Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Becchina and a Sardinian boat-shaped lamp

Entry from the Becchina archive
Courtesy of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis has identified a Sardinian boat-shaped lamb in the seized Becchina archive with what appears to be same piece shortly to be offered at auction in London.

Why does this matter? The archive clearly shows that the lamp passed through Palladion Antike Kunst in 1993. (We note that the value at SFr 60,000 shows that the piece has clearly lost its value over the years.) Yet the auction house claims that this passed into an Austrian private collection after being acquired in Vienna in the 1960s. Now, the 1960s would conveniently place the lamp in the period before the 1970 UNESCO Convention. 

But is the history supposed to be something like this? Sold in Vienna in the 1960s; acquired by an Austrian private collection; sold through Palladion Antike Kunst in Switzerland in 1993; acquired by an anonymous individual or corporate body; consigned for auction in London.

Here are the questions. Was the current vendor unaware that the lamp had passed through the hands of Palladion Antike Kunst in the 1990s? Had the auction house checked the history of the object or had they accepted the oral account? Which Vienna gallery sold the lamp in the 1960s? What is the authenticated documentary evidence? Finally, who consigned the lamp to Palladion Antike Kunst in the 1990s?

We presume that the auction house has contacted the Italian authorities.


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Monday, 29 November 2021

A Sardinian boat-shaped lamp from an "old Austrian collection"

Sardinian boat-shaped lamp. 
Left: Bonhams.
Right: Becchina archive (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis)
The sale of antiquities at Bonhams (7 December 2021) includes a copper alloy Sardinian boat-shaped lamp (lot 83). It has an estimate of £2,000-£3,000.

The history of the piece (or as some would continue to say, the "provenance") is stated as:
Private collection, Austria, acquired in the 1960s in Vienna.
But how can this be? The same lamp appears to have passed through the hands of Palladion Antike Kunst in 1993 and appears in the Becchina archive (with date 12-2-93). Incidentally the lamp sold for SFr 60,000. 

Who supplied the history of the piece to Bonhams? What sort of due diligence did Bonhams conduct as part of the cataloguing process? How reliable is the information that the lamp formed part of an old Austrian collection? 

Will Bonhams be contacting the Italian authorities about the lamp and its appearance in the Becchina archive?

I am grateful to Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis for making the identification from the Becchina archive, and for providing information on this lamp.


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Thursday, 4 November 2021

The Case of the St Louis Art Museum Mummy Mask


I am looking forward to exploring the parallel histories for the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mummy mask at the Transatlantic Cultural Property Crime Symposium (November 2021).

Tantalising Evidence and a Failed Legal Claim: 

The Case of the St Louis Art Museum Mummy Mask 


Abstract 
In 1952 Mohammed Zakaria Goneim, chief inspector of antiquities, excavated an Egyptian mummy and mask at Saqqara. This mummy mask was acquired by the St Louis Art Museum in 1998 from Phoenix Ancient Art for $499,000. The purchase led to a legal claim by the Egyptian authorities. However, the outcome was that the court confirmed the ownership with the St Louis Art Museum. The release of internal documents from the museum reveals a story that suggests that key members of the museum’s curatorial team were aware of sensitivities relating to the history of the mummy mask. 

There are two parallel and irreconcilable accounts of the mask between 1952 and 1998. The vendor had acquired a statement from Charly Mathez in 1997 that claimed that the mummy mask had been seen by him in Brussels in 1952 (or 1958). The mask is then reported to have been part of the collection of Suzana Jelinek in Zagreb, before moving into an anonymous Swiss private collection. The mask was then reported to have been displayed for a short time in Geneva’s Musées d’art et d’histoire in 1997 prior to its sale. 

The Egyptian authorities claimed that the mask had followed a different path and that it was recorded in the archaeological store in Saqqara in 1959. It then moved to the Cairo Museum from 1959 to 1962 when it returned to the store in Saqqara. It went back to Cairo in 1966, and was finally noted as missing in 1973. It appears to be significant that the personal name in hieratic script that was visible on the right hand of the mask when excavated had been removed by the time that the piece passed through the dealer in Switzerland as demonstrated by publicity photographs taken around 1997. 

The museum does not appear to have responded to suggestions (in January 2006) that it should check with the Egyptian authorities to ensure that the mask had not been stolen from the Saqqara store. Zahi Hawass, the then Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, raised his concerns about the mask in February 2006. This was supported by well-documented instances of thefts from the Saqqara stores, including two alabaster ducks that were returned to Egypt. 

The legal case developed in January 2011, and a case for forfeiture was filed in March 2011; this was dismissed on 31 March 2012 by a US District Judge. A parallel case for declamatory relief was finally withdrawn in June 2014. It does not appear to have been disclosed during the hearings that John H. Taylor, an Egyptologist at the British Museum, had raised his concerns about the mask to SLAM curators in February 1999. Such concerns were apparently left uninvestigated by the museum or the legal teams. 

The SLAM case raises the issue that legal challenges may not be the most effective way to reclaim cultural property. In contrast the Italian government has managed to secure the return of several hundred objects from North American public museums and private collections through the effective use of the media that has placed moral pressure on museums, auction houses and private individuals. The way ahead may be to develop a more rigorous due diligence process for museum acquisitions that would enhance the legal ownership of objects acquired through the market.

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Saturday, 12 June 2021

An amphora attributed to the manner of the Princeton painter

Photo: Becchina Archive
Source: Christos Tsirogiannis
An Attic black-figured amphora attributed to the manner of the Princeton painter has been "passed" by the Artemis Gallery of of Louisville CO (June 10, 2021, lot
0029). (The scholar who made the attribution has not been indicated.) The piece shows, "Both sides present a nude youth riding a horse to the right followed by a bird in flight and set between two cloaked confronting figures." 

The history of the piece is presented as follows (although the sequence is not made clear):
East Coast, USA collection; ex-California, USA collection, acquired at Auktion 5, Jean-David Cahn, Basel, 5 September 2005, lot 36; ex-collection, Switzerland (Dr. Gregor Berger, CH-Jona SG, Collection of his father, the late Professor Dr. H.C. Mult Ernst Hern (1928-2006) - former Director of the Basel Museum
However, Christos Tsirogiannis has identified the amphora from the Becchina archive.  He suggested that Becchina sold the amphora at Christie's (Geneva) on May 5, 1979. If so, is this the unattributed amphora ('Horseman between onlookers, bird' on both sides) noted on the Beazley Archive (BAPD 2495)?

What is the sequence of this amphora? Could we suggest the following?
Becchina; sold in Geneva by Christie's (May 5, 1979); Professor Dr. H.C. Mult Ernst Hern (1928-2006), former Director of the Basel Museum; inherited by Dr. Gregor Berger; sold in Basel, Jean-David Cahn (September 5, 2005); California collection; East Coast collection.
When did this amphora leave the tomb (hence, 'intact and quite excellent') in which it was placed?

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A Couchant Horned Goat from the Medici Dossier


The goat has surfaced (as was re-spotted by Tsirogiannis) as "Masterful Greek Hellenistic Ceramic Goat Vessel" in the Artemis Gallery in Louisville CO, as lot 0054. The history is given as "East Coast, USA collection; ex-Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, USA, acquired in the 2000s". The lot was "passed" on June 10, 2021. 

The Artemis catalogue does not mention any link with Italy, but the RAG catalogue of 2010 helpfully noted 'South Italy, 4th century BC'.  Will the Italian authorities be seeking its return?

This was one of 16 pieces identified on the New York market back in 2010, yet it has remained available for sale. 


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Thursday, 20 May 2021

The so-called Marcus Aurelius and the so-called Ryedale hoard

The bronze bust of a figure identified as the emperor Marcus Aurelius formed part of a 'hoard' discovered in a field in Ryedale, Yorkshire (Jonathan Chadwick, "Incredible Marcus Aurelius bust is among a treasure trove of 2,000-year-old Roman bronze artefacts dug up by metal detectorists in Yorkshire and tipped to sell for £100,000 at auction", Mail Online 21 April 2021). The find is described:
"The items were discovered last year by metal detectorists James Spark and Mark Didlick in a field in Ryedale, North Yorkshire."
In other words, during 2020, the pandemic year, these finds were made. Specifically the find was made in May 2020 (George Buksmann, "Incredible 'nationally important' Roman bronze artefacts discovered in Ryedale expected to sell for £90,000", Scarborough Evening News 29 April 2021). This has been identified as 24-25 May; the location was near Ampleforth [see here].

Url: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/1013510 PAS record number: YORYM-870B0E
Object type: Assemblage
Broadperiod: Roman
County of discovery: North Yorkshire
Stable url: https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/1013510

Adam Staples from Hansons speculates:
"They were interred in the ground together so they should stay together. We think they were buried as a ritual deposit, as part of a Roman religious process and an offering to the gods."
Do we know that this 'hoard' was interred together? What is the archaeological context? What is the evidence that this was a 'ritual deposit'?

The hoard is due to be sold at auction by Hansons today.

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Wednesday, 19 May 2021

PAS Finds and Lincolnshire

© David Gill

I have been working through the RSA Heritage Index data and thought that it would be interesting to look at the reported archaeological finds for Lincolnshire (including the two unitary authorities of North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire). These data are derived from PAS. Over 83,000 finds were recorded reflecting the high level of activity in the county.

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Becchina and a Sardinian boat-shaped lamp

Entry from the Becchina archive Courtesy of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis has identified a Sardinian b...