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Showing posts from August, 2008

Robin Symes: Reflecting on Recent Returns

A picture is beginning to emerge from a study of the return of antiquities to Italy (and Greece). The view is not yet complete as full details about the dealers lying behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Princeton, and Shelby White returns have yet to be released.

One of the more prominent dealers to feature among the returns was Robin Symes. Pieces that are said to have passed through his hands are:
at least four of the original items returned to Italy by the Getty (one formerly in the Fleischman collection);material from the Maurice Tempelsman collection returned from the Getty;three pieces in the additional list returned to Italy from the Getty (the acrolithic Aphrodite; two items formerly in the Fleischman collection);
the marble kore that that was returned to Greece from the Getty; the ex-Tempelsman pieces apparently from Sicily in the University of Virginia Art Museum in least two of the pieces returned to Italy by Shelby White (though one of them had previous…

Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Antiquity

It is easy to be disturbed by the destruction of archaeological sites to supply antiquities. But what are the intellectual consequences as the pieces enter the corpus of knowledge?

Here are some of the topics covered so far:
Cypriot antiquitiesBiblical archaeology
Cycladic figures
The Getty kourosArchaic Greek bronzeClassical funerary steleCorinthian potteryThe Sarpedon krater (Euphronios)
The distribution of Attic pottery in ItalyCommercial graffiti on Greek potteryClassical coinsGreek cavalry armour
The Risley Park lanxCoptic sculptureImage
One of the pieces returned to Italy: an Attic red-figured column-krater showing Dionysos, attributed to the Geras painter.

The Getty Kouros: "The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance"

In the wake of the 1992 Athens conference to discuss the Getty kouros (85.AA.40), one of the delegates, a "distinguished" American museum curator, was quoted ("Greek sculpture; the age-old question", The Economist June 20, 1992):
The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance.
The recent discussions about the return of antiquities from North American museums to Italy and Greece may seem far removed from the acquisition of what appears to be a forged archaic Greek sculpture in the 1980s. However, there are some surprising overlaps.

The statue arrived at the Getty on September 18, 1983 in seven pieces. True (1993: 11) subsequently asked two questions:
Where was it found? As it was said to have been in a Swiss private collection for fifty years, why had it never been reassembled, though it was virtually complete?
A similar statue surfacing in the 1930s
A decision was taken to acquire the kouros in 1985. The official Getty line at the time (and reported in Russell…

Shelby White and Greece: Antiquities in Athens

There were reports in the Greek press yesterday (August 26, 2008) that the two items from the Shelby White collection were now in the National Museum in Athens. (As I write there is no press statement on the Hellenic Ministry of Culture website.) The items are confirmed as:
a bronze calyx-krater said to be from Pieriaa fragmentary funerary stele from eastern AtticaThe krater is described as being 70 cms high, with a silver wreath on the walls, and maenads under the handles. It looks as if this is the calyx-krater that featured in Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White & Leon Levy (2005), 24-25, no 9 [further details]; indeed one of the maenads graces the cover. The newspaper report suggests that it came from a "royal tomb" (βασιλικό τάφο).

The funerary stele carries the personal names of Menon and Kleobolos. The link between the Shelby White fragment and the lower part excavated near Porto Rafti was made by George Despinis.

There is no further comment abo…

Archaeological remains "ripped from their context"

David Welsh, "a tireless defender of ancient coin collecting", has recently commented on looted antiquities (BritArch, August 18, 2008; see also Paul Barford's "Ethical Dealing" [August 24 2008]).
Artifacts that have been "ripped from their context" are of no further use to archaeology, according to what I have seen on this list. They might as well be in the hands of collectors who will study them as artifacts, as any other place.I was interested in the phrase "ripped from their context" and find it comes in The Medici Conspiracy (2006) in a discussion of looted Roman frescoes.
The frescoes ... had been rudely and crudely ripped from their context and sold off to people ("collectors") who might profess to care about archaeological objects but obviously had no interest in the original and proper context.(Three chunks of the wall-painting indeed passed into separate North American private collections; two have now been returned to Ital…

Cyprus and Private Collections

Martin Fehlmann of the Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus has drawn attention (via one of my earlier postings) to the problem of find-spots (or lack thereof) in private collections in the Republic of Cyprus. He suggests that antiquities looted from archaeological sites no longer surface on the market but "seem to find a quick way to collectors on the island".

Fehlmann cites three collections:
Severis Giabra PieridesZintilisHe notes that the objects in the three collections largely lack information about their find-spots ("provenance" - a term I am trying to discourage):
98.4% of the objects in the Severis-Coll., 98.6% in the Giabra-Pierides and 37.7% in the Zintilis-Coll. have no provenance or previous owner at all.
Compare this with the 92% in one North American private collection of antiquities studied by David Gill and Christopher Chippindale.

What are these three collections?

1. Leto Lymbouridou-Severis of Nicosia. The collection is said to number ar…

Orphans and the Berlin painter

Among the antiquities returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York to Italy was an Attic red-figured amphora attributed to the Berlin painter (inv. 1985.11.5) (see earlier posting). The amphora, showing a man playing a kithara, surfaced at Sotheby's (London) 13-14 December 1982, lot 220. (Two further pots attributed to the Berlin painter have been returned to Italy. A calyx-krater was returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum: inv. 77.AE.5, with other fragments given or purchased in 1982, 1984 and 1987. A hydria was returned from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: inv. 1978.45).

I had overlooked one significant detail about the New York pot. The amphora was published by Dietrich von Bothmer, "Greek and Roman Art", Recent Acquisitions (Metropolitan Museum of Art), (1985 - 1986), p. 9 [JSTOR]. It was purchased by the Rogers Fund, the Classical Purchase Fund, and The Vincent Astor Foundation Gift. The published photographs show that the amphora had at some point been b…

Cyprus Discussion: Etiquette?

Earlier today Marc Fehlmann of the Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta in Northern Cyprus made comments about my posting on looting on Cyprus. He had used the methodology that I had developed with Dr Christopher Chippindale (Cambridge) to study private collections of Cypriot antiquities. Some 98% of the pieces in some of the collections had no recorded find-spots.

Now I find that David Welsh, an officer of the ACCG, has posted (or should that be pasted?) Fehlman's comments (under the title "Hypocrisy") to the Museum Security Network and to the UNIDROIT list (which Welsh founded). While Welsh mentions Fehlman's name in the header, there is no mention that this posting was made to Looting Matters. (There is an attempt to give a link - that is broken - but not to the original posting with comments.)

Only last week Welsh was awarded the Exceptionally Meritorious Service Award by the ACCG. The citation stated:
As founder and moderator of the Unidroit-L discussion li…

James Cuno on wbur

James Cuno was interviewed for the "Here & Now" show on (Wednesday, August 20, 2008). The main themes were:
UNESCO promoting the return of objectsthe Euphronios krater
encylopedic museums that present ‘multiple narratives of our human ancestors’
the politicisation of antiquitiesCuno noted that the Euphronios krater was made in Greece (or more precisely Athens) and transported to Etruria (in Italy) hinting that the movement of objects happened in the ancient world. However he failed to address (or more precisely the interviewer did not ask the question) the issue of objects being looted from archaeological sites and then sold to North American museums.

The closing question asked about the replacement for Philippe de Montebello. "I remain committed to the Art Institute of Chicago".

"Elvis" and the Graham Geddes Collection

The news that the Roman "Elvis" sarcophagus fragment was to be sold at Bonhams in London this coming October has generated quite a bit of publicity. But who is the present proprietor?

The press release quotes Chantelle Waddingham (Rountree), Head of Antiquities at Bonhams, who describes Graham Geddes as an Australian "collector and dealer".

A profile of Geddes appeared in 1996 (Zinta Jurjans Heard, "Making history", The Age [Melbourne] April 15, 1996). At that time he was described as having "the largest private antiquities collection in the world". Heard expanded, "he is one of the world's premier antique dealers and one of the world's leading authorities on antiquities, the passion of his life". His main "speciality" was described as "Southern Italian and Greek vases and Greek and Roman sculptures".

His antiquities collection contained "reputedly the largest collection of Southern Italian vases in the w…

Cyprus: Further Looting

Is it a "coincidence" that as the officers of the ACCG (Wayne Sayles, Executive Director, August 6, 2008; Peter Tompa, President, August 9; August 16, 2008; see also David Welsh, member of the ACCG Board, and Chairman of the International Affairs Committee, July 11, August 10, August 20, 2008; and see earlier reactions) launch what appear to be co-ordinated attacks on those connected with the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) and archaeologists commenting on the ethics of collecting, there are reports of looting in the Kourris Valley near Limassol? (See Anna Hassapi, "Tomb raiders plundering Kourris Valley antiquities", Cyprus Mail August 19, 2008).

Dr Pavlos Flourentzos, the Director of the Antiquities Department, is quoted:
The illegal antiquities trade is a problem in Cyprus, even in the non-occupied part ... However, there are antiquities buried in the ground almost everywhere in Cyprus. Therefore, tomb raiding and illegal antiquities trad…

Respect for Colleagues

The ACCG seems to have been emboldened in its battle against what it terms (incorrectly) as "the radical archaeologists" (see postings by Nathan Elkins and Paul Barford). But officers of the ACCG are crossing lines in their personal attacks on colleagues, e.g. Wayne Sayles (Executive Director of ACCG) described two of his opponents in less than flattering terms (see response by Paul Barford).

Now Peter Tompa (President of ACCG) has attacked Professor Patty Gerstenblith of De Paul University. Gerstenblith is an authority on issues surrounding looting antiquities.
Director of De Paul's College of Law’s Program in Cultural Heritage LawFounding president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation
Senior advisor to the International Arts and Cultural Property Committee of the ABA Section on International LawEditor-in-chief of the International Journal of Cultural Property (1995-2002)Member of the United States Cultural Property Advisory Committee (2000-2003) in…

The American Association of Museums: New Standards for Collecting Archaeological Material

The American Association of Museums (AAM) announced last week (August 13, 2008) that it had established "New Standards on Collecting of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art" (Press Release; document). The AAM advocates the use of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

There is also a section on "Existing Collections" (section 3):
In order to advance further research, public trust, and accountability museums should make available the known ownership history of archaeological material and ancient art in their collections, and make serious efforts to allocate time and funding to conduct research on objects where provenance is incomplete or uncertain. Museums may continue to respect requests for anonymity by donors.
Like the AAMD's Guidelines the issue of long-term loans is not discussed.

It is apparent that despite the return of antiquities to Italy from sever…

Lobbying and Archaeological Material

Peter Tompa has commented on the use of Washington lobbyists by the Republic of Cyprus ("Clay Constantinou of Patton Boggs-- CAARI's Chief Lobbyist?"). Is it unreasonable or unusual for countries to retain the services of such companies?

For Tompa there is something more sinister:
High powered lobbying all to beat up on the small businesses of the numismatic trade and collectors who just want to help preserve, study and display coins of Cypriot type (like their fellow collectors in Cyprus itself) does little to advance Cyprus' greater interests in ensuring a just reunification of the Island. If anything, it just "turns off" a segment of the US population with a real interest in Cyprus and its glorious past to anything at all to do with the modern nation state and its government. I am sure that that the lobbyists retained by the Republic of Cyprus have more to address than the question of archaeological remains.

As a result of Tompa's posting I though…

Iraq: John Curtis on Looted Sites

The British Museum survey of archaeological sites in southern Iraq during June 2008 has been widely discussed. Martin Bailey writing for The Art Newspaper misleadingly suggested that there was no evidence for looting. Although the eight sites surveyed were not necessarily representative of Iraq as a whole, some pro-collecting lobby groups latched onto the story (see earlier comments).

John Curtis has now written a summary of the survey: 'Iraq Now', British Museum Magazine 61 (Autumn 2008), 24-25. He discusses the problem of looting as well as damage from military activity. He concludes, 'it does not appear that there has been significant looting at any of the eight sites [in southern Iraq] since 2003'. But Curtis continues:
We were not able to visit sites further north that are known to have been badly looted following the coalition invasion, and the situation at these sites might well be much worse. Further assessments are urgently needed.

Archaeologists and Collectors

Are archaeologists "anti-collecting" per se? No.
Do I maintain an "anti-collecting" position? No.
Do I appreciate the cultural benefit of historic collections of antiquities? Yes.
Are archaeologists in favour of protecting the integrity of the archaeological record? Yes.
Should concerns be raised when collectors acquire recently surfaced antiquities?
... What do you think?

Interview with 'Il Bulldog': Expect Further Returns to Italy

Alastair Smart has published a detailed interview with Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian state prosecutor ("Maurizio Fiorilli: scourge of the tomb raiders", Sunday Telegraph August 10, 2008). Fiorilli reflects on the recent returns of antiquities from North American collections and their display in the two Nostoi exhibitions in Rome.

He makes a distinction between historic "cultural property" (such as the Parthenon marbles) and the more recent looting of archaeological sites.
"Since 1970, whole new rules of behaviour have been in force for art-purchasing internationally, and pieces illegally trafficked after that date must return to Italy not as a concession, but as a matter of course."
Fiorilli reminds us that false "histories" had been created for some of the objects so that they would appear to have been "known" prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Even more scandalous is the suggestion that complete pots were fragmented so that they coul…

Burns: "I wear this title of Philhellene rather proudly"

Some members of the coin-collecting community have been speaking out about the restrictions on archaeological material from Cyprus. Part of their lack of concern for cultural heritage has led to a FOIA request relating to the decision to restrict the import of archaeological material from Cyprus.

What are the real motives of the coin-collecting and coin-selling organisations behind this FOIA request?

Peter Tompa has now turned his attention to US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns (a former US Ambassador to Greece). Tompa asks the question:
Did then Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns order the controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type as a "thank you" to a coalition of Greek and Greek Cypriot lobbying groups called "the National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes" or "CEH" which had given him an award?
Burns has pleased to receive the award (quoted in States News Service, May 16, 2007):
I wear this …

Collecting Coins: "a fundamental aspect of ... citizenship"

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) has issued a press release, "Sale of Old Coins Irks Archaeologists" (August 6, 2008), through PR Newswire. Wayne Sayles, the executive director of ACCG, is quoted:
Some archaeologists are piqued that genuine ancient coins are being sold in a benefit auction to preserve collectors rights.The release notes:
In a recent post online, one archaeologist likened the private collecting of ancient coins to the slaughter of African elephants. I presume that this is a reference to Nathan Elkins, "Why coins matter: Trafficking in undocumented and illegally exported ancient coins in the North American marketplace", on SAFE. Elkins writes:
Although ancient coin collecting has a long historical precedent, not all practices accepted in humanity’s past are still considered ‘ethical’ today. For example, the ivory trade, which also had millennia of precedence, once flourished until the African elephant became increasingly endangered; only after l…

The Graham Geddes Collection at Bonhams

The website at Bonhams now carries a little more about the Geddes collection that is due to be auctioned this October. The sale will consist of just under 200 lots of antiquities with "over fifty individual Greek vases":
Apulian: including a volute-krater attributed to the "Geddes painter" (Trendall), presumably the piece once on loan to the Classical and Archaeology collection of the University of Melbourne (until July 1993); and a hydria attributed to the "painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl"
PaestanCampanianGnathianAttic: including a black-figured column-krater attributed to the "Swing painter". (An Attic column-krater, attributed to the "Swing painter" and showing a departing chariot, passed through Sotheby's (London) 13-14 July 1987, lot 440; is it the same one?)

"Owned by a Duke in Northern Ireland"

I having been working on a study of South Italian pottery. One of the pieces under consideration passed through the Athena Fund II auction of 1990 and into a named New York gallery in 1992. I was going through my notes and found that the same gallery had supplied a first century BCE marble head of a Greek goddess to a North American collection in the same year.

The head had apparently once been
owned by a duke in Northern Ireland who, as a condition of sale, insisted that he "be not in any way approached or contacted" by anyone wanting to know more about the piece.Before you ask, the piece had not been reported as stolen on the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) database.

Shelby White and Greece: is there an update?

The press release of July 11, 2008, announcing that Shelby White would be returning a bronze calyx-krater and a fragmentary marble funerary stele to Greece stated:
Both antiquities are very important, rare, and their repatriation will take place within July 2008.Although the impending return has been noted in the Greek press, there does not seem to be an announcement that the handover has actually taken place.

It is all so reminiscent of how the statements relating to the Icklingham bronzes and the returns to Italy were handled (and see the final list issued in March 2008).

Cuno: "an anguished manifesto"

Christian Tyler has reviewed James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? (2008) for the Financial Times (August 4, 2008). I presume it is aimed at those who have been buying antiquities as an investment and need a little reassurance in these days of the "credit crunch".

Tyler starts with this statement: "The provenance of antiquities has always been murky". Really? Always? So, according to Tyler, all the excavated objects from, say, Amarna, the Kerameikos cemetery at Athens, or Herculaneum have "murky" provenances. I start to wonder if Tyler understands the issues. (I have commented on the use of the term "provenance" elsewhere.)

The core of the review contains discussions of partage, the licit market and cosmopolitanism (though Tyler does not always use those terms); readers of Looting Matters are already aware of my views on these subjects.

What I find a little unbelievable is that Tyler's closing paragraph tells us:
"The author’s [sc. Cuno'…

Returns and Loans

In the aftermath of some of the returns to Italy (and remember that the Polaroids seized in Geneva show 1000s more items), some museum directors in North America have been calling for the creation of a "licit market"; for them "ownership" seems to be a key issue. (See also related observations from Paul Barford dealing with comments from some dealers.)

I prefer a move towards the loan of archaeological material along the lines of Maxwell L. Anderson's EUMILOP project back in the 1980s.

Loan material has of course started to move from Italy to North America. The February 2006 agreement over the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater allowed for :
... long-term future loans—of up to four years each, as Italian law allows—of works of art of equivalent beauty and importance to the objects being returned. The loans will be chosen from a list of objects submitted by the Metropolitan or by others, with joint approval.A Laconian cup from the Museo Nazionale, Cerveteri was placed on…

Iraq: The Destruction of Cultural Heritage

Eleanor Robson has reviewed Peter G. Stone and Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly (eds.), The Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2008) [WorldCat].

"... this book is an extraordinary achievement that will stand as the definitive account of the desperate, avoidable cultural tragedy of Iraq for many years to come."

Recovery of Italian Antiquities

Earlier this week the Italian Carabinieri announced the results of four successful operations. Some 33 antiquities were recovered; these had been either stolen from museums or looted from archaeological sites.

The four operations are:
"Operazione on line" was launched in mid-July and employs some 20 staff who monitor internet sites for looted material. A member of the team spotted an Apulian red-figured plate that had been stolen from the Museo Bardini in Florence in December 1976. The piece had been offered by a dealer, Antonina in Rome.Herm ofSilenus. This first century CE sculpture had been stolen from the Antiquarium at Santa Maria Capua Vetere in the late 1960s. It had apparently surfaced on the antiquities market in North America in 1987 when it was acquired by a now deceased private collector. The piece had been returned voluntarily by Sotheby's, New York in July 2007.Tivoli. A fourth century CE child's sarcophagus had been stolen from the store of the Tribunale…