Monday, 2 January 2023

2023: Looking Ahead

New York MMA
inv. L.2022.38.47

What stories are likely to dominate LM in 2023? The loan of the Leonard Stern collection of Cycladica to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is likely to draw considerable attention. How did the museum accept a loan of material that includes objects that are documented as having been derived from the Keros haul? How did the Greek authorities decline to lay claim to a figure identified from the Becchina archive? The authenticity of some of the items in the collection is likely to be a discussion point. Can material lacking any sort of reliable find-spot be used to contribute to our understanding of the past?

I suspect that we will be returning to the nature of due diligence. What actions need to be taken by auction-houses, galleries, museums and private collections to stop recently surfaced material entering the market and collections? 

The return to Turkey of one of the Bubon Roman imperial bronzes will no doubt bring claims on other pieces from this group: this includes material in New York, Cleveland, the Getty, and Copenhagen. The return of the Düver frieze fragment will probably also prompt Turkish authorities to press for the repatriation of other parts of the frieze now held in North American and European collections. These returns are a reminder that objects acquired prior to 1970 are no longer considered to be 'safe'.

I will be taking a look at a number of university collections to explore how they have acquired material that have had to be returned to Italy. How can such collections present a clearly articulated ethical standard?

Finally, it is likely that there will be renewed claims for the return of the architectural sculptures from the Parthenon. The return of some of the Benin bronzes have set a precedent for such repatriations. I will be looking at the nineteenth century acquisition of architectural sculptures as part of a conference to be held in the summer of 2023. 
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Thursday, 22 December 2022

Inadequate attributions and Cycladic figures

New York MMA
inv. L.2022.38.47
In 1993 Christopher Chippindale and I suggested that some of the attributions to Cycladic 'masters' (as they were then called) were inadequate as not a single piece was derived from a secure archaeological context. Subsequently, the Stafford master was removed from the attributions as key works were considered by Getz-Preziosi / Getz-Gentle to be modern works. In 2002 I returned to the theme of inadequate sculptors in a review of Getz-Gentle's Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture (2001) noting the introduction of two new entrants to the category (and both represented in the Leonard Stein collection of Cycladic figures): the Karlsruhe/Woodner sculptor and the Rodgers sculptor.

There are three figures attributed to the Rodgers sculptor. Two are reported to have surfaced from the same dealer, 'three years apart', and both were 'encrusted with similar hard deposits' (quotes from Getz-Gentle). One of the figures was in an anonymous North American private collection (NAC no. 52; acq. 1975) and the other in the Stern collection (and previously in the Rodgers collection; acq. 1972). The Stern figure had been reported as being derived 'from English coll., after World War II' though Getz-Gentle qualified this with the dismissive, 'information I distrust'. The third figure is in the Museum of Cycladic Art (inv. 282: Doumas no. 223). Although Getz-Gentle notes 'find-place unknown', Doumas suggested the 'possible' findspot of Koufonisia. This figure was described by Colin Renfrew as achieving 'a rhythmic effect in the curving outlines of the head, shoulders, upper arms, thighs, and calves' (Cycladic Spirit p. 86, pl. 57). No further information is provided by Aegean Waves (no. 24).

The Stern figure appears in the Homecoming exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art (no. 13) where it is attributed (inaccurately), along with the Athens figure, to the Rodgers master

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Wednesday, 21 December 2022

Christos Doumas on Cycladic Forgeries

New York MMA
inv. L.2022.38.49
An interview with archaeologist Christos Doumas was published earlier this week. The focus was on the 15 items from the Leonard Stern collection that went on display in the Homecoming exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art. Doumas raised questions about the authenticity of some of the figures. When pressed by the journalist he thought that at least 4 or 5 of the figures (out of 10!) were likely to be fakes. (Only one is identified: the Late Neolithic figure [no. 1], though it should be remembered that Getz-Gentle does illustrate this in Personal Styles, pl. 2. The Homecoming catalogue notes, 'It belongs to a type that has not yet been identified among Aegean marble figurines of the Neolithic period'.) Doumas based his view on fakes on the type of marble that was used. He raised the issue why there had not been a panel formed to help authenticate the figures in the Stern collection. 

This raises questions about other figures in the Stern collection especially in the light of recent revelations about the forging of Cycladic figures. 

How will the curators at the Museum of Cycladic Art and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art respond to Doumas' concerns? There is likely to be unease that accepting all the Stern figures as authentic has the potential of corrupting the corpus of knowledge for Cycladic figurines. 

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Homecoming and the Stern Collection

New York MMA inv. L.2022.38.22


The Keros Haul is considered to be a notorious example of looting in the Cyclades and in the publication—co-published with the Museum of Cycladic Art—is a figure formerly  in the New York collection of Ian Woodner and now in the collection of Leonard Stern (New York MMA inv. L.2022.38.22). The Stern figure appears in the Keros catalogue (no. 170), and while this publication is referenced in the Homecoming catalogue published by the Museum of Cycladic Art (no. 11) there is no explicit mention that the figure came from the haul. One wonders why this part of the object's history has been suppressed. It is, in fact, one of several pieces in the Stern collection that was derived from Keros.

The figure is attributed by Getz-Preziosi/Getz-Gentle to the Kalrsruhe/Woodner sculptor (/master). The Stern/Woodner figure was paired in Early Cycladic Sculpture (1985) with a figure in the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe:
Nearly identical in length and exceptionally large, the two figures share a number of characteristics whose combined presence cannot have been fortuitous even though they differ in obvious ways.
The Karlsruhe figure was subsequently returned to Greece. What is stopping the Greek authorities from requesting the return of the Stern/Woodner figure? Instead they have accepted it as a temporary loan and recognise the validity of the long-term loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

The third figure attributed to this sculptor is in the Museum of Cycladic Art (inv. 724) and is reported to have been found 'in a cave' on Keros. Not one of the three figures has a secure archaeological context.

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Tuesday, 20 December 2022

Funerary stele returned to Greece

Stele revealed at the Epigraphic Museum
Athens
It is reported that today, December 20, 2022, that a funerary stele for one Epikrates has been returned to Greece. The stele is stated that it was due to have been offered through Christie's in London (December 2021) but was identified from three photographs in the Becchina archive and was withdrawn after intervention by the Art Squad of the Metropolitan Police. Incidentally, the stele was said to have been handled by Koutoulakis, a name that should have raised concerns. 

These three photographs were considered to be sufficient evidence for the return. (I am grateful to Christos Tsirogiannis for sharing the images with me.) Yet, when photographs of a Cycladic figure were identified with a piece residing in the Stern Collection there appears to have been a reluctance for the Greek authorities to seek the immediate return. Indeed there is currently an exhibition, 'Homecoming', at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens that contains 15 Cycladic pieces from the Stern Collection. I understand that questions relating to this inconsistency of policy were asked at the press conference today but were deflected by the Minister. 

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Saturday, 10 December 2022

The Forger's Tale


Our latest study on forgeries and the corpus of Cycladic figures is now available from the International Journal of Cultural Property.

Tsirogiannis, C., D. W. J. Gill, and C. Chippindale. 2022. "The Forger’s tale: An insider’s account of corrupting the corpus of Cycladic figures." International Journal of Cultural Property: 1-17 [Web].

Abstract

Many of the known Cycladic figures – the late prehistoric human-shaped sculptures from the Aegean archipelago – came from twentieth-century illicit excavations, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. It is also known that figures were being faked at the time and perhaps also earlier: a few fakes have been identified, whilst other figures are under suspicion. Interviews with a man who faked Cycladic figures in the 1980s and 1990s give us a first insider’s autobiographical account of the forging business. This article offers, step-by-step, the method that two forgers developed to create fake figures, to treat them so that they appeared ancient, and to sell them on. The forger has identified a few of these forgeries from photographs of figures; his story is consistent with other information and seems to ring true. By verifying various elements in the forger’s testimony – from names of well-known figures in the modern antiquities market to small details and dates – we have been able to evaluate the validity of the narrative; to use it in order to uncover the true paths that fake objects followed into various collections; and to highlight valuable provenance information that no one involved in trading these objects was ever willing to provide.

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Monday, 5 December 2022

UK Prime Minister's Position on Parthenon Sculptures Clarified

Part of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum © David Gill


The British Museum is reported to be in an advanced state of discussion with the Greek authorities over the architectural sculptures originally created for the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis (Katie Razzall, "Deal to return Elgin Marbles to Greece at advanced stage - reports", BBC News December 3, 2022). Discussions have been taking place between George Osborne, the chair of the British Museum, and Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek Prime Minister. More recent reports suggest that agreement is far from close ("Greece, Britain discussing Parthenon Marbles return but deal not close", ekathimerini.com December 5, 2022). It notes the UK Government position:
Asked about British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s position on their return, a spokesman said Britain had no plans to change laws which prevent removing objects from the collection apart from in certain circumstances. 
 “Our position on this hasn’t changed. Decisions relating to the care and management of the collections are a matter for the museum and its trustees,” the spokesman said.
It should be remembered that the UK Government compiled a substantial report on the Parthenon sculptures. This is discussed in:
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2002. "The trade in looted antiquities and the return of cultural property: a British parliamentary inquiry." International Journal of Cultural Property 11: 50-64. [DOI]
The sculptures form an integral part of the main temple that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site

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2023: Looking Ahead

New York MMA inv. L.2022.38.47 What stories are likely to dominate LM in 2023? The loan of the Leonard Stern collection of Cycladica to New ...