Thursday 31 January 2008

Brooklyn Museum: a Public Declaration

Lee Rosenbaum has put a helpful posting about Brooklyn Museum's public and positive declaration about its acquisition policy for Egyptian antiquities. She also draws attention to the 1983 cut-off date; I am not convinced, but it is a matter for debate.

Certainly other museums could learn from Brooklyn.

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) know the contexts, and so it is of little archaeological importance if the piece is displayed in, say, Athens, Cambridge (UK) or Boston.

Cuno tries to belittle attempts by countries such as Italy to seek the return of their cultural property. Indeed he suggests the motives are political. But surely one of the reasons we have seen returns to Italy from Boston, Malibu, New York and Princeton is that there has been clear evidence of wrong-doing that has convinced museum authorities to hand over part of their holdings? No doubt the documentary evidence from the Geneva Freeport helped.

Cuno closes the interview with this:
Museum [sic.] recognize that there is a relationship between the marketplace and looting, and we want to distance ourselves from it as much as we can and still preserve these things that will otherwise be lost. How do you behave responsibly in this realm? There has to be a package of responses. One part of the package is partage. And another part has to do with allowing museums to reasonably acquire.
But it is not about having a reasonable acquisition policy. It is about having an ethical acquisition policy.

Lacayo has once again failed to ask the difficult questions. What about Cuno's position on acquiring and displaying potentially looted material at Harvard? But perhaps we will have to read the book.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

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?

Tuesday 29 January 2008

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 than 2,000 antiquities were recovered, such as amphorae, statues, and coins from major archaeological sites in Sicily, including Morgantina, Syracuse, Selinunte, and Gela, as well as in Puglia and Lazio. He said the “four-celled” network of international collaborators distributed stolen antiquities through intermediaries in Switzerland, Germany, Spain, the UK, and the US, including Munich’s Gorny & Mosch auction house.
It was a year ago that the Italian press reported that the investigation went well beyond Sicily and included Calabria, Puglia, Lazio, Abruzzo, Emilia Romagna, Veneto and Lombardia ("Italia: scoperto traffico internazionale reperti antichi, arresti", SDA, January 31, 2007). And the range of antiquities is diverse ("Archeologia: cosi' 'tesori' Sicilia venivano trafugati", ANSA, January 31, 2007):
statuette, vasi, monete, oggetti in bronzo, di epoca e civilta' greca, punica, romana e bizantina ("statuettes, pots, coins, bronze objects, from the Greek, Punic, Roman and Byzantine periods")
The suggestion is that these are not just chance finds but the result of deliberate digging in protected areas ("scavo clandestino in zone protette"). Drake has noted the link with Munich’s Gorny & Mosch auction house that deals with coins and antiquities. And she also discusses the raid on a Barcelona Gallery:
“We went in with the Spanish policemen and found a hidden door. When he opened it we could not believe our eyes: there were hundreds of precious objects, the majority clearly illegal,” Mr Sutera Sardo told us. The most precious object the Sicilian police recognised was an ancient Roman marble basin that had been stolen from a private house in Rome. The gallery owner is being prosecuted in Spain, and the government has formally invited Italy to take back much of the haul.
In addition the Italian press has noted links with a further gallery in Munich, and another in London ("Italian archaeology smugglers uncovered", ANSA, January 31, 2007).
Some of the stolen items were acquired by the Gorny and Mosch auction house in Munich, a company called Athena in the same city, and the Lennox Gallery in London, police sources said. ... in particolare con le societa' d'aste Gorny e Mosch di Monaco di Baviera e dalla Lennox Gallery di Londra. Ma anche con la ditta Athena di Monaco di Baviera.
And to unnerve the market further it appears that forgeries were being created:
During the raids in suspects' apartments on Wednesday [sc. January 2007], police also found evidence that as well as smuggling genuine artefacts they also made false ones to sell. Equipment was discovered which was clearly used to make 'ancient' coins and vases.
And if 2000 items have been recovered, how many have already been sold? Where are they now? And what about the forgeries?

Monday 28 January 2008

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:
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 on for some time and were mentioned in press statements linked to the return of antiquities from Princeton University Art Museums (October 2007) and Jerome Eisenberg (November 2007).

Details of the Cleveland material have been mentioned in the trial of Robert Hecht and Marion true in Rome. In November 2005 Cleveland's Plain Dealer ("Trial in Rome promises to expose looters’ veiled world") reported:
In Cleveland’s case, the object mentioned in court documents is an ancient Greek lekythos, a slender, long-necked oil jar painted with figures in black.
The Cleveland museum bought eight works from Hecht between 1951 and 1990. The works include a lekythos purchased in 1985, the period under investigation in the case against True and Hecht.
Suzan Mazur has identified some of the pieces ("Italy Will Contest Medea Vase At Cleveland Museum",, October 9, 2006; "Mazur: Italy's List Of Ancient Treasures At Cleveland",, April 22, 2007; see also further published comments by D. Gill and Christopher Chippindale). Among the items is a Paestan black-figured lekythos, and, if Mazur is correct, an Apulian krater attributed to the Darius painter.

Following Mazur's report I posted this message (April 26, 2007) [and which I slightly modify here]:
Further to Susan Mazur's most useful list of material from Cleveland, I note that the bronze Victory with cornucopia appears in my discussion of material from the Getty which appeared in my review article of the Getty Masterpieces in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (1998):

One of my favourite provenances relates to the bronze relief of "Two Togate Magistrates" (85.AB.109) (p. 115) which although without even an alleged find-spot, "traveled through the art market and [was] conceivably found with [three other bronzes]" (The Gods Delight, no. 63). In fact two of the associated pieces are fellow Masterpieces, a Roma (or Virtus) (84.AB.671) (p. 113), and a goddess (either Venus, Ceres or Juno) (84.AB.670) (p. 112), and the third, a Victory with a Cornucopia, is now in the Cleveland Museum of Art (The Gods Delight nos. 64-66). Perhaps scholarship will never know if these pieces were found together, or merely shared the same packing-case as they crossed an international frontier.

If a winged Victory flew across international frontiers to land in Cleveland, where does this leave the three pieces in the Getty?

The four pieces are:
1. Cleveland 1984.25
2. Malibu 85.AB.109
3. Malibu 84.AB.671
4. Malibu 84.AB.670
The Getty pieces do not appear in the August 1, 2007 list of objects due to be returned to Italy.

Byzantine Silver from Bulgaria?

A programme on the Byzantine silver alleged to have been found in Bulgaria is due to be shown on Greek television on Tuesday 29 January as part of a documentary by Fakeloi. The broadcast can be watched live at or later from the Fakeloi website.

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 aren’t enough archaeologists to work all those sites. There also isn’t enough space in our museums to cater for all the pieces that are found.

We almost have too much stuff, with museums running out of space and being forced to store artefacts outside and uncared for. They don’t know what to do with it all.
"Achilleas" believes that Cyprus needs a scheme like the Portable Antiquities Scheme for England and Wales (though the scheme itself is not named).

In his view coins are being protected if they are removed from their contexts:
Coins can become worthless in the hands of the inexperienced and most have already suffered from the damage caused by farmers’ fertilisers.
And as I read this report I felt that I had heard it all before - but from North American collectors. "Achilleas" is, of course, an alias.

Can this be part of the propaganda war to remove the restrictions on the import of antiquities from Cyprus imposed by the US Government in 2007?

Saturday 26 January 2008

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 about the entire community. Now there are very few ancient cemeteries that
continue undisturbed."
Renfrew then turned to the people he felt were responsible:
He criticises museums and collectors in the United States, Japan and Russia for buying antiquities from "dodgy dealers" without checking their provenance.

"They are completely thwarting the good ambition of better understanding the human past. They are actually financing the looting. They know the antiquities they are buying are likely to be looted."
Now we are seeing returns of antiquities to Italy and Greece from public institutions, private collectors and dealers will we see a change in selling and collecting habits in the antiquities market? It would be good to think so.

But only last week I noted these words from one prominent dealer in antiquities who commented on the return of antiquities from Shelby White (Shelby White: "positive for the future of collecting antiquities"):
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.
There is a long way to go.

Friday 25 January 2008

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 'Red Lady' back to Swansea after 180 years", Western Mail, December 27, 2004)?

Whatever the outcome of this particular debate, the National Museum should be congratulated on putting together a stimulating display which gets to the heart of national identity.

Thursday 24 January 2008

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 building thought to be the house of the Pisoni and Laterani expropriated by Nero in the mid 1st Century A.D. The statue of Artemis is more likely to have graced the halls or gardens of such grand private residences rather than a public space or building.
The statue was purchased from Piero Tozzo of New York in 1953 and Artemis featured in a number of news stories. There does not appear to be a documented history (i.e. publication) prior to its purchase.

Artemis and a Stag was acquired long before the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the circumstances surrounding its surfacing are not an issue here.

So why comment now? The statue sold for a colossal US$28.6 million.

To put this into perspective, Sotheby's New York auctioned just over US$42 million worth of Greek and Roman bronzes between 1998 and 2007. The total value of sales of antiquities for the same period was over US$216 million (though US$57 million was for the "Guennol Lioness"): over US$112 million of that was in 2007. So Artemis has been a major contributor to the overall performance of the Sotheby's antiquities department.

Lee Rosenbaum has made three postings about the Artemis. First to comment quite rightly on the deaccessioning of the piece:
The thing that distresses me most about the mega-millions raked in by Buffalo's Albright-Knox Gallery in its series of art disposals at Sotheby's (including the $25.5 million hammer price, against a $5-7 million presale estimate, for "Artemis and the Stag," above, at Thursday's antiquities sale) is the museum's ability to get away with this massive masterpiece liquidation without a scintilla of censure from its peers or legal authorities.

Where is the Association of Art Museum Directors, which should be more vigorously enforcing its own criteria for deaccessioning? Where is the office of the NY State Attorney General, which ought to be protecting the public's interest in the public patrimony?
But the statue has not been lost to the viewing public (at least for the moment). As Rosenbaum made clear in the second posting, Artemis had gone on display (as a loan) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

And now there is another issue. Rosenbaum draws attention to claims that the Artemis is of modern creation (Matthias Schulz, "'Ancient' Forgeries Fool Art Markets", Spiegel Online, January 23, 2008):
Stefan Lehmann, an archeologist from the eastern German city of Halle, raises doubts about the piece. He is troubled by the "unexpressive face and seemingly perfect condition" of the sculpture. At first glance, writes Lehmann, the sculpture reminds him of a "classical work from the period around 1800."

Josef Floren, the German author of a handbook titled "The Greek Sculpture," is also skeptical. The "box-shaped base" on which the goddess is standing seems "modern." Floren is also perplexed by the clothing the young woman is wearing. "Something resembling a shawl or a veil is draped across her shoulders. No one in Rome walked around like that."
I doubt that the Met would accept such a high profile loan without believing that it was a genuine piece.

But for all its documented collecting history - some would call it "provenance" - since 1953, Artemis does not have a known archaeological findspot (rather like the Guennol lioness). It is an impressive work, but if it had come from an excavation we would known so much more about its display and appreciation in antiquity. Context matters.

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?

Wednesday 23 January 2008

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 the exhibition that have been linked at one time or another with Bubon (e.g. nos. 16, 19, 24, 38, 44, 55). Peter Watson ("Ancient Art Without a History", The Times [London], August 14, 1997) commented in 1997 that the White-Levy Lucius Verus was"most probably one of 20 lifesize bronze or marble statues that were looted in the Sixties from Bubon".

As I observed with Christopher Chippindale (in the American Journal of Archaeology back in 2000),
Inscriptions allow us to know the identity of the statues that stood here [in the sebasteion] and how they were displayed.

Is this a statue of such importance that it should be displayed in an archaeological museum in Turkey alongside material from its original context? Will Shelby White consider its return?

And what about the other proprietors of statues (and fragments) from Bubon?

Tuesday 22 January 2008

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-Style Roman wall painting is brilliantly in evidence in this fragment from the upper zone of a Pompeian wall. To judge from the scale of the fragment, the room was intimate in scale and may have been a bed-room (cubiculum) or dining room (triclinium).
The Fleischman fragment, purchased from Fritz Bürki, had been included in the Getty's August 2007 agreement with Italy (as J. Paul Getty Museum inv. no. 96.AG.171). This announcement led to my speculation (with additional information, "From Malibu to Rome: implications for Shelby White") about the piece still in the possession of Shelby White.

But Anderson also noted that these two pieces from the Shelby White and Fleischman collections are related to a third fragment once in the Fleischman collection:
... from the same room, as is catalogue number 125.
Passion no. 125, "Vignettes of Cityscapes", remains in the J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. no. 96.AG.170) and did not form part of the 2007 agreement.

There is also reported to be a fourth fragment of the wall-painting. Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini (The Medici Conspiracy, pp. 119 and 349) note in their discussion of the ex-Fleischman Herakles fragment (Passion no. 126):
in dimensions, subject matter, and condition, in [Paolo Giorgio] Ferri's words, it "would appear to be a twin to another fresco" seized in Geneva from [Giacomo] Medici.
The ex-Fleischman fragment with the mask of Herakles is now on display in Rome ("Nostoi: Capolavori ritrovati"), and the Shelby White piece is likely to join it.

Which dealer supplied it? Was it Bürki (as for the Fleischman piece)? Or were dismembered wall-painting fragments distributed round a network of dealers as P. Watson and C. Todeschini have demonstrated for fragments of Greek figure-decorated pottery?

Will the J. Paul Getty Museum now make a generous and gracious gesture to return the second Fleischman fragment to Italy so that the pieces can be viewed together? Michael Brand, the director of the Getty, has recently expressed his views about the return of antiquities to Italy, but he would understand that the intention of the original ancient artist was for the fragments to be displayed and seen together. Now is the time for the fragments to be reunited.

The measurements of the three pieces are:
  • Glories no. 142: h. 86.2 cm, w. 86.5 cm
  • Passion no. 125: h. 91 cm, w. 80. 5 cm
  • Passion no. 126: h. 61 cm, w. 81 cm
The arrangement of the fragments has been created by David Gill and is intended to give an impression of the original design. It is not an accurate reconstruction though the fragments are at the same approximate scale.

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 cultural patrimony claims. All museums must play their role in curtailing the illegal trafficking of works of art and some works should be restituted.

"At the same time, the simplistic argument that all works of art should be returned home is no better than one seeking to stop human migration in the name of preserving supposedly pure ethnic borders."
What this newspaper quote does not do is spell out the different groups of cultural property. Let me give three examples.
  • Should the eighteenth-century Grand Tour collection of, say, Thomas Hollis (a benefactor of Harvard) and Thomas Brand-Hollis (and bequeathed to the Revd John Disney and thence to his son Dr John Disney) be returned from Cambridge to Italy?
  • Should finds from, say, Amarna that were shared out after the excavations be returned to Egypt?
  • Should fragments of Roman wall-painting from a villa on the Bay of Naples (and covered in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE) that were ripped out in the last thirty years be returned to Italy?
Some of the Grand Tour pieces could have been derived from, say, Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli. But their removal was more than two hundred years ago, and they have subsequently formed the cultural backdrop for radical English gentlemen. The Amarna pieces have recorded find-spots and their scientific contribution remains whether they are in a museum in the UK or in Egypt. The wall-paintings have merely been looted to provide a museum or collector with a piece of "Ancient Art" to place in a gallery or sitting room.

But the objects returned to Italy (and some are now on display in Rome) by Boston, Malibu, New York, and Princeton - and not forgetting the Royal-Athena Galleries and Shelby White - appear to come from recent looting (and in some cases from museum thefts). Did curators turn a blind eye to the destruction of contexts in their search for the piece to fill a gap in the collection?

Brand also chose to comment on the "Fano Athlete" at exactly the same moment that Italy has renewed its claim on the piece:
Fortunately for us, the so-called Getty Bronze will be staying at the Getty ... Ironically, it was most likely on its way to Italy from Greece as Roman loot when it was lost at sea.
Ancient Romans looted - so it is acceptable to acquire "illicit cultural property" today?

Monday 21 January 2008

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 market without a documented history. And P. Watson and C. Todeschini (see review by Gill and Chippindale) have demonstrated in some detail the route by which these items were ripped from their archaeological contexts to provide spoils for what Rosenbaum and others call "universal museums".

"Universal museums" have a place: but not at the expense of destroying unrecorded archaeological sites. And that is what lies at the heart of the issue about the recent returns to Italy. Wherever the Sarpedon krater resides, we will never known its precise last resting place and the complete archaeological assemblage.

So these returns are symbolic of unethical curatorial behaviour that was indifferent to the material and intellectual consequences.

Rosenbaum concludes:
In the bad old days, acquirers of antiquities knew, or at least suspected, that what they were doing was problematic. What's changed now, thanks to aggressive enforcement by the source countries, is that it's become much harder to get away with it.
Are curators really this reformed? If there is a new spirit of transparency, why are the previous histories of objects from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Princeton not in the public domain (as far as I know)? Which other North American museums and private collections hold material sold to them by, say, Robin Symes or Robert Hecht? And what about European and Japanese collections? And why are antiquities still being presented as a good investment? I suspect the requests for returns will continue.

Saturday 19 January 2008

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 thought that the deal with White "is the beginning of more a careful era in collecting cultural properties." I hope he is right.

He makes a call for more transparency:
I suggest that collectors show what they have and follow what Shelby and Leon did - publish photos and background on these works, in a catalog or registry.
He suggests that some collectors have acted in "good faith". Yet in North America the issue of looting has had a high profile since the adoption of the AIA Resolution in 1973. Collectors like Shelby White and Leon Levy knew - or should have known if they had taken responsible advice - the issues when they started buying. But they wanted to own "ancient art" and ignored the impact on the archaeological record.

There have been suggestions that White has been picked on. The New York Times reported:
“She had an attitude of ‘Why me? There are other collectors out there,’ ” said one official who asked not to be identified for fear of offending Ms. White by describing the talks. “The truth is, because she’s lent so many of her pieces, she was very visible. Other collectors tend to keep their antiquities at home.”
But anybody who has been following this case will know that other collectors have been highlighted. These include Barbara Fleischman (who did the honourable thing and resigned from being a Trustee of the J. Paul Getty Museum) and Maurice Tempelsman.

White's philanthropy has been tainted. And the era of collecting recently-surfaced antiquities should perhaps be at an end.

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:

Friday 18 January 2008

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 ("appears in fragments").

c. A fragment of Roman fresco. Glories of the Past no. 142. This appears to come from the same room as a fragment once in the Fleischman collection, and now returned to Italy from the Getty. (The other fragment is now on exhibition in Rome.)

Watson and Todeschini have listed "Antiquities in the Levy-White Collection Shown in the Polaroids seized in Corridor 17 in Geneva". It is not known if any of these are included in the agreement.

i. Bronze statue of naked youth. Glories of the Past no. 87. "This appears in three Polaroid photos and in about ten photographs in which the small bronze clearly appears still dirty with earth". Said to have been acquired from Robin Symes.

ii. Chalcidian neck-amphora. Attributed to the painter of the Cambridge Hydria Cavalcade. Glories of the Past no. 102. "Appears among many seized photographs, where it is shown before proper restoration, with many gaps between the fragments."

iii. Attic black-figured neck-amphora of Panathenaic shape. Attributed to the painter of Louvre F 6. Glories of the Past no. 104. Surfaced in Sotheby's (London) July 17, 1985, lot 313. "In the Polaroids, the amphora is broken and dirty with earth. In the other photographs ... it is shown as restored."

iv. Attic black-figured neck-amphora. Attributed to the Bucci painter (by J. Robert Guy). Glories of the Past no. 106. Surfaced in Sotheby's (London) December 9, 1985, lot 132.

v. Attic black-figured neck-amphora. Attributed to a painter of the Medea group. Glories of the Past no. 107. "In four seized Polaroid photographs."

vi. Attic black-figured psykter. "Departure of a troop of cavalry". Glories of the Past no. 112. "The object in the seized photographs is completely fragmented and pictured on a kitchen tablecloth."

vii. Two Caeretan hydriae. One showing a panther and lioness; the other showing Odysseus and Polyphemos' cave. "Both these vases were shown in the seized photographs, where they are both broken and in fragments, with sizable gaps."

Lee Rosenbaum ("Shelby White and the "Why Me?" Antiquities Defense", Culturegrrl) has also commented on the story (though the piece she mentions that is used to illustrate the ANSA news story is in fact one of the pieces from Princeton). The posting concludes with the as yet unissued press statement providing statements from Rutelli and White:
Mr. Rutelli went on to say, "Although Italy had no legal claims against Ms. White or her late husband, Leon Levy, she has shown great sensitivity in resolving this matter by concluding based on available evidence that these pieces should go back to the Republic of Italy. We look forward, as she has requested, to exhibiting these objects in museums [in] Italy."

Ms. White said, "From the beginning, Leon and I collected with the intention of preserving the past, so that people around the world could learn more about their history. That's why we have supported many facets of archaeology -- excavations, publications, exhibitions, conservation, and education, and that is why we established the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. Our collection was purchased at public auction and from dealers we believed to be reputable. In the case of the returned objects I believe I have taken the appropriate action.
The mention of the Institute is key and probably explains why White has decided to offer up the pieces on a voluntary basis at this point.

The Chippindale and Gill 2000 article, "Material Consequences of Contemporary Classical Collecting", in the American Journal of Archaeology (with supporting tables) is available on-line and from JSTOR.

"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 “extraordinarily positive” as well as groundbreaking. “It is a generous and open-minded gesture,” he said.
The list has not yet been given but Povoledo notes:
The artifacts given back by Ms. White include some of the finest showpieces in any private collection of classical antiquities in the world. Until recently, some were on view at the Met in an extended loan, including a red-figured vessel depicting Herakles slaying Kyknos, signed by the celebrated fifth-century B.C. painter Euphronios, and a pot with scenes of Zeus and Herakles attributed to the fifth-century B.C. painter Eucharides.

Italian investigators say that they have traced the Eucharides and some of the other artifacts to be returned to an Italian dealer convicted in 2004 of trafficking in illegal antiquities. Polaroid photographs seized in 1995 in a raid on two Swiss warehouses used by the dealer, Giacomo Medici, showed works either encrusted with dirt or in pieces, as if recently unearthed. Ms. White and her husband bought some of those objects from Robin Symes, a London dealer.
I have had cause to comment on Shelby White's collection and anticipated this announcement. The return of a wall-painting (ex Flesichman collection) from the Getty had implications for Shelby White. White is being presented as co-operative; but remember that in April 2007 she was interviewed for the New Yorker in which she dismissed Gill and Chippindale's analysis of her collection. She had to come to an agreement before the opening of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World later this year.

Remember also that Italy was only a source for some of the antiquities. Pieces from Turkey and the UK have also passed through the collection. Will she be making arrangements with other countries?

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 Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

So, in a period of six months, this bronze was purchased, selected for exhibition, catalogued and researched. And then the exhibition catalogue went to press, was printed and bound in Verona, Italy - and then shipped (I presume) back to New York in time for the exhibition opening.

The surfacing of the bronze in the hands of Robin Symes was so timely to fit into this celebration of "Ancient Art". There is little wonder that Shelby White and Leon Levy could write so warmly,
We have been so fortunate, as collectors, to have become friends with the dealers who first showed us these wonderful objects.
But now that the Geneva Polaroids appear to link this kouros with the illicit movement of antiquities from Italy, will Shelby White give up one of her Glories?

Apparently not.

It is reported that the Italian Government has asked for at least 20 antiquities to be returned (and see E. Povoledo, "Top collector is asked to relinquish artifacts", New York Times, November 29, 2006).

What should Shelby White do?

Be gracious. Present the bronze kouros to the Italian state - and reflect that it was US$1.2 million well spent. After all, the money went to somebody she once considered to be a friend.

Thursday 17 January 2008

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 Antiquaires" (SNA):
Unis par un code éthique dont les principes sont Authenticité - Qualité - Honorabilité, ses membres se distinguent par le panonceau du Syndicat National des Antiquaires.
The SNA website (checked today) gives the proprietor as Joseph Uzan - and this raises a problem.

Souren Melikian ("Some Solutions to the Looting of Cultures: On the Eve of Destruction?", IHT, January 17, 1998) reported exactly ten years ago:
Joseph Uzan who ran the Galerie Samarcande on Rue des Saints-Peres closed down and in 1996 sold his stock at Drouot.
Was this report premature? I note that the gallery was exhibiting in Basel in 2000 ("Avec "Cultura", Bale veut devenir le rendez-vous mondial des arts anciens", AFP, October 14, 2000) and 2002 ("Von Ganymed zu Buddha; Vorbericht zur Kunst- und Antiquitätenmesse "Cultura" in Basel", Die Welt, October 12, 2002).

What else has Galerie Samarcande been consigning for auction?

Tuesday 15 January 2008

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 for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), following the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, on the PAS; and urges the Government to ensure that the scheme is at least able to maintain its current levels of activity and to consider urgently whether MLA offers the best home for the PAS or whether another body, such as the British Museum, would not be better placed to provide PAS with a long-term sustainable future.

Monday 14 January 2008

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 elsewhere). The deliberate ignoring of the problem of recently surfaced antiquities has led directly to the return of cultural property to Italy from Boston, Malibu, Princeton and the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville. And a selection of this array of former trophies is now on display in Rome. (Loans in reverse are also going on exhibition in North American museums.)

Although these museums have accepted the Italian case and returned the objects, some of the key individuals (such as Philippe de Montebello) have continued to defend the original acquisitions.

This is not the end of the matter. Objects in other European, Japanese and North American museums (and private collections) are said to feature in the Polaroids seized in Geneva. Will it take a few months for those institutions to return the items? Or are we looking for another protracted series of requests?

Giacomo Medici and the Sarpedon krater displayed in New York (from a photograph found in the Geneva Freeport).

Wednesday 9 January 2008

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.

Randy Kennedy has a more interesting piece, "Let the Horse Race Begin: The Search for a Successor" (January 9, 2008). In his list is James Cuno whose controversial views on antiquities are well known and similar to de Montebello ("Cultural property is a modern political construct"). A more interesting suggestion is Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum. But speculation about a successor is like trying to work out the future US president after the result of the New Hampshire primaries.

The Met is a great institution with major art and archaeological collections. It deserves an inspirational director.

Image and tip from Geoff Edgers, "Philippe de Montebello, Retiring",

Tuesday 8 January 2008

"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 of fragments of Greek figure-decorated pottery when he was director of Harvard's art museums. Back in 1998 Culture Without Context reported:
Harvard Museums have recently put on display a 1995 purchase of 182 fifth-century BC Greek vase fragments. The director of Harvard's art museums, James Cuno, argued that the pieces had probably been removed from Italy before 1971, the date at which the Harvard acquisitions code took effect, and which forbids the purchase of material of questionable provenance. The fragments were bought on the advice of museum curator David Mitten from a New York dealer who had in turn purchased them from Robert Guy, of the University of Oxford, who could only have obtained them after 1971. Guy's name has in the past been linked to those of dealers Robin Symes and Herbert Cahn. Mitten has also purchased several unprovenanced antiquities from Robert Hecht ... Innocent until proven guilty claims Cuno. Guilty by association counter his critics.
I went back through my archive of material and found Walter V. Robinson and John Yemma, "Harvard museum acquisitions shock scholars", Boston Globe, January 16, 1998. There the report made the point:
Harvard's museums have been acquiring undocumented objects from an international dealer so notorious for dealing in looted artifacts that he was barred from Italy for almost a decade. The museums' director said he sees no reason to sever ties to the dealer.
Talking about the 182 fragments Cuno was quoted:
The decision I took was, I thought, a very ethical one and I would stand by it and do it again, ... If we hadn't acquired them, they might be in some private collection lord knows where. No one would know about them; no one would learn from them. Then what service would I have done?
Cuno acknowledged that despite Guy's expertise, he provided Harvard with no documentation regarding the origin of the fragments. Nor could he say where they came from - a dead giveaway, archeologists say, that the items are unclean. Cuno said Guy had obtained them from friends, including dealers, over several decades - a suggestion they might have been in Guy's possession before Harvard's policy took effect in 1971.
The Globe also reported on a 1996 Harvard exhibition, The Fire of Hephaistos:
That Harvard might have compromised its ethical standards has provoked debate within its fine arts faculty. A 1996 Sackler exhibition prompted a formal objection on ethical grounds by Irene J. Winter, then chair of the fine arts department. The exhibition comprised bronzes on loan from collectors - including Harvard benefactors Leon Levy and Shelby White - whose purchases of undocumented antiquities have prompted as much debate as the prices they pay.

In her 1996 letter to Cuno, Winter raised questions about the dubious origin of several of the pieces, including one bronze owned by Levy and White, which, she noted, had been "purchased in clear contravention of international convention, for which its purchasers have shown consistent disregard over the years." Levy and White have insisted that their acquisitions have been proper.
I presume that one of the pieces was the bronze "Portrait Head of a Youth" (cat. no. 31) reported as "Found in Suffolk, in southeastern England; purchased in 1988" (see "Private collectors are a potential threat to our cultural heritage").

And what was Cuno's view about the acquisitions?
It's out of the ground ... It's out of the country of origin. It's on the market. We're a public institution. Our job is to encourage research and preservation. If you don't acquire it, where would it go? Back to the netherworld of private holdings in conditions inimical to its preservation.
The Globe was quite prophetic and the report included this gem of a quotation from Harvard's David G. Mitten:
I don't think there is any reason to question Hecht's credentials ... We have bought from Bob Hecht and will continue to do so. He's very square with us. We have every reason to believe him.
Is cultural property safe when such views are expressed?

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.

Monday 7 January 2008

"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 he means a site that has yet to be recognised or located; in that sense the site is unregistered or unrecorded.

De Montebello claims that archaeology is a discipline that emerged in "the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries". (Perhaps he should read Paul G. Bahn, ed., The Cambridge illustrated history of archaeology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996; Stephen L. Dyson, In pursuit of ancient pasts: a history of classical archaeology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.) While it is true that a more "scientific" approach emerged in the late nineteenth century, the roots of the classical branch can be traced back to Johann Winckelmann. (Later in his lecture de Montebello confusingly says "At the same time [sc. the eighteenth century] the discipline of archaeology as we know it today was born ...")

I doubt his claim that "ours is an era of ... scrupulous acquisition policies" is strictly true. If it was, why was his own museum able to acquire the Euphronios krater and the other antiquities that have now been returned to Italy? And the Met was not alone among North American institutions: the present exhibition in Rome includes material from Boston, Malibu and Princeton. And only this month the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville has announced the return of pieces to Sicily. So acquisition policies have allowed recently surfaced objects to enter major collections that see themselves as repositories of "culture".

De Montebello disputes the importance of archaeological context and suggests that general context can be reconstructed from "intrinsic qualities". I have discussed some of the issues associated with the Euphronios krater elsewhere.

De Montebello rightly emphasises the movement of objects in antiquity and cites examples from Pompeii and Gandhara. I have discussed with Christopher Chippindale a Roman silver cup in an anonymous North American private collection ("AIC") which is said to come from Gandhara (see AJA). But the find-spot is not certain. The cup comes from a collection with an emphasis on Gandhara; would a buyer sell it with an appropriate "find-spot"? There is a huge difference between "excavated at" and "said to be from"; there are intellectual consequences for the study of the discipline. I do not believe that de Montebello has yet understood the issues. He even makes the outrageous suggestion that archaeologists are to blame for the loss of information because dealers who handle "illegitimate objects" [his term] do not say where it was found for fear of prosecution. There is not a hint that the fault could lie with the looters, dealers, or indeed the end-of-line institution.

De Montebello makes the point that few antiquities in museums "have a known find spot or clear archaeological provenance". Loss of archaeological information does not necessarily mean "stolen". I do not know anyone, except de Montebello in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, who has suggested that "by today's standards, all of the works in the Vatican are stolen". Athenian figure-decorated pots removed from Etruscan tombs on estates belonging to the Vatican at least are known to come from Etruria. But can we be certain that the Euphronios krater was found in a grave in Tuscany?

Loot is a major theme. And certainly spoils were removed from sites in antiquity. For example, a silver phiale dedicated in a sanctuary at Megara has turned up in a late classical tomb in Macedonia. And de Montebello points to Roman "trophies of conquest". But we could continue to more modern trophies of war such as the hoards from Troy removed from Berlin at the end of the Second World War.

De Montebello makes an important point about separating finds. He cites the way that the Nimrud Ivories were divided between three collections. This he claims preserved part of the collection when the pieces in Baghdad were damaged during the First Gulf War and the later looting of the Baghdad Museum. But spreading scientifically excavated material between different collections - partage - is different to displaying pots excavated in the cemeteries of Cerveteri in the Villa Guilia and ones that have no recorded find-spot (and are presumably looted) in a public collection in North America.

De Montebello also considers the implication of the Frederick Schultz case and suggests that it is "one of the reasons why countries like Greece, Turkey, and especially Italy are now making claims against US institutions". He grumbles that European museums also collected from "now discredited dealers like Robin Symes and Robert Hecht ... but for the moment seem to be inviolate". While that is true, we will have to wait to see if Italy is able to regain material from any European collections. (See "Leiden and the cuirass".)

He also notes the implication of the "Medici Conspiracy" and the evidence of the Polaroids "showing clear evidence that objects had been stolen in modern times". He goes on to mention the Met's return of the Euphronios krater and the ("Morgantina") silver. I find it interesting that he uses the word "stolen" to describe the "looting" of ancient cemeteries.

I would agree with de Montebello that there needs to be a distinction between cases of recent looting and claims over historic collections; he cites the head of Nefertiti, the Pergamon altar, and the Parthenon marbles. He reminds us that pieces can have different settings: the horses of San Marco have contexts in Constantinople, Venice and Paris. One could also draw attention to the way that in Late Antiquity the snake tripod marking the end of the Persian Wars was moved from Delphi to Constantinople; it is still visible in the hippodrome in Istanbul. Or indeed the colossal chryselephantine statue of Zeus from Olympia was moved to Constantinople and destroyed in a fire. However de Montebello makes a great leap when he suggests:
We should recognize that a great deal of knowledge, cross-fertilization, and exchange can come from objects moving across borders.
It is almost as if he is saying that it is a good thing for, say, an Attic red-figured krater to move across international frontiers from Italy to the USA. (And that we can ignore the loss resulting loss of knowledge.)

Does de Montebello accept that archaeological contexts have been destroyed and that museum policies can encourage looting? Not really, as his November 2007 interviews with Time showed.

The weakness with de Montebello's position is that he places the emphasis on ownership. He closed with his appeal:
As the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah has argued, the treasures in the world's major museums belong to an international, cosmopolitan society.
While this sharing of a universal heritage is true, the debate is in fact over the protection of the archaeological record. What are the material and intellectual consequences of collecting antiquities? De Montebello needs to think beyond possession.

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)

Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...