Tuesday 29 July 2008

Some Thoughts on the Benin Bronzes

James Cuno (in Who Owns Antiquity? [2008]) takes six objects from the holdings of the Art Institute of Chicago to demonstrate its character as an "encyclopedic museum". The third piece is a bronze plaque from Benin that was acquired in 1933; Cuno speculates that it probably "left" the kingdom of Benin following the punitive raid by the British in 1897.

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Cosmopolitanism [2006]) also uses the Benin bronzes as he asks the question, "Whose Culture Is it, Anyway?"
Some of the heirs to the kingdom of Benin, the people of Southwest Nigeria, want the bronze their ancestors cast, shaped, handled, wondered at. They would like to wonder at—if we will not let them touch—that very thing. The connection people feel to cultural objects that are symbolically theirs, because they were produced from within a world of meaning by their ancestors—the connection to art through identity—is powerful. It should be acknowledged. The cosmopolitan, through, wants to remind us of other connections.
Kwame Opoku has also been commenting on these same bronzes (e.g. "Is James Cuno a “Nationalist Retentionist”?", ModernGhana.com, July 4, 2008; see also a series of postings on Afrikanet.info). His passionate essays have prompted me to hunt through some of the news archives to see what I could find about the dispersal of Benin Bronzes. I cannot pretend this is comprehensive list, but it gives a little bit of the background to this debate.

The "Benin Punitive Expedition" was assembled in January 1897 (see "The Benin Expedition", The Times January 20, 1897). This was in response to the killing of a British party around January 1, 1897 ("Massacre of a British Expedition in West Africa", The Times January 12, 1897). The accounts of the assault on Benin city are chilling. An eye-witness at the inquest into the death of one of the British officers mentioned that the British troops turned their Maxim guns on the defenders who fell from the trees "like nuts" ("The Death of Captain Byrne", The Times March 27, 1897).

This is the context for the removal of these bronzes from Benin City. When Appiah asks us to make "connections", these are the images that spring to mind.

"Loot" soon returned to England. One of the first examples was the display of "Some interesting bronzes from Benin City" that were put on display in the Royal Colonial Institute in London in June 1897. The notice that appeared in the Court Circular of The Times (July 1, 1897) mentioned the bronzes, "the precise origin of which is at present unknown". The bronzes were on loan from the Hon. G.W. Neville, MLC, "of Lagos"; The Times cryptically added that Neville "had accompanied Admiral Sir H. Rawson's recent expedition". (For Sir Harry Holdsworth Rawson see ODNB; "he advanced to Benin city to punish the massacre in January of British political officers ... Benin was captured and looted, then accidentally burnt.")

Some of the material removed from Benin City passed into national collections. Ormonde Maddock Dalton and Hercules Read of the British Museum produced a catalogue, Antiquities from the City of Benin (London: British Museum, 1899). David M. Wilson's authoritative The British Museum: A History (London: British Museum, 2002) rather skates over the issue:
Franks and his colleagues ... were, as yet, not interested in the material as art - that came with the acquisition of the Benin bronzes at the end of the century ... (p. 161).

... [Dalton's] work on his seminal catalogue of recently acquired material from the Nigerian kingdom of Benin ... (p. 225)
Surely some mention of the circumstances of the acquisition would have been appropriate?

A taste for "Benin Bronzes" quickly developed. On September 12, 1899, a "Sale of Benin Bronzes" took place at "Mr J.C. Stevens's rooms, King-street, Covent-garden' in London (The Times September 13, 1899). This was described as "an unusually choice collection of very fine Benin bronzes" that "included many of the finest specimens yet offered, and mostly came from the palace and ju-ju house of the late King of Benin". The same auction rooms offered "A marvellous collection of BENIN BRONZES consisting of about 500 pieces" as one lot in June 1902 (see notice in The Times, May 17, 1902; report, June 4, 1902). These had been "taken by the British punitive expedition under the command of Admiral Rawson in February, 1897". Among the pieces sold were "ivory tusks carved with figures, animals, &c." (compare Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? fig. 4 for a "Court of Benin Ivory").

A further selection of Benin bronze surfaced on the London market (in 128 lots) in May 1930 ("Benin Bronzes", The Times April 7, 1930). These came from the collection formed by George William Neville, a member of the "Benin Punitive Expedition". His obituary in The Times November 30 1929 commented,
One of Neville's exploits was to accompany the punitive military expedition to Benin in 1897, from which he returned with a remarkable collection of Benin curiosities.
The 1930 report continued:
In the King's compound [at Benin] and the ju-ju houses were discovered numerous works of art in ivory, bronze, brass, &c., buried, in several instances, and covered with the blood of human sacrifice.
These pieces came from the same collection displayed at the Royal Colonial Institute back in the summer of 1897. A further example of the material from Benin City surfacing on the market is provided by the collection formed by Dr R. Allman, medical officer for the Benin Punitive Expedition. This was sold at Sotheby's in December 1953 (The Times December 8, 1953).

Can we ignore the way that these bronzes moved from Benin City to the market and thence to private and public collections? Kwame Opoku has been right to remind us of these shameful issues.

Monday 28 July 2008

Legal and Ethical Aspects of Collecting Antiquity

I have recently read two legal overviews of the recent returns of antiquities to Italy.
The first is a short piece by Jennifer Anglim Kreder (Northern Kentucky University - Salmon P. Chase College of Law) "Behind Italy's Recent Successes in Cultural Patrimony Recovery", Art & Cultural Heritage Newsletter, American Bar Association, Chicago, Illinois, Winter 2008 [SSRN]. These comments feature in a longer collaborative study: Jennifer Anglim Kreder, Monica Dugot (Christie's), Thomas R. Kline (Andrews Kurth LLP), and Lucille A. Roussin (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law), "Legal and Ethical Issues in Art Restitution" [SSRN].

The longer piece mentions that there have been "calls" for the "release" of the "provenience history" of the bronze krater on loan from the White/Levy collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Friday 25 July 2008

The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Attic Funerary Stelai

The announcement that Shelby White will be returning two antiquities to Greece later this month has caused me to go back through my notes.

One of the two pieces is a bronze calyx-krater said to be from Pieria in northern Greece. The second is "A fragmentary marble funerary stele with a warrior and young man dating to the 4th century BCE" that is reported (in the press release) to fit a fragment excavated by the Greek Archaeological Service near Porto Raphti in eastern Attica during the 1960s.

One of the exhibits from Glories of the Past - a catalogue well known to readers - is a "Fragment of a grave stele with a warrior and a youth" (no. 97). The two figures are named: Menon and Kleobolos. Elizabeth J. Milleker, the author of the catalogue entry, dates the marble fragment to "About 400-375 B.C." It seems possible that this is the piece mentioned in the press release. (Could this have been mentioned in the statement?) If this connection is correct, the discussion of the stele fragment in Glories is instructive for engaging with a piece that has lost its find-spot. (I offer a possible reconstruction of the near complete funerary stele using the Glories fragment [top].)

Milleker seems reluctant to commit the upper fragment to Attica:
Although, in overall design and subject matter, the stele is similar to Attic grave reliefs of the late fifth and early fourth century B.C., it is difficult to determine where it might have been carved, for it has a number of unusual features.
What are these?

First, the acroterion "must have been added as a separate piece of marble". This is indicated by the "remains of iron dowels" on the top surface. A parallel for this is cited: a fragmentary relief in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 30.11.3; SEG 34 (1984) no. 239).

Second, the "warrior differs from the Attic norm not only in the rendering of his drapery but also in certain details of dress". The chiton is said to be "very different from the complex, tubular style current in Athens during the late fifth and early fourth century". The "design" of the chiton that "reaches to the middle of the warrior's upper arm, with a wide opening that extends to the level of his elbow at the end of the stele" is thought by Milleker to be "typical of women's chitons". Indeed, "no ready parallel to the chiton depicted here comes to mind". The helmet "shows a curious deviation from the norm"; the ear appears to have been covered by the helmet.

The presence of finger tips on the left shoulder of the central youth suggests that there was originally a third figure standing to the right. Milleker proposes that the figure should be a woman.

There is also the problem that from the evidence of the upper fragment alone, there was not space for a handshake. "The warrior's lower arm is slightly advanced, and it is unlikely that the hand was empty. He might be imagined holding a phiale or a dagger ..."

As for the youth, Attic iconography suggests that "young men posed like this youth are usually shown alone, reaching down to a pet or a small servant boy, but it cannot be ascertained whether the youth here was accompanied".

Milleker summed up these discrepancies: "The unusual details of the warrior's dress and the plain, flat rendering of his drapery suggest that this stele was not carved in an Attic workshop". She continues, "the stele seems to lack a certain clarity in the organization of its forms that is a hallmark of most Attic work". As a result a conclusion is reached:
The stele must have been carved in an area of the Greek-speaking world, such as the Cyclades or the western coast of Asia Minor, where Attic influence was particularly strong in the late fifth and early fourth century.
She closes with this thought: "Until a telling parallel for this particular relief is found, it is not possible to be more precise about its place of origin".

But if the Shelby White fragment "with a warrior and a youth" is the piece that is to be returned, then it could perhaps fit the lower piece found near Porto Raphti and now in the foyer of the Brauron Archaeological Museum. If so, the Shelby White fragment is likely to be an example of a funerary stele carved in one of the rural workshops of eastern Attica. The "unusual features" are no more than local variations. Indeed the lack of find-spot for the Shelby White fragment allowed erudite, but misplaced, comments to be used in its interpretation. Issues about the (lost) figure to the right, the (lack of) object in the right hand of the warrior, and the pose of the central youth are all explained.

Imagine the catalogue entry if the stele had been known to have been found in one of the rural cemeteries of Attica. The discussion would have been very different; but as it now stands there is little in the catalogue entry that can stand the test of time.

This piece is a good reminder of the intellectual consequences of lost find-spots and the way that the corpus of knowledge is distorted as a result of such a loss. Connoisseurship cannot replace secure information derived from excavations.

Hypothetical composite image based on fragments in the Brauron Museum and in the Shelby White collection.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Collecting Histories Matter

I am not sure that the due diligence process is working when it comes to the acquisition of antiquities. Museums, private collectors and dealers can buy objects "in good faith" only to find the newly purchased piece is disputed. It is even possible that the piece has been checked against a list of items known to have been stolen from recorded collections. But something straight out of the ground will not be featured.

So how do we move forward? A study of the recent returns to Italy (and to a lesser extent Greece) has begun to show a pattern of names. And the willingness of institutions such as the MFA in Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum to provide such information demonstrates the new spirit of curatorial co-operation that is needed to address the problem of recently looted antiquities that enter the marketplace.

Do we need to see a more rigorous form of the due diligence process taking place? Do histories need to be presented in such a way that dates of surfacing or gaps in the record can be seen and explained?

The answer has to be yes.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Tomb of Iurudef: Ushabti Returned from Holland

In May there were two linked news stories relating to Egyptian antiquities: the fragment from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410) being offered at auction by Bonhams, and a second piece in Holland. The news story had appeared in Daily News Egypt on May 1, 2008:

They also announced that in collaboration with Egypt’s ambassador to Holland, a 19th Dynasty green ushabti figure of a woman called Hener was also taken out of an auction sale and will be returned to Egypt.

The figure had been stolen from a Saqqara storehouse and is now at the Leiden Museum awaiting its journey back in accordance with an Amsterdam court verdict.

A press release, "A stolen ushebti found in The Netherlands returns to Egypt" (July 22, 2008), has now been issued. There are several things to note.

First, the 19th Dynasty faience ushabti of a woman, Hener, came from the tomb of Iurudef at Saqqara. This tomb had been excavated by a team from Leiden in 1985.

Second, the piece seems to have been stolen from the "Sekhemkhet magazine" in Saqqara, probably around 1987. (For related thefts from Saqqara stores: mummy mask; Middle Kingdom alabaster duck.)

Third, the ushabti is said to have passed into a "German collection".

Fourth, a private collector purchased the ushabti "in good faith" at an (unspecified) art fair.

Fifth, the collector showed the ushabti to curatorial staff in Leiden in July 2006.

Sixth, the Art Loss Register has been mediating. (This is what the ALR does best: identifying known objects that have been stolen. The staff of the ALR should be congratulated on this satisfactory outcome.)

It would be interesting to have more detail. What is the German collection? Which art fair and who was the vendor? And what is the auction sale mentioned in the original story?

Martin, G.T., Raven, Maarten J., and David A. Aston. 1986. The Tomb-Chambers of Iurudef: Preliminary Report on the Saqqara Excavations, 1985, JEA 72: 15-22. (Hener: p. 19) [JSTOR]
Raven, M.J., and D.A. Aston. 1991. The Tomb of Iurudef, a Memphite Official in the Reign of Ramesses II. Leiden: National Museum of Antiquities Leiden / London: Egypt Exploration Society. [WorldCat]

A Big Hunk O'Antiquity: Headlines

I can tell tell that the story about the "Elvis"-like Roman head is going to generate some clever headlines.

I have started the list here but please feel free to leave others in the comment box.
ABC news has also issued a news clip, "Elvis Lives ... in Ancient Rome?".

"Elvis" up for auction

A Roman head apparently known as "Elvis" --- "because of its strong resemblance to the King of rock and roll" --- is due to be auctioned at Bonhams in London this October (Angus Howarth, "All shook up by £1m antiquities auction", The Scotsman July 23, 2008). The head appears to be part of a second century CE sarcophagus.

This piece is part of "a £1 million collection of antiquities which is about to come to auction" and the report is full of superlatives: "one of the world's most stunning private collections of ancient art". There are due to be 150 lots "which once belonged to the Australian collector Graham Geddes". The pieces include "rare Greek and Roman vases and marble reliefs portraying battle scenes".

Bonhams have as yet to provide details of the sale. However, the press release quotes Chantelle Waddingham, Head of Antiquities at Bonhams:
The Graham Geddes Collection represents an enduring passion for the classical past by Australia's foremost collector and dealer. His love for antiquities was sparked in the early 1970's by the inspirational guidance of William Culican and Peter Connor, both lecturers of classical archaeology at the University of Melbourne."
A Graham J. Geddes of Armadale, Victoria is listed as an approved valuer for "Greek and South Italian vases 2,000 BC- 500 AD; Greek and Roman antiquities 2,000 BC- 500 AD" in the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program (list of June 2008; p. 45).

The press release comments a little more about "Elvis":
Fans of the King of Rock 'n Roll, seeing this face from the distant past will be forgiven for thinking that their idol may well have lived a previous life in Rome! Looking at this face with its Elvis-like quiff, strong jaw and nose, one is inevitably led to the thought that the human face for all is diversity and subtlety has after all an ability to repeat itself, hence the shock of the doppelganger, in this case a Roman Elvis.
I am sure Elvis fans will be lining up for this one.

Image from livenews.com.au.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Promoting Licit Markets

Michael Conforti, president of the AAMD, has used an interview with the Art Newspaper to call for an opening up of the "licit market" in antiquities (Helen Stoilas, "New guidelines for US museums acquiring antiquities", The Art Newspaper July 17, 2008).
Some archaeologists would prefer that institutions not purchase such works at all, to ‘pretend they didn’t exist’ and thus not encourage the market for them.” But he says that there is still a market for such work outside of institutional buying. As a means of curbing the looting of archaeological sites, the AAMD promotes the creation of “licit markets” through which countries could legally export archaeological objects and “strongly urges all nations to provide a legal method for the sale and export of art.
It is a topic Conforti addressed earlier in the year, and last August (2007) I reviewed the potential sources for antiquities with "secure" histories.

Conforti also draws attention to the new AAMD's database:
The AAMD has set up a website where museums will be required to post “an image and the information about the work…and all facts relevant to the decision to acquire it, including its known provenance”. If further research uncovers questions over ownership, the museum is expected to “take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the work, as has been done in the past”.
It is such a useful database that when I checked it today I still received the message:
There are currently no Cultures registered. Please check back again soon.
The Art Newspaper fails to draw attention to two key issues. It is not enough for AAMD institutions to say that they will (try) not (to) acquire material that surfaced after 1970.
a. What about long-term loans of antiquities to institutions? (This is a different issue to short-term loans for which the AAMD has a policy.)
b. What about disputed material already acquired?
So why not use the AAMD database / register to "publish" images of all antiquities acquired since 1970? And why not include short- and long-term loans?

Monday 21 July 2008

Hellenic Ministry of Culture Website

There is a temporary (over a week now) problem with the official website. A temporary solution is now available here.

This site provides access to the press release relating to the two antiquities due to be returned by Shelby White.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Portable Antiquity Collecting

Paul Barford has shown true tenacity, resolve and patience in the way he has raised issues about portable antiquities. He now has his own blog Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues in addition to being an invited commentator on Safecorner.

Here is a flavour of what he plans to talk about:
Even a perfunctory perusal of the websites, “discussion” (sic) lists, forums and blogs of the advocates of a (‘leave us alone’) status quo for portable antiquity collectors will reveal that they have a number of common characteristics. There are a canon of justificatory mantras which portable antiquity collectors tend to repeat to each other as some form of self-affirmation of identity and personal faith. There are usually some perturbing views expressed, for example on what is ethical and responsible basically comprising little more than an ‘it’s legal innit?’ argument. If it goes beyond that, collectors concentrate attention on the isolated object rather than the information its original archaeological context comprised. They see personal artefact collecting as a matter of personal rights rather than the conservation issue that it is. They demand free and easy access to any cultural heritage that may take their fancy and most of their explanations of the difficulties that are put in their way involve conspiracy theories, and they cast themselves in the role of innocents unfairly victimised. Another tendency is to engage in attacks on a generalized “(radical) archaeology” to which the dealers in undocumented ‘pieces of the past’ ascribe all the blame for any problems that are put in the way of an unrestricted flow of easily accessible antiquities to their collections.
And if you in any doubt about who lies behind the (incorrect) use of "radical archaeology" see here.

I am looking forward to Paul's distinctive contribution to the debates and discussions.

Good Faith: A Common Phrase?

I find myself in agreement with James Cuno: "due diligence and good faith inquiries are no longer sufficient" (the quote is now published in Who Owns Antiquity? [2008] 4). He continues:
It means only that unprovenanced antiquities are not being acquired by U.S. art museums to the extent that they were in the past. Instead, undocumented antiquities are going elsewhere in greater numbers, either remaining in the private domain of private collectors and dealers or being sold or donated to museums in countries that do not enforce foreign patrimony laws as the United States does. (p. 5)
And how often have we heard the phrase "good faith" in the last year as antiquities have been returned from museums, auction-houses and private collectors in Europe and North America?

For example, Bonhams offered an Egyptian fragment removed from the Tomb of Mutirdis (TT410) that has now been returned to Egypt. A spokesperson for the auctioneers said that they "would not identify the seller who tried to put the artifact up for auction, but said it appeared to have been bought 'in good faith'." (He actually fogot that the vendor was supposed to have inherited the piece from his seafaring father ...)

As Princeton University Art Museum returned antiquities to Italy, the university spokesperson claimed that all had been acquired in "good faith".

And back in 2006 Shelby White was asked to comment on her collection (Jason Horowitz, "How Hot Vase It?", The New York Observer, February 19, 2006):
We bought in good faith, we published everything, we supported archeology, and we supported conservation ... We acted in good faith, and if we did anything wrong, I am prepared to address that.
Then earlier this month as Shelby White announced the return of the fragmentary marble funerary stele and the bronze calyx-krater to Greece, the press statement claimed that the pieces had been acquired in "good faith".

What does "good faith" mean?

That the pieces were purchased from a "reputable dealer" in Europe or North America?

Both Princeton and Shelby White have been reluctant to share the information about their sources in marked contrast to the exemplary curatorial generosity of the MFA in Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

How can Princeton and Shelby White help other museums and private collectors avoid buying recently-surfaced antiquities?

Friday 18 July 2008

Iraq: British Museum Report Now Available

The British Museum site report on the 8 sites in southern Iraq is now available along with photographs. Larry Rothfield has commented.

It will perhaps give some balance to the reports in The Art Newspaper and The Wall Street Journal.

Commenting on "News" Stories

Earlier this week I reported on one cultural property commentator citing a five year old story as contemporary news. (I checked again today: it still gives the story issue date as 11 July 2008 and there is no hint that it is out of date; see further comments by Paul Barford.)

Now another dated story is doing the rounds. I spotted it on Derek Fincham's usually reliable "Illicit Cultural Property". He says:
these repatriations and cooperation may be a very good thing, however the real test of these efforts remains how well sites are protected, and whether there remains a workable heritage management policy in these nations. Recent news out of Greece suggests they are not. It seems last month the Greek parliament has taken a step last month to allow divers to access the entirety of the Greek coastline. This would be very good for tourism, but how are the objects these divers find going to be managed or educated? How will sites be affected?
The link to recent news takes you to a story on Divemaster News, "Greek Sea Looted by Divers" (9 July 2008). This new policy concerning Greek did not take place "last month" (i.e. June 2008); it was covered in a story, Helena Smith, "Greece's seas: the looters' next destination", The Guardian, December 6, 2005.

It looks as if a whole bunch of 2005 stories are surfacing in news readers: commentators beware!

Spanish wreck off Zakynthos from The Guardian.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Does Looting Matter? One Year On

Today is the first birthday of Looting Matters.

Some 350 posts later and with an average of 7000-8000 page loads a month (USA 51%, UK 11%), it looks as if there continues to be interest in the discussion of archaeological ethics and the issues surrounding the damage to archaeological sites.

Does raising the issue of looting make a difference? Has public opinion changed?

Certainly the AAMD's new policy on the acquisition of antiquities (and see also the one for short-term loans) seem to indicate that there is a shift in attitude.

How far has this to do with the returns of antiquities from various North American public and private collections to Italy - and "celebrated" by the two Nostoi exhibitions in Rome?

And Greece, too, seems to be claiming returns from dealers and private collections.

Buyers at sales are now placing a premium on pieces with good collecting "histories". (I do hope in the next year the term "good provenance" can be dropped in favour of "good history".)

Private collectors also appear to be accepting the problems surrounding recently-surfaced antiquities - and their interests in the ancient world can perhaps be pointed towards the support of excavation, publication and archaeological research.

What will the next year bring?

I suspect the opening of the New Acropolis Museum in September will force the issue of the Parthenon marbles and other "historic collections" towards the top of the agenda.

The scale of the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq rumbles on.

But we need to be asking some more searching questions.

What are the intellectual consequences of newly-surfaced antiquities (and modern creations) entering the corpus of knowledge?

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Greece and Italy Agree Joint Policy over the Smuggling of Antiquities

Italy's success in securing the return of antiquities from North American collections seems to be encouraging the Greek Minister of Culture, Mihalis Liapis, who is in Rome for negotiations ("Culture Minister Liapis holds talks in Rome", Athens News Agency, July 15, 2008; MiBAC Press Release). Italy and Greece signed a new memorandum of cooperation on cultural issues.

As part of the agreement the "Nostoi" exhibition will be travelling to the New Acropolis Museum, Athens in September. (Will objects recently returned from a North American private collection to Greece form part of the show?)

There will be a joint approach to the smuggling of antiquities. Liapis is quoted:
We will coordinate our efforts in a common front aiming at the protection of our cultural heritage and the return to their country of origin of all antiquities that have been stolen by antiquity smugglers.
And in a parallel statement, Sandro Bondi, the Italian Minister for Culture, commented:
Our cooperation will cover both the sector of maintenance and fighting against the smuggling of antiquities and other sectors such as fashion and projection of all modern artists.
Greece seems to be stepping up its claims on recently looted antiquities.

Image from MiBAC.

Looting in Iraq: "it may not be typical of the country as a whole, and the situation could be worse further north"

Melik Kaylan published a story yesterday on looting in Iraq ("So Much for the 'Looted Sites'", Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2008) arising from Martin Bailey's story in The Art Newspaper earlier this month.

Kaylan actually cites Professor Lawrence Rothfield's recently edited book, Antiquities under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection after the Iraq War (AltaMira, 2008), where it is estimated "that, every year, roughly 10% of Iraq's heritage was being destroyed".

Kaylan also quotes from Dr John Curtis of the British Museum, commenting on the observation there has been no further looting 8 out of some 10,000 sites in Iraq "it may not be typical of the country as a whole, and the situation could be worse further north."

Now Rothfield has responded to Kaylan:
I've already detailed, below, the evidence for looting, much of which comes from those political radicals the Polish civil-military brigade and the Italian carabinieri. (I shared all this information with the writer of the WSJ article, by the way, but he chose not to use any of it, for reasons that should be clear.)

(See also Rothfield's "Yet more looting in Southern Iraq".)

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Kamel Supplied Coptic Forgeries

Further details about the forged Coptic sculptures (and the forthcoming exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum) has appeared (Kate Taylor, "Brooklyn To Exhibit Fake Art", New York Sun, July 15, 2008).

Taylor interviewed several people including Jerome Eisenberg.
One New York dealer, Jerome Eisenberg, acknowledged in a phone interview that he had sold the museum one piece now considered to be fake, a roundel with a border of palm fronds and a central bust. The museum acquired the piece in 1960.

Asked where he bought the roundel, Mr. Eisenberg said that he purchased it from a "very reliable, very ethical" dealer in Cairo, a Copt named Kamel Hammouda. Asked if he knew where Mr. Hammouda got the sculpture, Mr. Eisenberg said that it was against the rules of the trade at the time to ask such questions.
Among the other museums accepting that forged Coptic sculptures had been acquired was the Princeton University Art Museum.

The issue to note is that these forgeries were coming onto the market from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. So even if a piece appears on the market today and has a "good history" prior to 1970, there is no certainty that it is genuine.

The Risley Park Lanx: Intellectual Consequences

Tom Flynn reminded me of the "Risley Park Lanx" and it prompted me to think about the intellectual consequences of this acquisition. This Roman silver dish was found in 1729 at Risley Park in Derbyshire. In 1981 Catherine Johns published an account of the dish in the Antiquaries Journal.

Then amazingly the dish was offered for sale at Sotheby's in London by George Greenhalgh (for further details by Tom Flynn). The lanx had apparently been bequeathed to the Greenhalgh family of Bolton; it was claimed that they had welded bits of it together. The dish was sold and subsequently acquired by the British Museum where it was put on display in August 1992.

Norman Hammond, writing in The Times (August 15, 1992), had a note of caution:
Analysis by the museum showed the silver to be Roman but the object itself was not. The most likely course of events seems to have been that the fragments were assembled shortly after their discovery and a mould made from them. The original pieces were melted down and poured into the mould to create a replica.
The piece was clearly accepted as a copy; but how accurate was it?

In 1994 a short description of the lanx appeared in Britannia (1994) [JSTOR]. It noted that it was not the original but a silver "casting ... made apparently by melting down the original". This "casting" included the text of a dedication by Bishop Exsuperius rejecting William Stukley's 1729 reading of the text in preference for the revised text of 1736.

So a clever forgery was inserted into the standard (and respected) literature on Roman Britain. Such modern creations have intellectual consequences for the study of antiquity.

And if "Greenhalgh" and "Bolton" ring bells .... remember the "Amarna Princess". The Independent (November 17, 2007) even noted that "Shaun Greenhalgh produced a replica [of the lanx] using Roman coins smelted in a small furnace kept on top of his fridge."

What other forgeries have passed into the corpus of knowledge?

Monday 14 July 2008

Observations on Cultural Property

Commentators on the collecting of archaeological material and the looting of ancient sites often touch on sensitive areas. This is especially true for the situation in Iraq where the Baghdad Museum has been looted and satellite imagery has suggested a continued problem with illicit digging. And some even try to find consolation that 8 out of some 10,000 sites in Iraq have not suffered from further looting. (For a corrective view see Larry Rothfield, "Yet More Evidence of Looting in Southern Iraq").

Mistakes can be made in such commentaries: and it was a mistake for Peter Tompa---the self-styled "Cultural Property Observer"---to post a report, "BBC Report on Exaggerated Looting of Iraq Museum", as if it was contemporary news (he included the misleading copyright line, "Published: 7/11/2008").

In fact the original report appeared more than five years ago: Jason Burke, "Priceless treasures saved from looters of Baghdad museum", The Observer, June 8, 2003. Tompa even left in the comment, "Dan Cruickshank and the Raiders of the Lost Art is on BBC2 this evening at 9pm"; this was broadcast on Sunday June 8, 2003 (as a quick check on the BBC website would have shown him).

But Tompa is not content to be reminded that this is recycled news by authorities such as Donnie George ("I am very sorry, and I am surprised to see that the same fabricated report has been published again, while the real facts are very well known to the public some years ago") and Patty Gerstenblith ("This story and others were long ago discredited"). (Tompa does not mention Paul Barford, "I am bemused by the stubbornness with which collectors and traders of portable antiquities worldwide are still, five years on, still clutching at straws ...")

Instead of correcting his post (or at best acknowledging the fact that this news came from 2003), Tompa continues:
In any event, the item does suggest that the story of the looting of the museum was exaggerated. Just recently (and as reported on this blog), the Art Newspaper also suggested that stories about looting of archaeological sites were also exaggerated. Does anyone see a pattern here?
Yes. Peter Tompa does not understand the issues.

I will close with another 2003 quote from Rod Liddle ("The Day of the Jackals", The Spectator, Saturday 19 April 2003) relating to antiquities from Iraq.
There are those who say, look, the free market should operate here. Why shouldn't a private collector be allowed to buy an antiquity and keep it in his bathroom, maybe next to the bidet, or as a tasteful holder for the Toilet Duck, if he wishes to do so, and if both he and the seller are happy with the price?


You may not be surprised, either, that ... some of these people formed themselves into a lobbying organisation called the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP). This group want a 'relaxation' of Iraq's tight restrictions on the ownership and export of antiquities.

And who pops up as a contributor in the subsequent ACCP volume?

Astute readers will know the answer ... but click here to find out.

Saturday 12 July 2008

The Bronze Krater said to be from Pieria, Greece

Further brief reports on the return of two antiquities from the Shelby White collection to Greece have appeared today ("US collector to return two ancient artifacts", Kathimerini, July 12, 2008; Julie Bloom, "Collector to Return Antiquities to Greece", New York Times, July 12, 2008; "New York Collector to Return 2 Antiquities to Greece", New York Times, July 12, 2008). One of the NYT pieces notes that the second object
is a bronze calyx krater dating from around 340 B.C. Greek archaeologists believe it was probably found in illegal excavations in a royal tomb near where it originated in Pieria in northern Greece.
Beryl Barr-Sharrar (The Derveni Krater: Masterpiece of Classical Greek Metalwork, ASCSA 2007, p. 98, fig. 89 [Googlebooks] [post]) illustrates a bronze calyx-krater found in 1986 by M. Bessios at Sevaste in Pieria (and now in the Archaeological Museum at Thessaloniki; see also I. Vokotopoulou, "The Kalyx Krater of Sevaste in Pieria", in I. Worthington (ed.), Ventures into Greek History, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994, pp. 189-201 [BMCR]).

A bronze calyx-krater in the Shelby White & Leon Levy collection appeared in a catalogue of Greek bronze vessels from the collection of Shelby White & Leon Levy (2005), no. 9 (for illustration see McLung Museum exhibition, "History contained: ancient Greek bronze and ceramic vessels", September 17, 2005 - January 2, 2006). The entry for the White/Levy calyx-krater states:
The best stylistic parallels for the White/Levy krater may be found in examples associated with the Macedonian court.
Its previous history is unstated; its first mention in a publication comes from 1998.

Friday 11 July 2008

Shelby White to return two antiquities to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture announced today that Shelby White will be returning two pieces in her collection to Greece later this month ("Greece strikes deal with US collector for return of 2 looted antiquities", IHT, July 11, 2008).

The pieces are:
a. A fragmentary marble funerary stele with a warrior and young man dating to the 4th century BCE. It is reported that the lower part of the stele was excavated in the 1960s near Porto Rafti in Attica (and I presume this is the fragment on display in the entrance hall to the Brauron Museum).
b. A bronze krater dating to c. 340 BCE. It is reported that the piece "was probably found during an illegal excavation in northern Greece".

The Ministry is quoted as saying that Shelby White purchased the pieces "in good faith".

No further details appear to be available at the present time.

Postscript: A Ministry press statement has suggested that the krater was found in Pieria, Macedonia; it also confirms that the bottom part of the stele is in the Brauron Museum. [See Reuters]

Wednesday 9 July 2008

"The Chinese Question"

James Cuno raises some key questions about antiquities from China in Who Owns Antiquity? (Princeton UP, 2008). He draws attention to the way that the China Cultural Relics Recovery Program has been seeking to buy up Chinese objects that come on the market so that they can be returned "home".

He describes the complex relationship between the Poly Art Museum, the Poly International Auction Co., Ltd., the China Poly Group Corporation, and Poly Technologies, Inc. He continues:
The Poly Group and its Art Museum are aggressively seeking to purchase—and the Poly International Auction Co., Ltd., is trying to sell—the very kind of material that the Chinese government is requesting the U.S. government to ban. (p. 105)
Details of the request from China are posted on the U.S. State Department website. The nature of the problem is outlined with a number of specific examples and this gives a flavour:
This huge demand for Chinese cultural artifacts has caused serious damage to ancient tombs and ancient sites. Gangs of criminals have been identified with their own networks of pillage, transportation, smuggling and sales abroad. The Chinese government has devoted many resources to stopping the pillage and smuggling, but many ancient sites, tombs, stone statuary, and temples are scattered throughout the undeveloped countryside where protection is difficult. For example, from March to August, 1988 a tomb-robbing gang in Hunan Province pillaged over 600 tombs in the region. In 1996, an investigation in Fengcheng City of Jiangxi Province discovered that 187 people participated in the pillage of over 199 tombs. Some of the artifacts had already been smuggled abroad. In Chifeng City of Inner Mongolia, statistics show that in the past 20 years over 6,000 ancient sites have been looted. And in recent years, stone statuary kept in Buddhist temples of monasteries and monuments in the countryside have become desirable to the art market. Over 500 stone statues have been reported looted.
The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has details of the request on its website along with supporting material and links.

Cuno attacks the AIA for not acknowledging the link between the Poly Group and its "extensive history in dealing arms" (p. 104). He specifically cites Spencer P.M. Harrington' s article, "China Buys Back its Past", in Archaeology magazine (May 11, 2000). There Harrington is said by Cuno to describe the Poly Group "simply" as "a Beijing-based state-owned corporation". Actually, if Cuno had read on, the next paragraph stated:
The Poly Group, which until last year was owned by the People's Liberation Army and was known as an arms dealer, has more recently opened a small museum in the capital dedicated to ancient bronzes.
Cuno only weakens his cause by such careless citations that seek to attack the AIA.

Monday 7 July 2008

Export of Charles Townley's Portrait on Hold

The Townley Collection lies at the heart of the British Museum's sculpture gathered on the Grand Tour. It was announced today that a portrait of Charles Townley (1737-1805) by Joseph Nollekens has had a temporary export ban placed on it by the UK Minister for Culture, Media and Sport (see press release).

The portrait was on loan to the Towneley Hall Art Gallery, Burnley, Lancashire (1926-2007). A sum of £308,750 (excluding VAT) is required to "save" the piece from export. The statement adds, "every possible effort should be made to raise enough money to keep it in the country".

Iraq: Looting Still a Problem

Martin Bailey's report on Iraq for The Art Newspaper continues to generate discussion (see my earlier comments). Larry Rothfield has drawn attention to last week's report by Andrew Lawler in Science that reminds us of the on-going looting of archaeological sites in Iraq.

Friday 4 July 2008

Apulian Pottery Returned to Italy

The Italian authorities announced today that France has handed 50 pieces of Apulian pottery dating to the 4th-3rd centuries BCE [press release]. The objects are reported to have been seized back in 2000 from an Italian citizen by French customs officials at one of the border crossings with Spain. Sandro Bondi, the Italian Minister, paid tribute to the co-operation between France and Italy.

Spain (and a dealer in antiquities based in Barcelona) also appeared in details of "Operation Ghelas" that related to looting in Sicily, Lazio and Puglia.

Are these 50 pieces the tip of a continuing trade? And would they have surfaced with a history, "from an old Spanish collection"?

Happy Independence Day!

Just over one third of the readers of Looting Matters are based in the United States of America: can I take the opportunity to wish you a happy "Fourth of July"?

Here is a little bit of nostalgia, Kate Smith singing to Irving Berlin's composition from the Library of Congress Archives.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Iraq: "Chippindale's Law" and the Scale of Looting

Larry Rothfield has continued to post significant information through the day. In his latest posting, "Some Known Knowns and Known Unknowns about Extent of Site Looting", he discusses the work of Professor Elizabeth Stone in southern Iraq (published earlier this year).

I was very struck by this statement:
The [satellite] imagery she is working with reveals that the area destroyed by looters is roughly 50 times the size of the area dug by archaeologists, and this is only for southern Iraq.

Consider the numbers.

To put them into perspective, Gill and Chippindale suggested that some 85% of the archaeological record of the Early Bronze Age Cyclades had been destroyed through the search for marble Cycladic figures. And we thought that this was catastrophic.

But "Chippindale's Law" kicks in ...

If Stone is right, we may need to think in terms of 98% of the archaeological record of southern Iraq being lost for ever. Now this is a pessimistic figure (and I sincerely hope it is), and it does not take into account unknown and unexcavated (and unlooted) archaeological sites. But if we factor in future excavations in the same area, are we looking at 80% or 70% of the archaeological record being lost? This is a major cultural disaster.

And that is why the reporting by The Art Newspaper could be considered lacking in balance.

New Response to James Cuno

There is a new review of James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? by Peter Stone, professor of heritage studies at Newcastle University ("Clinging on to their marbles", THE July 3, 2008). Stone disagrees with Cuno over cultural objects relating to indigenous groups in the US, and addresses the issue over historic items such as the Rosetta stone ("What many, if not most, archaeologists would lament is the loss of additional information that may well have been provided had the stone been excavated carefully from its archaeological context.").

Stone agrees with Cuno over the distribution of objects around the world "to better ensure their preservation, broaden our knowledge of them, and increase the world's access to them" (Cuno). But Stone asks how this distribution is to be made.

He then alludes to what I presume is the example of the Harvard acquisition of pottery fragments. (I presume Stone means 1995 when he gives the date of 1998.) Stone continues:
That a museum director could have been oblivious to the issue [sc. the 1970 Unesco Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property] in 1998 [sic.?] is staggering, almost unbelievable.
Stone presents a solution to the lack of progress:
Yes, let's have museums around the world with examples of material from around the world, but let's achieve it through dialogue and agreement and not through the continuation of a system that is so obviously flawed.

The returns to Italy and the need for the AAMD to produce new guidelines on acquisitions and short-term loans have confirmed the faults in the present system.

Stone ends with some strong words about Cuno's approach. Directors of encyclopaedic art museums "are badly served by this book that entrenches their position". But the punch is in the closing paragraph:
I assume that many will hope and some I know will pray that this book represents the last death throes of a failed traditional world-view: the dominance of the many by the (very) few; the dominance of a Western scientific tradition over all others; the dominance of a closed view clinging, perhaps subconsciously, to what can only be described as colonial oppression. Perhaps if a dinosaur could have written a book arguing against its extinction, it would have read like this.

Cuno appears to be failing in his bid to win over his critics.

Looting in Southern Iraq

Safecorner has posted a video of the slides from a lecture (April 2008), "Protection and Documentation: The Archaeological Sites in Southern Iraq", by Dr Abdulamir Hamdani, Director of Antiquities, Nasiriya Province, Southern Iraq. This puts a different perspective on the situation as presented by The Art Newspaper earlier this week.

Iraqi Cultural Heritage: "to protect and preserve"

The invasion of Iraq has had its consequences: humanitarian, social, political, and economic. (A flavour of the situation can be gained from the excellent Revolution Day: the Human Story of the Battle for Iraq [2004] by the former BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar.)

Looting Matters has tried to confine itself to issues of cultural property and archaeological ethics. Over Iraq I would endorse the British Museum's official statement (read again today), that there is,
a pressing need for action to protect and preserve the Iraqi cultural heritage.
The statement continues:
The problem is multi-faceted. It is not just about the looting of the major museums, particularly Baghdad and Mosul, but the destruction of libraries and archives, the damage to historic buildings, the extensive looting of archaeological sites, the illicit trade in antiquities, and now the undermining of the higher education system.
A recent report in The Art Newspaper has stirred up a hornets' nest. It is has been pointed out that the 8 sites discussed in AN are not representative of the whole of southern Iraq let alone the whole country. Larry Rothfield has now expanded ("Sites in Iraq Not Looted? Get Real!") on his earlier comments ("No Recent Looting on 8 Sites in southern Iraq: What does it show us? Not what the Art Newspaper thinks it does") about the evidence for looting in Iraq.

If we care about our universal cultural heritage ("cosmopolitanism" so beloved by some cultural property commentators) then it is worth giving some time to reflect on the state of damage to archaeological sites in Iraq. Culture matters.

Image © David Gill.

Looting in Britain

A railway guard from Kent has been a three-year conditional discharge for looting at some 20 known archaeological sites in England ("Guard Raids Roman Sites", The Gloucestershire Echo, June 28, 2008; see also "Man Accused of Illegal Digs at Historic sites", The Guardian June 11, 2008). These included:
  • Richborough, Kent
  • Reculver, Kent
  • Chilham, Kent
  • Chanctonbury, West Sussex
  • Spoonley Wood, Gloucestershire (where he removed part of a mosaic)
Sadly it is a good reminder that the destruction of archaeological sites is taking place close to home.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Looting in Iraq: Getting the Facts Straight

Yesterday Martin Bailey reported in the The Art Newspaper, "Archaeological sites in south Iraq have not been looted, say experts" (July 1, 2008).
An international team of archaeologists which made an unpublicised visit to southern Iraq last month found no evidence of recent looting—contrary to long-expressed claims about sustained illegal digging at major sites.
Larry Rothfield has now responded on Safe Corner ("No Recent Looting on 8 Sites in Southern Iraq: What does it show us? Not what the Art Newspaper thinks it does"; [mirror]). He points out that the archaeological team visited 8 out of some 10,000 registered sites (and there will be other unknown sites). Rothfield also includes comments from Donny George about why these 8 sites had not shown signs of looting.

These 8 locations do not form a representative selection of archaeological sites in Iraq.

Professor Elizabeth Stone, who was part of the visiting team, has been using satellite imaging to study the impact of looting elsewhere in Iraq. The findings were published in Antiquity earlier this year (Professor Elizabeth C. Stone, "Patterns of looting in southern Iraq", Antiquity, Vol. 82, No. 315, 2008, 125–38).

Rothfield rightly urges caution when it comes to announcing that the looting of archaeological sites is fiction. This has not stopped some cultural property observers starting to talk about "misinformation" that has been used to enforce restrictions on the import of antiquities. Indeed they overlooked the quote from Dr John Curtis of the British Museum:
It may not be typical of the country as a whole, and the situation could well be worse further north. [Emphasis mine]
Perhaps Martin Bailey and The Art Newspaper need to adopt a more responsible approach to reporting antiquities. A follow-up article is needed.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Coptic Art

The Art Newspaper (July 1, 2008) has carried a story by Martin Bailey that "A third of the Coptic sculptures at the Brooklyn Museum of Art are modern fakes". The identifications had been made by Dr Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

And the problem does not stop at Brooklyn:
Brooklyn curator Dr Edna Russmann, who is concluding a study of the works, warns that other museums which acquired Coptic sculptures in the past 50 years are likely to face similar problems.
Apparently the pieces were acquired in the 1960s and 1970s due to desire by museums to augment their collections.
The fakes were mainly bought in the 1960s and 70s, and can be traced back to major antiquities dealers in New York and in Switzerland, to where they were shipped from Egypt. Dr Russmann believes that the dismissal of these works will encourage scholars to “re-evaluate Coptic art”.

What is striking about the fakes is that they place a greater emphasis on Christian iconography than the authentic works. This reflects market demand for such imagery in Europe and North America.
The report stresses the importance of archaeological context for finds, a point that has been made repeatedly in work presented by Gill and Chippindale.

How do we know if it is genuine? Frequently because of its find-spot. The report notes:
The number of surviving authentic sculptures is probably around 1,000. Examples from early excavations (such as those at the British Museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum, which has the largest US collection) are authentic. Later finds need to be treated with caution.
Vikan identifies the production centre for these modern creations as well as other museums affected by his findings.
Dr Vikan explained that the fakes appeared to have originated from the village of Sheikh ‘Ibada (ancient Antinoöpolis), south of Cairo. He believes that “hundreds” were later acquired by museums in North America (including Princeton University Art Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC) and Europe, particularly in Germany (including Berlin State Museums and the Icon Museum in Recklinghausen).
The Art Newspaper makes the point, "The acceptance of fakes has distorted our concept of Coptic art." This is exactly the issue that Gill and Chippindale have emphasised over the years. Collecting recently-surfaced antiquities (ancient or of modern creation) has intellectual consequences for the study of the ancient world.

Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...