Skip to main content

The MOU with Italy: the need for an extension

At the end of 2008 three trucks trundled across the Swiss frontier with Italy. Their cargo was 4400 antiquities seized from the warehouses of a Basel warehouse. Each of those objects had lost its original context. Each piece had been ripped from its final resting place to feed a market and ultimately the potential acquirers: public museums and private collectors.


Several thousand lost contexts may seem a lot. But then remember the 350 or so objects that have passed through the hands of a Swiss conservator: the Italian authorities are actively hunting for them. And then there was the case of the warehouse in the Geneva Freeport. Seizures there have led directly to the identification of scores of pieces in public museums, a prominent private collection, a dealer's gallery, and at auction. 

The implications are clear. The cultural heritage of Italy, part of our cosmopolitan heritage, has been severely damaged by the desire of institutions and private individuals to own items wrenched from archaeological contexts across the country.


Italy has taken steps. Items have identified and a selection of objects have been returned without resort to the courts. Major museums (all members of the prestigious Association  of Art Museum Directors) have handed back well over 100 items: Athenian pottery like the Sarpedon krater, Hellenistic silver such as the Morgantina hoard, and Roman sculpture such as the portrait of Sabina. One dealer has been convicted, another is on trial in Rome, and it is reported that a third is likely to be prosecuted. There are even indications that such actions are seeing an impact on the level of looting


Yet some are still handling recently-surfaced antiquities from Italy. Only last year, three objects, a Corinthian krater, an Attic pelike, and an Apulian situla were seized in two separate raids from Christie's in New York. A fragment of Roman wall-painting from Boscoreale was seized from an unidentified New York gallery. 

These incidents are a reminder that there is a continuing need for an Extension to the "Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Italy Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Categories of Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy".

If you want to help protect the archaeological heritage of Italy, please submit your comments to the US State Department (details here). 

Image

Terracotta calyx-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), Calyx-krater, ca. 515 B.C.; Archaic
Signed by Euxitheos, as potter; Signed by Euphronios, as painter
Greek, Attic
Terracotta; H. 18 in. (45.7 cm), Diam. 21 11/16 in. (55.1 cm)
Formerly lent by the Republic of Italy (L.2006.10)
http://www.metmuseum.org/

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

Wayne G. Sayles said…
David;

Just a small note to your press release which states:

"The committee has to decide
whether or not to renew the MOU."

Actually, CPAC does not decide. They make a recommendation to the State Department which then does as it well pleases, as demonstrated in the Cyrus MOU where they ignored the CPAC recommendation to exempt coins and added them anyway.

Sorry, but that's the way U.S. government works these days.

Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

George Ortiz collection to be displayed in London

Christie's is due to display part of the former collection of the late George Ortiz in London in a non-selling show to mark the 25th anniversary of the exhibition at the Royal Academy. There is a statement on the Christie's website ("The Ortiz Collection — ‘proof that the past is in all of us’"). Max Bernheimer is quoted: ‘Ortiz was one of the pre-eminent collectors of his day’.

We recall the associations with Ortiz such as the Horiuchi sarcophagus, the Hestiaios stele fragment, the marble funerary lekythos, and the Castor and Pollux.

Bernheimer will, no doubt, wish to reflect on the Royal Academy exhibition by reading Christopher Chippindale and David W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511 [JSTOR].

Bernheimer will probably want to re-read the two pieces by Peter Watson that appeared in The Times: , "Ancient art without a history" and "Fakes - the artifice b…

Adding to the history of an Attic black-figured amphora

The post-excavation histories of objects are important as we map the that cultural property passes through collections and the markets. This is clear for an Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to Group E, that is due to be auctioned at Christie's New York on October 31, 2018 (lot 31). It shows Herakles and the Nemean lion, and Theseus and the Minotaur.

The auction catalogue claims that it surfaced in the hands of John Hewett in London in 1970 (or earlier), then to a private collection in Europe, followed by a series of auctions:
A European private collection; Antiquities  Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 130thence to a private collection, New YorkAntiquities Christie's, New York, 15 December 1992, lot 81Antiquities Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1996, lot 50Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1998, lot 102 The amphora appears in the Beazley Archive (BAPD 350425). This provides the history sequence as follows (though in the list of auction catalogues s…