Monday 31 March 2008

Homecomings: "Glories" with Lost Contexts

The antiquities returned to Italy by Shelby White have now gone on display in the Palazzo Poli (Fontana di Trevi), Rome and a short statement has been issued by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (MiBAC) (see also Elisabetta Povoledo, "Repatriated Art in Rome", New York Times, March 29, 2008).

There is a short quotation from Shelby White:
la nostra collezione è stata acquistata in aste pubbliche e da commercianti che ritenevamo affidabili. Nel caso degli oggetti che ho volontariamente offerto di restituire, ho ritenuto che le prove fossero sufficienti a dimostrare che la loro fuoriuscita dall’Italia fosse discutibile.
She stresses several things. First, that the sources for her antiquities were public auctions or antiquities dealers who were considered "trustworthy". We now know that the dealers included Robin Symes and the auction houses, Sotheby's in London. Second, that this return was a voluntary arrangement. Third, that the evidence was such that it demonstrated that the objects had been removed from Italy in a possibly contentious way.

MiBAC also noted:
Il Ministero, accettando gli oggetti offerti, riconosce di non avere prove, né richieste legali che sia Leon Levy sia Shelby White abbiano agito illegalmente o impropriamente nella acquisizione di questi oggetti.
Certainly there has been no resort to legal action to have these objects returned.

Essentially Shelby White's position is this: she is a supporter of archaeology through excavations, publications, research and exhibitions. We need to hope that she will now concentrate on these core activities. However she still owns a collection of antiquities, some on loan to major public collections.

The MiBAC statement does not include the objects, so for completeness here they are (and see also my earlier list though there is one surprise addition and some missing items):
  1. 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.
  2. 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."
  3. 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."
  4. Attic black-figured neck-amphora. Attributed to a painter of the Medea group. Glories of the Past no. 107. "In four seized Polaroid photographs."
  5. 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").
  6. 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 has been on exhibition in Rome.)
  7. A fragment of Roman fresco. Glories of the Past no. 143. Reclining woman. Apparently removed from "the Pompeii excavations, Regio VII, Insula occidentalis 42" on May 31, 1975. (Maxwell L. Anderson had noted in the catalogue, "the villa in which the fresco served as a wall decoration conceivably situated in the area of Castellammare di Stabia".)
  8. Caeretan hydria. Showing a panther and lioness. "Both these vases were shown in the seized photographs, where they are both broken and in fragments, with sizable gaps."
  9. Caeretan hydria. 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.
The tenth item (that will follow later):
  1. 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".
It is reported that there were originally more than twenty items on the Italian list. The returning objects do not include two items known to be among those illustrated in the Geneva Polaroids (and listed in P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's great museums (New York: Public Affairs 2006]):
  1. 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.
  2. 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."
The neck-amphora attributed to the Bucci painter is not without interest as it appears to be the amphora consigned to Sotheby's by Christian Boursaud (Peter Watson, Sotheby's, the inside story [London: Bloomsbury, 1997] 118):
I amphore attique à figures noires avec son couvercle, VIème Siècle avant J.C.
It also was discussed at length by Chippindale and Gill ("Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting," American Journal of Archaeology 104 [2000]: 493-94 [JSTOR]). Why has it been retained?

Attic red-figured calyx-krater. Attributed to the Eucharides painter. Formerly Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection. © ANSA.

Friday 28 March 2008

Following the Trail of Robin Symes

Lee Rosenbaum has drawn attention to a long review by Francesco Rutelli ("20 mesi di cultura in Italia"). In a section on "Cultural diplomacy" he states:
Un altro argomento centrale nelle recenti politiche del nostro Ministero è quello del recupero degli oggetti d’arte e soprattutto archeologici trafugati. Su questo delicatissimo fronte abbiamo intrapreso un’importante battaglia e la stiamo vincendo, come dimostra l’accordo per la restituzione dei 40 capolavori che erano conservati nel Getty Museum di Malibu. La forza etica degli argomenti e soprattutto l’impegno intransigente del Governo sono riusciti a ribaltare in poco tempo quel che non si muoveva da decenni: prevedo che nell’arco dei prossimi anni altre centinaia di opere rubate al nostro patrimonio nazionale e portate all’estero torneranno in Italia: l’accordo che ho stipulato con il Ministro della Cultura inglese per fare luce sulla collezione Symes ospitata a Londra ha aperto nuove, considerevoli opportunità.
By my reckoning around 100 antiquities have been returned to Italy (from Boston, Malibu, New York, Princeton; University of Virginia Art Museum at Charlottesville; Shelby White and Jerome Eisenberg). So the prospects of "hundreds" of other capolavori returning "home" is an interesting one.

What are they?

My hunch is that Rutelli will not be revisiting any of the above collections (with the possible exception of the J. Paul Getty Museum for the Fano athlete) unless there are new and spectacular revelations. He has negotiated and agreements have been reached.

He has already indicated that three museums are in his sights: the Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek in Copenhagen, the Miho Museum, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. But will they yield a mere 20 or 30 pieces between them?

So why the expected "hundreds"?

The fact that the "Symes collection" is under discussion is significant. P. Watson and C. Todeschini in The Medici Conspiracy (ch. 17) have noted that the "holding company" for Symes' private collection was "Xoilan Trader" (with an administrative address in Geneva, Switzerland). (Note that the Attic red-figured krater sold to the Minneapolis Institute of Art by Symes was published as having been in "private collections" in Great Britain and Switzerland.)

The Medici Conspiracy also maps Symes' assets:
In his thirty-three warehouses ... Symes had 17,000 objects worth an estimated £125 million ($210 million).
Are these objects the subject of Rutelli's discussions with Margaret Hodge, the Minister in the UK's Department of Culture, Media and Sport?

Antiquities from the Shelby White Collection to go on Display in Rome

Lee Rosenbaum has reported that nine antiquities formerly in the possession of Shelby White will go on display in the Palazzo Poli in Rome tomorrow (March 29). It appears that a list of the ten antiquities (one will follow the other nine) has yet to be issued. Why the delay? What is there to hide?

Shelby White no doubt hopes that this will mean closure. But will it? Is this just the end for the antiquities that featured in the Glories of the Past catalogue?

Remember Elisabetta Povoledo's comments last year ("An Impasse in Italian Talks Over Return of Artifacts", New York Times, May 26, 2007):
Last November [2006] the Italian Culture Ministry presented Ms. White with a list of more than 20 pieces in her collection that its investigators had tracked to dealers who Italy says have been linked to looted antiquities. (The list was narrowed to nine during the negotiations.) Those dealers include Giacomo Medici, an Italian antiquities dealer who is appealing a 2004 conviction in a Rome court for dealing in illicit archaeological artifacts, and Robin Symes, a London dealer under investigation here who has not been indicted.
What are the other ten objects? Do they appear in the Geneva Polaroids?

And what about other pieces in her collection that did not appear in Glories?

I remain interested in the archaic bronze volute-krater of Trebenishte type that has been on fairly long-term loan to Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Will the full details of its past collecting history be disclosed?

Attic red-figured calyx-krater attributed to the Eucharides painter. Once in the Shelby White collection; once on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; perhaps handed over to Italian authorities. Source: The New York Observer.

Thursday 27 March 2008

The Sevso Treasure and "Unprovenanced Antiquities": A Response to John H. Merryman

Ruth Leader-Newby made a wise observation about the Sevso Treasure:
The tragedy of the Sevso Treasure is that it is futile to attempt a guess at its provenance. ... it is interesting to note that the countries which rumour has associated with the Sevso Treasure, and which tried to claim possession of the hoard in the New York court case held to establish its ownership (Hungary, Croatia and Lebanon) have no record of similar material being found in their soil previously. In fact, any one of the Roman Empire's many provinces could have been the home of the treasure.
There are clear intellectual consequences that are linked to the hoard's loss of archaeological context. Where was it displayed?

John H. Merryman has now issued a working paper on the Treasure that addresses the issue of "unprovenanced antiquities". I prefer the term "recently surfaced", though "hoard without documented history" could be used. I suspect that there is somebody who does know the find-spot of the hoard. After all, few believe it has been sitting forgotten in somebody's attic.

Merryman reviews the quantitative research undertaken by Chippindale and Gill (though he is apparently unaware of Chippindale et al. 2001; and see also figures for Egyptian sales at auction in New York) and finds:
These data confirm that a large proportion of the antiquities traded on the international market are unaccompanied by reliable information about findspot, context and subsequent history. The data also provide inferential support for the claim that many of the objects lacking documentation may have been removed from the ground and/or smuggled abroad in violation of source nation laws and international conventions.
However since our study of private classical collections (Chippindale and Gill 2000) some of the items from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman (see Gill and Chippindale 2007a, uncited by Merryman), and the Shelby White and Leon Levy collections have been returned to Italy. Lack of documented history and find-spot had suggested that they had been removed from archaeological contexts in an illicit manner; and there must be a reason why these pieces have now gone "home". Merryman concludes:
There is little room for argument with any of this. The data appear to be unchallengeable, and the authors’ statement of material and intellectual consequences is persuasive.
He then turns to the issue of publishing recently surfaced antiquities and cites the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) "Statement of Concern". But this is a problematic statement as I have demonstrated with the example of the inscribed ivory pomegranate. Let me repeat an earlier comment:
The pomegranate is a good reminder that forgers choose something that people want to be true, and will prove both intellectually stimulating and commercially rewarding.
Indeed last year's spat over University College London (UCL) and the incantation bowls was not entirely unrelated to the BAS statement. There are good intellectual reasons for making scholars think twice - I put it no more strongly than that - before publishing works of "ancient art" that are undocumented before 1970. (See also some of the issues surrounding the publication of an archaic bronze krater in a contemporary North American private collection.)

Merryman then moves to the role of the private collector in the formation of the North American museum collection (White 2005, uncited by Merryman). But the return to Italy of objects from these recently formed private collections either suggests a naivety concerning the origin of the pieces or a willingness to ignore the concerns of the archaeological community that sites were being destroyed to supply the market. (And the Medici Conspiracy, also missing from Merryman's bibliography, demonstrates this issue all too well; see Gill and Chippindale 2007b). The Nostoi exhibition in Rome includes material from four significant North American private collections.

Merryman then turns to "source nations". There are broader issues here. Is an antiquity that has been removed illicitly from its archaeological context somehow less "unprovenanced" because it forms part of a private collection in, say, Athens rather than Manhattan? He has strayed from the issue that is central to archaeologists, the destruction / protection of archaeological contexts, to the one beloved by collectors and museum curators, ownership.

But I find a mismatch in Merryman's approach. If he argues for our shared ("cosmopolitan"; see Appiah 2006 [also surprisingly missing from his bibliography]) culture, does it matter if North American institutions (such as the AIA) and legal courts are in the forefront of protecting world ("cosmopolitan") heritage? Can North American import restrictions help to reduce the destruction of archaeological sites on, say, Cyprus?

He poses the more difficult question about what should be done with the Sevso Treasure. The archaeological context for this find has, as far as we know, been lost for ever. Is the Treasure best displayed in some public collection? Where should that be? Should anyone benefit from the transaction? Should any profit be handed over to a cultural body for the benefit of world heritage? Is there a legal solution?

Merryman concludes with a reflection on the conflict between the two "sides" and a plea to find common ground. Yet there is an unresolved tension: museums and collectors want to acquire, and archaeologists wish to preserve and protect archaeological contexts as a finite resource.

So how do we move forwards?
  • We need to explore the possibilities for short- and long-term loans of archaeological material from source countries to museums and institutions.
  • We need to have more transparency over the acquisition of newly surfaced antiquities.
  • We need to accept that looting has intellectual as well as material consequences.
  • We need to acknowledge the ethical as well as the legal issues surrounding collecting.
  • We need to find a workable solution for "unprovenanced antiquities" like the Sevso Treasure.
  • We need to listen to both sides.
Appiah, K. A. 2006. Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers. London: Allen Lane. [Worldcat]
Chippindale, C., and D. W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511. [JSTOR]
Chippindale, C., D. W. J. Gill, E. Salter, and C. Hamilton. 2001. "Collecting the classical world: first steps in a quantitative history." International Journal of Cultural Property 10: 1-31. [IJCP]
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2006. "From Boston to Rome: reflections on returning antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 13: 311-31. [IJCP]
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007a. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40. [IJCP]
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007b. "The illicit antiquities scandal: what it has done to classical archaeology collections." American Journal of Archaeology 111: 571-74. [AJA]
Leader-Newby, Ruth E. 2004. Silver and society in late antiquity: functions and meanings of silver plate in the fourth to seventh centuries. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Merryman, John Henry, "Thinking about the Sevso Treasure" (March 12, 2008). Stanford Public Law Working Paper No. 1105584 Available at SSRN:
Watson, P., and C. Todeschini. 2006. The Medici conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's great museums. New York: Public Affairs.
White, S. 2005. "Building American museums: the role of the private collector." In Who owns the past? Cultural policy, cultural property, and the law, edited by K. Fitz Gibbon, pp. 165-77. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press / American Council for Cultural Policy.

Wednesday 26 March 2008

"Orphans" and Recently-Surfaced Antiquities

As far as I recall, the use of the term "orphans" for antiquities without recorded histories or find-spots was first used for Cycladic figures (Pat Getz-Preziosi, "Prehistoric Stone Images of the Greater Mediterranean Area", in Ariadne Galleries, Inc., New York, Idols: The Beginning of Abstract Form, 30 November 1989-31 January 1990; and cited in Gill and Chippindale 1993: 657):
With orphaned Cycladic images, as with orphaned images from other regions, one can never be certain in what context they were used, although the chances are good that it was a sepulchral one.
Getz-Preziosi (Getz-Gentle) expanded on her view of "orphaned" Cycladic figures in a letter to us (quoted in Gill and Chippindale 1993: 612).

In the Cycladic context, we suggested that the Museum of Cycladic Art ("the Goulandris Museum") in Athens collected "orphaned" Early Cycladic marble figures (Gill and Chippindale 1993: 606). This idea of "orphans" was developed to include objects where the context has been "lost" (Chippindale and Gill 2000: 500). Among the examples cited were bronzes from Northern Syria and a leaded bronze figure from a Chinese Han tomb.

P. Watson and C. Todeschini dedicated a chapter of The Medici Conspiracy to "The Puzzle of the 'Orphans'" (chapter 15). Maurizio Pellegrini talked about "the sale of the orphans" in connection with the sale of fragments from once complete pots. Indeed it is possible to see this phenomenon among the items returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Italy. In one case, the Douris phiale (formerely Malibu 81.AE.213), the first fragment (or should that be "orphan"?) was given to the Getty by Werner Nussberger in 1981; and Galerie Nefer (owned by Frida Tchachos, wife of Werner Nussberger) then continued to sell parts of the remaining pot over several years (1985 and 1988). (Further fragments were loaned anonymously to the museum in 1992; see Gill and Chippindale 2007.) Watson and Todeschini conclude their chapter with this:
the full picture regarding the sale of orphans remains murky.
Philippe de Montebello in his speech to the National Press Club in Washington DC (April 17, 2006) followed Chippindale and Gill to apply the term "orphan" to objects without find spot.
As archeologists have said, these unprovenanced objects are orphans, as their parentage through the absence of a known find spot is lost. But would these same archeologists abandon an orphaned child on a cold rainy day in the street or would they look for an orphanage? We museums are the orphanage of these objects. Nor can I stress enough that museums do not hoard. They bring the works they acquire into the public domain. We display them. We publish them electronically as well as on paper.

So to those who say do not buy an unprovenaced object, no matter how unique, brilliantly conceived and masterfully crafted it is, I would again ask, and what do you propose should be done with that object? Of course, it is to be deplored that works of ancient art are removed clandestinely from their site. Much knowledge is lost as a result, but we should not compound that loss by helping the work of art to disappear. That would be a violation of our raison d'être.
Clearly de Montebello applies the phrase to all antiquities that have no recorded find-spot or history ("unprovenanced"). And some of the "orphans" once in his care have now been returned to their cultural home.

Michael Brand follows de Montebello, and uses the phrase "orphan" in this wider sense in his interview with Lee Rosenbaum.

Chippindale, C., and D. W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511. [JSTOR]
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 1993. "Material and intellectual consequences of esteem for Cycladic figures." American Journal of Archaeology 97: 601-59. [JSTOR]
-. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40. [Abstract and on-line]

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Michael Brand on the "Orphans"

Lee Rosenbaum has interviewed Michael Brand, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum ("My Antiquities Q&A with the Getty's Michael Brand: Life after the Givebacks", Culturegrrl, March 10, 2008). One of the issues they discuss is the orphaned objects, i.e. an object that has no recorded history or archaeology. (I prefer to avoid the term "provenance" which is ambiguous).

Brand commented:
There IS a problem with the orphaned object. But there are all sorts of orphans. What we're trying to do in our discussion at AAMD [the Association of Art Museum Directors] is either deal with the orphan problem or get to the point where we can have a more productive discussion about the orphaned object. Our acquisition policy doesn't deal with this.

You can look at it in two ways. For a particular orphaned object, you could argue that one acquisition is not by itself going to encourage illegal excavation. But if you were to acquire every single so-called orphaned object, that WOULD have an effect. You've got to somehow find a way of fulfilling two desires---one is to not encourage illegal excavation and illegal trafficking; but, on the other side, recognizing that it is good if objects come into public collections.

I don't think any of us know what the perfect answer is. For me to contribute to that debate, I had to sort out things at the Getty first. Then I'm in a much better position to talk about orphaned objects and to talk about the benefits of some sort of a licit market for antiquities.
Brand is right to recognise that antiquities can be "orphaned" in a number of ways.

Here are some possible reasons:
  • They are from an old collection and there has never been any documentation. ("I lost my birth certificate".)
  • They were "chance finds" and were smuggled out of their country of origin. ("I am an illegal immigrant and do not have the right visa".)
  • They were deliberately looted to supply the market. ("I was kidnapped and brought here against my will".)
How do you differentiate between these?

If we are generous, we could say that the curators at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the J. Paul Getty Museum were just providing a home for some 90 or so "orphaned" antiquities. But the Medici Conspiracy has shown the problem with this approach. There appears to have been a well-documented network supplying the market with high value (in modern terms) antiquities.

Brand seems to be suggesting that "orphaned" objects come into a public collection. But how does a public collection, whether in North America, Europe or the Far East, ensure that it is not buying (or accepting as a gift, bequest or loan) recently-surfaced antiquities?

And is the AAMD really the best body to police this? Four member institutions have returned antiquities to Italy (and Greece), and there are questions to be answered or resolved for three more.

Does the AAMD have the resolve to make a public stand against looted antiquities and the destruction of archaeological sites?

Brand was also asked about the "Fano Athlete". He gave a gentle answer within the context of the current acquisitions policy:
You can't apply an acquisitions policy retrospectively. The reasons why we have it in our policy is that, while we use 1970 as the bright line, we are still concerned with the provenance of the objects. If you can prove something was out of country before 1970, but there are some giant question marks out there and there are rumors and suspicions, that would also be taken into account.
Italy renewed its claim in January 2008. How will this develop?

And more importantly, how do we work together to stop the trade in deliberately orphaned antiquities?

Monday 24 March 2008

The Art Loss Register: Why a Poll?

Last week I decided to launch a poll asking the question:
What does it mean when a certificate from The Art Loss Register (ALR) accompanies an antiquity that is for sale?
Antiquities are sold with these certificates. I have on my desk a sale catalogue of antiquities from Christie's (London) and each item has this statement:
This lot is accompanied by a certificate from The Art Loss Register.
But how does the public perceive these certificates? Are the certificates helping to restrict newly surfaced antiquities from entering the market? What reassurances do the certificates provide?

What do you think? Take the poll.

Thursday 20 March 2008

Iraq: Treading Lightly

The BBC has been broadcasting a series of short programmes "Ten Days to War" (with iPlayer facility) to mark the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. Episode 8 presents Colonel Tim Collins (played by Kenneth Branagh) of the Royal Irish Regiment giving his famous ("Our business now is north") eve of battle of speech. (Perhaps there are shades of Branagh's "Henry V" [1989].)

And as the men prepare to cross the froniter they are reminded:
Iraq is steeped in history ... You tread lightly there.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Antiquities from Iraq: Funding for Insurgents?

One of the key things to emerge from the UNESCO Athens Conference is the link between looted archaeological sites and the purchase of arms for the insurgency (Elena Becatoros, "Artifact Smuggling Aids Iraq Insurgents", AP, March 18, 2008).

In an interview given in Athens Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos claimed:
The Taliban are using opium to finance their activities in Afghanistan ... Well, they don't have opium in Iraq ... What they have is an almost limitless supply of is antiquities. And so they're using antiquities.
Part of the evidence comes from the recovery in 2006 of antiquities, stolen from the National Museum, in bunkers alongside "weapons, ammunition and uniforms".

The Art Loss Register (ALR) has responded in a way that shows its staff do not understand the issues surrounding the looting of antiquities:
Antonia Kimbell, an art trade manager at The Art Loss Register — which maintains a database on stolen, missing and looted art — said she had yet to see concrete evidence connecting the trade in illegal antiquities and insurgent financing.

"We haven't come across a direct link," she said.
No doubt somebody forgot to register the pieces with the ALR database before they were buried several thousand years ago.

But the key issue raised by Bogdanos is who is buying the antiquities?

I doubt museums or private collectors are acquiring things direct from Iraq.

So presumably pieces are being supplied directly to dealers. And who is purchasing recently surfaced Mesopotamian antiquities? And will they claim that they have been "acquired legally"?

Bogadanos has certainly supplied some food for thought in this anniversary week.

Collecting Antiquities from Crete: Exhibiting Antiquities from Crete

In the build-up to the Athens conference it would have been possible to overlook the fact that the Greek Minister of Culture, Mihalis Liapis, was in Manhattan for the opening of a new exhibition, "From the Land of the Labyrinth: Minoan Crete, 3000 – 1100 B.C." at the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation in Manhattan (Brenda Smily, "Minoan Artifacts Land in Manhattan", New York Sun, February 28, 2008). The exhibition opened last Thursday ("Liapis officially inaugurates Minoan exhibition in New York", Athens News Agency, March 13, 2008).

As far as I know there is nothing controversial about this loan exhibition which is drawn from at least seven archaeological museums on Crete. Indeed such exhibitions are the way to present cultural objects to a wider public.

But there was something intriguing about the opening. Among the guests was "former prime minister and honorary president of the ruling New Democracy (ND) party Constantine Mitsotakis". (ND presently holds power under prime minister Costas Karamanlis.)

Mitsotakis is an interesting guest as he is known to have a strong interest in Cretan antiquities. Let me quote from Nikos Konstandaras ("Government Accuses Former Premier Of Collecting Stolen Antiquities", AP, January 18, 1994):
Mitsotakis, who was premier from April 1990 until October 1993, has one of the nation's largest private antiquities collections, with more than 1,000 items. Many of the pieces come from the island of Crete's Minoan civilization ...
How could such a collection have been formed?

Mitsotakis no longer holds the pieces. As Eddie Koch explained (Eddie Koch, "Deputy police chief arrested in art theft scandal", IPS, November 4, 1993):
Last year Mitsotakis caused a national scandal when he admitted he had informally amassed a large collection of classical works from sites around his home town in Crete. The rumpus died down after he donated the treasures to the state.

The former prime minister's collection became an issue during last month's elections with opposition parties claiming that Mitsotakis -- who had appointed his daughter, Dora Bakoyanni, as Minister of Culture -- lacked the will to implement laws designed to stem the illegal trade.
The case did not come to anything ("Fresh development in case of prime minister's artefacts", AFP, March 15, 1994):
A Greek magistrate investigating the origin of antiquities belonging to former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis opened a prosecution case Tuesday against "persons" implicated in unauthorised archeological digs in Crete, a judicial source said.

The prosecutor in Canea north-eastern Crete said he had ordered legal authorities in that town and in Heraklion to open proceedings against persons involved in looting from Minoan and other ancient tombs on the island, the same sources said.

The late Greek culture minister Melina Mercouri, who died on March 6, sent an archaeologists' report in January to the same prosecutor which stated that at least 62 of the 1,081 objects in Mitsotakis's private collection were the fruit of looting from ancient Cretan tombs.

Mitsotakis has always denied any wrongdoing and maintained that his entire collection was legally acquired.

He argues that on two occasions in 1991 and 1993 Greek justice decided there was no case against him. Mitsotakis was prime minister at the time.
What does "legally acquired" mean? (See "Leiden and the Cuirass" for an exploration of the phrase.)

Liapis needs to realise that the big issue, as Melina Mercouri so wisely recognised, is the destruction of unknown archaeological sites (especially cemeteries) to feed the antiquities market.

I leave the last question and comment to Alan Cowell ("Athens Journal; Under Acropolis, Art Meets Politics, Explosively", New York Times, February 4, 1994) who reviewed the political implications of the case:
how can ancient treasures be protected from exploitation by the few and be used for the benefit of all?

The question is all the more pertinent in Greece in light of a 60-year-old law, initially intended to prevent foreigners from stripping the land of its archeological assets, that permits licensed Greek collectors like Mr. Mitsotakis and many others to declare their collections to the authorities without saying how they came by them.
Does that help to focus the issues?

Tuesday 18 March 2008

The Pazardzhik Byzantine Silver Hoard: Will Greece Make A Response?

The authorities in Bulgaria should take encouragement from Michael Liapis' speech on cultural property ("Greece says momentum growing for Marbles' return", Reuters, March 17, 2008).
More and more museums are adopting tighter ethics codes and governments promote bilateral and international cooperation [for the return of antiquities] ... So an ideal momentum is being created ... for clear solutions on this issue.
Liapis feels strongly about this issue (see "Greece and Looted Antiquities"):
I have contacted all of my opposite numbers across Europe with the purpose of creating a common front to combat the illegal trafficking of antiquities.
This is good news and I welcome his actions.

So why should the fellow European government of Bulgaria take encouragement?

Less than a year ago the Greek courts refused to take seriously a Bulgarian claim on some Byzantine silver ("Greece has no plans to hand over contested Byzantine plates", AFP, July 17, 2007).
Bulgaria last week announced it had asked for the return of nine solid silver gold-encrusted plates acquired by Athens in 2003 and on display in three Greek museums.

Bulgarian authorities say they have a witness statement from a local smuggler claiming the plates were discovered in 1999 in the centre of the country and then illegally exported.
Angelos Delivorias, director of the Benaki Museum responded:
If Bulgaria "presents us with evidence showing that these works have been stolen in recent decades obviously we will hand them over but for the moment that is not the case".
The Bulgarian authorities are equally firm in their position ("Greek prosecutors investigate Bulgarian claim to Byzantine-era silver plates", Associated Press, July 31, 2007 ):
Earlier this month [sc. July 2007], Bulgarian prosecutor Kamen Mihov said he had "categorical proof" the artifacts were illegally excavated in Bulgaria.

In documents sent to Greece, Bulgarian prosecutors say the plates were excavated from a site near the town of Pazardzhik in central Bulgaria in late 2000 and 2001.
An official in Greek Ministry of Culture, who apparently declined to be named, was quoted ("Artefacts in Greece ‘legally’", Kathimerini, August 1, 2007):
Greece will have a full documentation dossier proving they were legally purchased, when the case goes to court.
So what is this full documentation? (I have reviewed the evidence elsewhere.)

And what is meant by "legally purchased"? If there is one thing that the Medici Conspiracy has taught us, it is that legally purchased does not necessarily mean that the piece was documented before 1970. I have made the point before ("Leiden and the Cuirass"):
Objects can be acquired "legally" even if they have been dug up at dead of night, their archaeological contexts destroyed and lost, and the pieces themselves transported across international frontiers contrary to legislation.
Matthew Brunwasser ("Bulgarian relics spark an international scuffle", International Herald Tribune, May 22, 2007) summed up the issue so well last year in his discussion of the Byzantine silver:
If that case reaches a courtroom, it will be the first known instance in which official Greek institutions have been accused of violating the import and provenance standards that Greece often accuses other countries of breaching.
Liapis is wanting to demonstrate his "cultural property" credentials to his international audience gathered in Athens this week.

Is now the moment to announce that this set of Byzantine silver will be returning to Sofia? Or will he be presenting the paperwork to show that the "set" is documented well before 1970?

What is his "clear solution"?

Image from the Press Office , Embassy of Greece, Washington DC.

Monday 17 March 2008

The Parthenon Marbles and the Medici Conspiracy: There is a Difference

Michael Liapis, the Greek Minister of Culture, has linked the recent return of archaeological objects from North American collections to the debate about the Parthenon marbles ("Greece says momentum growing for Marbles' return", Reuters, March 17, 2008).

But the issues are very different.

The objects acquired by and returned from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Princeton University Art Museum (and not forgetting Shelby White) do not appear to have been known prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Indeed many were acquired after the 1973 declaration by the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). In other words, after 1970 (and certainly after 1973) museum curators, archaeologists and even private collectors were aware of the problems of looting and recently surfaced objects.

And some chose to continue buying and accumulating.

And the Medici Conspiracy has shown how the system worked: from the deliberate seeking out of archaeological sites (mostly tombs) to the movement of cultural property across international frontiers. There are even indications that some pots were deliberately smashed to ease the process.

Archaeologists rightly condemn such actions.

It is probably also fair to say that of the eighty or so items returned from these North American collections to Italy, not one has a recorded find-spot (a few have alleged find-spots, and some of the pieces stolen from museums had come from excavations).

In other words, the archaeological contexts have been lost for ever.

So the pressing issue for Liapis should be to take action against contemporary looting of archaeological sites within the international frontiers of the modern state of Greece.

He makes the claim:
More and more museums are adopting tighter ethics codes and governments promote bilateral and international cooperation (for the return of ancient objects).
But I am not convinced that such ethical codes are working. I only have to look at the way that the 2006 Association of Art Museums Directors (AAMD) Report on the Loan of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art is ignored to realise that the debate is far from won.

Some museum directors and curators are still wanting to display freshly-surfaced antiquities. And loans are one way of getting round their professional obligations.

If Liapis looks out from the New Acropolis Museum he will be able to see the building where the Parthenon marbles were once displayed. These sculptures have not lost their archaeological context (even though many are currently residing in Bloomsbury). And they were acquired long before the 1970 UNESCO Convention - and long before somebody had even thought of the concept of the United Nations. Their return to Athens is not really about ethics - the issue is about the most appropriate place to display these sculptures from an iconic Athenian building.

Liapis needs to make two very different points and to deploy two different types of evidence.

Thursday 13 March 2008

Greece and Looted Antiquities

Greece is planning to take a tough stance on looted antiquities (Helena Smith, "The Parthenon marbles, and the rest please", Guardian Unlimited, January 24, 2008). Certainly there have been some recent successful claims: the Aidonia Treasure and several items from the J. Paul Getty Museum. But these are small scale when rated next to the successes of the Italian Government against North American museums, a dealer and a private collector.

The Guardian reported:
Within weeks of assuming the portfolio last September, Greece's culture minister, Michalis Liapis, reinvigorated the war against antiquities smuggling saying it had become "the highest of all our priorities."

"I have contacted all of my opposite numbers across Europe with the purpose of creating a common front to combat the illegal trafficking of antiquities. In recent years art looting has assumed gigantic proportions with the result that, worldwide, it has become the third most profitable form of organised crime after weapons and drug smuggling. That has to stop," he said.

As part of the new offensive a department dealing exclusively with clandestine antiquities, and reinforced by the presence of a public prosecutor, will be set up at the ministry. Already, the mammoth task of digitally archiving treasures has begun while security at archaeological museums around the country has been increased.
One of the areas hit by looting is Macedonia. Among the treasures returned to Greece is the gold wreath removed from a tomb near Serres. And this is a regional problem. Archaic tombs have been rifled over the international border in the Republic of Macedonia.

The Cyclades are another badly damaged area. Yet as recently as 2006 a North American museum hosted an exhibition of Cycladic sculptures that included material from the notorious "Keros haul".

Attitudes in the museum and collecting communities need to change. Looting has both material and intellectual consequences. And Greece needs to be supported in its determined efforts to protect this part of its cultural, indeed our cosmopolitan, heritage.

© David Gill

Wednesday 12 March 2008

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World: Unclear on "Exhibiting Unprovenanced Artifacts"?

Staff members from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World have been discussing its first exhibition, "Wine, Worship, and Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani", that opens today (Kate Taylor, "From the Land Of the Golden Fleece", New York Sun, March 7, 2008). The exhibition will include excavated objects from Vani.

The Institute has been set up with the help of Shelby White and her late husband Leon Levy: Shelby White is the chairwoman of the Institute.

Perhaps what is so surprising is that the Institute's Director, Roger Bagnall, has chosen not to clarify his position on recently surfaced antiquities. Taylor writes:
Asked if the institute has a policy about publishing on or exhibiting unprovenanced artifacts, as some museums today do, Mr. Bagnall said he was "trying not to make any long-term policy decision now that doesn't have to be made," but he added that the issue would be addressed when the faculty was in place.
He perhaps needs to see what the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) have to say on loans of "ancient art" and archaeological material.

Taylor also draws attention to one of the administrative staff at the Institute, Jennifer Chi who holds the position of Associate Director for Exhibitions and Public Programs. Surprisingly the Institute biography does not mention that "she was previously the curator of the Levy-White collection" (as Taylor helpfully identified her). (See my comments on Chi's Greek Bronze Vessels exhibition catalogue.)

Indeed Chi is the editor and a contributor of Collecting in Context: Papers in Memory of Leon Levy (forthcoming 2008). This is the volume that is reported to contain Conrad Stibbe's discussion of a Trebenishte-style archaic bronze krater in the Shelby White collection. And this is presumably the volute-krater that was (and is?) on loan to Houston - and for which the Houston curatorial staff seem unable to provide information about its history even though, apparently, there is nothing to hide. (And let us not forget that Shelby White has still to provide a list of the antiquities that she has returned to Italy.)

Bagnall needs to make his position on looted antiquities crystal clear so that there is no misunderstanding.

Looted Mummies in Egypt

AFP have reported today: "Egypt thwarts smugglers seeking mummy millions".

Three people have been arrested for "trying to sell intricately painted Pharaonic-era mummies for more than five million dollars". The four mummies and other items ("10 small statues and a Pharaonic sarcophagus decorated with hieroglyphs") were apparently looted from a site near Minya.

The pieces were due to be sold for "20 million Egyptian pounds (5.3 million dollars)". To put this into perspective, this is more than the average annual sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's, New York.

So who were the buyers? I would guess a dealer.

And who would be the end purchaser? A (very) wealthy private collector? An institution?

It looks like the market in Egyptian antiquities is far from dead - and the destruction of archaeological contexts continues.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

The Koreschnica Krater: More on the Tomb

Looting in the Republic of Macedonia has been a serious problem. One of the tombs ransacked during the 1990s was at Koreschnica, north-west of Demir Kapija on the north side of the Vardar. I have now been sent details of the tomb said to contain 'the Koreschnica krater' (and I reproduce the plan of the tomb with the creator's permission).

Among the finds were three bronze warriors (no. 10) placed around the krater (no. 11) which contained cremated remains. The tomb also contained two shields and a number of Illyrian helmets.

Pasko Kuzman, head of the National Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Republic of Macedonia, would like the archaic krater (and the other contents) to be returned. Can any of the finds be identified in private or public collections?

Saturday 8 March 2008

Museums and Professional Responsibilities

The discussion about returning antiquities raises the role of museums in our cosmopolitan world. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in North America has as its mission:
The purpose of the Association of Art Museum Directors is to support its members in increasing the contribution of art museums to society. The AAMD accomplishes this mission by establishing and maintaining the highest standards of professional practice; serving as forum for the exchange of information and ideas; acting as an advocate for its member art museums; and being a leader in shaping public discourse about the arts community and the role of art in society.
Antiquities are covered by part of the Code of Ethics:
A museum director should not knowingly acquire or allow to be recommended for acquisition any object that has been stolen, removed in contravention of treaties or international conventions to which the United States is a signatory, or illegally imported in the United States.

AAMD members who violate this code of ethics will be subject to discipline by reprimand, suspension, or expulsion from the Association. Infractions by any art museum may expose that institution to sanctions, such as suspension of loans and shared exhibitions by AAMD members.
Antiquities are also discussed in their 2006 Report on Incoming Loans of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art (which I have discussed elsewhere: "Loan Exhibitions and Transparency").

Among the Values of the AAMD are:
The Public Trust: AAMD's members hold their collections in public trust. Commensurate with this responsibility and recognizing their accountability to their institutional missions, their trustees, and their communities, AAMD's members perform their professional duties with honesty, integrity, and transparency.
There continue to be issues over antiquities acquired by, or on loan to, three museums that are members of the AAMD.
  1. Houston Museum of Fine Arts (HMFA). The museum has the long-term loan of a bronze krater from Shelby White. (See also "A Bronze Krater in the Levy-White Collection".) Although a member of the museum staff has confirmed the presence of the krater, a further request for information about the krater has been ignored. (See "Loan Exhibitions and Transparency".)
  2. Cleveland Museum of Art. There are said to be some 23 antiquities acquired after 1970 that are on a list under discussion with the Italian authorities. These are in addition to the discussion over the Cleveland Apollo.
  3. Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). In its collection is an Attic red-figured volute-krater attributed to the Methyse painter. It was purchased in 1983 from Robin Symes. It has been reported, "A Greek vase owned by the Minneapolis museum appears to match a photo of a vase that Italians say was looted" ("Italy claims Minneapolis museum holds looted vase", Star Tribune, November 9, 2005). Apparently the krater features in the dossier of Giacomo Medici's Polaroids seized in the Geneva Freeport. In 2006 it was said that the MIA was researching the krater: "The MIA is researching the vase, and has not been contacted by Italian authorities ..." (Steve Karnowski, "To protect the treasures, museums find detective work pays", AP, June 14, 2006) Is there documented evidence to show that the krater was known prior to 1970? Will the MIA release its findings?
It also needs to be remembered that antiquities from member museums of the AAMD have been returned to Italy:
It seems that there has been a willingness in recent decades to acquire recently surfaced antiquities --- and to ignore the damage to the archaeological record. And there continues to be a lack of transparency in the way that information about acquisitions and loans is not released to the public domain. Are such actions damaging the Public Trust of these institutional members of the AAMD?

Perhaps one of the best expressions of the debate has been by Mary Abbe ("Principle is at heart of antiquities crackdown", Star Tribune, November 4, 2007):
In pursuing the return of antiquities from the Getty Villa museum, the Italian government is acting to reinforce an important principle, more than its need for antiquities. For decades art collectors and archaeologists have been at odds. Collectors and art historians value antiquities primarily for their aesthetic qualities - the beauty and refinement of their design. Archaeologists are especially concerned about context, that is, what the objects reveal about the lives and customs of their makers, which is best divined by studying them where they're found, typically in graves or other archaeological digs.
Members of the AAMD are emerging from the recent negotiated returns of antiquities to Italy with a tarnished reputation. But it is also clear that the some members of the AAMD continue to have an unhelpful and unreformed view of their acquisitions. Will there be change?

Friday 7 March 2008

Cleveland: the Italian List?

There has been talk this week of the allegedly confidential list of antiquities that Italy would like to see returned from Cleveland. Rebecca Meiser reported:
"It's supposed to be a confidential document," says spokesman James Kopniske. "I don't even know what's on it."
Information on the Cleveland material started to appear with the list of South Italian pottery published by Suzan Mazur in October 2006:
  1. A Lucanian calyx-krater, attributed to the Policoro painter (1991.1). Alleged to have been sold by Robert Hecht; formerly in the Hunt collection; sold 1990.
  2. A Paestan black-figured lekythos (1985.1). Allegedly acquired through Hecht. Appears to be listed in the Italian documentation (no. 82): "Lekythos attica a figure nere, oggi al Museo di Cleveland".
  3. A Campanian red-figured acorn lekythos (1986.204). Gift of Jonathan Rosen.
  4. An Apulian volute-krater, attributed to the Darius painter (1988.41).
  5. An Apulian bell-krater, attributed to the Choregos painter (1989.73).
All five pieces are likely to have been found in South Italy given their fabrics. It should be noted that the "name vase" of the Choregos painter is a krater, once in the Fleischman collection (purchased from Fritz Bürki), and now returned from the Getty to Italy.

Mazur expanded on this simple list when she reported on the meeting between Italian officials and staff from the Cleveland Museum of Art (apparently on April 20, 2007). She then listed further pieces.
1. East Greek perfumed-oil container in the shape of a heron (1988.65).
2. Corinthian column-krater (1990.81).

South Italian and Italian
3. Geometric bird askos, Etruscan (1993.1).
4. Pontic oinochoe (1986.88).

Marble sculpture
5. Torso of Aphrodite, marble (1988.9).

6. Etruscan silver bracelet (1996.17). Gift of Edoardo Almagia and Courtney Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff

7. Amber sphinx, possibly South Italian (1985.49).
8. Amber head of a woman, Etruscan (1992.61).

9. Bronze reclining woman at banquet, Etruscan (1988.155). Gift of Mrs. Ernest Brummer.
10. Bronze reclining flautist, Etruscan (1986.184). Gift of Mrs. Ernest Brummer.
11. Bronze reclining lyre-player, Etruscan (1986.185). Gift of Mrs. Ernest Brummer.
12. Bronze statue of a warrior, Sardinian (1990.1).
13. Bronze rider, perhaps western Greek (1977.41). Publ. Gods Delight, no. 13.
14. Bronze Herakles (1987.2). Publ. Gods Delight, no. 61, “purchased together and conceivably found with [62]”.
15. Bronze Lar (1987.3). Publ. Gods Delight, no. 62, “purchased together and conceivably found with [61]”.
16. Victory with cornucopia, Roman (1984.25). Publ. Gods Delight, no. 66, “traveled through the art market and conceivably found with [63-65]”. [See nos. 63-65, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum]
17. Bronze statue of a barbarian (1987.64). Publ. Gods Delight, no. 67, “said to have been found near Taranto”.
18. Roman bronze ampula in the shape of a bear (1972.102).
Note that several of the pieces are likely (though not certainly) to have been found within the frontiers of the modern Italian state given their cultural links with Etruria, the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily, and Sardinia (nos. 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17).

Some of the items on Mazur's list were known before 1970 and need not detain us here:
  1. Head of the emperor Balbinus from sarcophagus, marble (1925.945). Gift of J.H. Wade.
  2. Silver cup, Roman. Vicarello (1966.371). Silver for the Gods, no. 95. Formerly in the collections of R. Garrucci, Naples; Sir William Drake, London; Edmond de Rothschild, Paris. First known 1866.
  3. Bronze statue of a warrior, Etruscan (1967.32).
Michael Bennett, the curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, has insisted that there is "an obligation to look at that evidence". Please could the collecting histories (i.e. former owners, dealers, alleged find-spots) for the 23 pieces listed above be made available? What are their documented histories before 1970?

Kozloff, A. P., D. G. Mitten, and S. Fabing. 1988. The Gods delight: the human figure in classical bronze. Cleveland, Ohio; Bloomington, Ind: Published by the Cleveland Museum of Art in cooperation with Indiana University Press.
Mazur, S. 2006. "Italy will contest Medea vase now at Cleveland Museum." 9 October 2006.
—. 2007. "Italy's list of lost treasures at Cleveland." April 22, 2007.
Oliver, A., Jr. 1977. Silver for the gods: 800 years of Greek and Roman silver. Toledo: The Toledo Museum of Art.

Thursday 6 March 2008

A Porphyry Tyche from the Borowski Collection

Christie's has announced one of the highlights for its June 2008 auction ("Rare Roman Statue is Extraordinary Highlight of Christie's Antiquities Spring Sale"). The "Ancient Art" department will be offering "an exquisite Roman statue of the goddess Tyche".

The piece first surfaced in 1967 and has been on loan to the Liebieghaus, Frankfurt, (1980-1986), and later at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto (1986-1991).

G. Max Bernheimer, International Department Head for Antiquities, raves about it:
This is the most spectacular and beautiful sculpture that I have ever had the pleasure to work with ... The fact that it’s still in impeccable condition, makes it all the more exceptional.
So why comment? After all, the piece surfaced before 1970.

The reason is that the "statue was formerly in the private collection of Dr. Elie Borowski, collector and connoisseur of ancient art".

What the text fails to mention is that Borowski was also a dealer. His name is associated with the Fano Athlete (now in the J. Paul Getty Museum), and it also appears in the famous organigram that features in The Medici Conspiracy.

Bernheimer can hardly be unaware of this. The description on his website notes:
He is the author of several volumes documenting the collection of Dr. Elie Borowski including, "Ancient Gems from the Borowski Collection (2007)"; "Glories of Ancient Greece (2001)" an exhibition catalogue for ancient Greek vases and jewelry from the collection; "Reflections on Ancient Glass from the Borowski Collection (2002);" and a contributor to the exhibition catalogue "Dragons, Monsters and Fabulous Beasts (2004)" at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.
He has also been known to praise the Borowski collection:
This was a sale for true connoisseurs ... A variety of international buyers, including a number of prestigious museums, bid enthusiastically for pieces that once formed one of the most outstanding private collections in existence. This encyclopedic assemblage of world-class masterpieces was unparalleled in terms of quality and provenance.
No doubt there is a little bit of hype and rivalry going on. Sotheby's stole the limelight with the sale of the Guennol Lioness last December for just over US$57 million; earlier in the year they sold the bronze Artemis and a Stag for US$28.6 million. It rather places the £7.9 million raised by Christie's (London) for the Jenkins Venus in the shade.

How much will the Borowski Tyche fetch? Will another record be broken? Who knows ... "Estimate on Request".

Wednesday 5 March 2008

The Cleveland Apollo: Further Comments

Michael Bennett of the Cleveland Museum of Art has talked about the acquisition of the Cleveland Apollo (Rebecca Meiser, "An ancient Apollo statue landed in Cleveland and touched off an international outcry", Cleveland Scene, March 5, 2008).

Meiser repeats the "reported history" of the Apollo:
Hicham and Ali Aboutaam readily admitted to gaps in the Apollo's ownership record. From what they were able to determine, the statue was owned by a German family in the early 1900s. World War II forced them to flee, leaving their belongings behind.

In the 1990s, a surviving member returned to the family estate after the fall of East Germany. In the backyard lay a pile of debris. He could only make out the bronzed head of a young man, a sculpted hand, the outline of a lizard.

The man vaguely recalled seeing the statue in the garden as a child, but he knew nothing of its history. Believing the cost of repair would be greater than its value, he sold the statue to a Dutch dealer in 1994, who in turn sold it to another collector, who then sold it to the Aboutaams in 2001 with the understanding that he'd remain anonymous.
It could be true. But where is the certified documentation?

And are all the investigations about the Apollo compelling? Meiser reports:
The International Art Loss Register in New York, which tracks stolen art, found no claims on the piece.
But, as I have pointed out before, absence from the Art Loss Register does not signify anything when it comes to recently surfaced antiquities.

One thing is clear. There appears to be no evidence that the statue had spent time underwater and it thus looks like the Greek Government's claim that it came from a shipwreck is without foundation.

Meiser then reviews some of the cases of antiquities handled by the Aboutaams, though she does not note an Etruscan architectural terracotta that has been returned from Princeton, or the Italian claim that some of Shelby White's antiquities came from "the Aboutaam family, the owners of the Phoenix Ancient Art gallery". Meiser quotes Neil Brodie who said that he "would be acutely "suspicious" of anything that passed through the brothers' hands". In contrast:
Bennett dismissed the allegations. He'd been dealing with the brothers for years. In his experience, they'd been nothing but forthcoming and ethical.
If that is the case, what else has the Cleveland Museum of Art purchased from the brothers? Will the Cleveland Museum of Art make that list public? And, if transparency is important, there is every reason to place this information in the public domain.

Meiser also touches on the Italian Government's request for the return of other items.
During the trial of dealer Robert Hecht, the Italians cited eight pieces Hecht had sold to Cleveland.
A much longer list of requested returns includes some material that has been around for quite a long-time (see, for example,
Suzan Mazur, "Italy Will Contest Medea Vase At Cleveland Museum",, October 9, 2006). Among the antiquities is the head of the emperor Balbinus from a marble sarcophagus (1925.945; gift of J.H. Wade) and a Roman silver cup from Vicarello acquired in 1966 (1966.371) but first known in 1866. But many of the other pieces have surfaced more recently and certainly after 1970.

Cleveland has apparently refused to comment on the Italian list, and seems to be taking a firm stand.
But talking to Bennett, one gets the sense that the museum won't be quick to wave a white flag. "Our policy is really straightforward," he says. "Anyone at anytime" can protest an item's status. And "If someone has information that proves [the piece was illegally purchased], the museum has an obligation to look at that evidence . . . The Cleveland Museum of Art wants to know as much as possible about the items in our exhibits."

At the same time, Bennett claims that all pieces are vigorously researched. Just because a dealer is charged doesn't mean all his deals were tainted. Hecht's case is ongoing.
But Bennett misses the point. Can the Cleveland Museum of Art be certain that the pieces in question had not been looted? What was the Museum's due diligence process? Are the pieces documented prior to 1970? Who sold them?

The Museum needs to make this information available.

Collecting Antiquities and Enlightenment Principles

James Cuno has been raising some key issues about the acquisition of antiquities. I was struck by his reaction to the 1983 US Congress implementation of the 1970 UNESCO "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property".
These actions have been taken to enforce foreign nations' retentionist cultural policies at the expense of the Enlightenment principles on which public museums in the United States were established. [p. 144]
Is it "enlightened" to reject the desire for countries to protect their cultural property and archaeological sites?

Is it "enlightened" to ignore the material consequences to the archaeological record?

Is it "enlightened" to fail to see the intellectual consequences of acquiring newly surfaced antiquities that have no recorded find-spots?

This is not just about acquisition but also the safeguarding of a finite archaeological resource.

Does it matter in our cosmopolitan world if an Attic krater is displayed in Minneapolis or Rome? Or an Athenian marble relief in London or Athens? Or a Cycladic figure in Paris or the Naxos Museum?

At one level the answer is no. If the find-spot is known it makes no difference to the interpretation of the object if the item is on view in Berlin or Istanbul. And if the find-spot is lost, "returning" the item will not restore its context. Cuno makes the helpful observation:
But when an antiquity is offered to a museum for acquisition, the looting, if indeed there was any, has already occurred. Now the museum must decide whether to bring the object into its public collection, where it can be preserved, studied, and enjoyed, and where its whereabouts can be made widely known. Museums are havens for objects that are already, and for whatever reason, alienated from their original context. [p. 155]
But should museums acquire recently surfaced antiquities?

And this brings me back to my series of questions, and which is why at another level I would have to answer, "yes, it does matter where objects are displayed".

Take the massive rise in the number of previously unknown Apulian pots available at auction through the 1980s and 1990s. Their appearance is directly linked to the deliberate destruction of funerary contexts in southern Italy to supply a market. And the buyers have been public institutions and private collectors. So it does matter if there is active acquisition of Apulian pots because there is a material implication for the funerary record (see "An Italian Cavalryman in Manhattan") and an intellectual implication for their interpretation.

Discouraging the acquisition of Apulian pottery unknown prior to 1970 is one way to discourage looting. The pieces of Apulian pottery attributed to the Darius painter and returned to Italy from Boston, Malibu, Princeton, as well as New York, have lost their contexts; but their transfer of ownership will probably make those museums think twice about acquiring newly surfaced Apulian material.

Cuno would, no doubt, argue that the contexts had been lost: so does acquisition matter? But when we realise that these returning Apulian pieces are associated with individuals and galleries such as Giacomo Medici, Fritz Bürki, Robert Hecht, and Atlantis Antiquities, it can be appreciated that these are unlikely to be chance finds.

And I am left thinking that the "Enlightenment principles on which public museums in the United States were established" have perhaps contributed to the irreversible destruction of our universal, or cosmopolitan, cultural heritage.

Cuno, J. 2005. "Museums, antiquities, cultural property, and the US legal framework for making acquisitions." In Who owns the past? Cultural policy, cultural property, and the law, edited by K. Fitz Gibbon, pp. 143-57. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press / American Council for Cultural Policy.

Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

Red figure loutrophoros (ceramic), attributed to the Darius Painter. South Italian, Apulian, ca. 335-325 B.C. One of four objects to be transferred in title to the Italian government but to remain on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Portable Antiquities Scheme: "to Preserve and Invest"?

In January I noted the possible funding cuts for the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme. At the time Current Archaeology reported:
Funding comes from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport via the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). The MLA’s funding is being reduced by more than 25%, and in consequence PAS funding has been frozen at the £1.3 million level, an effective cut allowing for inflation (it needs £1.49 million to maintain current activity).
A petition to Number 10 that attracted just over 2000 "signatures" called for:
... the Prime Minister to Preserve and Invest in the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
A response has been posted today:

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is widely regarded as a success in encouraging people to voluntarily report finds of archaeological interest. In the 10 years since its inception the Portable Antiquities Scheme has recorded more than 317,000 archaeological finds on its online database (, the largest online database of its kind anywhere in the world.

The Government is aware that a number of concerns have arisen in connection with the future funding of the scheme. The PAS is funded by the Museums Libraries and Archive Council, therefore decisions about the scheme's future funding will be taken by them. The Museums Libraries and Archive Council have confirmed that they will maintain funding for Portable Antiquities Scheme in the next financial year (£1.3 million).

The Museums Libraries and Archives Council recognises that the Portable Antiquities Scheme is of national importance. The Government shares the Museums Libraries and Archive Council's commitment to the scheme. The British Museum and the Museums Libraries and Archive Council are fully committed to the continued success of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and are working together with other stakeholders to ensure that this is achieved.

So funding for PAS will be "maintained", i.e. frozen, at £1.3 million. Indeed, the response confirms an effective cut.

How does this "Preserve and Invest" in the Portable Antiquities Scheme?

The Stern Collection in New York: Cycladic or Cycladicising?

Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis There appears to be excitement about the display of 161 Cycladicising objects at New York's Metropolit...