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A Bronze Krater on Loan to Houston

There is a bronze krater on loan from the Shelby White collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. (I am grateful to the curatorial staff for confirming the details last week.)

It arrived for the travelling exhibition, The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art (February 22 - May 16, 2004), and then featured in the Houston exhibition, Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White and Leon Levy (January 29 - July 10, 2005).

It continues to be displayed.

Prior to Houston, the krater had been exhibited in The Centaur's Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art at Princeton University Art Museum (October 11, 2003 - January 18, 2004).

The krater was not included in the exhibition catalogue:
The krater has now been in Houston for four years (less a week) so can be considered a long-term loan.

Loans are covered by the February 2006 "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art" issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). The MFA Houston is a member.

As part of the due diligence process, according to these guidelines,
museums should inquire into their provenance history, seeking to obtain all relevant information from the lender, and an appropriate warranty of their legal ownership of the work.
Long-term loans "with incomplete relevant provenance histories should be evaluated under criteria comparable to those for acquisitions" (AAMD).

So some questions need to be asked:
  • When did Shelby White (and Leon Levy) acquire this krater?
  • Who sold it to them?
  • Who conserved the krater?
  • Are the previous owners or dealers known?
  • When was it first known?
  • What is the published record?
  • Does it have a reported find-spot?
  • What due diligence process has been undertaken to receive this long-term loan?
I contacted Houston last week with a similar range of questions - but there has been no acknowledgment.


phrygian said…
They don’t know how to respond. They never expected such an inquiry. It wasn’t supposed to happen.

Now what. Call up Mrs White and run after-hours on some half-baked explanation? Nope, it won’t work. Not these days.

So they might decide (or already have decided) not to respond at all and just ignore the questionnaire. The danger of public exposure is limited after all. It is not the New York Times who’s inquiring.

Under the provisions of the "New Guidelines on Loans of Antiquities and Ancient Art" issued by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), this krater is practically unloanable. By displaying it, the MFA Houston is in clear breach of the Guidelines.

But guidelines are to be followed and when all the museums exercised their due diligence process according to the AAMD Guidelines, Shelby would end up with a krater nobody wants to touch. That might make Mrs White rethink her position and contact the Macedonian authorities.
David Gill said…
The AAMD Guidelines on Loans suggest an "open exchange of information among researchers". There is a professional responsibility for Houston to disclose this information.

If there is documentation showing that the krater was known prior to 1970, I am sure that it will be provided.

Houston (and indeed Princeton) need to rehearse their due diligence process for this particular loan.
phrygian said…
How true Dr. Gill !
How embarrassing for Houston (and Princeton)!
phrygian said…
This is my answer to a request issued in relation to another posting. I think it should be attached here as well.


O.K. Here we go. Sorry about the delay. I did some research and a lot of translation. It was time consuming, but rather revealing.

The evidence is abundant and easy available, bar the language barrier. It is enough out there to convince even the staunchest sceptic. A Google search for Корешница (the Cyrilic for Koreshnica) results in some 200 entries. Many of these are unrelated but quite a few are up to the point.

The most recent articles are:

1. "Британски археолози ќе ја геоскенираат Корешница" (British Archeologist to geo-scan Koreshnica) Vreme online, 13.02.2008.

This article is an announcement that excavation will start on a site near the village of Koreshnica towards the end of this month and in cooperation with two British archeologists, Dominic Paulsen and Ruben Torp (names transliterated from Cyrillic). The work is to begin with geo-scanning the area using equipment provided by Great Britain.

2. "Архајска некропола во демиркаписка Корешница?" (Archaic tomb at Koreshnica?) Vreme online, 13.02.2008.

This article gives further details about the said excavation and defines the site as adjacent to the tomb looted some ten years ago. It further describes the pillage and laments the loss. The archeologists in charge are Viktor Lilcik and Marjan Jovanov.

Partial translation of this article is accessible here. Scroll down to read the text:

There are great chances of locating large ruling necropolis from late archaic period (6-5 Century BC) at archaeological excavation site near Koreshnica village in Demir Kapija, says archaeologist Viktor Lilchic, announcing the excavations at terrain, which are to begin in second half of February, reads "Vreme" daily.
- Recent discoveries at excavation site promise that findings can surpass all former archaeological discoveries in the country, whereas it could actually mean discovery of the 21st Century. Near vicinity of tomb discovered previous year, I expect to find complete necropolis, says Lilchic supervisor of excavations. Excavation site, which according to archaeologists, is neglected of unjustified reasons, was discovered at the first place by wild unauthorised diggers ten year previously.

3. "Државата на потег" (The State at/to draw) Spic, 15.02.2008.

This article states that both collection and analysis of the material evidence to be used with the claim have been completed and gives a short description of that material. Further on Pasko Kuzman, director of the Cultural Heritage Protection Office (CHPO) of the Republic of Macedonia informs that they’ve traced the stolen bronze krater (of Trebeniste type) to a private gallery (collection) in New York. He then reaffirms his commitment to work hard on its restitution.

4. "Археолошкиот катастар ќе чека подобри времиња" (Archeological cadastre to wait better times) Vecer, 15.02.2008.

This article’s main subject is the creation of a countrywide Archeological Sites Registry. The necessity and urgency of the project is emphasized by the great loss accrued with a looting of such a site near Koreshnica. The famous krater was thus unearthed, smuggled out of the country and illegally sold to a collector in the USA.

The image is the Trebeniste krater, excavated near Trebeniste in south-western Macedonia and now in the National Museum in Belgrade, Serbia.
Eurydike said…
Not only the Houston MFA has accepted recent loans of bronzes from Shelby White. In 2005 curator Jasper Gaunt of the Carlos Museum at Emory University displayed a series of bronze vessels and attachments from Shelby White's collection and published a small catalogue. Some had been published before (mostly in recent publications); others had not until his catalogue.
David Gill said…
Thank you for this information. I mentioned the exhibition of bronzes in my original posting.

The catalogue is:
Jasper Gaunt and J.Y. Chi, Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White and Leon Levy (Emory University Press, 2005).

This is available from the Michael C. Carlos Museum bookshop.

The catalogue seems to be quite rare and does not appear to feature on WorldCat.
phrygian said…
Looks like Shelby White is being granted special treatment at some US museums.

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