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Showing posts from January, 2008

James Cuno on Antiquities

James Cuno has been interviewed by Richard Lacayo for Time ("A Talk With: James Cuno", January 27, 2008; "More Talk: With James Cuno", January 28, 2008).

The emphasis of the interview is on ownership (including Cuno's forthcoming book, Who Owns Antiquity? [Princeton UP] [WorldCat]) and where objects are displayed. So there are comments on "retentionist cultural property laws" that are felt not to work.

But for archaeologists the issue is about the protection of archaeological contexts and the recognition that recently surfaced antiquities are likely to come from looting.

There is a focus on partage which has allowed the share of archaeological finds to be dispersed among museums and indeed form the basis of university teaching collections. To Cuno's list of North American examples we could add British university museums such as The Ashmolean Museum or The Fitzwilliam Museum. But partage is not an issue. As the items come from excavations we (usually)…

Leon Levy on Collecting

Leon Levy commented on his collection when it was displayed as the "Glories of the Past" exhibition (Rita Reif, "Two Passionate Collectors Share Their Love of History", New York Times, September 23, 1990):
We believe very strongly that all of this is borrowed ... You borrow it for life and in return for having the pleasure of looking at it, you have the responsibility of taking care of it and finding out as much as you can about it. And then it goes on to somebody else.It looks as if the Italian authorities have found some information on some of the pieces - and that is why they are moving on to a new home.

Shelby White: Waiting for the Press Release

Two weeks ago on January 16, Shelby White handed over 9 antiquities to the Italian authorities; a tenth will follow in due course. But the New York Times got hold of the story and the return entered the public domain on January 18.

So everything has gone quiet. But will the story go away?

Is it because Shelby White is too busy looking for a replacement for Philippe de Montebello at the Met?

Is she getting ready for the opening of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) in New York?

Operation Ghelas: Some Further Detail

It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security about the scale of looting. But only last week Lord Renfrew spoke out about the "colossal" scale of the problem. Even in Italy - where it seems like container loads of antiquities have been returned from North American museums, a dealer and even a private collector - the problem has not gone away.

A year ago there were signs of a major investigation into a new network, based in Sicily, that was handling antiquities. Cathryn Drake ("Italy awaits biggest ever trial of tomb robbers", The Art Newspaper, no. 187, January 28, 2008) updates the story and has reported that some 70 defendants will be appearing at a preliminary hearing in Gela, Sicily, next month (February 2008). The Italian press has revealed that they come from a wide area across Sicily including Caltanissetta, Enna, Agrigento, Ragusa, Catania, Siracusa (Syracuse) and Palermo.

Drake notes,
Alessandro Sutera Sardo, the public prosecutor, says that more th…

Will the Cleveland Museum of Art be Next?

It has been worth picking up on the hints in the media in the unfolding saga of the return of antiquities from North American public and private collections to Italy .

Take, for example, the note in the June 2007 press that four named North American private collections were going to receive attention. And by January 2008 material from each of the four named collections had been handed over to Italy:
The Bunker Hunt collection (as part of the Shelby White collection)The Maurice Tempelsman collectionThe Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection
The Shelby White collection
John Hooper ("The long journey home", Guardian Unlimited, January 24, 2008) recently noted, "Talks are continuing with the Cleveland Museum of Art." As the Sarpedon krater went on display last week, Italian officials were saying that negotiations would focus on three museums: and the North American one was the Cleveland Museum of Art.

These negotiations with the Cleveland Museum of Art have been going o…

Cyprus and Coins: a metal-detectorist speaks out

The Cyprus Mail provides an interview with "Achilleas", an active metal-detectorist on Cyprus (Jill Campbell Mackay, "Tomb raider opens crypt on why he’s breaking the law", Cyprus Mail, Sunday, January 28, 2008). He is critical of the present laws restricting unauthorised excavations: "This law is sheer nonsense".

He provides some insights into the way the trade in illicit antiquities works:
One man I know uses an unreported tomb as a sort of bank. He has found all sorts of treasures in there and visits whenever he wants cash.

He keeps everything secret as many will happily report him to the authorities for a cash reward and he would then certainly go to prison."Achilleas" is critical of the Cypriot authorities and suggests that there is no storage space for archaeological finds.
The antiquities department knows where most of the tombs are, but many have been filled in after they have been excavated. There are just so many treasures here that there …

Lord Renfrew on "Dodgy Dealers"

Lord Renfrew has been lecturing in Scotland as part of the Tercentenary Celebrations of the Society of Antiquaries (Susan Mansfield, "Cemetery looting robs archaeologists of DNA link to past", The Scotsman, January 26, 2008). As part of the lecture he turned to the problem of looting and the way that it destroys knowledge.
"It's a colossal problem. It's destroying the record of the past. It's got much worse over the past 30 years, so the opportunity of getting really good data about the past is being very substantially damaged or reduced."

Looting has increased, he says, largely because of the "rapacious" demands of collectors in the West. Ancient sites are excavated clandestinely and their contents removed, so the chance for archaeologists to study and document them is lost for ever.

"For example, we get a lot of information from cemeteries. But if a looter has gone in and dug up half the graves, you've not going to get that information…

In Search of Early Wales ... in Cardiff

I was in Cardiff today as part of the Tercentenary Celebrations of the Society of Antiquaries. It gave me chance to see the thought-provoking exhibition, "In Search of Early Wales", at the National Museum (Amgueddfa Cymru).

What was I to make of near contemporary photographs of (I presume) "insurgents" (or "freedom fighters"?) displayed next to the section on the Roman army? And how about a letter from a Medieval English soldier besieging a Welsh stronghold juxtaposed with images of a British "squaddie" posting a letter in Basra, Iraq?

And it was good to see the remains of the "Red Lady of Paviland" (in fact a male skeleton), found in a cave on Gower (near Swansea) and dated to c. 2700 BCE.

The finds are on loan from Oxford and helpfully contributing to this interpretative display on the archaeology of Wales.

But should we also recall the campaign to have the Paviland remains displayed in Swansea (Robin Turner, "Campaign to bring …

Artemis in New York

In June 2007 Sotheby's in New York auctioned a bronze statue of Artemis and a Stag (June 7, 2007, lot 41). The statue had been the property of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY (inv. 53:1), and featured in the 1996 Harvard University Art Museums exhibition, Fire of Hephaistos exhibition (cat. no. 35).

Where was it from? The Sotheby's catalogue reported:
According to Ugo Jandolo, the first known owner of the statue and an important figure in the antiquities market of the first half of the 20th century in Rome, the figure of Artemis and the stag came to light fortuitously before the early 1930s during the rebuilding of houses near Saint John Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome. In this same area Vatican-led excavations have since exposed the foundations and parts of the walls of private houses or villas dated to the 2nd Century A.D., some of them decorated with wall paintings ... Recent excavations in the neighboring Via dell’ Amba Aradam have revealed an earlier buil…

Shelby White: Waiting for the Press Release

Just over one week ago Shelby White handed over nine antiquities from her collection to the Italian authorities: a tenth will follow in due course. Only three items have been identified and as yet there is no press release (which I presume will appear on the website of the Italian Ministero per i Beni Culturali).

It appears that the New York Times published the story before White was ready for the news to be made public. But why the wait? What is there now to hide?

And please could information about the sources (i.e. the dealers) be included in the release to assist with transparency?

Lucius Verus, Bubon and Shelby White

Thomas Hoving helpfully reminded me of the larger than life-size bronze statue of the Roman emperor Lucius Verus in the Shelby White collection (Glories of the Past no. 174). Hoving commented:
The White collection also has a large bronze male statue from Bubon in Turkey, the famous ancient villa exposed when the side of a cliff fell away.His comment is not exactly correct. Lucius Verus seems to be one of a series of monumental bronze statues displayed, not in a villa, but in the sebasteion, or room for the imperial cult, at Bubon in Turkey.

The portrait of Lucius Verus was first shown in the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1974. It was owned, prior to Shelby White and Leon Levy, by Mr and Mrs Charles Lipson.

The statue was subsequently displayed in the Harvard University Art Museums at an exhibition, "The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections" (1996) no. 50.

Indeed the catalogue for "Fire of Hephaistos" notes several other statues in…

Some Reunited Fresco Fragments?

One of the pieces said to have been handed over by Shelby White to the Italian authorities last week is a "Section from a fresco". Maxwell L. Anderson, who wrote the catalogue entry (Glories of the Past no. 142), noted:
This section of fresco is part of the upper zone of a wall from a Second Style house. Various details, including the ornate Corinthian capitals with inlaid stones, the distinctive mask on the lintel, and the shields on the shelf to the left, suggest that it was completed by a workshop in the environs of Pompeii during the third quarter of the first century B.C.The piece is mentioned in the catalogue of the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman (A Passion for Antiquities no. 126). There Maxwell Anderson wrote:
The upper part of the fresco matches precisely the upper portion of a fresco section in the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection ...This Fleischman piece ("Lunette with Mask of Herakles") was described as follows:
The superb illusionism of Second-Styl…

Michael Brand on the Return of Cultural Property

Lee Rosenbaum has commented on Michael Brand's paper at the 32nd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art in Melbourne. Rosenbaum cites the report "At odds on the art of possession" in the Sydney Morning Herald (January 19, 2008).
Also speaking at the conference, Michael Brand, the Canberra-born director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles - which has been embroiled in repatriation claims in recent years - proposed the metaphor of art objects as "de facto migrants".

He argued that while it was crucial that museums guard against the illegal trafficking of art objects, it was just as important for "source" countries such as Greece and Italy to think carefully about requesting the restitution of art objects.

"While we all know that migration is the agent of great inspiration and transformation, it can also fuel the politics of nationalism," Brand said.

"In the museum world, this is often expressed in the form of cu…

Culture Wars, Spoils and Archaeological Contexts

Lee Rosenbaum addresses the implications of the return of cultural property from North American public and private collections to Italy ("Make art loans, not war", LA Times, January 21, 2008).
To the victor in the cultural-property wars belong the spoils. But now that American museums have acceded to demands for restitution, it's time to ask not only what "universal museums" can do for antiquities' countries of origin, but also what the source countries can do for the world's encyclopedic museums."Universal museums" can and do hold archaeological material derived from scientific excavations. If we take some British examples, museums hold excavated material from British work in Cyprus, Crete, the Cyclades and Laconia. These items have inspired and trained new generations of archaeologists.

But the returns from North America have not been about objects derived from scientific excavations. They are objects that have surfaced on the antiquities mark…

Shelby White and the Search Committee

Kate Taylor ("Met Trustee Cedes 10 Objects to Italy", The New York Sun, January 18, 2008) has commented on the return of antiquities to Italy by Shelby White.

Taylor reports:
Ms. White and her late husband, Leon Levy, gave $20 million toward the construction of the new Greek and Roman galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ms. White is a trustee of the museum and is on the search committee for a new director.Can White retain a position on the search committee for the successor to Philippe de Montebello given her record over these antiquities? Or has she returned the ten pieces now so that she can resist the obligation to resign?

De Montebello himself has heralded a new era of "scrupulous acquisition policies". Can White remain if the Met wishes to be seen to be acting with integrity?

Shelby White: "positive for the future of collecting antiquities"

Hicham Aboutaam, owner of Phoenix Ancient Art of New York and Geneva, has now commented on the announcement that Shelby White has returned nine antiquities to Italy (and a tenth will follow).

Ula Ilnytzky ("Return of artifacts by private collector seen as positive step",, January 18, 2008) quotes Aboutaan:
Overall, this is positive for the future of collecting antiquities and for the future of a trade that's crucial to America's culture ... Collectors in antiquities should be conducting more due diligence than in the past.Clearly the suggestion is that collectors have not been conducting sufficient due diligence: and the implication is that the dealers who sold them antiquities have also been remiss. (Perhaps that it is why antiquities returned from two named dealers are on exhibition in Rome at the moment: and remember that Ali and Hicham Aboutaan were the listed donors of one of the pieces returned from the Princeton University Art Galleries.)

Aboutaan tho…

Rutelli: "The coming year will be full of surprises"

In the wake of the return of the Sarpedon krater to Rome and the transfer of antiquities from Shelby White to Italy, it is useful to consider at where this story is likely go.

ANSA gives us a clue in the press release ("Italy won't give up on Getty Bronze", January 17, 2008) which states:
Italy is now seeking similar accords with institutes in Cleveland, Denmark and Japan.Detail is given by Marta Falconi ("Italy presents 6th-century B.C. Greek vase returned by Met after looting allegations", AP, January 18, 2008):
Rutelli vowed to keep up the campaign saying efforts would now also turn to the Far East and northern Europe.

Ministry officials have said that negotiations will focus next on museums, including the New Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark; the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Miho Museum in Shiga, western Japan.

For details on these three collections:the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copehagenthe Cleveland Museum of Artthe Miho Museum, Shiga

The Fano Athlete: Continuing Claims

Yesterday was a busy day with the Roman unveiling of the Sarpedon krater and the breaking news that Shelby White had handed over nine of her antiquities (and that one more would follow).

It would have been easy to overlook Thursday's press statement that Italy will continue to seek the return of the Fano Athlete from the Getty ("Italy won't give up on Getty Bronze", ANSA, January 17, 2008).

There had been a legal setback last November when it was reported:
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.Clearly Rutelli has now had time to digest the detail and said:
Italy won't give up its claim.Will the moral pressure be brought to bear?

Shelby White, the Returns to Italy, and the Geneva Polaroids

The complete list of the 10 antiquities from the Shelby White collection that are being returned to Italy has yet to be released.

Elisabetta Povoledo in the New York Times has noted three (and I expand on them here):

a. An Attic red-figured calyx-krater. Herakles slaying Kyknos. Euphronios. Discussed in Watson and Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy 128-32. Illustrated in J. Boardman, The History of Greek Vases (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001), fig. 120. According to Watson and Todeschini, "Medici ... Hecht ... Summa Gallery"; then Hunt collection; Sotheby's (New York) June 19, 1990 (US $ 1.76 million); Robin Symes (on behalf of Leon Levy and Shelby White). Polaroids show in "dirty and in separate fragments".

b. An Attic red-figured calyx-krater. A: Zeus and Ganymede. B: Herakles and Iolaos. Attributed to the Eucharides painter. Glories of the Past no. 117. The underside of the foot appears to carry an Etruscan graffito. Known from the Geneva Polaroids ("app…

"Successo storico": Euphronios krater in Rome

ANSA has reported briefly on the press meeting with Francesco Rutelli ("E' a Roma il vaso di Eufronio", January 18, 2008).

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)
Formerly lent by the Republic of Italy (L.2006.10)

Shelby White Returns Antiquities to Italy

It is reported that Shelby White handed over nine antiquities to the Italian authorities on January 16 and a tenth will follow in 2010 (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Collector Returns Art Italy Says Was Looted", New York Times, January 18, 2008; Adam Majendie, "Collector Shelby White Returns Antiquities to Italy, NYT Says",, January 18, 2008). Povoledo reports:
After 18 months of intense negotiations, the New York philanthropist Shelby White has ceded 10 classical antiquities from her private collection that Italy contends were looted from its soil, the Italian culture minister confirmed this week.

Nine of the 10 ancient Greek and Etruscan objects were delivered on Wednesday to the Italian Consulate on Park Avenue and will soon be crated and shipped to Italy, the minister, Francesco Rutelli, said in an interview in Rome. The remaining piece, a rare fifth-century B.C. Greek vessel, will go to Italy in 2010.

Mr. Rutelli said that Ms. White’s decision was “extraord…

Robin Symes and a Glory of the Past

This posting was prepared in August 2007 but never posted. Given today's announcement about the Shelby White collection it seems appropriate to place this in the public domain.

Information on the web of dealers supplying antiquities for private collectors in North America is beginning to emerge from Italy.

Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini (in The Medici Conspiracy) have noted that one of the Shelby White / Leon Levy bronzes "appears in three Polaroid photos and in about ten [regular] photographs in which the small bronze clearly appears still dirty with earth".

This small bronze kouros has been linked to the Greek colonies of Southern Italy and Sicily by Dietrich von Bothmer (in Glories of the Past, no. 87).

It now appears that this bronze was sold to Levy/White by Robin Symes in March 1990 for a reported US$1.2 million. (Glories of the Past gives no clues about its source.)

And also notice that by September 14, 1990 the bronze featured in the exhibition, Glories of the Pa…

Marcus Aurelius and the Paris Connection

A Roman marble portrait of Marcus Aurelius has been returned to Algeria ("Bust of Roman emperor back in Algerian hands" / "Algérie: Les Etats-Unis restituent à l'Algérie un buste de Marc Aurèle", Agence France Presse, January 16, 2008). It had been stolen from the Skikda Museum, Algeria, in 1996.

The portrait had surfaced at a sale preview at Christie's, Rockefeller Plaza, New York in June 2004. It was spotted thanks to help from Interpol and the Art Loss Register: a New York court decided in December 2006 that it should be returned to Algeria. The English language press release notes that it had been consigned by "a Paris art gallery". This was in fact "Galerie Samarcande" (on rue des Saints-Pères) which is listed as selling "Sculptures Anciennes, Archéologie, Arts d'Asie, Art Islamique, Mobilier & Objets d'Art, Haute Epoque: Moyen Âge à Renaissance". The gallery is a member of "Syndicat National des Antiquai…

Portable Antiquities Scheme: Funding Cuts?

The UK Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is facing major financial cuts.

Current Archaeology has featured the story and invites visitors to their website to express an opinion. Over 260 people have cast their vote and it is clear where support lies.

UK citizens can also sign a petition on the Downing Street Website:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Preserve and Invest in the Portable Antiquities Scheme.Members of Parliament - as of today some 128 - have signed up to the Early Day Motion tabled by Tim Loughton, MP:
That this House recognises the great contribution of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to transforming the archaeological map of Britain by proactively recording archaeological finds made by the public; celebrates the fact that in 10 years the scheme has recorded on its public database more than 300,000 archaeological finds, which would not have otherwise been reported, for the benefit of all; expresses concern at the likely impact of funding cuts proposed f…

Sarpedon carried from the field of battle

In the Iliad Sarpedon is carried from the field of battle by Sleep (Hypnos) and Death (Thanatos). Yesterday the Attic red-figured krater depicting this scene was removed from display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York ("Ciao to a Met Prize Returning to Italy", New York Times, January 11, 2008).

We have to be grateful to the Met. The acquisition of the krater in 1972 for a record US $1 million was a factor in the decision of the Archaeological Institute of America to pass the December 1973 resolution on the Importation of Antiquities. The siege of Troy was over in a flash compared to the long-running saga of the Sarpedon krater and other disputed antiquities.

But while some museum curators and private collectors were willing to acquire archaeological material ripped directly from tombs and other contexts to fill their cabinets and decorate their sideboards, archaeologists were demonstrating the damage that was being inflicted on the ancient cemeteries of Italy (and e…

Philippe de Montebello ... and his possible successor

The New York Times has reported on the forthcoming retirement of Philippe de Montebello. Michael Kimmelman ("The Legacy of a Pragmatic Custodian of Human Civilization", January 9, 2008) has provided an assessment of de Montebello's time at the Met including these comments about the new display of antiquities.
the new Greek and Roman Galleries, all 57,000 square feet of polished marble and skylight, unveiled in April — awful timing, with looted antiquities so much in the news, but a symbolic culmination to Mr. de Montebello’s legacy, which was never about celebrity architecture or fashion or political correctness. His ideal for the museum stressed the permanent collection, the public’s true heritage, and it entailed doing the difficult thing because it was right.There is nothing about the return of the Euphronios krater or the other antiquities to Italy. And not all would see him in terms of a "custodian" of world culture given his views on unprovenanced objects.

"Cultural property is a modern political construct"

James Cuno, president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago, made the claim, "Cultural property is a modern political construct", at a debate in March 2006 (see "Is It All Loot? Tackling The Antiquities Problem", New York Times, March 29, 2006).

The reason? He was wanting to dismiss the claims by Italy on various antiquities.

Cuno continued:
Italy is making claims on objects that are, in the case of the Euphronios krater, 2,500 years old. The state itself is only 170 years old.The discussion is dated; it is nearly two years old. Since the statements by Cuno, Philippe de Montebello, and Kwame Anthony Appiah, there have been returns from Boston, the Getty, the Princeton University Art Museums, and the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville. Indeed a selection of antiquities formerly owned by these great institutions are now on exhibition in Rome.

But why did Cuno care so much about antiquities claimed by Italy?

Perhaps he remembered the acquisition o…

Cyclades: recent excavations on Keros

Current World Archaeology has an illustrated overview of Lord Colin Renfrew's work on Keros in the Cyclades ("Keros: sanctuary of the Cycladic Figurines", Current World Archaeology 26, December/January 2007/8: 12-21). The site is well known for its extensive looting (see "Keros and Katonah") and the dispersal of the "Keros haul" of fragmentary marble Cycladic figures. Renfrew has explored a new deposit.
Fortunately all knowledge of the new site was kept concealed from the looters: here was an opportunity to dig a special deposit archaeologically and to see what it really consisted of.Some 85% of the Early Bronze funerary record of the Cyclades has been lost due to looting. So this excavation of a non-funerary context provides new information about the interpretation of the fragmentary figures.

"An era of scrupulous acquisition policies"

Philippe de Montebello's 2007 Stephen Kellen Lecture given at the American Academy in Berlin has now been published ("Whose culture is it? Museums and the collection of antiquities." The Berlin Journal 15: 33-37). He seems to be responding to the return of the Euphronios (Sarpedon) krater and other antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

De Montebello poses the question, "Who Owns Culture?" , and presents it as
a highly controversial issue, surrounded by a considerable degree of exaggeration, misunderstanding and "political correctness".But of course the issue is not over ownership, but over the unscientific destruction of archaeological contexts to provide "art works" for museums and private collectors. De Montebello accepts
nor would anyone disagree with the fundamental principle that all archaeological sites - and potential archaeological sites - must be preserved.I am not sure I understand the word "potential". I presume…

Recovered Masterpieces: Visitors in Rome

ANSA has reported on the exhibition of antiquities returned to Italy from museums in North America and a London dealer ("Art 'Homecomings' a hit in Rome", January 4, 2008). It notes:
So far, more than 5,000 visitors a day have braved the chilly weather and the steep Quirinal Hill to see the 69 long-disputed Greek, Etruscan and Roman works on view - most the fruit of landmark deals with leading US museums.Francesco Rutelli, the Italian Culture Minister, commented:
Our tough fight to get these objects back has been amply compensated by the sight of the thousands of people who appreciate the beauty of these works and the significance of their coming home ... There is nothing sadder than great institutions who for years accepted works bought from traffickers ... That era is over now.