Skip to main content

The Marion True Trial in Rome: some lessons

The news that the long-running Rome case against Marion True has been dropped was expected. The Italian authorities have demonstrated that they are unwilling to turn a blind eye to the acquisition of recently-surfaced antiquities that appear to have been removed from archaeological contexts in Italy. The parading of a curator from such a high profile museum must have sent an icy blast through many a museum with displays of antiquities. Torkom Demirjian of Ariadne Galleries in New York is likely to be right to interpret the case: "Don’t deal with Italian cultural patrimony or we’ll create a headache for you". And it is clear that raids on the Geneva Freeport provided the evidence to lay the trail from Italy to North America via Switzerland.

It would be inappropriate to ask how much True knew about such networks of suppliers and dealers. But it is worth considering if she ever considered the source (or collecting histories) of each of the items as they were offered to her. Why were these high profile objects previously unknown? Did she really believe that they had been residing in some private villa beside Lake Geneva? Did she ever wonder why a Greek pot could be reconstructed from a sequence of fragments ("orphans") that all seemed to surface over a few years?

The object by object consideration of each of the 35 pieces challenged by the Italian authorities would have provided an opportunity to lay bare the networks behind the trade in such items. And it needs to be stressed that the J. Paul Getty Museum had acted responsibly and released the full collecting histories; these have received a detailed discussion (details).

The case has also revealed information about the Barbara and Laurence Fleischman collection that was acquired by the Getty.

Has every North American museum co-operated with the Italian authorities? What about the Minneapolis Institute of Arts with its Attic red-figured krater? And what will happen over the Princeton University Art Museum? And then there are the European collections (such as Copenhagen) and the Miho Museum in Japan.

Yet has there been a change in the attitude of museum curators in North America towards acquisitions? The AAMD has adapted its position over acquiring archaeological material (in spite of criticisms from James Cuno who is now perceived as being "out of touch"). And with the return of over 120 antiquities from North America to Italy, Paolo Ferri is right to say: "Italy showed that it wanted to break with past practices".

The True case will serve as a reminder to any museum curator who is tempted to buy that one object that will make their gallery world famous.



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.