Skip to main content

The Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art

Robin Pogrebin ("Fordham Opens Its Gift: An Antiquities Museum ", New York Times, December 6, 2007) has reported on today's opening of the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art. This collection was formed by a former classics student of Fordham. The NYT reports:
For some four decades, William D. Walsh browsed auction catalogs in search of the ancient artifacts that would gratify his passion for classical antiquity.

In other words during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and in this decade, Walsh has been buying antiquities at auction. Pogrebin continues:

Mr. Walsh said he acquired every piece at public auctions — not through a private dealer — and therefore hopes that the provenance of his artifacts is clean and accounted for. “I’ve always focused on keeping the auction house between myself and the seller,” he said.

But it is well documented that antiquities have been surfacing through auction houses. Why did one well-known auction house close down its antiquities department in London? Why had some of the antiquities returned from North American museums to Italy passed through established auction houses?

Pogrebin tries to get some balance in his report and quotes Richard Hodges, the director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology:

It’s a slightly imprudent act on the part of the university [sc. Fordham], because a lot of it is not provenanced ... The message that it sends is there is nothing wrong with looting and buying illegal objects. Fordham needs to be very careful about this.

The collection is described by Jennifer Udell, the curator, as follows:

It spans several periods, Mycenaean, Villanovan, Classical Greece, Geometrical, Archaic Roman, Imperial Roman, Republican, Etruscan, South Italian.”

The press release highlights the following:

  • a bronze bust of Roman emperor Caracalla of the Severan Dynasty, circa 200
    A.D.;
  • several large ceramic vessels from the ancient Etruscans, whose culture flourished in central Italy in the centuries before the rise of the Roman Empire;
  • a nickel-size Athenian silver coin, with an owl insignia, dating from the 5th or 6th century B.C.;
  • an 8-foot high male funerary statue from Rome, circa 10 A.D.;
  • a marble bust of Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar and the first emperor of Rome.

It will be interesting to see the sources and histories of the pieces in due course.

Comments

siwanoy said…
Hodges sounds a bit jealous and appears more than a bit deceitful in the way he goes about planting doubts about objects that have been generally known about and in public view for a very long time. Interesting he didn't mention anything about that fact.
David Gill said…
Hodges is quoted as saying "Fordham needs to be very careful about this". Care is indeed the watchword. The recent returns to Italy from Boston, Malibu, New York and Princeton - and indeed from Jerome Eisenberg - show that items acquired during the 1970s had apparently been removed from Italy illegally. We need to ask about the sources for antiquities that surface on the market without previous histories.

History teaches us that care is needed. And that is why there needs to be further information supplied about these newly displayed pieces.
David Gill said…
See Richard Lacayo, "Undocumented Immigrants?", http://time-blog.com/looking_around/2007/12/sign_of_the_times.html.

In particular, "But when he [sc. Walsh] tells the Times that he hopes his collection is sufficiently documented because it was all acquired through auction, not private dealers, he may be putting too much faith in how energetically the auction houses vetted their consignments in the days not so long ago when buyers and sellers were less sensitive to the issue of illegal exports."
David Gill said…
Udell is now quoted as saying:

Not that she would be pleased to see anything go. "If the carabinieri called me and said, 'We want the volute krater by the Virginia Exhibition Painter back,' it would suck," she said, referring to one of the collection's prized objects. "But you've got to be open about this, especially about objects that were collected [before the standards were agreed upon]. I wouldn't be happy about it, but I would be a lot happier doing the right thing, [which is] the legal thing."

Kate Taylor, "Fordham Opens Museum of Classical Art", New York Sun, December 6, 2007
http://www.nysun.com/article/67604
David Gill said…
For details of official opening and photographs see here.

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 …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.