Friday, July 29, 2011

Ipswich Theft

It has been reported that a rhino horn has been stolen from the Ipswich Museum in Suffolk [news]. It appears to be one in a series of similar thefts from museums across Europe,

Institutions holding rhino horns would be advised to double check their security.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Olympic Countdown: One Year to Go

Olympia © David Gill
Today we mark the start of the one year countdown to the London Olympics 2012.

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Holyland Numismatics

Attorney and commentator on cultural property Rick St Hilaire has a useful commentary on Holyland Numismatics. This is in connection with the indictment relating to antiquities from Egypt. | |
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Virginia: "we're willing to help in any way"

I have commented before on the loan of items from the Lewis Collection to Virginia MFA. I now note that the museum has made a fuller response (Mark Bowes, "VMFA studies artifacts of smuggling defendant", Richmond Times Dispatch July 23, 2011).

Alex Nyerges, the museum's director and CEO, commented: "to the best of our knowledge [the collection] was purchased by the owner and lent to the VMFA in good faith". Some of the pieces were purchased on the London market. Others are said to have passed through anonymous French and Swiss private collections. The report highlights the problems of falsified collecting histories ("provenance").

It is reported:
the VMFA has notified the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York through the Virginia attorney general's office of the museum's willingness to cooperate in the investigation.
"We just said if there is anything you need from us, we're willing to help in any way," Nyerges said. So far, federal authorities have not contacted the museum, he said.
The report notes that the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has failed to respond to enquiries. I know that Lee Rosenbaum has also contacted the museum and received the same silence. My email has gone unacknowledged.


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Saturday, July 23, 2011

"This is a revolution": Turkey and Cultural Property

Today's Times (London) had a report of Turkey's recently claims on cultural property (Alexander Christie-Miller, "Victory in campaign to seize back priceless artefacts lost to the world", The Times July 22, 2011 [pay to view]). The prompt relates to the return of the "Weary Herakles" from Boston.
"This is a revolution," said Mr Günay [Ertugrul Günay, the Turkish Culture Minister] after the agreement with the Boston museum. "This is a great development for the restitution of all our antique artefacts from abroad. We will fight in the same way for the restitution of the other artefacts." Turkey, which was the second fastest-growing economy in the G20 last year, is increasingly positioning itself as a major regional power.
But what  will be next?

The Times notes some other material in Berlin (since returned), London and Paris. I suspect that the dispersed series of bronze imperial statues from Bubon, as well as the magnificent Düver frieze will, perhaps, be in Turkey's sights.

The article also draws attention to some outstanding issues relating to cultural property including the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) mummy mask.

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Weary Herakles: Further Comment

The BBC has a short report on the return of the "Weary Herakles" from Boston MFA ("Weary Herakles bust to be returned by US to Turkey", July 22, 2011). I was very surprised to read this:
Speaking to the Times newspaper, Katherine Getchell from the Boston Museum, said: "It's only in the last couple of years that they've presented us with photos and other evidence of looting from that site."
The matching torso event took place in 1992, and so nearly 20 years on Boston has come to the conclusion that there is a case to answer.


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A Roman Portrait Head and Christie's

Paul Barford has drawn my attention to concerns that a Roman Julio-Claudian female portrait head sold at Christie's (London) this April for £91,250 (lot 261) surfaced with an interesting collecting history (a London-based blogger  commented, "a head was sold at auction, the auction house said it had proof the head had been in Switzerland, and ... oh whoops, someone helping with the database has been able to prove not only where it was looted from, but also when (long after 1970)"). The person in question has yet to state the alternative collecting history and thus demonstrate that there had indeed been "looting". The key issue is that collecting histories appear to be fabricated on a regular basis. This is why I argue for authenticated documentation.

I would refer readers to comments on two pieces from the same April sale: a fishplate, and a Corinthian olpe.


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Friday, July 22, 2011

Abdera Hoard Returned to Greece

The Greek press is reporting that North American coin collector Jonathan Kagan has returned a coin hoard to Greece ("Αμερικανός συλλέκτης επέστρεψε θησαυρό από τα Άβδηρα", Archaiologia online July 22, 2011 [in Greek]). It appears that the hoard surfaced on the market in 2000. The collection has been given to the Numismatic Museum in Athens. The hoard contains coins of Abdera.

The problem of identifying recently surfaced material is highlighted in the report: Η Ελλάδα δεν τα διεκδίκησε, προφανώς γιατί δεν είχε τεκμήρια για την παράνομη εξαγωγή τους από τη χώρα.

The wording of the report suggests that the return has been made voluntarily.

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The Lewis Collection: Loans at Virginia MFA and Boston MFA

Lee Rosenbaum has added information about the Lewis Collection and a single loan to Boston's MFA ("Joseph Lewis’ Egyptian Art Loans at U.S. Museums, Continued (plus Boston’s planned giveback to Turkey)", July 22, 2011). She also comments on the return of the "Weary Herakles" to Turkey.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Virginia and the Joseph A. Lewis II Collection

Last week I noted that Lee Rosenbaum had identified material from the Joseph A. Lewis II collection in Virginia MFA. Rosenbaum has now published a list of the relevant material in Virginia. (My requests to two other AAMD member museums about their holdings from the Lewis Collection have been met with silence.)

The collecting histories are:

  • private Swiss collection before 1970 (2)
  • Ex: private Swiss collection of Simon Ohan Simonian, before 1970
  • Ex: Collection James B. McMullen, 1950 (2)
  • Ex: Collection of William Bowmore, Brisbane, Australia 1960s
  • Ex: Rupert Wace Ancient Art, London, UK; Ex: French private collection before 1950


What are the authenticated and documented collecting histories for the pieces said to have passed through the Swiss collections, conveniently before 1970? Which Swiss collections? Are they collections or the former stock of Swiss-based dealers? Likewise, what is the authenticated collecting history of the French private collection? (Remember the Middle Kingdom Alabaster Duck.)

Curators at Virginia MFA would be wise to ask for a full set of the documentation.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Egypt: Ministry of State for Antiquities

It appears that Egypt's Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) is now leaderless after the appointment was cancelled (following the removal of Zahi Hawass). See "PM Sharaf cancels El-Banna's nomination for antiquities", ahramonline July 18, 2011.
Prime minister Essam Sharaf has cancelled the nomination of the Abdel Fatah El-Banna to hold Egypt’s antiquities portfolio. The decision was taken following the demonstrations of archaeologists and the employees of the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) at the front gate of the cabinet building calling for the cancellation of El-Banna’s nomination to the ministry's top post.


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Hillary Clinton signs MOU with Greece

Photobucket
Source: rrowlands

Hillary Clinton has signed the MOU with Greece in the Acropolis Museum in Athens (July 17, 2011, press release).
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Minister of Foreign Affairs Stavros Lambrinidis signed a Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Hellenic Republic Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Categories of Archaeological and Byzantine Ecclesiastical Ethnological Material through the 15th Century A.D. of the Hellenic Republic.

Signed at the Acropolis Museum with the Parthenon temple as a backdrop, the agreement will strengthen collaboration to reduce looting and trafficking of antiquities, and provide for their return to Greece. It also aims to further the international interchange of such materials for cultural, educational, and scientific purposes. The two countries, both parties to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, entered into the agreement following a request submitted to the Department of State by the Government of the Hellenic Republic for assistance under the Convention. Assistant Secretary Ann Stock, acting as the president’s designee, made the necessary determinations to enter into this agreement. The agreement is consistent with the recommendation of the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee.
Readers of Looting Matters will be aware that opinions on the MOU were sought last September.

Hillary Clinton has expressed her personal interest in the issue of looted antiquities commenting on the "Weary Herakles", a partial statue that Boston's MFA has just announced it will be returning to Turkey.

Further information:


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Weary Herakles to return to Turkey

One of the long running cultural property disputes has at last been resolved. It has been announced that Boston's Museum of Fine Arts will be returning the upper part of the so-called Weary Herakles to Turkey (Geoff Edgers, "Making ‘Herakles’ whole after all these years", July 17, 2011). I have discussed the collection history before. Essentially the Boston fragment will be reunited with the lower part of the statue that was discovered at Perge.

The statue had been acquired by the museum in 1981 (details). The public history is as follows:
By 1981: with Mohammad Yeganeh, Bundenweg 7, 6000 Frankfurt/Main (said to be from his mother’s collection and before that from a dealer in Germany about 1950); half interest purchased by MFA (with funds provided by the Jerome Levy Foundation) from Mohammad Yeganeh, December 30, 1981; remaining half interest owned by Leon Levy and Shelby White; remaining half interest gift from Shelby White to MFA, January 21, 2004
Edgers rehearses the full details of acquisition history and the link with the lower part now in Antalya. He also discusses the role of Cornelius Vermeule.

Objects from the Leon Levy and Shelby White collection have already been returned to Greece and Italy. Shelby White still retains the Icklingham Bronzes that are due to be returned to the UK.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

The Lewis Collection and Virginia MFA

Lee Rosenbaum reports that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has acknowledged that it has 8 Egyptian pieces on loan from the Lewis collection ("Virginia MFA’s Lewis Loans: More on Museums & the Indicted Egyptian Antiquities Collector", July 15, 2011).

Like Rosenbaum, I am still waiting to get a response from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, and from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

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North American Collector and Dealers Charged: Indictment

© ICE
Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl has a helpful comment on the charges over the Egyptian antiquities ("Museum Alert: Egyptian Art Collector Joseph Lewis Charged with Smuggling, Money Laundering", July 15, 2011). She has a link to the indictment.


  • Count 1: Conspiracy to Smuggle
  • Count 2: Money Laundering Conspiracy
  • Counts 3-7: Smuggling Goods into the United States and Fraudulent Importation and Transportation of Goods
  • Count 8: False Statement
  • Count 9: False Statement


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North American Collector and Dealers Charged: Press Release

© ICE
The US Attorney's Office (Eastern District of New York) has issued a press release relating to "Dealers and collector charged with smuggling Egyptian antiquities" (July 14, 2011).

As alleged in the indictment, from October 2008 through November 2009, Lewis purchased a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a nesting set of three Egyptian sarcophagi, a set of Egyptian funerary boats and Egyptian limestone figures from Khouli, who earlier acquired those items from Alshdaifat and Ramadan. Each of these antiquities was exported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and smuggled into the United States using a variety of illegal methods intended to avoid detection and scrutiny by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“Customs”). Specifically, the defendants allegedly made false declarations to Customs concerning the country of origin and value of the antiquities, and provided misleading descriptions of the contents on shipping labels and customs paperwork, such as “antiques,” “wood panels” and “wooden painted box.”

Most of the smuggled antiquities have been recovered by law enforcement. The innermost sarcophagus of the nesting set was seized during a search of Khouli’s residence in September 2009. The middle sarcophagus and most of the outer sarcophagus were seized in November 2009, after they arrived via sea cargo at the Port of Newark, New Jersey. The Greco-Roman sarcophagus, funerary boats and limestone figures were seized during a search of Lewis’s residence on July 13, 2011. A civil complaint seeking forfeiture of Egyptian sarcophagi, Iraqi artifacts, cash and other items seized in connection with the government’s investigation was also unsealed this morning in Brooklyn federal court.

The press release stresses: "The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty".


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The Globalisation of Greed

Sir Mark Jones, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, was interviewed for a BBC World News piece on the looting of Etruscan cemeteries (July 10, 2011). The BBC crew followed a Carabinieri raid using a helicopter, vehicles, and mounted officers. There are shots of recently looted tombs. Jones reminded us that looting has historic roots but suggested that inhibitions about the scale of looting have changed in part due to "the globalisation of greed".

Colonnello Raffaele Mancino talks about the criminal links to the antiquities trade in part to launder money.

There is a visit to the stores where the recovered statue of Zeus removed from the Norwegian Institute in Rome (and recovered from a London gallery) is temporarily housed. A Greek figure-decorated amphora, recovered at an unspecified airport, is shown being photographed. Finally the Carabinieri database of stolen artworks is shown in action.

The video is available via the MiBAC website.

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Caligula and Lake Nemi

Source: MiBAC

In January I reported on the seizure of a statue of Caligula near Lake Nemi. Earlier this week the Italian authorities held a conference to present the piece (press release). It appears that the statue had been cut into sections for ease of transport. Caligula will be displayed in the Lake Nemi Museum after restoration work is complete.

This is a reminder of the deliberate damage inflicted on major pieces when they are removed from their country of origin by illicit means.

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ACCG Charity Donor Charged

© ICE
In September 2010 Paul Barford raised some questions about the donors behind the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) Third Benefit Auction.

The auction purpose was stated:
The previous two ACCG Benefits Auctions have raised more than $80,000 to support the continuing rights of ancient coin collectors and businesses, everywhere, to pursue their interests.

The ACCG consists of collectors and numismatic professionals who care passionately about preserving, studying and displaying ancient coins from all cultures.

One of the key donors to the 2010 Auction was Holyland Numismatics (see e.g. here). Yesterday Salem Alshdaifat, the owner of Hoyland Numismatics, was one of several people charged.

It is a matter of record that the ACCG has been challenging US import restrictions (see here).

Yesterday's development suggests that there may indeed be some interesting pursuits of interest to emerge from this latest case.

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North American Charges: The Network

© ICE
Yesterday's news about the charges brought against dealers and a collector of Egyptian antiquities in North America appears to be part of a much wider picture. Zahi Hawass has now written about the story.
In 2009, U.S. customs authorities seized a shipment of antiquities on their way to a gallery in New York City. This shipment included an ancient Egyptian coffin, which the Ministry of State for Antiquities (then the Supreme Council of Antiquities) was able to help authenticate. By investigating this and other suspicious shipments, Homeland Security investigators were able to reveal a network of smugglers and collectors that reached to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Iraq, and other countries.
It will be interesting to learn about the UK connection. Who is involved?

It also looks as if this could be part of a larger criminal network:
According to evidence gathered by the investigators, the suspects had been using their New York gallery to import and sell stolen artifacts, allowing them to funnel large sums of money to other criminals in many parts of the world.
I suspect more information will be released when the legal wheels start to turn.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

North American Collector Charged: Update

© ICE
There needs to be some clarification over the charge of the North American collector of Egyptian antiquities.  The New York Daily News (John Marzulli, "Feds bust group trying to smuggle Ancient Egyptian mummy coffins", July 14, 2011) states the following:
Between October 2008 and November 2009, Khouli allegedly sold a Greco-Roman sarcophagus, Egyptian funerary boats and limestone figures to collector Joseph Lewis, 54, of Chesterfield, Va.

Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the items during a search of Lewis' house on July 13.
A collector of the same name, and apparently aged 52 in 2008, is reported to have made loans and donations of Egyptian antiquities to two major museums. This could herald serious implications for the two institutions. (I have emailed the press officer at the university collection to obtain further information.)


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North American Collector Charged

© ICE
I am reminded that the North American collector charged today over Egyptian antiquities appears to be the same individual linked to the Miami coffin and the Barcelona galerista. It looks as if this is developing into a major story.

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Dealers Charged Following Egyptian Seizures

© ICE
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have announced that charges have been brought against dealers from Michigan, New York, Virginia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ("ICE makes arrests and seizes cultural artifacts stolen from Egypt, Set of Sarcophagi more than 2,000 years old", July 14, 2011). The seizures include "a unique three-part coffin set belonging to Shesepamuntayesher from the Saite period or 26th Dynasty, approximately 664-552 B.C."

Those arrested are named:
Salem Alshdaifat, an antiquities dealer who operated a business called Holyland Numismatics in Bloomfield, Mich.; Joseph Lewis, a collector and benefactor of Egyptian antiquities; and Mousa Kouli, an antiquities dealer who operated a business called Windsor Antiquities in New York.

In addition, "Ayman Ramadan, a Jordanian antiquities dealer, who operated a company called Nafertiti [sic.] Eastern Sculptures Trading, in Dubai, UAE, is a fugitive."

Detail is provided:
As alleged in the indictment, from approximately October 2008 until approximately November 2009, the defendants, together with others, engaged in a scheme to smuggle cultural antiquities into the United States. As part of the smuggling scheme, Lewis allegedly purchased a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a nesting set of three Egyptian sarcophagi, a set of Egyptian boats and Egyptian limestone figures (collectively, "Egyptian antiquities") from Khouli, who purchased those items from Alshdaifat and Ramadan. Each of these antiquities was exported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and smuggled into the United States. 
Khouli allegedly provided Lewis with false provenances which stated that the Egyptian antiquities were part of a collection assembled by Khouli's father in Israel in the 1960's when, in fact, both Lewis and Khouli knew that Khouli acquired the Egyptian antiquities from other dealers.


Windsor Antiquities appear to be offline at the moment. But for an earlier story from Paul Barford see here. Barford had noted the conjunction of the dealers in 2010.


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Coin contexts matter

It appears that a hoard of 4th century Roman coins have been discovered on a beach in the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides) (see BBC News). Their location, well outside the confines of the Roman Empire, is clearly significant. The scientific study of the hoard will provide additional research information that would have been lost if the coins had been removed in a more illicit way.

It should be noted that the find spot has not been disclosed to "protect the site".

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Chasing Aphrodite reviewed

My review of Chasing Aphrodite has now appeared in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (here).

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Medici Dossier and the Goulandris Collection

A further museum has now been linked to the Medici Dossier. An Attic black-figured amphora acquired for the Goulandris collection, and now in the Museum of Cycladic Art, appears in the Medici Dossier as well as the Schinoussa Archive (see review by Gill in AJA here). The amphora surfaced via Sotheby's and the London market.
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