Skip to main content

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?

Images
Composites showing the pithos with details from the Basel Archive.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

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 …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.