Showing posts with label Crete. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crete. Show all posts

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Roman Herm Withdrawn from Bonhams: Becchina association established

Bonhams in London were due to sell a Roman marble herm today (lot 41) but it was withdrawn (Euthimis Tsiliopoulos, "Hermes head withdrawn from auction", Times of Change 1 October 2014). It was estimated to sell for £10000-£15000. 

The collecting history had been given as "Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva, acquired circa 1965, thence by descent".

However Glasgow-based researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has separately spotted the herm in the Becchina photographic archive. He writes:
I also identified the object in the Becchina archive. The origin of the head is Greece, because it is a Greek looter named Costas Gaitanis (from Herakleion, Krete) who sent to Becchina on May 29th, 1987 the Polaroids depicting the head. The envelope containing the Polaroids arrived in Switzerland (Basel, at Becchina's gallery) on June 1st, 1987. The envelope is included in a larger file that Becchina kept regarding dealings he had with a Greek middleman named Zenebisis. The same file includes the image of the gold wreath that the Greek state repatriated from the Getty Museum.
If the Polaroids were sent from Gaitanis to Becchina in May 1987 it seems that the collecting history provided by Bonhams is likely to be flawed.

This raises questions about how auction-houses and museums authenticate collecting histories. What questions do they ask? How do they check the paperwork? How are facts verified?

More interesting is why this "history" was not identified by the Art Loss Register or whichever agency had been asked to conduct a search on the objects.

Bonhams has not had a good track-record for handling antiquities:

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Greece and the Michael C. Carlos Museum

The Michael C. Carlos Museum seems to be trying to stall on the issues surrounding the acquisition of three Greek objects in 2002 and 2004. This is a case that was highlighted in 2007.

Will the museum release the full authenticated collecting histories of the three objects?

Why does the Minoan larnax apparently appear in the dossier of photographs and documentation seized in Switzerland?

And the same is true for the pithos with impress decoration.

The 2008 press statement is well worth re-reading for outlining the museum's policy towards acquisitions.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Will the Michael C. Carlos Museum be returning the Minoan larnax?

Composite picture showing the Minoan larnax
in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (right)
and image from one of the seized photographic archives.
Last week's news that Karlsruhe returned two Cycladic objects acquired in the 1970s to Greece is likely to place increased pressure on the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University. It is some seven years since the Greek Government made a request for three items acquired in recent years. One of the three items is a Minoan larnax that is clearly recognisable in the paperwork of one of the seized photographic archives.

Will the museum continue to ignore the Greek claim? What is the professional response from the curatorial staff?

And what about the larnax in Houston?

I am grateful to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for information about this larnax.

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

From Greece to Atlanta: overview

Minoan larnax
The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University acquired three disputed antiquities: two in 2002, and one in 2004. The first concerns were raised in the press by Greek investigative journalist Nikolas Zirganos in June 2007. In September 2008, in the wake of returns to Greece from the collection of Shelby White (including an impressive krater that had been part of a loan exhibition at the Michael C. Carlos Museum), it was announced that the Greek authorities were investigating the three objects: a statue of Terpsichore, a pithos, and a Minoan larnax. Emory University issued a press statement about the Greek request at the end of the same month.

I returned to the topic in August 2010 when it became clear that the Minoan larnax and the Greek pithos could be traced directly to Palladion Antike Kunst due to the raids on Basel in 2005.

In August 2011 it emerged that the Carlos Museum had acquired Egyptian antiquities from the Joseph Lewis collection. Enquiries were met with the same lack of co-operation.

Is it time that the museum, once known for its strong ethical acquisitions policy, should resolve the situation with Greece? Maxwell Anderson gave a strong lead for Dallas and, given his links with the Carlos, could provide an appropriate model for them to adopt.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Antiquities in Houston

There are two antiquities in or, perhaps, that used to be in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) that have been of some interest to me. For some reason the museum has been a little reserved about supplying information about their collecting histories.

The first is a Minoan larnax, given by Shelby White. The MFAH Annual Report (2006-2007) no longer appears to be online. I requested information back in 2008.

The second is a Trebenishte style krater, on loan from Shelby White. I requested information on this krater back in early 2008. It is known that officials from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have been trying to reclaim the Koreschnica krater (of Trebenishte type) from a North American private collection. (The Shelby White krater was due to be published in the series of essays, Collecting in Context, in honour of Leon Levy.)

Given that yet another object from the Shelby White collection has been returned to its country of origin (Turkey) this month, would it be sensible for the curatorial staff at MFAH to check their records?

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Minoan larnax in New York

In 2002 the Michael J. Carlos Museum acquired a Minoan larnax. Its full collecting history has not been disclosed. Then in 2006 or 2007 Houston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) received a larnax as a gift from Shelby White. Its full collecting history has yet to be revealed.

However these two larnakes were preceded by the anonymous gift of a LMIIIB example "in memory of Nicolas and Mireille Koutoulakis" to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 1996.521a,b). Koutoulakis, it will be remembered, appeared in the infamous "organigram" that featured in the "Medici Conspiracy".

So what is the full collecting history of the New York larnax? Who was the anonymous donor? When was the larnax removed from its (supposed) funerary context on Crete?

A further larnax to note here is the ex-Borowski example in Bible Lands Museums in Jerusalem (inv. 4738; Glories of Ancient Greece no. 20) [noted]. It is close (as the catalogue makes clear) to an east Cretan example in the Ayios Nikolaos Museum (inv. 282; Im Labyrinth des Minos no. 260). What is the full collecting of the Borowski larnax?

Further reading
Bernheimer, G. M. 2001. Glories of ancient Greece: vases and jewelry from the Borowski collection. Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum.
Watrous, L. V. 1991. "The Origin and Iconography of the Late Minoan Painted Larnax." Hesperia 60: 285-307. [JSTOR]

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Houston's Minoan Larnax

Greece has asked the USA to consider imposing import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological material. It seems that they are concerned that looting continues to feed the market in recently-surfaced antiquities.

Concern has been expressed in the Greek press and by the Greek authorities about the Minoan larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.

But what is the full collecting history of the Minoan larnax acquired by Houston's Museum of Fine Art (MFAH)? It is nearly two years since I sent a request to the MFAH (another AAMD member) for this information. Is the silence significant?

The Houston larnax is likely to have been found on Crete. When did it surface?

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Friday, August 13, 2010

From Crete to Atlanta

The curatorial staff at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia are under renewed pressure. In 2002 the museum acquired a Minoan larnax that is likely to have been used as a sarcophagus on the island of Crete in the Late Bronze Age. The collecting history for the larnax has not been disclosed.

The decoration is very distinctive with a fish painted on the inside of the larnax. Wavy lines decorate the base. These features helped researchers to link the Atlanta larnax with one that features in the documentation (images and receipts) of a Swiss-based antiquities dealer whose warehouse facilities have been raided. Although the identification was made in 2007 and, according to Greek press reports, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture appears to have asked for the return of the larnax and two other pieces, there is, as yet, no movement.

The same Swiss dealer has already been linked to antiquities returned to Italy from North American museums. It also appears that over 4000 objects, filling three trucks, were returned from a Basel warehouse to Italy.

The Michael C. Caros Museum under Maxwell Anderson was well known for its enlightened ethical position on antiquities. The museum still maintains that it "will not knowingly acquire any object which has been illegally exported from its country of origin" (press statement). As a university museum (and AAMD member) it has a responsibility to disclose the full collecting history of the larnax ("full and prompt disclosure") and explain how the larnax features in the Swiss photographic archive.

The Atlanta piece is not the only larnax to have surfaced in North American collections in recent years.

Left: polaroid image from the archive of a Swiss dealer; right, larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Michael C. Carlos Museum: Unresolved issue with Greece?

In 2007 Nikolas Zirganos announced in the Greek press that three items in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (acquired in 2002 and 2004) could be linked to photographic evidence available to the Greek authorities. The three items have been identified in the Greek press. A press statement was issued by the museum in September 2008 in response to a report that the Hellenic Ministry of Culture had made a formal request for their return. As far as I know, this is unresolved more than three years on.

I had another look at the story and in particular the Minoan larnax (an identification made originally, as I understand it, by Cambridge researcher Christos Tsirogiannis). Zirganos had published images of the three pieces (see archived stories). It appears that the larnax features in a photograph linked to a receipt issued by "Antike Kunst Palladion". This suggests the paperwork was obtained as part of the 2005 Basel raid on the premises linked to Gianfranco Becchina.

If you enlarge the image you can see quite clearly the typed name of the purchaser (and this is helpfully given in the caption).

Palladion Antike Kunst has been linked to objects returned to Italy from the J. Paul Getty Museum and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. The Getty is also reported to have purchased the "Getty kouros" from Becchina. Palladion Antike Kunst appears to have supplied objects now in Amsterdam's Allard Pierson Museum, the Miho Museum in Japan, and Madrid's National Archaeological Museum. Press reports suggest that Italy's Operation Andromeda demonstrated links between Becchina and a certain Japanese dealer.

When will the Michael C. Carlos Museum resolve this issue? When will they publish the full collecting histories for the three pieces? And remember, "The Museum will not knowingly acquire any object which has been illegally exported from its country of origin".

Source: Enet.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

History Lost: Exhibition Catalogue

A copy of the exhibition catalogue for the History Lost exhibition (text by Neil Brodie and Andreas Apostolidis) has arrived.

This all-colour catalogue provides a historical overview of looting (including the sculptures from temple of Aphaia on Aegina) as well as a series of post-1970 cases studies. Among them is a section on "Looting in Cyprus" with a list (and map) of 100 looted sites on the island. The feature includes the 159 silver coins returned to Cyprus from Italy in 2003. (See how this is still a contemporary issue.)

For Greece there are sections on the Aidonia Treasure and the Corinth Museum theft. There are short entries on recent returns including the Saarbrücken bronze youth, the Apollo Lykeios from Gortyn, as well as material from the J. Paul Getty Museum (a Boeotian stele, a gold wreath, a marble kore).

There is a short illustrated section on Iraq, and a reconstruction of the Weary Herakles.

Copies are available from Anemon Productions in Athens. (Also available in Greek, Italian and Portuguese.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Another recently-surfaced Minoan larnax

Earlier this autumn (fall) I noted the acquisition of a Minoan larnax by the Michael C. Carlos Museum in 2002. So it was interesting to observe the acquisition of another Minoan larnax by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH): The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Annual Report (2006-2007) p. 83 [pdf].

The Houston larnax is listed as "Gift of Shelby White". The only other information provided is the date (1600–1100 B.C.), material ("Terracotta and paint"), and dimensions (17 5/8 x 40 1/8 [45 x 102]). No inventory number is provided and there is no picture. Even the precise date of acquisition is unclear (though it was within the period 2006-2007).

Was this originally a loan? See Patricia C. Johnson, "Borrowing trouble; Long-term loans don't let museums off the hook", Houston Chronicle July 16, 2006: "The 11th loaned piece is a Minoan terracotta "larnax'' (a kind of bathtub/sarcophagus) dated 1600-1000 B.C., on long-term loan from another private collection". (The report was in the context of 10 Roman portraits from the Shelby White collection including one of Hadrian.) Or was this loan yet another recently-surfaced larnax?

Shelby White seems to have close links with MFAH:

Shelby White has been linked to

Remember also that earlier research with Christopher Chippindale suggested that 93% of the antiquities in the Shelby White and Leon Levy had no information about the find-spot. To Shelby White such research was just the presentation of "meaningless numbers". But history has shown that our research was meaningful given the record of returns.

So what is the collecting history of the Houston larnax? When and where did Shelby White acquire it? Or did she just provide the means for MFAH to purchase it from a third party? What is the collecting history of the larnax? Was the larnax known prior to 1970? What rigorous "due diligence" research did the curatorial staff of MFAH undertake?

These are not unreasonable questions to ask - and curatorial staff in Houston have been asked by email.

Such information needs to be disclosed. The MFAH as a member institution of the AAMD and should provide "full and prompt disclosure" and make "information readily available to all interested parties".

So why the silence?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

From Gortyn to Switzerland ... and Back Again

Yesterday's news about the return of a marble lekythos to Greece from a Swiss-based dealer of antiquities made me go back through my notes. I see that in June 2007 a statue of Apollo was returned to Greece from Switzerland ("Greece reclaims stolen Apollo statue", AFP, June 14, 2007; see also "Greece hails return of stolen ancient statue", Reuters, June 14, 2007). The Apollo had been excavated by Federico Halbherr at Gortyn on Crete, and stolen from the site in 1991.

AFP commented:
Greece on Thursday presented a Hellenistic-era torso of the ancient Greek god Apollo discovered in Switzerland more than 15 years after it was stolen from an excavation site on Crete.

The headless torso was in the possession of art dealer David Cahn in Basel, and the Greek authorities intervened just before it was delivered to a private buyer, Culture Minister George Voulgarakis told a news conference.


The 1st-century BCE statue of Apollo ... was stolen from the archaeological site of Gortyn in 1991 along with nine Roman-era items including vessel fragments and coins.

In March, it was sold by a British art dealer to a German collector and imported into Switzerland for delivery by Cahn, who agreed to unconditionally hand it over to Greece, the ministry said.
Who was the British "art dealer"? What about the "German collector"?

And where are the other pieces that were stolen in 1991?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Collecting Antiquities from Crete: Exhibiting Antiquities from Crete

In the build-up to the Athens conference it would have been possible to overlook the fact that the Greek Minister of Culture, Mihalis Liapis, was in Manhattan for the opening of a new exhibition, "From the Land of the Labyrinth: Minoan Crete, 3000 – 1100 B.C." at the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation in Manhattan (Brenda Smily, "Minoan Artifacts Land in Manhattan", New York Sun, February 28, 2008). The exhibition opened last Thursday ("Liapis officially inaugurates Minoan exhibition in New York", Athens News Agency, March 13, 2008).

As far as I know there is nothing controversial about this loan exhibition which is drawn from at least seven archaeological museums on Crete. Indeed such exhibitions are the way to present cultural objects to a wider public.

But there was something intriguing about the opening. Among the guests was "former prime minister and honorary president of the ruling New Democracy (ND) party Constantine Mitsotakis". (ND presently holds power under prime minister Costas Karamanlis.)

Mitsotakis is an interesting guest as he is known to have a strong interest in Cretan antiquities. Let me quote from Nikos Konstandaras ("Government Accuses Former Premier Of Collecting Stolen Antiquities", AP, January 18, 1994):
Mitsotakis, who was premier from April 1990 until October 1993, has one of the nation's largest private antiquities collections, with more than 1,000 items. Many of the pieces come from the island of Crete's Minoan civilization ...
How could such a collection have been formed?

Mitsotakis no longer holds the pieces. As Eddie Koch explained (Eddie Koch, "Deputy police chief arrested in art theft scandal", IPS, November 4, 1993):
Last year Mitsotakis caused a national scandal when he admitted he had informally amassed a large collection of classical works from sites around his home town in Crete. The rumpus died down after he donated the treasures to the state.

The former prime minister's collection became an issue during last month's elections with opposition parties claiming that Mitsotakis -- who had appointed his daughter, Dora Bakoyanni, as Minister of Culture -- lacked the will to implement laws designed to stem the illegal trade.
The case did not come to anything ("Fresh development in case of prime minister's artefacts", AFP, March 15, 1994):
A Greek magistrate investigating the origin of antiquities belonging to former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis opened a prosecution case Tuesday against "persons" implicated in unauthorised archeological digs in Crete, a judicial source said.

The prosecutor in Canea north-eastern Crete said he had ordered legal authorities in that town and in Heraklion to open proceedings against persons involved in looting from Minoan and other ancient tombs on the island, the same sources said.

The late Greek culture minister Melina Mercouri, who died on March 6, sent an archaeologists' report in January to the same prosecutor which stated that at least 62 of the 1,081 objects in Mitsotakis's private collection were the fruit of looting from ancient Cretan tombs.

Mitsotakis has always denied any wrongdoing and maintained that his entire collection was legally acquired.

He argues that on two occasions in 1991 and 1993 Greek justice decided there was no case against him. Mitsotakis was prime minister at the time.
What does "legally acquired" mean? (See "Leiden and the Cuirass" for an exploration of the phrase.)

Liapis needs to realise that the big issue, as Melina Mercouri so wisely recognised, is the destruction of unknown archaeological sites (especially cemeteries) to feed the antiquities market.

I leave the last question and comment to Alan Cowell ("Athens Journal; Under Acropolis, Art Meets Politics, Explosively", New York Times, February 4, 1994) who reviewed the political implications of the case:
how can ancient treasures be protected from exploitation by the few and be used for the benefit of all?

The question is all the more pertinent in Greece in light of a 60-year-old law, initially intended to prevent foreigners from stripping the land of its archeological assets, that permits licensed Greek collectors like Mr. Mitsotakis and many others to declare their collections to the authorities without saying how they came by them.
Does that help to focus the issues?


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