Tuesday 31 August 2010

A Minoan larnax in New York

In 2002 the Michael J. Carlos Museum acquired a Minoan larnax. Its full collecting history has not been disclosed. Then in 2006 or 2007 Houston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) received a larnax as a gift from Shelby White. Its full collecting history has yet to be revealed.

However these two larnakes were preceded by the anonymous gift of a LMIIIB example "in memory of Nicolas and Mireille Koutoulakis" to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 1996.521a,b). Koutoulakis, it will be remembered, appeared in the infamous "organigram" that featured in the "Medici Conspiracy".

So what is the full collecting history of the New York larnax? Who was the anonymous donor? When was the larnax removed from its (supposed) funerary context on Crete?

A further larnax to note here is the ex-Borowski example in Bible Lands Museums in Jerusalem (inv. 4738; Glories of Ancient Greece no. 20) [noted]. It is close (as the catalogue makes clear) to an east Cretan example in the Ayios Nikolaos Museum (inv. 282; Im Labyrinth des Minos no. 260). What is the full collecting of the Borowski larnax?

Further reading
Bernheimer, G. M. 2001. Glories of ancient Greece: vases and jewelry from the Borowski collection. Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum.
Watrous, L. V. 1991. "The Origin and Iconography of the Late Minoan Painted Larnax." Hesperia 60: 285-307. [JSTOR]

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Houston's Minoan Larnax

Greece has asked the USA to consider imposing import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological material. It seems that they are concerned that looting continues to feed the market in recently-surfaced antiquities.

Concern has been expressed in the Greek press and by the Greek authorities about the Minoan larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.

But what is the full collecting history of the Minoan larnax acquired by Houston's Museum of Fine Art (MFAH)? It is nearly two years since I sent a request to the MFAH (another AAMD member) for this information. Is the silence significant?

The Houston larnax is likely to have been found on Crete. When did it surface?

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Saturday 28 August 2010

Greece and coins: denarius

Greece has made a formal request for the USA to consider imposing import restrictions on archaeological material. Some North American collectors have been raising concerns that this will include coins.

Looking back to 2005 we should remember that the Classical Numismatic Group handed over a Roman denarius to the Greek embassy in London (Dalya Alberge, "Swoop by Customs returns Brutus to scene of the crime", The Times (London) June 15, 2006).
Eric McFadden, the senior director of the Classical Numismatic Group, confirmed that he had bought it from two Greeks -even though one of them had allegedly been linked with Nino Savoca, an Italian dealer in Munich, who died in 1998 after being found to have been dealing in smuggled antiquities.
Mr McFadden, whose company is regarded as one of the world's leading specialists in Greek and Roman coins, told The Times: "He did some work for Nino in the 1980s ... One doesn't refuse to deal with someone because he has a slightly shady background. 
"One looks at the deal on the table. We're business people. If there's any indication something's not legitimate, we don't deal in it."

The investigation by customs officials surrounded two Greek nationals who are said to have tried to leave the UK carrying a substantial amount of cash.
An investigation by Customs determined that the cash was payment for a coin that they had sold that morning to Classical Numismatic Group, of London. The cash was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act, and Customs contacted the Greek Embassy.
The executive director of the ACCG subsequently commented on the case (Leon Worden, "Ancient Coin Buyers, Beware: Even seasoned dealers can get stung", COINage magazine Vol. 42, No. 11, November 2006).
Longtime coin dealer Wayne Sayles, executive director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, agreed. 
"There is no tradition in the world market for the background-checking of sellers, nor is there any real reason for it," Sayles said. "There are pertinent and applicable laws in most countries that deal with import, theft, etc., and dealers do, in my experience, try diligently to follow those laws as they apply at the point of sale." 
Sayles lamented that "we may have lost an opportunity to contest a claim that seems to be arguable on several grounds."
Readers will note the emphasis on the "pertinent and applicable laws" relating to the "import" of such archaeological material including coins. Indeed such "laws" will help to protect dealers from those who sell recently surfaced material.

Denarius © Hellenic Ministry of Culture (source)

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Housekeeping and apologies

Looting Matters has changed its colour scheme as some colour blind readers were unable to spot the hyperlinks. I must apologise to them.

The first reaction since the change to a blue scheme seems to be positive, but I would welcome comments about the choice of colours.

Messenia © David Gill.

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Antiquities from Greece

Greece has requested that the USA consider imposing import restrictions on antiquities that have their origins in Greece. Such a move is timely. It appears that in 2007 a Greek investigative journalist identified three items in a North American university collection (and AAMD member) that appeared to have been removed from archaeological contexts in recent times. Indeed two of the pieces appear to feature in photographic archives seized in Switzerland. The museum issued a press release in 2008. The acquisitions had been made in the last ten years.

In 2009 I reviewed some of the recent returns to Greece. While the J. Paul Getty Museum and Shelby White have been willing to return objects to Greece, it seems that other museums are reluctant to negotiate.

Is there any surprise that the Greek authorities have made a formal request to restrict the trade in recently surfaced archaeological material when an AAMD museum behaves in this manner?

Source: Enet.

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Friday 27 August 2010

The history of looting

Professor Richard Evans, President-elect of Wolfson College, Cambridge, gave a lecture on 'Looted Art and its Restitution: moral and cultural dilemmas for the twenty-first century' on 7 June 2010 as the Third Lee Seng Tee Distinguished Lecture. A video of the lecture is now available.

There is a quick overview of looting in the ancient world (though nothing on Pergamon and the great display celebrating the defeat of the Gauls) and a mention of the Parthenon marbles and the Rosetta Stone. Much of the lecture addresses the issue of Nazi loot and Soviet seizures after the Second World War. There is even something on dental gold ending up in Swiss bank vaults. Evans has interesting comments about art dealers in the 1950s being more interested in the authenticity than the collecting history (i.e. provenance).

There is a discussion of looting in the Balkans as well as in Iraq following the Second Gulf War (including the Baghdad Museum).

There is consideration of the work by UK Spoliation Advisory Panel.

Evans turns to the concept of the Universal Museum, where "world culture" is shared.

In questions, Evans is asked directly to state his position on the Parthenon ("Elgin") marbles. Lord Renfrew asked the second question about recent archaeological looting and cultural property in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another question raised the issue about the statute of limitation.

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Thursday 26 August 2010

Greece, clandestine excavations and import restrictions

Greece has made a formal request to the USA for "import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Greece dating to the Neolithic Period through the mid-eighteenth century" [details]. The request notes:
Unfortunately, despite the strong measures on the legislative, administrative and enforcement levels, Greece, as a source country, remains a target for both organized local and international looters. The majority of illegally exported antiquities, which are channeled to international markets, are products of clandestine excavation, particularly in remote areas.
This request seems to have been prompted by the raid on Schinoussa.
The international dimension is demonstrated by the case of two prominent antiquities dealers with a gallery in London. In their storerooms at Schoinousa, a remote island in Greece, thousands of objects of unknown origin were found, according to press releases because the case is still pending. This archaeological and ethnological material included large marble objects, statues, pottery, metal objects, icons, frescoes, etc., dating from the Prehistoric, and Hellenistic through Post-Byzantine periods. The objects were most probably destined for sale abroad.
The Schinoussa Archive is likely to allow the identification of material at present residing in public and private collections. Images from this dossier are already having an impact on the London market and European collections.

Recently surfaced kouros. Composition © David Gill.

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Wednesday 25 August 2010

North American Museums: the need to act promptly and responsibly

The 2008 revised position of the Association of art Museum Directors (AAMD) made it clear that a museum (presumably its curatorial staff and trustees) should not ignore claims on items in its collection: Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art (revised 2008) [pdf]. (See my original comments.)

(II.G) If a member museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a work, the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the work to that party, as has been done in the past. In the event that a third party brings to the attention of a member museum information supporting the party’s claim to a work, the museum should respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the work, as has been done in the past.

Thus information about the recent surfacing of an object could be derived from the museum's own investigations or from a third party researcher. Note that the obligation is on the museum to respond: not for the "source country" to make a claim.

Minoan larnax photographed while passing through the market; Minoan larnax in North American public collection.

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Tuesday 24 August 2010

The loan of Castor and Pollux: looking for a full collecting history

In mid-July I wrote to Tom Campbell, Director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, about the loan of a pair of statues, Castor and Pollux, made in 2008. A helpful member of staff pointed me to Art of the Ancient World XII (2001) as providing not only the complete collecting history but even the (possible) find-spot.

I asked the following question, but have not received a response.
I have now asked a further question ("What is the basis for saying that the pieces were in a Lebanese private collection, and that they passed through Asfar & Sarkis in the 1950s?") and await a reply.
The composite photograph shows in the bottom the pair on display in New York. The top comes from the (seized) archive of a dealer unlisted in Art of the Ancient World XII (2001). Indeed the top photograph clearly predates 2001.

Is the Met aware of the full collecting history of the statues? How rigorous was its due diligence search prior to accepting the loan? How reliable is the suggestion that the pair once resided in a Lebanese private collection? Has any part of the "published" collecting history been fabricated? Is there any any reason to believe that the pieces were found in the Mithraeum at Sidon? Indeed were they even found in the Lebanon? Did they first surface in the nineteenth century?

There is a serious point here. The statues are being presented as "probably" coming from a specific location (a Mithraeum) at a specific location (Sidon). If this is true - if - then what does this say about the worship of Mithras in the Near East? But what if, hypothetically, the pair had been found in a temple of (say) the Syrian Goddess further to the east? How would this change the way that we view and interpret the statues?

I am still hopeful that I will receive an answer to my question. What is the basis for saying that these statues once resided in a Lebanese private collection prior to the 1950s?

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Monday 23 August 2010

Draft Research and Press Releases

I have commented elsewhere on the draft paper (it is headed "Draft: August 12, 2010") by Stephen K. Urice (University of Miami, School of Law) with Andrew Adler (University of Miami), "Unveiling the Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy", University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-20 [SSRN].

The paper is a working draft and references are incomplete or contain errors. For example, the name of the importer of the Egyptian coffin sold by a Barcelona galerista is incorrect. As far as I can see the paper has yet to go through the scrutiny of external referees. 

The paper contains a discussion of recent activities by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG). Yet instead of waiting for the polished, refined, improved, developed, and completed paper Wayne Sayles has issued a press release ("Academics Cite Extralegal Cultural Property Policies at the State Department", August 23, 2010) to draw attention to the (draft) paper. 

Sayles, the ACCG executive director, states:

"As a defender of the licit numismatic trade and avocation of ancient coin collecting, I naturally feel that this sort of review is long overdue and most welcome. The conclusion of Urice and Adler is shared by others in the field of cultural property law and the noted Executive branch practices have come increasingly into the spotlight over the past decade. That the extralegal activities of DOS, for example, should now be surfacing in legal reviews is encouraging and timely since a legal challenge of those activities, launched by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, is now underway in U.S. District Court at Baltimore. I hasten to point out that, as with the authors cited here, ACCG opposition to extralegal practices within the Executive Branch does not equate to an endorsement of the looting of sites nor of the black market in antiquities."
So is the ACCG happy to endorse incomplete and erroneous research?

And what do Urice and Adler think about this publicity to their unfinished work? Did Sayles or the ACCG consult them or ask their permission to issue the release? Would Urice and Adler have asked the ACCG to wait until they were happy that their work was complete?

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Friday 20 August 2010

The Baltimore Coin Test Case: The List

I have commented before about the Baltimore Coin Test Case. Readers will remember the way that coins were seized on July 20, 2009 after they had entered the USA via a British Airways flight on April 15, 2009. The importer was unable to supply "additional certification" or relevant evidence.

A little more detail is emerging (Civil Action No. CCB 10-cv-00322; Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [filed June 25, 2010]; original ACCG case here [filed February 11, 2010]; ACCG amended July 15, 2010). It appears that the coins were purchased from a London dealer: to be precise, from Spink, on, or around, April 7, 2009. They are described as follows:
The collectors’ coins consisted of twenty-three (23) ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins valued at $275.00.

They are described as:

  • 3-Knife shaped coins
  • 12-Chinese coins
  • 7-Cyprus coins

I understand the invoice describes them as follows.


  • (2) Cyprus, Unattributed bronze coins, Roman period. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $10.00.
  • (1) Cyprus, AE 28mm, Augustus, 27 BC - AD 14, Head of Augustus right / CA within laurel wreath. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $55.00.
  • (1) Cyprus, AE 22mm, Ptolemaeus, King of Cyprus, 81-58 BC, Head of Zeus Ammon right / Eagle standing left. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $25.00.
  • (1) Cyprus, AE 30mm, Severan era. AD 193-217. Laureate bust of Severus right / uncertain radiate bust right. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $30.00.
  • (1) Cyprus, AE 24 mm, Tiberius, AD 14-37. Head of Tiberius right / head of Augustus right. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $40.00.
  • (1) Cyprus, AE 24 mm, Tiberius, AD 14-37. Head of Tiberius right / Livia seated right.  No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $40.00.


  • [6] China [??] bronze coins more than 100 years old. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $21.00.
  • (2) China, Zhou Dynasty knife shaped coins ca. 300 B.C. One is broken. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $25.00.
  • (1) China, Zhou Dynasty spade shaped coin ca. 400 B.C. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $10.00
  • (3) China, Han Dynasty Wu Shu type coin ca. 100 BC - AD 220. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $9.00.
  • (3) China, Western Han Dynasty Ban Liang coins ca. 200 - 150 BC. No recorded provenance. Find spot unknown. FMV $9.00.

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The Atlanta Pithos and its journey through Switzerland

In 2004 the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University acquired an archaic pithos dating to the late 7th century BCE (inv. 2004.2.1). Later that year the pot was celebrated as only one of two examples in the USA. In 2007 Greek journalist Nikolas Zirganos raised concerns about three pieces in the Michael C. Carlos Museum, among them the pithos. In 2008 the Greek press repeated the claims as it noted the return of two pieces from a New York private collector. The museum issued a press statement at the end of September 2008 in response to the reports.

Photographic and documentary evidence suggests that the Minoan larnax passed through Palladion Antike Kunst in Switzerland. The Emory pithos also appears to be close to a pithos that features in the Becchina archive seized in 2005. Breaks and missing fragments seem to suggest that they are one and the same.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum has a responsibility to release the full collecting histories for the three pieces. Its 2008 press release stated:
Central to the Carlos Museum's mission is the thorough research and documentation of each work of art in the permanent collection to determine its historical and social context and provenance. Museum scholars and curators carefully research each proposed acquisition. Works must have a history of documentation in order to follow the Museum's collecting guidelines of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on Cultural Property, adopted into law by the United States in 1983. That legislation, which informs the Carlos' collecting policy, dictates that works must have been exported from their countries of origin prior to 1983 or be accompanied by a valid export license from their countries of origin. The Museum will not knowingly acquire any object which has been illegally exported from its country of origin or illegally imported into the United States. Any object surrounded by the suggestion of being illegitimate will not be acquired.
If the collecting history of the pithos was "carefully researched" prior to its acquisition, why is the information not made public? And given that concerns have been raised in the Greek press, can the museum demonstrate that the pithos was not removed from Greece contrary to Greek law? What efforts have been made by the museum to resolve this matter with Greece?

Composites showing the pithos with details from the Basel Archive.

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Thursday 19 August 2010

Miami Law: Correction

Earlier this week I drew attention to a draft paper by Stephen K. Urice and  Andrew Adler where they discuss the Egyptian coffin seized in Miami. The suggested that the collector was Joseph A. Lewis III.

This appears to be incorrect. The case papers (09-23030, signed October 7, 2009) in fact state that the Barcelona galerista sold the coffin to an importer who is named as "Joseph A. Lewis II" (12).

I note that in 1991 a Joseph A. Lewis II from Richmond Va. and an unnamed co-conspirator were "charged in federal court with illegally importing Australian wildlife into the United States" ("Lizard Case in Va. Court", The Washington Post August 3, 1991). The wildlife consisted of "exotic lizards ... including Shingle-Back skinks and Bearded Dragon lizards". The report continued:
As part of the alleged conspiracy, the unnamed co-conspirator would travel to Australia and obtain live reptiles, an act that is illegal in Australia. The co-conspirator then would send the reptiles back to the United States in certain mail parcels. 
To avoid scrutiny of U.S. Customs officials, the contents of the packages were falsely labeled, authorities said.
The Australian press also commented on the case and  provide a little more detail ("Aussie lizards: big fine", The Sun Herald [Sydney] October 13, 1991).
A man has been convicted in the US of trafficking in exotic Australian lizards. 
Joseph Lewis, an executive of a cosmetic firm in Richmond, Virginia, was convicted of conspiracy to import shingleback skinks and bearded dragon lizards from Australia. 
Allen Hundley, of the US Fish and Wildlife division of law enforcement, said yesterday: "It was a big business, well-organised." 
Hundley said evidence before the court in Richmond showed Lewis had conspired with others to import three packages into the country from Australia. Those packages contained eight shingleback skinks and 10 bearded dragon lizards. 
According to court documents, in the mid-1980s Lewis ran a business from the basement of his home called Universal Select Animals. 
The company was "engaged in buying, selling and trading in exotic, rare and protected reptiles." 
Lewis pleaded guilty and was fined the equivalent of $9,400, ordered to perform 300 hours of community service and given 30 days of home confinement for his crime. 
Two Californian men have also pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the case.


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Wednesday 18 August 2010

Miami Law: Missing the Ethical Point?

Derek Fincham has drawn attention to a draft paper by Stephen K. Urice (University of Miami, School of Law) with Andrew Adler (University of Miami), "Unveiling the Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy", University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-20 [SSRN].

There is a section on the Third Intermediate Period Egyptian coffin of Imesy seized in October 2008 as it arrived in Miami from Ireland (pp. 10-13). This has been discussed elsewhere: "Looting Matters: Why Has a Coffin Been Returned to Egypt?", PR Newswire March 19, 2010. According to the Spanish press, the coffin was acquired in the 1970s. It had been shipped by a Barcelona galerista, Félix Cervera, of "Arqueología Clásica"; the gallery at the time of seizure was a probationary member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). This same gallery (and its galerista) has been linked to "Operation Ghelas" [story archived here]. One wonders why the Egyptian coffin was imported with agricultural products if all the "paperwork" was in order. The coffin was handed over to Egypt in March 2010 and then returned to Egypt.

Urice and Adler do add one interesting detail. Previously the final part of the coffin's history was recorded as follows:
The item had been sent to an unnamed US dealer; it was claimed that it had already been sold to an anonymous Canadian collector.
However we are now told (on the basis of the verified complaint):
In September 2008, Joseph A. Lewis III imported an Egyptian sarcophagus constructed between 1070 and 946 B.C. into the United States from Barcelona, Spain. Lewis purchased the sarcophagus from Felix Cervera Correa, the owner of a Spanish gallery.
I presume that this Joseph A. Lewis III is the same as the Joseph A. Lewis III (and Sofi Lewis) who loaned "an Egyptian falcon mummy dating from 664-332 B.C." to the Clay Center exhibition "Lost Kingdoms of the Nile" ("Falcon mummy joins Clay Center exhibit", Charleston Daily Mail (West Virginia) November 12, 2009 [see also here]). The Lewis collection appears to have other items and it would be interesting for their full collecting histories to be disclosed.

The comments of a Sofi left on the blog post of a Washington lobbyist are cited (p. 12, n. 88):
“I have not seen a single article on this coffin with the correct facts so far. . . . Hawass’ only claim to this item . . . was the lack of an export permit from Egypt[;] in fact he stated that the Egyptian government had no idea whatsoever when this coffin left Egypt as they had no record of this item—period.”
Who is this Sofi? How does Sofi expect the Egyptian authorities to know about looting in Third Intermediate Period tombs? How does Sofi expect the Egyptian authorities to have documentary and photographic records of objects last seen when they were placed in a tomb during the Third Intermediate Period? Why was the Barcelona galerista unable to supply the correct papers when the coffin was seized?

Urice and Adler note that a certificate for the coffin had been obtained from the Art Loss Register. Such certificates are relatively meaningless when it comes to antiquities and this aspect need not detain us.

The authors of the paper at least concede:
none of this means that Dr. Hawass was incorrect to assert that the sarcophagus was “likely the product of an illegal excavation.” Indeed, there is admittedly a “great difficulty . . . in establishing the date of export where the parties evading export controls have every incentive to conceal such evidence.”
Perhaps what this paper reminds us is that private collectors in North America continue to be willing to acquire recently-surfaced antiquities without considering the ethical dimension of their purchases.


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Friday 13 August 2010

From Crete to Atlanta

The curatorial staff at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia are under renewed pressure. In 2002 the museum acquired a Minoan larnax that is likely to have been used as a sarcophagus on the island of Crete in the Late Bronze Age. The collecting history for the larnax has not been disclosed.

The decoration is very distinctive with a fish painted on the inside of the larnax. Wavy lines decorate the base. These features helped researchers to link the Atlanta larnax with one that features in the documentation (images and receipts) of a Swiss-based antiquities dealer whose warehouse facilities have been raided. Although the identification was made in 2007 and, according to Greek press reports, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture appears to have asked for the return of the larnax and two other pieces, there is, as yet, no movement.

The same Swiss dealer has already been linked to antiquities returned to Italy from North American museums. It also appears that over 4000 objects, filling three trucks, were returned from a Basel warehouse to Italy.

The Michael C. Caros Museum under Maxwell Anderson was well known for its enlightened ethical position on antiquities. The museum still maintains that it "will not knowingly acquire any object which has been illegally exported from its country of origin" (press statement). As a university museum (and AAMD member) it has a responsibility to disclose the full collecting history of the larnax ("full and prompt disclosure") and explain how the larnax features in the Swiss photographic archive.

The Atlanta piece is not the only larnax to have surfaced in North American collections in recent years.

Left: polaroid image from the archive of a Swiss dealer; right, larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

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Thursday 12 August 2010

The Michael C. Carlos Museum: Unresolved issue with Greece?

In 2007 Nikolas Zirganos announced in the Greek press that three items in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (acquired in 2002 and 2004) could be linked to photographic evidence available to the Greek authorities. The three items have been identified in the Greek press. A press statement was issued by the museum in September 2008 in response to a report that the Hellenic Ministry of Culture had made a formal request for their return. As far as I know, this is unresolved more than three years on.

I had another look at the story and in particular the Minoan larnax (an identification made originally, as I understand it, by Cambridge researcher Christos Tsirogiannis). Zirganos had published images of the three pieces (see archived stories). It appears that the larnax features in a photograph linked to a receipt issued by "Antike Kunst Palladion". This suggests the paperwork was obtained as part of the 2005 Basel raid on the premises linked to Gianfranco Becchina.

If you enlarge the image you can see quite clearly the typed name of the purchaser (and this is helpfully given in the caption).

Palladion Antike Kunst has been linked to objects returned to Italy from the J. Paul Getty Museum and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. The Getty is also reported to have purchased the "Getty kouros" from Becchina. Palladion Antike Kunst appears to have supplied objects now in Amsterdam's Allard Pierson Museum, the Miho Museum in Japan, and Madrid's National Archaeological Museum. Press reports suggest that Italy's Operation Andromeda demonstrated links between Becchina and a certain Japanese dealer.

When will the Michael C. Carlos Museum resolve this issue? When will they publish the full collecting histories for the three pieces? And remember, "The Museum will not knowingly acquire any object which has been illegally exported from its country of origin".

Source: Enet.

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Donny George and Kuwait

Professor Donny George, former Director-General of the National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq has asked me to clarify his role in the evacuation of antiquities from Kuwait.

Here is his text:

Dear All,

since the first gulf war of 1991 everybody has been accusing the Iraqis of stealing Kuwait's antiquities, and no one has asked the Iraqis for their opinion about it. I was reserving this to be included in a book I started writing, but let me explain this Kuwaiti mater in some details.

Prior to the first gulf war we had done the preparations to evacuate the antiquities from the Iraq museum, since the war was coming no matter what was said in the daily news inside Iraq, then we got the orders from the ministry of culture, to go and insure the evacuation of the Kuwait museum, exactly as we did for the Iraq museum, we had no orders to check the private collections, that was not our job, and before we did so the director general of Iraqi antiquities informed the UNESCO, that according to Hague convention of 1954, Iraq was going to do its duties to evacuate the official Kuwait museums, because they were in an area of expected armed conflict, and for that we started the evacuation, before that I myself made a video film for the two museums, the Kuwait national museum, and Dar al-Athar Al- Ilamia, later on we sent a copy of that film to the Kuwaiti authorities through the UN representative, then we started packing and transporting all what we could to Baghdad, then distributing the material in Iraq for safe keeping.

After the end of the war, and the UN resolutions to return everything back to Kuwait, we had the first meeting with representative of the UN security council, he officially presented a list of (2500) items demanded by the Kuwaiti side to be returned to Kuwait, we all, the Iraqi side were surprised for that small number of the demanded items, we said what we have is much more than that, and I handed the UN representative two volumes for over (25 000) twenty five thousands items that we had, because every thing was completely documented in a professional manner before any thing left the Kuwait museums. The representative was surprised after he saw the complete lists, and aske to end the meeting that day, so that he will go back to the security council in order to have a special resolution for the antiquities to be handed over according to the Iraqi lists and not according to the Kuwaiti ones, and this was what happened.

The Iraq museum at that time was not on display and was closed, and of course no Kuwaiti antiquities were displayed there for sure, but the Kuwaiti material was finally collected there for handing over.
When the handing over started, it took place in some of the Iraq museum galleries, no Kuwaiti people were there, but the representatives of the UN, the Kuwaiti side was represented by a British lady, Ms.Marsh, an American gentleman , and an Indian gentleman, every item was handed over from the Iraqi representatives to the UN people, registered in lists by computers, then handed over to the Kuwaiti side then they handed things to the packing company, all done in the Iraq museum, all with the protection of the museum guards.

After everything was taken from Iraq, for several times we had some questions about some missing items from the Kuwaiti side through the UN, and when we would go back to our copy of the handing over lists, we would find what they were asking for, so we would tell them that that item is listed in Number so and so in the list number so and so, then there were no claims in this regard.

Special Notes:
1. we knew nothing about private collections in Kuwait, therefore we were not involved with them, our concentration was only on the official museums.
2. When the handing over was finished, the head of the Kuwaiti side, Ms. Marsh, invited the Iraqi side representatives for a dinner reception in a fine Baghdad restaurant, Khan Marjan, I asked Ms. Marsh whether that was her idea, but she told me that she could not do such a thing without the Kuwaiti approval, and also mentioned, that there will come a time the Kuwaitis will thank you all personally for what you have done for these antiquities.
3. Everybody should know that only the Kuwait National museum contained Kuwaiti antiquities, the other museum was dedicated for Islamic art, and all its material was purchased from the markets all over the world, including material from the site of Samarra in Iraq.
4. after all that we see from time to time articles, especially in the Guardian, going back to the same subject, where such kinds of claims are mentioned, while I am sure the Kuwaitis themselves know that this is not the whole truth, but it is used for political matters only, including an article that was interviewing Ms. Marsh herself, and was given the title of, the lioness of Baghdad, and again in the Guardian, were she was describing her struggle with Iraqis, to extract every single item from them under the weapons of solders !!!! (the museum guards).
5. this is my information about this subject, and it is my responsibility to tell it to the world, the museum, archaeological community all over the world, and it is my responsibility in front of my God, that this is the whole truth, and whatever is said about this subject that does not include these facts, is all lies and false accusations, these people should be ashamed of themselves.
Donny George


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Wednesday 11 August 2010

George Ortiz as Collector

I recently commented on the pair of statues of Castor and Pollux currently on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the "supplied" collecting history the pair had passed through the collection of George Ortiz; additional reports suggest this was in the 1980s.

Christopher Chippindale and I made a study of the George Ortiz collection (see "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting," American Journal of Archaeology 104 [2000] 463-511. JSTOR). I thought it would be interesting to see what else had passed through his collection.

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts acquired several ex-Ortiz pieces, two before the 1970 UNESCO Convention (the handle bases of an Etruscan situla, inv. 63.1516a-b [Ortiz 1957-63]; an Etruscan bronze lion, inv. 66.9 [Ortiz c. 1949-c.1965, said to be from Cerveteri]). The two post-1970 pieces are (or possibly are):
  • Attic Late Classical votive relief to two divinities, inv.  1977.171. Collecting history: "By 1977: with Robin Symes ... (according to a letter from Robin Symes, dated November 20, 2000, the relief was previously in the collection of George Ortiz, Geneva although Mr. Ortiz in a letter dated February 8, 2001 replied that he did not recall this piece but added that he could have had a memory lapse); purchased by MFA from Robin Symes, April 13, 1977".
  • Boeotian proxeny decree of Timeas the Laconian, showing the Dioskouroi and Athena Alea, inv. 1987.297. Collecting history: "By date unknown: George Ortiz Collection, Geneva (said to have come from a German dealer and to be from Thebes); 1986: acquired from George Ortiz by Robin Symes, Limited, ...; purchased by MFA from Robin Symes, Limited, June 24, 1987".

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Tuesday 10 August 2010

The loan of Castor and Pollux

In 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued new guidance on loans of archaeological material and ancient art (see earlier comments). I have been interested in the loan of the "Roman marble statuettes of Castor and Pollux" to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.2008.18.1, .2). I made a formal enquiry about the collecting history for the pair from Tom Campbell and he kindly asked the Greek and Roman department to let me have the information.

A member of the department sent me details derived from when the pair passed through the Royal-Athena Galleries (Art of the Ancient World XII [2001] no. 12): "The provenance of the two Roman works on loan to the Museum is well known and published". The catalogue informs us that the statues were "probably from the Mithraeum in Sidon, excavated in the 19th century". The collecting history is laid out: "ex private collection, Lebanon; Asfar & Sarkis, Lebanon, 1950s; George Ortiz Collection, Geneva, Switzerland; collection of an American private foundation, Memphis, acquired in the early 1980s".

At some point the statues passed through the Merrin Gallery where they were published by Cornelius C. Vermeule, in Re:Collections (Merrin Gallery, 1995).

I have now asked a further question ("What is the basis for saying that the pieces were in a Lebanese private collection, and that they passed through Asfar & Sarkis in the 1950s?") and await a reply.

What is the authenticated documentary evidence to show that the pair of statues were in an anonymous private Lebanese collection and that they were handled by Asfar & Sarkis in the 1950s? Were the statues complete in the 1950s? Or were they restored in the subsequent decades? Were the statues found at Sidon? Have any other dealers handled the statues? If so, when?

As this collecting history information is said to be "well known and published", I look forward to receiving a response in due course.

Castor and Pollux, on loan to New York MMA L.2008.18.1, .2
H. 61 cm (left), 63.5 cm (right).
© Christos Tsirogiannis

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Looting in Caria

It appears that the tomb of Hecatomnus, satrap of Caria, has been "discovered" by looters near the ancient site of Milasa in western Turkey ("Illegal dig leads to ancient king's tomb", UPI August 5, 2010; "Illegal excavation reveals an important discovery", Hürriyet Daily News August 8, 2010). Hecatomnus is important as he was the father of Mausolus whose monumental tomb was one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Among the 'finds' was a relief sculpture showing a banquet scene.

Apparently the looting team consisted of at least eight individuals. Several arrests have been made.

This is a good reminder that sensitive archaeological sites, even ones of major historical significance, are being looted to provide objects for the international market in recently-surfaced antiquities.

Further links and video available from Paul Barford, "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues".

From Hürriyet Daily News

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Monday 9 August 2010

Frankfurt dealer and the Phrygian phialai: will the "campaign" cease?

German antiquities dealers are hoping that they have silenced what they perceive as a campaign against those who deal in cultural property ("Die deutschen Kunst-, Münz- und Antikenhändler sowie die Sammler hoffen außerdem, dass die irrationalen, von Ressentiments geleiteten Kampagnen des Mainzer Archäologen gegen den Kunsthandel und gegen den Besitz von antiken Kunstwerken nunmehr ein Ende nehmen"). The quote comes from a press release issued by the Arbeitskreis Deutscher Kunsthandelsverbände (ADK) and also placed on the website of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) (German: "Zusammenfassung und Vorgeschichte eines Urteils zum Thema Kulturgutschutz des Verwaltungsgerichtes Frankfurt am Main vom 2. Juni 2010, Geschäftsnummer 5 K 1082/10.F"; English: "Case History and Summary of a verdict concerning protection of cultural property made by the administrative court Frankfurt am Main from June 2nd, 2010, reference number 5 K 1082/10.F").

The IADAA English-language press release (and see further comments here) gives a taster of the background:
In 2008, the police confiscated a number of ancient bronze bowls from a conservator. Some of the objects – five small vessels and bowls – belonged to an antiquities dealer from Frankfurt who had purchased them from a private collector. The latter had legally acquired the bronzes in the 1980s. To get the pieces back, the dealer had to endure several lawsuits. Even when the Frankfurt district court ascertained that there was no violation of the Act on the Return of Cultural Property and the insinuation of receiving of stolen goods was without justification he did not get the objects back. Pending the decision, they had been handed to the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz (RGMZ), to the archaeologist Michael Müller-Karpe. At the instigation of an official of the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research and the Arts a so-called confiscation order was issued to the effect that the museum was not obliged to hand over the objects.

The story has been covered in the German press: Matthias Thieme, "Rechtsbruch mit Räucherkesselchen", Frankfurter Rundschau August 7, 2010; Daniel Gerlach, "Eine gordische Affäre", zenithonline). The legal summary can be found here.

So how did the Phrygian bronze bowls come onto the market? One of the report suggests:
Die Geschichte, die Gackstätter den hessischen Ermittlern zu Protokoll gab, beschreibt eine beinahe rührende Antiken-Odyssee: Ein deutsches Lehrer-Ehepaar, das nach einem längeren Aufenthalt in Istanbul in den 1980er Jahren nach Deutschland zurückgekehrt sei, habe bei einem – inzwischen längst verstorbenen – armenischen Händler einige Teppiche gekauft. 
Beim Auspacken der Ware in der deutschen Heimat seien die Bronzeschalen »in einen Teppich eingewickelt« gewesen. Auf mehrmalige Bitten der pensionierten Lehrer habe er, so berichtet Gackstätter, für einen symbolischen Betrag von 200 Euro die Schalen übernommen.
In other words, it appears that the Phrygian bowls were removed from Turkey without a permit, wrapped in a carpet. (The carpet account has been confirmed by official sources in Ankara.) I presume that the Turkish export permit will be produced if this is incorrect.

And where were these Phrygian phialai found? What was their original context?

The reports name the German dealer:
Die Polizei leitete Ermittlungen gegen den Frankfurter Antikenhändler Bernd Gackstätter ein, der dem Restaurator die Gefäße übergeben hatte.
The Frankfurt based Bernd Gackstätter is a member of the IADAA. IADAA members are bound by an ethical code (German):
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.

Die Mitglieder der IADAA verpflichten sich, Objekte erst zu erwerben oder zu verkaufen, wenn sie nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen sichergestellt haben, dass die Objekte nicht aus Ausgrabungsstätten, von Denkmälern der Architektur, aus öffentlichen Institutionen oder dem privaten Eigentümer gestohlen wurden.
So has Bernd Gackstätter established ("to the best of their ability") that the phialai "were not stolen from excavations" (or indeed any unrecorded archaeological site)? Note that the IADAA expects its members to aspire to an ethical standard.

IADAA is trying to present a story in their favour (but see earlier comments). I note that the website lacks details of the Barcelona galerista associated with the Miami coffin. And certainly nothing about IADAA's former member, Galerie Nefer.

I hope IADAA members who value their ethical code will be urging Bernd Gackstätter to return the Phrygian phialai to Turkey without any further adverse publicity for their organisation.

From Frankfurter Rudschau.

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Friday 6 August 2010

Almagià: "It’s ridiculous Princeton didn’t do anything to fight that"

The Princeton University Art Museum's reputation has been somewhat patinated by its acquisition policy for antiquities. In October 2007 the museum decided to return or transfer title of several antiquities to Italy. But unlike Boston's Museum of Fine Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Princeton has not disclosed the collecting histories ("provenance") of the objects. Even so, it has been possible to identify some of the donors.

In June 2010 there was news of an additional investigation. Some "two dozen" pieces have been linked to Edoardo Almagià, a dealer who has been associated with the return of some Etruscan material from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Almagià has now given a frank interview to Princeton Alumni Weekly (W. Barksdale Maynard, "Italy’s antiquities and U.S. museums: A Q&A with Edoardo Almagià ’73", PAW July 7, 2010). He was asked about Italy's successful request for the return of some 120 antiquities from several public museums in North America.
The Italians have set up an operation to scour every American dealer and museum coast to coast. It’s a publicity stunt. The investigators, they’ve built a career on this. It gives the Carabinieri a good life – they don’t get shot in the face.
There is no acknowledgement that such an investigation has helped to discourage looting in Italy.

And why has there been a need for such a policy? By an estimate originating in Princeton, it seems that some 1.5 million antiquities have been looted from archaeological contexts in Italy since 1970. As I have noted before, "that is a whacking estimated 37,500 antiquities looted every year for 40 years". (So 120 returned antiquities is less than 1% of the estimated annual amount of looted antiquities from Italy.)

Almagià was then asked about Princeton's 2007 agreement with Italy.
I have urged the Italian government to give back the objects it took. What they took from Princeton, it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous Princeton didn’t do anything to fight that. Museums should really be tough. Every American museum should fight for its right to acquire objects in the market. The museum has a right to collect; the dealers have a right to deal.
There is no recognition that a (legal) fight was likely to have seen some potentially damaging evidence presented in court. And Princeton wisely decided to come to an agreement (as did other major North American museums).

And there is a good reason for this. An educational institution with the international standing of Princeton needs to maintain the highest ethical standards and values when it comes to acquisitions in its university museum. Its has a responsibility to educate and shape young minds: not to reinforce the misplaced view, so eloquently expressed by a curator at the British Museum (in response to a volume coincidentally published by Princeton University Press), of US "cultural imperialism at its worst". Princeton needs to stand for transparency and ethical straightforwardness in its acquisitions; it should not be tempted to indulge in obfuscation.

When asked about the "ultimate answer to the antiquities problem", Almagià replied:
The Americans need to say: We believe in freedom, free markets, free enterprise. It’s a very serious ideological battle.
Where does Princeton stand on the intellectual consequences of collecting recently-surfaced classical antiquities?

Red figure loutrophoros (ceramic), attributed to the Darius Painter. South Italian, Apulian, ca. 335-325 B.C. One of four objects to be transferred in title to the Italian government but to remain on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.

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Wednesday 4 August 2010

The Archaeology of Italy and the iPhone

The Italian Ministry of Culture (MiBAC) has now launched (August 3, 2010) an app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. There are a range of features including the ability to buy an online virtual ticket for the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine. Another feature gives the visitor figures for the top 40 most visited sites leading with the Colosseum / Roman Forum / Palatine at 4,655,203 with Pompeii trailing at 2,070,745. The Museo delle Antichità Egizie in Torino is at number 9 with 508,756.

The app includes a map of locations, lists of musems and monuments, mini tours, news stories, as well as audio tracks linked to certain museums. There are (at present) three 'morph' sites including the Baths of Caracalla. Some features can be tagged on Facebook.

This is a stylish, easy to use guide that is likely to expand. At the moment the app is in only available in Italian although the ticketing feature is also provided in English and French.

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Loans from Italy: The Chimaera from Arezzo

One of the positive things to emerge from the return of antiquities to Italy from various North American public museums has been the willingness of Italian authorities to loan objects in return. These include museums that have returned objects (e.g. Boston's Museum of Fine Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art) as well as those that have requested items (e.g. Indianapolis Museum of Art).  It also makes Kaywin Feldman's submission to CPAC outdated (and see earlier comments).

Michael Brand had talked about the Chimaera from Arezzo as he was leaving the J. Paul Getty Museum [press kit]. The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has now published an online museum review by Beth Cohen. This shows the bronze in its temporary installation while on loan from the Museum Archeologico Nazionale in Firenze. Cohen makes the point:
Focusing on this venerable masterpiece, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s intriguing boutique exhibition, which occupies a single gallery of the splendid Getty Villa, is the first fruit of an ongoing international association with Florence’s National Archaeological Museum. Their collaboration, which will include large loan exhibitions of ancient bronze statuary and Etruscan art, is one positive ramification of the separate agreement between the Italian Ministry of Culture and the J. Paul Getty Trust after the latter’s commitment to return 40 antiquities from the Getty Museum’s Villa Collection to Italy.
The exhibition includes the display of a number of coins also on loan.

The AIA should be praised for drawing attention to some of the fruit of the cultural exchange in this post-Medici Conspiracy period. The loan also emphasises the importance of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the US and Italy.

Cohen, B. 2010. "New light on a master bronze from Etruria." American Journal of Archaeology 114. [pdf]

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Tuesday 3 August 2010

Almagià: "The museum has a right to collect; the dealers have a right to deal"

In June I noted the new Italian investigation into antiquities acquired by Princeton University Art Museum. The antiquities are reported to have been handled by Edoardo Almagià whose name had already been linked to antiquities returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The June report had mentioned that Princeton curator Michael Padgett was the focus of attention. Padgett was interviewed for Princeton Alumni Weekly (W. Barksdale Maynard, "Art museum curator targeted by Italian prosecutors", PAW July 7, 2010). He is quoted:
After working so closely and cooperatively with the Italians in the past, I was very disappointed and surprised that this investigation is now taking place. I am reluctant to comment at length at this early stage, but I do want to clearly state that I am innocent of what the Italian prosecutor is apparently alleging.

It is noted that Maynard now thinks that some "1.5 million items are believed to have been looted from archaeological sites in Italy" since 1970. For anybody who is unconvinced by the scale of the problem of looting and why action needs to be taken, that is a whacking estimated 37,500 antiquities looted every year for 40 years. And that is only from Italy.

The President of Princeton, Professor Shirley M. Tilghman, comments:
What is challenging is that the standards of provenance have been changing over the last 30 years — and rightfully so — and have become much more stringent.
Tilghman, and perhaps the curatorial staff of the Princeton University Art Museum, were unaware of the implications of the 40 year old UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (see "The 1970 Rule") or the 1973 AIA Declaration on the Acquisition of Antiquities by Museums. Indeed the main change has taken place in the last decade since museums and private collectors woke up to the implications of the Medici Conspiracy. Tilghman (a molecular biologist) also needs to drop the use of "provenance" and adopt the more correct term "collecting history".

The PAW interview also quotes Edoardo Almagià who commented on the 2007 agreement between Italy and Princeton:
You give them your hand, they’ll take your forearm. ... What they took from Princeton [in 2007], it’s ridiculous. The museum has a right to collect; the dealers have a right to deal.
It would be helpful if Princeton could now release a full list of any objects in its collection associated with Almagià as part of the new spirit of transparency announced ("clear and transparent standards") by Tilghman.

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Monday 2 August 2010

"Blatant cultural vandalism": book theft

An antiques dealer from the north-east of England has been jailed for handling a first folio of Shakespeare's work that had been removed from the library of Durham University [BBC News].
The 1623 work was taken from a display cabinet at Durham University in 1998.
Judge Richard Lowden called the folio "quintessentially English treasure" and said damage to it was "cultural vandalisation".
The case related to one of the surviving copies of the 17th Century compendium of Shakespeare's plays.
It was handed in by Scott to the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC a decade later.

The report continued:
Vice-chancellor Chris Higgins said it would initially be put on display in its present condition so people could see the damage done to it following its theft.
"The main book is intact but the title leaf, which showed ownership by Durham's Cosin's Library from Shakespeare's day, was torn out and the binding was cut off with a knife," he said.
"This was blatant cultural vandalism akin to taking a knife to Constable's The Hay Wain.
The Folger Shakespeare Library were suspicious of a folio that surfaced on the market without a convincing collecting history.

When will museums, collectors and dealers become equally suspicious of antiquities that surface on the market without a collecting history that can be traced back to the period before 1970?

© David Gill

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The Stern Collection in New York: Cycladic or Cycladicising?

Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis There appears to be excitement about the display of 161 Cycladicising objects at New York's Metropolit...