Skip to main content

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.

Image
© David Gill

Comments

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 …

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…

Metropolitan Museum of Art hands over Paestan krater

In May 2014 I commented on a Paestan krater acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after it had been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in photographic images seized from Giacomo Medici. Tsirogiannis published his full concerns in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, but it has taken a further three years for the museum to respond.

The krater showing Dionysos in a hand-drawn cart was purchased in 1989 from the Bothmer Purchase Fund (details from the Museum's website, inv. 1989.11.4). The krater surfaced through Sotheby's New York in June 1989.

It is unclear who consigned the krater to Sotheby's New York.

It has now been revealed that the krater has been handed over to the US authorities after a warrant had been issued (Tom Mashberg, "Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum on Suspicion It Was Looted", New York Times July 31, 2018).

It appears that the museum did make an attempt to resolve the case in December 2016. Mashberg notes:
The Met, for its par…