Thursday, July 29, 2010

Corrupting knowledge: inaccurate information

One issue surrounding recently-surfaced antiquities is that the objects may be supplied with misleading collecting-histories. Sellers may be keen for a potential buyer to think that a Greek pot has resided in a collection formed in the 1920s when in fact it was removed from an Etruscan grave in the 1980s. Another seller could suggest that a Roman silver cup was found in, say, Afghanistan as this would be more exotic than Turkey.

I have been considering this concept as part of the wider intellectual consequences of collecting. I explored the theme in my 2010 article for the Journal of Art Crime. I noted how two pieces that passed through Palladion Antike Kunst in Basel, Switzerland (and acquired by Boston's Museum of Fine Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum) were placed in "old collections": those of Karl Haug in Basel since 1936, and the late nineteenth century Rycroft collection. Such misleading information does not relate just to genuine objects: the Getty kouros, considered by some to be a modern forgery, was said to have formed part of the Jean Lauffenberger collection and could be traced back to a Greek dealer in 1930. The kouros was said to have been sold by Gianfranco Becchina, whose wife Rosie was the proprietor of Palladion Antike Kunst.

The Late Roman hoard known as the Sevso Treasure is linked in the broadest sense with several possible countries (including Hungary, Croatia and Lebanon). The Icklingham Bronzes were once said to have been removed from Britain in the 1940s and then formed part of a collection in Switzerland. The Morgantina Hoard was said to have passed through the hands of a Lebanese dealer and then through a Swiss collection in 1961. (The more recent removal of the hoard from its archaeological context seems to have been dated by a coin apparently dropped by one of the looters.) The marble statue of Sabina returned to Italy from Boston was reportedly from an old Bavarian aristocratic collection.

I have also noted that collecting histories can sometimes be placed back in the period before the 1970 UNESCO Convention. For example a series of Late Antique ('Byzantine') mosaics are reported (in recent years) to have passed through Lebanese dealers in Beirut in 1969. Is this a documented (and authenticated) part of the collecting histories? Or an Attic krater can be said to have resided in an undocumented (and unspecified) Swiss private collection for a number of years that would place it (conveniently) in the late 1960s. Another example could be a piece of sculpture that is said to have been in a Lebanese private collection in the 1950s when other evidence shows it was in another country decades later. Or did Apulian pots from an apparent single grave-group form part of a nineteenth-century collection in Switzerland?

Then there are cases where the collecting history supplied by a dealer can be disputed by other informed authorities thus creating two parallel histories? Was a bronze Apollo found in Greece or had it resided in an obscure East German collection?

These case studies show why museums need to be transparent over the collecting histories of objects in their care whether they are acquisitions or loans.

This issue matters. If misleading information accompanies the object, then not only has the original archaeological context been lost, but the piece may be used by modern scholars to construct a false view about the past.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Towards a Bibliography for Looted Antiquities: the ACCG list

Following an interesting dialogue on Kimberly Alderman's blog about bibliographies relating to looted antiquities, she now notes the appearance of a new list on the ACCG website. She writes:
The ACCG bibliography is not a direct supplement to the Jarvis bibliography because it pertains to the cultural property debates generally as opposed to looting in particular, but I think it was a great idea for collectors, who felt their academic publications were underrepresented, to put together a list to round out the available resources for scholars. I have suggested that the collectors approach Jarvis and discuss how the list might be rounded out, but it does not appear anyone has done so yet.
I will not write a critique of the ACCG bibliography here. It is a mixed bag of newspaper reports, academic articles, memoranda. I note that there is nothing from the Journal of Field Archaeology that has had a regular commentary on the antiquities market since 1974; only two papers from the International Journal of Cultural Property (Fincham and Merryman); nothing by (for example) Brodie, Chippindale, Ede, Elia, Isman, Mackenzie, Miles, O'Keefe, Ortiz, Renfrew, Tubb, Vitelli, Zimmerman or even de Montebello; Appiah's Cosmopolitanism is overlooked.

The ACCG offering notes: "The bibliography that follows is supplemental to those as it focuses on resources with a more balanced perspective." Some of the works that appear under "balanced views" elsewhere on the ACCG website do not make it into the final list.

I have posted some of my recent work here.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Morgantina Hoard: the Lebanese "connection"

I have been working on some Lebanese connections. I came across this statement in The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini (p. 216). This appears in the purported collecting history ("provenance") of the Morgantina silver hoard:
It [sc. the Met] had said that the silver was acquired on two separate occasions, in 1981 and 1982, purchased from a certain Nabil el Asfar, a dealer in antiquities  from Beirut. According to this account, Asfar had acquired the silver pieces from his father sometime after World War II and in 1961 they had been sent to Switzerland, where they had remained until the Metropolitan Museum decided to buy them.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Collecting histories and intellectual consequences for the study of the past

I have recently published a research paper on the issue of collecting histories. The work reminded me about the possibility of falsifying find-spots and "provenance".

At the end of last week I received an email from a major North American museum in response to a request for the collecting history of a specific piece. I found it very interesting that I was pointed to a dealer's catalogue entry complete with a statement about the possible finding of the piece in a 19th century "excavation" at a particular site.

If that information was correct it could be significant. And I suspect that there are some who work in this area will be wanting to link the object in question with this site. But what if the piece of sculpture was not found where it was said? What are the intellectual consequences?

This reminds me that statements about old collections or reported find-spots need to be qualified with the source. What is the basis for this knowledge? Who provided the information? Is the statement reliable? Is it potentially misleading?

I have written back to the museum asking for clarification, partly because I have some contradictory information on the same piece. I have also written to one of the dealers who handled the piece to see if the gallery concerned can shed a little light on the issue.

Image
From a dealer's archive.

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Laconian pottery in Madrid

I note that the Laconian cup attributed to the Hunt painter (though there is some disagreement) and formerly in the  Várez Fisa collection (Madrid inv. 1999/99/45) appears to be the same as the one sold at Christie's London 13 December 1995, lot 224, for £34,500 ($52,871). (Christos Tsirogiannis has come to the same conclusion.) The cup is listed as "The property of a private collector".
The tondo decorated with a komast scene, a standing figure playing the double pipes whilst two dancers dance energetically, a bird in the field, with two birds on either side of a columned altar in the field below, with radiate design on the underside.
4¾in. (12cm.) high; 8¼in. (21cm.) diam. excl. handles.

Who consigned the cup to Christie's? What was its collecting history prior to 1995? Who was the anonymous private collector?

  • Cabrera Bonet, P. Editor. 2003. La colección Várez Fisa en el Museo Arqueológico Nacional. Madrid: Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. No. 46.
  • Warden, P. G. Editor. 2004. Greek vase painting: form, figure, and narrative. Treasures of The National Archaeological Museum in Madrid. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press. No. 11



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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Towards a Bibliography for Looted Antiquities: Recent Returns

Over on SAFE Corner there has been a discussion about the desirability (or otherwise) of a bibliography on the looting of antiquities. I suspect many bibliographies created for graduate (and undergraduate) students are located on university VLEs and are thus not on public view. (It would be interesting to know  what colleagues are doing and I would welcome a guest access.)

For now I offer a select bibliography for research with Christopher Chippindale (University of Cambridge) on the recent returns to Italy and Greece. I include our 2000 paper as this discusses some of the private collections that feature in the later returns (see also a relevant interview in The New Yorker).


  • Chippindale, C., and D. W. J. Gill.  2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511.
  • Gill, D. W. J. 2009a. "Homecomings: learning from the return of antiquities to Italy." In Art and Crime: exploring the dark side of the art world, edited by N. Charney: 13-25. Santa Barbara: Praeger.
  • —. 2009b. "Looting matters for classical antiquities: contemporary issues in archaeological ethics." Present Pasts 1: 77-104.
  • —. 2009c. "Exhibition review: Nostoi. December 2007, Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome." The Journal of Art Crime 1: 70-71.
  • —. 2010a. "The returns to Italy from North America: an overview." Journal of Art Crime 3: 105-09.
  • —. 2010b. "Collecting histories and the market for classical antqiuities." Journal of Art Crime 3: 3-10.
  • Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2006. "From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 13: 311-31.
  • —. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40.
  • —. 2007. "The illicit antiquities scandal: what it has done to classical archaeology collections." American Journal of Archaeology 111: 571-74.
  • —. 2008. "South Italian pottery in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston acquired since 1983." Journal of Field Archaeology 33: 462-72.



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Italy, Sicily and lekythoi attributed to the Brygos painter


I have been working on a piece of research that will address how museums develop their collections. I happened to choose the example of Attic red-figured lekythoi attributed to the Brygos painter. I thought it would be interesting to see where such pieces first surfaced and how many have find-spots.

There are 31 examples in the Beazley Archive database. The distribution is perhaps telling. Only one piece comes from Greece: Eretria on the island of Euboea. Eight leythoi have been found on Sicily: 7 at Gela, 1 at Selinus. A further example was found on Lipari. Two singletons have been found in southern Italy: at Paestum and Armento. A further example has the general find-spot of 'Italy' and another formed part of the Hamilton collection and probably came from the area around Naples. In other words, less than half the lekythoi have any sort of indication where they were found.

But what about the others? Some were collected well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.  Eleven do not have a stated source (some of those are recent, i.e. post-1970, acquisitions; others, such as in Berlin, Boston and New York, are older). Three surfaced through the Swiss market and one through a Swiss private collection. One appeared through Sotheby's in London, and another through Robin Symes.

I have commented on the intellectual consequences of such lost contexts for Athenian pottery before (e.g. the Sarpedon krater; the Berlin painter). Were any of the seventeen lekythoi without recorded find-spots found at Athens (or in Attica)? How many were removed from archaeological contexts in Sicily (or even Gela)? What about from sites in southern Italy?

Greece (1)
Eretria, Euboea: London, British Museum 1899.2-17.3

Italy (3)
Armento: Berlin, Antikensammlung F2205
Paestum: Paestum, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 4113
No place given: Paris, Musee du Louvre G381

Sicily (8)
Gela: Providence (RI), Rhode Island School of Design 25.078; New York (NY), Metropolitan Museum 25.189.1; Boston (MA), Museum of Fine Arts 13.189; Oxford, Ashmolean Museum V318; New York (NY), Metropolitan Museum 24.97.28; Gela, Museo Archeologico N67; Gela, Museo Archeologico N61
Selinus: Palermo, Mus. Arch. Regionale V668

Lipari (1)
Glasgow, Museum & Art Gallery, Kelvingrove 1903.70K

No find-spots

Naples, Hamilton Collection: London, British Museum 2000.11-1.38

Swiss market (3): Basel, Munzen und Medaillen A.G.: Bochum S1201; Shelby White collection; unstated [12677];
Swiss private collection (1): Bloomington (IN), Indiana University Art Museum 77.30.3

London: Sotheby's (1): unstated [43713];
Robin Symes (1): Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum: AP84.16;

Unstated (11): Malibu (CA), The J. Paul Getty Museum 83.AE.241; Geneva, Musee d'Art et d'Histoire 27810; Greek private collection; Wurzburg, Universitat, Martin von Wagner Mus. K1823; Berlin, Antikensammlung F2206; New York (NY), Metropolitan Museum 09.221.43; New York (NY), Metropolitan Museum 28.57.12; Providence (RI), Rhode Island School of Design 35.707; Hartford (CT), Wadsworth Atheneum 1963.40; Switzerland, Private [204118]; Boston (MA), Museum of Fine Arts 10.180;


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Friday, July 23, 2010

Looting Matters: Colosseum Setting for Return of Antiquities

Looting Matters: Colosseum Setting for Return of Antiquities

A discussion of the return over 300 antiquities to Italy from a Japanese dealer.

Image
© MiBAC / Carabinieri.

Italy, Coins and eBay

The Italian press has reported that 1250 Greek, Roman and Late Antique coins as well as 86 fibulae and rings have been recovered from Vibo Valentia in Calabira ("Traffico reperti archeologici su e-Bay, migliaia sequestri", ANSA July 21, 2010). The objects were reportedly being offered through eBay.

This is a timely reminder that recently-surfaced archaeological objects, including coins, are continuing to surface on the market.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Operation Andromeda: Getting an Overview

In December 2008 premises in the Geneva Freeport were raided as part of a wider investigation into the antiquities market. The raid had resulted from an investigation into the activities of the London-based dealer Robin Symes. Symes has been linked to antiquities returned to Italy by the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the private collector Shelby White. The latest trail led to a Swiss-based businessman and has yielded an important dossier showing transactions.

The Geneva Freeport raid yielded some 20,000 objects. (A raid on a similar facility run by a husband and wife team in Basel in 2002 yielded some 5500 objects; 4,400, filling three trucks, were returned to Italy.) This latest raid is likely to have more impact than the ones on the Geneva Freeport facilities linked to Giacomo Medici that took place in the mid 1990s. Those seizures led directly to a series of returns from major North American public and private collections (discussed here).

As a result of the latest Geneva raid some  337 antiquities (worth 15 million euros) were returned to Italy. They were presented at a major press conference in the setting of Rome's Colosseum. Among them were 10 frescoes that appear to have come Pompeii (or the close vicinity) as well as Athenian and South Italian pottery.

The Japanese dealer who is linked to the Geneva facility has been named as Noryioshi Horiuchi. This dealer has been reported to have helped develop the collections at the Miho Museum in Japan. It appears that the Italian authorities are investigating some 50 objects in this collection. It appears that at least one of the pieces now returned to Italy as a result of the latest raid was identified thanks to images seized from the Geneva premises of Giacomo Medici. Horiuchi appears to have business connections with the dealer Gianfranco Becchina.

A number of issues remain. What will happen to the remaining antiquities that were seized in Switzerland? Will the Japanese dealer face prosecution? Will the seized documentation lead investigators to other museums and private collectors? What are the implications for the Miho Museum that is known to be under investigation?

More importantly, is this the tip of the iceberg? There have now been three major raids in Switzerland: two in Geneva and one in Basel. Will there be more? And what are the Swiss authorities doing to stop the movement of recently-surfaced antiquities across its boundaries (or at least into its freeports)?


Image
© MiBAC / Carabinieri.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Defining Cultural Property: "the significance of the past for the present"

I see from archaeologist Paul Barford's postings that there is some discussion about the definition of 'cultural property'. I thought it would be interesting to turn to The New Oxford Companion to Law (Oxford University Press, 2008) that is sitting at my side. (This is a standard desk companion along with OED and the New Hart's Rules.)

Michael Shanks has written the entry for 'cultural property'. He includes a set of 'disagreements' over key questions, pressing issues ("the looting of ancient sites and the associated illicit trade in antiquities"), as well as some of the arguments used (e.g. "that collectors have a right to own pieces of the past").

Other entries of interest include: antiquities and looting; archaeological heritage; cultural heritage; heritage legislation; heritage markets; heritage, international dimensions; heritage, protection during war; UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

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On the Agenda


Looting Matters has recently commented on some of the breaking stories: the Medici Dossier and auction-houses; Madrid and the Polaroids; the Japanese dealer and the Geneva Freeport.

I am aware that some of the older stories are still 'live'. These include the identification of objects in North American collections by the Greek authorities; material from FYROM; and long-term loans to museums.

There are also much larger questions to address. Is it possible to start a new museum of archaeological material without acquiring recently-surfaced antiquities? What can dealers do to avoid selling 'toxic antiquities'? What is the scale of the market?

As always, I welcome comments and suggestions from readers.


Image
Athenian red-figured pelike seized by ICE on the New York market.

6Q858HBB4E74

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Madrid: The Galerie Nefer link

Those who have been following the return of antiquities to Italy will know that a pattern is emerging. Galerie Nefer in Zurich was one of the galleries that handled material that has been returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (see D.W.J. Gill and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40 [abstract and link]).

The objects include:

  • a. An Attic red-figured cup, signed by Euphronios and attributed to Onesimos. Cup restored from various sources including Galerie Nefer during the 1980s; cup returned in 1999; further fragments supplied by Giacomo Medici. [discussion].
  • b. An Attic red-figured phiale, Douris. Cup restored from fragments acquired over several years; first fragment given by Werner Nussberger (1981); further fragments sold by Galerie Nefer; additional fragments on loan [discussion].
  • c. Fragmentary Corinthian olpe, gift of Werner Nussberger (1981).


The cup now in Madrid, attributed to the Euergides painter (no. 85; inv. 1999/99/84; Beazley Archive no. 41408), shows a youth climbing into a pithos. It appeared in Galerie Nefer's catalogue in 1992 (Ancient Art, 10, no. 16) and was subsequently sold by Christie's New York 30 May 1997, lot 108. The cup's collecting history prior to 1992 is undeclared.

Várez Fisa would not be the only private collector to acquire objects that passed through Galerie Nefer; see also the Stanford Place collection.

Galerie Nefer was at one time a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). It has also been linked to the 'Gospel of Judas' (Codex Tchacos).


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Operation Andromeda: Geneva, the Japanese Dealer and the Miho Museum

The return of 337 antiquities to Italy after their seizure in Geneva Freeport as part of Operation Andromeda has turned a spotlight on the Miho Museum. The reason is that the Japanese dealer whose premises were raided has been named in the Italian press as Noryioshi Horiuchi. This dealer has been linked as one of the key suppliers for the Miho Museum.

It emerged during the Rome trial of Robert Hecht that the Medici Dossier had included images of an oscillum in the Miho Museum. It also appears that there are some 50 objects in the Miho Museum that are under investigation. (Compare the 22 in Madrid.)

The authorities at the Miho Museum would be wise to open negotiations with Italian authorities before there are further damaging revelations.

Image
Composite of Polaroid from the Medici Dossier and an oscillum acquired from unstated source by the Miho Museum.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Madrid: The Bürki Link


I have earlier discussed the appearance of a Gnathian bell-krater in the Medici Dossier. While the image was recovered from Medici's premises in the Geneva Freeport, the photograph appears to have been taken elsewhere. Fabio Isman writes:
One object, an Apulian Bell Krater from 330BC that was later sold by Sotheby’s, appeared in a picture belonging to Medici that appears to have been taken in the Zurich workshop of the art restorers Fritz and Harry Bürki, a father-and-son team to whom leading antiquities dealer Robert Hecht (whose separate trial in Rome relating to the illicit trade is likely to end without a verdict because it has run out of time) sent works for restoration.
The Madrid catalogue makes no mention of the krater's sale at Sotheby's.

The Carabinieri are on the trail of objects that passed through the hands of Fritz Bürki (see here). Moreover some of the antiquities returned to Italy from North American collections (e.g. Boston, Cleveland, The J. Paul Getty Museum, New York, MMA) have been linked to him. Bürki not only restored objects, but he sold items directly to museums and to private collectors.

It looks as if the 22 objects in Madrid will be repeating a story known from so many other locations.

Image
Gnathian krater in restauro, from the Medici Dossier.

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Madrid: Three Pots from the Geddes Collection

The October 2008 sale of part of the Graham Geddes collection was disrupted when the Italian Government requested that some of the lots be withdrawn on the eve of the auction in London.

I note that (at least) three ex-Geddes pieces appear in the Várez Fisa collection now on display in the National Museum of Archaeology in Madrid.


  • no. 53: Athenian black-figured amphora showing departing chariot, attributed to the painter of Vatican 365 (inv. 1999/99/61). Although the collecting history is not mentioned in the catalogue, the Beazley Archive [no. 7462] lists the amphora noting that it passed through Sotheby's London 13-14 December 1982, lot 255 and subsequently 8 December 1986, lot 327.
  • no. 137: Apulian pelike showing Eros in a garden, attributed to the Siren Citharist painter (inv. 19999/99/142). The catalogue notes that the piece had been sold at Christie's New York on 4 June 1998, lot 233 [entry], where it fetched $16,100. The Madrid catalogue does not note that the pelike had passed through Sotheby's in London: 9 December 1988, lot 171; 8 December 1994, lot 328.
  • no. 147: Paestan lebes gamikos showing two women either side of a basin, attributed to Asteas (inv. 1999/99/146). A Paestan lebes gamikos attributed to the Asteas / Python workshop had resided in the Geddes collection. This surfaced at Sotheby's London, 21 May 1984, lot 372. It was subsequently sold at Christie's New York on 18 December 1997, lot 149 [entry], for $10,925.


The December 1982 Sotheby's sale is significant. Two pieces that surfaced through it have now been returned to Italy: a Lucanian nestoris from Boston (and once loaned by Geddes) (lot 298) and an amphora attributed to the Berlin painter returned from New York (lot 220). Bonhams had to withdraw an Apulian hydria from auction in October 2008; it had originally surfaced at the May 1984 sale at Sotheby's.

See my list of items linked to Graham Geddes at auction where two of these pieces appear to be listed.

Who consigned these three pieces to Sotheby's in 1982, 1984 and 1988? Why is the Madrid catalogue incomplete?

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Madrid: Sources for the Várez Fisa Collection

I have been working my way through the catalogue of the Várez Fisa collection. I notice that some 114 of the 183 objects (i.e. 62%) in the catalogue have no apparent collecting histories.

Among the objects that surface in this catalogue for the first time is a Gnathian ware bell-krater (no. 144). An image of what appears to be the same piece features in the Medici Dossier. (See also here where Fabio Isman illustrates the same link.)

Where (and how) did the Spanish collector acquire those antiquities that have no stated collecting histories?

Image
Krater and other antiquities featured in the Medici Dossier


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Reflecting on Readership



Looting Matters celebrated its third birthday earlier this month.

How many people read Looting Matters? Putting aside those who drop in via the web (and many just come to the "home page" and read the recent posts), there are some who use the RSS feed. At the moment there are 254 subscribers via the RSS feed on Google Reader and that means that in June (for example) over 7000 posts were delivered to electronic desktops. (And that includes the iPad!) In addition a number of people get the posts via email.

254 RSS subscriptions is small when I look at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (659). So I had a look at the figures for some of the people writing about "cultural property" in the widest sense. I was particularly surprised to see Zahi Hawass receiving such a low readership. I leave it for others to draw conclusions about these figures.

I think this suggests that Looting Matters has a very solid readership and I am grateful for their support (and contributions).

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Japanese Dealer's Stock: Implications for the Market

The seizure of a stock of 20,000 antiquities from a Japanese dealer, reported to be Noryioshi Horiuchi, in Switzerland raises a number of issues.

a. What are the documented sources for all these objects? When did they surface?

b. How many objects can be linked directly to dealers such as Giacomo Medici (e.g. a hydria) and "colleagues"?

c. Was the Japanese dealer consigning objects to auctions and selling items to other dealers in London, New York and elsewhere?

d. Which other countries are likely to have a claim on the stock?

e. What is happening to the objects that have not been returned?

f. What are the documented collecting histories of the objects that have not been handed over to Italy? How many have surfaced on the market since 1970?

During 2010 two high-profile auction-houses, one in London and the other in New York, appear to have offered toxic antiquities linked to Giacomo Medici; one of them also offered material that was linked to Robin Symes.

Has the time come for dealers to move away from simple searches on the Art Loss Register (ALR) and other databases? Instead, should they adopt a more rigorous ethical position and insist on properly documented collecting histories that can be traced back to the period before the 1970 UNESCO Convention?

Dealers and auction-houses could ignore the issue. But those involved in the trade also need to remember the adverse publicity that can be generated by turning a blind eye.

Image
Composite picture of a hydria featured in the Medici Dossier and returned to Italy from Switzerland.


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Monday, July 19, 2010

Operation Andromeda: Comment from Minister

Italian Minister for Culture, Sandro Bondi, has issued a statement thanking the Carabinieri 9 Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale) and the associated legal team for their work on the return of over 300 items from a Japanese dealer based in Switzerland.
L’operazione “Andromeda” raccoglie così i frutti di due anni di indagini, smantellando uno dei gangli del commercio internazionale illecito di beni archeologici e aprendo importanti fronti sul traffico destinato non solo a grandi collezionisti stranieri, ma anche a importanti istituzioni museali, in particolare dell’Estremo Oriente. Ringrazio il Generale Giovanni Nistri, il Procuratore Aggiunto di Roma Giancarlo Capaldo e tutti i militari del Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale per questo risultato straordinario”.
Image
© MiBAC / Carabinieri

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Operation Andromeda: Detailed Report

Fabio Isman has written on the seizure of antiquities from a Japanese dealer operating out of the Geneva Freeport ("Operazione Andromeda", Il Messaggero July 17, 2010). The report names the Japanese dealer as Noryioshi Horiuchi who appears to have supplied antiquities for the Miho Museum. Colonel Raffaele Mancino confirmed that the raid on the Japanese dealer's premises in the Geneva Freeport had opened up a line of inquiry that looked to the east.

The seizures also appear to confirm links with Robin Symes and Gianfranco Becchina (see seizures in Basel).

Among the returned items were 10 Roman frescoes that appeared to have come from Pompeii, an Athenian cup attributed to the Brygos painter, a black-figured pot attributed to the Priam painter (and see the amphora in Madrid), and an Apulian pot attributed to the Darius painter.

Image
© MiBAC / Carabinieri.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Operation Andromeda: Further details

The story has appeared in the Italian press along with a selection of pictures (Daniela Giammusso, "Archeologia: maxisequestro, torna in Italia tesoro trafugato", ANSA July 16, 2010). The Japanese dealer is identified as "Mister X del Sol Levante" who is said to have given his full co-operation.

Giuseppe Proietti is impressed with the scale of the return: "E' uno dei più importanti recuperi eseguiti con successo fino ad oggi".

Image
© MiBAC / Carabinieri.

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Operation Andromeda: Japanese Dealer Named

Rome-based investigator Fabio Isman has confirmed to Looting Matters that the identity of the Japanese dealer at the centre of Operation Andromeda is Noryioshi Horiuchi.

In March this year I asked if it was time for the Miho Museum to resolve the issue of disputed antiquities. (See also my article in Present Pasts.) Horiuchi is said to have been a key figure in the acquisition of the Miho Museum's collection.

Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini write in The Medici Conspiracy (p. 295):
Among the Becchina documents is an agreement signed after a creditors' meeting held in Geneva in 1991. This was a meeting held between four creditors—all Swiss antiquities dealers, of which Becchina was one—called because Horiuchi owed each of them substantial amounts of money and showed no prospect of paying.
It now looks as Horiuchi's stock has been dented by a further 15 million euros. What is more shocking is that 1500 items from the raided stock in the Geneva Freeport looked as if it came from Italy.

The curatorial staff at the Miho Museum would be sensible to come to an amicable agreement with Italy before there are any further damaging revelations.

Image
© MiBAC / Carabinieri


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Third Birthday

Looting Matters celebrates its third birthday today (see original post). The last three years have coincided with the major returns of well over 100 antiquities to Italy from North American collections.

There were well over 100,000 direct visitors during the last year, with several hundreds subscribing via email or grabbing the RSS feed.

Does blogging matter? (A question I asked in May 2009). I remain convinced that Web 2.0 is a suitable medium for commenting on developing stories. But this needs to be placed alongside rigorously researched work placed in refereed journals. Summaries of some of the stories can now be found in my column, "Context Matters", in the Journal of Art Crime.

What are the issues? I had hoped that auction-houses would have started to develop more rigorous checks but the events of 2010 have shown that material linked to Giacomo Medici and Robin Symes continues to be offered for sale. There are still large numbers of objects to be identified from the Medici Dossier, the Schinoussa Archive and the Becchina Stache. I look forward to continued work in this area by Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis.

What are the material implications of looting? How much damage has been sustained by the archaeological record? What is the scale of looting?

And more importantly, what are the intellectual consequences? Can we ever understand the place of marble Cycladic figures? What about Apulian pottery in its funerary context? Or the distribution of Attic figure-decorated pottery in Italy?

Finally, I am very grateful to readers who pass news stories to me on a regular basis or who comment on items in private.

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Madrid Overview

This posting provides a link to the key stories about the identification of 22 antiquities in Madrid from the Medici Dossier and the Becchina Stache.

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Attic black-figured amphora from the Schinoussa archive.

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Consignments from a Japanese Dealer

The scale of  the returns from a Japanese dealer has been staggering. The Italian reports suggests a stock of some 20,000 objects. And such a supply is clearly not intended to be static. What was going to happen to the massed ranks of Apulian pots? And what has happened to previous arrays of recently surfaced antiquities?

The name of the Japanese dealer has yet to be released formally (though it will be later today). However auction-houses and dealers will need to check to see if they have done business with this individual. And museums and private-collectors will need to check the collecting histories (or "provenance") of acquisitions to make sure that they have not got material from this source.

Putting heads in the sand is not an option. The raid in the Geneva Freeport is reported to have yielded documentation.

Will we be looking at further major returns?

And if there are still people who believe that antiquities appear on the market as if by "magic" (sorry, from old European collections) then I would suggest that they will need to revise their views fairly rapidly.

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© MiBAC / Carabinieri
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Friday, July 16, 2010

The Medici Dossier and the Japanese Dealer

The stock of the as yet anonymous Japanese that went on display in the Colosseum this morning was not without significance. The press photographs included a red-figured hydria. The same piece appears in Polaroids from the Medici Dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport.

It seems this is a case of "Chippindale's Law": the scale of the problem is far worse than anticipated.

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Press photographs © MiBAC / Carabinieri; Polaroid from the Medici Dossier, courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis.

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Returns from Switzerland: further details

The Italian Ministry of Culture has now issued a full press statement (and pictures) of the returns. It appears that this is part of a major investigation into the assets of London-based dealer Robin Symes. A raid on a Swiss businessman has recovered 'hundreds' of folders apparently relating to transactions, some relating to archaeological material from Italy. There is clearly evidence of the use of the Geneva Freeport.

A raid in the Freeport on the premises of a Japanese dealer in December 2008 revealed ... 20,000 objects, some from Italy. Apparently the unidentified dealer decided to co-operate.

But what will happen to the 19,500 (or so) other objects? Where are they from? Will they be returned? Do they have secure and documented collecting histories?

Which museums and private collectors have been supplied by this Japanese dealer? Did he supply the Miho Museum?

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© MiBAC / Carabinieri

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