Skip to main content

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?

Conclusion
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.

Comments

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…