Skip to main content

Another recently-surfaced Minoan larnax

Earlier this autumn (fall) I noted the acquisition of a Minoan larnax by the Michael C. Carlos Museum in 2002. So it was interesting to observe the acquisition of another Minoan larnax by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH): The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Annual Report (2006-2007) p. 83 [pdf].

The Houston larnax is listed as "Gift of Shelby White". The only other information provided is the date (1600–1100 B.C.), material ("Terracotta and paint"), and dimensions (17 5/8 x 40 1/8 [45 x 102]). No inventory number is provided and there is no picture. Even the precise date of acquisition is unclear (though it was within the period 2006-2007).

Was this originally a loan? See Patricia C. Johnson, "Borrowing trouble; Long-term loans don't let museums off the hook", Houston Chronicle July 16, 2006: "The 11th loaned piece is a Minoan terracotta "larnax'' (a kind of bathtub/sarcophagus) dated 1600-1000 B.C., on long-term loan from another private collection". (The report was in the context of 10 Roman portraits from the Shelby White collection including one of Hadrian.) Or was this loan yet another recently-surfaced larnax?

Shelby White seems to have close links with MFAH:

Shelby White has been linked to

Remember also that earlier research with Christopher Chippindale suggested that 93% of the antiquities in the Shelby White and Leon Levy had no information about the find-spot. To Shelby White such research was just the presentation of "meaningless numbers". But history has shown that our research was meaningful given the record of returns.

So what is the collecting history of the Houston larnax? When and where did Shelby White acquire it? Or did she just provide the means for MFAH to purchase it from a third party? What is the collecting history of the larnax? Was the larnax known prior to 1970? What rigorous "due diligence" research did the curatorial staff of MFAH undertake?

These are not unreasonable questions to ask - and curatorial staff in Houston have been asked by email.

Such information needs to be disclosed. The MFAH as a member institution of the AAMD and should provide "full and prompt disclosure" and make "information readily available to all interested parties".

So why the silence?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.