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.

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