Skip to main content

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.

Comments

NelsonBenson said…
I agree with you that all excavations have to be legal and supervised, I like both history and archeolgoy and art.

But say all the artifacts in private collections were to be returned, a few millions all together, where would you put them?

Serious question - no sarcasm
David Gill said…
The issue is that the archaeological contexts for 94.5% - yes, 94.5% - of known Apulian pots have been lost. Returning pots to Italy from public and private collections will not restore those contexts. However the threat of legal action would probably make you think twice about acquiring an Apulian pot that had no recorded history prior to 1970 (i.e. the UNESCO Convention).

Is Italy seeking the return of 'millions' of pots? I doubt it. Indeed the returns from specific museums have been selective - and could even be seen as symbolic.

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…

Metropolitan Museum of Art hands over Paestan krater

In May 2014 I commented on a Paestan krater acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after it had been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in photographic images seized from Giacomo Medici. Tsirogiannis published his full concerns in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, but it has taken a further three years for the museum to respond.

The krater showing Dionysos in a hand-drawn cart was purchased in 1989 from the Bothmer Purchase Fund (details from the Museum's website, inv. 1989.11.4). The krater surfaced through Sotheby's New York in June 1989.

It is unclear who consigned the krater to Sotheby's New York.

It has now been revealed that the krater has been handed over to the US authorities after a warrant had been issued (Tom Mashberg, "Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum on Suspicion It Was Looted", New York Times July 31, 2018).

It appears that the museum did make an attempt to resolve the case in December 2016. Mashberg notes:
The Met, for its par…