Showing posts with label Morgantina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Morgantina. Show all posts

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The ex-Steinhardt phiale from Sicily

Earlier this week I noted the forthcoming exhibition of antiquities from Sicily that will open at the J. Paul Getty Museum this summer. Part of the Morgantina silver hoard will be on display (after its return from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art). I am grateful to Fabio Isman for drawing my eye to another important piece in the exhibition: the gold phiale apparently found near Caltavuturo (no. 89).

The story of the phiale is well documented (and see images). It was seized from Michael Steinhardt and returned to Italy.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Eakin: "Museums themselves are partly to blame"

Hugh Eakin has written an important, but I believe flawed, piece on the return of antiquities for the New York Times [NYT]. He has shown a nuanced approach in his comments on the writings of James Cuno, but shown sympathy towards the J. Paul Getty Museum over the coverage in Chasing Aphrodite.

There is one point where I agree with Eakin: "museums themselves are partly to blame". Since the 1970 UNESCO Convention (and the 1973 AIA Resolution), museums curators, museums directors, museum trustees, and museum boards have known the issues about acquiring recently surfaced antiquities. But the desire to acquire was too much. And this is why closer to 200 antiquities [not 100] have been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections. This is why major institutions such as Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the Toledo Museum of Art have returned antiquities to Italy. These museums thought that they could acquire without restraint and the photographic evidence that emerged from the Geneva Freeport, from the Basel warehouses, and from Schinoussa has shown that their policies were flawed.

But let us return to Eakin's piece. He suggests that foreign governments have been threatening legal action over the return of antiquities. But I suspect that major museums have been secretly relieved to avoid that course of action. I do not know if Eakin has seen the photographic and documentary archives, but the thought of this material being unpacked in a courtroom where every image would be analysed in the media is one that would probably make the blood of most museum directors run cold. It is sufficient to say that Italy has probably claimed less than 1% of the objects in the photographic archives. This suggests great restraint, understanding and flexibility from the Italian authorities. But it also calls for flexibility from the North American museum community.

Eakin draws attention to the Dallas Museum of Art. The initiative to return this material to Italy (as well as a mosaic to Turkey) comes from the museum's director, Maxwell Anderson. As far as we can tell, it was Anderson who identified the material in the wake of the Almagià-linked returns from Princeton University Art Museum. Anderson does not appear to have waited for the Italians to start knocking on his door. He has a long record of acting in an ethical way over antiquities, notably over the EUMILOP scheme at Emory. Yet Eakin brackets Dallas with Toledo (one of the first museums to be identified in the Medici conspiracy) and the J. Paul Getty Museum. These cases are very different and Eakin should have made that clear.

Eakin makes the point that for most of the returned objects we do not know where they were found. The intellectual consequences of such lost knowledge are one of the reasons why this is such a tragic situation. Yes, we know that some pieces were looted from Morgantina on Sicily, or Etruscan cemeteries and sanctuaries at Cerveteri. But all have lost their scientific contexts. Eakin later mentions that the Italians did have access to photographic images that showed unrestored archaeological objects still covered in mud. Eakin could have noted that this is mud from tombs and other contexts not investigated by scientific archaeological means.

Eakin talks about the international trade in looted antiquities. It would have been worth pausing for a moment on how objects identified from the Medici and Schinoussa archives have been continuing to appear in New York auction-houses, and how these sales have continued to proceed even when the Italian authorities have contacted the relevant authorities. Have such stories been covered in the New York Times?

Eakin dramatises the situation:
Countries like Italy and Greece have used the news media to embarrass museums with alarming stories of rogue curators and nefarious dealers; they have withheld exhibition loans from museums that rebuff them; and they have resorted to aggressive legal action, opening criminal investigations of museum staff and enlisting the help of American federal prosecutors to obtain museum records and seize disputed works.
One wonders why it has been necessary for such actions to be taken against North American museums if everything is so transparent in the museum world. But let me take one item here: the "alarming stories of rogue curators". We could be distracted by the case of curators at the Getty or at Princeton. But what about the January 2012 news, never (as far as I can see) covered by the North American press, about the return of antiquities from the collection formed by a New York museum curator? What was so suspicious about this material that it was handed over? Why has the New York museum failed to make a statement? [Perhaps somebody at the AAMD meeting this week can ask the MMA's director that very question.]

There is no need to discuss "nefarious dealers". Eakin has read The Medici Conspiracy and Chasing Aphrodite. He could have listed the North American dealers who have supplied the museums but he chooses not to do so.

Have attitudes changed in the North American museum community? Eakin draws attention to the disputed St Louis Art Museum mummy case. He does not mention the flawed collecting history which was used as the basis for retaining the object and challenging the legal case. Yet the Cleveland Museum of Art has a acquired a Roman portrait of Drusus from the same dealer. What does this say about the due diligence process?

So will we see the return of the Bubon Roman bronzes to Turkey? Will the Michael C. Carlos Museum  start to negotiate with Greece over the Minoan larnax and other items? What is the collecting history of the bronze krater (once? still?) on loan to Houston?

I hope that the AAMD will strengthen its current policy on the acquisitions of antiquities to close various loopholes. And I suspect that there will be museums directors in Kansas this week who will be feeling more than uncomfortable about acquisitions under their care. Perhaps we will see a more enlightened position emerging from AAMD members this week.

And museum directors who wish to ignore the issue should re-read Eakin: "Museums themselves are partly to blame".

UPDATE: two links have been removed from this post.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

The head from Morgantina: intellectual consequences

Source: J. Paul Getty Museum
The terracotta head from Sicily that the J. Paul Getty Museum is not without interest. The catalogue entry for the head indicate the problems of trying to interpret an object without archaeological context.

The blue beard had suggested that the head represented Zeus. However the context, the sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone, where fragments of hair were located suggest that the correct representation is more likely to be Hades. Cited parallels suggested associations with South Italy, and specifically Capua, rather than Sicily (although Sicily is mentioned as a possible place of creation).

The entry suggests "probably broken off from a statue", though we do not know when this took place.

The collecting history suggests that it appeared on the "European art market" (for which we know equals Robin Symes) and then passed to a "private collection, United States" (i.e. Maurice Tempelsman).

The head was acquired in 1985. The previous year it had been published by Cornelius C. Vermeule III in Catalogue of a collection of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities formed by a private collector in New York City during the past few decades (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), no. 11. This privately published catalogue also contained:

  • the statue of Apollo returned to Italy (no. 8; "European art market; private collection, United States"); 
  • the marble lekanis returned to Italy (no. 10; "European art market; private collection, United States");
  • a bronze Etruscan statue of a youth (no. 14A; "European art market; private collection, United States"; = The Gods Delight [1988]no. 37, "Private collection, New York" and stated as unpublished);
  • two bronze magistrates (no. 21; "European art market; private collection, United States"; = The Gods Delight [1988], no. 63; "Traveled through the art market and conceivably found with [64-66]"; 64 and 65 are also in the Getty, "European art market", "part of the same monument"; see here for link with Cleveland Museum of Art);
  • a Roman bronze bust of a man (no. 22, "European art market; private collection, United States");
  • the bust of L. Licinius Nepos (no. 23; "European art market; private collection, United States"); 
  • the head of a balding man (no. 25; "European art market; private collection, United States");
  • a head of a priest of saint (no. 26; "European art market; private collection, United States").

Will the Getty be publishing the complete collecting histories for all the items acquired from Maurice Tempelsman? Will the Cleveland Museum of Art be providing the full collecting history of the bronze Victoria?

It looks as if the returning head has opened yet another window on the world of collecting and museum acquisitions.

Walsh, J. 1986. "Acquisitions/1985." The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 14: 173-286.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Aphrodite returns to Sicily

The Aphrodite has been returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Aidone in Sicily.

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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, March 22, 2010

The Morgantina Hoard: the collecting context

The Morgantina hoard has now gone on display in Rome. The efforts of Malcolm Bell and the Italian authorities have done much to identify the orginal contexts for the hoard(s).

But what about the museum context? Michael Gross has a short section in his Rogues' Gallery. Gross records that Bell first saw the hoard in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in the fall of 1987; he "recognized them immediately ... [and] put two and two together and notified the Metropolitan of that fact". Bell also entered into correspondence with Dietrich von Bothmer.

Gross reminds us, "In 1993, the Metropolitan had refused the archaeologist Malcolm Bell's request to closely examine the Morgantina objects". If this is true (and I have no reason to disbelieve it), then it says a great deal about the Met's attitude to enlightenment and comsmopolitan ideals.

Gross, Michael. Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum. New York, N.Y.: Broadway Books, 2009. [details]

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Morgantina Hoard: on display in Rome

The Morgantina Hoard has gone on display in the Palazzo Massimo, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome (until 23 May 2010) [MiBAC press release]. The hoard is part of a series of returns of antiquities from North American institutions. Some $22 million worth of objects linked to Morgantina on Sicily have been handed back.

The hoard had been acquired over several years (1981, 1982 and 1984) by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (see earlier comments). It had been sold by Robert Hecht who is reported to have made over $2 million profit from the transaction. (Hecht is currently on trial in Rome.)

Malcolm Bell has talked about his work at Morgantina (Elizabeth Wilkerson, "Underground tale told: Malcolm Bell and the case of the missing silver", University of Virginia Magazine December 12, 2001).
In 1996 the Italian government asked Bell to excavate the hill where he’d seen the clandestine work.

“As we dug down, it was very disconcerting, because the soil was entirely churned up. What the clandestine workers had done was to start in one room, empty it out and then dig the room right next to it. Their strategy was to empty each room so they could get to the floor.”

When Bell and his crew reached the floors, they found two large holes that correspond to the size of the lots bought by the Met. They also found a 1978 Italian coin that helped pinpoint the time of the looting.
One of the key issues was the interpretation of insctriptions that appeared on two of the pieces. They had originally been read as "from the war", perhaps indicating that they had been ancient booty that had been dedicated in a sanctuary as a thank-offering. Bell, however, realised the significance:
When, after several requests, Bell was allowed to examine the silver at the Met in 1999, he puzzled over a lightly scratched inscription on the bottom of two of the pieces. Translated by the museum curator as “from the war,” the words suggested that the silver had been buried as the city was being captured.

Instead of “from the war,” Bell realized, the word was the possessive form of the name Eupolemus. The name represented the owner’s claim to the silver.

“We don’t have too many names from ancient Morgantina, but we do have the name Eupolemus,” Bell said. A lead tablet in the Morgantina museum bears the name — and the tablet is the deed to a house in the area where Bell had found the looters’ tracks.

“It was almost like meeting the man. It was one of those moments of epiphany when you realize something makes far more sense than you had thought,” said Bell.
Details of the find can be found in Franco De Angelis' summary (p. 177). The location for the burial appears to have been in a Greek house in the western part of the city. A full discussion can be found in Guzzo.

The hoard will go on display at the Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonino Salinas di Palermo from June 2010.

Bell, M. 1997 [2000]. "La provenienza ritrovata: cercamdo il contesto di antichità trafugate." In Antichita senza provenienza II: Atti del colloquio internazionale [Viterbo] 1997, edited by P. Pelagatti and P. G. Guzzo: 31-41. Bollettino d'arte suppl. to nos. 101-2. Rome.
De Angelis, F. 2000-2001. "Archaeology in Sicily 1996-2000." Archaeological Reports 47: 145-201. [JSTOR]
Guzzo, P. G. 2003. "A group of Hellenistic silver objects in the Metropolitan Museum." Metropolitan Museum Journal 38: 45-94. [JSTOR]

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The "Morgantina" Silver Hoard

The antiquities returned to Italy from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have been dominated by the pottery:
However the return also included a major hoard of Hellenistic silver dating to the 3rd century BCE and acquired in 1981, 1982, and 1984 (inv. 1981.11.15-22; 1982.11.7-13; 1984.11.3). The pieces were said to have originated in Turkey and had been purchased via Switzerland.

Indeed the official line is that this was a "hoard" and that it was "presumably found together a generation ago" (D. von Bothmer, A Greek and Roman treasury. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, nos. 92-106).

In reality the sequence has been reported as follows (see P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, p. 106):
  • Vincenzo Bozzi and Filippo Baviera, tombaroli
  • Sold to Orazio Di Simone of Lugano, Switzerland for the equivalent of $27,000
  • Sold to Robert Hecht for $875,000
  • Sold to the MMA for $3 million
The silver is staying in New York until January 2010 and will then be transferred to the Aidone Archaeological Museum (Elisabetta Povolodeo, "A Statue As Symbol In Patrimony Tug of War", New York Times, July 4, 2007). The silver plate is likely to be displayed with the acrolithic Aphrodite formerly in the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the acroliths on loan from Maurice Tempelsman.

Recent excavations by Malcolm Bell III may have even located the possible site of the looting (Celestine Bohlen, "Archaeologist vindicated in hunch on antique silver hoard", IHT, February 3, 2006):
In 1996, Raffiotta in Sicily got court permission and Italian government money for Bell to start digging at the spot where the silver was thought to have been discovered. That was when Bell first found two holes, which corresponded to the rumored stories that silver had been found in two separate lots. The excavation also turned up a 1978 Italian coin, proof that the site had been excavated since that date.
The terminus post quem provided by the modern coin is not incompatible with the 1981 appearance of the silver on the market.

The "Morgantina" silver was purchased with help from,
  • Rogers Fund
  • Classical Purchase Fund
  • Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Anonymous
  • Mrs Vincent Astor
  • Mr & Mrs Walter Bareiss
  • Mr & Mrs Howard J. Barnet
  • Christos G. Bastis
  • Mr & Mrs Martin Fried
  • Jerome Levy Foundation
  • Norbert Schimmel
  • Mr & Mrs Thomas A. Spears

Saturday, September 1, 2007

From Virginia to Sicily: more returning antiquities

Elisabetta Povoledo has today reported on the return of two antiquities to Sicily from the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville ("Two Marble Sculptures to Return to Sicily", New York Times, September 1, 2007).

The two sixth-century BCE sculptures will be displayed in the archaeological museum at Aidone. They will be joined by other antiquities returning from North American collections: the "Morgantina" silver (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and an acrolitihic statue in the J. Paul Getty Museum.

The Viriginia sculptures are reported to have been looted from Morgantina in the 1970s (and said to have been seen in the boot of a car in 1979). They then surfaced in the hands of Robin Symes who sold them (in 1980) to Maurice Tempelsman (for a reported US$1 million).

Antiquities from the former Tempelsman collection form part of the agreement with the J. Paul Getty Museum. Symes has also been associated with many of the returning objects from North America - and indeed others which are still under investigation.

What other agreements can be expected in the coming months?


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