Skip to main content

Further reflections on toxic antiquities

Earlier this year I wrote about the impact of "toxic antiquities". In other words antiquities that have surfaced on the market in an illicit manner and then lurk in a private collection or as part of a dealer's stock for some years before resurfacing. Take some recent examples:
The objects could have been purchased in "good faith" but it does not lessen the impact of the bad publicity if a government such as Egypt or Italy makes a claim.

We need to remember that there are well over 10,000 unidentified antiquities waiting for somebody to make the connection between a polaroid seized in a police raid in, say, Geneva or on, say, a Greek island, and the piece appearing in a sale or a museum catalogue.

So what can auction-houses do to protect their reputations? Why not avoid selling any ancient object that does not have a properly documented collecting history that can be traced back to the 1960s?

And what can museums and private collectors do to avoid the sort of "corrosive" publicity that has been attached to the returns to Egypt, Greece, and Italy? They should avoid objects that do not have a properly documented collecting history that can be traced back to the 1960s.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


Krystal D'Costa said…
David, you write:
So what can auction-houses do to protect their reputations? Why not avoid selling any ancient object that does not have a properly documented collecting history that can be traced back to the 1960s?

I agree, but is it really that simple? How easy is it to forge these documents? If the market is flooded with these items, then how does one tell the difference between authentic certificates and forgeries? I ask because this is relatively new to me—but very interesting. I appreciate these updates because they allow me to follow looting patterns.
David Gill said…
You raise a good point. We do see falsified documentation - and last week I raised the issue of a pot due to be sold this week that suddenly acquired a history back to the 1960s even though the auction house could not explain why.
We need authenticated documentation.
Best wishes

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 …

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…

Metropolitan Museum of Art hands over Paestan krater

In May 2014 I commented on a Paestan krater acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after it had been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in photographic images seized from Giacomo Medici. Tsirogiannis published his full concerns in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, but it has taken a further three years for the museum to respond.

The krater showing Dionysos in a hand-drawn cart was purchased in 1989 from the Bothmer Purchase Fund (details from the Museum's website, inv. 1989.11.4). The krater surfaced through Sotheby's New York in June 1989.

It is unclear who consigned the krater to Sotheby's New York.

It has now been revealed that the krater has been handed over to the US authorities after a warrant had been issued (Tom Mashberg, "Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum on Suspicion It Was Looted", New York Times July 31, 2018).

It appears that the museum did make an attempt to resolve the case in December 2016. Mashberg notes:
The Met, for its par…