Wednesday 31 October 2007

Princeton and the Aboutaams

Among the antiquities which are to be transferred directly to Italy as a result of the October 30 2007 agreement between Princeton University Art Museum and Italy is a polychrome terracotta architectural relief with a centaur (inv. no. 1995-129). Details of the original acquisition appear in the Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 56, 1/2 (1997) 61, 62 (ill.) [available on JSTOR].

Six of the eight pieces (four will be on loan to Princeton) which will have their title transferred to Italy were "museum purchases"; two were gifts. This terracotta relief is recorded as:
Gift of Ali and Hicham Aboutaam.

These brothers now run Phoenix Ancient Art S.A. which has galleries in Geneva and New York. The year the Princeton terracotta was presented by the Aboutaams coincided with the "incorporation" of Phoenix Ancient Art.

Their appearance here is interesting. Ron Stodghill ("Do You Know Where That Art Has Been?", New York Times, March 18, 2007 [archived]) reported on their activities earlier this year. Hicham Aboutaam is quoted as saying:
“When all those things happened at the Getty and Met, people assumed, ‘This is end of the antiquities trade because antiquities are evil,’ but I think what happened has been good for the whole field.”

Does he have any statement to make about why his gift to Princeton is now being returned to Italy? What was the source for this architectural relief?

Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

Columen plaque with a Centaur in Relief (terracotta, painted). Etruscan, southern Etruria or Latium, ca. 500-480 B.C.

Tuesday 30 October 2007

Princeton antiquities and Italy: signing

Princeton University Art Museum and the Italian authorities formerly signed an agreement today ("Princeton University Art Museum and Italy sign agreement over antiquities" (October 30, 2007) [Press Release; Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali]).

Susan Taylor, Director of the Princeton University Art Museum claimed the return "is consistent with our long-standing commitment to responsible stewardship of our collections". The statements say little about the decisions that allowed these antiquities to be acquired.

For further details about the acquisitions see "Princeton antiquities and Italy: acquisition details".

Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

Red figure psykter (ceramic), attributed to the Kleophrades Painter. Greek, Attic, ca. 510 500 B.C. One of four objects to be transferred in title to the Italian government but to remain on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Saturday 27 October 2007

Princeton antiquities and Italy: acquisition details

There is one striking feature of the announcement that the Princeton University Art Museum will be returning some antiquities to Italy and transferring the title of others to the Republic of Italy. It is so striking that it is like Sherlock Holmes' dog that did not bark in the night.

Previous agreements with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Feb 2006), the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Sept 2006), and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu (Aug 2007) all gave the accession numbers of the objects. The Princeton press release does not.

The authorities of the MFA and Getty have been particularly helpful and provided the information which has allowed a picture of the suppliers and networks to emerge (see Gill and Chippindale 2006; 2007).

Princeton and Italy seem to have made a complex deal. Some pieces will be transferred in title but remain on loan to Princeton; others will be returned to Italy; and others will remain permanently in Princeton. [Details from press release]
Princeton will keep seven objects and transfer title to eight. Of the eight objects whose ownership will transfer to Italy, half -- including the psykter and the loutrophorous -- will remain on loan to the museum for four years.
I present below a list with the accession numbers (though given the vagueness of the press release it is possible that some errors will have crept in and I have indicated where there is some uncertainty).

But what are the characteristics of the eight antiquities that will be transferred to Italy? Five were acquired in 1989 (the decade with the largest number of returns for Boston, Malibu and New York), and three in the 1990s. Four are certainly Etruscan (and the fifth was initially published as Etruscan) and it is likely that they came from contexts in Tuscany. The two Apulian pieces will probably have come from contexts in South Italy. The psykter, according to Robert Hecht's Memoirs, was apparently first known in a private house in Cerveteri suggesting it probably derived from a site in the locality. Six of the items were museum purchases. Were the curatorial staff unaware of the previous histories? Will Princeton be releasing the names of the individuals, dealers or galleries who handled the pieces prior to acquisition?
1. Apulian red-figured loutrophoros, attributed to the Darius painter. Inv. y1989-29. Museum purchase, anonymous gift.

2. Etruscan oinochoe. Presumably inv. 1995.149. Museum purchase.

3. Apulian red-figured volute-krater, attributed to the Iliupersis painter. Inv. y1989-40. Museum purchase, anonymous gift.

4. Carian round-mouthed oinochoe, attributed to the Ivy Leaf Group. Inv. y1989-53. Museum purchase, anonymous gift. [Originally as Etruscan.]

5. Attic red-figured psykter, attributed to the Kleophrades painter. Inv. y1989-69. Museum purchase, gift of Peter Jay Sharp through the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation; Lloyd E. Cotsen; John B. Elliott; Jonathan P. Rosen, through the Jonathan Rosen Foundation.

6. Etruscan head of a winged lion. Inv. y1994-58. Museum purchase, John Maclean Magie and Gertrude Magie Fund.

7. Etruscan black-figure skyphos fragment with a sprinting youth. Inv. 1995-64. Gift of Brian T. Aitken.

8. Etruscan terracotta plaque with relief centaur. Presumably inv. 1995.129. Gift of Ali and Hicham Aboutaam.
Seven pieces (including a pair of Amazons) will be staying in Princeton and there is no indication as to why they formed part of the discussions and final agreement. The presence of Peter Sharrer's name is interesting. In 2002 the pediment of a second century AD funerary relief was returned from Princeton to Italy ("Ancient Art to go Home", Art in America; "Princeton Return"). This had been purchased from Sharrer in part with funds from Mr and Mrs Leon Levy. This is the piece cited in the latest press release from Princeton indicating the way it has co-operated with the Italian authorities in the past:
Most recently, in 2002, the museum voluntarily returned to the Italian government an ancient Roman sculptural relief in its collection, having contacted the Italian authorities after the museum's own research revealed that the work was taken out of Italy without a legal export permit before being acquired by the museum in good faith in 1985.
Those antiquities remaining in Princeton are:
9. Corinthian plate with the Ransom of Hector. Inv. y1989-25. Museum purchase, anonymous gift in memory of Isabelle K. Raubitschek and to honor Antony E. Raubitschek

10. Attic red-figured cup, attributed to the Brygos Painter. Inv. 1990-2. Museum purchase, anonymous gift in honor of J. Robert Guy.

11. Teano ware vessel in the form of a bird. Inv. y1990-76. Anonymous gift.

12. Pair of Canosan polychrome terracotta charging Amazons. Inv. 1995-110, 1995-111. Museum purchase, Carl Otto von Kienbusch Jr., Memorial Collection Fund

13. Fragment of Attic red-figured lekythos, attributed to the Pan painter. Inv. 1998-223. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Sharrer in honor of Allen Rosenbaum

14. Roman inlaid dagger and sheath (bronze, iron, silver, gold, niello), signed by Honillius. Inv. 1999-148. Museum purchase, Carl Otto von Kienbusch Jr., Memorial Collection Fund

15. Apulian guttus in the form of a drunken Silenus. Inv. 2000-145. Museum purchase, gift of an anonymous Friend.
But what will be the next set of antiquities to be the subject of scrutiny by the Italian authorities? The New York Times reports ("Princeton to Return Disputed Art to Italy", October 27, 2007):
Negotiations continue with private collectors of antiquities in the United States, as well as museums in Europe.
Gill, David W.J., and Christopher Chippindale. 2006. From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities. International Journal of Cultural Property 13 (3):311-331. [pdf]
———. 2007. From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities. International Journal of Cultural Property 14 (2):205-240. [pdf]

Friday 26 October 2007

Princeton to return antiquities to Italy

Antiquities seem to be making the news today: incantation bowls at UCL, and the removal of a piece of Lydian silver from the auction at Bonham's. And now it has been announced on AP that "Princeton to Return Some Art to Italy". (For an earlier discussion see "Will Princeton Follow Yale?)

Today's report indicates that an agreement will be signed by Princeton on October 30. It states:
Among objects covered by the Princeton deal is a "psykter" — a Greek vase decorated with red figures that was used for cooling wine. ... The psykter's title will be transferred to Italy, but it will be one of the four pieces that will remain on loan in Princeton for four years. Prosecutors say the piece was looted from the Etruscan site of Cerveteri, north of Rome, by tomb raiders and sold to Princeton by American art dealer Robert Hecht for $350,000 in 1989.

Susan Taylor, director of Princeton's art museum, is quoted:

This agreement reflects and supports the research and educational mission of the university art museum, enabling us to retain a number of objects, repatriate others that belong to Italy, and have unprecedented access, on a long-term loan basis, to additional material.

Princeton's press release gives the details:

Four objects to be transferred in title but to remain on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum from the Ministry of Cultural Properties and Activities of the Republic of Italy.

1. Red figure loutrophoros (ceramic), attributed to the Darius Painter, depicting the mourning of Niobe and woman and youths at a foundation house. South Italian, Apulian, ca. 335-325 B.C.

2. Head of a winged lion (brown volcanic stone). Etruscan, ca. 550-525 B.C.

3. Red figure psykter depicting Symposion, or drinking party (ceramic), attributed to the Kleophrades Painter. Greek, Attic, ca. 510 500 B.C.

4. Red figure volute krater, attributed to the Iliupersis Painter (ceramic), depicting the return of Perseus to Seriphos and Dionysos, maenads and satyrs. South Italian, Apulian, ca. 370 360 B.C.

Four objects to be transferred from the Princeton University Art Museum to the Ministry of Cultural Properties and Activities of the Republic of Italy.

5. Columen plaque with a Centaur in Relief (Terracotta, painted). Etruscan, southern Etruria or Latium, ca. 500-480 B.C.

6. Oinochoe with a serpent around the body (ceramic). Etruscan, ca. 675 B.C.

7. Black figure skyphos fragment with a sprinting youth (ceramic). Etruscan, ca. 510 500 B.C.

8. Round mouthed oinochoe, attributed to the Ivy Leaf Group: naked male runners holding large ivy leaves (ceramic). Carian, East Greek style, ca. 540-530 B.C.

Seven objects to remain permanently at the Princeton University Art Museum.

9. Red figure kylix attributed to the Brygos Painter, depicting on its inside Hermes and one of the cattle of Apollo, and on the outside infant Hermes and the cattle of Apollo (ceramic). Greek, Attic, ca. 490 480 B.C.

10. Inlaid dagger and sheath (bronze, iron, silver, gold, niello). Roman, ca. first-second centuries A.D.

11. Plate with the Ransom of Hector (ceramic). Greek, Corinthian, ca. 580 570 B.C.

12. Fragment from a red figure lekythos depicting flying Nike (ceramic). Greek, Attic, ca. 480 470 B.C.

13. Pair of charging Amazons (painted terracotta). Greek, South Italy, Canosa, ca. 300 280 B.C.

14. Vessel (guttus) in the form of a drunken Silenus (ceramic). Greek, South Italy, Apulian, fourth century B.C.

15. Teano ware vessel in the form of a bird (ceramic). South Italy, Campanian, ca. 325 300 B.C.

The return is in line with the previous material returning from New York, Boston and Malibu. Which North American museum will be next? Or will the spotlight turn to Europe?

Bonham's and the Lydian silver kyathos: some unanswered questions

The decision by Bonham's to withdraw the Lydian silver kyathos from its London auction on Friday October 26, 2007 is welcome. It has come as a surprise as the kyathos was on display at the preview on the Thursday evening.

But there are a number of questions which remain.

a. Who took the decision to withdraw the kyathos from the sale? Was it Bonham's or the owner?
b. Are there documents that show the history of the piece prior to its surfacing at Sotheby's in the mid-1970s?
c. Is the kyathos being sent to Turkey? Or is it going back to its present proprietor?
d. Had the staff at Bonham's checked with the authorities in Turkey to ensure that this piece was not "stolen, illegally alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported"? If not, why not?
e. What was the due diligence process undertaken by the staff at Bonham's?
f. Had Bonham's checked the kyathos against the Art Loss Register (ALR)? Was a certificate issued?
g. Why did the citation of a parallel from a well-known haul of Lydian silver plate not ring alarm bells with members of the antiquities department at Bonham's? Were they unaware of the significance?

Bonham's values its integrity. It has done the correct thing in this instance (although at what seems the eleventh hour). Will its senior management team now put in place a more robust process of checking antiquities prior to a sale?

Lydian silver update

This has appeared on the Bonham's website today:

Lot No: 216
This lot has been withdrawn
An Achaemenid silver kyathos
Circa 5th Century B.C.

UCL and the Incantation Bowls: new revelations

Michael Balter has reported on the Incantation Bowl saga at UCL ("University Suppresses Report on Provenance of Iraqi Antiquities", Science 318, October 26, 2007). The discussion is now about the commissioned report which has not been made available for circulation.

Lord Renfrew is quoted:

It is shameful that a university should set up an independent inquiry and then connive with the collector whose antiquities are under scrutiny to suppress the report through the vehicle of an out-of-court settlement.

The archaeological community was looking forward to reading this report because UCL in a press release of May 16, 2005 had stated that it would
provide a model for best practice in dealing with the complex cultural issues that can arise from such situations.
Is suppressing this report "best practice"?

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Bonham's, Lydian Silver and a Code of Ethics

Tomorrow is due to see the auction at Bonham's of a piece of silver which, to use their words, is "virtually identical" to a piece from the "Lydian Hoard".

It is well known that the "Lydian Hoard" returned from New York "was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum over the period 1966-70 from John Klejman of Madison Avenue and the Swiss dealer George Zacos" (Stealing History: The Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, p. 10). The issues surrounding this particular "Hoard" case have been rehearsed elsewhere but Brodie et al. commented about the Metropolitan Museum of Art,

The Metropolitan failed to do the decent thing. Although caught red-handed and with deeply incriminating documentation in the museum's files, it went to court in an attempt to change the State of New York's rules about the period of time in which a claim for stolen property is allowed to proceed, hoping to keep possession. But in 1990 its case was dismissed. ... In 1993 the museum finally agreed to return the Treasure and the lawsuit was dropped.

We do not know - or more accurately, we are not told - how the piece now at Bonham's first surfaced at Sotheby's back in the mid-1970s. Had it too passed through Switzerland? Are there any trading associations with the former New York material? These are issues that must be addressed.


It is clear that the "Lydian Hoard" in general emerged on the market in suspicious circumstances - and it was rightly returned to Turkey. So if a piece of silver - "virtually identical" to one in the hoard - appears on the market and is known to have first surfaced around the time of the "Lydian Hoard", then there are grounds for suspicion.

Do suspicions matter?

Yes. If you read the UNESCO International Code of Ethics for Dealers in Cultural Property which was endorsed in November 1999 (now helpfully reproduced in Legal and Practical Measures Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property: UNESCO Handbook (2006) [pdf]; the code is mentioned in the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport document, Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade (2003) section 104) you will find that Article 1 states
Professional traders in cultural property will not import, export or transfer the ownership of this property when they have reasonable cause to believe it has been stolen, illegally alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported

I presume that Bonham's would consider themselves to be "Professional traders in cultural property". I presume an auction of a piece of Lydian silver could be considered as "transfer the ownership of this property". And given what we know about the "Lydian Hoard" and the clear stylistic association with this silver kyathos there could be "reasonable cause to believe it has been stolen, illegally alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported".

So, some simple questions. "Yes" or "no" would be sufficient for the moment.

Have the staff at Bonham's checked with the authorities in Turkey to ensure that this piece was not "stolen, illegally alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported"?

Have the staff at Bonham's checked the documentation for the history of the piece prior to its sale at Sotheby's in the mid-1970s?

And the answers matter because Article 3 of the UNESCO Code of Ethics states:
A trader who has reasonable cause to believe that an object has been the product of a clandestine excavation, or has been acquired illegally or dishonestly from an official excavation site or monument will not assist in any further transaction with that object, except with the agreement of the country where the site or monument exists. A trader who is in possession of the object, where that country seeks its return within a reasonable period of time, will take all legally permissible steps to co-operate in the return of that object to the country of origin.

Bonham's also need to remember Article 8 which states:
Violations of this Code of Ethics will be rigorously investigated by (a body to be nominated by participating dealers). A person aggrieved by the failure of a trader to adhere to the principles of this Code of Ethics may lay a complaint before that body, which shall investigate that complaint before that body, which shall investigate that complaint. Results of the complaint and the principles applied will be made public.

I presume that in the case of Bonham's it would be the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA) whose Code of Ethics states:

I agree to conduct my business in such a way as to bring no discredit on the Association or its members or the trade in general.

But I am assuming that Bonham's supports the notion of the UNESCO Code of Ethics. They should, because UNESCO makes a case for why dealers need to take it seriously:

Adopting the Code gives dealers a way of distancing themselves from disreputable people who claim to be dealers and in fact make no inquiry into provenance or even themselves knowingly instigate illegal acquisitions.

It therefore attracts to them the business of ethical collectors and raises the reputation of the ethical dealer community in the minds of the public and the media.

In cases where dealers themselves are selling as owners and not only as agents, it also gives them the right arguments to insist on proper evidence of legal acquisition from their suppliers.

Brodie, Neil, Jennifer Doole, and Peter Watson. 2000. Stealing history: the illicit trade in cultural material. Cambridge: ICOM UK, the Museums Association and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. [pdf]

UK Government documents on the illicit trade in cultural objects

Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003

Bonham's, Lydian silver and due diligence

A silver kyathos, "virtually identical" to one from the Lydian haul returned to Turkey, is due to be sold at Bonham's this Friday (October 26, 2007).

We know from a recent survey of Lydia that some 90% of these tumuli showed signs of looting. We know that this kyathos surfaced in the mid-1970s when parts of the Lydian haul were appearing on the market.

These points issues raise several issues.

Bonham's is a member of the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA). Item 2 of the Code of Conduct states:

I undertake not to purchase or sell objects until I have established, to the best of my ability, that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.

So has the due diligence process taken place so that is can be demonstrated that this piece of silver was not removed illegally from an archaeological site - and specifically a burial tumulus in Lydia, Turkey?

Making a direct parallel in the sale description to a piece from the "Lydian hoard" would suggest that the thought had gone through the mind of the cataloguer at Bonham's. And if this did not raise concerns, should it have done?

But there is more. The estimate for the kyathos is "£12,000 - 15,000". And this is when point 3 of the ADA's Code of Conduct comes in:
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.

So presumably Bonham's has checked with the ALR. Is that correct? But, as I have discussed elsewhere, the ALR will indicate if the object has been stolen from, say, a private collection in Knightsbridge, but not if the item comes from a previously unknown and unrecorded archaeological site.

Both the ADA and ALR are seen by Sir John Boardman as examples of "good self-regulation". Is the sale of this piece of Lydian silver a test? Will the ADA and ALR be raising questions?

Tuesday 23 October 2007

"History Lost" exhibition in Trieste

This Friday the exhibition "History Lost" opens at Castello Di San Giusto in Trieste, Italy.
The exhibition also presents replicas of artifacts which were illegally exported and have now returned to their county of origin: the marble head of Dionysus of the Corinth Museum, the Aidonia Treasure from Ancient Nemea and the Kanakaria mosaics from Cyprus.

The exhibition also
reveals the extent of the looting of archaeological sites around the world today: that the majority of antiquities appearing for sale on the art market have been illegally dug and smuggled out of their country of origin. It explains the importance of provenance to a wide audience; why objects illicitly dug lose their historical value.

Linked to the exhibition is an excellent documentary, The Network (see review).

This is a thought-provoking exhibition which I saw at the Benaki Museum in Athens last year.

Monday 22 October 2007

Misunderstanding the Portable Antiquities Scheme?

The UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a key way for members of the public to report chance finds. As the PAS says:

Every year many thousands of archaeological objects are discovered by members of the public, mostly by metal-detector users, but also by people out walking, digging their gardens or whilst going about their everyday work.

The point of the scheme is not to record all coins (or finds) made by archaeologists but rather to report chance finds made by members of the public.

Dave Welsh --- once again --- convincingly displays his misunderstanding of PAS by claiming:

The argument that those who go clandestinely prospecting for coins with metal detectors disturb archaelogical sites has been convincingly refuted by statistics compiled by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the UK, which demonstrate that only 2% of reported coin discoveries are made by archaeologists.

If one of the aims of PAS is

To advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public

we would expect the PAS to be reporting relatively few finds by archaeologists. That is the nature of the scheme. (Please note: PAS covers England and Wales, not the whole of the UK - there is a difference.)

Finds may be made by the public in what Welsh calls "cultivated fields, pastures or wooded areas". But today's "cultivated fields, pastures or wooded areas" may have been yesterday's Iron Age farmstead, Roman villa, or Medieval village. The target areas for Welsh's "coin treasures" could be archaeological sites. The correlation could be significant.

It is about time that Welsh listened to his fellow coin collectors. And he could learn something from Paul Barford's sensible comments on the PAS both here and elsewhere.

Bolton and the "Amarna Princess"

Last week's announcement that a couple had pleaded guilty to selling a forged Egyptian alabaster statue to the Bolton Museum raises some interesting issues (Paul Stokes, "Couple sold fake Egyptian statue for £400,000", Daily Telegraph, October 20, 2007).

The sculpture was purchased back in 2003 for £440,000 with support from the National Arts Collection Fund [£75,000], the National Heritage Memorial Fund [£360,767] and the Friends of Bolton Museum and Art Gallery (story).

It came with the following history:

The sculpture was bought and brought to Bolton by the owner's great grandfather in 1892 at a sale of the contents of Silverton Park in Devon, the home of the 4th Earl of Egremont.

When the police started their enquiries last year it was noted:
It was bought by the museum from a local family in Bolton, Greater Manchester, who wanted to remain anonymous.

The NACF website also adds this information:

"Vendor: Through Christie, Manson and Woods Ltd".

One of Bolton's councillors, Laurie Williamson, was quoted as saying (probably now with much regret):

"This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure an important Egyptian treasure."

So we have the following elements:
a. a purchase too good to be true.
b. a purchase from an anonymous collection.
c. a distinguished pedigree.
d. the link with a well-known auction-house.

And are we surprised at the outcome?

But, more importantly, what checks were made? Who made them? And who double-checked in the two Funds?

"Lydian" silver at Bonham's

This Friday, October 26, sees the auction of a piece of "Lydian" silver at Bonham's in London as lot 216.

But why do I say "Lydian" when the catalogue description clearly states, "An Achaemenid silver kyathos"?

The reason is simple. This distinctive piece has a very close parallel as the Bonham's catalogue makes clear:

This ladle is virtually identical to the example in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (1980.11.14).

A glance at the New York catalogue, D. von Bothmer's A Greek and Roman Treasury no. 62, suggests the parallel is "Greek, sixth century B.C.", not (as Bonham's) "Achaemenid" and 5th century B.C.

So why am I not describing this piece as Greek? It is because the catalogue compilers at Bonham's overlooked one significant fact.

The parallel is no longer in New York. It has been deaccessioned. It has been returned to Turkey along with the rest of the "Lydian haul" (Lydian Treasure no. 30).

And where and when did the Bonham's ladle surface for the first time? At Sotheby's in London on Monday, July 14, 1975, lot 93.

The feature of the Bonham's ladle with "a silver lotus capital with a ring terminal above in the form of a pair of rampant lions, their forepaws interlocked and their heads turned back" is shared with the former New York piece, "two heraldic lions ... touch each other with their extended front legs and avert their heads". They look as if they come from the same workshop and possibly even from the hands of the same silversmith.

Why did the Bonham's cataloguers want to draw such a clear parallel with a piece from the "Lydian haul"? Is it because they believe that the ladle being auctioned this Friday also derived from one of the Lydian burial mounds?

There are some questions that need to be answered this week.

And as the Bonham's antiquities department says:

"you are likely to find something of interest in one of our sales".


Özgen, I., and J. Öztürk. 1996. The Lydian treasure: heritage recovered. Istanbul: Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture General Directorate of Monuments and Museums.

Friday 19 October 2007

"The Lydian Hoard" revisited

I was very struck by the study of Christopher H. Roosevelt and Christina Luke which describes "The Destruction of an Archaeological Landscape in Western Turkey". Their starting point is the notorious "Lydian Hoard" returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to Turkey.

They note that the "hoard" --- in fact a haul of material derived at least four separate grave mounds --- "made their way via Izmir and Switzerland to dealers in New York City". But Roosevelt and Luke rightly stress the "most destructive effect" of the looting --- "the loss of context".

A recent survey of Lydia shows the extent of the problem. They continue: "Of the 397 tumuli personally inspected, 357 or 90 percent showed signs of looting" (p. 179) [emphasis mine].

What is happening to the objects? How does this level of destruction influence our interpretation of Lydia?

Bothmer, D. v. 1984. A Greek and Roman treasury. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Özgen, I., and J. Öztürk. 1996. The Lydian treasure: heritage recovered. Istanbul: Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture General Directorate of Monuments and Museums.
Roosevelt, C. H., and C. Luke. 2006. "Looting Lydia: The destruction of an archaeological landscape in western Turkey." In Archaeology, cultural heritage, and the antiquities trade, edited by N. Brodie, M. M. Kersel, C. Luke, and K. W. Tubb, pp. 173-87. Cultural heritage studies. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.
Rose, M., and Ö. Acar. 1996. "Turkey's war on the illicit antiquities trade." In Archaeological ethics, edited by K. D. Vitelli, pp. 71-89. Walnut Creek: Alta Mira.

Thursday 18 October 2007

UCL and the incantation bowls: Q&A in the House of Lords

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn has raised the issue of the UCL report concerning the incantation bowls in the House of Lords. He received this written reply last week from Lord Davies of Oldham:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has not received a full copy of the report relating to the collection of Aramaic incantation bowls. I understand that University College, London, returned the bowls to the Schøyen Collection.

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Old collections at the Basel Ancient Art Fair

I thought that it would be interesting to browse what is on offer at next month's Basel Ancient Art Fair (BAAF). Some of the dealers do not provide information about the "former owners" of objects on offer, but here are some of the "old" collections represented in the selection of "choice" pieces:

a. J.-P. A. collection, Brussels

b. the Collection of the Swedish architect Albert Tornquist (1819-1898)

c. Spitzer Collection, Wien-Paris, XIX century and, Moretti Collection, Bellinzona, Switzerland

And specifically from Rupert Wace:

d. "An Egyptian painted fresco fragment dating from the New Kingdom": "a Dutch collection", "private collection the Netherlands, acquired 1960s-70s"

e. "a limestone head of a cow", Egyptian, New Kingdom: "a private French collector in the mid 20th century"

f. "an Egyptian limestone relief fragment from the Middle Kingdom": "formerly in the noted collection of Georges Halphen in France"

g."Greek head of a female": "a private European collection, acquired in 1984"

h. "a Hellenistic polychrome terracotta head of a woman": "the collection of a Venezuelan diplomat"

i. "An Etruscan bronze handle": "a private Swiss collection"

j. "an extraordinary terracotta rhyton or drinking vessel in the form of a humped Zebu bull": "a private German collection, acquired prior to 1970"

Wace's press release on the website of his public relations company stresses:

"All exhibitors [at BAAF] are members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) who abide by a strict code of ethics guaranteeing the authenticity of everything they sell and exercising extensive due diligence regarding provenance".

Wace is understandably wanting to present a good image after the poor publicity he received last year (see "A Middle Kingdom Alabaster Duck - and a member of the IADAA"). If we remember, that piece came from "a private collection in France" --- apparently a euphemism for a syndicate of auctioneers, "PIASA in Paris".

In a world where an object derived from Robin Symes can be described as from "a private collection ... in Great Britain", any diligent person would be rightly suspicious of antiquities emerging from anonymous collections.

So do we need a little more information to put our minds at rest?

Monday 15 October 2007

"Old Collections" at Bonham's

I was looking at the forthcoming highlights of the October 26, 2007 sale of antiquities at Bonham's, London. [I would have checked more of the catalogue but there seems to be an error on their website.]

The highlights include:

a. Lot 70, Egyptian cat. "French private collection. Accompanied by a French passport".

b. Lot 82, Egyptian glass inlay of Isis. "Frida Chacos in 1970". [I presume this is the same as Frida Tchachos.]

c. Lot 102, Roman cameo. "Ex private Hungarian collection. Acquired recently in Munich".

d. Lot 140, Byzantine bronze polycandelon. "Property of a European private collector, 1960s - present day".

e. Lot 164, Apulian volute-krater. "Property of a private English collector, acquired from a London dealer between 1997-2002, formerly in an English Private Collection in the 1950's".

f. Lot 173, Hellenistic silver skyphos. "Property of a European private collector, acquired in Germany before 2000."

g. Lot 174, Roman gilt silver bowl. "Property of a private Austrian collector. Acquired in 1982 from a Salzburg dealer."

h. Lot 175, Roman marble Bacchic figure. "Property of a private English lady, acquired in the early 1990s from the Olympia Fine Art and Antiques Fair."

i. Lot 176, Roman head of Apollo. "Property of a private English lady, acquired in 1990 at Sotheby's London."

j. Lot 183. Roman portrait head. "Ex French private collection. Acquired by the current owner in 1996."

k. Lot 216. Achaemenid silver kyathos. "Acquired by the current owner from Sotheby & Co. London in 1975." [It also notes, "This ladle is virtually identical to the example in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (1980.11.14)." = von Bothmer, Greek and Roman Treasury no. 62]

How many of these pieces have recorded and documented histories prior to 1970? Are any of these histories based on "word of mouth"? If so, which ones? Anonymous private collections draw suspicion in such contexts - and for good reason given what we now know about the trade in antiquities.

Bonham's claims:

"A dedicated team of specialists, professionals and administrators in each Bonhams location seeks, by commitment to client service and integrity, to establish Bonhams as the prime auction house of choice for buyers and sellers worldwide."

If integrity matters to the company, would Bonham's like to clarify the situation?

Saturday 13 October 2007

UCL and the incantation bowls

UPI reported over last weekend ("Iraqi antiquities center of British battle", October 7, 2007) that the UCL inquiry concerning the incantation bowls from the Martin Schøyen collection took a new direction.

Colin Renfrew, a member of that inquiry, is quoted as saying in response to a decision to withhold the report:

"UCL tried to do the right and ethical thing by setting up a committee of inquiry. Then, when threatened with a lawsuit, in my view, it gave way under pressure".

No doubt the signs were there last March when The Times reported, "Tycoon orders university to return his ‘magic’ artefacts" (March 22, 2007). The 654 bowls has been loaned to UCL "for academic research purposes" back in 1996.

In 2005 The Times ("Museum inquiry into 'smuggling' of ancient bowls" [archived]) reported that the bowls "were exported from Jordan, but their country of origin may have been Iraq, the site of ancient Mesopotamia."

Michael Worton, UCL's vice-provost, was quoted as saying:

"until recently, most universities have taken a relaxed approach to the acquisition of such objects, with academic staff acquiring and publishing research and teaching collections. To restrict such activities would have been seen as restricting academic freedom. However, in the 21st century new principles and policies are emerging. In 2002, the UK signed up to the 1970 Unesco convention on illicit cultural trade and in 2003 the UK implemented the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act. Intelligence on the pillaging of archaeological sites has greatly increased and attitudes are changing."

If attitudes are really changing why has UCL really taken the decision to stop the report from being made public? And is it a little misleading to suggest "in the 21st century new principles and policies are emerging"? Staff at UCL have made their views known on archaeological ethics since the last millennium. (A copy of Antiquities: Trade or Betrayed. Legal, Ethical and Conservation Issues [1995] is sitting on my shelf.)

Not only does the report appear to have been buried, but money seems to have changed hands. A Joint statement from UCL and the Schøyen Collection: Aramaic Incantation Bowls issued on June 27, 2007 [mirrored] recorded:

"UCL has no basis for concluding that title is vested other than in the Schøyen Collection. UCL has now returned the bowls to the Schøyen Collection and has agreed to pay a sum in respect of its possession of them."

The Schøyen Collection website makes the interesting observation:
"Over two-thirds of all discovered incantation bowls have an unknown original provenance, as they are usually surface finds, rather than artefacts found in a particular strata or location of an archaeological dig."

In other words, over 65% of the all the known incantation bowls --- some 2000 --- do not have a recorded find-spot. (Conversely, and by implication, less than 700 have some kind of find-spot.) What are the intellectual consequences for their study?

Then it struck me that the case of these texts is not unlike the debate around "unprovenanced" texts and inscriptions which fall into the broad sphere of "biblical archaeology" (see "Intellectual Consequences for Biblical Archaeology?").

There is a petition concerning the "Publication of Unprovenanced Artifacts" sponsored by the Biblical Archaeology Society. I quote two of the points here:

7. We do not encourage private collection of antiquities. But important artifacts and inscriptions must be rescued and made available to scholars even though unprovenanced. When such objects have been looted, the antiquities market is often the means by which they are rescued, either by a private party or a museum. To vilify such activity results only in the loss of important scholarly information.

8. We would encourage private collectors of important artifacts and inscriptions to make them available to scholars for study and publication. Too often collectors who do make their objects available to scholars are subject to public obloquy. As a result, collectors are disinclined to allow scholars to study their collections, and the public is the poorer.

I notice that one of the original signatories is Professor Shaul Shaked.

And to complete the loop, the Schøyen Collection website informs us:

"Since 1995 Professor Shaul Shaked at the Hebrew University, the world’s foremost authority on incantation bowls, has taken on the Herculanean task of publishing the bowls in the Schøyen Collection ... The Schøyen Collection’s 654 incantation bowls have been housed at University College London for the convenience of Professor Shaked".

Friday 12 October 2007

Al Gore and the finite resource

Congratulations to Al Gore on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has done so much to draw attention to global climate change. The BBC website records his comment:

"I will be doing everything I can to try to understand how to best use the honour and recognition of this award as a way of speeding up the change in awareness, and the change in urgency."

As I listened to the news report this evening, the story switched to those critics of Gore. They would have us believe that there is no climate change, and that Gore is scare-mongering.

And then I realised that I had heard it all before - from the pro-collecting lobby that pretends that looting does not damage the finite archaeological context.

"Objects have a meaning that transcends context"

Radical collectors and dealers do write some extraordinary things. For some reason they want to belittle the importance of archaeological contexts.

Michael Ward, a New York based dealer in antiquities, was interviewed by Peter Marks for the Kate Fitz Gibbon edited volume Who Owns the Past? (2005). He came up with this:

"Context is important, but to some people, objects have a meaning that transcends context: their humanity, their expression, something that we admire and that puts us in awe of the artist. And that's what we feel is important. These objects continue to live for that reason, and play a part in our spiritual lives."

It seems to be the artistic achievement which is so important - even though it is the work of an anonymous crafts(wo)man. The archaeological context appears to be unimportant even though it would tell us about the ancient viewer of these objects.

Ward reflects on his 1993 "show" of "Mycenaean gold" which he admits was "a disaster". He claims that the Greek government "had concocted a provenance for the pieces so they could be claimed as cultural patrimony". Indeed, "the fanatical political agenda was more important than the truth".

So what is the truth? That a stunning hoard of Late Bronze Age jewellery appeared on the New York antiquities market without a recorded find-spot?

Ward belittles the objects: "the news media called the gold national treasures, and made that appear much more important than what the pieces could tell us about ancient Greece".

Ward in his interview never mentioned the topographical name of the site. However, the Greek government took legal action because archaeologists believed that the gold items "were the product of illegal excavations at the Mycenaean cemetery of Aidonia near Nemea" (in the Peloponnese).

Parallels with excavated material suggested to the Greek authorities that "the New York assemblage must have come from the chamber tombs of the rich cemetery at Aidonia, which rivals the other late Mycenaean cemeteries of the Argolid in significance and is the most important Mycenaean cemetery to have been extensively looted in the past twenty years".

Does the gold come from the cemetery at Aidonia? Can we be certain? Certainly the "New York" objects share characteristics with the excavated material. But does that mean that they were buried in the same series of tombs?

The pieces cannot tell us about "ancient Greece" - or Late Bronze Age Greece - because we do not know their archaeological context. As Demakopoulou and Divari-Valakou point out:

"illegal excavations and antiquities theft ... result not only in the illegal export of antiquities, but also in the destruction of the evidence which is indispensable for scholarly research" [emphasis mine].

Archaeological context matters. And we would understand the richness of Late Bronze Age Aegean society so much better if these tomb-groups had remained intact to be excavated, studied and published by archaeologists.


Demakopoulou, K. Editor. 1996. The Aidonia Treasure: Seals and Jewellery of the Aegean Late Bronze Age. Athens: Ministry of Culture Archaeological Receipts Fund.
Demakopoulou, K., and N. Divari-Valakou. 1997. The Aidonia Treasure. Athens: Ministry of Culture Archaeological Receipts Fund. [Review]

Thursday 11 October 2007

Jack Davis: "The rising love of loot"

Jack Davis, the new Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), has given an interview on looting.

Given the recent vocal comments from the coin lobbyists, it was helpful to read the views of an experienced and distinguished field archaeology:

"Often the amount of devastation to an archaeological site is really disproportionate to the loot that's recovered. People will do huge damage to a site just to walk away with some coins, destroying sometimes the whole history of an area in an evening with a bulldozer. There's hardly a field archaeologist alive who hasn't seen that."

He also makes comments about the role of the private collector:

"I think some of the most avid collectors are paying the highest prices and are fuelling demand; they're driving the market. I don't want to see archaeological sites destroyed. I want to learn as much about the past as possible."

Davis is not afraid of the big or contemporary issues. He touches on the Byzantine silver hoard which is claimed by Bulgaria. And he poses the question about the Parthenon marbles, "Where do they derive the most meaning?"

I wish Professor Davis the best of success in his new role.

Tuesday 9 October 2007

"Tainted Objects"

Southern Methodist University's Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility is holding a conference, "The Future of the Past: Ethical Implications of Collecting Antiquities in the 21st Century", later this month.

We are told, "The goal of the conference is to move participants toward solutions."

I notice that one of the sessions is described as "Tainted Objects" which will address "The Fate of Antiquities Having Problematic or Unknown Provenance".

This raises several issues.

a. What is meant by "tainted"? Surely the objects are either genuine or fake. Is the magnificent Euphronios krater now on loan from the Italian authorities to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in any way "tainted"? It remains an impressive example of Athenian red-figured pottery. It is not the object that has been "tainted" but rather the institution that purchased it.

b. What is meant by "provenance"? This art historical term, as I have shown with Christopher Chippindale, is misleading in this context. Do we mean the history of the object, i.e. when did the object first appear? Or do we mean the archaeology of the object, i.e. is the find-spot known?

c. What is meant by "problematic"? Do we mean that the object has no known history before the 1970 UNESCO Convention? In other words, could it be open to legal action for its return to the country where it was found? Did the antiquities recently returned from New York, Boston and the Getty have a "problematic provenance"? In fact some of them appear to have have had histories that led them before the lens of a Polaroid camera. Indeed it seems that these were objects removed from archaeological contexts in Italy, transported from the country, and sold to high profile institutions. What is "problematic" about this sequence?

d. Why is "unknown" so puzzling? Imagine an object which is offered for acquisition. It has no recorded history. It has no recorded find-spot. It is a purchase almost too good to be true. Is the history unknown? Or is the history left undeclared because knowledge would undermine the sale?

We need solutions. We expect the highest standards of integrity from the members of collecting institutions. And we also need recognition that looting destroys archaeological sites for good.

The Art Loss Register at the Basel Ancient Art Fair

The Art Loss Register (ALR) is listed as one of the participants at next month's (November) Basel Ancient Art Fair (BAAF). The Fair is described as:
"BAAF attracts leading specialists from all over the world, making it not only the largest, but also the most important fair of its kind under one roof. All participants are members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) and follow a strict code of ethics concerning the authenticity and provenance of the objects they sell."
It is good to see the IADAA stressing their "strict code of ethics".

But I am interested in the presence of the Art Loss Register. Why are they present?

Let me speculate (though I would invite additions to this list):
a. To gain customers from among the private collectors who will be buying antiquities at the Fair. After all, one of the main strengths of the ALR is the registering of objects in case of theft.

b. To gain customers from among the dealers who will be able to check that the objects they sell are not stolen property. Again, this is a sensible move.
I have expressed concerns elsewhere about the limitations of the ALR and I present a brief list here.
1. The ALR does not appear to be able to identify recently surfaced --- and potentially recently looted --- antiquities.

2. The ALR is not in a position to identify objects which have been stolen (or looted) but which have not been placed on the database. James Ede (who is exhibiting in Basel) has made exactly this point when giving evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee.

3. Some dealers --- though the one I have discussed is not a member of the IADAA --- seem to suggest that searching the ALR database provides proof of due diligence. Does this give a sense of false security to potential buyers?
The staff of the ALR need to make the most of their participation in the Basel Ancient Art Fair.

So here is a little homework for them. They will have the opportunity to meet the dealers, talk to buyers, and reflect on the market in general.

First, they need to show that they are serious about trying to identify recently surfaced objects. Do they need to "flag up" objects which have no documented history prior to 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention?

Second, do they advise potential clients about the limitations of their database?

Third, have they in their own minds made a differentiation between "stolen" and "illicit" antiquities.

If the individuals responsbile for cultural property at ALR can start to engage with the key issues surrounding the trade in antiquities then these comments will have been a positive nudge in the right direction.

Coins and Cyprus: action on the ground

I noticed the report from AP, "Cypriot police seize ancient artifacts, arrest 6 suspected smugglers" (and reported in the IHT, Friday, October 5, 2007 [archived]).

Apparently there was a police "sting" in Limassol, Cyprus, on Friday September 28, 2007. Six individuals were arrested. Among the confiscated antiquities were "gold leaves and rings, two mediaeval gold coins and a bronze cross".

The recent US import restrictions on antiquities from Cyprus have created much debate about the "looting" of antiquities on the island.

Feelings are running high with three officers of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) posting blogs or comments with such emotive titles as "Yes, it's a war", "Black Day for Numismatics: Import Restrictions on Cypriot Coins", and "Slapdash Effort at DOS".

So I wonder if Messrs. Sayles (Secretary), Tompa (President) and Welsh will join me in congratulating the authorities on Cyprus for this latest seizure which has stopped "illicit" antiquities and coins from entering the market.

Monday 8 October 2007

Princeton and the Hecht Trial

My comments ("Will Princeton Follow Yale?") on the Attic psykter and the Apulian loutrophoros in Princeton were apparently timely. One of my contacts in Rome sent me an update of the September 26, 2007 hearing of the Hecht / True trial in Rome and is happy for me to share it with you.


"The witness, Daniela Rizzo of the Villa Giulia museum, brought up two works she said were at Princeton: an Apulian amphora and a terracotta panel depicting a horse."

It is reported that a Polaroid of the "amphora" seized from Giacomo Medici's store in the Geneva warehouse was shown.

"On the bottom of the Polaroid Medici had written "V-BO," a frequent notation of his that the prosecution contends means Medici sold an object "via Bob" Hecht."

Rizzo continued:
"during the June 2001 deposition of True at the Getty, the Italian team showed True various photos from Medici's archive and that True identified the amphora in that photo as being at Princeton. According to the Italian transcript of True's deposition, prosecutor Paolo Ferri showed True a photo, asking if she knew where the object was, and she responded, "At Princeton, the Apulian amphora, I know of that amphora from photographs... I knew that one from photos that Dale Trendall had.""

Is the Apulian "amphora" the same as the Apulian loutrophoros acquired in 1989 as an "anonymous gift"? Can a leading university museum afford to remain silent on what has become such a controversial acquisition? Or was True mistaken?

Please could somebody clarify?

Wednesday 3 October 2007

"A long tradition of philanthropy related to archaeology"

I have already drawn attention to last week's Times Higher Education Supplement [THES] (September 28, 2007) report on the repatriation of cultural objects and, in particular, the discussion surrounding the Attic psykter and the Apulian loutrophoros in Princeton.

Point three in the box on "Shadowy Origins and Compensation Claims" highlights the proposed Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. The THES notes opposition to the US$200 million gift "from a couple whose private art collection allegedly includes looted artefacts".

The NYU press release makes it clear that the gift comes from the Leon Levy Foundation and that its trustee is Shelby White.

One of the aims of the new Institute (due to open in 2008) is "to advance the understanding of the ancient world".

It is a pity that the antiquities which form part of the White/Levy collection have lost their archaeological context. If they had been excavated by archaeologists under scientific conditions this knowledge would have advanced the understanding of the ancient world.

The actions of some private collectors have at least drawn attention to the sleaze surrounding the looting and marketing of antiquities. Philanthropy, even on this grand scale, needs to be seen against the irreversible loss of knowledge.

The New York Times ("$200 Million Gift Prompts a Debate Over Antiquities", April 1, 2006) commented:
"many archaeologists and scholars argue that by accepting the largess of a controversial collector, N.Y.U. is showing indifference to the way the art market fuels the looting of ancient sites and prevents objects from being studied in their historical context."
The European Journal of Archaeology noted:
"There is of course so much more at stake here than American academic policies, and the debate deserves some European perspectives, not only because it is European heritage that is the focus of White’s donation to the NYU, but also because of its wider implications for the discipline."
One of the defenders of the new Institute is John Henry Merryman who wrote a letter ("A Clash Over Antiquities") to the New York Times (April 5, 2006). In it he attacked any archaeologists who were critics of the scheme:
"Their growing habit of character assassination of acquisitors is unattractive and unwarranted, and should cease."
He is silent --- significantly --- on Lawrence Stager's unhelpful and provocative attack on archaeologists with some ethical scruples as "jihadists" (NYT).

Perhaps Merryman should call for the cessation of the destruction of archaeological sites to provide antiquities for North American private collections.

Looting is about stealing our common history.

From Malibu to Rome: implications for Shelby White

AP has reported that the first four of the items to be returned from the Getty left on Tuesday ("4 Getty items back in Italy", LA Times, October 3, 2007). One of the four was "a fragment of a wall fresco from the 1st century BC depicting Hercules". This had formed part of the the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection (Getty [deaccessioned] 96.AG.171). As I had commented earlier, this fresco fragment had been purchased from Fritz Bürki who features prominently in The Medici Conspiracy. Maxwell L. Anderson, who published the fragment in the exhibition catalogue A Passion for Antiquities (no. 126), noted,
"The upper portion of the fresco matches precisely the upper portion of a fresco section in the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection ... and is from the same room, as is catalogue number 125".
The two other fragments alluded to by Anderson are:
a. The White/Levy fragment (Glories of the Past no. 142), also published by Anderson, which is noted as "part of the upper zone of a wall from a Second Style house". b. An ex-Fleischman fragment that appears to be remaining in the Getty (96.AG.170). This too is listed in The Medici Conspiracy (p. 350). (See also my earlier comments.)
Watson and Todeschini have reported a fourth fragment from the same room that was seized in Geneva from Giacomo Medici. They quote the prosecutor Paolo Ferri, it "would appear to be a twin to another fresco" (i.e. the returning fragment, no. 126). Maurizio Pellegrini came across evidence of a looted Second Style complex in Medici's documentation (The Medici Conspiracy, pp. 69-71, 119, and plates). It is reported that "at least nine walls of the Pompeian villa were photographed in situ by the tombaroli". (The presence of lapillae in the photographs is suggestive of a structure destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.) What is more, "Two of the walls depicted in the photographs were found in the [Geneva] Freeport, packed in bubble wrap and leaning against a wall, as though they were about to be shipped out". Watson and Todeschini reflect on the implication of this find:
"It revealed the scale of the traffic in illegally excavated antiquities, and the brutality shown by the tombaroli and those above them in respect to important and beautiful ancient objects, as well as the utter indifference to the archaeological importance of Italy's heritage ... The frescoes ... had been rudely and crudely ripped from their context and sold off to people ("collectors") who might profess to care about archaeological objects but obviously had no interest in the original and proper context."
Who knows if the ex-Getty/Fleischman, present-Getty, present-White, and surfaced-Geneva fragments came from this looted Campanian villa? But they are reported as coming "from the same room" (even if we do not know where that room is located). How is it known that they come "from the same room"? Does (or did) a photograph exist that was taken at the time of its opening? Can the acquiring of such paintings be considered to be "a very public-spirited thing to do"? (I take the quote from Shelby White's interview in The New Yorker, April 9, 2007.) Has the time come for Shelby White to make a grand gesture? Imagine the reuniting of the fragment presently in her possession with the one that is now back in Italy. That would be the public-spirited thing to do.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

"The time of illicit acquisitions is long gone"

I take encouragement from Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway's helpful review article of the new Metropolitan Museum of Art catalogue, Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome (2007).

She makes her views crystal clear:
"the very Trustees of the museum number among them some notable, and notorious, collectors of illegally excavated antiquities, whose generous financial support, on the other hand, has significantly contributed to the renovation of the galleries."
Her criticism heads right to the top of the curatorial department:
"This difficult situation has not been improved by some careless comments by the very author of this grand classical installation. Dr. Picón, in an interview granted to Rebecca Mead and published in The New Yorker of April 9, 2007, appears to have poked fun at archaeologists who are less skilled than tombaroli in finding valuable objects, and to have minimized the importance of the findspot in favor of the aesthetic value of the works of art."
As Ridgway has observed, the catalogue presents some interesting donors and some unanswered questions (see also "Counting Gigantes in New York").

The apparent disregard for and mocking of archaeological ethics by senior curatorial staff at the MMA brings these wise words from Ridgway:
"this very storm over Dr. Picón's comments may have served to stress to the Metropolitan Trustees, its director, and all its curators, that the time of illicit acquisitions (whether by gift, loan, or purchase) is long gone."
Time will tell.

The Art Loss Register: an Overview of the Issues

Some of the issues relating to the Art Loss Register are now discussed on Safe Corner.

Antiquities Surfacing in Freiburg

One of the sources for antiquities that appear to be newly-surfaced is Galerie Günter Puhze in Freiburg, Germany. I say "appear to be" because there is rarely a declared history before Freiburg.

Let me give four random examples from among those listed in my research notes (KdA = Kunst der Antike, issued by Galerie Günter Puhze):
a. An Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Triptolemos painter. KdA 10, no. 200. Subsequently Christie's, London, November 12th, 1996, no. 142; Sotheby's, New York, June 5th, 1999, no. 171 (US$21,850); Sotheby's, New York, 6 June 2006, lot 17 (US$45,000).

b. An Apulian situla, attributed to the group of Copenhagen 4223. KdA 6 (1985), no. 226. Subsequently: Sotheby's, London, July 13, 1987, lot 308; purchased by Dr & Mrs Jerome M. Eisenberg. Now Boston, MFA 1991.242, gift of Dr and Mrs Jerome M. Eisenberg.

c. An Attic red-figured lekythos, attributed to the Oiokles painter. KdA 8 (1989), no. 211. Subsequently: Dr Elie Borowski collection; Christie's, New York, June 12, 2000, lot 79. Now: Jerusalem, Bible Lands Museum 4642.

d. An Etruscan neck amphora. KdA 6 (1985). Subsequently: Gilbert M. Denman collection. Now: San Antonio Museum of Art 85.119.8.
There should be no reason to be suspicious of the history of the pieces. After all, the Gallery is a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art. In the Code of Ethics is this statement:
"The members of the IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations. architectural monuments, public institutions or private property."
The details of former owners are not provided so it appears that Galerie Günter Puhze stands at the start of the chain. But if these pieces were known before the 1970 UNESCO Convention it would be helpful - if only for the sake of transparency - for the dealer to provide this information. Were these pieces in some old German (or other) collection? Where have such complete pots been lurking for the last few centuries? Such histories would dispel any suspicions.

Monday 1 October 2007

Minneapolis and Robin Symes

CultureGrrl has commented on the recent appointment of Kaywin Feldman as director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Congratulations are clearly in order.

Feldman understands cultural material from the Mediterranean as her first degree was in classical archaeology. And will she soon face a dilemma in this area of "Ancient Art" in the MIA?

In the Minneapolis collection is an impressive Athenian volute-krater attributed to the Methyse painter. It was acquired from Robin Symes in 1983 (acc. no. 83.80) (see Star Tribune, November 14, 2005). As I have noted with Christopher Chippindale elsewhere, the krater is reported by Michael Padgett (in "Influence of satyric drama on a vase by the Methyse painter" [abstract], American Journal of Archaeology 88 [1984], 255) to have been "in private collections in Switzerland and Great Britain for ca. 15 years before 1983." (Note that 15 years suggests the krater surfaced prior to the significant date of 1970. What does the documentation show?)

It is worth observing how the euphemism, "private collection in ... Great Britain", can refer to a dealer in antiquities. (And there is no need to comment on "private collection in Switzerland".)

The MIA issued a press statement in November 2005:
“The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has learned that an object in our permanent collection could be among a number of objects in American museums that the Italian government alleges to have been recently excavated in Italy. We have not been contacted by the Italian authorities about this object. We have seen only an electronic image of a detail of the shoulder of a vase, which we received from a Los Angeles Times journalist without any accompanying documentation. As a leading museum, we uphold the principle that all collecting be done according to the highest standards of ethical and professional practice. Although no contact or claim has been made, to date, by the Italian authorities, we are nonetheless taking the matter seriously, and, if after gathering the facts it is established that the Italian government has a legitimate claim, we will respond in an appropriate and responsible fashion.”
Feldman is also secretary to The Association of Art Museum Directors. The AAMD's Code of Ethics states:
"A museum director should not knowingly acquire or allow to be recommended for acquisition any object that has been stolen, removed in contravention of treaties or international conventions to which the United States is a signatory, or illegally imported in the United States."
Feldman did not acquire the krater. But she will need to make a decision. Does she retain it? Or will this Attic pot be returned to Italy?

Mary Abbe, "Italy claims Minneapolis museum holds looted vase", Star Tribune, November 9, 2005 [Archived]

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...