Skip to main content

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?

Comments

Don Thieme said…
Reading between the lines, it seems like Virginia has always planned for the Acroliths to be returned to Sicily. It makes sense for a museum to be involved in repatriating artifacts held in private collections, although many art museums do also have more suspect relationships with private collectors. The University of Virginia is not the only academic institution with these sorts of issues. I know, for example, that the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University is full of artifacts on loan from private collectors.

Love your blog!
David Gill said…
I once praised the Michael C. Carlos Museum for its loan programme - of objects from archaeological collections in the Mediterranean. (I was very struck by the Syracuse exhibition.)

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 …

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

A fragmentary relief of Mithras was discovered in 1964 at Tor Cervara on the outskirts of Rome. It was acquired by the Museo Nazionale Romano.

A further fragment of the relief was acquired by the Badisches Landesmueum in Kalrsruhe in 1976. The source was an unstated Swiss dealer. This fragment has been reunited with the rest of the relief [press release].

Today a further fragment of the relief was reunited with the other pieces. This had been recovered during a raid in Sardinia.

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…