Thursday 30 August 2007

"Demonstrably stolen": where does the burden of proof lie?

Sir John Boardman (in Eleanor Robson et al. [eds.], Who Owns Objects [2006]) recently suggested that current legislation over the protection of cultural property has created:
"The denial of the right of persons or museums to acquire antiquities which are not demonstrably stolen or the result of plunder, since most are only so deemed, not proved."
What does he mean? Does somebody have to be present at the time the archaeological site is raided?

Nigel Spivey has pointed out the problem with that course of action by quoting Professor Mauro Cristofani.
"And what will you do ... when staring down the barrel of a sub-machine gun?"
Is it enough to have photographs or Polaroids of, say, Athenian red-figured pots that are still covered in dirt? Does that imply that the objects were fresh out of the ground? And, if they were not excavated by archaeologists, can they be considered to have been "demonstrably stolen"?

Or what about a site where the bases of statues survive in situ but the bronze sculptures have been removed - and form part of museum and private collections? Have they been "demonstrably stolen"?

So if an archaeological object appears in an auction house, gallery, museum or private collection without any previous history we can be suspicious. Research by Chippindale and Gill pointed out this phenomenon for two private North American collections: Shelby White and Leon Levy; Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman.

The fact that the Italian government has been been able to make the case for the return of some of the Fleischman material (now in the Getty) underlines the point. And the Italian government is reported to have made approaches to Shelby White.

Were the Fleischmans and White/Levy wise to acquire antiquities which could not be shown to have been in circulation before the 1970 UNESCO Convention? Perhaps the question to ask is this: were they badly advised?

This debate is not about denying rights. It is about protecting cultural property.

Legless in Boston: reunited in Antalya?

One of the striking pieces of sculpture in the exhibition, Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, was a marble "Statue of Herakles resting, perhaps contemplating Telephos" (no. 172). It seemed to be a second century CE copy of a fourth century BCE statue.

Unusually there were two owners. The sculpture was partly owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1981.783), and partly by Leon Levy.

The catalogue statued that Boston had been presented with this part of the fragmentary statue in 1981 by the Jerome Levy Foundation (established by Leon Levy). However this has now been clarified:
"Gift of Leon Levy and Shelby White and Museum purchase with funds donated by the Jerome Levy Foundation, 1981"

Although the exhibition catalogue provided no hint of a find-spot, it did speculate,
"The Levy statue (or group ...) might have stood in a small public building, such as an urban bouleuterion, or a gymnasium-bath complex ..."
The Herakles is incomplete. The lower part is missing. And we know where the legs are - the museum catalogue tells us:
"The lower part of this statue, now in the Antalya Museum, was excavated in the South Baths at Perge".

So when did the Levy Herakles torso surface? Again the museum presents the evidence:
"By 1981: with Mohammad Yeganeh, Bundenweg 7, 6000 Frankfurt/Main (said to be from his mother’s collection and before that from a dealer in Germany about 1950); half interest purchased by MFA (with funds provided by the Jerome Levy Foundation) from Mohammad Yeganeh, December 30, 1981; remaining half interest owned by Leon Levy and Shelby White; remaining half interest gift from Shelby White to MFA, January 21, 2004"

So in other words we are asked to believe that this torso was in the hands of "a dealer in Germany about 1950". There is clearly no certified documentation or the museum would not have used the telling phrase "said to be ..."

The legs were excavated at Perge in southern Turkey in 1980 (see short report). A three-dimensional model of the legs has now been created, in part to demonstrate the link. In 1992 a cast of the lower part of the body was shown to fit with the Levy torso (details given in Walter Robinson, "Getting to the bottom of split statue", Boston Globe, December 27, 1998 [archived]).

Fifteen wearisome years have gone by and the only changes to note are:
a. The MFA accepts that the Levy torso and the Perge legs come from the same statue.

b. The MFA now owns the Levy torso outright.
A due-diligence procedure (presumably what is published on the MFA website) shows that the secure trail ceases in 1981 when the upper part of the statue passed from the hands of Mohammad Yeganeh to the joint ownership of the MFA and Leon Levy. Is it a coincidence that the legs were discovered just one year before? Is the "word of mouth" evidence compelling enough to believe that the Levy torso was around in Germany in the 1950s? After all, one of the lessons from the antiquities returned from Boston to Italy in 2006 was that histories were indeed fabricated.

Could there be an alternative view? Could the torso have been found around 1980 but then bundled across international frontiers to surface in Frankfurt?

The MFA now has the opportunity to reunite the two halves of this statue. If we accept that this Herakles forms part of the "Glories of the Past", we also need to acknowledge that the intention of its sculptor was for it to be viewed and enjoyed as a complete work of art.

Has the time come for a reassessment of the MFA's position?

Wednesday 29 August 2007

Looting in Bulgaria

I was enjoying my post-lunch cup of tea while reading the paper. As I moved into the world section I noticed colour images of gold plate from the famous Panagyurishte Treasure found by chance in 1946 and now in the Plovdiv Archaeological Museum, Bulgaria. The piece by Malcolm Moore was about looting: "Tomb raiders strip Bulgaria of its treasures" (August 29, 2007).

There are some startling figures (for what they are worth):

a. "Tomb-raiding" in Bulgaria is worth an estimated £4 billion a year.

b. 16,000 artefacts have been seized since October 2006.

c. An estimated 30,000 individuals are involved in "tomb-raiding".

d. One consignment of 100 antiquities was intercepted in a lorry heading for Germany last Friday (August 24).

However it was reassuring to find that this "blog" had got there first on one issue, The Stanford Place Dish. Moore reports:

"Last November, Christie's in London was forced to withdraw a Byzantine plate after a complaint from the Bulgarian government. It was claimed that the silver plate, had been found in 1903, but it was actually dug up in 1999, according to Naiden Blagnev, a treasure hunter."

What other Bulgarian treasures will emerge? How can the archaeology be preserved?

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Apulian pots and the missing memorandum

One of the most important studies of the scale of looting in Southern Italy has been conducted by Professor Ricardo Elia of Boston University ("Analysis of the looting, selling, and collecting of Apulian red-figure vases: a quantitative approach." In Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world's archaeological heritage, edited by N. Brodie, J. Doole, and C. Renfrew, pp. 145-53. Cambridge: McDonald Institute, 2001). Elia quantified the recent surfacing of Apulian pottery and suggested that perhaps as little as 5.5% of the corpus had come from scientific excavations. (Compare this with the figure for Cycladic marble figures where some 85% of the funerary record of the Early Bronze Age has been lost, i.e. only 15% either came from scientific excavations or had been provided with some sort of reported find-spot.)

Elia's study was cited as the first of three case studies --- the other two were on Cycladic figures and hoards of Greek coins --- in the final report of The Illicit Trade Advisory Panel. This panel, chaired by Professor Norman Palmer, reported to the UK Government's Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Its role was 'to advise on how the UK can prevent and prohibit the illicit trade in cultural objects'.

In the report the conclusions of Prof Elia were 'contested' by a named British archaeologist 'in written comments circulated to the Panel'. Such comments may have influenced the Panel to think Elia's comments were too high (though they are in keeping with the figures emerging from our own research) - and they certainly gave encouragement to the collector George Ortiz. In the published version of his 2004 Oxford lecture, Ortiz ("Overview and assessment after fifty years of collecting in a changing world." In Who owns objects? The ethics and politics of collecting cultural artefacts, edited by E. Robson, L. Treadwell, and L. Gosden, pp. 15-32. Oxford: Oxbow, 2006) notes with approval the dissenting voice and comments,
'A difference of opinion is one thing but, with respect to archaeology, there is total cleavage, with the successful attempt of the few to mobilise public opinion resulting in the present legislation'.

It would be interesting to read this refutation of Elia's sensible and careful research. A request to see this document met with a blank: the committee had apparently failed to keep a copy and one was not available from the secretariat of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The museum curator had unfortunately replaced his computer. So there is, reportedly, no copy.

Neil Brodie, who had separately tried to secure a copy of the document, has recently (in Who owns objects? The ethics and politics of collecting cultural artefacts, edited by E. Robson, L. Treadwell, and L. Gosden) made the forceful comment:
'if there is information that potentially refutes Elia’s work, normal academic protocol would suggest that it should either be released into the public domain for critical review or else excluded from consideration'.

Was the Panel keen to play down looting in Apulia?

I hope that there were no conflicts of interest. I note that on the gallery website of one of the Panel members is an Apulian red-figured dish, attributed to 'the Lampas painter', which had resided in a 'Private Collection, Switzerland'; it came to public attention as a loan to Le Musee d'Art et Histoire in Geneva (April-August 1986). It has now been sold.

And if anybody has a copy of the missing memorandum ...

For further comments on these issues:
D.W.J. Gill, review of Robson, E., L. Treadwell, and L. Gosden. Editors. 2006. Who owns objects? The ethics and politics of collecting cultural artefacts. Oxford: Oxbow; and Brodie, N., M. M. Kersel, C. Luke, and K. W. Tubb. Editors. 2006. Archaeology, cultural heritage, and the antiquities trade. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. In Journal of Field Archaeology 32.1 (2007) 103-06.

Friday 24 August 2007

Coins and Cyprus: Listening to the Coin Forum

Recently I suggested that there was much "huff and puff" in the discussion over the issue to include coins in the treaty with Cyprus.

I am glad to see that there is commonsense coming from the Coin Forum ("US imposes restrictions on importing Cypriot coins", on July 18, 2007):

"Trying to demonize the archeologists, museum people, and governments of source countries who genuinely believe that private ownership of old coins and artifacts leads to the destruction of historical sites and historical knowledge just turns people off, I believe. There are grains of truth in their arguments, even if their argument as a whole are wrong. We need to be credible. We're the good guys. Right now we're losing the debate and being seen as the bad guys."

Can we stick to the issues?

What are the material and intellectual consequences of collecting? That is where the debate lies.

Thursday 23 August 2007

Coins and Cyprus

There have been various unhelpful comments circulating about the decision to include coins in the agreement with Cyprus.

There was a public invitation to comment posted by the Archaeological Institute of America on January 28, 2007:

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of State is asking for additional public comment on the inclusion of ancient coins in the Cypriot request for import restrictions

I was one of those who wrote to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (on January 31, 2007) concerning this issue. (For the AIA response.)

In the interest of transparency I include the core of my letter here:

I am writing to comment on the issue of whether ancient coins should be included as part of the agreement between the US and Cyprus. ...

It is clear that a considerable amount of newly surfaced archaeological material appearing in sale rooms and galleries (our research suggests a figure of some 85-90 per cent) has no previous history. Ancient coins, whether found in hoards or from stratified contexts on archaeological sites, hold key information about dating, trade and cultural contact. The breaking up of coin hoards prevents scholars from understanding the full range of coins which were buried together; it also needs to be said that a hoard which surfaces on the market lacks integrity. A coin removed in an unscientific way from a stratified deposit is no more than a collector’s item and its value as a chronological marker has been lost.

There is the suggestion that the finding of such coins is a random process. Although surface finds may be a small part of the story, the number of coins emerging on the market suggests that there may be a targeting of recorded and unrecorded archaeological sites to provide material for collectors and museums. On an island like Cyprus there is a finite archaeological resource. Failure to include coins in the proposed agreement could mean that archaeological sites were dug over, stratigraphy destroyed and knowledge lost for ever; hunting for coins has implications for the archaeological remains covered by the agreement.

I would urge you in the strongest possible terms to include coins as part of the agreement. Failure to do so could remove the protection from the other types of archaeological objects already covered.

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Keros and Katonah

At the end of 2006 the Katonah Museum of Art hosted an exhibition, "Ancient Art of the Cyclades".

It was noted, "It is only the fourth museum exhibition in the United States devoted to Cycladic art, and only the second to draw exclusively on objects in American collections".

Christopher Chippindale and I have discussed in detail elsewhere the material and intellectual consequences of collecting Cycladic figures. And the museum was clearly aware of the issues.

Neil Watson, Executive Director of the Museum, wrote:
"Given the red-hot controversy and quagmire of ownership issues regarding antiquities, which have been consistently in the world news, it becomes clear just how indebted we are to the many lenders."
The Guest Curator, Pat Getz-Gentle, is more frank:
"At a time when museums and collectors of antiquities have been castigated in the press, these institutions and individuals have made it possible to enrich the experience of Cycladic art for those already familiar with it and to cultivate a new interest among those who come to the exhibition with little more than fresh eyes and an open mind."
So one would think that the museum would try to avoid being controversial.

Yet some thirteen marble figures in the exhibition are linked (some, to be fair, are given a "?" designation) to the notorious "Keros haul" - sometimes misleadingly called a "hoard" - that was removed from Greece.

The Katonah / Keros haul material consists of:
a. Tampa Museum of Art 2005.010. Gift of the Sahlman family. Formerly in the Mr & Mrs C.W. Sahlman collection and on loan to the Tampa Museum (in 1987); exhibited at the Safani Gallery, New York (in 1983). (Cat. no. 12 = NAC no. 88)

b. Private collection. "Ex French private collection (acquired early 1960s or before)". (Cat. no. 20)

c. The Art Institute of Chicago, Katherine K. Adler Endowment, 1978.115. (Cat. no. 21 = NAC no. 38)

d. Private collection "(acquired 1968)". Formerly in "Switzerland, Private Collection I" [in 1977]. (Cat. no. 22 = ACC no. 211 = Sotirakopolou no. 182)

e. Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, 2003.11.2. Formerly in the Mathias Komor collection, New York; Mathilda Goldman collection; sold at Sotheby's New York, December 11, 2002, lot 10. (Cat. no. 29)

f. Indiana University Art Museum, Collection of Diether Thimme, 98.234. Acquired by Thimme in the 1970s. (Cat. no. 31)

g. Private collection. Formerly in "Switzerland, Private Collection I" [in 1977]; "Acquired in 1977". (Cat. no. 32 = ACC no. 201)

h. Indiana University Art Museum, Collection of Diether Thimme, 98.226. (Cat. no. 33)

i. Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, Friends of Art Fund, 1971, 71.30. (Cat. no. 34)

j. Private collection. (Cat. no. 35)

k. Lewis Dubroff collection. Formerly in the Norman Colville collection ("acquired 1961"). (Cat. no. 36)

l. Tampa Museum of Art 2005.010. Gift of the Sahlman family. (Cat. no. 38 = Sotirakopolou no. 249)

m. Indiana University Art Museum, Collection of Diether Thimme, 98.338. (Cat. no. 41)
Ancient Art of the Cyclades has achieved one thing: to demonstrate that the issue of looting and the Cyclades is very much a "red-hot" issue. We must thank Neil Watson and his team for reminding us.

Getz-Gentle, P. 2006. Ancient Art of the Cyclades. New York: Katonah Museum of Art.
Getz-Preziosi, P. 1987. Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections. Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. (Cited as NAC)
Sotirakopoulou, P. 2005. The "Keros Hoard": Myth or Reality? Searching for the Lost Pieces of a Puzzle. Athens: N.P. Goulandris Foundation - Museum of Cycladic Art. [Museum bookshop]
Thimme, J. Editor. 1977. Art and Culture of the Cyclades: Handbook of an Ancient Civilisation. Karlsruhe: C.F. Müller. (Cited as ACC)

See also Gill and Chippindale on the material and intellectual consequences of collecting Cycladic figures (including a review of Sotirakopoulou).

Borowski and Boston

The recent focus of the antiquities market has been on Robert Hecht and Giacomo Medici. But other characters feature on the infamous organigram (conveniently reproduced in The Medici Conspiracy). Among them is the name of Dr Elie Borowski.

I happened to notice his name against two Sicilian pots that now form part of the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Both were acquired in 1970. Both were purchases from the Arthur Tracy Cabot Fund (acc. nos. 1970.478, 1970.479; cat. nos. 150 and 151). Both are of Centuripe Ware a type which the museum catalogue notes:
"Most examples of this ware have been found in the area around Centuripe, a small town in eastern Sicily, where they were apparently made. The vases are usually found in tombs, sometimes in contexts suggesting production in the third century B.C."
The printed museum catalogue does not provide their source (or mention Borowski), but the MFA website states that both were purchased on May 13, 1970 from "Elie Borowski, Angensteinerstrasse 7, Basel, Switzerland". Neither has an earlier history. Neither appears to be published prior to 1970; the first publication for both is in the MFA Annual Report.

Should we be suspicious?

Yes, given that Borowski's name appeared in the organigram. If this lekanis and bell-krater were indeed removed from a grave (and their near complete nature suggests that as the most likely context) when did this take place?

Borowski had a long-standing link with the MFA. Among the items which were purchased from or given by him (before, it should be stressed, the 1970 UNSECO Convention) were:
a. A bronze votive bull. 67.743. Gift. "said to come from the Kabeirion, Thebes".

b. Two silver heads of goddesses. 58.395 and 58.396. Purchase. "found [together] at Tarentum".

c. A LHIIIC amphoroid krater. 59.710. Purchase. Allegedly from a grave on Salamis (Attica), Greece.
The "triangulation" of the last piece is intesting as it was allegedly found with another krater in Frankfurt (CVA, Deutschland 25, Frankfurt 1, under p. 11, pl. 3): "Aus dem Kunsthandel 1959 erworben"; "Der Krater wurde angeblich auf Salamis (Attika) gefunden". A third krater, also from the same grave is reported to be in the Kestner-Museum in Hannover (and mentioned in my forthcoming review of the CVA for Hannover in The Journal of Hellenic Studies where other suspicious histories and find-spots are noted; for Hannover see also "Wartime Loot").

Where else does the Borowski trail lead?


J. Michael Padgett et al., Vase-painting in Italy: Red-figure and Related Works in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1993)

Tuesday 21 August 2007

Due diligence and the auction houses

We have been talking about "due diligence" and collecting institutions, but what about due diligence and auction houses / galleries / dealers?

The return of the Middle Kingdom duck to Egypt after it had surfaced at Christie's in New York is something to be celebrated. But if Christie's had conducted some research and contacted the Egyptian authorities would they have spotted that the duck had been stolen before Interpol had "got on the case"?

But is this the first time that excavated material has been stolen and resurfaced at Christie's?

Take the Corinth theft. Several pieces stolen from the Archaeological Museum at Corinth popped up at Christie's: "The Property of an American Private Collector". (Three pieces were subsequently bought by Royal Athena Galleries and one was placed in the gallery's sale catalogue.)

Such lots suggest that there is no rigorous process of "due diligence".

And then it struck me. Have members of staff at Christie's (and other dealers and galleries) contacted the Italian authorities to check potential lots against items which feature in the Polaroids from the Geneva Freeport?

Monday 20 August 2007

Can there be a "licit" trade in antiquities?

Derek Fincham has responded to my comments on due diligence.

Essentially we are both reacting to John Henry Merryman's essay, "A Licit International Trade in Cultural Objects" (2005; originally published in 2004).

Can there be a licit trade?

Where are the objects with secure histories?

Here are some possible sources:

a. De-accessioned material from museums. Take, for example, the Apulian column-krater attributed to the Laterza painter that was given to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by Thomas G. Appleton in 1876 (Acc. no. 76.66 = Padgett, no. 35). This was sold at Sotheby's New York on December 11, 2002 (lot 62) for US$10,158.

b. Documented old collections. The Sotheby's New York December 9, 2004 sale included several Apulian pots from the William Randolph Hearst collection; some could be traced back to the collection "owned" by the Chapter of Durham Cathedral (England).

c. Excavated material that has left the country of origin through partage. Part of Sir Henry Wellcome's collection of Egyptian antiquities was formed in this way. (See D.W.J. Gill, "From Wellcome Museum to Egypt Centre: displaying Egyptology in Swansea," Göttinger Miszellen 205 (2005) 47-54.) The Middle Kingdom blue faience hippopotamus in the George Ortiz collection was excavated in 1907 from tomb 416 at Abydos. It had then passed into the collection of the Revd William MacGregor.

For a "licit" trade to work there needs to be:

a. Authenticated documentation. The material that will be returned to Italy from the Getty includes items that are said to come from named "old" collections - but that information appears to have been falsified (presumably by one of the vendors in the chain). (This will be discussed by Gill and Chippindale in the next number of IJCP which is now in press.) [UPDATE: Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40.]

b. Integrity. Can we trust the word of the dealer? I am sure there are decent dealers out there but the honest ones have to recognise that some of their colleagues have not been helping to enhance their image. Why did Sotheby's stop selling antiquities in London? See Peter Watson's Sotheby's, the Inside Story (London: Bloomsbury, 1997) for some of the possible reasons.

But is there a pool of antiquities out there?

My study of 1300 lots of Egyptian antiquities sold at auction at Sotheby's New York over the last 10 years suggests that perhaps only some 30% of the objects are documented before 1973 (i.e. before the Archaeological Institute of America's resolution that brought the problem of looting to the attention of a wider public).

And what are the sources for the other 70% of Egyptian antiquities? Can we be sure that they have surfaced on the market by "licit" means? Can responsible public institutions buy Egyptian antiquities which they cannot be certain were known before the 1970 UNESCO Convention? And "due diligence" only works when you can trust the documentation that is provided by the vendor - and that is where thorough research steps in.

What about long-term loans?

Finally, Finch raises the idea of long-term loans. Kevin Butcher and I mentioned this as an idea in our review article of the first few numbers of Minerva: K. Butcher and D. W. J. Gill, "Mischievous pastime or historical science?" Antiquity 64 (1990) 946-50. Our model at the time was the impressive Emory University exhibition programme that included material from Syracuse. But loans are different to "a licit international trade".

Gospel of Judas

Driving home this evening I listened to the BBC Radio 4 discussion of 'The Gospel of Judas' on 'Beyond Belief'.

The 'Gospel' has been brought to us courtesy of National Geographic.

And as I listened to the debate I could not help thinking that this was a 'classic' sequence of looted material with some of the well-known walk-on parts (this sequence is based on National Geographic):

a. Some sources say the Codex 'surfaced' around 1970. Always a good date to cite - 1970 UNESCO Convention.

b. It is reported that it was found at El-Minya in Egypt.

c. In 1978 the Codex was sold to a Cairo dealer.

d. Around 1980 the Codex was stolen and left Egypt. It was recovered with the help of a Swiss dealer. (No account would be complete without Switzerland as a setting.)

e. In 1984 the Codex was deposited in Hicksville, New York.

f. In 2000 the Codex was purchased by the Swiss-based dealer, Frida Nussberger-Tchacos. (She handled some of the material which the Getty is returning to Italy.) See also Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino, 'Judas Gospel Figure Has Tainted Past. A dealer credited with 'rescuing' the document allegedly played a major role in the looting of antiquities. She received a suspended sentence', LA Times April 13, 2006.

g. The 'ownership' of the Codex was transferred to the wonderfully-named 'Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art', based in Basel.

And we can look forward to the display of Codex Tchacos in the Cairo Museum. (The ambiguous naming is after Frida's father.)

Coins, cabals ... and huff and puff

There is "said to be" a conspiracy.

Apparently there is a secret "cabal" consisting of organisations such as the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the Republic of Cyprus, and The United States Department of State (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) - and into this clandestine group fall several distinguished scholars.

This alleged grouping is reported to be using "stealth tactics" in its "stealth war on collecting".

Indeed, we are told, this conspiracy is serious:

"This development should concern not only coin collectors, but also every American citizen who values his or her personal freedom. Big Brother is watching you, and Big Brother does not like collecting."

Does anybody believe this nonsense?

The AIA makes its position on antiquities (including coins) quite clear. It publishes its views on its public website.

The US State Department does the same.

Scholars publish their ideas which then fall into the public domain.

So who puts out these unhelpful ideas?

David Welsh in his blog on "Stealth Unidroit: the State Department’s War Against Collecting".

And who is David Welsh?

He tells us, "an early and active supporter of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, for which he chairs the International Affairs Committee, and has become well known as a collectors’ rights activist".

Please could unfounded and misleading alarmism be removed from the debate?

Saturday 18 August 2007

Due diligence at the St Louis Art Museum

I have recently commented on John H. Merryman's support for "due-diligence" procedures and expressed my reservations.

I noticed that this was the phrase used by The Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) concerning their acquisition of a 19th Dynasty Egyptian mummy mask known as Ka-Nefer-Nefer.

"The dealer provided detailed, documented provenance on this important Egyptian antiquity. The Museum then conducted its own additional research and diligence." [Press release, "Saint Louis Art Museum Calls on Egyptian Official to Disclose Documents Supporting Mummy Mask Allegations", May 12, 2006]

So what is this due diligence?

The History of the Mask: the St Louis view
The mask was purchased by SLAM from Phoenix Ancient Art in Geneva, Switzerland. The press release noted, "The dealer provided detailed, documented provenance on this important Egyptian antiquity." This was then checked, "The Museum independently verified the mask's known ownership history".

Details of the history according to the museum have been published in The Riverfront Times based in St Louis (Malcolm Gay, "Out of Egypt", Riverfront Times, February 15, 2006; see also the BBC.)

The sequence is as follows:
a. Excavated at Saqqara in early 1952 by Mohammed Zakaria Goneim (d. 1959), then chief inspector of antiquities. [Photo]

It is then asserted:
b. The mask was given to an official associated with the excavations. There appears to be no paperwork to support this. (Indeed Goneim in his report, The Buried Pyramid (1956), thanked the Department of Antiquities of the Egyptian Government, Cairo. The implication is that at the time of going to press the mask was in a government store.)

The following sequence is based on documentation provided by Phoenix Ancient Art:
c. Mask seen in 1952 at an antiquities dealer in Brussels. This depends on the testimony of a Swiss national, Charly Mathez made in February 1997. SLAM contacted Mathez in 1999 but he could not remember the details or the name of the gallery. Could he really be certain that the mask he claimed to see in Brussels 45 years earlier was indeed the same one?
d. Mask purchased "by a private collector" in approximately 1962 ("ten years later"). This is named as the "Kaloterna Collection".
e. The private collector sold the mask to "an unnamed Swiss citizen, in whose private collection it would remain for 40 years". It is noted that the "Swiss collector requested anonymity". The Riverfront Times identified the individual as "Zuzi Jelinek of 84 Quai de Cologny, Geneva, Switzerland"; they confirmed that a "Suzana Jelinek-Ronkuline" lived at that address. (Her son is said to have offered the information that the Aboutaam brothers once rented a property on Quai de Cologny belonging to his mother. The Riverfront Times then reported, "Hicham Aboutaam directed the Riverfront Times to a woman identifying herself as Suzana Jelinek, of Zagreb, Croatia. 'I bought the mask many many years ago, and I sold it many many years ago,' says Suzana Jelinek when reached at her Zagreb home. 'I have so many things in my collection that my children don't know what all I have.'")
f. The mask was sold to Phoenix Ancient Art in 1997.
g. The mask was exhibited at the Museum of Art and History in Geneva.
h. The mask was sold to SLAM by Phoenix Ancient Art in 1998 for some US$499,000.

The History of the Mask: Zahi Hawass' view
Zahi Hawass, Secretary-General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, has presented an alternative view ("Dr. Hawass Calls for Return of Stolen Artifact", press release)

a. The mask was excavated in early 1952.
b. The mask was placed in the store at Saqqara (and listed there in 1959). (Hawass rejects the idea that finds were given to the Egyptian excavators.)
c. The store was entered illegally and objects stolen in the late 1980s.
d. The mask was sold by Phoenix Ancient Art to SLAM in 1998.

Hawass set a deadline of May 15, 2006 for the return of the mask which remains in SLAM.

Where does the case go from here?
It seems that there is agreement that the mask was found at Saqqara in early 1952.

Was the piece placed in the excavation store and then stolen? Can we trust the testimony of the Swiss national who claimed, 45 years later, that he had seen that very mask in Brussels? How secure is the documentation presented to SLAM by Phoenix Ancient Art? Whose account can be deemed to be the more reliable?

Hawass seems to have made a strong case. We continue to watch the case.

Friday 17 August 2007

"Due-diligence procedures are not enough to satisfy them"

John H. Merryman (in Kate Fitz Gibbon [ed.], Who Owns the Past? [2005]; the original publication of the essay was in 2004) has recently turned his attention to "The Archaeologists' Crusade". In particular he observed:
"Archaeologists have intensified the antiquities problem by demanding that museums, collectors, and the art market acquire only properly documented objects. Elaborate due-diligence procedures are not enough to satisfy them. These Crusaders presume that an antiquity that is not fully and properly documented is illicit: guilty, in other words, until proved innocent" (p. 278).
So which museum provides the model for "due-diligence procedures"?

The J. Paul Getty Museum.

And the curator cited (p. 287 n. 11) is Dr Marion True.

Merryman continues:
"At a private international conference held at the [Getty] museum in 1989, archaeologists attacked the Getty procedure as disingenuous. They insisted that an antiquity that was not fully and properly documented be treated as illicit. Eventually the museum, for institutional reasons, adopted that position, and a number of other museums in Europe and the United States have followed suit".
But wait a minute.

So this "due-diligence procedure" allowed the Getty Museum to acquire the Fleischman collection - and part of it is now about to be returned to Italy. (See my earlier comments.)

If the Getty affair has taught us anything, it is that archaeologists were right to be sceptical about the "due-diligence procedures".

But what about the accusation that undocumented antiquities are considered to be "illicit" - or to use Merryman's word, "guilty". Christopher Chippindale and I had pointed to "problems" with the Fleischman collection before the returns were announced. There were few recorded find-spots, and few histories that could be traced to the period before 1973. (See my earlier comments.)

History now teaches us that lack of documentation for these Fleischman antiquities was indeed significant: indeed significant enough for the Getty to hand the objects back to Italy.

Does Merryman need to revise his now flawed position?

"Private collectors are a potential threat to our cultural heritage"

There has been a suggestion in Current Archaeology that "there are many benefits to having a thriving background of private collectors" within the context of the British Archaeology.

I disagree.

Current Archaeology (Number 211, Sept/Oct 2007, p. 49) has published my response in which I use the illustration of the "Icklingham Bronzes" looted from Suffolk (UK). The North American private collectors were Shelby White and Leon Levy who acquired them through the Ariadne Galleries in New York. (See memorandum from Neil Brodie presented to the UK Department of Culture Media and Sport.)

The bronze "Portrait Head of a Youth" which I cite was displayed in the Harvard University Art Museums exhibition, The Fire of Hephaistos (1996) no. 31. The "provenance" (i.e. find-spot) is given there as "Found in Suffolk, in southeastern England; purchased in 1988".

The catalogue entry laments, "Unfortunately, we have no way of discovering more about this youth with tousled hair, what his body looked like, what his pose was, nor even the material of the body to which this bronze head was originally attached".

Too right: the looters got there before the archaeologists. The archaeological context has been lost for good. It cannot be retrieved.

David M. Wilson, the then director of the British Museum, noted the fiction that the "Icklingham Bronzes" "had been brought out of England in the 1940s and had then been in a Swiss private collection" before surfacing in the New York gallery in 1988 (The British Museum: Purpose and Politics (1989), p. 34).

Perhaps Shelby White can understand why archaeologists consider private collectors are a potential threat to our cultural heritage.

The chariot from Monteleone di Spoleto

Dr Jerome Eisenberg has issued a press statement announcing his view that the Etruscan chariot in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no. 03.23.1) is a forgery (see short announcement).

The find-spot is recorded in the new catalogue for the Met (C.A. Picón, J. R. Mertens, E. J. Milleker, C. S. Lightfoot, and S. Hemingway, Art of the Classical world in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Creece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007.).

"In 1902, a landowner working on his property accidentally discovered a subterranean built tomb covered by a tumulus (mound). His investigations revealed the remains of a parade chariot ..." (no. 323).

The find-spot is given as: "Found near Monteleone di Spoleto in 1902".

Is this a reminder that even historic "find-spots" can be misleading? What other "objects" were created by this "master forger" from 1890? Should the Met catalogue have inserted "said to be"? Is this another example of the corruption of knowledge?

Eisenberg's article appears in Minerva; he is also Editor-in-Chief.

But this does not stop you buying a T-shirt to support research on the chariot ...

Tuesday 14 August 2007

A Hoard of Byzantine Silver "from Bulgaria"?

The last time I was in the Benaki Museum in Athens I had a look at set of three pieces of Byzantine silver from a "hoard" - the find-spot was not provided. (A Podcast of my audio notes reacting to the display and label is now available [with an unrelated background].) There was an appeal to buy the silver plates (for a reported 2.2 million Euros) and put them on display in Greece. (The purchase was reported to be from a London-based dealer.)

Where was the "hoard" found?

Recent reports in Kathimerini ("Artefacts in Greece ‘legally’", August 1, 2007; see also "Greek prosecutors investigate Bulgarian claim to Byzantine-era silver plates", International Herald Tribune, July 31, 2007) suggest that Greece has rejected a request from Bulgaria "for the return of nine silver medieval plates which Sofia says were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country". It is claimed that the hoard was found in Bulgaria during the 1990s. The official press statement from the Bulgarian delegation to Europe suggested that the find was made in 1999 ("Bulgaria struggles to prevent the sale of an ancient silver dish", November 13, 2006).
"The plates, on display in Greece’s Benaki Museum, the Museum of Byzantine Culture and the Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens, date back to the 13th and 14th centuries and are decorated with gold."
An official from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture is quoted as saying, "Greece will have a full documentation dossier proving they were legally purchased, when the case goes to court".

But the matter in unlikely to stop there. The Sofia press has responded ("Greece probes Bulgaria's claim to Byzantine-era silver plates",, August 2, 2007). It is noted:
"Earlier this month, Bulgarian prosecutor Kamen Mihov said he had “categorical proof” the artefacts were illegally excavated at a Bulgarian site. Bulgarian prosecutors sent documents to Greece claiming the plates were excavated in late 2000 and 2001 at a site near the town of Pazardzhik in central Bulgaria."
Details of the case emerged in May. It appears that an agricultural worker, Naiden Blagnev, had purchased a metal detector in late 2000 and came across the hoard (Matthew Brunwasser, "Looter describes 'beginner's luck'", International Herald Tribune, May 22, 2007).

It appears that Blagnev had seen a picture of one of silver plates - "The Stanford Place Dish" - which had been offered for auction at Christie's in London (Matthew Brunwasser, "Bulgarian relics spark an international scuffle", International Herald Tribune, May 22, 2007). In spite of attempts to stop the sale ("Bulgaria demands suspension of London auction of allegedly looted medieval silver dish", International Herald Tribune, November 7, 2006; "Christie's to sell unique plate regardless of Bulgaria's protests",, November 8, 2006; Dimana Trankova, "The plate of discord", Vagabond), the dish was left unsold and is said to have been returned to the vendor ("Disputed Bulgarian Dish Fails at London Auction", Artinfo, November 9, 2006). A Bulgarian official claimed, "another nine dishes, on display in three Greek museums since October 2003, were part of the same set".

What is this group of apparently related material?

The auction entry for "The Stanford Place Dish" places it stylistically with 13 other silver dishes: the 9 in the three Greek collections, 3 in Paris, and 1 in a private collection in London.

a. The 3 pieces in Paris are said to have been found in 1903 in Tatar Pazarcik, Bulgaria (and purchased there by the French Consul).
b. The 9 pieces in the three Greek collections are said, "by family tradition" to have been "acquired by a Mr. A. Barry after their accidental discovery in Tatar Pazarick. Mr. Barry, an Englishman from the Midlands, was working in Smyrna exporting currants until 1922. As a result of the conflict between Greece and Turkey in the same year, Barry moved to Patras, Greece, and in 1937 sold them to his Greek business partner for £ 15, 000. With the outset of the Second World War, the business partner moved to London and it is also very likely that, at that stage, Barry returned to the Midlands. Upon the former's death, the ten dishes were bequeathed to his son who eventually sold nine to the Greek museums in October 2003". (See also A. Ballian and A. Drandaki, "A middle Byzantine silver treasure", Benaki Museum Journal, March 2003, pp. 47-92.)
c. The London dish is said to have been discovered with "the dishes in Greece ... [which were] discovered together at an unspecified date in the early 20th century also near Tatar Pazarcik, in Bulgaria".

The auction entry for "The Stanford Place Dish" (archived here) provided the history ("provenance") as:
"By tradition acquired by an 'elderly gentleman collector' in the Midlands in the early 1950s"; "Sold to the UK trade in the mid 1980s"; "Purchased by the Trustees of the Stanford Place collection through a London dealer in 1997 or 1998".
This is expanded in the discussion:
"The Stanford Place dish entered the collection sometime in 1998 from the London trade. The dealer from whom it was purchased had acquired it from a middle man who had, himself, acquired the dish some years earlier from a dealer in the Midlands. The latter informed the middle-man that the dish had previously belonged to an 'elderly gentleman collector' from the Midlands since the early 1950s and that he believed it had a Strawberry Hill provenance.

Recent research by archivists seems to show that the dish never came from Strawberry Hill. However, what is possible is that the original hoard from Tatar Pazarick included all of the Paris dishes, the Greek dishes, the London dish and the present lot. Barry may have owned all eleven of the Greek, London and Stanford Place dishes and sold all but the present lot to his business partner. He then returned to the Midlands with the Stanford Place dish. It is therefore possible that the 'elderly gentleman collector' said to have owned the Stanford Place dish was, in fact, Barry himself, or someone to whom he had sold it in the Midlands."
The IHT has revealed the individual behind "The Trustees of the Stanford Place Collection" is Sir Claude Hankes (Hankes-Drielsma) who is perhaps best known for his ethical position over the Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq (see: "UN orders Iraq corruption inquiry", with interview, April 22, 2004, from the BBC). (For the context of the collection: "The Stanford Place Collection of Antiquities", April 26, 2006). Among his listed interests are "Chairman of the Support Group of the Greek and Roman Department at the British Museum; Patron of the British Museum, ... and the Ashmolean Museum; and a member of the Getty Villa Council, Los Angeles".

It now appears that "The Stanford Place Dish" should not be linked to the 9 pieces of silver plate in the Greek collections. An invoice for "The Stanford Place Dish" has been produced by Hankes' lawyer, Ludovic de Walden. (De Walden acted for the Marquess of Northampton over "The Sevso Treasure"; see his contribution, with Harvey Kurzwell and Leo V. Gagion, "The trial of the Sevso Treasure: What a nation will do in the name of its heritage", in Kate FitzGibbon, Who Owns the Past? Cultural Policy, Cultural Property, and the Law [2005]). The IHT reports De Walden produced an invoice, dated July 7, 1998, "showing that Hankes had bought a 12th-century silver dish for £200,000 from Sam Fogg, a well-known London dealer".

"The Stanford Place Dish" thus seems to have a "paper-trail" predating 2000 when Blagnev is reported to have found his hoard of silver in Bulgaria.

Where now?

Where does this leave the 9 pieces of silver plate in the Greek collections? What is the secure documentary evidence? Who is the London-based dealer?

We watch how the Bulgarian request to Greece will develop.

Monday 13 August 2007

A Middle Kingdom Alabaster Duck - and a member of the IADAA

A Middle Kingdom alabaster duck has recently been handed over to Egyptian officials in New York (Bradley Hope, "Stolen Egyptian Artifact Handed Over to Consulate", The New York Sun, August 10, 2007).

Why the interest?
It turns out that the piece had been excavated "at the pyramid of Amenemhat III" [reigned 1831-1786 BCE] in 1979, and then stolen from the store at Saqqara where the finds were kept. It had surfaced at auction at Christie's in New York (but was withdrawn when concerns were raised).

Old news?
In one sense it is old news (see short statement from Zahi Hawass). This was one of two pieces to surface last year (Brian Handwerk, "Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts", National Geographic News, October 24, 2006).

What about the second duck?
The second piece had bobbed up in the gallery of Rupert Wace Ancient Art (London).

Is this the object presented as one of the "Rare and ancient works of art dating from 4000 BC to the 10th century AD [that] will be displayed by the London dealer Rupert Wace at the Winter Antiques Show that takes place at the Seventh Regiment Armory, 67th Street and Park Avenue, New York, from Friday 20 to Sunday 29 January 2006" [Press Statement]? Among the "objets" is listed:
"A more unusual piece is an alabaster vessel carved in two separate halves in the form of a plucked duck that would originally have contained an actual duck as an offering. From a private collection in France, it dates from the Middle Kingdom, 2040-1648 BC."
A colour image is posted on the gallery's Public Relations website.

So what is this private collection in France?
It turns out, according to Hawass, to be PIASA in Paris.

What is PIASA?
"PIASA was founded by four auctioneers (Picard, Audap, Solanet, Velliet) with a common commitment to high ethical standards and the desire to pursue their development in the wake of the reform of the French auction market and its opening to international competition".

Praise to Wace and PIASA: the duck has been returned to Egypt (though the case is still "under investigation").

But how did a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) end up offering a stolen antiquity for sale?

"The members of the IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations. architectural monuments, public institutions or private property."

Would careful research have picked up the fact that the piece had been stolen from the excavation store?

What is "the best of their ability"?
Such an incident is likely to undermine confidence in the IADAA. Is adequate "research" being undertaken to stop stolen (let alone looted) antiquities being offered for sale by IADAA members?

And who is Rupert Wace?
Wace has "handled the private sales of antiquities from the British Rail Pension Fund and his clients include the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the National Museum of Wales, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, Staatliche Museum in Munich, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art. As well as being a member of IADAA, Rupert Wace is Chairman of the Antiquities Dealers Association in the UK which also rigorously upholds the ethics of dealing in ancient art." [Quoted from Press Release for Basel Ancient Art Fair, November 2007].

Wace was also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Antiquities, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, UK Government in 2000 [Report].

What sort of advice was being offered to the Panel? How does the IADAA define "upholding" ethical standards?

These Middle Kingdom ducks have raised a clutch of questions.

Friday 10 August 2007

Intellectual consequences for Biblical Archaeology?

Are some scholars ignoring the intellectual consequences of looting and forgeries for their discipline?

The Biblical Archaeology Society has posted a 'Statement of Concern' on 'The Publication of Unprovenanced Artifacts'. It has a list of distinguished signatories.

The first point states, 'We are strongly opposed to looting'. Good: we have some common ground. This is what Gill and Chippindale have described as 'Material Consequences'. We can discuss the role of governments - and widen it to include the professional responsibilities of archaeologists, museum curators, dealers, magazine editors, etc. In other words, the solution to looting is not just the area of concern for national governments, we have our part to play as well.

Let me for now dwell on point two of the 'Statement of Concern':
"We also recognize that artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. On the other hand, this is not always true, and even when it is, looted objects, especially inscriptions, often have much of scholarly importance to impart."
Gill and Chippindale have discussed the Intellectual Consequences of looting and unprovenanced objects. Let me take one example (which I have discussed in Evangelical Quarterly 77.4 (2005): 354-58), the inscribed ivory pomegranate ‘thought to be the only relic of King Solomon's Temple’. Let me quote myself:
"The pomegranate is reported to have surfaced in ‘an Antiquities shop in the Old City of Jerusalem’ in 1979, purchased anonymously in Jerusalem, removed from the country, offered anonymously for sale, and purchased—reportedly for $500,000 in 1998—by the Israel Museum with the help of an anonymous Swiss benefactor (see conveniently Nahman Avigad, ‘The Inscribed Pomegranate from the “House of the Lord”’, in Hillel Geva (ed.), Ancient Jerusalem Revealed (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), 128-37)."
I have rechecked the Israel Museum's website today (August 10, 2007) and this is what is said:
"Before its arrival in the Museum, the pomegranate was examined by leading epigraphists (scholars of ancient inscriptions) and deemed authentic. The recent reexamination, which used an environmental scanning electron microscope, subjected the inscription and patina to closer scrutiny than had been possible before. The new study shows that although the object itself dates to the Late Bronze Age (14th-13th century BCE), its inscription is not ancient."
Let me unpack this.

a. The pomegranate was 'unprovenanced' and 'surfaced' on the market.

b. The signatories of the statement would now take this position (point 2):
"We also recognize that artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. On the other hand, this is not always true, and even when it is, looted objects, especially inscriptions, often have much of scholarly importance to impart."
c. The pomegranate enters the corpus of knowledge and is accepted as "the only known relic from the First Temple in Jerusalem" (quote from The Israel Museum).

d. The signatories of the statement would no doubt maintain this position (point 4):
"It has been rightly said that the history of the ancient Near East as we know it could not have been written without the use of unprovenanced, often looted artifacts and inscriptions".
e. Scientific tests suggests that the pomegranate is ancient but that the inscription was added in recent times.

f. The pomegranate cannot be used as evidence from the First Temple in Jerusalem.

g. There were Intellectual Consequences caused by the acquiring and publishing of this 'unprovenanced' artifact.

Let me close with my words from EQ:
"The pomegranate is a good reminder that forgers choose something that people want to be true, and will prove both intellectually stimulating and commercially rewarding."
Have the signatories added their names to a flawed statement of concern?

Thursday 9 August 2007

The 'Value' of the Getty Return

A few days ago I suggested that the purchase value of the recently announced antiquities from the Getty would be in excess of US$20 million.

I see that the LA Times (Jason Felch and Ari Bloomekatz, 'Getty's accord removes shadow', August 3, 2007) has reported :
"The 40 antiquities were purchased for nearly $40 million over 30 years. No compensation will be given for their return."
Given that the vendors include Robin Symes - who is reported to have sold the 'Morgantina' Aphrodite for US$18 million - it seems unlikely that the Getty will get much back. Perhaps it is worth asking the Getty's former trustee, Barbara Fleischman, for a donation from the reported US$20 million that was paid for 33 items from the Fleischman collection (some of the pieces either have been or will be returned to Italy); the rest of the Fleischman collection was donated for US$40 million.

The same article LA Times also notes "the Getty's grant of more than $450,000 for the conservation of paintings in Rome's Santuario Scala Santa". The US$40 million wasted - and I do not use that word lightly - on these acquisitions is the equivalent of nearly 90 such conservation projects.

What are the priorities?

Where does this leave Marion True?

Steve Scherer reported on on August 2, 2007,
'Italy to Drop Getty Ex-Curator's Civil Charges, Pursue More Art'.

Scherer reported:

"Italy will drop civil suits against former J. Paul Getty Museum antiquities curator Marion True after the Los Angeles museum agreed yesterday to return 40 works Italy says were looted, Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said today. True still faces criminal charges."

Apparently the next hearing does not take place until September 26.

Has the return of the 40 antiquities relieved some of the pressure?

Wednesday 8 August 2007

Animal rights and archaeologists: a strange comparison?

There is clearly a link being made between animal rights and the discussion over the looting of archaeological sites.

In July 1990 the 'Cycladic and Classical Antiquities from the Erlenmeyer Collection: the Property of The Erlenmeyer Stiftung (A Foundation for Animal Welfare)' were auctioned at Sotheby's in London. The sale catalogue gave details of the projects assisted by the Foundation. They included helping to 'finance the "Save the Elephant" campaign of WWF'. It is perhaps ironic that money raised from antiquities looted from archaeological sites in the Greek islands, including the infamous Keros haul, should help to preserve African elephants from being blasted away by poachers seeking to provide the market with ivory tusks.

Talking of shotguns, take a thought for the wildlife of Texas. Carlos Pícon (now of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) recently described his relationship with the collector Gilbert Denman during his time at the San Antonio Museum of Art. The New Yorker reported, 'Pícon learned to shoot, in order to participate in weekend house parties dedicated to boar-hunting, a pastime that is to Texas billionaries what golf is to those in the Northeast'.

Pícon was asked to comment on the 'suggestion that the collecting of antiquities will eventually earn the same degree of opprobrium that the wearing of fur has acquired in some quarters'. He 'lifted a derisive brow. "I don't have a fur coat, but I would like to have one".'

Protecting endangered animals and supporting animal rights can, perhaps, be similar to protecting an endangered archaeological resource or supporting the rights of national governments to reclaim and protect their cultural property. The suggestion that the naming of a museum gallery in honour of collectors could be compared with the renaming of an African game reserve to celebrate with poacher with the largest 'bag' is not lightly made. (See K. Taylor, "Shelby White in Center Court at the Met." The New York Sun May 1, 2007.)

But the language is getting stronger. The Oxford-based academic Sir John Boardman spoke out on the issue in a 2006 interview for Apollo. (The text of the interview, 'A Classical Warrior', can be located conveniently on the website of Phoenix Ancient Art.)

'Now I find I need to speak out against a highly politicised lobby of archaeologists who are, I think, responsible for what amounts to a witch-hunt of those who disagree with them, especially collectors, but with severe implications also for museums. They put one in mind sometimes of the more fanatical animal-rights activists'.

Do we accuse those who wish to put an end to the slaughter of elephants as fanatics? Do we dismiss then as activists?

Of course not.

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Glories of Ancient Greece: hype and links?

In June 2001 an exhibition was held at the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem: Glories of Ancient Greece: Vases and Ancient Jewelry from the Borowski Collection. This fell exactly one year after the June 2000 sale at Christie's New York of Ancient Greek Vases Formerly in the Private Collection of Dr. Elie Borowski.

The objects in the 2000 sale 'were sold about 10 years ago in order to pave the way for the building of the Bible Lands Museum' (G. Max Bernheimer, Vice President, Antiquities Department, Christie's).

Nineteen of the lots at Christie's (over 10% of the total number of lots) reappear in Glories of Ancient Greece whose catalogue was authored by G. Max Bernheimer. In other words, the Bible Lands Museum spent over US$340,000 buying ex-Borowski pots which had been sold to raise money for the building in which they are now displayed.

Two had apparently failed to sell at auction.
  • An Italo-Corinthian black-figured olpe (Gl. 43) had only reached US$2800 (with an estimate of US$5000-8000; lot 19, as 'Corinthian').
  • A Boeotian bird bowl (Gl 52) reached US$3200 (with an estimate of US$6000-8000: lot 24).
The remaining 17 lots were purchased for US$344,627.50. Nine of these failed to reach their lower estimate. One of the biggest losers was the Attic red-figured palmette-eye cup (Gl. 65) which sold for US$35,250; US$14,750 under the estimate of US$50,000-80,000 (lot 72).

Only six of the 17 lots pieces exceeded their upper estimates. The most expensive was the Attic red-figured loutrophoros attributed to the Naples painter (Gl. 72) which sold for US$58,750 (estimate US$20,000-30,000: lot 102).

There was much hype around the sale. Bernheimer was quoted in the Christie's Press Release:
This was a sale for true connoisseurs ... A variety of international buyers, including a number of prestigious museums, bid enthusiastically for pieces that once formed one of the most outstanding private collections in existence. This encyclopedic assemblage of world-class masterpieces was unparalleled in terms of quality and provenance.
The nineteen lots acquired by the Bible Lands had no recorded find-spots: sadly such 'provenances' are not unparalleled.

Friday 3 August 2007

'Illicit antiquities': what are the issues?

Sir John Boardman makes a useful point when he notes, 'objects cannot be "tainted" or "illicit", and could only be so described by scholars who do not understand them, or legislators' (in Who Owns Objects? [2006], 44 [for details of review]). I would insert 'genuine' before 'objects' as forgeries can corrupt the corpus of knowledge.

Objects are removed from their archaeological contexts by scientific means (excavation), chance, erosion or illicit means. Some involved in the debate tend to place all antiquities emerging on the market in the same group. Our research has stressed the date of surfacing. Has the object been known since excavation? When is the first recorded mention or (even better) publication? These are not irrelevant issues. The Getty return has shown that 'histories' were being assigned to objects which appear to be fresh out of the ground.

So what are the contentious groups of archaeological objects?

1. High profile objects that were removed from their countries some time ago
Should high profile objects which were removed from their findspots before (say) 1850 remain in their (usually western) museums? Should the Parthenon marbles be displayed in London or in a purpose-built museum within sight of the Athenian akropolis? Should the Rosetta stone, a key text for Egyptology, be in London or Cairo?

These are complex issues as the three volume UK House of Commons select committee report demonstrated. [For commentary.]

I suspect these issues will not be resolved by legal arguments but by common sense and goodwill.

These historic cases are different to modern instances of looting from archaeological sites. Take the Parthenon marbles. We know where the sculptures were displayed. We know the order in which they were displayed. And thanks to the surviving accounts we can almost date their work to the year.

Contrast recently surfaced objects. Do even known the country in which they were found?

2. Notorious acts of looting prior to the 1970 UNESCO convention
This has been a major issue in recent weeks. Should the Fano athlete at present in the J. Paul Getty Museum return to Italy? It appears to have been known well before the 1970 Convention. Is there a case for it to return? The debate looks set to continue over the next few months and years.

What about the Keros haul - rather than 'hoard' - from the Greek Cycladic islands? [For recent discussion.] Hundreds of fragments of Early Cycladic marble figures appear to have been removed from the site. What was their purpose? Were the fragments broken on site in the Early Bronze Age? What was going on? Several pieces from the 'haul' were exhibited in the Katonah Museum of Art exhibition Ancient Art of the Cyclades (October 1 - December 31, 2006). Should these fragments now residing in North American collections be returned to Greece?

3. Surfacings after 1970
Thousands of antiquities surface each year on the market. Few are provided with histories. Are we really expected to accept that they have been lurking in the attic? (Though we can all probably think of one or two cases where this has happened.)

But we have read The Medici Conspiracy, we have seen recently opened tombs ... and we can draw our own conclusions.

Perhaps it is important to note that objects looted from archaeological sites will not be on The Art Loss Register.

4. Objects stolen from museums and archaeological stores
From time to time archaeological material is stolen from museums and stores. Hopefully these have been photographed and recorded and their loss can be registered with bodies like The Art Loss Register.

The theft from the Corinth Museum was perhaps revealing in the way that some of the objects from that heist reappeared in 'respectable' auction houses and galleries even though photographs of the items had been widely circulated.

5. Objects illustrated in the Geneva Polaroids
Thousands of objects are illustrated in the Geneva Polaroids (linked to Giacomo Medici). It will take years to research this photographic archive and locate the objects. There is, of course, movement and we are seeing the results in the return of antiquities from North American museums to the Italian Government. Other objects have already been identified and I understand negotiations are on-going.

Thursday 2 August 2007

Lessons from the Getty return

There are several lessons that can be drawn from yesterday's announcement that the J. Paul Getty Museum will be returning 40 antiquities to Italy.

1. The myth of the 'safe' private collection
The Getty's 1996 acquisition of the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection was undoubtedly a major mistake or at best a serious error of judgment. Research by Gill and Chippindale (and published in The American Journal of Archaeology for 2000 demonstrated that 92% of the objects in the exhibition catalogue of the Fleischman collection has no indication of find-spot. In addition 91% of the objects (and perhaps another 3% for objects where information was lacking) surfaced after 1973 when the issue of looting became public knowledge thanks to the resolution passed by the Archaeological Institute of America.

Six of the items announced in November 2006 for return to Italy came from the Fleischman collection; seven more pieces were added yesterday (August 1, 2007). That is 7% of the Fleischman collection. [List of Fleischman material.]

But there are further pieces which are apparently featured among the Geneva polaroids. Will a request be made for those? And what about claims by countries other than Italy?

There is the apparent link of one of the Roman wall-paintings with a fragment in the Shelby White collection. Maxwell Anderson made this comment in the exhibition catalogue: 'The upper portion of the fresco matches precisely the upper portion of a fresco section in the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection ... and is from the same room, as is catalogue number 125". Fleischman no. 125 is Getty inv. no. 96.AG.170 but it is not (surprisingly) on the list of returning objects. And what about the fragment owned by Shelby White? Will she be returning it to Italy? She can hardly donate it to a museum which would be faced with an immediate request for return from the Italian government.

2. The myth of the 'safe' antiquities dealer
This is not the time to comment on Giacomo Medici, Robert Hecht, Robin Symes or Atlantis Antiquities. They are covered in The Medici Conspiaracy (recently reviewed by Gill and Chippindale).

But how did dealers who were members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) come to handle some of the returning objects? After all the IADAA has clear 'ethical' guidelines:
'The members of the IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations. architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.'
Indeed the IADAA stresses:
'Our members adhere to the highest professional standards as set out in our stringent code of ethics.
They have therefore been well placed to understand and tackle issues of provenance which have become prevalent in recent years.'
It is true that Galerie Nefer (owned by Frida Tchacos) has resigned from the IADAA, but the gallery was presumably a member when it handled the objects which will soon be returning to Italy. Another member (the gallery is listed on the website today, August 2, 2007) apparently sold one of the objects to the Getty (and had handled material that Boston has now returned to Italy).

How was this was possible?

Our research has highlighted material and intellectual consequences of collecting antiquities. It has been dismissed by senior figures in the museum world ('Making a graph of what may or may not be published is not scholarship; it is a pastime' [Carlos Picon on Gill and Chippindale]). There is a serious financial consequence of this return. The value of the 40 returning antiquities is in excess of US$20 million (based on what the Getty paid for them). Will the sums be returned? Ignoring the issue of looted antiquities can be a costly mistake.

Wednesday 1 August 2007

The Getty will be returning

So the Getty will be returning 40 antiquities to Italy. (See report by Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch in the LA Times, August 1, 2007.)

The decision was made at the eleventh hour (so to speak) but it is welcomed. The list of the 40 objects has been released by the Getty.

Essentially the items are the same as the ones in the November 2006 list of 26 objects. However there are 14 new additions. As expected there were several items from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection.

1. Attic Black-Figured Amphora (Painter of Berlin 1686) (96.AE.92). Reassembled by Fritz Bürki (1988); Atlantis Antiquities (1988). Fleischman, Passion, no. 34.

2. Attic Black-Figured Amphora (96.AE.93). Purchased from Fritz Bürki (1989). Said to have been found with two other pots (in the possession of Robert Hecht and Robin Symes). Fleischman, Passion, no. 35.

3. Attic Red-Figured Cup (96.AE.97). Purchased from Symes (1988). Fleischman, Passion, no. 39.

4. Apulian Red-Figured Bell Krater (96.AE.29). Acquired from Fritz Bürki. Fleischman, Passion, no. 56.

5. Bronze Mirror with Relief-Decorated Cover (96.AC.132). Apparently found at Tarquinia. Fleischman, Passion, no. 83.

6. Statuette of Tyche (96.AA.49). Purchased from Robin Symes; purchased from the Fleischmans for US$2 million. Fleischman, Passion, no. 120.

7. Fragment of a fresco: lunette with mask of Hercules – (96.AG.171). Purchased from Fritz Bürki. Associated with a fragment in the Shelby White collection. Fleischman, Passion, no. 126.

The remaining pieces include the acrolithic statue, perhaps from Morgantina, as well as several pieces of Attic pottery.

8. Cult Statue of a Goddess, perhaps Aphrodite (88.AA.76). (=Masterpieces, p. 83)

9. Marble Bust of a Man (85.AA.265)

10. Attic Red-Figured Calyx Krater (“Birds”) (82.AE.83).

11. Attic Red-Figured Neck Amphora (84.AE.63). Attributed to Euthymides. [Details]

12. Attic Red-Figured Amphora with Lid (79.AE.139). Attributed to the Geras painter. [Detail]

13. Attic Red-Figured Kylix (83.AE.287). Attributed to Epiktetos.

14. Attic Janiform Kantharos (83.AE.218). [Detail]

Other items appear in the Polaroids from the Geneva Freeport - so there may be additions to this list.

The appearance of former Fleischman material in both Getty lists supports our earlier comments in The American Journal of Archaeolgy about the way that collection was formed. (Links to related material, though Athens password required for parts.)

A full discussion of the November 2006 items (and with a prediction about some of the additional items) is now in press.

Dr Elie Borowski: sources for his collection

The 2000 Christie's sale in New York presented 'Ancient Greek Vases Formerly in the Private Collection of Dr. Elie Borowski'. He is described by G. Max Bernheimer in the catalogue as 'renowned scholar, collector and connoisseur of ancient art'.

Borowski is not without interest. His name appears in the famous 'organigram' found in the appartment of Danilo Zicchi (and presented in The Medici Conspiracy). And the sale itself receives a paragraph there.

But what are the sources for these pots? What did Christie's feel able to disclose? (My research has shown that sometimes 'known' information can be left out of the catalogue entry perhaps for commercial reasons.) Only 21 pieces can be provided with a history. Several were purchased from German (2 pieces), North American (3 pieces), Swiss (4 pieces), or UK (9 pieces) galleries or auction-houses. Three other pieces came from either German or Swiss private collections. Interestingly the Attic black-figured amphora (no. 43) is stated as coming from the Samuel Schweizer [sic.] collection. Is this the same 'collection' that has been used as a mask for looted antiquities and which features in the material due to be returned by the Getty to Italy? The remaining 86% of the pots 'just' surfaced in the Borowski collection.

What about find-spots? Not a single piece from the 157 lots has a stated find-spot, i.e. 100% of the lots have appeared to have lost their archaeological context. In fact this is not quite true. The Nolan amphora attributed to the Phiale painter (no. 104) appears on the Beazley Archive database with the findspot of Gela (and with the previous owner given as Salvatore Nocera). (This piece was known in the early 1960s.)

What other information is missing from the sale catalogue? Two Attic black-figured pots, a column-krater (no. 50) and a neck-amphora (no. 52), were purchased from the Edward H. Merrin Gallery in 1977. (The Attic red-figured column-krater [no. 86] was purchased from the same source and at the same time.) An Attic red-figured column-krater (no. 89) had previously been in an anonymous private collection in Lugano. But it is the absence of information in the entries that is more interesting - and disturbing.

When did the pieces surface? If we use the Gill and Chippindale cut off point of 1973 (assuming that the resolution of the Archaeological Institute of America brought the issue of looted antiquities to academic and public attention) then 92% of the collection could not be purchased by responsible museums (or for that matter published for the first time in responsible places like the American Journal of Archaeology). But if we use the UNESCO Convention cut off point of 1970, then only three pieces (i.e. less than 2%) could be purchased with a clear conscience.

Selling antiquities is big business. The Borowski sale raised over US$7 million. (Compare that with the US6.4 million for Attic pots from Sotheby's over the period 1998-2007).

The damage to the archaeological evidence is likely to have been equally immense.

The generosity of Giacomo Medici

The hand of Giacomo Medici is sometimes hard to discern. The Medici Conspiracy (see the review article by Gill & Chippindale) has demonstrated the way that the route from the Etruscan grave to a display case in some North American museum has been obscured.

But a browse through the 'vase' catalogue of the San Antonio Museum of Art presents two fragmentary Greek pots as gifts of Giacomo Medici.

The first is a Rhodian oinochoe fragment in the Middle 'Wild Goat Style' (inv. 88.18.2; cat. no. 177) and the second is the fragment from an Athenian black-figured cup showing a charioteer (inv. 88.18.1; cat. no. 179).

It is important to stress that there is nothing suspect about their histories. Both came from the distinguished collection of the Comtesse de Behague. And both were auctioned at Sotheby's in Monaco on 5 December 1987 (lot 142, a and b).

I understand (from the present curator in San Antonio) that both pieces were handed over to Carlos Pícon, the then curator, in Monaco on 6 December 1987, i.e. the day after the sale.

In a recent interview for The New Yorker (April 9, 2007) it was noted that Pícon only knew Medici 'glancingly'.

Pícon speaks about the meeting:
'I saw Medici at the end of the auction. A friend of mine was with me and said, "You bought that fragment that Carlos wanted for San Antonio," and he said, "I will give it to him." I thought it was rather touching. He put it in my hands and said, "Give it to your museum." He had never been to Texas. He had never seen my museum.'
Medici's generosity is indeed touching.

Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...