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Showing posts from September, 2008

CPAC: New Appointment

While most of us have been following the "credit crunch" and yesterday's surprise vote in Washington (what the BBC has termed a "bail-out failure"), the White House announced a new member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC): Brent R. Benjamin, Director of the St Louis Art Museum (press release, September 29, 2008).

Peter Tompa has commented on the appointment and has noted:
Mr. Benjamin should be well acquainted with cultural property issues due to an ongoing dispute with Dr. Zahi Hawass, the publicity seeking Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, over a funerary mask of a nineteenth dynasty noblewoman named Ka Nefer Nefer.I disagree with Tompa. Benjamin does not appear to understand the "due diligence" process when it comes to this particular mask (see my earlier comments). Was this mask removed from the store at Saqqara? What is the certified documentation to show that the object had been in the hands of vario…

The Robin Symes Collection at Auction

The Bonham's sale of antiquities on October 15, 2008 will include an Apulian volute-krater from the Robin Symes collection (lot 180). No other history has been provided.

Several antiquities associated with Robin Symes have been returned to Greece and Italy in recent years. So what is the previous history of this krater? Who is the present owner?

Museum Thefts in Egypt: Antiquities for the Market

One of the key issues that has to be addressed is the deliberate destruction of archaeological sites to provide objects for the market. But another source is to steal items directly from museums and archaeological stores. In 2005 Jill Kamil ("Changing hands", Al-Ahram, 13-19 January 2005) drew attention to a series of thefts. These include:

From museums:
"619 Pharaonic artefacts, stolen from the Egyptian Museum in 2000 and smuggled to London via Switzerland""15 antiquities which had disappeared from the stores at the College of Fine Arts and the Maadi Museum, were up for auction in United Kingdom.""In 1995, thieves burrowed through the wall of a storeroom used to house artefacts at the Temple of Montu in Karnak, and looted some 55 scarabs and statues."
From sites:
granite reliefs from the temple of Isis, Beihbet Al-Hegara. Surfaced at Christie's, New York 2002 and 2004.

Kamil makes the point:
Auction houses do not intentionally handle smuggled …

The Graham Geddes Collection at Auction

As we look forward to the sale of the Graham Geddes collection at Bonhams in London this October, I though that it would be useful to review some of the recent sales of items from this Australian collection. The examples listed here were auctioned at Christie's.

New York, Rockefeller Plaza: 9 December 2005, lot 238. AN ATTIC RED-FIGURED CALYX-KRATER THE L.C. GROUP. Pre-Lot Text: ANCIENT VASES FROM THE COLLECTION OF WILLIAM SUDDABY. Provenance: with Graham Geddes, Australia, circa 1970s.

New York, Park Avenue: 18 December 1997, lot 127. AN APULIAN RED-FIGURE BELL-KRATER ATTRIBUTED TO THE TRURO PAINTER. Pre-Lot Text: Property of a Melbourne Private Collector. Provenance: Antiquities, Sotheby's London, 10-11 December 1984, lot 364; Melbourne, Graham Geddes Collection; Antiquities, Sotheby's London, 10 December 1996, lot 187. Literature: Trendall and Cambitoglou, Second Supplement to the Red-Figured Vases of Apulia, part I, no26a. Exhibited: The Borchardt…

The Geddes Collection at Bonham's: Publicity

John Boardman has written in the Bonhams Magazine (Autumn 2008), "Urning Respect" (pp. 40-43) [online], in support of the sale of the South Italian pottery from the Graham Geddes collection. Boardman notes the friendship between Dale Trendall and Graham Geddes. He comments that "most [of the South Italian pottery] has been found in tombs, and it is suspected that this was their intended fate". While it is likely that most of these near complete pots have come from tombs, very few have in fact been excavated in a scientific manner; Ricardo Elia has estimated that some 94.5% of all Apulian pots have been deprived of their archaeological context. (Consider the profile of South Italian pottery --- Apulian, Paestan, Lucanian --- in the "Nostoi" exhibitions.) So in one sense "suspect" or guess is all that we can do when it comes to this category of material because so much has been looted. There are over 50 lots (out of 180 [though some have now been …

Context Matters for Art Crime

I will be preparing a new column, "Context Matters", for the Journal of Art Crime. This will be published by ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art). Ideas for stories and themes can be left via my work website.
The Journal of Art Crime, published by ARCA, is the first peer-reviewed academic journal in the study of art crime. This biennial publication welcomes interdisciplinary articles from both academics and professionals, related to art crime, its history, and its repercussions. Relevant fields include criminology, law, art history, history, sociology, policing, security, archaeology, and conservation.
Details about submissions and subscriptions can be found on the journal's website.

From Atlanta to Athens: The Start of the Trail

The recent public announcement that the Hellenic Ministry of Culture has requested the return of three antiquities from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University can be traced back to June 2007: Nikolas Zirganos, "Ποιο είναι το CARLOS MUSEUM", June 3, 2007.

Details of the request were carried in Ta Nea (September 4, 2008) alongside a discussion of the returns from the Shelby White collection. The items at Emory were reported to be:

● Ένα φυσικού μεγέθους μαρμάρινο άγαλμα της Τερψιχόρης (4ος-2ος π.Χ.)
που φυλασσόταν σε στάνη στα Γιάννινα προτού φύγει στο εξωτερικό- αξίας τουλάχιστον 10 εκατ. δολαρίων.

● Έναν μνημειακού μεγέθους πίθο πιθανόν από τη Ρόδο (650-600 π.Χ.).

● Μία ακέραια μινωική πήλινη λάρνακα (14ος αιώνα π.Χ.) με πλούσια γραπτή διακόσμηση (κυρίως θαλάσσια όντα) από την Κρήτη.
These appear to be:
A marble statue of Terpsichore (inv. 2002.31.1).A Rhodian pithos (inv. 2004.2.1).A Late Minoan III larnax (inv. 2002.34.1).What are their histories? W…

"Nostoi" Exhibition Opens in the New Akropolis Museum

The text of the speech by Mihalis Liapis, the Hellenic Minister of Culture has been released (press release). It reflected on the nature of "Homecomings" and the "Odyssey" for the many pieces since they had been removed from their archaeological contexts.

There was even criticism for those who argue against the return of antiquities in what is perceived as a globalised or cosmopolitan world.

Liapis highlighted the cultural co-operation between Greece and Italy. He talked about the common concern that history is being transformed into marketable items (το κοινό βίωμα της μετατροπής της ιστορίας μας σε εμπόρευμα). Pride of place was given to the symbolic return of the Parthenon frieze fragment from Palermo; Liapis looked forward to the major homecoming of the other Parthenon sculptures.

From Atlanta to Athens: Press Statement

While in Greece I was able to follow up the news story about the request by the Greek Government for the return of three pieces from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University. I will be commenting on the detail shortly but I received this press statement from Priyanka Sinha at Emory University who confirmed that there are on-going negotiations.
The Michael C. Carlos Museum's mission is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret art and artifacts from antiquity to the present in order to provide unique opportunities for education and enrichment in the community and to promote interdisciplinary teaching and research at Emory University. The permanent collection of a museum is the core of its identity; it provides the foundation for its research, exhibitions, and educational outreach. The Carlos Museum strengthens its ability to serve its audiences by making acquisitions of art and artifacts for its permanent collection through gift, bequests, or purchases.

Many factors cont…

"Homecoming" for Part of the Parthenon Frieze

A fragment of the Parthenon frieze has been returned to Greece (Επιστρέφει στην Ελλάδα θραύσμα του γλυπτού διάκοσμου του Παρθενώνα από το Παλέρμο, September 23, 2008). The sculpture forms part of the foot of Artemis from the East Frieze (Slab VI). The piece has been on display in the Museo Archeologico Regionale "Antonino Salinas". Its return reflects the growing cultural links between Italy and Greece.

The Parthenon fragment forms part of the exhibition, "Nostoi", in the New Acropolis Museum which opened yesterday (September 24, 2008). Mihalis Liapis, the Hellenic Minister of Culture spoke at the press launch. Unlike many of the other returned antiquities that have been acquired by museums and private collectors since 1970, the Parthenon fragment is a reminder that Greece considers it has a strong moral claim to cultural property removed from its soil even prior to the formation of the modern Greek state. Liapis considered the New Acropolis Museum to be one l…

From Cleveland to Rome: Update (of sorts)

It appears that a report that an agreement had been concluded between the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Cleveland Muserum of Art is premature (Steven Litt, "The Cleveland Museum of Art still has no deal with Italy on returning allegedly looted antiquities", September 10, 2008). An "accord" had also been announced in May this year.

The Italian Ministry of culture issued a brief statement earlier this week: "Nessuno accordo tra il Cleveland Museum of Art", September 9, 2008. It rejected the statement made by Francesco Rutelli and affirmed the continuing dialogue between the Italian government and this "important cultural institution"

Litt notes:

At issue is the fate of an unspecified number of antiquities that may have been illegally excavated and exported from Italy and purchased innocently by the museum. Italy has pressed such claims successfully against other American museums, including the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Mu…

From Budapest to Athens: More Antiquities Returning to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture announced yesterday (to coincide with the opening of the Athens photographic exhibition, "The Greeks in Hungary") that some 22 antiquities, presently on display in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, would be returning to Greece.

Mihalis Liapis talked about the "contest" for the return of antiquities ("αγώνας για την επιστροφή αρχαιοτήτων") which he considers to be the "rescue of world cultural heritage". He considers this issue to be the lead item on the agenda for the Ministry of Culture.

Pharaonic Eye Turns on Switzerland

There are several reports that the "eye" (c. 50 cm in length) from a statue of Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BCE) will be returned to Egypt in the next four weeks ("Switzerland to return stolen Pharaoh's 'eye'", AFP, September 10, 2008; "Egitto recupera occhio Amenhotep da Svizzera", ANSA, September 10, 2008). According to ANSA, negotiations have been ongoing since 2006 (see "Egyptology News" from February 2006).

The statue was discovered at Amenhotep's mortuary temple near Luxor in 1970 (or 1969, according to ANSA); the eye was subsequently stolen in 1972. It then passed into the hands of "an American antiquities dealer" (who?) and then passed through Sotheby's (where? when?).

It then passed into the hands of a "German antiquities dealer" (who?) and was then, according to AFP, sold to a "museum in Basel, Switzerland" - identified as the Antikenmuseum by the ANSA report. A parallel report by ANSA sugges…

From North America to Athens: Further Returns Expected?

A contact has pointed me to a news story in today's Ta Nea (ΕΠΑΝΑΠΑΤΡΙΣΜΟΣ ΚΛΕΜΜΕΝΩΝ ΑΡΧΑΙΟΤΗΤΩΝ ΑΠΟ ΤΙΣ ΗΠΑ) (September 4, 2008). The article discusses the return of the two antiquities from the Shelby White collection. The calyx-krater, according to this report, was "stolen" from a "royal tomb" and was from the same workshop as the calyx-krater recovered from a tomb at Sevasti, Pieria (ο σπάνιος χάλκινος κρατήρας της συλλογής Γουάιτ είχε κλαπεί από βασιλικό τάφο και προερχόταν από το ίδιο εργαστήριο με αντίστοιχο που έχει βρεθεί σε τάφο του 4ου αι. π.Χ. στη Σεβαστή Πιερίας.).

However the report appears to be confused over one issue. It suggests that the (Former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia (FYRM)---the Skopje Government---was also trying to recover this calyx-krater. My understanding is that the officials of FYRM are seeking the return of the archaic "Koreschnica krater" from a North American private collection identified by Pasko Kuzman, direc…

Athens: Two Antiquities from the Shelby White Collection on Display

Mihalis Liapis, the Hellenic Minister of Culture, has spoken about the two antiquities returned to Greece by Shelby White (press release). The ceremony held at the National Museum, Athens today revealed the two pieces; they will be on temporary display in the museum. These are confirmed as the stele fragment (Glories of the Past no. 97) and the bronze calyx-krater (though no mention is made of the catalogue, Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White & Leon Levy no. 9).

Liapis spoke about the "trauma" of looting in Greece. He called for co-operation between governments, museums and collectors so that the full educational benefits of archaeological finds could be appreciated. He described the returned items, the upper part of a funerary stele from Attica and a bronze calyx-krater from Pieria in northern Greece. Liapis spoke about the continued fight against looters through the development of a new directorate to deal with the protection of cultural objects. H…

Sotheby's (London) and the Returns to Italy

Common threads are beginning to emerge from a study of the recent returns to Italy. It is possible to start building up a picture, even though some of the institutions (and the single private collector) have yet to issue detailed information (see earlier comments).

At least seven of the pieces appear to have "surfaced" at a Sotheby's auction in London. These were clearly purchased in "good faith".
New York, MMA 1985.11.5. Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Berlin painter. S (L) 1982 December 13-14, lot 220.Boston, MFA 1998.588. Lucanian nestoris. S (L) 1982 December 13-14, lot 298.Boston, MFA 1988.431. Apulian loutrophoros, attributed to the White Sakkos painter. S (L) 1984 December 10, lot 366.New York, Jerome Eisenberg. 1992. Attic black-figured neck-amphora, attributed to the Leagros gorup. S (L) 1985 July 17-18, lot 257 (it then passed through Galerie Günter Puhze in Freiburg; reported to have been acquired by Royal-Athena Galleries in 1992).New Y…