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

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

A fragmentary relief of Mithras was discovered in 1964 at Tor Cervara on the outskirts of Rome. It was acquired by the Museo Nazionale Romano.

A further fragment of the relief was acquired by the Badisches Landesmueum in Kalrsruhe in 1976. The source was an unstated Swiss dealer. This fragment has been reunited with the rest of the relief [press release].

Today a further fragment of the relief was reunited with the other pieces. This had been recovered during a raid in Sardinia.