Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 2007

The Art Loss Register: the St Louis Art Museum experience

I have already commented on the Egyptian mummy mask at present in the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM).

But I failed to include this statement from Brent R. Benjamin, Director of SLAM:
"The Museum independently verified the mask's known ownership history and contacted both the Art Loss Register and Interpol before making the purchase to verify that the mask had not been reported as missing, lost or stolen".I have expressed reservations about the use of the Art Loss Register (ALR) for dealing with antiquities. Did the staff at SLAM place too much trust in the mask's non-appearance in the database? (We know that the dealer who handled the mask also uses the ALR.) Absence from the Register meant exactly that and no more - there was no record.

"We've made it harder for Americans to see the glories of the past"

The late Steve Vincent seems to be the voice of some in the collector "lobby". In one of his last pieces ("Ancient Treasures for Sale. Do antique dealers preserve the past or steal it?", Reasononline, April 2005) before his tragic death in Iraq, he quoted the collector Shelby White.

She acknowledges:

"All we've done is make public and private collections more vulnerable to claims from foreign countries. At the same time, we've made it harder for Americans to see the glories of the past."

She is absolutely right as I presume the "we" refers to like-minded collectors.

So, yes, collectors like Shelby White who have drawn on recently surfaced antiquities to enhance their holdings have made "public and private collections more vulnerable to claims from foreign countries".

She knows it because Polaroids showing some of the objects in her collection have been seized in Geneva.

She knows it because it is reported that the Italian govern…

Will Princeton Follow Yale?

This week's Times Higher Education Supplement (September 28, 2007) carried a major story on "Yale and Peru Agree on Artefact's Return". I have already commented on this specific issue.

What is interesting about the article is that the THES notes:
"Several other US university museums remain enmeshed in controversies relating to the ownership of items in their collections".Four examples are given, but the first held a great deal of interest for me:
"Italy asserts ownership of an Athenian red-figure wine cooler and an Apulian loutrophoros (pottery vessel) in the Princeton University Art Museum, which it says were taken illegally. The museum, which has returned a Roman monument, disputes this claim."
This is an old story (Julia Osellame, "Italian Government says university owns stolen art", posted March 27, 2006; and see Princeton Alumni Weekly), but it touches on the article I have just published with Christopher Chippinda…

The Art Loss Register: the view of Hicham Aboutaam

It had been suggested to me that I was not being entirely positive about The Art Loss Register after I had made some comments in connection with the Brussels Oriental Art Fair III. Over the last few weeks I have tried to collect different voices and experiences: dealers, collectors, and academics. And I do not feel that their response has been supportive.

I would like to add another contribution to the discussion: Hicham Aboutaam, the co-founder of Phoenix Ancient Art (of Geneva and New York). The media section of the gallery's website provides links (and transcripts) to interviews with CNBC ("Investing in Antiquities") and Bloomberg. Both interviews are posted on YouTube.

The Bloomberg interview dates back to 2005. In it Lane Bajardi asks Aboutaam:
"How do you protect yourself from not getting ripped off here, from buying something that maybe is not worth what the person who's selling it is asking for it?"
And the answer is telling:
"One of the main elemen…

Marion True: civil charges dropped

As the Getty and Italy signed the agreement to formalise the return of antiquities, Jason Welch and Livia Borghese in the LA Times reported "Italy drops civil charges against ex-Getty curator" (September 25, 2007).

"Maurizio Fiorilli, a state lawyer representing Italy, said he would announce his intent to withdraw from the trial when the proceedings resume today. But the more serious criminal trial against True, 58, will continue."

So what is the criminal trial about?

"Ferri said the criminal trial, the first in which an American curator has been charged by a foreign county, was intended to be both punitive and preventive. 'The preventive aspect was to say to museums: Please stop this buying in an illicit fashion, and please return the objects,' Ferri said in an interview Tuesday. 'This has now been achieved, and museums that are obliged to surrender objects won't be in the same trouble.'"

The publication of research by Gill and Chippindal…

From Malibu to Rome

From Malibu to Rome: Further Developments on the Return of Antiquities
David Gill and Christopher Chippindale
International Journal of Cultural Property 14 (2), 2007, pp. 205-240


During 2006 three major North American Museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, agreed to return a significant number of antiquities to Italy. Acquisition information relating to the return of 26 items to Italy and 4 to Greece from the Getty can be added to the details known from the objects returned from Boston. A more detailed picture is emerging of how antiquities, apparently looted from Italy, were being passed through Switzerland on their way to dealers in Europe and North America. This information also points toward other antiquities that may be included in future agreements.

"Their proper home is in Italy"

So, representatives of the Italian Ministry of Culture and the J. Paul Getty Museum today signed an agreement in Rome to return 40 antiquities (Press release). The understanding was reached in August.

Francesco Rutelli commented, “Today’s signing marks a new era ... a new season of clearness begins in the purchase trade of archaelogical goods."

Michael Brand, the director of the Getty acknowledged, "our scholarly research has shown that their proper home is in Italy".

But where does this leave the trial against Marion True and Robert Hecht?

Brand is reported to have said, "We certainly hope, on the Getty side, that this new spirit of collaboration will lead to the end of that case [sc. the True trial] and will allow the scholar to get back to her life, get back to her research".

I have already commented that looted material, wherever it resides, has lost its archaeological context. No agreement can return this information.

This may close a chapter for the Getty, but…

"The archaeological community's obsession with context"

I do not comprehend how somebody can write this statement:
"The archaeological community's obsession with context puzzles numismatists"
Who are the authors?

The statement is written by two lawyers:

a. Peter K. Tompa
Tompa "is a partner in Dillingham & Murphy LLP in Washington, D.C., focusing on cultural property as well as environmental insurance matters. ... He is a fellow and trustee of the American Numismatic Society, a board member [now president] of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, a life member of the American Numismatic Association, and a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washnigton, D.C."Tompa's legal website describes among his activities:
"Cultural Property Lobbying and Advice - conducts lobbying activities before U.S. Congress and Executive Branch Agencies regarding issues related to import restrictions on cultural artifacts, and advises clients on legal issues related to the trade in such items."
b. Ann M. Brose

Brose "is …

Farewell to the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre

Today sees the last day of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre (IARC) in Cambridge. This has formed part of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research since 1996.

"The purpose of the IARC is to monitor and report upon the damage caused to cultural heritage by the international trade in illicit antiquities (ie. antiquities which have been stolen or clandestinely excavated and/or illegally exported)."

Among the IARC's achievements was the AIA Outstanding Public Service Award in 2006. And its Culture Without Context has kept us informed of the issues.

I would like to thank Neil Brodie and Jenny Doole for all their hard work over the last decade, and to wish them the best of success for the future.

The intellectual consequences of collecting classical coins

There has been much discussion of classical coins following the announcement that the US would restrict the import of coins from Cyprus. In the ensuing discussion I have suggested some changes to the code of ethics for the ACCG which has generated some comment.

The focus has been on the "material consequences" of collecting classical coins: loss of contexts; destruction of archaeological stratigraphy.

But what about the "intellectual consequences"? I offer a number of examples (though this list is far from exhaustive).

1. Integrity of a group
Can we trust the composition of a hoard that surfaces on the market? Were all the coins said to be associated with it found at the same time and in the same context? What does this do for die-studies? Do we depend on the "word" of the finder / middle(wo)man / dealer?

2. Find-spot of coins
The finding of Greek coins in Egypt is significant. Does it reflect pay for mercenaries? Trade? But the information is only valuable if …

Saving antiquities: the "elephant ivory" model

Ben Macintyre ("Elephants: the way to beat looters", The Times, September 22, 2007) has considered "how to stop the ransacking of our treasures". His starting point is the issue of Iraq.

Macintyre writes:

"Numerous attempts have been made to stamp out the trade in stolen artefacts, and a number of prominent curators and dealers have recently been prosecuted for handling stolen goods. But still the market for looted antiquities expands, fed by a growing demand from the Middle East, Japan and China. Where once a rich man might adorn his palace with tiger skins and the heads of rare rhino, collectors now bag shards of Sumerian pottery and Buddhist carvings, trophy art to demonstrate wealth and sophistication."

So what is the solution?

Macintyre suggests:

"The comparison between big game hunting and the hunt for smuggled artefacts is apt, for archaeologists are turning to the lessons of wildlife conservation in their efforts to protect the world’s most threat…

Chippindale's Law applied in Berlin

I feel that my eyes have been opened by The Medici Conspiracy. But surely I should be familiar enough with the world of antiquities not to be shocked?

But in steps "Chippindale's Law":
"However bad you feared it would be [so far as antiquities looting and smuggling are concerned], it always turns out worse" (quoted in the Medici Conspiracy, p. 310).It was coming face to face in the Altes Museum in Berlin with a massive display case positively groaning under ranks of Apulian pottery from a single grave.

There are:
a. Seven massive volute-kraters (three attributed to the Darius painter: 1984.39, 40, 41) - but only the foot of a eighth.
b. Two amphorae.
c. One hydria.
d. Eight fishplates.
e. One large dish.
f. Three smaller dishes.
g. Two skyphoi. Many of the pots fall into distinct workshop groups and share the same attributed "hands" (e.g. Group of Copenhagen 4223, Varrese painter, Underworld painter). This is a common feature of tomb-groups.

All the pots seem t…

The Art Loss Register: "The Stanford Place Collection of Antiquities"

In April 2006 Christie's (London) auctioned "The Stanford Place Collection of Antiquities". The 71 lots in the sale realised £2,186,880: of this £736,000 was represented by the "Stanford Place Apollo" (lot 29). Each lot (except the books) was accompanied with the statement:
"This lot is accompanied by a certificate from The Art Loss Register".Does consulting The Art Loss Register mean that the antiquities were known prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention?

Items known before 1970

Excluding the books (lots 53-57), 20 lots (i.e. 30% of the antiquities) are claimed to have been known prior to 1970. Some come from historic British collections. These include:
1. A Greek bronze "formerly in the collection of Humfry G.G. Payne (1902-1936)" (lot 24).
2. A neo-Attic marble vessel fragment once owned by Sir Charles Walston (1856-1927) (lot 38).
3. A Hellenistic marble draped figure of Artemis "formerly in the collection of the Earls of Hopetoun, Hopetoun H…

Cyprus, eBay and the Coin "Lobby"

The new US agreement restricting the import of antiquities from Cyprus has been causing much discussion. These new arrangements came into force on Monday July 16, 2007 (as reported in "U.S. Imposes Restrictions on Importing Cypriot Coins", New York Times, July 17, 2007):
"In a move that some coin collectors fear could eventually make it difficult to pursue their passion, the United States government has imposed import restrictions on ancient coins from Cyprus. It is the first time the United States has limited trade in a broad category of coins as part of an effort to guard the cultural heritage of another country."The exchanges are becoming more heated.

Wayne Sayles ("Blinded by the Light", September 18, 2007) has launched an attack on Nathan Elkins in response to his blog ("Can Cultural Property Legislation Kill an Academic Discipline?", Safecorner, September 13, 2007):
"Mr. Elkins states that the unchecked trade in undocumented ancient coin…

Yale and Peru: what are the issues?

"Yale will acknowledge Peru’s title to all the excavated objects" from Machu Picchu (Rachel Boyd, "Univ. to return artifacts to Peru",, September 17 2007). The 380 or so objects were excavated by Hiram Bingham III between 1911 and 1915. There seems to be evidence that it was intended that the objects should remain in Yale for a period of about 18 months in order to undergo study and research (“They do not belong to us, but to the Peruvian government, who allowed us to take them out of the country on the condition that they be returned in 18 months", Bingham in a letter dated November 28 1916).

The outcome is positive: a travelling exhibition, a new museum, academic exchanges, and further loans.

Is this the same as the recent returns of Greek and Italian antiquities from other North American collections?

Not really.

In the Yale case the objects had been excavated. The issue was about where the objects should reside. (In many ways the case is not…

From Berlin to Cairo?

How far back should cultural property claims go? Should there be a limitation?

Last week in Berlin I came face to face with the famous portrait of Nefertiti. This was found in a scuptor's workshop at Amarna by Ludwig Borchardt in 1912. The head then formed part of the German allocation of the finds.

A request for its return to Egypt was made in the 1930s. Adolf Hitler is reported to have said, "What the German people have, they keep" (quoted in Brian Fagan, The Rape of the Nile [2004], p. 249).

The official website of Zahi Hawass takes the position that the head was "smuggled out of Egypt in 1913". Things have been hotting up since the Altes Museum in Berlin refused to loan the portrait to Egypt for the projected opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum.

Hawass has been reported as wanting to "organize a worldwide boycott of loans to German museums" if his request for the loan is not made. He is quoted as saying, "We will make the lives of these museums…

Portable Antiquities Scheme

Do you remember what you were doing on the day that the Iraq war started?

I was at a meeting of the Welsh Antiquaries in the National Museums and Galleries of Wales in Cardiff. As part of the day we were shown the archaeological material recovered in Wales as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. And I was deeply impressed with the range of material which had been found, recorded and preserved.

What is the Portable Antiquities Scheme?

"The Portable Antiquities Scheme is the largest community archaeology project this country has ever seen. It was established in 1997 to encourage the voluntary recording of archaeological objects found by the public in England and Wales."

Full details are available from the PAS website.

The scale is massive: "Since the 1st January 2007, we have recorded 56969 objects within 37398 records." And no doubt by the time I publish these comments the number will have grown.

The aims of PAS are excellent. They include:

"To encourage all those…

The Art Loss Register: the experience of a dealer in antiquities

Imagine the scenario. You find the perfect purchase: an inscribed Greek funerary stele. It was with a fellow dealer and he had purchased it at auction. And you knew that this particular auction house checked all the lots against the Art Loss Register: and the search had drawn a blank. You buy it.

And then you discover that the piece was known in a museum collection in 1923 - and you discover that it had been stolen (but that the theft had not been recorded on the Art Loss Register).


James Ede gave the following piece of evidence to the UK House of Commons Depart of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in November 2003:
"Recently, last year, I acquired a Greek stela (a memorial tablet in marble) and, during the course of research, discovered that it had been published as being in the Thebes Museum in 1923 in Greece. I assumed it had been stolen during the war—because I acquired it from a dealer who had acquired it at auction, and the auction house, I know, checks with th…

Cultural Property Advice

I was browsing the UK Cultural Property Advice website. This was announced with great fanfare in February 2007:

"If you are thinking of buying or selling art, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) has created a website that should be every art and antiques enthusiast’s first port of call. Launched today, the Cultural Property Advice website contains vital information on collecting, buying and selling art, antiques and antiquities legitimately and with confidence.

The website supports private collectors, trade organisations and individuals working in public collections like museums, libraries and archives. It is a reliable, accurate and practical source of information and guidance on cultural property including: exporting and importing cultural objects; current legislation; news on stolen and illicitly traded objects; and lots of checklists and factsheets to support what you are doing."

What is this?

"Cultural Property Advice is a comprehensive on-line advisory …

The Art Loss Register: the view of a private collector

There is nothing like a thick stack of minutes. During the last few days I have had cause to reflect on the Art Loss Register and the way that it is being cited as part of a "self-regulation" culture in the antiquities market. I was checking the index of evidence for the UK House of Commons 2000 report on Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade (see Gill and Chippindale) and Appendix 2, "Memorandum submitted by Mr Claude Hankes-Drielsma", addressed the issue:
"Counteracting this illicit trade has to start by the countries concerned applying a more pragmatic approach both with regard to losses and economic realities. Furthermore, countries which are concerned with archaeological illegal exports need to ensure that objects excavated and in museums are properly photographed and recorded. This would enable them to identify when these objects are stolen and then ensure that they alert institutions such as the Art Loss Register to the loss. It would enable dealer…

"There is good self-regulation in most countries"

Sir John Boardman (in Who Owns Objects?) has posed the question,
"Should we not simply admit the impossibility of controlling the antiques trade, and indeed the undesirability of so doing except where proven stolen goods are involved, as in any other trade?"I have discussed elsewhere the issue of what is "demonstrably stolen". My view is in keeping with the position of the UK Museums Association:
"In general many parts of the trade seems to prefer to assume items are all licit, "innocent until proven guilty". It would be safer—and more realistic—to regard certain categories of material as likely to be illicit unless proven otherwise. Objects without a known recent history should not normally be traded or collected."But I digress.

Boardman continues, "By now there is good self-regulation in most countries" and cites two bodies:
a. The Antiquities Dealers Association
b. An (sic.?) Art Loss Register

Ashton Hawkins and Judith Church have written…

An Italian cavalryman in Manhattan

Greek colonial cavalrymen are clearly gathering on the eastern seaboard of North America - or at least sets of their armour can be found there.

The acquisition of a suit of Greek cavalry armour by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has been noted before. And there is another "set of armor from a burial" in the collection of Shelby White and the late Leon Levy. It consists of:

a. A "South Italian-Chalcidian" helmet
b. A long "muscle" cuirass (front and back)
c. A pair of greaves
d. A chamfron
e. A muzzle of a horse

The Apulian bronze armour appeared in the Glories of the Past exhibition (no. 95). The entry was written by David Cahn who suggested that the "set" should be placed in Apulia, "about 330 BC".

Cahn notes: "The date of the helmet is based on the many finds of armor in Apulia buried with Apulian red-figured vases, for which we have an established chronology".

Again, "Like the helmet, cuirasses of this type have come to lig…

A lesson from Virginia

The report in The Cavalier Daily ("Behind the masks: The University must explain the mystery of the Morgantina masks", Tuesday September 4, 2007) concerning the announced returns - or are they? - from the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville raises some interesting questions.

Although the New York Times has linked the "masks" with the collector Maurice Tempelsman,
"The University Art Museum acknowledges that the masks are on loan from an anonymous donor and that an agreement exists between the museum and the unnamed donor that limits the loan to a period of five years, after which the museum can do with the masks what it sees fit."Has the time come for museums to refuse to accept loans from donors who require that their identities remain anonymous? This is not the first time I have come across the phenomenon, and I doubt it will be the last.

The trail of a South Italian cavalryman's armour

At some point in the late fourth century BCE a cavalryman from one of the Greek colonies was laid to rest in a tomb in the rolling foothills of southern Italy.

We do not know his name. We do not know his age. We do not know the name of his community. We do not even know what other objects were placed in the tomb.

And we shall never know, because nearly two and a half thousand years later a group of men dug up his grave and packed up his bronze armour.

We do not know the route the armour took. We do not know where it was conserved.

But the set consisting of a helmet, the front and back cuirass, and one greave surfaced on the Köln art market in 1975 where the group was purchased by Joost Kuizenga of Enschede, The Netherlands.

Eighteen years later, in March 1993, the pieces were sold and formed part of the Liebert collection in Krefeld, Germany. In 2001 they were "acquired by or consigned to" Axel Guttmann (1944-2001). For some unstated reason they were returned to Liebert after …

The Virginia Return: could this have been anticipated?

The announcement of the return of antiquities from the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville could perhaps have been expected.

Back in June Elisabetta Povoledo ("Antiquities Trial Fixes on Collectors’ Role", New York Times, June 9, 2007) reported that as part of the True / Hecht trial in Rome:
"the prosecutors have clearly adopted a strategy of calling attention to collectors, especially well-heeled Americans, with the implicit message that every player in the global antiquities trade is within their sights."So who are the North American collectors? Four examples were cited:
"the Texas oilmen Nelson Bunker Hunt and William Herbert Hunt (who sold their artifacts at auction in 1990 after their fortunes collapsed); the New York diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman; the art philanthropist Lawrence Fleischman and his wife, Barbara; and the financier Leon Levy and his wife, Shelby White."Barbara Fleischman responded to the claim in the NYT:
“It seems …

From Virginia to Sicily: more returning antiquities

Elisabetta Povoledo has today reported on the return of two antiquities to Sicily from the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville ("Two Marble Sculptures to Return to Sicily", New York Times, September 1, 2007).

The two sixth-century BCE sculptures will be displayed in the archaeological museum at Aidone. They will be joined by other antiquities returning from North American collections: the "Morgantina" silver (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and an acrolitihic statue in the J. Paul Getty Museum.

The Viriginia sculptures are reported to have been looted from Morgantina in the 1970s (and said to have been seen in the boot of a car in 1979). They then surfaced in the hands of Robin Symes who sold them (in 1980) to Maurice Tempelsman (for a reported US$1 million).

Antiquities from the former Tempelsman collection form part of the agreement with the J. Paul Getty Museum. Symes has also been associated with many of the returning objects fro…