Skip to main content

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?


Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.