Saturday 29 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.

Friday 28 September 2007

"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 government is seeking the return of selected pieces.

When will she come to an agreement so that Italians can see these glories from their cultural heritage in their own country?

Thursday 27 September 2007

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 Chippindale. (For the Princeton University Art Museum.)

In November 2005 Princeton issued a press statement:
"According to Susan M. Taylor, who has been director of the Princeton University Art Museum since 2000, “The museum purchased these vases in good faith and has no knowledge of any wrongdoing associated with their acquisition. If proof of illegality is presented to the museum, the vases will be returned, as we have returned other items in the past.”
A contemporary news report in noted:
"Princeton University Art Museum spokeswoman Ruta Smithson would not say from whom the museum purchased the two vases in question or how much they paid for them."
The accession numbers have not been included in the reports. But Princeton acquired an Athenian psykter, attributed to the Kleophrades painter, in 1989 (acc. y 1989-69) [JSTOR - access restricted]. The list of donors who assisted with the acquisition is provided. An Apulian loutrophoros was also purchased in 1989 (acc. y 1989-29) ("Museum purchase, anonymous gift"). [JSTOR - access restricted]. This loutrophoros is listed elsewhere (in Vase-painting in Italy: Red-figure and Related Works in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [1993]) as one of the works attributed to the Darius painter that have surfaced in "recent years" - along with kraters in Berlin and a pelike which is being returned to Italy by the Getty.

Has the Princeton trail gone quiet? In the 2005 press statement it was stressed:
"In January 2005, the art museum provided Italian authorities with the information requested. Since that time, the museum has received no further communication from authorities in Italy, although they are quoted in recent press accounts as stating that they possess evidence that the two vases left Italy illegally and should be returned."
Yet it was reported in 2005 that the Princeton psykter is "listed in Hecht's indictment" (Vernon Silver, "Tomb-Robbing Trials Name Getty, Metropolitan, Princeton Museums",, October 30, 2005).

Things have moved on since November 2005. We have seen returns agreed with New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

So here is a quick list of questions for the Princeton University Art Museum as The Record of the Art Museum did not provide the information.
a. Did the psykter and loutrophoros surface after 1970?

b. What are the recorded histories for the psykter and loutrophoros? Who owned them prior to Princeton?
Would anybody like to provide the information? Was the THES right to cite Princeton as an example?

Wednesday 26 September 2007

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 elements is to have a dealer that's been around for a good number of years, that has a good reputation in the museums' world, and a dealer that respects its guarantees. And these guarantees are authenticity--the authenticity of the piece—guaranteeing that it's been imported according to the law, guaranteeing the condition of the object that's being sold and guaranteeing that the object has been checked in the Art Loss Registry, which is a registry for stolen and looted artifacts."
A more formal statement is made on the website in a section on "Selling" to Phoenix Ancient Art:
"Phoenix Ancient Art has developed one of the most stringent due diligence procedures for establishing provenance-the chain of ownership-in the antiquities trade. This is done to ensure that pieces come from reputable channels and are in accordance with the law. Such scrupulousness requires Phoenix Ancient Art to employ researchers who match artefacts against lost art registries, such as Art Loss Register Ltd, and who seek out documentation of prior ownership ..."
But wait a moment.

Is the Art Loss Register (ALR) - which is what I presume Aboutaam means - recording looted objects (as Aboutaam suggests in the Bloomberg interview)? A check against the ALR database will perhaps tell you if the object has been stolen from a private collection, public museum, or perhaps hacked off a known monument --- so long as the Art Loss Register has been informed of the theft. (See the example cited by James Ede where this had not happened.)

But the Art Loss Register does not record, as far as I know, previously unknown objects removed from unexcavated and unrecorded archaeological sites in the dead of night and transported from the country of origin without knowledge of the authorities. (If I am wrong I would be grateful if the staff of the ALR could let me know so that I can correct this statement.)

Does a check against the ALR provide a false sense of security for the buyer? What sort of guarantee is being offered? The "due diligence" process is so much more.

And, as the Phoenix Ancient Art website points out, this is where employed researchers step in.

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 Chippindale on (some of) the returning antiquities from the Getty is timely.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

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 there are at least four other North American museums - and at least one in Europe - which are reported to have acquired material identified by the Polaroid photographs seized in Geneva.

The question is not, "will there be more signings?", but rather, "when will they take place?"

"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 an associate in the Intellectual Property Department at McDermott, Will, and Emery, Washington, D.C. Ms. Brose worked in the Rights and Reproductions departments for both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum."

What are the assertions?

Tompa and Brose assert that "the archaeological establishment" - not defined - "is not sympathetic" to collecting and "advocates restrictions on the collection of all ancient artifacts, including items as common as coins".

There are no supporting references for this sweeping and generalised statement.

The Tompa and Brose fallacy

Tompa and Brose comment:
"Numismatists believe that all coins carry useful information about the political, military and economic situation at the time they were issued. Indeed, numismatists derive their own context from the study of design devices used on coins, the number and chronology of dies used to strike given series, and the metallurgical content of various issues. For that reason, numismatists categorically reject the claim that coins lose value as historical objects if the circumstances of their discovery are not preserved."
The issue of defining a "numismatist" has been discussed elsewhere.

Tompa and Brose use the same language as George Ortiz in defence of his private collection of antiquities displayed at the Royal Academy in London. (The collection is discussed in detail in the American Journal of Archaeology). Ortiz also suggested that careful scholarship can restore the context to objects.

Such views are misleading and wrong-headed. They ignore the intellectual consequences of looting. Tompa and Brose fail to address this issue for classical coins.

The aims of Tompa and Brose

There was a sub-text to their research. In the conclusion to their paper they state:
"Coins are different from many other ancient artifacts. To date, such differences have helped convince the US government to decline to impose import restrictions on ancient coins based on separate requests from the Republic of Cyprus and from Italy."
Their tactics failed to convince the US government. Restrictions on coins from Cyprus have been imposed.

Tompa, P. K., and A. M. Brose. 2005. "A modern challenge to an age-old pursuit. Can cultural patrimony claims and coin collecting coexist?" In Who owns the past? Cultural policy, cultural property, and the law, edited by K. Fitz Gibbon, pp. 205-16. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press / American Council for Cultural Policy.

Monday 24 September 2007

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 the find-spot is secure. "Said to have been found at Asyut" has a very different value to "excavated as part of a coin hoard at Asyut".

Or what about Ptolemaic coins in Hellenistic Corinth? Does it reflect interaction with the Ptolemaic garrison at Arsinoe in the Peloponnese? But what if the coins were only "said to have been found at Corinth"? Can this carry the same weight?

3. Topography and coins
The finding of coins in specific locations has been used since at least the time of Lt.-Col. William Leake for the identification of topographical names. The presence of the Ptolemaic issues on the Methana peninsula in Greece identified the location of the base attested as Arsinoe in the Peloponnese.

4. Distribution of coins
It has been noted by David Welsh that "The recent increase in interest in collecting ancient coins was primarily driven by two developments that began in the 1980s: widespread use of improved metal detectors as a recreational hobby, and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe". If large numbers of Roman coins are coming from Eastern Europe is that significant? Or by "Eastern Europe" is he meaning the Balkans? Are the coins coming from beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire? And if there are no recorded find-spots can we ever know? Has this information been lost for ever?

This debate is about so much more than destroyed archaeological contexts and the legal ownership of cultural property.

Saturday 22 September 2007

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 threatened sites. The answer to the plague of looting may lie with the endangered elephant.

Looters of ancient sites are operating in precisely the same way as poachers hunting elephant, rhino or apes: ivory, rhino horn and bush meat attain their value by a combination of illegality and rarity. One solution may be to treat ancient sites as, in effect, protected wildlife preserves, which visitors pay to visit just as they pay to see rare animals in their natural surroundings."

What Macintyre has failed to observe is that fragments of the infamous Keros haul from the Greek islands were auctioned at Sotheby's in London in order to benefit the Save the Elephant Campaign.

The issue is as much with the collectors as the looters. And what do we make of Manhattan collectors who adorn their apartments with archaeological "trophies" - whether from Turkey, Italy or Suffolk - and then expect to be celebrated by cultural institutions?

Friday 21 September 2007

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 to have been broken into fragments and carefully restored. Had the tomb collapsed and every single pot been broken into Jiffy-bag sized pieces?

The helpful museum labelling hints that the cemeteries of Taranto had been destroyed by modern construction. Perhaps the museum was giving these dispossessed orfani a home.

So how did these Apulian pots end up in Berlin? Who handled the transaction? What was their route?

The Medici Conspiracy mentions the Berlin material in passing (p. 109). The source seems to have been Giacomo Medici as Polaroids showing the objects were found in Geneva.
"The third acquisition was the most important and took place in 1983 [the accession was in 1984]. This involved a group of twenty-one Apulian vases all coming from the same tomb. The photographs in Medici's warehouse didn't show all the vases, however, but just four of them in fragments, lying on the floor. In this case there were three series of Polaroids---one of fifteen photographs, another of six, and a third of two---that show the vases in various stages of restoration, the most important of which was a krater by the Darius Painter" (p. 361 n. 2).
The explanation continues:
"All twenty-one had been offered to Berlin by one Christoph Leon of Basel on behalf of a Basel family, the Cramers. Professor [Wolf-Dieter] Heilmeyer examined the vases on the premises of the director of the Museum of Art and History of Geneva, Jacques Chamay ... Heilmeyer had spoken to the person who declared she had restored the vases, Fiorella Cottier-Angeli, who told him that the vases had been in very old chests and had reached Geneva "in the nineteenth century" ... the overall price of 3 million marks had been paid to Leon" (p. 199).
It has been noted elsewhere (Vase-painting in Italy: Red-figure and related works in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston [1993]) that pots attributed to the Darius painter were surfacing in the 1980s, e.g.:
a. Boston 1987.53 (calyx-krater),
b. Princeton y1983-13 (volute-krater),
c. Princeton y1989-20 (loutrophoros),
d. Malibu 87.AE.23 (pelike) [to be returned to Italy].
The irony is that Berlin's "Museum Island" (Museumsinsel) has been granted UNESCO Cultural Status and Protection - to display what appears to be cultural material looted from an undocumented archaeological site.

Is there any documented evidence that this "grave group" was known prior to Heilmeyer's inspection of the material in Geneva? What is known about the Cramers of Basel? Why would Giacomo Medici have Polaroids of fragmentary pots which had reached Geneva in the nineteenth century?

Has the history of the group been fabricated? Should the pots be taken off display? When will the group be returned to Italy?

Or is there an innocent explanation?

Thursday 20 September 2007

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 House, West Lothian" (lot 41).
4. An Attic black-figured lekythos was known to Sir John Beazley in 1971, and passed into the collection of the Hon. Robert Erskine (lot 19). (I presume Beazley was aware of this before the publication of Paralipomena in 1971 so I have given it the benefit of the doubt.)
Other pieces come from "old" named European collections:
5. An Egyptian Old Kingdom stone jar, "formerly in the collection of Wilhelm Horn (1870-1959), Berlin" (lot 67).
6. A classical Greek marble head first owned by Paul Hartwig (1859-1919) and later part of the Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) collection (lot 28).
Langlotz is reported to have owned two further pieces:
7. An Attic white-ground fragment (lot 23).
8. A Roman marble head of a boy (lot 51).
Four pieces come from the Swiss-based Erlenmeyer collection:
9. An East Greek marble head of a kore (lot 16).
10. A Western Asiatic stone female head (lot 61).
11-12. Mesopotamian dark grey stone mortars (lots 65, 66)
The remaining eight pieces come from anonymous collections which do not appear to be documented:
13-15. Three Etruscan painted relief fragments (lots 34-36). "Formerly in a Swiss private collection, since the 1960s".
16. A Canosan female figure (lot 37). "Formerly in a Swiss private collection, since the 1960s".
17. "The Stanford Place Apollo" (A Greek bronze head of a youth) (lot 29). "Formerly in a German private collection, since the 1960s"; acquired in 1992; on loan to Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, Basel (1996-2006).
18. An Egyptian Middle Kingdom torso of a temple official, Nefer-Rudj (lot 70). "Previously in a North American private collection formed before 1960"; acquired from Rupert Wace Ltd., London 1999.
19. A Western Asiatic limestone head of an ibex (lot 59). "Formerly in a Canadian private collection, since the 1960s"; subsequently sold at Sotheby's New York, 17 December 1997.
20. A Mesopotamian copper alloy head of a bearded man (lot 63). "Formerly in a private collection, acquired prior to 1970"; subsequently sold at Bonhams London, 26 April 2001.
Items known after 1970

The remaining 46 lots come from a range of sources:

The New York market (1988: lot 44; early 1990s: lots 32, 46; 1992: lots 7, 26; 1994: lot 30; mid 1990s: lot 11; late 1990s: lot 40) and specifically
a. Acanthus Ancient Art, New York: 1988: lot 39; 1989: lot 45 (exhibited in Zurich, 1974); early 1990s: lot 33; 1996: lot 42
b. Fortuna Fine Art, New York: 1990: lots 10, 48; early 1990s: lot 2; 1992: lot 49; 1996: lot 6
c. Robert Haber & Associates, New York, 1997: lot 21
d. Ward & Company Works of Art, New York: mid 1990s: lot 3; 1996: lot 5; 1998: lots 14, 18
The London market (1999: lot 64)
e. Bruce McAlpine, London 1993; formerly in an English private collection, early 1980s: lot 22
f. Jean-Luc Chalmin, London: early 1990s: lot 62; mid 1990s, lot 1; 1997: lot 4
g. Phillips London, 1988: lot 43
h. Robin Symes, London, early 1970s: lot 58
i. Sotheby's, London: 1987: lot 71; 1995: lot 47 ("formerly in a European private collection"), lot 50
The Swiss market
j. Donati Arte Classica, Zurich Art Fair, 1994: lot 52
k. Galerie Nefer, Zurich, mid 1980s: lot 20; 1989: lot 27; 1991: lot 25; 1993: lot 69
l. Galerie Rhéa, Zurich, 1990s: lot 13
m. Jean-David Cahn AG, Basel, mid 1990s: lot 15
n. Switzerland, 1992: lot 12
The European market
o. European art market: early 1990s: lot 8; 1991: lot 9; 1992: lot 31
Anonymous Private Collections
Finally there are three pieces from anonymous private collections:
p. American West Coast collection, acquired in 1979: lot 60
q-r. Swiss private collection, since the early 1970s: lot 17; since the 1970s: lot 68
Unsold Lots

In spite of the reassurances that the pieces came with a certificate from The Art Loss Register some 22 lots - including two books - were unsold (lots 2, 3, 10, 11, 15, 20, 24-27, 32, 34, 51, 52, 54, 55, 60-63, 65, 66). 13 of these unsold lots were first recorded after 1970 (lots 2, 3, 10, 11, 15, 20, 25, 26, 27, 32, 52, 60, 62).

"The Stanford Place Collection"

"The Stanford Place Collection" was presented as continuing the line of Grand Tour collections to be found in "grand London houses or country estates such as Wilton House, Holkham Hall and Lansdowne House". Yet only three Stanford Place pieces appear to have been known in the nineteenth century let alone the eighteenth like the objects (mainly sculptures) which once resided in the cited country and city houses. "The Stanford Place Collection" is a new collection largely formed since the 1970s.

"The Stanford Place Collection of Antiquities" was sold by the Trustees. Linda Sadler ("Ancient Clash: Christie's Says It's Greek, Dealers Say Roman",, May 18, 2006; and conveniently archived at Phoenix Ancient Art) commented:
"Christie's won't name the seller, though dealers and scholars said the pieces belonged to Claude Hankes-Drielsma, adviser to Iraq, critic of the Oil for Food program, British Museum patron and longtime collector."
Sir Claude Hankes, as he is now known, is an advocate of the Art Loss Register. His view is that if the object had been stolen then it should be listed on the Register. Is that why each object was sold with a certificate?

The Art Loss Register

The Art Loss Register has serious limitations when it comes to providing information about newly-surfaced antiquities. Would objects removed at the dead of night from an unknown and unrecorded archaeological site appear on the Art Loss Register database? Surely not.

As one British-based dealer in antiquities recently put it:
"Smuggled antiquities will not of course appear on a Stolen Art Register because they have never been reported as stolen; in most cases the authorities in their country of origin are not even aware that they have been dug up".
There is no suggestion that any of the pieces from the Stanford Place Collection were acquired illegally. Indeed, the catalogue has been careful to document the sources. But when and how did the antiquities enter the market? Does the Art Loss Register certificate provide any sort of reassurance for the buyers?

Wednesday 19 September 2007

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 coins is a severe problem. Is it the trade that is the problem, or is it instead misguided laws and the lack of law enforcement on archaeological sites? Should we put barriers on our freeways because people speed? Mr. Elkins would have more controls, more regulation, more restriction. That is a typical bureaucratic approach to solving a perceived, and in this case imperfectly understood, problem. I will continue to disagree."
The different groups need to listen to each other and to members from their own communities ("Coins and Cyprus: Listening to the Coin Forum", August 24, 2007).

But I am surprised to read a message posted on ("The Online Resource for Ancient Coins and Antiquities") on the eve (July 15, 2007) of the restrictions:
"... on sites like eBay my strategy would be to keep as low a profile as possible and avoid buzzwords like "Cyprus" and "coin" (remember all the ads containing words like "Mesopotamian" and "Babylonian" which were taken down after the laws were enacted against selling looted Iraqi antiquities)."
With views like this coming from coin collectors there is little wonder that academic numismatists are right to stress, as Elkins does,
"ancient coins must be considered by cultural preservationists no differently than any other ancient object".

Tuesday 18 September 2007

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 unlike the head of Nefertiti from Amarna that is now in Berlin.)

But in the case of the objects returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, there is no suggestion that the objects were excavated as part of an archaeological expedition. These objects had surfaced on the antiquities market after the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Many had passed through Switzerland and some had been recorded on Polaroids. All seem to have been ripped from their archaeological contexts by looters.

There is similarity between the two types of repatriation. It is now clear that museum officials are willing to talk to foreign governments. But the issue is not just about North American museums that have been under intense spotlights recently. The beams also need to turn to Europe and Japan where equally celebrated cases of looted antiquities are held.

Monday 17 September 2007

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 miserable ... It will be a scientific war" (Dan Morrison, "Egypt Vows "Scientific War" If Germany Doesn't Loan Nefertiti", National Geographic, April 18, 2007).

And the temperature seems to be rising. Hawass was quoted only last week as saying that antiquities such as the portrait of Nefertiti "were taken out by imperialism ...Well, the days of imperialism are over'' (Abeer Allam, "Queen Nefertiti Boils Cairo Blood as Germans Reject Bust Loan",, September 10, 2007).

Berlin is only being asked for a three month loan - not a return (at least at the present time). Clearly "conservation" is being presented as a reason for not allowing the portrait to travel - but is this the real issue?

What other "treasures" and "masterpieces" will be requested?

The discussion is blurring two issues: recent looting and the historic removal of cultural property.

The report takes encouragement from the recent return of antiquities from North America to Italy. Yet in those cases the Italian government has been successful in its claims on material that was acquired since the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Nefertiti left Egypt more than half a century before the UNESCO Convention (and the Rosetta Stone a century before Nefertiti). Should this fine image be on display in Cairo or Berlin? On the banks of the Nile or the Spree? Is it an icon of Egypt for Egypt, or of German achievements in the field of Egyptology?

Whose image is it anyway?

Monday 10 September 2007

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 who find archaeological objects to make them available for recording and to promote best practice by finders."

But notice that the scheme is about chance finds.

Surface finds often can and do indicate unknown, unrecorded and unexcavated archaeological sites. So lobby groups in America should be cautious about citing PAS as the cure for looting (see comments by Peter Tompa and Dave Welsh): PAS is encouraging dialogue and I feel optimistic.

What finds continue to go unrecorded? How many archaeological sites continue to be destroyed though deliberate looting?

Friday 7 September 2007

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 the Art Loss Register. It did not appear on the Art Loss Register, so I assumed that it must have been during the war. I contacted the Greek embassy to find out whether they had sold it. They assured me it had been stolen. I handed it back to them, obviously, and it turned out that it had been stolen since 1980 and they had not realised they had lost it. I asked them for information about other pieces which might have been lost at the same time and, to date, following four more letters to them, I have had no reply. This is what we are up against. That is why there is no point in throwing lots of policemen at this. We need a database that works, that is free for us to get into. The reason I say "free"—and I think this really does need to be hammered home—is that the vast majority of the members of my trade association deal in objects that are worth between £1 and £500. It costs £30 to do a check with the ALR. We cannot require our members to check things on that basis. We require them to check anything over £2,000; I would like them to check everything. It is not foolproof, but it is cheap and it is effective and it also gives a very clear definition of due diligence—very clear to everybody."
It is a good reminder that lack of presence on the ALR does not mean that the object has emerged as part of a licit trade.

But Ede makes a good point. Objects stolen from museums and stores need to be recorded with the ALR.

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 service to help you to collect, buy and sell art, antiques and antiquities legitimately and with confidence. It provides 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.

Cultural Property Advice supports: the trade including dealers and auction houses; private individuals whether one-off purchasers or collectors; those working in public collections including museums, libraries and archives.

Cultural Property Advice was commissioned by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), with funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in July 2005. Hopkins Van Mil carried out a wide consultation with potential users of the site and developed content for it based on the resultant discussions. They worked with rba design to develop an appropriate look and feel for the site. MDA project managed the publication of the site which was launched in February 2007."

There is the most bland discussion of ethics you are likely to find and a section on Illicit Trade where you can download a simple checklist for "Acceptable evidence for due diligence" - hardly a challenge for the sophisticated way that antiquities have moved from Italy to North America. (See earlier discussions.)

There is another checklist "Due diligence processes". Ponder complex questions such as: "Does it show signs of certain types of ingrained dust or dirt or has annotations which may demonstrate it has been on display, used or stored as part of an older collection?" Perhaps they have the sort of patina found on the ivory pomegranate in the Israel Museum.

At least there is one good piece of advice:

"If you have any suspicions about an object you must not acquire it".

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 dealers in antiquities over a certain value to always check with the Art Loss Register or such like organisations to ensure that the objects they are handling are not stolen."
This assumes, of course, that the antiquities surfacing on the market as a result of "illicit trade" had been excavated by archaeologists, placed in a museum or store, and then stolen. These things can happen.

But what about antiquities which surface on the market with a reported but undocumented history? They will not appear in the Register.

Hankes-Drielsma --- or Sir Claude Hankes as he is now --- describes himself in the memorandum as follows:
"I am a former Chairman of the Management Committee of Price Waterhouse and Partners, a collector of antiquities, a Patron and benefactor to the British Museum and on a Committee of the Ashmolean Museum, Patron of the National Portrait Gallery and an Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford."
Hankes, it should also be noted, was opposed to the UK ratification of UNIDROIT. His memorandum continued,
"Ratification of UNIDROIT by the UK would not only be a direct contravention of free trade but the bureaucracy required to deal with claims would be insurmountable given the above problems. Art trade is a very major international market and if a country could claim art which had been purchased legally was under their domestic law an illegal purchase, and it would then be for the owners of the art to prove this was not the case and these owners would be in an impossible position to fight the resources of a country. Furthermore, the country's laws may be such that they totally contravene the legal rights of ownership of the country under whose jurisdiction the owners are. Any success in this regard for the said countries could generate an avalanche of claims, very often for political reasons rather than cultural."
The UK Government subsequently signed up to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The Arts Minister, Baroness Blackstone, commented:
"By signing this agreement, we are sending a strong warning to those who do so much damage to the world's cultural heritage that the UK is serious about joining the international effort to stamp out illicit trade in cultural objects. It will also help us claim back objects unlawfully removed from the UK."

Thursday 6 September 2007

"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 about "A tale of two innocents: the rights of former owners and good-faith purchasers of stolen art" (in Kate Fitz Gibbon (ed.),Who Owns the Past? (2005), 62-63). They draw attention to the replacement of the International Foundation for Art Research, Inc. (IFAR) by "a British not-for-profit corporation formed by IFAR, Sotheby's, Christie's, London-based insurance brokers, and other British and American companies called the International Art and Antique Loss Register, Ltd. (ALR)".

They expand, "This registry [sc. ALR] has emerged as the leading international clearinghouse for information on stolen art".

One could be led to believe that the looting of antiquities is minor. Kate Fitz Gibbon, editor of Who Owns the Past?, drew on "information published by the Art Loss Register" to comment, "thefts of antiquities represent only 3 percent of total art thefts" ("Editor's note: The Illicit Trade - Fact or Fiction?", 179).

Perhaps this deserves a few words.

There is a difference between the theft of a Roman portrait head from a stately home or London apartment, and the deliberate digging up of an archaeological context to remove an Etruscan bronze mirror. Note that the Art Loss Register observes, "the majority of the items registered are objects stolen from private homes".

Take my first example. The Roman portrait head will have been inherited or purchased at a gallery, there will be documentation, and the circumstances of the theft will have been recorded by the police.

But take the second. The Etruscan tomb was opened secretly at night away from public gaze. The last person to see the bronze mirror was a member of the grieving family some 2400 years earlier. The tomb was unknown to archaeology. Its contents were unrecorded. There was nothing to go on the register.

So imagine a sale. The dealer checks with a register.

The Roman head pops up in the database: stolen from Slappleby Hall, Northamptonshire on November 12, 2002. (This is an imaginary theft before you scrabble for your computers. Even Google does not list such a residence ...)

The Etruscan mirror is clear: there is nothing in the database. Indeed a potential buyer can be told that a register has been checked.

Does the lack of presence on a register mean that the mirror has not been ripped from its archaeological context? No.

So should you be reassured, as Boardman would have us believe, when you buy from a member of the Association of Antiquities Dealers?

Their "Code of Conduct" states:
"It is a condition of membership that all goods acquired at the purchase price of £2,000 or more be checked with the Art Loss Register, or any other comparable stolen art database, unless they have already been so checked."
Indeed to help sellers, "Full members receive a number of free searches at the Art Loss Register."

The Code for the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art says much the same:
"All members undertake to check objects with a purchase value of Euro 3000 or over (or local currency equivalent) with the Art Loss Register unless the item has already been checked."
Do I feel reassured by all this? Not really.

But perhaps I should take comfort from a memorandum (dated October 2003) submitted by the Art Loss Register to the House of Commons (Committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport):
"Many stolen antiquities have been identified by the ALR and recently the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) maintains a protocol whereby all potential purchases by their members above a value of £10,000 must be checked against the database. An audit trial of all checks of the database is maintained. The ALR has been involved in advising parties in relation to major archaeological losses. In one case involving a dispute in excess of £20 million the company developed the concept of an international trust financed by a major museum, which would have the items on display. The terms of the trust would require the items to be exhibited in those countries which had a reasonable claim and eventually repatriated to the country should complete proof be obtained of their original excavation. The ALR has assisted in the recovery of items from Iraq and Iran which have resulted in arrests."
Are the "many stolen antiquities" from private residences, museums or previously unrecorded archaeological sites? The memorandum did not make it clear.

And am I saying anything new? Let me finish with some words from the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre in Cambridge published in 2000:
"In any event, at the risk of boring our more informed readers, the Art Loss Register cannot (and does not claim to) contain details of antiquities which have been excavated without record and smuggled without trace. Data bases are invaluable in the fight against art theft, but as a defence against the circulation of illicit antiquities they are of only limited use — a necessary but not sufficient check."
How can the Art Loss Register be strengthened to reduce the number of newly surfaced antiquities appearing on the market?

Wednesday 5 September 2007

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 light, usually with a wealth of ceramic material, in many monumental chamber tombs in Apulia".

As for the chamfron, Cahn notes its stylistic links with three others that appear to come from "a single workshop". He continues: "All four chamfrons were found with "south Italian-Chalcidian" helmets, long "muscle" cuirasses, and greaves; three of the four come from tombs that also contained Apulian red-figured vases".

No further information (e.g. archaeology, previous owners) is provided in the printed catalogue entry about the White/Levy set. But we can infer from Cahn's discussion and the catalogue entry caption that it came "from a burial" in Apulia.

And there is one more thing. Such sets of cavalry armour from Apulia tended to be found with Apulian pottery.

So does the dramatic increase of Apulian pottery surfacing on the market in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s - so ably and forcefully demonstrated by Professor Ricardo Elia - coincide with the appearance of such sets of armour on the market?

If Cahn is right, and there is no reason to doubt his comments and observations, it would be interesting to know which Apulian pots (if any) were found in the "burial" alongside this "set of armor".

But perhaps such valuable archaeological evidence has been lost and will never be retrieved.

The collecting of such military equipment has material consequences for the funerary record of Southern Italy, and intellectual consequences for the study of both Greek colonial cavalry armour and Apulian pottery.

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.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

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 three months. (Guttmann died on 28 October 2001 but after the next stage in the armour's journey.)

Liebert then consigned the set to Sotheby's in New York where they appeared as a single lot ("A Greek Helmet, Cuirass, and Greave, circa late 4th Century B.C.") in a sale of antiquities on June 12, 2001, lot 68. Although they had resided in the hands of Guttmann for some three months - and there is no apparent evidence they were owned by him - the Sotheby's catalogue entry stresses the pedigree: "Axel Guttmann, Berlin". (This is also stressed in a review of the sale.)

There is no mention of Kuizenga or Liebert. But Guttmann was known as a collector of ancient armour. His name (and endorsement) was valuable.

The helmet, cuirass and greave were sold to an unnamed "private collector" for US$115,750. But he or she did not wish to keep the armour and the pieces were "repurchased not long thereafter" by Sotheby's.

So the pieces were re-auctioned as a single lot the following June (June 13, 2002, lot 67). They failed to sell.

In August 2003, Peter Aldrich purchased the armour from Sotheby's. And in December Widgie and Peter Aldrich presented the set to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Who is Peter Aldrich?

First (in no particular order), he is a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Second, he is a collector of ancient Greek pottery.

And the list goes on.

He also does not have a good track-record of buying at Sotheby's. An Athenian bell-krater purchased from the auction-house in 1995 and presented to the MFA in 1999 was among those antiquities returned to Italy in 2006.

So where does this leave the set of armour?

The MFA's present acquisition and provenance policy states:

"In recognition of the November 1970 UNESCO Convention, the Museum will not acquire any archaeological material or work of ancient art known to have been "stolen from a museum, or a religious, or secular public monument or similar institution." In addition, the Museum will not acquire an object known to have been part of an official archaeological excavation and removed in contravention of the laws of the country of origin."

The paper trail - "the due-diligence research" - suggests that the armour does not appear to have been known prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The Museum acknowledges that the armour "probably comes from the tomb of a South Italian cavalryman".

The museum must be praised for its approach to providing this information as part of its policy:

"In order to ensure transparency and aid potential claimants, all recent acquisitions will be posted with images on the Museum’s website. Inquiries regarding potential claims on objects in the collection must be immediately directed to the Deputy Director who will ensure thorough research and prompt response to each inquiry."

This leaves a few questions.

When was the tomb found?

Has the due-diligence process demonstrated that the tomb was opened prior to 1970?

What was the justification for its acquisition?

The armour

a. 2003.815.1. South Italian-Chalcidian helmet

b. 2003.815.2. South Italian cuirass, front

c. 2003.815.3. South Italian cuirass, back

d. 2003.815.4. South Italian greave

This information is based on the catalogue entries provided on the MFA website (links above).

Monday 3 September 2007

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 like anyone can accuse anyone of anything without any proof. We collected for the pure joy of the object.”
Povoledo continued that Fleischman "said that she and her husband, who died in 1997, never suspected that they might be buying anything less than legitimate."

But it looks as if there was proof. The appearance of Fleischman material in the Geneva Polaroids is likely to be part of the evidence. In any case the 40 antiquities about to be returned from the Getty to Italy include 13 antiquities formerly owned by the Fleischmans.

Former Tempelsman material is also in the list of antiquities to be returned from the Getty. Is the Virginia return an extension of that line of enquiry?

And where does it leave Shelby White?

Saturday 1 September 2007

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 from North America - and indeed others which are still under investigation.

What other agreements can be expected in the coming months?

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...