Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Apulian pottery and loss of knowledge

Ricardo Elia of Boston University has conducted significant research on Apulian pottery. His study has suggested that as little as 5.5% of the Apulian corpus has been derived from scientific excavations. And if we put this another way 94.5% of Apulian pots do not have a scientifically recorded context. In other words, we do not know what else was found in the tomb: for example, other pots, terracotta figures, bronze armour, jewellery, single or multiple burials, or the gender of the bodies buried with the pots. And this has implications for understanding the stylistic development of the pottery. Were pots attributed to the same hand placed in the same grave? Were pots from the same broad workshops placed together? Are workshops linked to specific cemeteries? Deliberate destruction of the funerary record of ancient Apulia has caused extensive and permanent loss of knowledge.

Apulian pots featured prominently in the "Nostoi" exhibitions in Rome. Some 50 Apulian pots were reportedly seized on the frontier between France and Spain in 2000. In 2008 about 4400 antiquities were returned from Switzerland to Italy in three truckloads; approximately half were reported to have been derived from Apulian tombs.

Princeton returned an Apulian loutrophoros attributed to the Darius painter (though it was then placed on loan). The Darius painter is significant as an amphora and a pelike were returned to Italy from Boston's Museum of Fine Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, a volute-krater from the Cleveland Museum of Art, and a dinos from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are still unanswered questions surrounding the collecting history of a large "funerary" group of Apulian pots in Berlin that included three volute-kraters attributed to the Darius painter.

One major private collection of Apulian pottery was owned by Graham Geddes who even had an anonymous pot-painter, the Geddes painter, named in his honour. The "most important" piece in the sale of further Apulian pieces from the Geddes collection had to be withdrawn from auction in October 2008. Two other Apulian pieces from his collection were withdrawn from the same sale. All three had surfaced at Sotheby's London in the 1980s.

Robin Symes is also linked with an Apulian krater that was offered at (and withdrawn from) a London auction in 2008.

In 2009 an Apulian situla was seized after passing through a New York auction-house in June of that year. It was subsequently described by a spokesperson for the auction-house as a "stolen" artifact.

And now an Apulian rhyton in the shape of a goat's head with white-painted horns is up for auction at Christie's later this week. It appears similar to an image in the Medici dossier. There have been calls for the rhyton to be withdrawn from the sale, although a spokesperson for Christie's has made it clear that the auction-house intends to proceed.

Left,  Apulian rhyton featured in the Medici Dossier (courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis); right, Apulian situla reportedly seized from a New York auction-house in 2009.

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Marc Fehlmann said...

Similar figures (5% and less from official excavations) have already been published in 1993 by Daniel Graepler and Marina Mazzei from Heidelberg (Fundort unbekannt. Raubgrabungen zerstöre das archäologische Erbe, Munich 1993) and Vinnie Norskov has given an even fuller picture in this respect with her "Greek Vases in new Contexts" in 2002.

So there is no need to be surprised. However, has ever anybody checked the Interpol database and searched for ex-Medici material?

Marc Fehlmann said...

To make the point:

The Interpol database shows only one Apulian Rhyton (Ritual Pouring Vessel) reported stolen at Bari in 2004.

So why do the Italians not even let Interpol have the images from the Medici Archive?

Does this help to identify all those looted and illegally exported antiquities?

David Gill said...

For the Interpol database see here.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Geneva in the 1980s, and remember a big exhibition (1986, there is a catalogue) in the Musee d'Art et d'Histoire on the Darius painter. The curator for antiquities was Jacques Chamay, who turns up a lot in /The Medici Conspiracy/ as in cahoots with the dealers; and in those days, the dealers' windows in the Old Town showed a lot of Apulian stuff; some of it was bought by the odd Genevese association, "Hellas et Roma", which gave antiquities to the museum.

Just some musings: am I right that an enormous amount was looted in that period (1980s), and sold to Switzerland ?

David Gill said...

I discuss the 1986 exhibition of the Darius painter in my Present Pasts (2009) article [pdf]. In it I quote Elia who noted that 31% of the corpus of Apulian pots surfaced between 1980 and 1992. For Chamay's link with the Berlin group that includes kraters attributed to the Darius painter see here.
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I knew your paper but had forgotten about the comments re. Chamay and co.

I think this has made zero impact in the French speaking Swiss press...

Anonymous said...

In fact I'm wrong.

A pamphlet (characteristically published by Lausannois not Genevese) touches on these matters (Flutsch and Fontannaz)


The Genevese newspaper gives ample space to, and sympathizes with, Chamay and dealers.

More by Chamay himself here


Marc Fehlmann said...

I would say "sold TO AND THROUGH Switzerland". The map in Graepler / Mazzei on p. 82-83 shows where Apulian vases that have surfaced since 1983 have ended up.

About Hellas & Roma: their pieces are nicely marked as loans in Geneva's Musée d'Art et d'Histoire. I don't envy the museum's new director, Mr Jean-Yves Marin, for having to deal with them since he was a member of ICOM's ethic committee for several years.

Anonymous said...

Right, of course !

Medici conspiracy should get translated into French and German. It would sell, no ?

Anonymous said...

Did you know, Marc, who Laurent Flutsch is ?


I'll be in Geneva next month, I want to buy his "La Mediterranee au nord des alpes" just because of the great title-- and how many archaeologists are also "humoristes" ? Not quite like Wilamowitz giving public lecture to packed hall,but not bad.

Marc Fehlmann said...


Laurent Flutsch is well known and seems to have set a cat among the pigeons with his publications, at least among some of those who know at the shores of Lake Geneva ..., but I have never met him.

Nathan Elkins said...


The Medici Conspiracy is certainly available in German. For a time, I only had access to a library copy in German: Die Medici Verschwörung. I expect that it is also available in French, but I do not know that for certain.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I wonder if it got reviewed e.g. in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung ? But not on fnac.com (French bookselling w.site).

Marc Fehlmann said...


The NZZ mentioned the Medici case for the last time in 2006. The books by Silver and Watson/Todeschini have not been reviewed there. But trust me, those in Switzerland who should have read them did, because both publications include wonderful indexes. In addition, one must not forget that the Neue Zürcher Zeitung is a rather conservative paper that already had difficulties to give a balanced view on the introduction of the Swiss Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property (CPTA).

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