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Showing posts from 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 Two lots from the sale had to be withdrawn from the sale of the Geddes Collection at Bonham's in October 2008.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 s…

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.

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 rem…

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:
the Miho Museumthe Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek in Copenhagenthe Robin Symes assets in the UK
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 inc…

Looting Matters: Returning Sicilian Antiquities

Looting Matters: Returning Sicilian Antiquities
SWANSEA, Wales, March 26 /PRNewswire/

A discussion of the Morgantina antiquities returned to Italy.

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 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 Metropolita…

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. W…

"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.

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.

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 Ba…

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

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]

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 UniversityThe Shape of Things to Come: Developing Collections of Antiquities and Archaeological Materials in the Twenty-First Century: Timothy Rub, Philadelphia Museum of ArtThe Future for Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum: Karol Wight, J. Paul Getty MuseumAcropolis in Motion: Reflections on the New Acropolis Museum in Athens and Its Predecessors: Christina Papadimitriou, Princeton UniversityTom Mullaney has commented on Rub's presentation.
He distanced himself from Cuno’s defense of the…

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…

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…

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 overview of the recent sale of Egyptian antiquities on the 'licit mark…

Looting Matters on PR Newswire 2

Here is a summary of more recent PR Newswire Press Releases (nos. 21-25):
Sale of Antiquities on a Downturn (January 8, 2010) The Fano Athlete and Its Acquisition by the Getty (January 15, 2010)The Return of Antiquities to Italy and the Swiss Connection (January 22, 2010)The Corrupting Influence of Forged Antiquities (February 5, 2010)Do Coin Collectors Care About the Archaeology of Cyprus? (February 19, 2010)For a list of the first 20 releases click here.

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.

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 u…

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

"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…

Maastricht 2010: TEFAF and Antiquities

I note that TEFAF 2010 opens next week and has a number of stands for dealers in antiquities.

In the past TEFAF has generated a number of stories:
an antiquity returned to Iraqan Attic marble lekythos displayed at TEFAF 2007 and returned to Greecea set of Apulian armour acquired by LeidenIt will be interesting to see what is on display this year.

"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…

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 …