Friday, February 1, 2013

Sicilian antiquities in the Getty

Lex sacra from Selinus
I have been reviewing some of the early returns from North American museums to Italy. One that featured in the Nostoi exhibition (no. 39) was a Greek text on lead sheets now displayed in the Museo Civico in Castelvetrano in Sicily. The text is a lex sacra linked to cults at the Greek colony of Selinus in south-western Sicily.

The lead sheet was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1981, deaccessioned in 1991, and returned to Italy in 1992. Shortly afterwards the text was published by M.H. Jameson, D.R. Jordan and R.D. Kotansky in A Lex Sacra from Selinous (Greek, Roman and Byzantine monographs 11; Duke University, 1993). John Walsh explained that as "the Getty Museum does not exhibit material of primarily historical interest, we concluded that the piece would be better returned to Italy". Walsh also affirmed the "importance" of the inscription "for further study and interpretation of the site of ancient Selinous".

Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino mention the return (Chasing Aphrodite, 118-19):
The Lex Sacra ... was inscribed with instructions for a religious ritual and had been traced to a sanctuary of Demeter near ... Selinunte. Despite the tablet's historical significance, the Getty had never taken it out of storage because it was not deemed beautiful enough for public display. Now, without any prompting, the cirator was willing to give it back.
They place the return in the wake of the October 1991 Rome conference where recently surfaced antiquities were discussed.

Detail from bell-krater
This is not the only inscription on a lead plaque linked to Selinus and acquired by the Getty. "The Getty Hexameters" tablet was also acquired in 1981 as a gift from Dr Max Gerchik (inv. 81.AI.140.2). (The inscription was first loaned in 1980.) The Getty catalogue suggests that it was derived from Selinus. This is one of several lead plaques acquired from Gerchik in 1981 with a Selinus link.

It is of more than passing interest that Max Gerchik was the donor of an Attic red-figured bell-krater that has also been returned to Italy (inv. 81.AE.149; Gill and Chippindale, no. 15; Nostoi no. 30).

Will the Getty be releasing full details of the collecting histories of these and other Sicilian pieces acquired by the museum? Where did Gerchik acquire them? How long did they reside in his "collection"? What is the basis of the Sicilian association?

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