heritage. “The Defense of Underwater Archaeological Heritage” / “La Difesa Del Patrimonio Archeologico Subacqueo”,  87-92.
  • Donn Zaretsky: Art Law and Policy, 95-97.

EDITORIAL ESSAYS

  • John Kleberg: What’s in a Number? 99-100.
  • John Kleberg: University Treasures 101-102.
  • David W.J. Gill: The Returns to Italy from North America: An Overview 105-09.

REVIEWS

Derek Fincham Reviews, 113-14.

  • Criminology and Archaeology: Studies in Looted Antiquities, ed. S. Mackenzie and P. Green (Hart Publishing 2009)
  • The Restitution of Cultural Assets, Beat Schönenberger (Eleven International Publishing 2009)

EXTRAS

  • Mark Durney: ARCA profile of Ton Cremers 125
  • Mark Durney: Q&A with ICE’s Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program Head of the Northeast, Special Agent Bonnie Goldblatt, 127-128
  • 2010 ARCA Award Winners 129

For earlier numbers see here.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Collecting Histories and the Market for Classical Antiquities

The spring number of the Journal of Art Crime 3, 1 (2010) is now available [subscription details].

This includes my paper, "Collecting Histories and the Market for Classical Antiquities", pp. 3-10.

Abstract
The use of the term “provenance” when applied to archaeological material has been related to previous ownership. The collecting histories of over 120 items returned to Italy from North American collections have demonstrated the need for the careful and rigorous documentation of individual pieces. Such a history would chart the “life” of the object from the moment that it is discovered to the point when it is sold at auction or acquired by a museum or private individual. The impact of the scandal surrounding the “Medici Conspiracy” led to the withdrawal of lots from a London sale in 2008, and a series of seizures from a New York auction house in 2009. The lack of collecting histories for individual objects suggests that the pieces were removed from their archaeological contexts, such as graves, by unscientific methods. The study argues that the widely used term “provenance” is essentially obsolete when applied to antiquities.


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Friday, June 11, 2010

Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's


I have been plotting the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's (see December 2009). Egyptian antiquities in the June 2010 sale fetched $658,500. The median value was $16,250. This is comparable with 2004.

Image
Analysis © David Gill, 2010.

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Sotheby's results in a New York context


Sotheby's had a sale of antiquities in New York today. 102 lots were sold worth $17,479,938.

A Cycladic marble figure (lot 14) sold for $446,500. It had surfaced in 1977 via Mathias Komor in New York.

The Giuistiniani Athena head, estimated at $600,000 to $900,000, sold for $4,114,500. A Roman marble group of three satyrs fighting a serpent, estimated at $300,000 to $500,000, sold for $3,442,500. A Roman torso of a Julio-Claudian emperor, estimated at $800,000 to $1,200,000, sold for $7,362,500.

The Sotheby's results dwarfed those at Christie's yesterday (at $8,694,375) and with fewer lots (and no adverse publicity as far as I am aware).

The half-year results for both auction houses have now outstripped the whole of 2009  (and are very close to the whole of 2008).

Analysis
© David Gill, 2010.

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Youth with Cockerel: Lost Value?

An anonymous Massachusetts private collector will have been reminded that the value of antiquities can go down as well as up. Yesterday the youth with cockerel sold at auction for $20,000 (lot 139). Yet when it was purchased at Christie's in December 2004 the same piece fetched $22,705 (lot 576).

There has been the unresolved matter of the image from the Medici Dossier. Is the statue of the youth holding a cockerel the same as the piece shown in the Polaroid? Who consigned the piece to the anonymous Sotheby's sale in 1992? Why did Christie's overlook this part of the collecting history (or "provenance")?

And who now owns the statue? It is unlikely to be acquired by a North American museum. Was it purchased as stock for another dealer? Has it passed to another anonymous private collector? Is it now in the portfolio of an investment company that deals with antiquities?

Image
From the Medici Dossier (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis).

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Christie's: Statement

Christie's have now issued a press statement following today's sale of antiquities. 64% of the lots were sold.

The top selling piece, a Roman bronze lamp stand with a youth (lot 131), went for $1,142,500. It appears to have surfaced in an anonymous Swiss private collection "prior to 1980".

G. Max Bernheimer, International Department Head of Antiquities ...: “These results reflect continuing strength and depth throughout the Antiquities market. The top end of the market continues to perform exceedingly well.”

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Christie's: results

The three lots highlighted earlier today came under the hammer:

  • Lot 104: Apulian rhyton. Apparently unsold. [Estimate: $25,000-$30,000]
  • Lot 112: Canosan terracotta. Sold: $7500. [Estimate: $6000-$8000]
  • Lot 139: Youth with cockerel. Sold: $20,000 [Estimate: $20,000-$30,000]

The sale generated $8,694,375.

Image
Objects from the Medici Dossier (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis).

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The Medici Dossier: Unresolved Issues

Later today at 10 am Christie's will be holding a sale of antiquities in the Rockefeller Plaza, New York. Readers will be aware that concerns have been raised about three lots (104, 112, 139) that appear to be close to objects that feature in the Medici Dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport. Are they the same? What due diligence searches have been undertaken by the staff at Christie's to ensure that they are not selling ex-Medici material? What reassurances can be given to potential buyers? Why did Christie's fail to mention the Sotheby's London collecting history for one of the pieces when the catalogue first appeared?

Christie's has made it clear that the sale of the objects would "proceed" in spite of a call for the three lots to be "repatriated" by an Italian prosecutor closely linked to the return of some 130 objects from North American collections. It was added, "Christie's has undertaken its own research into this matter and has found no evidence to support the need to withdraw these lots". What is the nature of this research? Who has been contacted?

What is the full "provenance" (or more accurately collecting history) for these three pieces? At the end of May 2010 Max Bernheimer of Christie's reminded us that provenance was "paramount". If that is the case, what is the full "provenance" for these three pieces? Has it been established how the three pieces entered the market?

The last word must rest with the spokesperson for Christie's commenting on the issue in May 2010: "we do not sell works that we have reason to believe are stolen".

Image
Three objects from the Medici Dossier (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis).

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Apulian pottery and loss of knowledge

Ricardo Elia of Boston University has conducted significant research on Apulian pottery. His study has suggested that as little as 5.5% of the Apulian corpus has been derived from scientific excavations. And if we put this another way 94.5% of Apulian pots do not have a scientifically recorded context. In other words, we do not know what else was found in the tomb: for example, other pots, terracotta figures, bronze armour, jewellery, single or multiple burials, or the gender of the bodies buried with the pots. And this has implications for understanding the stylistic development of the pottery. Were pots attributed to the same hand placed in the same grave? Were pots from the same broad workshops placed together? Are workshops linked to specific cemeteries? Deliberate destruction of the funerary record of ancient Apulia has caused extensive and permanent loss of knowledge.

Apulian pots featured prominently in the "Nostoi" exhibitions in Rome. Some 50 Apulian pots were reportedly seized on the frontier between France and Spain in 2000. In 2008 about 4400 antiquities were returned from Switzerland to Italy in three truckloads; approximately half were reported to have been derived from Apulian tombs.

Princeton returned an Apulian loutrophoros attributed to the Darius painter (though it was then placed on loan). The Darius painter is significant as an amphora and a pelike were returned to Italy from Boston's Museum of Fine Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, a volute-krater from the Cleveland Museum of Art, and a dinos from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are still unanswered questions surrounding the collecting history of a large "funerary" group of Apulian pots in Berlin that included three volute-kraters attributed to the Darius painter.

One major private collection of Apulian pottery was owned by Graham Geddes who even had an anonymous pot-painter, the Geddes painter, named in his honour. The "most important" piece in the sale of further Apulian pieces from the Geddes collection had to be withdrawn from auction in October 2008. Two other Apulian pieces from his collection were withdrawn from the same sale. All three had surfaced at Sotheby's London in the 1980s.

Robin Symes is also linked with an Apulian krater that was offered at (and withdrawn from) a London auction in 2008.

In 2009 an Apulian situla was seized after passing through a New York auction-house in June of that year. It was subsequently described by a spokesperson for the auction-house as a "stolen" artifact.

And now an Apulian rhyton in the shape of a goat's head with white-painted horns is up for auction at Christie's later this week. It appears similar to an image in the Medici dossier. There have been calls for the rhyton to be withdrawn from the sale, although a spokesperson for Christie's has made it clear that the auction-house intends to proceed.

Image
Left,  Apulian rhyton featured in the Medici Dossier (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis); right, Apulian situla reportedly seized from a New York auction-house in 2009.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Cleveland and Edoardo Almagià

Last week the New York Times reported on antiquities linked to Edoardo Almagià. I noted that two Etruscan silver bracelets had been acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1996 [archived here]; they were gifts of "Edoardo Almagia and Courtney Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff". (For Kozloff see here.)

Steven Litt has written a short piece for the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) ("N.Y. dealer being probed may have sold to art museum ", June 4, 2010). He notes that the Cleveland Museum of Art "declined to comment" on the story, even though the pieces had been part of the batch of antiquities returned to Italy. Litt was asking a reasonable question: what else was obtained by Almagià?

"We have not been contacted by the Italians, nor have we seen documents referenced in the article," Christa Skiles, assistant director of communications at the museum, said Thursday in an e-mail.
"Right now, there are too many questions for us, and likely all of the other museums included in the story, regarding this investigation."

Cleveland Museum of Art has been reluctant to release the collecting histories ("provenance") of the pieces returned to Italy. (Boston's MFA and the J. Paul Getty Museum have released the information in full.) However it is suggested that some of the items passed through the hands of Giacomo Medici, Robert Hecht, Fritz Bürki and Robin Symes. Is this the case?

The staff at Cleveland should release information about any other objects in the collection linked to Almagià. They seem to be unaware of the need for transparency under the AAMD's guidelines.

Image
Two Etruscan silver bracelets returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art [archived here].



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Christie's, the Medici Dossier and William G. Pearlstein

Kimberly Alderman ("Is Italy “Asking For It” By Refusing to Release the Medici Photographs? Three items at Christie’s raise questions", The Cultural Property and Archaeology Law Blog June 6, 2010) wanted to have a different view on the story carried in the Wall Street Journal last week [see here with quotes from original article]. She contacted New York attorney William G. Pearlstein who "represents collectors, dealers and auction houses in transactions, disputes and regulatory matters involving fine art and antiquities, including purchases and sales of fine art and antiquities, regulatory issues relating to the antiquities market; attribution, authenticity and provenance". He is also the Director of the Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI) and spoke at the review of the MOU with Italy. Pearlstein appears to have views on "quasi-socialists" and, if a Washington lobbyist is to be believed, an acquired taste in music.

Pearlstein has called for the publication of the Medici Dossier. Yet he does not mention the view of a Christie's spokesperson (commenting on what Christie's described as "stolen artifacts") that the publication of images from a public auction allow for transparency and give opportunity for concerns to be raised. It is still not clear why Christie's left out a key piece of collecting history for lot 139 - a key piece of collecting history known to Christie's. (And is "diligence" really a verb? "so that US market participants could ... diligence their purchases" [emphasis mine].)

Pearlstein confuses two separate issues in his emailed comments to Alderman. He cites the case of "an Egyptian duck that was stolen from a government warehouse, never reported (perhaps never inventoried) and then seized when it came up on at auction 25 years later–after being consigned by a foreign purchase who took good title under local law". In this case the duck appears to have been removed from the store at Saqqara in Egypt; its excavation location is known. In the case of material featured in Polaroids from the Medici Dossier the detail relating to the archaeological contexts is not known. There is a difference between material removed from an archaeological store and objects ripped from archaeological contexts.

Does an incident in Egypt have a bearing on material from Italy? And what does it mean for "American purchasers" of archaeological material to act "in good faith"? Collectors, museums and cultural property lawyers have been aware of the ethical issues relating to archaeological material since the 1970 UNESCO Convention. And North American collectors, museums and cultural property lawyers are unlikely to have missed the 1973 AIA declaration. [For some of the issues see here.]

Pearlstein has strong views:
What the Italians are doing is outrageous. They are deliberately withholding the Medici files from the public, allowing hot pieces to remain in circulation and then playing up every seizure for maximum publicity value. They continue to play the role of victim when actually they have became cynical predators on American institutions that want nothing more than to do the right thing.
What is "the right thing"? Why have North American museums recently adopted 1970 as a benchmark for acquiring archaeological material? Why have some 130 objects been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections in recent years? Is it "outrageous" for officials of a country to be outraged by the deliberate destruction of thousands of archaeological contexts to supply objects for the antiquities market?

Pearlstein calls for "market participants to police the integrity of their collections and [be] held accountable for their failure to do so". One of the key indicators for concern is a collecting history (or "provenance") that points to a certain auction-house in London in the 1980s and early 1990s (see a selection of pieces here). "Market participants" need to conduct rigorous due diligence searches if the collecting history includes those sales. And when that collecting history is "overlooked", questions need to be asked about the reason why.

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Youth with Cockerel: Collecting History

There is (at least) one unexplained detail relating to the sale of a marble youth with cockerel that is due to be sold at Christie's on June 10, 2010 [lot 139]. Why did the original catalogue entry for lot 139 fail to mention the earliest recorded part of its collecting history (or "provenance")? This was:
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9-10 July 1992, lot 527.
Although the information has been added as an additional note, this part of the collecting history was known when the youth passed through Christie's Rockefeller Plaza in December 2004 [see details here].

So was this collecting history left off the entry for lot 139 because the staff at the auction house are not very good at compiling collecting histories?

Or was it because Christie's did not want to draw attention to a collecting history that showed that the statue had passed through Sotheby's London at a period when that auction-house seems to have been receiving consignments from the agents of Giacomo Medici?

And that leads to two further key questions. Who did consign the statue of the youth with cockerel to Sotheby's London in July 1992? Where was it prior to the sale?

In any case, why does an image of a youth with cockerel appear in the Medici Dossier?

Image
From the Medici Dossier (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis).

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Neil MacGregor at the Hay Festival

Neil MacGregor spoke fluently and engagingly at the Hay Festival today about BBC Radio 4's series, 'A History of the World'. His starting point was an illustration of some pot sherds from Kilwa in Tanzania. These pointed us to China and the Persian Gulf. His emphasis was on how objects can help to write history.

A major theme of his talk was the enlightenment ideal. His second illustration was an Asante drum acquired in West Virginia. However recent study has shown that it was created in West Africa. How did it get to North America? MacGregor emphasised that the drum has a 'trajectory of meanings'. He argued that its appropriate home was in the cosmopolitan community of London.

This moved us into a North American buckskin map showing dating to 1774-75. This still had two neat holes where the animal had been shot through the right shoulder. The inks used were derived from European sources.  MacGregor explored the issue of mapping and control.

He then turned to Captain Cook and the Pacific with a Hawaiian feather helmet. From the there he showed what was probably the first object to be collected by a European in Australia: a eucalyptus bark shield from Botany Bay.

MacGregor closed with a consideration of a jade bi with poem from Beijing.

A member of the audience did ask about the repatriation of objects. MacGregor repeated the position of the universal museum and cited the Parthenon sculptures.

The museum had brought along a number of objects from the series (complete with curatorial staff) to one of the stands at the Festival. I even managed to hold early tools from the Olduvai Gorge.

This was an excellent event and deliberately moved the focus away from the Mediterranean to place the British Museum's objects in a world setting.

Images
© David Gill, 2010

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Looting Matters: Italian Prosecutor Calls for Return of Antiquities

Looting Matters: Italian Prosecutor Calls for Return of Antiquities

Discussion of the issues surrounding the apparent links between three antiquities due to be auctioned in New York and objects that appear in the Medici Dossier.

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Christie's: Overview

Here is an overview of some recent stories relating to Christie's:

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Italian Prosecutor: "We want to repatriate those objects"

Paolo Ferri, the Italian prosecutor, has been linked to many of the returned antiquities. He is now quoted over the possible identification of three lots in a forthcoming New York auction to images from the Medici Dossier (Dalya Alberge, "Critics Say Christie's Should Pull 3 Items From Auction", Wall Street Journal June 3, 2010).
Paolo Ferri, a Rome prosecutor who specializes in art theft cases, is seeking to recover the objects. He described the Christie's sale as "very unethical," adding: "We want to repatriate those objects." He said he had been aware of the sale since the catalogue was published some weeks ago and was pursuing his efforts to repatriate the objects through diplomatic and international police channels.
Ferri added, "Christie's knows they are selling objects that appeared in the Medici archive".

Alberge, who also covered the April sale of antiquities at Bonhams in London, interviewed a range of European and North American scholars. Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn added: "The auction houses are doing themselves no favors in continuing to offer tainted antiquities for sale".

Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis, who used to work with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, has been studying the seized photographic archives. He is quoted:
Photos from the Medici archive suggest that all three objects are probably illicit, unless Christie's proves with evidence and beyond any doubt the legal provenance of the objects, by simply providing their full history after 1970.
Alberge also interviewed ICE Special Agent James McAndrew who headed the investigations that led to the seizures from Christie's in 2008 and 2009:
he is looking into the June 10 sale, as he would any sale, and with Christie's co-operation. He emphasized Christie's efforts at due diligence and compliance when offering objects for sale, and that the auctioneer doesn't always have access to all the information available to law-enforcement agencies. Still, he added: "I think they could do better."
A spokesperson for Christie's issued a statement:
"With respect to these particular lots, Christie's has not been notified of a title claim by any government authority, nor are these lots identified as problematic by the Art Loss Register or Interpol. As an added measure, Christie's has undertaken its own research into this matter and has found no evidence to support the need to withdraw these lots. Unless and until Christie's receives a title claim, we plan to proceed with the sale of these lots."
Christie's can now be expected to reveal the full collecting histories for the three pieces for the period from 1970. They also need to explain why they "forgot" to mention in the original catalogue entry for lot 139 that it first surfaced at Sotheby's London in 1992.


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Princeton development: Cleveland link

The New York Times report, citing the investigation into the link between a Princeton University Art Museum curator and antiquities dealer Edoardo Almagià, suggested other North American museums were involved. Two Etruscan bracelets were returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art: "Gift of Edoardo Almagia and Courtney Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff" (inv. 1996.16-17).

Did the Cleveland Museum of Art acquire any other items from or through Almagià?

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Princeton development

In October 2007 Princeton University Art Museum announced that it would be returning some of its antiquities to Italy (list). Hugh Eakin (and Elisabetta Povoledo) have reported on a new development ("Italy Focuses on a Princeton Curator in an Antiquities Investigation", New York Times June 2, 2010). Eakin writes:
an Italian investigation of a second American museum curator, in a case involving similar allegations of criminal conspiracy, seems likely to upend assumptions about any rapprochement. According to a 14-page legal notice from the public prosecutor’s office in Rome, J. Michael Padgett, 56, antiquities curator at the Princeton University Museum of Art, is a focus of a criminal investigation of “the illegal export and laundering” of Italian archaeological objects.
The legal notice is said to cite "a former New York antiquities dealer, Edoardo Almagià, 59, and two other co-defendants". Eakin gives details of the pieces:
The document identifies nearly two dozen works and groups of works — among them pieces of a calyx krater attributed to the Attic vase painter Euphronios and a group of Etruscan architectural terra-cottas — that it describes as having been looted from Italian sites and “sold, donated or lent” by Mr. Almagià to the Princeton museum through Mr. Padgett from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. According to Princeton nine of these works are in the museum’s collection.
The calyx-krater fragments, attributed to Euphronios by Padgett, appear to be the ones that were acquired in 1997: J. Michael Padgett, "Ajax and Achilles on a Calyx-Krater by Euphronios", Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 60 (2001) 2-17 [JSTOR].

In addition, "The most recent Princeton acquisition identified by the prosecutor appears to be a sixth-century B.C. Attic vase sold to the museum in 2001". This may be the black-figured Tyrrhenian amphora attributed to the Guglielmi painter purchased in 2001 (inv. 2001-218) [JSTOR].

This new development does not stop at Princeton. Eakin continues:
The document also lists about 20 pieces, including vases, bronzes and sculptures that it says Mr. Almagià obtained illegally and sold to other American institutions in the 1980s and 1990s, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Dallas Museum of Art; the San Antonio Museum of Art; the Toledo Museum of Art; the Tampa Museum of Art; and the Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington. And it claims that several vase fragments of illicit provenance were “sold and/or donated” on unspecified dates to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
There appear to be 10 pieces associated with "Edoardo Almagià, 136 East 56th Street, New York, NY 10022" in Boston. They range from a Roman marble head acquired in 1991, to nine pieces of Italian impasto ware that were a "Gift of Jonathan Kagan and Sallie Fried in memory of Strabo CDX, 1995" ("February 15, 1995: purchased by Jonathan Kagan and Sallie Fried from Edoardo Almagià").

A response from Princeton was provided:
Reached by telephone, Mr. Padgett said he was innocent of any wrongdoing and referred all questions to Princeton University. Cass Cliatt, a spokeswoman for Princeton, said the university was aware of the investigation but had not received any communication from Italy about the case. “We are conducting our own investigation and looking into the various elements of the documentation” that has been served to Mr. Padgett, Ms. Cliatt said.
It is not clear what further revelations will be made or what the implications will be for the other museums.

Image
Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum


Red figure loutrophoros (ceramic), attributed to the Darius Painter. South Italian, Apulian, ca. 335-325 B.C. One of four objects to be transferred in title to the Italian government but to remain on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum.

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