Friday 30 May 2008

Newly Surfaced Archaic Greek Objects

My attention has been drawn to two separate lots from the sale of "The Stanford Place Collection of Antiquities" auctioned at Christie's (London) on Wednesday April 26, 2006. (It is a collection I have discussed before.)

They illustrate some of the intellectual consequences of recently-surfaced antiquities.
  • Lot 3: 'a Greek silver-gilt repoussé plaque'. 'circa 540-525 BC'. 'With winged Nike in a frontal chariot with facing quadriga, each pair of horses with heads turned to opposing sides, with finely incised details, bound lotus filling motifs, pierced around the edge for attachment, from an arm-guard'. 6.8 cm high. Unsold.
  • Lot 18: 'Three Laconian bronze helmeted warriors'. '6th century BC'. 'Each animated nude standing figure standing with right arm outstretched to the side and left arm raised, with fists clenched, wearing tall crested helmet'. 6.4 cm high (max). £30,000.
Both were acquired from "Ward & Company Works of Art, New York", lot 3 in the "mid 1990s" and lot 18 in 1998.

Both pieces were accompanied by a certificate from The Art Loss Register.

The silver-gilt plaque is almost identical ("similar") to a more fragmentary example acquired by the Princeton University Art Museum in 2002 (and illustrated in the Record of the Princeton University Art Museum 62 [2003] 151-52 [JSTOR]):
  • "Greek (North), mid-6th century B.C.: pierced appliqué plaque: frontal quadriga with Nike charioteer, gilt silver, h. 5.9 cm, w. 6.5 cm. Museum purchase, gift in memory of Emily Townsend Vermeule ... (2002-155)."
And does the "arm-guard" interpretation suggest that it was a part of a set of armour, perhaps from the burial of a warrior? Do the two plaques derive from the same deposit? Or were they just the products of the same workshop?

And the fact that there are three near identical bronze warriors also intrigues me. Were they found together? Or did they come from three separate private collections and converge, fortuitously, in the New York gallery? Do they need to be Laconian?

I am left asking some questions.
  • Who owned the "Stanford Place" plaque and the warriors before they were purchased from Ward & Company Works of Art, New York?
  • Who sold the plaque to Princeton? Does the plaque have a documented history?
  • Do these pieces come from several locations or a single deposit?
  • When were these pieces first known?
  • Is the certificate issued by the Art Loss Register worthless?
All these pieces may, of course, have been in old documented collections (though I am surprised that the sale catalogue had not mentioned the fact).

What is needed is more transparency.

Thursday 29 May 2008

James Cuno on the Icklingham Bronzes

One of the issues that I hoped would be addressed by James Cuno was the decision to display one of the Icklingham bronzes in a loan exhibition, The Fire of Hephaistos (1996) no. 31, at Harvard University Art Museums. The piece, on loan from Shelby White and Leon Levy, was "Found in Suffolk, in southeastern England; purchased in 1988".

And here is the issue, on the very first page of Chapter 1, "Political Issues", of Who Owns Antiquity? (I received my review copy today.) Cuno notes the Fire of Hephaistos exhibition included bronzes from some private collections. One of Cuno's Harvard colleagues "objected to our borrowing a work from a particular private collection and claimed that it had been purchased in contravention of international law". Cuno explains in a rather vague way (without giving too much detail for the casual reader):
The work in question had been part of a controversy involving the British Museum and when I sought that museum director's advice, he assured me that so far as the British government and British Museum were concerned, the controversy was resolved and he had no objection to our exhibiting—and publishing—the Roman bronze, which we did.
What he does not mention is that the "controversy" was far from resolved for the Suffolk farmer, John Browning, from whose land the bronzes were reported to have been taken.

And why does Cuno fail to mention that the bronze in question had been removed from Icklingham or that it was acquired by Leon Levy and Shelby White?

Is it because Cuno wishes to portray the couple as "philanthropists and collectors of antiquities"? [p. 200 n. 7] Or is there some other reason? His book went to press before he could take account of the fact that Shelby White had returned some of her "Glories" to Italy, a public admission that the couple were acquiring recently surfaced antiquities.

Nor is there any mention by Cuno that Fire of Hephaistos was one of the exhibitions discussed by David Gill and Christopher Chippindale ("Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104 [2000] 463-511 [JSTOR]). Is he really unaware of the literature?

So many questions raised from the opening paragraphs of chapter 1. What other issues will be raised?

Wednesday 28 May 2008

The Acquisition and Exhibition of Classical Antiquities: Review

Derek Fincham has reviewed Robin F. Rhodes' edited volume The acquisition and exhibition of classical antiquities: professional, legal, and ethical perspectives (2007) for Bryn Mawr Classical Review. He notes:
This collection should serve primarily as an introduction to the more substantive work of the participants. Any reader familiar with cultural heritage scholarship will find many of these arguments familiar; though the paper-response approach clarifies the points of agreement thereby moving beyond a mere entrenched debate to foster productive dialogue.
I have also commented on aspects of this volume:
Rhodes, R. F. Editor. 2007. The acquisition and exhibition of classical antiquities: professional, legal, and ethical perspectives. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press. [press site]

Tuesday 27 May 2008

The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Corinthian Pottery

I was very struck by a recent comment by Nancy Bookidis who has excavated at Corinth since the late 1960s. In an extended discussion of the 1990 theft of antiquities from the museum at Corinth she noted:
This year I suggest a dissertation topic to a graduate student at the American School in Athens, who is interested in trade between Greece and the West. I proposed that she examine the foreign find-places of Corinthian vases that have been attributed to specific painters or workshops in order to determine whether or not certain cities only bought from a limited group of artists. Ultimately, she gave it up—too many vases with unknown proveniences.
In other words, the student was proposing to study the export of Corinthian pottery to Italy and Sicily (and beyond). What percentage of Corinthian pots in, say, Tuscany come from scientifically excavated tombs?

In another (but related) context I have noted that only some 13% of the Attic red-figured pots attributed to the "Berlin painter" come from "a relatively secure archaeological context"—indeed, some 50% of the pots have no context at all.

How far is extensive looting making a study of the distribution of Corinthian pottery in the west impossible? We are unlikely to know if "groupings" of pots from the same workshops relate to consignments or batches of Corinthian material. (I feel that this is more likely than workshops or potters "targeting" particular cities.)

I also note Corinthian pots appearing in recent postings concerning negotiations with Italy:
  • A Corinthian column-krater (Cleveland 1990.81). [List]
  • A Corinthian plate with the Ransom of Hector (to remain in Princeton y1989-25; Museum purchase, anonymous gift in memory of Isabelle K. Raubitschek and to honor Antony E. Raubitschek).
Bookidis, N. 2007. "The Corinth theft." In The acquisition and exhibition of classical antiquities: professional, legal, and ethical perspectives, edited by R. F. Rhodes, pp. 119-31. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

Friday 23 May 2008

Indiana Jones and the AAMD

Kimerly Rorschach, Adjunct Professor and Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Director of the Nasher Museum, Duke University has issued a press statement ("New Indiana Jones Movie Raises Issues of Looted Art", Thursday May 22, 2008) to coincide with the launch of the latest Indiana Jones movie.
Generally speaking, all exporting is illegal, in an effort to stem the tide of looting. University art museums face the dilemma of wanting to collect antiquities for legitimate educational purposes but not wanting to contribute to illegal looting and smuggling.
So far, so good.

But then the release adds:
Rorschach has written about these issues, and is a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which articulates best-practice standards for collecting that museums must follow.
What are these "best-practice standards for collecting" that are reflected by the AAMD? (See "Museums and Professional Responsibilities".)
  • Collecting "recently surfaced" antiquities that have been return to Italy
  • A lack of transparency for the long-term loan of antiquities that do not appear to have a recorded history (and see "Loan Exhibitions and Transparency")
Perhaps Rorschach would like to address the less-than-best-practice due diligence processes that seem to be in operation by some AAMD members.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

The Cleveland Museum of Art: Moving Towards "a Happy Conclusion"?

Two weeks ago ANSA issued a statement quoting Francesco Rutelli ("Beni Culturali: Bondi, su di me enorme responsabilità", and "Beni Culturali: Rutelli, accordo fatto con Museo Cleveland", May 9, 2008). Rutelli appeared to suggest that an agreement with the Cleveland Museum of Art had been concluded, and that 16—not 8 as had originally been thought—antiquities would be returning to Italy.

Steven Litt ("Italians, museum aren't on same page", Plain Dealer (Cleveland), May 10, 2008) has clarified the situation by quoting a museum spokesperson:
No agreement has been reached, nor has the museum agreed to transfer any objects to Italy.
There have been persistent rumours about the list of antiquities under discussion ("Cleveland: the Italian List?"): some 23 items have been placed under the spotlight.

Some have been quick to condemn Rutelli for using the media to put pressure on Cleveland (and other institutions) ("Cleveland Kerfuffle: Italy Again Engages in Repatriation-by-Press", CultureGrrl, May 10, 2008). But there are some key questions to ask.

Which are the eight antiquities sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art by Robert Hecht? What are the previous histories of these pieces? Did they follow the same or similar pathways through the market as other antiquities returned to Italy from other institutions in North America?

What are the collecting histories for the bronze Lar and Herakles (1987.2-3) “purchased together and conceivably found [together]"? Or what about the Roman bronze Victoria with Cornucopia (1984.25)?

Why has the museum been so silent about these controversial antiquities? All it needs to do is to release details of their acquisitions that would demonstrate the due diligence process.

Monday 19 May 2008

Intellectual Consequences: can we trust the find-spot?

I was keen to follow the "find-spot" of a piece of Attic black-figured pottery which surfaced before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
  • a. The original dealer's catalogue gave no indication of find-spot.
  • b. The initial publication in a British archaeological journal gave the find-spot as "reputedly" from a named site in Tuscany.
  • c. The pot's publication in a study of related pieces stated, "Provenance: probably Italy (... alleged [Tuscan] provenance ...)".
  • d. The Beazley Archive database does not give any indication of find-spot in its "provenance" field - though it does note, "said to be from [Tuscany]" in the record section.
  • e. The museum in which it resides gives the Tuscan site as the database entry under "Field Collection".
Did I mention that the dealer was Robert Hecht?

This amphora highlights the problem with language. Many pieces of this type of pottery have been found at Cerveteri in Etruria. The alleged Tuscan site would be a significant find-spot. But is the report trustworthy? Should the location be presented as "Field Collection"? Or is "Field Collection" really a euphemism in these post-Medici Conspiracy days?

Should we be more careful in recording and presenting information? What are the intellectual consequences of using find-spots provided by dealers in studies of the distribution of Athenian pottery?

I suggest some possible designations (based on the codes developed by Gill and Chippindale):
  • i. Excavated by 'x' at 'a'
  • ii. Said by dealer 'y' to have been 'found' at 'b'
  • iii. Allegedly from 'c' (source of information unknown)
  • iv. Perhaps from 'd' (the type of object that could be expected to have been found at 'd')

Thursday 15 May 2008

Intellectual Consequences for the Study of Ancient Trade

It is easy to be distracted by the scale of looting. Yet there are also intellectual consequences as find-spots and contexts are lost or fabricated. What are the implications for the study of ancient trade? I was considering the commercial mark on an Attic black-figured neck-amphora of Panathenaic shape that passed through Sotheby's in London (July 17, 1985, lot 313).

The mark falls into Alan Johnston's (Trademarks on Greek Vases: Addenda) Type 25A. There are thirteen examples. Eight of them (all but this one Type B amphorae) are attributed to 'Group E'. Three of the amphorae are said to have been found at Vulci in Etruria (as well as possibly a column-krater now in the Vatican). In addition to the amphora of Panathenaic shape, a Type B amphora, also attributed to Group E, passed through Sotheby's in London the year before (July 9-10, 1984, lot 314); it is now in Canberra (84.02). What was the history of the two pieces before they were auctioned at Sotheby's? Where were they found?

The commercial mark also appears to be listed as Johnston Type 15A (a not dissimilar mark). Here Sotheby's, July 17, 1985, lot 313 is attributed to the painter of Louvre F6; four of the twelve pots bearing this mark are attributed to this "painter" of which two were said to have been found at Vulci. Could this trademark be an abbreviation of an Etruscan personal name (as Johnston suggests)?

Are these two marks evidence for Greek trade? An Etruscan trader? Are they linked to a particular Athenian pottery workshop, perhaps suggesting that the marks were applied to a batch (or batches) of imported pottery? Were they applied at Vulci (or at least in Etruria)?

We are unlikely to know as the majority of the find-spots have been lost. The amphora of Panathenaic shape is likely to have been found in Italy. Why do I say that? Photographs of it were found in Geneva, "In the Polaroids, the amphora is broken and dirty with earth."

Indeed the amphora was among the antiquities returned to Italy by Shelby White earlier this year. So collecting recently surfaced antiquities does have intellectual consequences.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

The "Morgantina" Silver Hoard

The antiquities returned to Italy from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have been dominated by the pottery:
However the return also included a major hoard of Hellenistic silver dating to the 3rd century BCE and acquired in 1981, 1982, and 1984 (inv. 1981.11.15-22; 1982.11.7-13; 1984.11.3). The pieces were said to have originated in Turkey and had been purchased via Switzerland.

Indeed the official line is that this was a "hoard" and that it was "presumably found together a generation ago" (D. von Bothmer, A Greek and Roman treasury. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984, nos. 92-106).

In reality the sequence has been reported as follows (see P. Watson and C. Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, p. 106):
  • Vincenzo Bozzi and Filippo Baviera, tombaroli
  • Sold to Orazio Di Simone of Lugano, Switzerland for the equivalent of $27,000
  • Sold to Robert Hecht for $875,000
  • Sold to the MMA for $3 million
The silver is staying in New York until January 2010 and will then be transferred to the Aidone Archaeological Museum (Elisabetta Povolodeo, "A Statue As Symbol In Patrimony Tug of War", New York Times, July 4, 2007). The silver plate is likely to be displayed with the acrolithic Aphrodite formerly in the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the acroliths on loan from Maurice Tempelsman.

Recent excavations by Malcolm Bell III may have even located the possible site of the looting (Celestine Bohlen, "Archaeologist vindicated in hunch on antique silver hoard", IHT, February 3, 2006):
In 1996, Raffiotta in Sicily got court permission and Italian government money for Bell to start digging at the spot where the silver was thought to have been discovered. That was when Bell first found two holes, which corresponded to the rumored stories that silver had been found in two separate lots. The excavation also turned up a 1978 Italian coin, proof that the site had been excavated since that date.
The terminus post quem provided by the modern coin is not incompatible with the 1981 appearance of the silver on the market.

The "Morgantina" silver was purchased with help from,
  • Rogers Fund
  • Classical Purchase Fund
  • Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Anonymous
  • Mrs Vincent Astor
  • Mr & Mrs Walter Bareiss
  • Mr & Mrs Howard J. Barnet
  • Christos G. Bastis
  • Mr & Mrs Martin Fried
  • Jerome Levy Foundation
  • Norbert Schimmel
  • Mr & Mrs Thomas A. Spears

Saturday 10 May 2008

Looting in Italy: "a continuing, daily experience"

It is perhaps easy for some collectors and museum curators to convince themselves that their pursuit of the perfect acquisition has no impact on the archaeological record. Stefano Vassallo's comments on the situation in Sicily give a glimpse on the impact of looting (and see also "Operation Ghelas"). He talked about work at the Greek colony of Himera:
clandestine nighttime digs systematically devastate the archaeological layers uncovered the day before.
Against the background of the discussion of "ownership" Vassallo asks a key question and then answers it:
When an object is authentic but its original context is lost, what is left of it? Only an aesthetic object remains, beautiful to look at, but which has little to do with the way we look today at ancient art. It is not just beauty that catches out attention today, but the way works of art functioned within their society, the response to them by their public, and their reception by later generations and cultures.
Think of some of the recent returns to Italy:
  • The Euphronios krater
  • The "Morgantina" silver
  • The acrolithic Aphrodite
Then ask yourself how those pieces or groups were viewed in their contemporary society. We do not know because the contexts have been lost.

Vassallo, S. 2007. "Antiquities without provenance: the original sin in the field." In The acquisition and exhibition of classical antiquities: professional, legal, and ethical perspectives, edited by R. F. Rhodes, pp. 81-91. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Bonhams Withdraws Egyptian Inscription from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410)

More details are beginning to emerge on the Egyptian inscription withdrawn from the sale of antiquities at Bonhams on May 1, 2008 ("Egypt secures auction pullout for artefacts in London and Holland", Egypt Daily News, May 1, 2008).

The text has removed from "a wall in the 26th Dynasty tomb of Mutirdis in Asasif in Luxor". This tomb (TT410) was excavated by Jan Assmann in 1969 so it looks as if the story about the Australian seafarer collecting the piece perhaps as far back as the 1940s lacks substance. A photograph of the text appears in “Das Grab der Mutirdis” (1977).

Bonhams need to make a statement about this. Who translated the text for them? Did the person recognise the text but keep quiet? Were the staff members of the Department of Antiquities at Bonhams unable to conduct a thorough due diligence search? Why were they unable to link the personal names that appear here with the tomb of Mutirdis?

And what other antiquities consigned to Bonhams came from the "Australian seafaring collection"?

Wednesday 7 May 2008

James Cuno on Antiquities: What I Hope Will Be Addressed

James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity is certainly getting publicity. Andrew Herrmann ("You can't have your stuff back", Chicago Sun-Times, May 4, 2008) notes:
Critics are seething over the book, which won't be out until May 28 but already is in circulation for review and causing a buzz.
I have yet to see the book but it seems that it contains an implicit attack on the Archaeological Institute of America's stance on not publishing recently surfaced antiquities. The AIA's policy is:
In keeping with the revised (2004) policy of the Archaeological Institute of America, the AJA will not accept any article that serves as the primary publication of any object or archaeological material in a private or public collection after 30 December 1973 unless its existence is documented before that date or it was legally exported from the country of origin.
It will be interesting to see if Cuno touches on the issue of the the inscribed ivory pomegranate ‘thought to be the only relic of King Solomon's Temple’. This example highlights some of the flaws in the Biblical Archaeology Society's 'Statement of Concern' on 'The Publication of Unprovenanced Artifacts'.

I am hoping to read Cuno's commentary on two specific issues:
I have addressed other issues raised by Cuno elsewhere.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Acropolis Museum Preview

The BBC has been given a preview of the new Acropolis Museum by Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis. The video provides views of the Parthenon from the museum. The juxtaposition of fragments remaining in Athens and casts of originals now in London is explained in detail.

The programme suggests that the return of the Parthenon sculptures would be a "natural" progression.

Bonhams Withdraws Egyptian Antiquity From Auction

Last October Bonhams withdrew a piece of Lydian silver from auction after questions were raised here about its possible links with Turkey.

I noticed that the auction house has had to take similar eleventh hour action last week when Egypt challenged the sale of lot 99:
An Egyptian carved limestone relief fragment
Late Period, 26th Dynasty, circa 665-525 B.C.
With six vertical columns of blue-filled hieroglyphs, column 1: about journeying by water, column 2: 'horizon. Oh Osiris supervisor of the female followers [of?]', column 3: 'Nitikret (Nitocris) may she live Mutirdais', column 4: 'true of voice, ie. justified...', column five: '...gods fear...', column 6: unintelligible, 11¾in (32.5cm) diam, mounted

Estimate: £3,000 - 4,000
AFP ("Egypt secures auction pullout for ancient artefact", April 30, 2008) has reported that lot 99 from the sale of antiquities on May 1, 2008 had to be withdrawn:
Egyptian Culture Minister Faruq Hosni said in a statement that he had asked for the 2,500-year-old carved limestone relief to be withdrawn from Bonhams' London sale, set to take place on Thursday, because it was stolen.

Hosni said the ministry had no idea the piece, from Egypt's ancient city of Luxor, was missing until they saw it in the catalogue.
Julian Rup, speaking for Bonhams, said:
Apparently the buyer bought it in good faith. We work hand in hand with the police and they are satisfied that the buyer bought it in good faith.

Negotiations will begin and it will either stay with the current owner or be repatriated but we are not selling it.
How could the "buyer" (I presume the vendor) have bought it in good faith if the catalogue entry says that the present owner had inherited it from his father? Is the vendor in reality "an Australian private collector who began collecting in the 1940s whilst working in the merchant navy"? Will the relief fragment be returned to Egypt or the vendor?

This story seems to have been unreported in the British media. However it does raise questions about the due diligence process conducted by Bonhams.

Has the time come for auction houses to improve their levels of transparency? Who is this anonymous seafaring Australian private collector? Should the present proprietor of the object be named?

Monday 5 May 2008

Towards a Bibliography for Archaeological Ethics

I have been preparing an introductory bibliography on Archaeological Ethics for my postgraduate students. This is at present located as a list on WorldCat. You can easily see the location of the nearest copy of the book to you (just type in your postcode or zipcode), or download (including to Endnote).

What would readers of Looting Matters recommend?

Leave a comment!

Friday 2 May 2008

Francesco Rutelli and Antiquities

This is an appropriate moment to pay tribute to Francesco Rutelli, the out-going Italian Minister for Culture.

He came into post in May 2006 and his name was quickly associated with the fight to combat the looting of Etruscan cemeteries.
  • "The Tomb of the Roaring Lions" at Veio (June 2006). Rutelli: "Sometimes the smugglers arrive before the archaeologists, but luckily they could not remove the frescoes" ("Suspected tomb raider leads archaeologists to frescoed Etruscan tomb near Rome", AP, June 16, 2006).
Within a month he was negotiating with the J. Paul Getty Museum:
  • Rutelli: "When I talk about cooperation, it is also to give the new Getty management the opportunity to show they want to close an era" (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Italy Calls Its Talks With Getty Productive", New York Times, June 20, 2006).
In September 2006 thirteen antiquities were returned from Boston, and the Getty returned forty pieces to Italy in November 2006 and August 2007. The results of these negotiations went on display in the the first of two exhibitions, "Nostoi", of returned antiquities in Rome, December 2007. These were supplemented in January 2008 by ten items from New York collector Shelby White.

But the highlight was the triumphal return in January 2008 of the Sarpedon krater from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

One of the exit routes for antiquities looted from Italy has been Switzerland. A new deal was signed between Italy and Switzerland in October 2006 and Rutelli made the point, "Traffickers will have to go somewhere else" (Ariel David, "Italy and Switzerland sign deal to combat antiquities trafficking", AP, October 20, 2006).

But Rutelli was interested in the international market and he ensured that Italy returned looted antiquities to Pakistan (June 2007) and Iran (November 2007).

Rutelli's forceful, yet gracious, discussions with museum directors have highlighted the problems associated with acquiring recently surfaced antiquities. Curators have started to take the due diligence process a little more seriously in the light of his campaign.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Iraq: "We want to strip the commercial value of Iraqi antiquities"

Yesterday I commented on Dr Bahaa Mayar's hope (expressed on the BBC) that the British Museum would one day return its Mesopotamian antiquities to Iraq.

Today The Independent (Arifa Akbar, "Iraqi expert accuses West over antiquities trade", May 1, 2008) provides further details of Dr Mayar's comments made at the British Museum (though the report misses his subsequent call for the return of antiquities). Some of the report repeats what was said in the BBC interview, and Dr Mayah "called for an immediate global ban on the sale of at least 100,000 artefacts that have been stolen since the invasion." He added:
This is a problem of illegal trade that should be of concern to the international community. We want to strip the commercial value of Iraqi antiquities.
There is also a comment from Professor Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University in New York who
said Iraq had been depleted of 15 per cent of its ancient artefacts. Ever since Baghdad's National Museum was ransacked in 2003, "entrepreneurs" had set up organised teams to plunder ancient grounds. She said neolithic sites had been heavily looted as had those which contained items from the first Mesopotamian Empire, about 2300BC. "It looks as if the looters know exactly what they are looking for," she said.

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...