Saturday, 4 July 2020

Septimius Severus from Santa Maria Capua Vetere

It has been reported (by ARCA) that a portrait of the emperor Septimius Severus that had been stolen from the Antiquarium of Santa Maria Capua Vetere in November 1985 has been seized at Christie's New York (June 2020) after being offered at auction by them on 28 October 2019, Faces of the Past: Ancient Sculpture from the Collection of Dr. Anton Pestalozzi.

According to the stated history, the head first passed to Jean-Luc Chalmin, London. Chalmin also supplied antiquities to the Stanford Place collection and to the Fleischman collection (apparently the fourth most important supplier). The Severus then passed to Galerie Arete in Zurich in 1993. (The same gallery appears to have handled ex-Becchina material.) It was then sold to Dr Pestalozzi.

How did the portrait appear at auction when it had been reported as stolen? Was the history of the piece checked? What was the due diligence process?


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Thursday, 25 June 2020

Selinous at the Getty

Lex Sacra from Selinous
My next column for 'Context Matters' has appeared in the Journal of Art Crime vol. 23 (Spring 2020). It reviews the range of material from Selinous on Sicily that was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum. One text, acquired from Dr Max Gerchik, has been returned to Italy. Previous publications accepted that some of the objects were derived from "clandestine operations most probably at Selinous".

Other pieces include stelai, architectural elements, as well as other hexametric texts.

Gerchik's other donations to the Getty are considered including material from Italy that appears to have passed through Switzerland.

At least one of the Selinous pieces, a lionhead spout, passed through the Summa Galleries.

For some of the texts:
Faraone, C. A., and D. Obbink. Editors. 2013. The Getty hexameters: poetry, magic, and mystery in ancient Selinous. (Oxford).


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Monday, 15 June 2020

Christie's withdraws four lots


Pelike attributed to the Washing painter
Image from the Becchina archive
Courtesy of Christos Tsirogannis
Christie's has withdrawn for lots from its June 2020 auction after the objects had been identified by Professor Christos Tsirogiannis (Dalya Alberge, "Christie's withdraws 'looted' Greek and Roman treasures", The Guardian 14 June 2020). The four pieces are as follows:

  • lot 25 a bronze Roman eagle identified from the Becchina archive
  • lot 49 a Roman marble hare identified from the Becchina archive; acquired from "Tullio" in 1987.
  • lot 113 an Attic black-figured Band cup identified from the Becchina archive. Reported to be in a private collection, Basel, and consigned to Galerie Günter Puhze, Freiburg; J.L. Theodor collection, Brussels; Sotheby's (New York) 17 December 1998, lot 77.
  • lot 121 an Attic red-figured pelike attributed to the Washing painter identified from the Becchina archive. Surfaced: Sotheby's (London) 14–15 December 1981, lot 236. Then Dechter collection of Greek vases.
It would suggest that Christie's needs to tighten its due diligence process. Did the auction-house authenticate the histories of the lots before they were placed in the auction? Did it check with the Italian and Greek authorities before the sale?

I am grateful to Professor Tsiorgiannis for sharing this information with me.

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Friday, 12 June 2020

Geometric horse due to return to Greece

From the Schinousa archive
courtesy of Christos Tsiorgiannis
A Geometric horse, identified by Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis in May 2018, is due to be returned to Greece ("Greece to reclaim ancient horse from US after court ruling", ekathimerini.com 11 June 2020). The date that the horse left Greece does not appear to have been made public. Were the present owners unable to provide the authenticated documentation?

One of the major concerns for auction houses, galleries, museums and collectors is that the horse is known to have passed through the Basel market in 1967, well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Does this mean that countries such as Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey will step up their claims?

A spokesperson for Sotheby's responded:
While we are disappointed with yesterday's decision, it does not impact what is at the heart of this matter – there is, and remains, no evidence to support Greece's claim to ownership of the bronze sculpture.
Sotheby's can be expected to demonstrate conclusively that either the horse was found outside the present state of Greece, or the horse was exported from Greece with the relevant paperwork.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Coins in context



One of the conservators at the British Museum speaks about why it is important to treat coin hoards as part of an archaeological context.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Context Matters: Collating the Past

Context Matters is based on the twenty essays contributed to the Journal of Art Crime over its first ten years. They are supplemented by articles and review articles that were published alongside them. The chapters were written as museums in Europe and North America were facing a series of claims on recently acquired objects in their collections in the light of the photographic dossiers that had been seized from dealers in Switzerland and Greece. They engage with some of the recent debates over cultural property that include the Ka Ka Nefer mummy mask currently in the St Louis Art Museum, and the Leutwitz Apollo acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Two of the essays reflect on the recent and controversial metal-detecting finds in England, the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard. The volume contributes to the wider discussion about the appropriate due diligence process that should be conducted prior to the acquisition of archaeological material. 

Gill, D. W. J. 2020. Context matters: collating the past. ARCA. ISBN-13: 978-1734302615.





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Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Peter Sharrer and the Getty

It would be interesting to know the source of the Greek Neolithic figures (eleven in number) and vase fragments that the Getty acquired in 1995. They appear in the published list as "donated jointly by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman and Herbert L. Lucas". But the Getty's online catalogue tells that they were sold by Peter Sharrer Ancient Art of New York. 

Why the differing accounts? Are the listed donors just the people who paid the bills?

Lucas, incidentally, donated fragments for the krater attributed to the Berlin painter that the Getty returned to Italy.

Sharrer also sold a proto-Corinthian recumbent ram and a Corinthian lion rattle to the Getty in 1986, and a Minoan jar in 1990. Sharrer is also known to have purchased from Robin Symes, e.g. the portrait head of Faustina the Younger.

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Septimius Severus from Santa Maria Capua Vetere

It has been reported (by ARCA ) that a portrait of the emperor Septimius Severus that had been stolen from the Antiquarium of Santa Maria ...