Skip to main content

Advertising Ancient Art

I was browsing through the Spring/Summer number of the British Museum Magazine and spotted a half-page advertisement for Rupert Wace Ancient Art (RWAA) complete with a headless Hellenistic marble Aphrodite.

There is a short statement about the appearance of such advertisements in the Magazine:
It is the policy of the British Museum Friends to accept antiquities advertisements only where we receive assurance from the advertiser that the illustrated object is documented to have formed part of a legitimate collection prior to 1970.
The Aphrodite is to feature in the RWAA Gallery's exhibition, "In Our Own Image: Gods and Mortals in Ancient Art" (4 June - 11 July 2008); an alternative title, "In Our Own Image: Gods and Mortals in Antiquity" is also used for the Press Release issued by Sue Bond, Press Relations Consultant. Further details about the statue (as well as an image) can be found in the press release:
Perhaps the centrepiece of the exhibition is the marble figure of Aphrodite. The goddess of love is shown turning towards us, shielding her nakedness as if surprised by our presence. The type, known as the Aphrodite of Knidos, is, with the Laocoon, one of the most famous sculptures of the ancient world. Copied throughout antiquity, it is also a corner-stone in the history of classical art. The original was so famous that Pliny describes it as a tourist attraction. Although there were numerous representations of nude men, soldiers, athletes and gods from the Archaic period onwards, this was the first Greek female nude. She pretends to be demure and tries, very ineffectively, to cover her modesty but this is an act in order to captivate the male observer. This example comes from a private UK collection, acquired between 1968 and 1978.
Who is behind this anonymous—and "legitimate"—"private UK collection"?

I ask because Wace has in the past used "private collection" as a euphemism for a Paris-based syndicate of auctioneers. (For the background on that case: Brian Handwerk, "Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts", National Geographic News, October 24, 2006; and see key statement from Zahi Hawass.) Indeed, in an unrelated (but relevant) case, the holdings of Robin Symes have been presented by one scholar as part of a UK "private collection".

And if the Aphrodite could have been acquired by the "private UK collection" between 1970 and 1978—as the press release indeed implies—what sort of assurances about its documented history were given to the officers of the British Museum Friends? Or is it certain that the Aphrodite was acquired in either 1968 or 1969, and somebody forgot to update the press release (in the way that they forgot to change the exhibition title)?

Can we assume that somebody from the Magazine sought an assurance? Or did the staff of the Magazine hope that nobody would notice?


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.

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…