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.

1 comment:

J. . said...

Hi David.
You site is great, I always access it!
I have just finished my monography about protection and circulation of cultural objects. And this site helped me.

Regards from Brazil,


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