Thursday 29 November 2007

"The right to everything that's in the ground"

It was a coincidence that my posting on Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, appeared the week that he was interviewed by Richard Lacayo ("A Talk With: Philippe de Montebello", "More Talk With: Philippe de Montebello", November 27/28, 2007).

I had commented on a 2006, post Euphronios krater return announcement, where de Montebello had attacked archaeologists for their emphasis on context. And he has once again shown his basic misunderstanding of archaeological stratigraphy:

One can question whether one particular discipline can arrogate to itself the right to everything that's in the ground. There are many different contexts, many different ways to look at these objects. So you have a discipline that goes too far in claiming that an object is of no merit, of no value, the moment it's out of the ground and you don't know who buried it. That's one context. It's obviously a very precious one, because once an object is out of that context the information is not retrieveable. But it's not the only context.

My students will be familiar with the different contexts - I would call them the life-cycle - of, say, Greek pottery. An Athenian red-figured pot could be made in Attica, Greece; transported to Italy; buried in an Etruscan tomb; dug up in the nineteenth century; passed into a private collection; dispersed at auction; and end up in some internationally famous collection.

My students will also be aware of the different ways to study and look at Greek pottery - and that includes iconography and "connoisseurship".

But I would still stress the importance of archaeological context because that provides a chronological, social and iconographic framework for understanding this part of Mediterranean material culture.

And that context forms part of the universal human heritage: a heritage that will be cherished by archaeologists who will be puzzled by de Montebello's suggestion that they have "the right to everything that's in the ground". Possession is more the domain of museum curators and private collectors than that of the archaeologist.

De Montebello also comments on the new world where North American museums take ethics more seriously. In particular he draws attention to the acquisition policy formulated by the
Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). He observes:
Acquisitions of antiquities on the part of American museums have fallen to almost zero. Out of a sense of new ethical standards and a not inconsequential fiduciary responsibility — they don't want to make an acquisition that is likely to be subject to claims — most museums have imposed on themselves standards that, as a matter of praxis, are even more stringent than ten years. And so it's been very effective on one level — if you take pleasure in the fact that antiquities are practically no longer entering American collections.

The suggestion of a ten year deadline is interesting and an idea that I have discussed elsewhere arguing that it is inappropriate. It would have allowed the Met to retain all but two of the pieces - a Laconian cup (1999.527) and and an Attic red-figured psykter (1996.250) - which it agreed to return to Italy last year.

De Montebello also suggests that archaeologists have a "debt" to museums. He claims:
Archeologists presumably became interested in archeology by visiting museums. They forget this very conveniently. They become practicing archeologists and then their only interest is in the "find spot."

I do not know the basis of his claim, though I am sure it is true for some. But that does not mean that archaeologists do not have the right to comment on the destruction of the archaeological record to provide stock for the antiquities market.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

"We don't know what the vase painters ate"

The March 2006 discussion about antiquities and provenance (or lack thereof) provided some interesting material (see "Is It All Loot? Tackling The Antiquities Problem", New York Times, March 29, 2006).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art had just (Feb. 2006) signed up to an
agreement with the Italian Government. This had included the (in)famous Attic Euphronios krater.

In spite of this the Met's Director, Philippe De Montebello went on what can only be described, in
Stephen Dyson's words, as an "unrepentant" offensive. He claimed,

I think the reality, since we have been talking about the Euphronios vase, is that the knowledge that we have of Greek vase painting is based 98 percent on vases that were never excavated by licensed archaeologists. Archaeologists talk about the loss of context. We have almost a totality of the possible knowledge we could have, although we don't know what the vase painters ate.

I doubt the accuracy of De Montebello's estimate that 98 per cent of Greek (Athenian?) pots "were never excavated by licensed archaeologists". Is he suggesting that only 2% of Greek pots were properly excavated? If so, this has serious intellectual consequences for the study of figure-decorated pottery. I have elsewhere discussed pots attributed to the Berlin painter and noted:

only some 13 per cent comes a relatively secure archaeological context, and 50 per cent have no archaeological context at all.
De Montebello's words resonate with Sir John Boardman who commented on the Euphronios krater in a 2004 lecture (published in Who Owns Objects? [2006]):
the interest of which is 98 per cent in its sheer existence (we know who made it, when and where) with only a 2 per cent loss in knowledge of what Etruscan grave it came from.
Both De Montebello and Boardman belittle the importance of context. But can either of them answer these questions with certainty?

Can we be sure that the Euphronios krater was found in Etruria? If so, which site? Which cemetery? Which grave? Where was it placed in the tomb? What was the status of the person buried in the tomb? What was the date of the burial? What other objects were placed alongside the Euphronios krater? How does the iconography of "Sleep" and "Death" on the krater link to the iconography of other funerary objects from the same tomb?

De Montebello also presents a "straw man" argument:
the problem with the notion that on a providential zephyr an object will somehow return to its context by being returned to the country it came from.
Who believes that "repatriation" restores context? Archaeologists do not. "Repatriation" merely recognises that an illegal action has taken place. The tragedy is that looting has deprived the Euphronios krater of its archaeological context which can never be restored by scholarship or "connoisseurship".


Terracotta calyx-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), Calyx-krater, ca. 515 B.C.; Archaic
Signed by Euxitheos, as potter; Signed by Euphronios, as painter
Greek, Attic
Terracotta; H. 18 in. (45.7 cm), Diam. 21 11/16 in. (55.1 cm)
Lent by the Republic of Italy (L.2006.10)

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Marion True and Greece: update

The IHT has reported ("Greek court throws out case against former Getty Museum curator", November 27, 2007) that a court in Greece has decided that it will not prosecute Marion True over the J. Paul Getty Museum's acquisition of a Macedonian gold wreath in 1993. (This has now been returned to Greece for display in Thessaloniki.)

However this is not the end of legal cases in Greece. The IHT also notes:
True still faces charges of illegally possessing at least a dozen antiquities found during a police raid on her holiday home on the Aegean island of Paros in April last year. No trial date has been set in that case.

Monday 26 November 2007

Making a difference starts at home

Am I doing my bit for the planet?

I could grumble that other people are not doing their bit.

I could point to other polluting countries.

I could wring my hands over the destruction of the rain forest.

But I can use 'a bag for life' when I go shopping.

I can switch off the TV instead of leaving it on 'standby'.

I can sort my rubbish so that it can be recycled.

I can do my bit for the planet.

And it is a bit like saving the archaeological record.

I could point the finger at those who do not appear to be protecting sites and monuments.

I could criticise government authorities for restricting the movement of archaeological materials across national frontiers.

I could even assert my right to collect archaeological material that has no previous history.

Or I could do my bit to save part of our universal cultural heritage.

I know which I would rather do.

Do you?

Modern-day Maecenases or robber barons?

Stephen L. Dyson is a leading authority on the history of classical archaeology. His review of The Medici Conspiracy (2006) is thus a significant one (Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 234-35). Perhaps what marks out his review is this extended observation:
a counter-offensive is already under way in centres of museum power, especially in the United States. It is being led by powerful and largely unrepentant museums, supported by compliant journalists and academics, and ultimately financed by wealthy collectors who want to see themselves once again depicted as modern-day Maecenases and not as contemporary robber barons. Their justifications rest on the latest version of cultural imperialism, now bearing labels like 'cosmopolitanism' by which the dominant political, military and economic power claims that it embodies civilization and asserts the right to gather unto itself the looted treasures of the world.

There is more in the review but it is a good reminder of the road that lies ahead.

The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum: some ethical issues

I have recently suggested, "The fascicules of the CVA for museums outside Greece and Italy map the history of the collecting of Greek pottery from the Grand Tourists of the 18th century to the tombaroli of the late 20th and early 21st centuries" (Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 226-27).

The recent returns of Greek pottery from North American museums to Italy has drawn attention to the problem of flawed acquisition policies that have allowed looted material to enter permanent collections. If the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (CVA) is to be a record of permanent collections two issues need to be addressed.

1. Loans. Loan collections have featured in the fascicules of the CVA from its earliest years. For example, the collection formed by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon was loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge University) and published by Winifred Lamb in the second fascicule of the CVA (1936). The collection was bequeathed to the museum (by Shannon) in 1937. The Kestner-Museum in Hannover included in CVA 2 (Deutschland 72) a red-figured cup attributed to Douris (and which appeared in Beazley's lists, archive no. 205161), ex-Swiss private collection, which is on "permanent" - whatever that means - loan. Should loan collections form part of the definitive publication record of permanent museum collections?

2. Recently Surfaced Material. The Kestner-Museum included in its CVA recently surfaced material that had been derived from the anonymous art market. Should the CVA encourage transparency and avoid anonymity?

I have suggested this:
The CVA is an ideal place to record the history of each object catalogued, especially given the contemporary concerns about widespread looting and the destruction of archaeological sites. The full record from the moment the pot emerged in an archaeological excavation or surfaced on the antiquities market should be documented.

Saturday 24 November 2007

Loan Exhibitions and Private Collectors

Geoff Edgers raises some important issues about exibitions of material from private collections ("Jade sale creates complications for MFA", Boston Globe, November 24, 2007), He discusses the Alan and Simone Hartman collection of Chinese Jade which was exhibited ("Chinese Jades from the Hartman Collection") at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from August 2003 to November 2004.

The first part of the collection was subsequently sold at Christie's Hong Kong in 2006 and the second part this coming week. Edgers writes:
Some museum ethics experts and officials say it is disturbing to see an entire collection up for auction so soon after being displayed at the MFA. They raise questions about a nonprofit museum giving its imprimatur to works owned by wealthy collectors who are generous donors to the institution. Some say that the Hartmans, who run an antique business in New York, put the MFA in an awkward position with the sale.

Malcolm Rogers, the director of the MFA, has commented on the decision to hold the exhibition:
It's an area of jades that have been little shown in recent decades, an area once thought unfashionable ... We wanted to bring a great collection that was little known to the Boston public.

But do institutional policies need to anticipate such exhibitions and subsequent sales?

Millicent Gaudieri, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors observed:
I would believe that any museum would have some kind of written agreement in terms of the collector's ability to sell works en masse ... The donors moved too rapidly.

Friday 23 November 2007

Cultural Ceasefire: is 1970 the right date?

Lee Rosenbaum ("My Ceasefire Proposals for the Cultural-Property Wars", Culturegrrl, November 19, 2007) has proposed a cultural ceasefire on the return of "illicit" antiquities. As part of that proposal she has posed the questions:
Should the known provenance have to go back to before the 1970 date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? Or should the date be in 1983, the year when the U.S. officially became a party to the UNESCO Convention?
I am not sure this takes account of the present situation.

We need to remember that the earliest object returned from Boston to Italy, a Lucanian nestoris, was acquired in 1971. Likewise the Roman fresco fragments were purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1971.

In fact if the 1983 date was used it would have excluded six of the thirteen antiquities from Boston, and at least twelve of the 40 items on the list from the Getty. (Princeton would have been unaffected.) The Euphronios krater (and part of the Hellenistic silver hoard) would not have been returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A more interesting question is this: would the 1983 date exclude the Athenian volute-krater in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) acquired from Robin Symes in 1983? And remember that the incoming director of MIA is Kaywin Feldman who also acts as secretary to The Association of Art Museum Directors which "recommends" that an archaeological object can be acquired if it has been out of its "probable" country of origin for ten years.

This idea that awareness of the problem of looted antiquities is a recent one recalls the quote from Shelby White, "It is hard to apply current standards to something that happened thirty years ago" (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007). But there was general awareness of the issue from December 1973 when the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) passed the resolution that included:
The Archaeological Institute of America believes that Museums can henceforth best implement such cooperation by refusing to acquire through purchase, gift, or bequest cultural property exported subsequent to December 30, 1973, in violation of the laws obtaining in the countries of origin.
This strengthened its 1970 resolution that included:
The Archaeological Institute of America calls upon its members, as well as educational institutions (universities and museums) in the United States and Canada, to refrain from purchasing and accepting donations of antiquities exported from their countries of origin in contravention to the terms of the UNESCO Draft Convention.
Christopher Chippindale and I earlier adopted 1973 in our research as a key date for acquisitions. But we had been considering lowering it to 1970 in the light of the successful actions by the Italian Government. A move to 1983 would, in my opinion, be a shift in the wrong direction.

Switzerland and "illicit" cultural property

Simon Bradley has reported on the Swiss concern over the handling of Peruvian antiquities ("Red alert goes out for stolen treasures",, November 23, 2007). ICOM and the Swiss Federal Cultural Office have created a "red list" and acknowledged "irreparable loss" to Peruvian archaeological contexts. The report notes:
Switzerland is among the world's five biggest trade hubs for art objects. It was known as a transit point for stolen artefacts before it introduced legislation in 2005 that brought it into line with a United Nations convention against trafficking in illicit goods.

Yves Fischer, at the Swiss Culture Office, commented on the Swiss role in the movement of "illicit" antiquities:
Switzerland made a clear statement that these kind of activities are no longer accepted here. The new measures have a preventive and repressive impact.

It is not yet clear how effective the Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property (CPTA) (2005) has been.

Many of the antiquities being returned to Italy from North America had passed through Switzerland (prior to 2005). So the 2006 agreement between Switzerland and Italy was an important move ("Deal signed against traffic of illicit goods", October 21, 2006). But is this Swiss act making a difference to the international trade in antiquities?

Thursday 22 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving - and a look back

First, I would like to wish all my North American readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

Second, I thought it would be a good idea to review the last year and to see what has been happening. We have seen significant returns of antiquities from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Princeton, and even a dealer. However it is important to remember that in virtually every case (perhaps excepting the objects stolen from museum collections) the archaeological contexts have been lost and they can nver be recovered. There has been recognition for the destruction of archaeological sites on Cyprus and US import restrictions have been extended to include coins. But there is also an active lobby apparently seeking to liberalise the market and reverse this decision.

There are still issues to address because looted archaeological sites represent a loss of scientific knowledge.

Wednesday 21 November 2007

A gold wreath from Macedonia

The New York Times has reported that Marion True went on trial in Athens earlier this week. At the centre of the case is the acquisition by the J. Paul Getty Museum of "an ancient gold funerary wreath that Greek officials say was illegally removed from Greek soil about 15 years ago". It had been reported last year:
The Greek police said they now had evidence that the funerary wreath was dug up by a farmer in 1990 near Serres, in northern Greece, and passed on to the art market through Germany and Switzerland before being sold to the Getty in 1993.

The sum is said to have been in excess of US$1 million (BBC).

The story broke back in 2005 with a story by Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch in the LA Times ("Greek officials demand the return of Getty antiquities", October 24, 2005)

The Getty's former chief antiquities curator, Marion True, acquired the wreath from a Swiss art dealer, Christoph Leon, for $1.15 million. Leon guaranteed that it came from a private Swiss collection. But a German police investigation later determined that Leon had acted as an intermediary for a Yugoslav and two Greeks, who had shopped the wreath around Europe in a cardboard box.

True first viewed it in a Zurich bank vault but walked away after she realized the men she was dealing with were impostors, according to internal Getty documents obtained by The Times. She went ahead with the deal anyway six months later, Getty records show.

When the Getty paid for the wreath, it forwarded funds to a Swiss bank account controlled by Leon and his partners, records show.

It seems likely that the wreath came from an elite grave in Macedonia though the precise archaeological context (and related finds) is probably now lost. The wreath itself was returned to Greece earlier this year.

Collector Beware!

I was intrigued by the tragic BBC Wales news story this evening:

"Collector killed by his own hoard".

Tuesday 20 November 2007

The Fano athlete

I have earlier commented on the Fano athlete (at present in the J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. 77.AB.30, "Victorious Youth") as an example of cultural property which (literally) "surfaced" prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Jason Felch has now reported on the decision by an Italian judge ("Italian group's bid for Getty statue rejected",
LA Times, November 20, 2007). Felch reports:
An Italian judge Monday rejected the request of a local cultural group to seize an ancient bronze from the J. Paul Getty Museum, further increasing the chances that the prized statue will stay in Los Angeles.

Carol Mattusch has provided the information in a J. Paul Getty Museum publication:
The statue of the Victorious Youth was evidently found during the early 1960s at some distance from shore by fishermen from Fano, a resort town on the Adriatic Sea about halfway between Rimini and Ancona .... The statue's history over the next ten years is uncertain, for even though the Italian police apparently knew about the bronze by 1965, they were unable to locate it. Men were tried for but acquitted of harboring the statue, and it was exported, although when and to what country remains a mystery.

She noted that the statue was acquired by a Munich-based dealer Heinz Herzer (with the Artemis Group) in 1971 and the bronze was then conserved.

Bryan Rostron, who published an earlier account of the Youth's "alleged history" in 1979, published an update earlier this year ("Chasing Getty's 'Youth'", The Spectator, March 31, 2007). Rostron places the find in August 1964. He then presents a version of events:
Italian law stipulates that new found antiquities become the property of the state. A crew member called his cousin, a carpet dealer, who in turn contacted a local furniture restorer. ... The statue had been bought by Giacomo Barbetti, a modest antiquarian from the mediaeval Umbrian town of Gubbio. He paid the equivalent of $3,899. It was loaded on to a fruit van at night and driven the 50 miles from Fano to Gubbio.

After further incidents, including being concealed under the stairs in the home of a local priest, it was seen by the Basel-based dealer Elie Borowski. After a tip off to the police in April 1965 the statue left Italy. It was then purchased by the Artemis consortium for US$700,000, and eventually sold to the Getty.

Rostron notes that the assertion that the Victorious Youth was found "in international waters" as "possible, but not proved". He also records the intervention of Elie Borowski in the 1966 trial against the Barbettis.

It is thus interesting to note that Felch reports:
The statue was not excavated from an archaeological site but found by chance in international waters. Experts say it was not even crafted in Italy but was made by Greek artists and lost in the Adriatic after being looted by Roman soldiers.

There is a possibility that the statue had been looted in antiquity from a sanctuary in Greece and was being carried to Italy. However one early report hinted that the wreck (if there was one) could have been medieval.

Felch also reports:
In a statement, Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said he would await more detail about the ruling before commenting. He has insisted in the past that the Getty should return the statue on moral grounds because it was smuggled out of Italy before the museum bought it.
Will the moral take priority over the legal?

Mattusch, C. C. 1997. The Victorious Youth. Getty Museum Studies on Art. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Monday 19 November 2007

Coins and Cyprus: the destruction of archaeological heritage

The legal action against the US state department has failed to acknowledge the central issue: the protection of the finite archaeological resource on the island of Cyprus. This has been the reason why individuals, including myself, have expressed an opinion on the restriction of imports of archaeological material from Cyprus.

Some are presenting archaeological concerns as "unprecedented threats to ancient coin collecting" (Wayne Sayles).

Others present the restrictions as the result of "the conservation lobby" (David Welsh). It is perhaps telling that the opposite of "conservation" is "destruction". Is that what the three groups of coin collecting bodies wish to endorse?

Coins lying in a stratified archaeological context are part of the heritage of that island. Is that what the "destructionist lobby" is wanting to annihilate?

Hadjisavvas, S. 2001. "The destruction of the archaeological heritage of Cyprus." In Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world's archaeological heritage, edited by N. Brodie, J. Doole, and C. Renfrew, pp. 133-39. Cambridge: McDonald Institute.

Coins and Cyprus: a partial picture from the NYT

Jeremy Kahn has reported on the decision by three coin groups to take legal action against the US State Department ("Coin Collectors Sue State Department Over Import Rules", New York Times, November 17, 2007). Kahn identifies the trigger as "a controversial decision by the State Department in July to ban imports of ancient coins from the island of Cyprus". The decision was welcomed by archaeologists who perceived it to be designed to protect the destruction of archaeological sites on Cyprus. It was considered to be "controversial" only by those who opposed it and who are seeking to liberalise the movement of archaeological material (including coins).

Safecorner ("All the news that's fit to print?") has posted a response to Kahn - and makes the interesting economic comparison between the cost of providing somebody to guard an archaeological site and the fees charged by an attorney to bring this case.

Meanwhile ACCG has helpfully published the full text of the complaint. Is it significant that the other two bodies, the IAPN and the PNG, have yet to post anything on the news sections of their websites?

Would Kahn like to present a balanced view in his next report? Why does the archaeological record of Cyprus need protecting?

Friday 16 November 2007

Bolton and the "Amarna Princess": update

I have commented earlier about the "Amarna Princess" acquired by Bolton Museum. The forger has been convicted today and will go to prison for four years and eight months ("Statue forger jailed for art con", BBC, November 16, 2007).

Judge William Morris is quoted:

This was an ambitious conspiracy of long duration based on your undoubted talent and based on the sophistication of the deceptions underpinning the sales and attempted sales.

Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley, from the Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiques Unit said ("Fraudsters who resented the art market", BBC, November 16, 2007):

I think with all of these things it was the provenances that sold them. Looking at them now I'm not sure the items would fool anyone, it was the credibility of the provenances that went with them. There are far better artists in this world than Shaun Greenhalgh and far better forgers but I've never come across a forger able to do that many disciplines, that's what made him so exceptional and accomplished.

Coins and Cyprus: why is the ACCG filing a suit?

A Freedom of Information Act suit has been filed against the US Department of State in response to the restriction of ancient coins from Cyprus ("Coins and Cyprus: further developments"). The notice on the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) website states:
The State Department recently imposed unprecedented import restrictions on ancient coins from Cyprus—requiring importers of even a single common coin of “Cypriot type” to provide unfair, unworkable and unnecessary documentation.

The suit is reported to be backed by three bodies: the ACCG, the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG).

Who are these other bodies?
Here are the statements from the websites of the IAPN and the PNG.
The IAPN is a non-profit organisation of the leading international numismatic firms founded 1951. The objectives of the Association are the development of a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade conducted according to the highest standards of business ethics and commercial practice. (IAPN website)

The PNG is a nonprofit organization composed of the world's top rare coin and paper money experts. As numismatic professionals, our primary mission is to make the hobby safe for collectors and investors by maintaining rigid standards of excellence for our member dealers. (PNG website)

Of the three organisations only one, the ACCG, had a statement about this legal action against the state department. It suggests that there is a lead group dealing with this action.

What does the ACCG believe?
Their position appears on their website:
The ACCG was formed to provide a voice for ancient coin collectors on issues that threaten the hobby. Given a widespread disinformation campaign about the extent of looting at the Iraq and Afghan national museums, we fear that ideologues within the archaeological establishment have subverted laudable efforts to protect public collections and archaeological sites into a crusade to suppress the public's longstanding right to preserve, study and display antiquities, including ones as common as ancient coins. Unless we provide decision makers in the legislative and administrative branches of government with our own views on the complex issues surrounding preservation of historical sites, we face the prospect that our right to collect ancient coins will be legislated out of existence by ill-informed decision makers who have been told that anything "old" should belong to the government of the country where it is found, and that only academic elites should have a right to study and preserve the artifacts of the past. (ACCG website)

So what views do the officers of the ACCG want to express to the decision makers in government?
I will try to give a flavour of the views of three of the officers of the ACCG.

Wayne Sayles, the Executive Director, has expressed his views on the decision to restrict the import of coins from Cyprus in a forceful way. In a posting, "
Yes, it's a war" (July 13, 2007), he commented:
In response to the U.S. State Department's furtive manipulation of the CPAC hearing on renewal of an agreement with Cyprus, I had made the statement publicly that their action might be considered "the Pearl Harbor of the Cultural Property War". That was apparently offensive to some. Today, the State Department not only affirmed my conclusion, they launched a major offensive against coin collectors. This is not "Pearl Harbor", this is "D-Day" for Cultural Property Nationalists. If that sounds bellicose, it ought to.

He emphasises the right to collect:
Why does this announcement constitute an attack on the American people? Because it codifies the general principle that any country in the world can claim perpetual ownership of objects, including coins, made in that country. ... It is more than a sad commentary that in the "Land of the Free" we are not free to purchase an object that can be purchased legally by millions, indeed billions, of people in other lands. In a world where Globalism is not just a trend but an irreversible fact of life, how can anyone justify turning America into an island of prohibition for something as innocuous as a common coin. Is there no hope at all that the governing of America will rest in the hands of people with common sense?

And the political dimension is explicit:
It is a constant source of frustration to many conservatives that the Republican administration has failed to protect the conservative point of view in an area where a simple word would have been sufficient. Namely, that personal property rights are a mainstay of the American experience; that the government of the United States exists to serve the people of this nation before those of others; and that no other nation shall infringe upon the rights of the American people.

Then we turn to David Welsh, another officer of the ACCG, whose comments on the coin market ("Stealth Unidroit: the State Department’s War Against Collecting") I have discussed elsewhere. Let us remind ourselves of his views:
This development should concern not only coin collectors, but also every American citizen who values his or her personal freedom. Big Brother is watching you, and Big Brother does not like collecting. If this unholy cabal of narrow academic interests, entrenched bureacrats [sic.] and cultural officials in a few foreign nations can secretively and successfully hijack US cultural policy in such a manner, the implications may reach far beyond what happens to coin collecting.

For Welsh the decision to impose restrictions was "a day which will live in infamy" ("Black Day for Numismatics: Import Restrictions on Cypriot Coins").

But what about Peter Tompa, the President of the ACCG? Tompa has criticised the archaeological community for being "obsessed with context" (see my posting,
"The archaeological community's obsession with context"). Tompa has appended public comments to my posting, "Coins and Cyprus: action on the ground", and I repeat some of them them here:
The sad fact is that Cyprus has somewhat of a reputation for corruption. It is on a State Department list for being a major money laundering center. It sheltered companies involved in oil for food scandal before the Iraq War. It's not hard to imagine that such a two-tiered system exists in such a place. (Turkey is probably no better despite some hopeful signs under the new government.)

As such, those in the archaeological community that blindly support the state owns everything approach probably in practice do little more than encourage unfair laws, public corruption and a do nothing approach to preservation of cultural artifacts. One has to assume their timidity on any issue other than "looting" may stem from a fear that their licenses to excavate can easily be pulled by the cultural property bureaucracies of such countries.
Such views of the Republic of Cyprus are deeply disturbing.

What is the real issue?
I hope that nobody will lose sight of the issue of the looting of archaeological sites on the island of Cyprus - for that was the purpose of the US restrictions on coins. I close with the
words of Andreas Kakouris, Cyprus’s ambassador to Washington:
Coins constitute an inseparable part of our own cultural heritage, and the pillage they are subjected to is the same as other archaeological material.

Thursday 15 November 2007

Cyprus and Coins: further developments

The US Government has had a long-standing commitment to the protection of the archaeological heritage of the Republic of Cyprus. Back in April 1999 the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee made a recommendation that led to "an emergency restriction on Byzantine ecclesiastical objects and ritual ethnological material from Cyprus". This agreement was extended in August 2003.

The 1999 agreement quickly came under fire (Nina Teicholz, "You Can't Bring Those Antiquities In Here!", The Washington Post, December 24, 2000). The attack was nationalistic in tone:
A little known State Department body, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), is working to prevent Americans--and only Americans--from buying antiquities.
Indeed it was claimed:
But like a parent who loves so much that the child is smothered, the archaeologists at CPAC are advocating policies that harm the very objects they seek to protect.
In spite of opposition, the agreement with Cyprus was strengthened and broadened in July 2002 when it was decided to expand it to include Pre-Classical and Classical material. This was to include:
ceramic vessels, sculpture, and inscriptions; stone vessels, sculpture, architectural elements, seals, amulets, inscriptions, stelae, and mosaics; metal vessels, stands, sculpture, and personal objects dating from approximately the 8th millennium B.C. to approximately 330 A.D.
There is a long history of documented pillage of archaeological sites in Cyprus, including evidence of current pillage; such activity jeopardizes the ability of archaeologists and historians to reconstruct Cypriot culture. The MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] offers the opportunity for the U.S. and Cyprus to cooperate in reducing the incentive for further pillage, thereby protecting the context of intact sites for scientific study.
These agreements were extended in July 2007. Essentially there are two main categories of material (and full lists are available from the CPAC website):
Pre-Classical and Clasical objects dating "from approximately the 8th millennium B.C. to 330 A.D." The categories include "objects of ceramic, stone, and metal, including vessels, sculpture, coins, mosaics, inscriptions, architectural elements, and jewelry".

Byzantine "ritual and ecclesiastical ethnological material" ranging in date from "approximately the 4th century A.D. through approximately the 15th century A.D." These "include objects of metal, wood, ivory and bone, textiles, stone (mosaics), and frescos (wall paintings)".
Earlier this year there was clearly a strong anti-CPAC feeling being circulated (Jeremy Kahn, "Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don't Ask", The New York Times, April 8, 2007). It was reported:
Kate Fitz Gibbon, a dealer of Asian art in Santa Fe, N.M., and a former member of the committee, said some members of it now seem to have a full-blown ''prejudice against collecting'': so much so, she argued in an e-mail message, that they seek to bend the law to ''meet a perceived need to end the trade.''
One of the issues that was raising the temperature was:
Cyprus is asking that an existing ban on imports of Classical and Byzantine material be expanded to include ancient coins, a category of artifacts that has not been included in other import restrictions.
It is clear that the critics of the restrictions tried to argue a special case for archaeological material such as coins:
James Fitzpatrick, a lawyer who has represented dealers and collectors before the committee, agrees. ''There is no attempt by C.P.A.C. today to differentiate between items of great significance and those that are produced in the hundreds or multiple hundreds of items,'' he said.
The agreement to cover coins was quickly presented as making "it difficult [for coin collectors] to pursue their passion".

The reason for extending the restriction to include coins was given by Cyprus' ambassador to the US (Jeremy Kahn, "U.S. Imposes Restrictions On Importing Cypriot Coins", The New York Times, July 18, 2007):
Coins constitute an inseparable part of our own cultural heritage, and the pillage they are subjected to is the same as other archaeological material.
But is Cyprus seen as a test case by coin collectors?
The collectors also expressed concern that the agreement would encourage other countries, including Italy, home to troves of Roman-era coins, to ask for similar restrictions. If such limits ''were applied to Italy, for example, that could be quite devastating to numismatists, particularly ancient-coin collectors,'' said Jay Beeton, a spokesman for the American Numismatic Association.
Among the opponents of the restrictions is Peter Tompa:
This decision shows that the Department of State is putting the narrow interests of the cultural bureaucracies of foreign states and the archaeological community over those of ordinary Americans who believe that collecting increases appreciation of the past and helps preserve artifacts.
Tompa had earlier published his views on restrictions on coins from Cyprus ("The archaeological community's obsession with context"; see also comment added to "Coins and Cyprus: Action on the Ground").

And now today it is announced that a Freedom of Information Act suit has been filed against the US Department of State. Tompa, president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), explains:
The reason for this lawsuit is that the State Department has refused to provide meaningful information. We seek transparency and fairness of the process by which decisions affecting the American people are made.
The quote recalls Jay Kislak, the chair of CPAC (Jeremy Kahn, "Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don't Ask", The New York Times, April 8, 2007):
In my opinion the restrictions, regulations and lack of transparency under which we are asked to operate in pursuing our duties at C.P.A.C. are to say the least unusual, and in many cases they are unbearable, immoral and maybe either extra-legal or in contradiction [of the law].
Wayne Sayles, the Executive Director of ACCG, adds:
This is an unprecedented action, but it has become necessary because of unprecedented threats to ancient coin collecting. Hopefully, this suit will open the window to an atmosphere of trust and cooperation that will serve all of society's needs and interests.
It will be interesting to see how this action develops. Hopefully the rich archaeological heritage of the island of Cyprus will not become a victim.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: a correction

On Saturday I commented on the return of eight antiquities to Italy by Jerome Eisenberg. In it I posed the questions:

What was his due diligence process? Had he consulted and obtained clearance from the Art Loss Register?

Dr Eisenberg has responded to me (and his letter has been attached in full to the original posting). He leads with this statement:
It should be brought to your attention that the Art Loss Register was not established until 1991.

He is right (see ALR website) though there was an earlier archive established by The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) in 1976. I must apologise for giving a misleading impression.

The earlier history for six of the eight antiquities is available:

a. The neck-amphora surfaced at Sotheby's (London) in 1985, passed through the Freiburg market, and was in the possession of the Royal-Athena Galleries by 1992.
b. The hydria surfaced in the Royal-Athena Galleries in 1990.
c. The column-krater surfaced at Sotheby's (London) in 1987 and then passed to the Royal-Athena Galleries, featuring in the catalogues for 1991 and 2006.
d-f. The three bronzes are reported by the Italian authorities to have been stolen from Italian collections in 1970, 1971 and 1975. I do not know when the Royal-Athena Galleries acquired them (though they are said to have been sold to a North American collector during the 1980s).

Dr Eisenburg would not have been able to check the histories of these six objects with the Art Loss Register (ALR) as the Royal-Athena Galleries acquired them before the formation of that organisation in 1991. (I include within the six the neck-amphora and the column-krater that were in his possession by 1991 and 1992.)

I do not know when the Royal-Athena Galleries acquired the other two pieces.

However some of the pieces were in the possession of Royal-Athena Galleries after 1991 and the creation of the Art Loss Register. The column-crater (Beazley Archive no. 19523), for instance, featured in a 2006 catalogue (Art of the Ancient World vol. 17).

Lee Rosenbaum ("Italian Criminal Charges Possible in Connection with Antiquities Recovery from Private Collector; Accord Reached with Princeton Museum", Culturegrrl, June 28, 2007) has commented specifically on two of the bronzes (the Nike and the athlete):
Eisenberg told me [sc. Rosenbaum] that he had sold the bronzes in the 1980s to collector John Kluge, who put them up for auction at Christie's on June 8, 2004. Eisenberg repurchased them there (for $6,573 and $9,560, respectively). He said that he had also voluntarily returned other pieces, when he learned that they had been illegally taken from Italy.

The Royal-Athena Galleries are members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). Their "Code of Ethics and Practice" states:

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.

Did the Royal-Athena Galleries consult the ALR database once the bronzes had been re-acquired? Or was the fact that they had owned the pieces back in the 1970s or 1980s deemed to be sufficient? Or had Christie's run a check on the bronzes prior to the 2004 sale?

I have commented elsewhere on the use and limitations of the ALR ("The Art Loss Register and Antiquities").

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Damage to archaeological sites: metal detectors in the UK

Heritage Action is an organisation in the UK raising awareness of the damage to archaeological sites:

Heritage Action is a rallying point for anyone who feels that society is deaf to the threats to heritage places, especially the most threatened of all, our most ancient sites.

We want to help individual voices to be heard loud and clear by the public, the media and the authorities.

We believe that this generation holds its heritage in trust for future generations and we should never break this trust. From this comes our single purpose — to build a powerful voice for action on all threatened heritage places.

Our most ancient sites are often most at risk, particularly prehistoric ones, and we specialise in these. However, we also give consideration to later sites if there are special circumstances, especially when there is a prehistoric 'background'.

We aim to promote an appreciation of the value of these places, highlight threats to them, and encourage the public to become involved in responsible but vigorous action to preserve them.

Each individual threat needs publicity and, if necessary, pressure on site owners, commercial interests, local authorities, and heritage bodies.

In particular the group publishes an "Artefact Erosion Counter"

A running total of the number of recordable archaeological artefacts removed from the fields of England and Wales by metal detectorists (the great majority without being reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme).


This year:

Since the start of the Portable Antiquities Scheme:

Overall Total since 1975:

Such figures, though hard to estimate, provide a counter-balance to claims made by some coin collectors that the Portable Antiquities Scheme has reduced damage to archaeological sites in the UK.

SAFE 2008 Beacon Awards: Congratulations

The SAFE 2008 Beacon Awards have been announced. Congratulations are in order:
On Saturday, January 5, SAFE will present the 2008 Beacon Award to Dr. Neil Brodie and Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, honoring them for their outstanding efforts at raising public awareness about the devastating effects of looting and the illicit antiquities trade.

On a personal note it is good to see the contribution of the now defunct Illicit Antiquities Research Centre in Cambridge acknowledged in this public way.

Monday 12 November 2007

Sevso and Questions in Parliament

There has been growing political interest in the Sevso Treasure since its outing at Bonham's last year. This controversial hoard has drawn comment in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn received a written answer to his question about the Bonham's exhibition on 12 October 2006. Lord Davies of Oldham replied:

We are not aware of any proposal by a UK public museum or public institution to acquire or exhibit the Sevso silver. My department's document Combating Illicit Trade: Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material sets out guidance and is not legally binding on institutions. However, it is stated clearly under those guidelines that, if a public institution feels that there are any doubts about the legal or ethical status of an object, it should not proceed with an acquisition or loan of that object.

A further question was asked by Mark Fisher on 4 Dec 2006. The minister, David Lammy, replied:

We have had a number of contacts with representatives of the Ministry of Education and Culture in Hungary in relation to the Sevso treasure. Representatives of the Ministry wrote to my Department to set out the Republic of Hungary’s official position in relation to the Sevso silver in October 2005, and subsequently in October 2006 to reiterate their concerns in the light of the exhibition of the Sevso treasure at Bonhams. Officials in my Department have also met representatives of the Ministry of Education and Culture to discuss the Sevso treasure.

This was followed by an Early Day Motion (18 December 2006) on the Sevso Treasure which was put down by Tim Loughton (MP for E Worthing and Shoreham). This reads:

That this House views with concern the re-entry of the Sevso silver into the commercial domain; notes recent resolutions to this effect passed by the All-Party Group for Archaeology; in view of the outstanding importance of the silver and the desirability of it being available for research and public exhibition calls on the Trustee of the Marquess of Northampton 1987 Settlement and the government of the Republic of Hungary to refer all available evidence on the origin, provenance and recent movement of the silver to an independent expert evaluation charged with identifying on the balance of probabilities the country of origin of the silver and making recommendations; and further calls on the Trustee of the Marquess of Northampton 1987 Settlement, the government of the Republic of Hungary and the United Kingdom authorities to put a stop to any disposal of the silver (other than one occurring by consent of all parties) until the evaluation has occurred.

As this stands it has been supported by 51 MPs from across the political parties.

Saturday 10 November 2007

Minerva: holding back on the detail?

I confess that Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology has not been one of my favourite magazines. I have not changed my views since 1990 when Kevin Butcher and I published a review article of the first few numbers.

Its founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher is Dr Jerome Eisenberg. And it is Eisenberg, wearing his other hat as founder and director of Royal-Athena Galleries in New York, who has returned eight antiquities to Italy.

It now looks as if some of the material handled by Eisenberg --- but purchased at auction in London --- could have derived from Giacomo Medici. The impact of the "Medici Conspiracy" is immense. The last two years have seen major North American museums agreeing to return objects with little apparent fight --- and one suspects the evidence was too compelling.

So what does a dealer and magazine editor-in-chief like Eisenberg make of the returns to Italy? He has helpfully published lists of the returns but has held back on the detail. There are clear implications for private collectors. The Fleischman collection, sold or donated to the Getty, has featured prominently in the returns. And one of the pieces illustrated by Eisenberg (no. 14) is recorded as coming from the same room as a fragment in the Shelby White collection. But Eisenberg makes no reference to the link.

And there appears to be no mention in Minerva that some of the antiquities returned to Italy from Boston and Malibu had passed through the Royal-Athena Galleries.

Perhaps all that was intended was to provide a simple list and to reassure the readers of Minerva that the antiquities market was stable.

But everything has now changed.

Eisenberg himself is in the spotlight. And he will have the opportunity to explain the eight antiquities. How was he able to acquire items stolen from museums in Italy? Had he been suspicious of items surfacing at Sotheby's (London) in the mid-1980s? What was his due diligence process? Had he consulted and obtained clearance from the Art Loss Register?

And is it just coincidence that a red-figured column-krater returned to Italy by Eisenberg is attributed to the same Geras painter as an amphora returned from the Getty? (I have noted elsewhere the thread of the Darius painter running through the other returns to Italy.)

And Eisenberg's explanations need to be convincing. Why?
Over the past 50 years we [sc. Royal-Athena Galleries] have sold more than 600 works of ancient art to many of the country's leading museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Sackler Art Museum at Harvard University, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Newark Museum, the Detroit lnstitute of Arts the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Milwaukee Public Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, as well as the British Museum, the Louvre, and a number of museums in Canada, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, and Japan. (quote from website)

Museum curators and trustees will be wanting to ensure that they made sound and secure acquisitions.

Butcher, K., and D. W. J. Gill. 1990. "Mischievous pastime or historical science?" Antiquity 64: 946-50.
Eisenberg, J. M. 2007. "Italy & the J. Paul Getty Museum Antiquities Repatriation." Minerva 18: 19-20.
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2006. "From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 13: 311-31 (abstract).
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "The illicit antiquities scandal: what it has done to classical archaeology collections." American Journal of Archaeology 111: 571-74 (pdf).
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40 (abstract).

Friday 9 November 2007

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: a link with Giacomo Medici?

The sources for Jerome Eisenberg's antiquities that are being returned to Italy are now becoming clear. Apart from the three bronzes that had been stolen from museums in Italy, some or all of the remaining five pieces (four pots and a piece of sculpture) appearently derived from Giacomo Medici ("Generous New York Dealer Returns Italian Artefacts", ANSA, November 6, 2007).
The latter five, probably looted from unauthorized digs in central Italy, were part of a contested group of artefacts that passed through the hands of the Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.

Two of the four pots passed through Sotheby's in the mid-1980s. And it is now well documented that these sales contained indirect consignments from Medici that had passed through Switzerland.

This episode is beginning to suggest that Eisenberg's objects are featured in the Polaroids seized in Geneva. Such evidence is clearly behind the returns of antiquities from North American museums.

What else will be identified?

"The noose is tightening ": where next?

The return of antiquities to Italy is beginning to be a regular feature. Over the last few weeks there has been news over a further North American museum collection and a New York based dealer.

I have already commented on possible next moves. But earlier this week Italian Culture Minister, Francesco Rutelli, was quoted ("Ancient artifacts looted from Italy returned by New York dealer", IHT, November 6, 2007 ) as saying:
The noose is tightening around activities that for decades seemed unstoppable ... Not only museums are giving back (artifacts), but collectors and dealers are doing the same.
The identity of the collector John Kluge was revealed by Lee Rosenbaum earlier this summer. She also commented on the possibility that Shelby White will be returning objects ("Has Italy Struck an Agreement with Shelby White?", CultureGrrl, July 12, 2007). She quoted Francesco Rutelli talking about the Shelby White (and Leon Levy) collection:
We are a step away from a final accord....The negotiations are substantially concluded. They will permit the return of important pieces to Italy's possession.
As part of the same report Rosenbaum also mentioned the prediction that Princeton would be returning antiquities. This has now been proved to be correct.

So can we expect Shelby White to make a statement in the near future?

Thursday 8 November 2007

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: some implications

Jerome Eisenberg has liked to present himself as a pro-active dealer of antiquities. The website of the Royal-Athena Galleries tells us:
Since 1954, [Eisenberg] has made nearly 200 overseas trips, purchasing many thousands of works of art for tens of millions of dollars.

This aggressive purchasing policy, perhaps without parallel in the field, enables us to offer an extraordinary number of choice objects at very reasonable prices.
This "policy" contrasts with the actions of the Italian authorities:
Italy has been aggressively seeking the return of looted antiquities it says were smuggled out of the country and sold to top museums and collectors worldwide.
Eisenberg has clearly changed his position since his comments that the Italian attempts to restrict the movement of cultural artefacts to the USA were "absurd" and "oversimplified" (Guy Gugliotta, "Policing Plunder, Italy Requests U.S. Help in Stemming Loss of Its Antiquities", Washington Post, October 11, 1999 [archived]).

Among the antiquities returned to Italy by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2006 were two Apulian pots sold by Eisenberg. The loutrophoros (1988.431; cat. no. 69), attributed to the White Sakkos painter, had been acquired at Sotheby's in London (10 December 1984, lot 366). The second was a bell-krater (1988.532; cat. no. 15), attributed to the Hoppin painter, that had been purchased from Palladion, Antike Kunst of Basel (1976).

Eisenberg commented on one of these items when the return was announced in September 2006 (Geoff Edgers, "MFA returns art to Italy, paves way for collaboration", Boston Globe, September 29, 2006):
None of these are monumental works of art, and what fuss are [Italian audiences] going to make about this vase? ... Far more people will see it at the MFA.
What can we learn from these cases?

The fallout from the selling activities of Sotheby's in the 1980s is still with is. Three items (see also "Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: further details") purchased by Eisenberg from the auction house in London in 1984 (December), 1985 (July), and 1987 (December) appear to have derived from an illicit source (as they have had to be returned to Italy). Peter Watson (Sotheby's: Inside Story [1997]) has noted:
The printout showed that this company, Christian Boursaud, consigned for sale in the July 1985 auction some 104 unprovenanced antiquities.
Watson continued:
in the December 1987 sale which consisted of 360 lots, 101 were sent in by Editions Services. Once again, none of these antiquities had any provenance and again the shipment included twelve Apulian vases.
What other items purchased at these sales at Sotheby's will be pursued by the Italian authorities?

I close with some prophetic words written by Eisenberg in 1995:
Though I have never purchased an antiquity in Greece, nor in Italy since 1971, nor in Egypt since 1966, I am perhaps, unfortunately, at the same time, a hypocrite, since I have no doubt unknowingly bought a number of objects legally from galleries and auction houses throughout Europe, especially in England, that might have once been exported illegally from their country of origin.
Eisenberg, J. M. 1995. "Ethics and the antiquity trade." In Antiquities trade or betrayed: legal, ethical and conservation issues, edited by K. W. Tubb, pp. 215-21. London: Archetype.
Gill, D. W. J. 1997. "Sotheby’s, sleaze and subterfuge: inside the antiquities trade." Antiquity 71: 468-71.
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2006. "From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 13: 311-31.
—. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40.
Watson, P. 1997. Sotheby's, the inside story. London: Bloomsbury.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: further details

Further details on the return of eight antiquities from Jerome Eisenberg to Italy are beginning to emerge [Italian press release]

a. Attic black-figured neck-amphora showing Hephaistos. Attributed to the Leagros group. Said to be from Etruria.
b. Attic red-figured hydria showing women. Said to be from South-Central Italy.
c. Attic red-figured column-krater showing Dionysos. Geras painter. Said to be South-Central Italy.
d. Pontic oinochoe showing warriors. Tityos painter. Said to be from Etruria.
e. Roman marble nymph from fountain. Said to be from Central Italy.

The neck-amphora (a) appears to be listed on the database of the Beazley Archive as surfacing at Sotheby's in London (17-18 July 1985, lot 257). It then passed through Galerie Günter Puhze in Freiburg, and was in the hands of the Royal-Athena Galleries in 1992.

The hydria (b) is listed on the database of the Beazley Archive. It surfaced in the Royal-Athena Galleries in 1990.

The column-krater (c) appears to be listed on the database of the Beazley Archive as surfacing at Sotheby's in London (14 December 1987, 295). It subsequently featured in the Royal-Athena Galleries catalogues in 1991 and 2006.

The three Etruscan bronzes had all apparently been stolen from museums in Italy:

f. Etruscan bronze figure. Stolen from Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Chiusi on 28 April 1971.
g. Etruscan bronze Nike. Stolen from la Soprintendenza archeologica di Ercolano (Napoli) on 23-24 July 1975.
h. Etruscan bronze athlete with strygil. Stolen from Museo Archeologico Nazionale “Spina” di Ferrara on 3 August 1970.

Lee Rosenbaum had in fact already anticipated this announcement in her posting back in June ("Italian Criminal Charges Possible in Connection with Antiquities Recovery from Private Collector; Accord Reached with Princeton Museum", Culturegrrl, June 28, 2007). She noted,
Giovanni Nistri ..., commander of the carabinieri's special unit for cultural patrimony, told me that two of the recovered objects---a ... bronze Etruscan figure of a nude athlete, and a ... bronze Etruscan figure of Nike, had been discovered by Italian investigators on the website of Eisenberg's Royal-Athena Galleries, which voluntarily restituted them when shown evidence of their theft from an Italian museum and an archeological site, respectively. Nistri explicitly stated that Eisenberg had had no prior knowledge of the works' problematic histories and had cooperated in their restitution.

Eisenberg told me [sc. Rosenbaum] that he had sold the bronzes in the 1980s to collector John Kluge, who put them up for auction at Christie's on June 8, 2004. Eisenberg repurchased them there (for $6,573 and $9,560, respectively). He said that he had also voluntarily returned other pieces, when he learned that they had been illegally taken from Italy.

Eisenberg should be praised for these returns. But it confirms that some items that passed through Sotheby's in London during the mid-1980s (and exposed in Peter Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story [1997]) were derived from looted archaeological sites in Italy. And what other potentially looted material was also moving through the market in the same way?

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: new deal with Italy

Reports are breaking that Jerome Eisenberg of the Royal-Athena Galleries in New York has returned eight antiquities worth US$510,000 to Italy (Alessandra Migliaccio and Adam L. Freeman, "Art Dealer Eisenberg Returns Antiquities to Italy",, November 6, 2007; Ariel David, "Looted Art Returns to Italy From NY", Guardian Unlimited, November 6, 2007).

This comes hard on the heels of the news that Princeton has come to an agreement with Italy.

The items, some of which had already been sold, include "three bronze Etruscan statues, four vases" and "a 1st century Roman statue of a reclining woman that was used to decorate a fountain". Two items are reported to have been returned to Italy in the fall of 2006.

Ariel David notes that most of the returning items were acquired at auction in London during the 1980s.

Eisenberg, who has been exhibiting at the Basel Ancient Art Fair over the last few days, is quoted as saying:

It was the right thing to do and maybe it will set an example for other people.

Who are the other people? Fellow dealers or private collectors?

Royal-Athena Galleries, which handled some of the antiquities that have been returned from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, belong to the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA).

It is now clear that the Code of Ethics and the due diligence processes conducted by members of the IADAA are not rigorous enough.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that members of the IADAA agree to the following action:
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.

Antiquities worth over half a million US dollars are likely to have fallen into this category.

Did the Art Loss Register (ALR) --- an organisation also present at Basel --- issue certificates to say that the items had been checked? And if so, does the ALR need to address, as a matter of urgency, the issue of researching antiquities ?

Monday 5 November 2007

Puzzled over Princeton

Kelly Lack ("Art pieces relinquished to Italy",, November 5, 2007) has reported on the recent agreement between Princeton and Italy.

I remain puzzled why the agreement is so keen to list seven objects (acquired between 1989 and 2000) that will remain in Princeton. These include a Corinthian plate ("anonymous gift in memory of Isabelle K. Raubitschek and to honor Antony E. Raubitschek"), and an Attic red-figured cup, attributed to the Brygos painter ("anonymous gift in honor of J. Robert Guy").

A university spokeswoman, Cass Cliatt, is quoted as saying:
Regarding these specific items [that the University is keeping], we can now say with a clear conscience that the works we have are rightfully ours.
While we can accept this statement at its face value, it does not really address the issue.

Why were these seven pieces investigated in the first place?

I find it hard to believe that the Italians listed seven items on a whim. Did these seven pieces appear in the Polaroids seized in Geneva? Five were museum purchases, one was an anonymous gift, and the seventh a gift of an individual who is linked with an object that had to be returned to Italy in 2002 (a piece alluded to by Lack).

As Princeton now has a "clear conscience" over these seven pieces, please will it now release, without any restriction, the histories (i.e. "provenances") of each of them?

Cliatt also notes of the other pieces that will be transferred to Italy:
[The agreement] recognizes that legal title rested with Princeton before the transfer, and that the works were purchased by Princeton in good faith.
"Legal title" and "good faith" clearly did not convince either the Italian authorities or the Princeton officials that the antiquities had been removed from Italy in a legal manner. Again it would be more than helpful for Princeton to release the information about the previous histories of the eight pieces - in just the same way that the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu released details of the objects that they have returned.

Lack misses the point by inserting the issue of the Parthenon marbles into her report. I have commented on this elsewhere. We know where and when the Parthenon marbles were displayed. We do not know and will never know the precise (or even general) archaeological contexts from which each of the Princeton objects was removed. There has been a loss of knowledge.

Inlaid dagger and sheath (bronze, iron, silver, gold, niello). Roman, ca. first-second centuries A.D. One of seven objects to remain permanently at the Princeton University Art Museum.

Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

"Buying good things with a legitimate provenance"

In the wake of the returns to Italy from Boston, Malibu, New York, and Princeton, the market in antiquities is said to be unsettled.

Ariel David ("Italy cracks down on art looting", October 20, 2007, AP) presents several interesting comments.

First from Pietro Casasanta, one time tombarolo in Tuscany, and finder of the ivory mask handled by Robin Symes. This was said to have been found in an imperial Roman complex near Lake Bracchiano (Cecilia Todeschini and Peter Watson, "Familiar route out of Italy for looted ivory head", Culture Without Context 12, Spring 2003). He claims that there is less interest in looting archaeological sites:
There are no more young recruits, it's become more difficult to dig and to sell, the whole network of merchants has disappeared.
This seems to be confirmed by comments in a second interview with Gen. Giovanni Nistri of the Italian Carabinieri. David reports, "in 2006 [Nistri's] unit discovered fewer than 40 illegal digs. In the late 1990s that figure could soar to more than 1,000 a year."

So what are the sources for the thousands of antiquities that surface on the market each year? Mieke Zilverberg, chair of the International Association of Dealers of Ancient Art (IADAA) and proprietor of a gallery in Amsterdam, is quoted as saying
Over the last years the crackdown has been felt on the legal art market, with buyers concentrating more on objects coming from private collections or other legitimate sources.
Where did buyers acquire objects before the "crackdown"? Were they somehow less legitimate?

Zilverberg is bullish about the market and continues:
Prices will never go down now. It already was a quietly up-going market, and now with the hassle the Italians made everybody is focused on buying good things with a legitimate provenance, which means prices go up.
Zilverberg is unwilling for dealers or potential clients, collectors or museums, to shoulder responsibility for the looting. Instead, the "blame" for looting is laid at the feet of the "authorities" for failing to "monitor what was happening in their own archaeological backyards".

Members of the IADAA are at the Basel Ancient Art Fair at the moment. Zilverberg is right to stress that objects are coming from private collections --- anonymous private collections. Zilverberg perhaps needs to be reminded that members of the IADAA handled some of the antiquities that have been returned to Italy from Boston and the Getty (though one of the two dealers has recently left the IADAA), and another member returned a Middle Kingdom Egyptian duck to Egypt. The duck was said to have come from "a private collection in France" though in reality it appears to have been stolen from an archaeological store at Saqqara.

Perhaps Zilverberg needs to tighten the Code of Ethics for the IADAA. Do her members need to be more rigorous in their due diligence process? Perhaps the IADAA needs to put its own house in order before it starts blaming others for the widespread destruction of archaeological sites.

The Stern Collection in New York: Cycladic or Cycladicising?

Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis There appears to be excitement about the display of 161 Cycladicising objects at New York's Metropolit...