Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

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

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

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

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

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

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

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

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.