Skip to main content

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).


David Gill said…
Dr Eisenberg has asked me to publish this response:

Dear Dr. Gill,

It should be brought to your attention that the Art Loss Register was not established until 1991. It should also be noted that in the past 49 years I have sold some 40,000 antiquities. Of these less than 20 have been returned to Italy, Greece, or Egypt due to their illegal export (although I did not acquire them in those countries), or in a few cases, stolen from museums or private collections, all unbeknown to me, and nearly all acquired before 1991. This represents a rate of 0.0005%, or one in every 2000 antiquities. I would think that this is a admirable record. All had been purchased by me from auction houses or reputable galleries in Europe or the United States. Every object purchased by me has been legally acquired and your implications concerning a possible link to Medici (which could conceivably take you to court) only reflect upon your inability to admit that I am an extremely ethical dealer. I would think that a posted apology would be in order.

I do wish to thank you, however, for publicizing Royal-Athena Galleries and Minerva, for I have received a number of inquiries from prospective clients due to your postings.

I do not believe that your snide comment about Minerva is shared by our many thousands of readers who share my love for ancient art and reason for heavily subsidizing this publication for 17 years.

Your negativism about the antiquities trade and collectors is sad to behold…and we certainly do not need any more such tabloid journalism on
the web. Have you done any 'positive' writings lately? My respect for you as a scholar has been sadly diminished over the past 15 years.

Please publish this on 'Looting Matters' as a posted comment on your blog of 10 November: "Minerva: Holding back the detail?"

Jerome M. Eisenberg, Ph.D.

Royal-Athena Galleries
Tel: (1) 212 355-2034
Fax: (1) 212 688-0412
U.S. mobile tel: (1) 917 405-7307
European mobile tel: (44) 7771 787 597
London office tel: (44) 207 495 2590
London office fax: (44) 207 491 1595
David Gill said…
Dear Dr Eisenberg

Thank you for your comments.

Best wishes


Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

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

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

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

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

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

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

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

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

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

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

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