Wednesday 31 March 2010

Looking back to 1986

Peter Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story (1997) discusses the background to the December 1986 sale at Sotheby's in London (p. 120). This marked the transition to consignments by Editions Service (and ultimately from Giacomo Medici). There is no need to rehearse here the impact of "The Medici Conspiracy" with some 120 antiquities returned from key North American museums as well as a high-profile private collections.

But the December 1986 sale is important. Two lots from the sale had to be withdrawn from the sale of the Geddes Collection at Bonham's in October 2008.
  • Lot 15: Apulian oinochoe. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 185.
  • Lot 28: Apulian bell-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 188.
The impact of the bad publicity surrounding this sale has even been the subject of a speech by Lord Renfrew in the House of Lords.

Any auction-house offering material that surfaced in the December 1986 sale would want to be certain that their piece or pieces could not be linked to Medici.

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Tuesday 30 March 2010

Bonham's April 2010 Catalogue Available

The Bonham's sale catalogue for April 28, 2010 is now available. Readers will find much of interest to them: Apulian pottery, old Swiss collections, familiar London sales, and more.

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The Miho Museum: time to resolve its dispute with Italy?

Lord Renfrew has reminded us of the unresolved case of the antiquities in the Miho Museum. He mentioned the museum at several points through his Rome lecture and wove it into his closing words:
If the striking advances recently achieved by the Italian authorities in combating the illicit traffic in looted antiquities are to be of wide general, indeed international value, a number of steps will be necessary. The first of these could be the formal and published acceptance of the 1970 Rule by museums and then by private collectors in all countries. 
The second should be the true internationalisation of such a position. That would include, for instance, the recognition by Japan of its obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention, and the equivalent recognition by the Trustees of the Miho Museum of their own responsibilities. I do not imply here that the Miho Museum is alone in flouting the conventions of good conduct in this respect, but it is certainly prominent. And here it should be remembered that many museums, even private museums, have charitable status in relation to taxation. That status should be questioned by national authorities if the institution is seen to be flouting either international law or the widely shared ethical standards implied by the UNESCO Convention. Only then can progress be made.
Details of the controversial acquisitions by the Miho Museum emerged in the Rome trial of Robert Hecht and Marion True in June 2007. The Italian prosecutors had images of a Roman marble oscilla. Although these are images that are likely to have been seized in the Geneva Freeport, there was a comparable dossier seized in Basel. Earlier reports have indicated that there are some 50 objects in the Miho Museum that are under investigation by the Italian authorities. (Other countries, including Iran, may also be looking at their collection.) There are also indications that some antiquities in the Miho Museum were supplied by Gianfranco Becchina.

The Miho Museum opened in 1997 with a list of high-profile guests including museum directors and private collectors. The collection of European antiquities was reportedly formed from 1990. One of the key figures was the dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi who trained as lawyer but turned into an antiquities dealer under the guidance of Dr Elie Borowski (Souren Melikian, "A Splendid Art Collection Goes On Display in Japan", International Herald Tribune November 6, 1997). Horiuchi spoke about concerns relating to authenticity as well as "illegally excavated objects" (Rita Reif, "A Japanese vision of the ancient world", New York Times August 16, 1998):
"We bought only from major dealers ... And we invited museum curators, scholars, collectors, restorers and dealers to look at the collection and urged everyone to tell us of any problems they saw."
It would be interesting for the Miho Museum to declare the names of the major dealers who provided the antiquities for the collection.

The Miho Museum needs to find a reasonable resolution with the Italian authorities or it will continue to be perceived as a museum that does not hold an internationally recognised ethical standard for acquisitions.

In 2000 the Miho Museum returned a statue of a bodhisattva, purchased "legally through a reliable art dealer based in Switzerland", to China (Mari Yamaguchi, "Japanese museum investigating Chinese statue's history", AP April 20, 2000). Hiroaki Katayama, the chief curator at the Miho Museum was quoted:
we decided to investigate because we want to know the truth and serve our research purposes.
The Shinji Shumeikai, the sect linked to the Miho Museum's founder, has as its values the "pursuit of truth, virtue and beauty". Now is the time for the Miho Museum to investigate the Italian claims with rigour.

There is also a lesson for other museums that have been seeking to build up collections of antiquities in an age when the finite archaeological record has been under so much threat from looting and the illicit trade in antiquities.

Composite of Roman marble oscilla in the Miho Museum that have no declared collecting histories.

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Saturday 27 March 2010

Renfrew on Post-disjunctive Forensic Re-contextualisation

Lord Renfrew has issued a summary of the paper ("Combating the Illicit antiquities trade: progress and problems") he gave at the International Meeting on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Property organised by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturale, in Rome in December 2009. He acknowledged the "real international progress" that has been made, including the return of antiquities from major returns (see our earlier discussion).

Renfrew alludes to other ongoing cases:

Renfrew emphasises 1970 as the benchmark for collecting histories. This is certainly now recognised by the North American community as a key date for acquisitions, though, in my opinion, there is still the issue of long-term loans.

Renfrew touches on the issue of cultural property claims that pre-date 1970 such as the Parthenon marbles and the Benin bronzes. He also discusses the Martin Schøyen collection of incantation bowls that were on loan to UCL.

There is a useful reflection on the return of the marbles allegedly found at Ascoli Satriano and returned by the J. Paul Getty Museum. These are now on display in Rome. Renfrew writes:
I had seen the extraordinary marble sculpture of the Griffins at Malibu, both at the Villa where they were originally exhibited by the J. Paul Getty Museum and then at the inaugural installation at the new Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Indeed so striking and unexpected was the impression then made on me that I was quite doubtful of their authenticity. That is one of the prices which one pays when antiquities are clandestinely removed from their context of discovery.
And now, at the Palazzo Massimo I saw not only the Griffins and the remarkable painted marble basin but a whole assemblage of marble artefacts, including the painted calyx crater and the splendidly severe group of marble vessels (loutrophoros, epichysis, oinochoe) which apparently formed part of the original tomb group. A single de-contextualised artwork now had an important series of accompanying pieces. These added greatly to the significance of the extraordinary Griffin piece. But in addition they themselves became of vastly greater importance.
But the marbles are only part  of the "assemblage". It has been reported elsewhere that they were found with "a number of vases by the Darius Painter" (see earlier discussion). One of the interesting features of the returns from North America have been the pots attributed to the Apulian pot-painter dubbed the Darius painter: from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts,  the Cleveland Museum of Art, Malibu's The J. Paul Getty Museum, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum. And we must not forget the tomb-group incorporating pots attributed to this painter in Berlin. Could the marbles have been associated with any of these pots? Indeed is it possible that they were found with Apulian cavalry armour?  The answer is we just do not know details of the tomb and its original contents.

Renfrew turns to other re-contextualised material; he dubs it "post-disjunctive forensic re-contextualisation". (Surprisingly, he does not mention Morgantina where Malcolm Bell appears to have discovered the holes from which the silver hoards appear to have been removed.) Renfrew suggests other examples such as the Sarpedon krater for Cerveteri, and the fragmentary marble figures from Keros in the Cyclades ("the Keros haul").

The summary of Renfrew's lecture makes it clear that Italy has been able to address the issue of looting. Now it is the turn of museums, collectors, and dealers to avoid acquiring or selling pieces that do not have a recorded collecting history that can be traced back to the period before 1970.

Composite of some of the returns from North America and other items on display in a European Collection.

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Thursday 25 March 2010

The Rosetta Stone: should it return to Egypt?

The Rosetta Stone has a special, if not unique, place in the history of Egyptology. Its parallel texts allowed scholars to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The inscription, dating to the second century BCE, was discovered by the French during the Napoleonic Wars when they were reconstructing a 15th century fort at Rosetta. The defeat of the French forces led to the seizure of archaeological finds as part of British war booty and the stone was put on display in the British Museum.

Dr Zahi Hawass has been mounting a case for the return of the Rosetta Stone along with other significant Egyptological pieces such as the head of Nefertiti in Berlin.

Is there a legal case to return the Rosetta Stone? The benchmark international agreement is the 1970 UNESCO Convention on on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The United Kingdom became a signatory in 2002.

It should be noted that the UK has a statement about the interpretation of Clause 7 (b)(ii). The clause in the convention reads:
The States Parties to this Convention undertake:


(b) ...

(ii) at the request of the State Party of origin, to take appropriate steps to recover and return any such cultural property imported after the entry into force of this Convention in both States concerned, provided, however, that the requesting State shall pay just compensation to an innocent purchaser or to a person who has valid title to that property. Requests for recovery and return shall be made through diplomatic offices. The requesting Party shall furnish, at its expense, the documentation and other evidence necessary to establish its claim for recovery and return. The Parties shall impose no customs duties or other charges upon cultural property returned pursuant to this Article. All expenses incident to the return and delivery of the cultural property shall be borne by the requesting Party.
The UK interprets this as follows:
The United Kingdom interprets Article 7(b)(ii) to the effect that it may continue to apply its existing rules on limitation to claims made under this Article for the recovery and return of cultural objects.
Egypt has made a case for the return of recently looted (or "stolen") antiquities that appear to have surfaced after 1970. These include:
Not all cases pursued by Egyptian authorities have been successful and there is an on-going request for the return of a mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM).  Hawass claims that it was stolen from the Saqqara store. Egypt has also been pursuing a number of antiquities dealers, and an Australian national was detained in Egypt. One recent case saw an unsuccessful detention in Sofia, Bulgaria; this appears to have been linked to a larger case.

However, the Rosetta Stone was removed from Egypt long before 1970, and indeed well before the creation of the modern independent state of Egypt.

This does not rule out voluntary returns of material that left Egypt before 1970. This would appear to include the naos fragment of Amenemhat I that was returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (though the museum purchased it from the collector apparently to preserve their anonymity).

But should countries be denied the right to make claims on cultural property just because the objects were removed before the notional 1970 date? International law, and more importantly public museums, private collectors as well as dealers, need to respect the local laws of the country concerned.

Egypt is arranging a conference to discuss the return of cultural property in Cairo in the spring of 2010. And clearly the intention is to seek a solution for objects that Egypt deems to be important.

So where do I stand on the issue of the Rosetta Stone?

In a December 2009 interview I made the point that while (in my personal opinion) there is no legal case to be made, the Stone is so unique and central to the study of Egyptology that it should be displayed in Cairo:
“I would say that there is a very weak legal case to be made, but I think there is a very strong moral case to be made for this shortlist of significant objects to be displayed in Egypt ...

To me the argument is much more about ‘here is a unique icon of Egyptology, here is the stone that was used to unlock hieroglyphics’. It is so significant for the study of Egyptology that it’s more appropriate for it to be in Egypt,”
Could it be returned on loan? Does the title for the piece need to be given to Egypt? And there would be concern from some quarters about setting a "dangerous precedent".

But this debate is so much more than a discussion of the ownership and display of cultural property. The real concern is the large-scale looting that feeds the international market in antiquities. This is the main area that needs to be addressed.

  • For the Heritage Key debate on the Rosetta Stone click here.

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Monday 22 March 2010

The Morgantina Hoard: the collecting context

The Morgantina hoard has now gone on display in Rome. The efforts of Malcolm Bell and the Italian authorities have done much to identify the orginal contexts for the hoard(s).

But what about the museum context? Michael Gross has a short section in his Rogues' Gallery. Gross records that Bell first saw the hoard in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in the fall of 1987; he "recognized them immediately ... [and] put two and two together and notified the Metropolitan of that fact". Bell also entered into correspondence with Dietrich von Bothmer.

Gross reminds us, "In 1993, the Metropolitan had refused the archaeologist Malcolm Bell's request to closely examine the Morgantina objects". If this is true (and I have no reason to disbelieve it), then it says a great deal about the Met's attitude to enlightenment and comsmopolitan ideals.

Gross, Michael. Rogues' Gallery: The Secret History of the Moguls and the Money That Made the Metropolitan Museum. New York, N.Y.: Broadway Books, 2009. [details]

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Saturday 20 March 2010

Morgantina Hoard: on display in Rome

The Morgantina Hoard has gone on display in the Palazzo Massimo, Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome (until 23 May 2010) [MiBAC press release]. The hoard is part of a series of returns of antiquities from North American institutions. Some $22 million worth of objects linked to Morgantina on Sicily have been handed back.

The hoard had been acquired over several years (1981, 1982 and 1984) by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (see earlier comments). It had been sold by Robert Hecht who is reported to have made over $2 million profit from the transaction. (Hecht is currently on trial in Rome.)

Malcolm Bell has talked about his work at Morgantina (Elizabeth Wilkerson, "Underground tale told: Malcolm Bell and the case of the missing silver", University of Virginia Magazine December 12, 2001).
In 1996 the Italian government asked Bell to excavate the hill where he’d seen the clandestine work.

“As we dug down, it was very disconcerting, because the soil was entirely churned up. What the clandestine workers had done was to start in one room, empty it out and then dig the room right next to it. Their strategy was to empty each room so they could get to the floor.”

When Bell and his crew reached the floors, they found two large holes that correspond to the size of the lots bought by the Met. They also found a 1978 Italian coin that helped pinpoint the time of the looting.
One of the key issues was the interpretation of insctriptions that appeared on two of the pieces. They had originally been read as "from the war", perhaps indicating that they had been ancient booty that had been dedicated in a sanctuary as a thank-offering. Bell, however, realised the significance:
When, after several requests, Bell was allowed to examine the silver at the Met in 1999, he puzzled over a lightly scratched inscription on the bottom of two of the pieces. Translated by the museum curator as “from the war,” the words suggested that the silver had been buried as the city was being captured.

Instead of “from the war,” Bell realized, the word was the possessive form of the name Eupolemus. The name represented the owner’s claim to the silver.

“We don’t have too many names from ancient Morgantina, but we do have the name Eupolemus,” Bell said. A lead tablet in the Morgantina museum bears the name — and the tablet is the deed to a house in the area where Bell had found the looters’ tracks.

“It was almost like meeting the man. It was one of those moments of epiphany when you realize something makes far more sense than you had thought,” said Bell.
Details of the find can be found in Franco De Angelis' summary (p. 177). The location for the burial appears to have been in a Greek house in the western part of the city. A full discussion can be found in Guzzo.

The hoard will go on display at the Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonino Salinas di Palermo from June 2010.

Bell, M. 1997 [2000]. "La provenienza ritrovata: cercamdo il contesto di antichità trafugate." In Antichita senza provenienza II: Atti del colloquio internazionale [Viterbo] 1997, edited by P. Pelagatti and P. G. Guzzo: 31-41. Bollettino d'arte suppl. to nos. 101-2. Rome.
De Angelis, F. 2000-2001. "Archaeology in Sicily 1996-2000." Archaeological Reports 47: 145-201. [JSTOR]
Guzzo, P. G. 2003. "A group of Hellenistic silver objects in the Metropolitan Museum." Metropolitan Museum Journal 38: 45-94. [JSTOR]

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Friday 19 March 2010

"Ownership is a means of stewardship"

Patty Gerstenblith and James Cuno have been discussing the issues surrounding the return of antiquities ("The finder's keepers argument for antiquities", Minnesota Public Radio March 19, 2010). Much of the discussion was on objects that left their place of origin several centuries ago: the Parthenon marbles and the Rosetta stone. Cuno emphasised the role of the universal museum: "the world comes to London".

The discussion eventually got round to the contemporary issue of looting. The discussion of why so many major North American museums had returned objects to Italy and Greece was neatly side-stepped. Cuno made the point that few museums in North America would now buy antiquities that had surfaced on the market without appropriate documentation. ("if we can’t be confident … we don’t acquire it"). Gertsenblith made a comment about private collectors acquiring these same objects on the market and asked if museums were as rigorous over such donations.

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Looting Matters: Why Has a Coffin Been Returned to Egypt?

Looting Matters: Why Has a Coffin Been Returned to Egypt?
Discussion of the Egyptian coffin seized at Miami.

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Thursday 18 March 2010

Miami and the coffin

The coffin seized in Miami was originally thought to belong to a 21st Dynasty (Third Intermediate Period) pharaoh. Indeed, initial reports, attributed to Zahi Hawass, suggested that it had left Egypt in the 1884.

The coffin had been sent to North America from a Spanish galerista based in Barcelona. It was detained in October 2008 after arriving in Miami via Ireland. A member of the US Customs service spotted that the coffin was not accompanied by appropriate documentation that would demonstrate its collecting history (or provenance). The item had been sent to an unnamed US dealer; it was claimed that it had already been sold to an anonymous Canadian collector.

Subsequent research showed that the Third Intermediate Coffin belonged to an individual named as Imesy. Reports in the Spanish press suggested that it had been acquired by a Spanish collector in the 1970s; these suggestions bring into question the earlier report that the coffin had left Egypt in the 19th century.

Although the Barcelona gallery initially challenged the detention, the legal case was withdrawn. It appears that the galerista was unable to produce paperwork that could demonstrate conclusively how the coffin had come into his (temporary) possession.

The Barcelona gallery, "Arqueología Clásica" (proprietor Félix Cervera), was, at the time, a probationary member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). (The gallery's membership is reported to have lapsed at the end of 2009.) The code of ethics for the IADAA includes the statement, "The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.".

The Barcelona gallery was named in the Italian investigation codenamed "Operation Ghelas". This operation apprehended a number of individuals handling recently surfaced antiquities from Sicily and southern Italy. The objects were apparently being passed onto the European and North American markets via dealers in Switzerland, Germany and Spain.

In March 2010 the seized Egyptian coffin was handed over to Dr Zahi Hawass in order for it to be returned to Egypt. Hawass acknowledged the partnership between Egypt and the US in keeping a check on the trade in recently surfaced antiquities. The plan is to place the coffin on display in Egypt.

The case is a reminder that there appear to be dealers and others associated with the movement of cultural property who still persist in bringing antiquities into the USA without the appropriate documentation. The case should also encourage the resolve of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as they seek to protect the world's cultural heritage.


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Tuesday 16 March 2010

IADAA: the (missing) Spanish element

I recently noted that an Egyptian coffin seized at Miami had been handed over to the Egyptian authorities. On February 24, 2010 the Barcelona gallery was listed as a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). So, in a space of a couple of weeks, all trace of the membership had been removed. 

I was intrigued and sent three separate emails to the officers of the IADAA: Gordian Weber (chairman), Serena Cooper (organisation and membership issues), and Dr Ursula Kampmann (Cultural Property Issues and Public Relations).

I have not received any clarification.

What does this silence imply about the resignation? Or should we read this as a removal? Does this absence reflect the rigorous ethical standards of the IADAA?

If - and it is a big IF - there has been some unusual trading activity by the Barcelona galerista, what has made the IADAA act in this way?

Google trace, March 15, 2010

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Monday 15 March 2010

Membership of the IADAA

In 2007 Christopher Chippindale and I published a study of the antiquities returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Italy. We observed that among the dealers and galleries that supplied the material were two members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). One of the two was the Galerie Nefer that we noted had "recently resigned from the organization" (sc. IADAA). Galerie Nefer, Zurich, was owned by Frida Tchacos; her husband, Werner Nussberger, had donated fragments of pots that were returned to Italy (see comments).

Now another gallery appears to have "resigned" from the IADAA. Why? What is the stated reason?

Further details
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40. [Abstract and link]

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Antiquities and museums: Looking to the future

I noticed this panel at the 98th College Art Association (CAA) in Chicago:
Looking to the Future: Antiquities and the Art Museum
Saturday, February 13
Chair: Jenifer Neils, Case Western Reserve University and Johns Hopkins University
  • Is the Market in Antiquities Evolving toward Greater Care? Changing Museum Standards and Their Legal Background: Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul Unviersity
  • "Due Diligence": Rationalizing Acquisition in the "Universal Museum": Irene Winter, Harvard University
  • The Shape of Things to Come: Developing Collections of Antiquities and Archaeological Materials in the Twenty-First Century: Timothy Rub, Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • The Future for Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum: Karol Wight, J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Acropolis in Motion: Reflections on the New Acropolis Museum in Athens and Its Predecessors: Christina Papadimitriou, Princeton University
Tom Mullaney has commented on Rub's presentation.
He distanced himself from Cuno’s defense of the universal museum as the best repository (a minority view among museum directors) but also tiptoed away from archeologists’ claim that antiquities have little value independent of their archeological context, meaning resting in the ground at their original location.
It would have been interesting for Rub to have commented in more detail about how the Cleveland Museum of Art managed to acquire the antiquities that were returned to Italy while on his watch (see my earlier comments). Equally significant would have been Winter on Harvard's acquisition of the pot fragments.

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Saturday 13 March 2010

IADAA makes its position clear

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) has updated its website. It now includes a section on "A critical eye towards the cultural property discussion" with a selection of "scolars' [sic.] opinions".

The majority of the quotations (Kwame Anthony Appiah; Sir John Boardman; James Cuno; Neil MacGregor; Philippe de Montebello; David I. Owen; James C. Y. Watt) come from James Cuno (ed.), Whose Culture? The promise of museums and the debate over antiquities (Princeton University Press, 2009). This volume is well known for its omission of several key contributions from the event. The web officer for the IADAA could, perhaps, add something from my review of the volume that appeared in the Fall number of the Journal of Art Crime (2009).
If the issue under debate is difficult and divisive, then one way to create order is to make it partial and partisan, inviting a range of contributors whose varied views all lie together on one side of the division. With the other side thereby silent, the debate can happily come to a reasonably strong consensus. This is that book. The other view of the central issue is absent, that the recent past of collecting antiquities in too many museums has been a story of looting, smuggling and unfair dealing.
The IADAA has helpfully indicated that it is deaf to those who do not hold the now untenable and flawed Cuno position.

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Egyptian sarcophagus returned

Last month I commented on the Egyptian sarcophagus detained at Miami. Earlier this week the sarcophagus was handed over to the Egyptian  authorities at the National Geographic Society [press release]. Zahi Hawass was present at the event: "A piece of our history that left Egypt under mysterious circumstances has found its way home with the help of our partners in the U.S. government".

It appears that the sarcophagus was imported with incomplete paperwork.
The coffin was intercepted by CBP at Miami International Airport in 2008 and initially scrutinized for agricultural concerns. An agriculture specialist, concerned that the coffin would require a permit, referred it to the Trade Enforcement Team and ICE. CBP and ICE contacted the importer to establish whether the coffin had been exported legally from Egypt. ICE tracked the sale of the sarcophagus to a U.S. citizen, who was neither an art dealer nor broker. He claimed to have sold it already to a Canadian. Neither the importer nor the Spanish Gallery that exported it could establish its legal export from Egypt or when or how it would have left Egypt. Given the absence of a credible provenance, the item was determined to be owned by Egypt through its Cultural Patrimony Laws. The item was seized as imported stolen property. ICE worked through its attaché offices in Egypt and Spain to provide the information that led to the forfeiture of the property.
An additional press release adds:
Suspicions were confirmed when Felix Cervera, a Spanish gallery owner who had shipped the sarcophagus into the U.S., could not provide proper provenance (documentation showing ownership of a valued object or work of art or literature).
I also observe that since the news broke the membership list of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) has been updated. There are no longer any members in Spain.


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Tuesday 9 March 2010

Looting Egypt

I will be presenting my thoughts on contemporary issues relating to "Looting Egypt" to the Friends of the Egypt Centre, Swansea later this week.

I hope to explore the following themes:
  • examples of recently-surfaced antiquities that appear to have been looted in recent years. This will include the seizure of the coffin in Florida.
  • the theft of objects from museums and archaeological stores in Egypt. This will include a discussion of the mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM).
  • the theft of items from recorded archaeological sites in Egypt. One of the major issues in the last year was the return of the reliefs from the Louvre.
  • the call for the return of objects that are perceived as central to the study of Egyptology. These include the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and the Nefertiti in Berlin.
  • the corrupting influence of forgeries. This includes the Amarna Princess acquired by the Bolton Museum.
  • an overview of the recent sale of Egyptian antiquities on the 'licit market'. How many lots are there? What were they worth? How many Egyptian lots come from 'old collections'? How many have recorded findspots?

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Friday 5 March 2010

Looting Matters: Why Are Antiquities From Iraq Continuing to Appear on the Market?

Looting Matters: Why Are Antiquities From Iraq Continuing to Appear on the Market?
-- SWANSEA, Wales, March 5 /PRNewswire/ --
Comment on the recent handover of antiquities by US to Iraq.

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Universal access to the Parthenon sculptures

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed visiting the British Museum and walking through the galleries. Even on a short visit to London I will often make a short detour to take in a new gallery or to revisit old 'friends'. And if I have wanted to take an image I could do so quite freely. There is an institutional commitment to universal access.

British scholarship has had a long association with the publication of the sculptures from the Athenian acropolis. Humfry Payne and Gerard Mackworth-Young [both directors of the British School at Athens] collaborated on the beautifully photographed Archaic Marble Sculpture from the Acropolis (1936).

The Aegeanet list has been reminded by Professor Olga Palagia (The University of Athens) that photography in the New Acropolis Museum is now forbidden. When this new museum opened in June 2009 photography was permitted. (See some excellent pictures here.)

The banning of photography on such a well documented collection could send out an unfortunate signal. It will send out a message of encouragement for those who speak about cultural retentionism. If the Parthenon marbles were returned from London to Athens, would access to them be severely restricted? Would members of the public or interested academics find it easier to study the sculptures in London or in Athens?

Is it time for those responsible for this new policy to revise it?

© David Gill, 2010

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Thursday 4 March 2010

World Book Day: Read The Lost Chalice

Today, March 4, 2010, is World Book Day. So what would I recommend to readers of LM on the theme of this blog?

I have to recommend Vernon Silver's The Lost Chalice: The Epic Hunt for a Priceless Masterpiece (William Morrow, 2009) [see my earlier comments]. Silver has a fluent style and with a pace more familiar from the crime genre.

If you are in any doubts about the impact of looting on the archaeological heritage of Italy then you need to read this. | | Kindle

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"I am angry at the archaeologists and I want to beat them"

A report on the January 2008 meeting of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) has appeared (Richard Giedroyc, "Ancient Coin Collectors Influence Expands",, February 14, 2008):
A cautious but upbeat assessment of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and its impact on people outside the coin collecting hobby who would demand certain coins be returned to their place of origin due to their being cultural patrimony was given Jan. 12 at a meeting of the ACCG during the New York International Numismatic Convention.
At the end of Giedroyc's report there is a telling section:
Coin dealer Harlan Berk of Chicago recently supported the educational grants effort by contributing ancient coins to be used as learning tools in the schools. Berk said he was told an archaeologist told a school teacher it was a bad thing to give ancient coins to children.
Speaking at the NYINC meeting Berk said, "I am angry at the archaeologists and I want to beat them."
I thought that it would be interesting to learn more about Harlan Berk of Chicago so visited the website of Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. of Chicago ("The Art & Science of Numismatics"). I noticed that there was an "Antiquities" section and took a closer look. I discovered that the company is selling a fragmentary Attic red-figured cup (Item #aq13622) for US$12500. Here is the description:
Attic Red-Figure Close to the Proto-Panaitian Group and the Carpenter Painter, ca. 510-500 B.C. The Carpenter painter painted in Athens in the last decade of the 6th century B.C. As with most vase painters, the true name of the painter is unknown. The Carpenter Painter gets his name from his depiction of a carpenter at work, which is now in the British Museum. The Carpenter Painter was familiar with the work of the Pioneers and particularly influenced by Euthymides. In the center of the tondo is rendered a delicately painted reveler, a komast, holding a flute case, with the words "PA [N] AITIO [S K] ALOS, and PANA [ITIOS] KALO [S]", written around, praising the beauty of a youth named Panaitios. On the reverse of one of the fragments are two wonderful pot-bellied komasts, with the main figure holding up a staff that hides his face but shows off nicely his fat round belly. On the underside of another piece are the legs of two figures, but what should be pointed out is the finely drawn hand lightly holding a staff between them. Not shown are two partial pieces of either handle, which come with the group of fragments. An important piece for any collector of Athenian vase painting. H. 8 1/2".
I browsed the Beazley Archive to see if the cup was there but without apparent success. (I would be happy to add the information here if it is indeed listed.)

First, I looked under Proto Panaetian. There is a fragmentary cup there showing a youth at a symposium with Panaitios kalos.The same kalos name appears on a cup from Chiusi showing a satyr riding a wineskin (Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery), and on a cup from Gela (Sicily) showing a youth with an oinchoe. A very fragmentary cup, showing warriors in fight scenes, also names Panaitios; this formed part of the collection of the late Dietrich von Bothmer. A fragment with Panaitios kalos was also found on the Athenian Acropolis.

Second, I looked under the Carpenter painter. I note that cups attributed to this painter (or close to him / her) have been found at several sites in Italy (Cerveteri, Chiusi, Orvieto, Spina) and also in Greece (Athenian Acropolis, Corinth).

Third, I searched under the Panaitios kalos name. Cups with this kalos name have been found near Viterbo, and at Cerveteri (four), Chiusi, Orvieto, Vulci (three); one was discovered at Gela (Sicily). One fragment was recovered from the Athenian Acropolis. There was also a cup fragment in the Dietrich von Bothmer collection with Panaitios kalos.

Fourth, I looked for dealers in Chicago but Harlan J. Berk was not listed.

There are some questions that would be worth asking about this apparently newly surfaced cup.

  • What is its collecting history? In other words, who has owned it? What are the recorded dates? (Note that such information is recorded for other pieces, such as a South Italian black-glossed kantharos.)
  • Which scholar has made the attribution? (It is usual to provide the "authority" in such cases.)
  • Has the cup been published or recorded prior to its appearance here?
  • I note that the main part of the cup has been restored and that that there are further fragments. Who was the restorer?

It is claimed that this newly surfaced cup is "an important piece". However its findspot is apparently unknown and unrecorded. This is a pity as it could have told us something of the distribution of this type of pottery in the late archaic period.

Detail of Attic red-figured cup offered by Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.

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Tuesday 2 March 2010

Monday 1 March 2010

"Robbing a nation for personal gain"

I was struck by the statement of John Morton (ICE Assistant Secretary) in the handover of a series of antiquities recovered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ("ICE returns artifacts and antiquities to Iraq Embassy", press release February 25, 2010):
"It is a great privilege and honor, on behalf of the United States, to return to the people of Iraq a collection of cultural treasures that reflects their nation's rich history and heritage ... These are precisely the types of treasures that ICE's Cultural Property Art and Antiquities unit was established to identify, investigate and return to their rightful owners. We will continue to be vigilant about finding and prosecuting those who would rob a nation for personal gain."
Among the six items were the following:
  • Neo-Assyrian gold earrings, ca. 8th-7th Century B.C., from a mass of gold jewelry known as the "Treasures of Nimrud", first discovered in 1988 under the floor of the Royal Palace of King Ashur-Nasir-Pal II at Nimrud (Iraq) and later stolen from the Baghdad Museum.
  • A Babylonian clay foundation cone, ca. 2100 BC, which would have been embedded in a temple's foundation with the name of the current ruler inscribed on it. This established the dedication of the temple to that ruler.
  • Sumerian bronze foundation cone and stone tablet with inscription, ca. 2,500 B.C. to 1,800 B.C., which would have been placed in the foundation or walls of a temple to mark them as sacred ground.
CNN provides a little more detail ("U.S. returns 'cultural treasures' to Iraq", CNN February 25, 2010).
  • "Neo-Assyrian gold earrings, circa 8th-7th century B.C., from a hoard of gold jewelry known as the Treasures of Nimrud. They were discovered in 1988 in a cache under the floor of the Royal Palace of King Ashur-Nasir-Pal II at Nimrud, taken from the excavation site and eventually smuggled out of the country. ICE seized them from Christie's auction house in New York, which had been offering the earrings in an ancient jewelry sale on December 9. The estimated sale price was $45,000 to $65,000. No charges have been filed against the seller or the auction house, an ICE spokeswoman said."
  • "A Babylonian clay foundation cone, circa 2100 B.C., that would have been embedded in a temple's foundation. The Sumerian inscription commemorates the rebuilding of Eninnu, the temple of Girsu's city god, Ningirsu. It was intercepted coming into Chicago, Illinois."
  • "A Sumerian bronze foundation cone and a stone tablet with inscriptions on both, circa 2500 B.C. to 1800 B.C. A dealer in London shipped the items to a Connecticut-based collector, and they were imported via Federal Express to the Newark, New Jersey, international airport. The items were declared as coming from Syria, but scholars determined they were of Iraqi origin."
AFP also reports ("US returns historical artifacts to Iraq", AFP February 26, 2010) on the seizures, noting:
"neo-Assyrian gold ear rings from the 8th century BC that were stolen from the Baghdad Museum and were about to be auctioned by Christie's in New York, and a Babylonian clay foundation cone with an inscription from 2100 BC, intercepted at a Chicago airport."
These earrings were due to appear in Christie's December 2008 sale as lot 215 (see earlier comments).

I  note that Christie's was involved in a number of seizures last year, including a Corinthian krater, and an Apulian situla and an Attic pelike (see earlier comments). This was part of a wider picture of antiquities seized at New York City galleries.

This return again raises the issue of rigour in the "due diligence" procedures undertaken by a major New York auction house.

© ICE, 2010

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Antiquities seized in northern Greece

There is a report in the Greek press that a number of antiquities have been seized in northern Greece (Costas Kantouris, "Greek police arrest 2 with valuable antiquities", AP February 28, 2010). The objects include a bronze statue of Alexander the Great (h. 65 cm), two male bronze heads (one of the Roman period), and two rare copies of the Quran.

The items were handled by a businessman from Thessaloniki and a farmer. The pair were apprehended near Kavala and the objects were found in the boot of their car.

Police sources in Thessaloniki stated that the suspects had been trying to sell the objects for about one year. They were seeking 7 million Euros (US$ 9.5 million) for the Alexander and 4-6 million Euros (US$ 5.43-8.14 million) for the bronze head of a boy.

There is a suggestion, perhaps influenced by the presence of the copies of the Quran, that the haul was smuggled over the frontier from Turkey. However it seems likely that the original contexts for these items will have been lost.

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Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...