Thursday, 17 October 2019

Papyri and due diligence

There is much comment at the moment about the sale of papyri to the Museum of the Bible (MOTB), and specifically how fragments owned by the Egypt Exploration Society and kept in the Sackler Library in Oxford have ended up in MOTB.

This is raising serious questions about the due diligence process that does not appear to have been followed by MOTB.


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Monday, 5 August 2019

Steinhardt and the Berlin painter oinochoe

Among the pots in the exhibition, The Berlin painter and his world, was an oinochoe (shape 1) from the Judy and Michael Steinhardt collection in New York (BN44; not in BPAD). The description is given:
Youth in himation leaning on stick to right, dropping red tidbit to a Maltese dog standing on its hind legs.
The oinochoe was attributed to the Berlin painter by Robert Guy.

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis reminds me that this is indeed the oinochoe seized in January 2018 [see LM]. Tsirogiannis has now published on the Steinhardt seizure:

  • Tsirogiannis, C. 2019. "Nekiya: a reflection of the antiquities market: selected cases from the antiquities identified in 2018 and 2019." Journal of Art Crime 21: 63–75.

It appears as no. 3 in the list of objects, and Tsirogiannis notes that it was purchased in 1996 for $215,000. Tsirogiannis identified the oinochoe in two images from the seized Medici dossier.

This now raises a number of questions:

  • who sold the oinochoe to Steinhardt?
  • who acquired the oinochoe from Medici?
  • when did Robert Guy make the attribution?
It should be remembered that this oinochoe is not the only pot attributed to the Berlin painter that passed through the hands of Medici.


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Wednesday, 24 July 2019

The return of looted objects to their countries of origin



‘The return of looted objects to their countries of origin: the case for change’, in S. Hufnagel and D. Chappell (eds.), The Palgrave handbook on art crime (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 797–813.

Abstract
The journalistic investigation into the activities of a major London auction house in the 1990s led directly to the seizure of an important cache of documentation and images at the Geneva Freeport. As a result over 350 items have been returned to Italy from dealers, galleries and auction houses, North American public museums and private collectors. The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property has provided a benchmark for claims on the return of cultural property. There is a need to enhance the due diligence process undertaken by the market. Although some North American museums have changed their acquisition policies, some curatorial staff display open hostility towards enhanced ethical responsibilities and an unwillingness to comply with further investigations. [online]
 
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Friday, 12 July 2019

Viking: finds from the field

I recently visited the excellent 'Viking: Rediscover the Legend' exhibition at Norwich Castle.

One of the striking things to emerge from the exhibition was the number of hoards and collections derived from metal-detecting. These include the Vale of York hoard (2007) and the Great Camp Assemblage (2003) (also known as 'Ainsbrook'). It would have been helpful for the exhibition to have reflected on the value of scientific excavation for the contribution of knowledge on the Vikings in Britain.

The exhibition continues until September.

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Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Tutankhamun, Christie's and rigorous due dligence

It was announced today that the Egyptian authorities would be taking legal action against Christie's over the sale of the head of Tutankhamun ("Egypt to sue Christie's to retrieve £4.7m Tutankhamun bust", BBC News 9 July 2019).

The BBC reports:
Egypt's former antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, said the bust appeared to have been "stolen" in the 1970s from the Temple of Karnak. "The owners have given false information," he told AFP news agency. "They have not shown any legal papers to prove its ownership."
Christie's maintain the history of the piece as follows:
It stated that Germany's Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis reputedly had it in his collection by the 1960s, and that it was acquired by an Austrian dealer in 1973-4.
However the family of von Thurn und Taxis claim that the head was never in that collection [see here].

Christie's reject any hint of criticism:
"Christie's would not and do not sell any work where there isn't clear title of ownership and a thorough understanding of modern provenance."
All the auction house needs to do is to present the authenticated documentation showing the sequential history of the head as it passed from collection to gallery. This is all part of the rigorous due diligence process that auction houses are expected to conduct.


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Saturday, 8 June 2019

George Ortiz collection to be displayed in London

Christie's is due to display part of the former collection of the late George Ortiz in London in a non-selling show to mark the 25th anniversary of the exhibition at the Royal Academy. There is a statement on the Christie's website ("The Ortiz Collection — ‘proof that the past is in all of us’"). Max Bernheimer is quoted: ‘Ortiz was one of the pre-eminent collectors of his day’.

We recall the associations with Ortiz such as the Horiuchi sarcophagus, the Hestiaios stele fragment, the marble funerary lekythos, and the Castor and Pollux.

Bernheimer will, no doubt, wish to reflect on the Royal Academy exhibition by reading Christopher Chippindale and David W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511 [JSTOR].

Bernheimer will probably want to re-read the two pieces by Peter Watson that appeared in The Times: , "Ancient art without a history" and "Fakes - the artifice behind the artefact", 14–15 August 1997. One of the issues raised related to lack of information about prior histories: "... in the George Ortiz Collection, shown at the Royal Academy in 1994, 23 per cent had no provenance at all, while 62 per cent were in the "said to be", "possibly" and "allegedly" categories. The point here is not that there were one or two objects in each of these collections that were open to question, but that the vast majority were."

There were also issues about how objects were presented. Watson reminded his readership of an alleged Cycladic "egg":
"There are many examples in auction catalogues of objects said to be found together. But who can prove it? We have only the salerooms' word to go on and, behind them, dealers and looters with a commercial interest in these things being found together. The sheer futility of all this is underlined by yet another phenomenon identified by Dr Gill and Dr Chippindale, which they term "wish fulfilment". They give two examples of this. The first is a marble "egg" in the Ortiz Collection that, allegedly, comes from the Cyclades. A date for this is given as 3200-2100 BC. But without any published knowledge of its provenance, or the context in which it was found, this object could actually be no more than an egg-shaped pebble picked up on any of the Greek islands. To call it an "egg", thereby implying intention on the part of the artist and a role for the object, perhaps in religious practices, is entirely unwarranted, archaeologically speaking."
I can remember having a memorable face to face exchange with Ortiz over this very "egg".

Christie's desire to remind us of the issues relating to George Ortiz only serve to refocus attention on the need for the antiquities market to develop a more rigorous due diligence process for all antiquities entering the market.

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Monday, 27 May 2019

Renewed Italian claims on the Getty

Back in January 2013 LM noted that Fabio Isman had noted that two funerary lions in the J. Paul Getty Museum, acquired in 1958 (inv. 58.AA.7, 58.AA.8), had been photographed in an Italian collection in 1912. It now appears that the Italian authorities have requested clarity on the histories of the two lions [press release, May 22, 2019]. The lions were both acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis.

In addition, a Roman mosaic with the head of Medusa has been included in the request. It is alleged that it was stolen from the Museo Nazionale Romano. The mosaic was acquired from the Royal Athena Galleries in 1971 (inv. 71.AH.110). It is noted that the mosaic was found on the Via Emanuele Filiberto, Rome, Italy and was first recorded in A. Pasqui 1911 ("Roma. Nuove scoperte nella citta e nel suburbio." Notizie degli Scavi 8 (1911), 338-339). Further details on the findspot can be found here.

What is so surprising is that it has taken the Getty more than six years to respond to the claims over the two lions.


UPDATE: The J. Paul Getty Museum has reminded me that the Italian authorities have not requested the return of the three items discussed in this post. Rather, they have invited further information and discussion, specifically on the "provenance": 'specifici negoziati per una verifica congiunta della provenienza di quattro reperti esposti sempre nel museo di Malibù'.

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Papyri and due diligence

There is much comment at the moment about the sale of papyri to the Museum of the Bible (MOTB), and specifically how fragments owned by th...