Friday 26 September 2008

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:
  1. A marble statue of Terpsichore (inv. 2002.31.1).
  2. A Rhodian pithos (inv. 2004.2.1).
  3. A Late Minoan III larnax (inv. 2002.34.1).
What are their histories? Where were they acquired? Do they have recorded find-spots? Did any pass through a named collection? I emailed the press office at Emory University for this information but have had no reply.

Two of the pieces featured in Catherine Fox, "New digs for ancient treasures; revamped Greek and Roman galleries at Carlos Museum to hold expanded collection of antiquities", The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 19, 2004. Among the "star acquisitions" is listed:
Pithos. 600 B.C. The terra-cotta storage jar, decorated with rows of spirals, is one of only two on display in the United States.
Images include:
The Muse (Terpsichore), which bears some of its original paint, is an excellent example of Hellenistic Greek sculpture.

I also note that this newspaper report was illustrated with a further image:
This bronze Greek calyx krater from the fourth century B.C. is one of the pieces on loan from the White-Levy collection.
The calyx-krater featured on the cover of the 2005 Michael C. Carlos exhibition catalogue (authored by Jennifer Chi [then curator of the Shelby White / Leon Levy collection] and Jasper Gaunt [curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum]), Greek Bronze Vessels from the Collection of Shelby White & Leon Levy. This is the krater that has just been returned to Greece.

The Atlanta report concluded with this comment:

The curator, who makes it a practice to cultivate collectors and dealers, says he's already working on future gifts. Given his energy and the collection's momentum, it's a good bet that the museum's star will continue to rise.

How is the museum going to respond to the Greek authorities if the issue was first raised some 15 months ago? Did the museum staff hope that the issue would evaporate?

It appears that the Greek authorities have been very patient and restrained in their negotiations.
Yet the opening of the "Nostoi" exhibition in Athens this week shows the resolve of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture to address the issue of looted antiquities.

What will be the next move? Perhaps a statement about the previous histories of the three pieces would help.

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