Thursday, 7 February 2008

A Bronze from the Republic of Macedonia: a New York Link?

My attention has been drawn to the scale of looting in the Republic of Macedonia. In 2006 it was estimated (Jasmina Mironski, "In Macedonia, archaeological riches at looters' mercy", AFP, December 27, 2006; see also Isa Marvinci, "Le sud de la Macédoine, paradis des pilleurs de sites archéologiques", AFP, 23 décembre 2006) that
one million artefacts to have been smuggled out of Macedonia since independence in 1991 are jewellery, decorative ornaments, weapons and armour of ancient foot soldiers, and statues.
This was so graphically described by Konstantin Testorides ("In Macedonia, Raiders of Lost Artifacts; Experts Say Few Sites Not Pillaged", Washington Post, April 22, 2007). Irena Kolistrkoska Nasteva, a prominent archaeologist in Macedonia, was quoted:
Macedonian bronze is trendy. It is world-famous because of the style, and it can fetch very high prices on the black market ... Even the smallest piece can be sold for 1,000 euros.
Pasko Kuzman, head of the National Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, claimed that "during excavations at Isar Marvinci between 1995 and 2003, an estimated 2,500 artifacts were stolen." He went on,
One of my dreams . . . is to bring back to Macedonia a bronze bowl with a beautiful relief, which was recently traced to New York.
Is this "bronze bowl with a beautiful relief" --- which I presume to be a krater --- in a private collection? Has it appeared in any public exhibitions? Are there any plans for publication?


Marcus Tully said...

Not sure what the Macedonians think make their bronzes to distinctive ...

But there is an Archaic or Archaising bronze krater that appeared in the early 90s in the Levy-White collection. Came in pieces, very decorated with figures, etc. Makes the Vix Crater look plain and undecorated

duck said...

Marcus, the bronze krater you are talking about comes from Macedonia. Leon Levy and Shelby White acquired it in 1996. It was put on view with the exhibition The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art held at the Princeton University Art Museum from October 11, 2003 through January 18, 2004 and subsequently at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts from February 22 to May 16, 2004 where it stayed after that. It was not official part of that exhibition and thus not included in the exhibitions catalog.

The krater is Archaic, 500-480 BC and, true, very decorated. The Vix krater looks really plain in comparison. This one is of the Trebenishte type, its body resting on a tripod stand, each foot depicting a winged Gorgon with eyes wide staring and tongue lolled out, her hands under the armpits, serpents raising instead of hair and her tusk covered with scales. Each foot stands about 40-45cm high and ends into a lion paw.

The vessel itself, measuring about 60-65cm, is applied with a gorgeous 20cm high frieze depicting warriors. The freeze is finished in very high relief, its figures almost standing free. Starting at the kraters handles a pair of snakes wind around each other along the vessels mouth, erecting and twisting their necks to face each other with their mouths wide open. The handles itself are large and richly decorated.

The whole composition is nicely crowned with a beautiful 10-15cm high statuette, mounted on a round base fitting into an opening in the middle of the kraters lid, of a naked male having erection, with a hat on and playing an one-piped flute.

The patina varies from silver gray on parts of the frieze to very dark green on the statuette, the surface is smooth and glassy throughout.

Dorothy King said...

The item you describe in the Leon Levy / Shelby White collection is in fact an amphora not a krater.

duck said...

Dorothy, how nice to hear from you! Why did you went privat? I was regular visitor of your blog phdiva, though I never left a comment. May I ask you to send me an invitation, please? Thank you.

Now back to the krater... or the amphora. I guess you’ve seen the vessel, otherwise you wouldn’t be so sure in your statement. If that is the case, would you please share your impression with us? Do you know where is it now? The last location I know of, is the Houston Museum of Fine Arts where the described vessel was still on view towards the end of 2006. It is about then that Macedonia announced her intent to repatriate the vessel (go to and scroll down to “PASKO KUZMAN WANTS TO RETURN KRATER FROM NEW YORK”).

Did Shelby took the krater (amphora) away after that? Is she hiding it now? Will she address its provenance (the lack of it) and the lost archeological context, especially in view of her US$200 million gift for the proposed Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University (see "A long tradition of philanthropy related to archeology" on this blog)? How does all this fit together?

David Gill said...

I can confirm that there is indeed a bronze krater - not an amphora - at present (i.e. on Friday 8 Feb. 2008) on loan from the Shelby White Collection and on display in the The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. This arrived with the The Centaur's Smile exhibition but was not included in the published catalogue.

Dorothy King said...

You're probably right about the krater / amphora bit - I think it was around Easter 1992 when Mr. Levy very kindly showed it to me. And it was pre being restored and put back together - but we seem to agree on the description.

As David Gill pointed out in another post, the image in your link is the Hellenistic Derveni krater (again its date is controversial to a century or two).

I have no idea if the Macedonians are asking for the Levy-White piece, or another one. Don't think Macedonia or anywhere was given as its provenance. It was a rather surprising find though.

I don't think Mrs. White either 'took the krater away' or is 'hiding it now' - it's a private collection they keep at home, and show scholars. The piece was in an exhibition, and when the exhibition was over it went back to her. Mr Levy, and now Mrs White, have had a long tradition of supporting excavations, publications, etc, and they would see the Institute as an extention of that. Some scholars disagree, but it's better to have collector fund research than not to, surely?

As to PhDiva - it was closed, not open to invitation. Partly illness, partly an al Qaeda fan started writing nonsense to me. But for some reason someone has set up a fake blog pretending to be me. And the whole Sharia nonsense going on in the UK at the moment has made me re-think the closing. So I decided to re-open it today - just need a little time to do so ...

Dorothy King said...

Darn it, I'd still like my wine delivered in something as nice, whatever it is !

David Gill said...

The Shelby White krater is not 'at home'. It was on display in the The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston only yesterday.

Dorothy King said...

So that kinda suggests she's not 'hiding' it as 'duck' seemed to say

phrygian said...

Dorothy, please! You sound as if you were Mrs White’s private curator, deprived of own opinion and instructed to twist the facts and follow up a cheap PR script! You very well know the difference between a krater and an amphora. Are you trying to diminish its value and importance, or just point in some wrong direction?

You can fly to Houston and look at it again, now restored and put back together. Leave your camera home - they won't let you take a picture. Duck gave quite a good description of the krater. The handles are decorated with Gorgons also. That’s why the winding snakes. The frieze is not that large, more like 15cm I'd say. The statuette is 13.5cm high to be precise.

So, it is not 'whatever it is' to have your wine delivered into. It is a MAYOR, MAYOR work of art, and of utmost importance! We, the public, want to know its story and you, the scholars are here to tell us that story (you seem to be a scholar).

For whose benefit and what purpose has the krater been exhibited for over 4 years now when not even a iota of information has been allowed to leak? It just cries of an object ‘being "displayed" in public exhibitions --- but in such a way that they do not enter the public record via the printed catalogue (or on-line supporting website)’, (quotation from Dr Gill’s posting Loans: Checking Histories on this blog). The benefit and purpose is obvious: ‘The owner can presumably claim that the piece was "exhibited" in a particular show and that anybody with a claim on the object should have known about it.’, (again, quotation from Dr Gill’s posting Loans: Checking Histories on this blog).

Mrs White’s reasoning is distorted. She shouldn’t be afraid of losing an object to a claim. She is not a dealer, in which case a successful claim could ruin her, nor does the object disappears upon restitution. It gains on intrinsic value, its transfer to public ownership benefits everyone and its story gets widely dispersed. That is what passionate collector strive to anyhow -- if we just added his / her name to all that. So what is it to be anguish about?

No wonder some scholars have difficulties digesting Mr Levy’s and now Mrs White’s generosity (see Doubts on Donors' Collection Cloud Met Antiquities Project and $200 Million Gift Prompts a Debate Over Antiquities). It is precisely this behavior, this double standard that makes them sick. I surely agree with you that ‘it's better to have collector fund research than not to’ and in no way do I want to marginalize Mr Levy’s and Mrs White ‘s support for excavation, publication etc., but we need to see their support in context with their overall behavior. Their and now her problems are home made.

David Gill said...

Loans should be a matter of public record.

Michael Gross said...

Would the person who sent me the anonymous e-mail about this discussion please contact me again in a way that will allow me to respond privately? Michael Gross

phrygian said...

Hmm... it looks like I’ve frightened Dorothy away. Typical, as soon as it becomes serious everybody deserts the battlefield --- and Shelby gets away with her booty. Its pathetic.

On Met’s decision to part with 20 of its revered objects, Robert M. Morgenthau said (Randy Kennedy and Hugh Eakin, "Met Agrees Tentatively to Return Vase in '08", New York Times, February 4, 2006):

"It's in the public interest for a museum to recognize its obligation to return objects of art where they are shown to have been looted from a foreign country."

This principle must apply to private collectors as well.

Shelby in fact, did recognized so (Randy Kennedy and Hugh Eakin, "Doubts on Donors' Collection Cloud Met Antiquities Project", New York Times, December 10, 2005):

"I've published my collection, I've exhibited it," she said. "I'm not hiding things. If it turns out there is something I shouldn't have bought, I will act appropriately."

Empty words. Shelby handed over nine antiquities to the Italian authorities only after 18 months of intense negotiations. Atop of that, we are still waiting for the list of the antiquities handed over.

We would like to see a different approach.

Mrs White, why don’t you call up the Macedonians and tell them you’ve got their krater? After all you remember your late husband’s statement (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.

Well, you may let it go to the rightful owners before that and as a sidekick happily share their joy. The Macedonians would appreciate your generosity forever and you and everybody else would find out really a lot more about the krater.

duck said...

I am not deserting the field. It is just that phrygian is better informed...

Bothmer, Almagià and the Michael C. Carlos Museum

Red-figured calyx-krater fragment attributed to the Kleophrades painter. Michael C. Carlos Museum inv. 2006.051.011B I have noted that Dietr...