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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:
  1. Severis
  2. Giabra Pierides
  3. Zintilis
He 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 around 1900 pieces of which 257 featured in the catalogue: V. Karageorghis, Ancient Cypriote Art in the Severis Collection (Nicosia 1999) [WorldCat].

Jane A. Barlow reviewed the volume in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 321 (Feb., 2001) 95-96 [JSTOR]
"At the time that Mrs. Severis was forming her collection, the laws regulating the sale of unprovenanced antiquities were very different from what they are now. ... In the years between the early 1960s and the early part of the 1970s, when, according to the foreword, the bulk of the collection was made, the Department of Antiquities adopted a policy of "silent accord." This policy allowed Cypriot citizens to buy the spoils of looting so that the objects could remain in the country.

The volume was also reviewed by Danielle A. Parks in the American Journal of Archaeology 107, no. 1, (2003) 128.

Four jugs from the Severis collection ("from the collection of Mrs Lito Severis ... Lito Severis was an amateur archaeologist and a prolific writer of childrens' books") appear to be for sale on the BidAncient website (as observed by Paul Barford; BidAncient Ltd. is based in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England and is run by Eftis Paraskevaides):
  • jug. $590. Lable: LS N140. Stated to be from an English private collection: Christie's (King Street), October 25, 2007, lot 251.
  • olpe. $220. Stated to be from an English private collection: Christie's (King Street), October 25, 2007, lot 251.
  • olpe. $250. LS 2001. Stated to be from an English private collection: Christie's (King Street), October 25, 2007, lot 251.
  • olpe. $580. Label LS 1061. Stated to be from an English private collection: Christie's (King Street), October 25, 2007, lot 251.
There was a sale of antiquities at Christie's (King Street, London) on October 25, 2007 (sale no. 7521). According to the Christie's summaries there were three Cypriot lots:
  • Lot 251. This contained "another group of mainly red polished ware round-bottomed jugs". Objects in this lost are stated to be: "Formerly in a European private collection: sold Christie's London, 12 April 2000, lot 389".
Tracing the piece back to Christie's (South Kensington) 12 April 2000, lot 389 [sale 8724]. This lot contained "another group of mainly Red Polished Ware round-bottomed jugs, one with three deeply incised lines on the handle, another trefoil-lipped with central lip slit and incised cross on the handle". A substantial number of Cypriot antiquities were offered at this sale.

2. George and Nefeli Giabra Pierides. The objects are displayed in the Museum of the George and Nefeli Giabra Pierides Collection in Nicosia.

The George and Nefeli Giabra Pierides Collection covers a wide range of the history and archaeology of Cyprus, from the Early Bronze Age (2500 BC) to the end of the Mediaeval period (sixteenth century). This chronological succession of the objects has dictated the structuring of the Collection's presentation in the Museum. Designed to state-of-the-art specifications, its purpose is to highlight age-old Greek civilisation at the southernmost extremity of Europe. The whole Collection, numbering more than 600 items, is exhibited in the Museum. The objects which are not on display in the main show-cases have been collected together in a special case, accessible to researchers and the public.

As one of the most important private collections in Cyprus, it is considered unique in possessing superb examples of Mycenaean pottery in the Pictorial Style (fourteenth - thirteenth century BC). Amphora-shaped and bell-shaped krateres (mixing-bowls), prochoi (ewers), kylikes (cups) and phialai (bowls) are decorated with scenes of chariot-races, boxers and bull-fights, as well as of fishes or birds.

The collection is displayed within the context of the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation.
The Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation was established in 1984, a decade after the Turkish invasion and the ongoing occupation of the northern part of the island.

The Foundation was born out of the Bank’s growing concern to assist in the rescue of the island’s cultural heritage, which has been pillaged or stolen by the Turkish forces from the occupied areas, and to promote the Hellenic culture of Cyprus at a professional and scholarly level.

Thus, while the context of all projects undertaken by the Foundation is meant to be Cyprological, i.e. pertaining to Cyprus (art, history, literature, etc.), the philosophy and policy of the Foundation is to promote the Hellenic character of Cyprus, in as much as this is an island of the wider Hellenic world. This assessment does not by any means detract from the unique, historical development of Cyprus from antiquity to the present.

There is a catalogue of the collection: Vassos Karageorghis, Ancient Art from Cyprus in the collection of George and Nefeli Giabra Pierides (Athens: Kapon Editions, 2002). [WorldCat]

3. Thanos N. Zintilis. The collection is displayed in The Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens which lists Zintilis as one of its donors:
In 2002, the Cypriot collector Thanos N. Zintilis, with the consent of the Cypriot State, assigned a large portion of his collection to the MCA on long-term loan. More than 800 Cypriot objects gave the MCA the opportunity to set up the first comprehensive collection of Cypriot antiquities in Greece. The collection, which includes stone figurines, bronze weapons and tools, terracotta figurines, sculptures, glass vases, jewellery, and pottery of all periods, gives an overall picture of the ancient history of Cyprus and its relations with other regions in the Eastern Mediterranean, namely the Aegean, Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor.
There is a published catalogue: Stella M. Lubsen-Admiraal, Ancient Cypriote Art. The Thanos N. Zintilis Collection (Athens: Museum of Cycladic Art, 2004). [WorldCat]
The full catalogue of the Thanos N. Zintilis Collection of Cypriot Antiquities, authored by St. Lubsen Admiraal, for many years curator of the collection at the Allard Pierson Museum of Amsterdam, and edited by Maria Tolis, curator of the collection in the MCA. The catalogue includes approximately 780 entries with detailed descriptions, colour photos of all objects, introductory texts, a timeline and a map of Cyprus.

Lost Archaeological Contexts
If the 3300 or so objects in these three private collections do not have recorded contexts, the archaeological information has been lost. However the Republic of Cyprus has provided a mechanism for these objects to be retained on Cyprus (or to be displayed in Athens). The size of these collections remind us of the general damage to archaeological sites on Cyprus. Thus there is all the more reason to protect the finite archaeological resource by legislation - and that includes the memorandum of understanding with the USA.

Further comments
Finally, an Eftis has helpfully commented on this topic on UNIDROIT-L, picking up on the thread that had been circulated by David Welsh:
I know the status quo with antiquities very well with regard to Cyprus; I was born there and my father was a respectable collector on the island. Wherever you scratch the earth, Cyprus is full of antiquities from a diversity of periods, and it is no surprise that many pieces over the years have found themselves in private hands.

The situation was brought under control some 10 years ago by the government of Cyprus when they took the brave decision to declare a universal amnesty on the island (something which I wish the UK would also do): all citizens were invited to declare antiquities in their possession with Nicosia Museum. In return, the government promised that no confiscations would be made of any artefacts, but after that date it would be illegal to possess an unregistered Cypriot antiquity. This effectively would be the ideal opportunity to bring the black market in antiquities on the island to an end...I certainly availed myself of the opportunity and officially registered my collection on the island. As a legally registered owner I am entitled
to buy or sell to other similarly registered owners antiquities that are registered. No Cypriot antiquity can be exported out of Cyprus, other than for temporary exhibition abroad. I think this is very fair legislation. No reputable collector on the island would dream of dealing with illegally excavated material. However, such illegally excavated material is frequently taken out of Cyprus even today via the Turkish occupied north and sold in the North American and European black markets..a point of great concern to us all..
There needs to be a study of the material and intellectual consequences of collecting Cypriot antiquities.


Wayne G. Sayles said…

You wrote: "There needs to be a study of the material and intellectual consequences of collecting Cypriot antiquities."

I fully agree and would volunteer to undertake such a study.

(pause for effect)

Sorry, I couldn't resist the humor. We all know that the only person qualified to undertake such a study would be an archaeologist.

(pause for reflection)

MY, MY, what is the matter with me today? Am I going daft?

Seriously, you do make some good points about the nature of hypocrisy and the need for rational controls that promote preservation rather than encourage illicit traffic. As much as some Cypriots hate Britain, the Republic of Cyprus could nonetheless learn a thing or two from the Treasure Act and PAS.

Thanks for a moment of lucidity in the discussion.


David Gill said…
Dear Wayne

Thank you for your kind offer. I think we should see what Dr Fehlmann is doing with his research. But why do you think that I would consider you unqualified to undertake such a study? Decisions for publication in academic journals are (usually) made anonymously and are based on the quality of the research.

Britain has, of course, a long-standing interest in the archaeology of Cyprus.

Best wishes

Marc Fehlmann said…
Dear David

Thanks for picking up the track. I didn’t want to paint a black and white image and pretend that the situation in the North of Cyprus is under control. Far from it, as is all too well known. But it doesn’t help to always blame the Turks and Turkish Cypriots as in the claim that “illegally excavated material is frequently taken out of Cyprus even today via the Turkish occupied north and sold in the North American and European black markets” – a claim for which there is and can be no material evidence - even if we all accept this assumption. Such claims do not improve the situation, they simply are another example of the standard propaganda I encounter on an almost daily basis on both sides of the green line. Looting and smuggling occurred and continues to occur in the North as well as in the South of Cyprus (cf. Michael Jensen, War and Cultural Heritage, UP Minnesota 2005). We cannot properly quantify it. All we can do is to monitor archaeological zones and count “fresh holes” made by looters within specific periods.

On the other hand, we could try to improve the understanding among the recipient of loot. If we know who the buyers of looted objects are, we may target them with specific information and raise their awareness of the intellectual consequences resulting from the collection of looted material.

We may also ask where the so-called black markets are and who is buying there. One might also want to know who really has an interest in collecting archaeological material from Cyprus. This is the reason for still using the term provenance. Even if a solid provenance only rarely reveals information on a reputed find spot, it gives information on the previous history of an object before a contemporary transaction takes place. A provenance, therefore, can add just as important additional information to archaeological material as to an Impressionist painting, and it can prevent a potential buyer from buying looted objects.

But let me return to my initial remark. The results from our research on looting in Cyprus were presented to the Swiss UNESCO commission in 2007, because, at that time, the Swiss government were considering a bilateral agreement on the import, export and restitution of artifacts with the Republic of Cyprus (it already has such agreements in place with Italy, Greece and Peru). While such an agreement will be a wonderful political achievement and will certainly help the return of looted artifacts to their country of origin, Cyprus remains a special case as long as it remains divided. If one has such an agreement with the Republic of Cyprus, the looting will not disappear, probably on either side. One therefore has to see the whole picture and put things into perspective, and this is why we asked who might be the potential buyers of looted antiquities from Cyprus.

We should first note that the market for Cypriot material was internationally never very strong. Even aesthetically outstanding sculptures never reach the prices of Greek originals of the same period or quality. In addition, Cypriot material is usually rare with dealers and auction houses on both sides of the Atlantic (though Mycenaean artefacts are not - and they too might come from Cyprus), and, within the last 30 years, it reached the volume of Apulian and Etruscan material in auction (whose suppliers are known since Peter Watson’s and Cecilia Todeschini’s report) only twice with the notorious sales at Christie’s mentioned by David Gill. Furthermore, some IADAA members such as Charles Ede, Rupert Wace or Jean David Cahn do not have Cypriot objects on offer that have no provenance (ie. records of previous ownership). Based on the assumption that, also in the 1980s and 1990s, they only purchased in good faith and from reputable sources, we cannot qualify them as part of the “black market”.

We may also notice that non-IDAA dealers like Gorny and Mosch in Munich have hardly any Cypriot material any more (last auction 24.6.08: 11 objects out of 568) and that even Bonhams, which for some reason regularly makes it into the headlines here, usually only has a few Cypriot objects on offer (1.5.2008: 11 pieces out of 473 lots), though both auction houses may have plenty of other objects that have no collection and publication records prior to 1996 - or even 1970.

To give another example: in September 2006, in his auction, Jean David Cahn had ten Cypriot objects that came from the Desmond Morris collection, that were published in 1985 and that had been sold at Christie’s in 2001. Last year, he had four Cypro-archaic dishes coming from the collection of the late Prof. Ernst Berger, who had them prior to 1980. Even if the pieces offered by Cahn might have been looted prior to 1980, they are at least not fresh, ie. coming out of the ground within the last 10 years. To me, this is already an achievement and a step in the right direction. Still: Who then are the main buyers of Cypriot antiquities?

As I indicated in my first reply to David Gill’s blog, none of the publications of the established Severis, Giabra-Pierides and Zintilis collections list objects that were purchased at auction or from reputable international dealers (and I still believe that there are some left). With the exception of three items in the Giabra-Pierides collection and one in the Zintilis collection, none are linked to previous owners. The objects in these collections seem to have appeared “out of the blue” with the occasional remark on a “find spot”. I am sure that at the time when these collections were put together – and when the legislation was more liberal as Eftis has correctly pointed out – the owners of these collections did not act with any bad intention. New collectors, however, should know better. And I assume that there is now a new generation of collectors because of the massive new wealth that developed in the Republic of Cyprus since the 1980s with robust growth rates up until the early 2000s. Some talk proudly to newspapers (see the interview with “Achilleas” in Cyprus Mail, Sunday 28.01.2008), others are more discreet. Yet, as collecting is part of the social fabric of an educated and civilized society, we have to accept that there are market demands and collectors. We cannot eliminate them (nor should we wish for that), but we should generally raise awareness for the issues discussed in this blog. One fact, however, can’t be denied: new finds coming from clandestine digs in Cyprus no longer have to enter the international market and pass through auction houses in London or elsewhere. They have their market at home. Hence, a more relaxed legal approach such as that adopted in the United Kingdom might offer a solution, yet we must not be naïve. Looting will never stop; it can only be limited.

Marc Fehlmann
Department of Archaeology and Art History
Famagusta, Northern Cyprus
David Gill said…
Two points for clarification.

1. The quotation, "illegally excavated material is frequently taken out of Cyprus even today via the Turkish occupied north and sold in the North American and European black markets", was made by Eftis (and is quoted on the original posting with a link back to where it was made).

2. For "Achilleas" see my earlier posting.

Thank you for such a detailed response. Is your UNESCO paper available?

Best wishes

Ellen said…
I published a brief article on this topic a few years ago:

“Destroying the Past in Order to ‘Save’ It: Collecting Antiquities from Cyprus,” pp. 138-54 in N.A. Silberman and E.S. Frerichs, eds., Archaeology and Society in the 21st Century: The Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Case Studies, Israel Exploration Society and Dorot Foundation (Jerusalem 2001).

There is also a useful case study of looting in Cyprus in: David Frankel and Jennifer Webb, The Bronze Age Cemeteries at Deneia in Cyprus (Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, Paul Astroms Forlag: Savedalen 2008)

Ellen Herscher
Wayne G. Sayles said…
Dr. Herscher;

I would be most interested in reading your two papers. I did find them indexed on JSTOR, but alas JSTOR has not yet found a way (or a will) to accommodate independent scholars. What is one in want and need of scholarly studies to do if not affiliated with an academic institution?


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