Tuesday 28 September 2010

Bavaria and Cyprus

Part of the decoration of churches in northern Cyprus were discovered during police raids in Munich (Natali Hami and George Psyllides, "German court order return of stolen Cypriot treasures", Cyprus Mail September 28, 2010). The items include:
  • 15th century frescoes from the monastery of Christou tou Antifoniti;
  • a 6th-Century mosaic from the church of the Panayia Kanakaria;
  • murals from the church of the Panayia Pergamiotissa;
  • two icons from the monastery of Saint Chrysostomos
The items are reported to have been found "hidden inside the walls and under the floorboards in two apartments". If they were were there legitimately why were they hidden?

And the user of the two flats was Aydin Dikmen who appears to have used "false names" to use the flats.

Dikmen is reported to be linked to other cases of religious objects from Cyprus including the Kanakaria mosaics, and the frescoes from Ayios Themonianos near Lysi.

But why have the Bavarian courts taken so long to resolve these seizures made in 1997? It appears the Church of Cyprus had asked for the return of the pieces but has now had to take the case to court.

The scale of the seizure seems to be immense. A report in 2007, commenting on six Byzantine icons returned to Cyprus after surfacing at a New York auction house, noted "Bishop Neophytos said 250 such pieces are currently in Munich, Germany, after being stolen from the north by convicted Turkish art smuggler Aydin Dikmen" (Menelaos Hadjicostis, "Priceless stolen icons returned to Cyprus", AFP January 26, 2007).

And only this month (September 16)  Republican Congressman Gus Bilirakis introduced a resolution calling "for the protection of religious sites and artifacts from and in Turkish-occupied areas of northern Cyprus as well as for general respect for religious freedom" (H.RES.1631). 23 other Republicans were co-sponsors. Bilirakis' resolution notes:
Whereas the extent of the illicit trade of religious artifacts from the churches in the Turkish occupied areas of northern Cyprus by Turkish black market dealer Aydin Dikmen was exposed following a search of his property by the Bavarian central department of crime which confiscated Byzantine mosaics, frescoes, and icons valued at over Euros 30 million.

The video of Bilirakis can be seen here.

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Saturday 25 September 2010

Operation Baklava: Washington Lobbyist Detects Conspiracy

Once again the Washington lobbyist for the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), Peter Tompa, has raised issues about my comment on the proposed MOU between Greece and the US. Tompa asks: "Gill should disclose any funding sources for his releases and any contacts he might have with the Greek government that may have influenced his decision to issue this press release."

It is not the first time that the Washington lobbyist has detected some conspiracy: remember Operation Tartuffo? Perhaps he imagines me sitting in some kaphenion in the western Peloponnese and being presented with brown envelopes filled with Euros.

Or could there be some simpler explanation?

John Hooker claims to know (source uncited!) that I pay "a rate of $400 per 400 words for [my] frequent PR Newswire releases". More than a year on Hooker has not provided a shred of evidence to support his claim.

Tompa has also used Hooker's baseless insinuation to note, "we might just suspect that you are merely acting as an undisclosed agent of influence for some nationalistic, repatriation seeking foreign government, like that of Greece".

Readers should choose now: a tartuffo or baklava. But you are advised, for the sake of your digestion, not to go for both.

Key team member of Operation Baklava photographed in the mountains of the western Peloponnese. © David Gill.

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Friday 24 September 2010

Laconian krater returns to Sicily

The Italian Ministry of Culture has announced that a Laconian krater seized during Operation Andromeda has been returned to Sicily and placed on display in Gela (press release, September 24, 2010). It appears that the krater, attributed to the Hunt painter, was recognised from the press show in the Colosseum earlier this summer. The krater had apparently been in a private collection in Gela, and had then passed through the hands of Giacomo Medici and Robin Symes; at some point it is reported to have been sold at Sotheby's in London.

The krater is said to have been recovered from the basement of a Swiss accountant who is linked to the Japanese dealer Noryioshi Horiuchi.

Pots attributed to the Hunt painter include a piece identified in Madrid, formerly in the Várez Fisa collection, and a cup returned to Italy from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Wednesday 22 September 2010

Princeton: further information on the returns

Princeton, unlike Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum, has never released the collecting histories of the pieces returned to Italy (for list see here). Earlier this summer Fabio Isman responded to the story in the New York Times about Edoardo Almagià and Princeton University Art Museum (Fabio Isman, "Scoppia il caso Almagià-Padgett", Il Giornale dell'Arte June 2010). Isman reproduced images of two of the pieces - one returned to Italy, the other remaining in Princeton - that feature in the Medici Dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport. So it appears that the Italian authorities have not pressed for the return of every piece identified from the selections of photographic material.

But how is Princeton going to respond to the Almagià report? What will the file say about the art museum's acquisition policy?

Lion head from the Medici Dossier. Source: Il Giornale dell'Arte.

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Tuesday 21 September 2010

Greece: Make Your Views Known on the Proposed MOU

Greece has asked the US to impose restrictions on the import of antiquities. Comments on the proposed MOU have been invited and can be submitted via here. The deadline is September 22, 2010.

SAFE has produced an advocacy page on the proposal and I have created a summary of recent stories.

So far there have been over 1050 public submissions. What do you think?

Koroni © David Gill, 2010

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Tuesday 14 September 2010

Greece: Remember to Make Your Views Known

The clock is ticking for you to make a comment on the proposed MOU between the US and Greece. If you want to submit your thoughts you can do this online by following the instructions here.

© David Gill

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Friday 10 September 2010

Looting Matters: Protecting the Archaeological Heritage of Greece

Looting Matters: Protecting the Archaeological Heritage of Greece

Comments on the proposed MOU between the US and Greece, including quotes from Jack L. Davis, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), and Sebastian Heath, Vice President for Professional Responsibilities, Archaeological Institute of America.

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The Crosby Garrett Helmet

In October Christie's (London) will be offering a Roman parade helmet reported to have been found at Crosby Garrett in Cumbria (7 October 2010, lot 176). The helmet is said to have been found in May 2010 by a metal-detectorist, and details appear on the website of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The fragmentary ("found in 33 fragments, with 34 smaller fragments found in association") Roman helmet was discovered in May.

I suspect there would be export restrictions on the piece if the successful bidder wanted to take this unusual piece abroad.

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Tuesday 7 September 2010

Protecting the archaeological heritage of Greece

Sebastian Heath, the Vice President for Professional Responsibilities at the Archaeological Institute of America, has circulated a statement about the proposed MOU with Greece.

He writes:

The United States' Cultural Property Advisory Committee has asked for comment on a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and the United States that will help protect Greece's archaeological heritage. The deadline for submitting comments is Sept. 22.

You can read about the proposed MoU at
http://exchanges.state.gov/heritage/whatsnew.html (where Greece's formal name "The Hellenic Republic" is used).

The Archaeological Institute of America has established a page at
http://archaeological.org/cpac, which gives more information on MoUs in general, and on how to submit comments this round. Cribbing from that page:

Do not send in your letter by regular mail. First class postage goes through security clearing and can take weeks to reach the State Department.
Letters can be submitted online by visiting the website
http://regulations.gov. Enter the docket number "DOS–2010–0339" into the "Enter Keyworld or ID" field and click "Search." In the search results select the check box for "Notices"—this will filter the results so that only the official notice is showing. Finally, click on "submit a comment" under actions.

Heath adds:

It is important to stress in your comments that Greece's archaeological resources are under threat from the illicit trade in antiquities. David Gill, of the blog Looting Matters, has links to his coverage of the issue at:


Messene. © David Gill

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The Medici Dossier, Auction Houses and Due Diligence

Earlier this year two auction-houses offered objects that appeared to feature in the Medici Dossier (and in one case the Schinoussa Archive). In one case the auction-house decided to withdraw the lots. In the second case, the company pressed ahead with the sale, ignoring the high profile bad publicity in the Wall Street Journal (and in spite of having three items seized on its premises in 2009).

Can we presume that the auction-houses have adopted more rigorous due diligence procedures to avoid the repeat of previous sales?

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Statue of Entemena returns to Iraq

The statue of Entemena has returned to Iraq (Farah Stockman, "Kept safe in US, Iraqi royal statue heads home", Boston Globe September 7, 2010). The statue had been looted from the National Museum in Baghdad and then re-emerged in Syria. The US authorities had been alerted by an Iraqi dealer based in New York: "The dealer, who had been caught falsifying documents related to another artifact, agreed to help get the statue back".

The report shows the role of Professor John Russell of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

The story is a timely reminder about the need to look for fully documented and authenticated collecting histories.

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Saturday 4 September 2010

The Medici Dossier and Corinthian Pottery

Just over a year ago US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers recovered a Corinthian krater from Christie's in New York. The krater had apparently passed through the hands of Giacomo Medici and then surfaced at auction in London. Evidence (presumably photographic from the Medici Dossier) demonstrated that the piece was "indeed part of Italy's cultural property". A complete krater like this had probably been removed from an ancient tomb, perhaps Etruscan.

I was struck by the image of another Corinthian piece from the Medici Dossier showing an archaic amphora decorated with a winged siren. Notice that the setting for the photograph appears to be very similar to the one used for the krater. Where is it now? Does it reside in a public or private collection? Is it part of a dealer's stock?

Note that another Corinthian krater was returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Such recently-surfaced pieces hinder the study of the distribution of archaic Corinthian pottery.

Archaic Corinthian pottery featured in the Medici Dossier.

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Thursday 2 September 2010

Bonhams: October Catalogue Available

Readers of Looting Matters will be interested to know that the online catalogue for the sale of antiquities on 6 October 2010 is now available.

There are several interesting lots including one ex-Borowski Corinthian pyxis (lot 70) [estimate $3100-4700] that sold at Christie's 12 June 2000 (lot 20) for $1410.

There is also an Attic black-figured Nikosthenic amphora (lot 93), with the inscription Pamphaios mepoies(e)n that appeared in the Phoenix Ancient Art catalogue, "The Painter's Eye, The Art of Greek Ceramics. Greek Vases from a Swiss Private Collection and other European Collections" (Geneva-New York, 2006, 8-11, no.2) [details].

Several pieces are accompanied by an "Art Loss Register certificate" (e.g. lots 8587899092,  94).

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Wednesday 1 September 2010

Protecting the archaeological record of Greece

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has launched a website that explains how to submit comments to the State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC).

I have elsewhere provided links to the request by the Greek Government for import restrictions.

Do you need to learn more to make an informed submission to CPAC? First, read an earlier overview of stories relating to Greece (June 2009).

Here is a selection of some of the posts that are relevant to Greece:






Byzantine material


Other material

The Schinoussa archive

Messene © David Gill

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An Attic Red-figured Krater from the Medici Dossier

Christos Tsirogiannis is conducting important research on the Medici Dossier. A polaroid in the archive shows an Attic red-figured calyx-krater with a Dionysiac scene. The krater is still encrusted with mud and salt deposits; it appears to be fresh out of the ground.

The krater appears to be the one acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Art (inv. 83.80). The MIA website has the following description:
On the front is a lively procession, with the wine god Dionysus amid his entourage of cavorting satyrs and maenads, or female devotees. Of particular interest is the child-satyr who, in an apparently unique representation, rides on the shoulders of one of the maenads.
The child-satyr is seen quite clearly in this image.

The krater was acquired from Robin Symes in 1983 (see Star Tribune November 14, 2005, "The Minneapolis Institute of Arts bought its vase "in good faith" from Robin Symes, ... said museum spokeswoman Anne-Marie Wagener", archived here) and was reported by Michael J. Padgett to have been "in private collections in Switzerland and Great Britain for ca. 15 years before 1983".

The Star Tribune also reported in 2005 that the acquisition had been "recommended" by the MIA's then "head curator" Michael Conforti, an advocate of the "licit market" in recently surfaced antiquities.

The apparent appearance of the krater in the Medici Dossier suggests that the krater was indeed once in Switzerland. It is also a reminder that "Swiss private collection" does appear to be a euphemism for something else.

Padgett also commented on the attribution to the Methyse painter.
When Robert Guy saw the krater on the London market, he noted its resemblance to the style of the Methyse Painter but stopped short of an attribution. After its acquisition by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Dietrich von Bothmer examined detailed photographs of the vase and confirmed an attribution to the Methyse Painter (letter of 17 February 1984).
I take this to mean that Robert Guy saw the krater in London when it was in the possession of Robin Symes. (Guy was the source for pot-sherds acquired by Harvard University Art Museums, as well as additional fragments for an Attic red-figured amphora attributed to the Berlin painter subsequently returned to Italy.)

The Polaroid SX-70 that provided an instant colour print was apparently introduced to the market in 1972 and this seems to provide a terminus post quem for the image. The appearance of a mud-caked krater in a Polaroid image suggests that the collecting history does not stretch back to the late 1960s as Padgett had indicated ("for ca. 15 years before 1983"). One wonders if this timescale had been adopted to place the krater prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

It is known that Italian prosecutor Maurizio Fiorilli is keen to have the krater returned to Italy. He specifically mentioned the MIA in an interview for the British press in November 2009.

The Director of MIA, Kaywin Feldman, has taken a critical position of Italy in the recent revisiting of the MOU. Now she has the opportunity to show that she is keen to co-operate with the Italians. It is, after all, nearly five years since it was pointed out that the krater appeared in the Medici Dossier ("A Greek vase owned by the Minneapolis museum appears to match a photo of a vase that Italians say was looted": "Italy claims Minneapolis museum holds looted vase", Star Tribune, November 9, 2005), and over four years since the MIA was said to be "researching the vase" (Steve Karnowski, "To protect the treasures, museums find detective work pays", AP, June 14, 2006), and approaching three years since Feldman was appointed to the MIA.

Feldman took up the post of president of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) in June 2010. The AAMD has a clear position on recently-surfaced antiquities. The AAMD
Recognizes the 1970 UNESCO Convention as providing the most pertinent threshold date for the application of more rigorous standards to the acquisition of archeological material and ancient art. Widely accepted internationally, the 1970 UNESCO Convention helps create a unified set of expectations for museums, sellers, and donors.
In addition:
AAMD deplores the illicit and unscientific excavation of archaeological materials and ancient art from archaeological sites, the destruction or defacing of ancient monuments, and the theft of works of art from individuals, museums, or other repositories.
There is a crucial section:
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.
I presume that Feldman will release the details of the MIA's internal enquiry (presuming that a report was compiled). If it is accepted that this krater surfaced via Medici, will the MIA be handing the krater back to the Italians?

From the Medici Dossier courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis.

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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...