Skip to main content

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.


Don Thieme said…
It seems like you were implying earlier in this post that the pottery is more valuable than the armor. I wonder which is considered the "loot" here by those doing the digging?
David Gill said…
Value has three meanings:
a. what the item would fetch at auction in a gallery
b. what the item would be worth in ancient terms
c. what the item means in its archaeological context

We know from ancient commercial graffiti that Athenian pottery was relatively cheap - and there is no reason to think that Apulian pottery was any more valued.

As an archaeologist the complete context is what is important --- I would not want to place any one item higher up the value scale.

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.