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Showing posts from January, 2018

The Becchina archive, a Minoan larnax, and the Michael C. Carlos Museum

More than 10 years ago, back in 2007, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis identified two pieces in the Michael C. Carlos Museum, a Minoan larnax and a pithos, with photographs from the Becchina archive. There is a case number with the General Secretary of the Greek Ministry of Culture: prot. no. 61/1-6-2007.

In 2015 the Italian authorities revealed a major collection of antiquities, worth some 50 million Euros, seized from Becchina in Switzerland. The Becchina archive itself contains some 10,000 photographs and 200 bundles of receipts. These images have led to the identification, largely by Tsirogiannis, of a substantial number of items in public and private collections as well as from auction houses and galleries.

A museum director who was faced with the identification of objects, i.e. more than one object, in their collection from this contentious source would no doubt wish to resolve the issue, not least because there is an obligation under the AAMD guidelines (2013). These state:
If a member…

A Mosaic from an Anonymous Collector

In September 2013 the Michael C. Carlos Museum installed a mosaic showing Achilles and Penthesilea before Troy in the galleries. A little more information appeared in the Fall 2013 / Winter 2014 number of the journal of the Michael C. Carlos Museum [online]. The Director, Bonnie Speed, was full of praise for the "monumental third- to fourth-century Roman mosaic, offered to the Museum on long-term loan by a very generous donor".

Who is this anonymous donor? There was a time when the museum at Emory University was leading the way in ethical loans of archaeological material (see here). 

We are told the panels "once decorated the floor of a sumptuous Roman villa". Where was that villa?

What is the history of the panels? When did they surface?

The answers to these questions are not provided in the publications of the Michael C. Carlos museum. If they were known, the information would have been stated.

Speed is a member of the AAMD. In 2013 the AAMD revised the Guidelin…

The Steinhardt collection and the Medici dossier

Among the antiquities seized from Michael Steinhardt was a Protocorinthian owl that had been acquired in 2009 for $130,000 (see Search Warrant).  A comparison can be found in the Louvre.

The Steinhardt owl appears in the Medici Dossier. How was it acquired by Steinhardt? What was the migration route?

See also the 20th century "imitation" donated to the J. Paul Getty Museum by Jiri Frel in 1979.

I am grateful to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for sharing the image with me.

Sources for Steinhardt seizure revealed

I am grateful to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for sharing information about the items seized from the collection of Michael Steinhardt and from the displays at Phoenix Ancient Art in Manhattan.

The Attic white-ground lekythos has been identified from images in the Schinousa Archive showing that it was part of the stock of Robin Symes. Notice the deposits still on the lekythos. When was the lekythos cleaned? Who did the cleaning?

The other Steinhardt pieces are identified in the Medici Dossier as well as the Becchina Archive.

The pieces from Phoenix Ancient Art include items identified from the Medici Dossier (at least 3 items) and the Becchina Archive (at least 1 item).

I expect that the routes through which these pieces passed will be revealed shortly.


Phoenix Ancient Art responds to seizures

A spokesperson for Phoenix Ancient Art has responded to the seizures of antiquities that took place last week (see Search Warrant listing the items). In a statement to Artnet News ("New York Antiques Dealer Phoenix Fine Art Raided on Suspicion of Selling Looted Artifacts", 11 January 2018) it was stated:
“We immediately notified the US private collection that consigned the works to us of the situation, and we do know that the works have a long museum exhibition history spanning from the Geneva Musée d’art et d’Histoire, 1978–1981, and at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1984–1996.” The temporary display of recently surfaced antiquities in public museums is an interesting one. How are these documented? What about the display of the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask in Geneva? And was the (anonymous?) loan to the J. Paul Getty Museum by a dealer or a collector? This recalls the loan of fragments of the Berlin painter krater, a pot that was subsequently returned to Italy.

Should museum…

Steinhardt collection under scrutiny

The seizures from the Steinhardt collection last week, as well as the connection with the Eshmun sculptures, the Paestan tomb fragment, and the gold phiale from Sicily, means that gifts from that source will now be under scrutiny.

When questions were raised about objects associated with Edoardo Almagià, some museum curators took the matter seriously. Maxwell Anderson, who did so much to address the issue of looting when he was at Emory University, took the initiative and returned a series of objects that had been acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art.

What are the full histories for the objects that have been donated by Steinhardt?

Further seizures in Manhattan

Last Friday the New York State District Attorney's Office raided Phoenix Ancient Art in Manhattan and removed six items (see "List of 6 (additional) objects and warrant details on objects seized from Phoenix Ancient Art by New York State District Attorney's Office", ARCA 9 January 2018). The items include Protocorinthian and East Greek perfumed-oil containers, an Attic head jug, and a Teano ware dove. The dove is almost certainly from an Italian context, and the other objects are types frequently found in funerary contexts in Italy. Together the items are valued at $450,000. The objects appear to be the ones noted in the New York Times: "another six pieces on display at the Phoenix Ancient Art Gallery on 66th Street".

The seizure appears to be linked to the case of Steinhardt.

The full histories of the objects have not been disclosed. What is the authenticated documentary history for each of the items? Did each one surface prior to 1970?


I am reminded that …

Ward and the Balkans in the 1990s

Some years ago I reflected on the Aidonia Treasure and the way that it was displayed by Michael Ward in New York (1993). The treasure was subsequently returned to Greece.

I then wrote about a silver repoussé plaque that surfaced through Ward and Company Works of Art, New York, in the mid-1990s, and three bronze helmeted warriors that appeared in 1998. It has been suggested to me that these items were found with the so-called Koreschnica Krater (although its route to the market has not been disclosed). 

I am intrigued by the extremely rare gold-figured phiale showing Thetis and the armour of Achilles that surfaced through Ward and Company in 1990. Some of the best known examples of gold-figured silver plate were found at Duvanli in Bulgaria.

Where did Ward and Company Works of Art acquire these pieces? What is the authenticated documentary history for them?

Greece commenting on the return of the Steinhardt lekythos

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has issued a press release noting its interest in the Attic white ground lekythos (αττικής λευκής ληκύθου) seized from the collection of Michael Steinhardt last week ("Ενημέρωση σχετικά με την κατάσχεση ελληνικών αρχαιοτήτων στην Νέα Υόρκη", January 7, 2018). Lekythoi such as this are normally found in cemeteries of Attica. 

It appears from the earlier report that the lekythos was among a group of antiquities acquired from William and Lynda Beierwaltes, who are known to have purchased items from Robin Symes.

The Steinhardt oinochoe

The seizure last week of at least 9 antiquities from the collection of Michael Steinhardt raises questions about other items in his collection. I am particularly concerned about an unpublished oinochoe (shape) attributed to the Berlin painter by Robert Guy (although not apparently in the Beazley Archive). It shows a youth with a Maltese dog.

Those who follow these matters will know that pots attributed to the Berlin painter have featured in the returns to Italy, among them an amphora once in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (with added fragments from a private collection).

Steinhardt's apparent links with Robin Symes now raise questions about this oinochoe. How was it acquired? When was the attribution made?

Steinhardt seizure in Manhattan

It has been reported that at least nine antiquities were seized from the Manhattan apartment of Michael H. Steinhardt (James C. McKinley Jr., "Looted Antiques Seized From Billionaire’s Home, Prosecutors Say", New York Times January 5, 2018). The pieces included:

a Protocorinthian owla Protocorinthian duckan Ionian ram's headan Attic white-ground lekythosan Attic artballosan Apulian head vase The Attic lekythos is likely to have come from a funerary context in Attica, and should therefore be linked to activity in Greece. 
Steinhardt has been linked to material from Eshmun in the Lebanon, a gold phiale from Sicily, a tomb fragment from Paestum, a Sardinian figure, and a Faliscan askos
Which dealers were the sources for these seized objects? Are these derived from Robin Symes?

The Eulenbruch honorific statue

The history of objects in collections are fascinating: the movement of objects between different owners. This bronze honorific statue was received by the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a partial gift from Renée E. and Robert A. Belfer in 2001, with the remainder in 2010 [online catalogue entry].

The MMA's catalogue entry (2007)  [no. 212] dates the figure to the mid-2nd–1st century BC, and identifies it as an honorific statue of a "prominent" individual. The city where this statue was erected is now unknown, although the online entry (but not the print catalogue) notes that it was "said to have come from Syria". The authority for this statement is not provided.

Paul Zanker, in his Roman Portraits: Sculptures in Stone and Bronze in the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2016) no. 3, identifies the figure as an orator and dates it to c. 50–30 BC. Zanker observes that the folds of the drapery contain "many traces of soil" suggesting to him that…

Journal of Art Crime 2017: overview

The latest number of the Journal of Art Crime 18 (Fall 2017) has been published. There are a number of papers relating to antiquities:
Julia Weiler-Esser, The New German Act on the Protection of Cultural Property: A Better Protection For Archaeological Heritage in Germany and Abroad?, pp. 3-10Uche Uwaezuoke Okonkwo & Omon Merry Osiki, Global Art Traffi cking and the Nigerian Experience: A Historical Analysis, pp. 51-55Christos Tsirogiannis, Nekyia. Unethical Actions, Inactions and Reactions by the Museum and Market Community to the Seizure of the Met’s Python Krater, pp. 65-68.David W. J. Gill, Context Matters. Recently surfaced antiquities: ignoring the evidence?, pp. 69-73.Jehane Regai, Fake Art on the Rise in Egypt, pp. 75-79.Christos Tsirogiannis, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Illicit Antiquities in New York, p. 81.David Gill reviews Tiffany Jenkins, Keeping Their Marbles: How the Treasures of the Past Ended up in Museums … And Why They Should Stay There, pp. 87-90.

London auctions to 2017: Christie's

Unlike the sale of antiquities in New York, Christie's has seen a growth in its sale of antiquities in London. Sales grew from £5.5 million to £7 million in 2017. This is still less than the amount realised in 2014.

However this figure for 2017 is lower than the £7.4 million for Sotheby's in London for the same year.

New York auctions to 2017: Christie's

This is the time of year that I try to give an overview of the auction of antiquities on the New York market (see January 2017). This year I am only returning the sales from Christie's in New York. This is the seventh year of decrease for the sale of antiquities, and the value for 2017 ($8.6 million) is only slightly better than that for 2007 ($7.9 million). This is perhaps reflecting the move of the sale of antiquities from New York back to London, worth some £7.5 million (between Christie's and Sotheby's).

Looting Matters: Looking Ahead to 2018

I attended the APPG on Cultural Property at Westminster in December and it is clear that there will be an increasing emphasis on the protection of cultural property in time of war and conflict. It is clear that the Ministry of Defence is keen to engage with the academic community to understand the potential issues and sensitivities. I anticipate that there will be some additional discussion over archaeological material moving from Syria and northern Iraq to markets in Europe. 

In the UK the DCMS has made it clear that it wants to work more closely with the heritage community (and this will be covered on the companion blog, 'Heritage Futures', co-written with Professor Ian Baxter). The impact of metal-detecting on scheduled and unrecorded sites continues to give some archaeological groups in the UK a cause for concern.

I would be surprised if objects known from the Medici, Becchina and Symes archives do not surface on the antiquities market. These cases now seem to be met with …