Skip to main content

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.
References
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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

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

Part of the programme had an …

George Ortiz collection to be displayed in London

Christie's is due to display part of the former collection of the late George Ortiz in London in a non-selling show to mark the 25th anniversary of the exhibition at the Royal Academy. There is a statement on the Christie's website ("The Ortiz Collection — ‘proof that the past is in all of us’"). Max Bernheimer is quoted: ‘Ortiz was one of the pre-eminent collectors of his day’.

We recall the associations with Ortiz such as the Horiuchi sarcophagus, the Hestiaios stele fragment, the marble funerary lekythos, and the Castor and Pollux.

Bernheimer will, no doubt, wish to reflect on the Royal Academy exhibition by reading Christopher Chippindale and David W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511 [JSTOR].

Bernheimer will probably want to re-read the two pieces by Peter Watson that appeared in The Times: , "Ancient art without a history" and "Fakes - the artifice b…

Adding to the history of an Attic black-figured amphora

The post-excavation histories of objects are important as we map the that cultural property passes through collections and the markets. This is clear for an Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to Group E, that is due to be auctioned at Christie's New York on October 31, 2018 (lot 31). It shows Herakles and the Nemean lion, and Theseus and the Minotaur.

The auction catalogue claims that it surfaced in the hands of John Hewett in London in 1970 (or earlier), then to a private collection in Europe, followed by a series of auctions:
A European private collection; Antiquities  Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 130thence to a private collection, New YorkAntiquities Christie's, New York, 15 December 1992, lot 81Antiquities Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1996, lot 50Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1998, lot 102 The amphora appears in the Beazley Archive (BAPD 350425). This provides the history sequence as follows (though in the list of auction catalogues s…