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Showing posts from January, 2011

Egyptian Museum, Cairo

It appears that some items in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo have been damaged during the disturbances on Friday night ("Vandals ravage Egyptian Museum, break mummies", January 29, 2011).

The Washington Post posted this just after midnight:
Though looters were stopped at the Egyptian Museum, two mummies were vandalized when would-be looters ripped the mummies' heads off. At least 10 other artifacts were damaged. Young Egyptians stopped the looting, forming a human chain around the museum. Zahi Hawass, head of antiquities at the museum, told the Associated Press he is fearful that the National Democratic Party of Egypt headquarters, which is still on fire, may fall over and damage the museum.The BBC posted this minutes later (with a photograph of the cordon):
Rahim Hamada called the BBC from Cairo: "Civilians are surrounding the museum of Cairo in [Tahrir] Square and protecting it from looting. All the police have left the square, I think, to try an…

The Oppenheim collection and war damage

In November 1943 the collection of antiquities formed by Max Freiherr von Oppenheim was destroyed during a bombing raid (Stephen Evans, "Berlin's Pergamon Museum exhibits Tell Halaf statues", BBC News January 29, 2011). The antiquities, including material from Tell Halaf, was left in an estimated 27,000 fragments. A nine year project to restore the objects has come to fruiition in an exhibition in Berlin.

Decision over MOU with Italy

The decision over the extension of the MOU with Italy has been announced ("Extension of Import Restrictions Imposed on Archaeological Material Originating in Italy and Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical, and Imperial Roman Periods", January 19, 2011).

The broad categories are:

I. Stone. A. Sculpture.II. Metal. A. Sculpture. B. Vessels. C. Personal Ornaments. D. Weapons and Armor. E. Inscribed or Decorated Sheet Metal. F. Coins of Italian Types.III. Ceramic. A. Sculpture. B. Vessels [specifically including 'Imported Vessels' specified as Attic and Corinthian]IV. Glass.V. Painting. A. Wall Painting.

The Italy Database Images can be found here.

Paolo Ferri on Marion True

Fabio Isman has published an interview with Paolo Ferri where Marion True is discussed ("Marion True: macché assoluzione, giudici troppo lenti", Il Giornale dell'Arte gennaio 2011). This is different to the one that appeared in The Art Newspaper ("Clandestine excavation is a crime that is hard to prove", January 2011), and contrasts with the statement by Marion True ("Neither condemned nor vindicated", The Art Newspaper January 2011). Ferri particularly commented on True's comments about the Getty board and their place in making acquisitions ("True affermava che l’intero board era consapevole degli acquisti").

He also reminds us that the case against Hecht continues and thus there was a limit to what can be said without compromising the judicial process ("La Corte non poteva dire di più: sta ancora processando Hecht, non può anticipare il giudizio").

The key bit about the report is that Isman also records the legal decisions. …

"Caligula" seized in police raid

BBC Radio 4's Today programme had a brief (but excited) mention of the seizure of a Roman statue near Lake Nemi in Italy. This featured in a review of The Guardian: "Caligula's tomb found after police arrest man trying to smuggle statue", January 18, 2011.
Officers from the archaeological squad of Italy's tax police had a break last week after arresting a man near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, as he loaded part of a 2.5 metre statue into a lorry. ... The police said the statue was shod with a pair of the "caligae" military boots favoured by the emperor ... The statue is estimated to be worth €1m. Its rare Greek marble, throne and god's robes convinced the police it came from the emperor's tomb. Under questioning, the tomb raider led them to the site, where excavations will start today.This is a reminder that there continues to be a demand for freshly surfaced antiquities from Italy.

Dealing in recently-surfaced antiquities?

Fabio Isman's report in Il Giornale dell'Arte has important implications for the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). It appears that 16 objects on offer by a North American member of the IADAA in late 2010 (and some are still available) could be identified from three major dossiers of photographs derived from raids in Switzerland and Greece.

The IADAA makes its position unambiguous: "As our code of ethics makes clear, we refuse to deal in pieces, which are looted or stolen."

The IADAA's Code of Ethics states: "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."

Members of the IADAA "adhere to a stringent code of conduct designed to serve not only the interests of their clients but also the integrity of the objects themselves."

So, if th…

The "open wound" of surfacing antiquities

One of the major (and unresolved) stories of 2010 related to antiquities in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid. One of the photographs that appeared in The Art Newspaper showed a Gnathian krater in the Zurich workshop (a bathroom?) of Fritz and Harry Bürki.

Fabio Isman has now revealed that the Apulian pyxis shown at the front of the same photograph has been spotted in a New York gallery (Fabio Isman, "Tutto iniziò negli anni Settanta, quando il Met...", Il Giornale dell'Arte gennaio 2011). Isman comments:
Una pisside apula a figure rosse del 340 a.C., una scatola di forma tonda che apparteneva a una misteriosa «collezione inglese» ed è stata acquistata a Londra nel 1990, è apparentemente ritratta invece nel laboratorio di Fritz e Harri Bürki, padre e figlio di Zurigo (Fritz era bidello nell’università dove ha studiato Hecht), perquisiti dalla giustizia italiana che ha loro sequestrato anche altri oggetti: hanno restaurato tra l’altro il cratere di Eufronio con…

European collections under the spotlight

Most of the material returned to Italy has come from North American public and private collections. Other collections have been noted including Copenhagen, the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, and the Miho Museum. But which other European collections hold objects that feature in the dossier of images seized in Switzerland and Greece?

Detail from the Schinousa Archive.

La "Grande razzia": Photographic dossiers revisited

Fabio Isman has revisited the photographic archives that have been seized in Geneva, Basel, and on the island of Schinousa (Greece) and he suggests that it will be uncomfortable reading for one international dealer in antiquities (Il Giornale dell'Arte 305, January 2011 [summary]).
Un caso delicato turba il mercato d’arte internazionale delle antichità e toglie il sonno a qualche importante museo: quello delle fotografie sequestrate a Giacomo Medici e Gianfranco Becchina.Such images, as Marion True has so recently reminded us, have been available from the Carabinieri website.

Isman shows the photograph of an Etruscan mid fifth century BC bronze from the Schinousa Archive linked to Robin Symes.

This looks like an important development.

Etruscan bronze from the Schinousa Archive.

Journal of Art Crime: Fall 2010

The Journal of Art Crime 4 (Fall 2010) is now available. The journal is edited by Noah Charney. For journal details see here.

I have been reading the number on iBooks on the iPad.

Those interested in antiquities will note the following items:


Ton Cremers, "Security & Safety Reflections: Tracking and tracing of stolen art objects", 71-72.David W.J. Gill, "Context matters. Greece and the U.S.: Reviewing cultural property agreements", 73-76.


Christopher A. Marinello, "On fakes", 89-90.Kim Alderman, "The ethics of context: exploring assumptions in discussions about the looting of archaeological sites", 93-94.


Stefano Alessandrini, review of "Ancient art works recovered by the Guardia di Finanza exhibition (14 June-12 September 2010)", 101-102 [with images]. This includes the wonderful phrase, attributed to Massimo Rossi, of "mute works", that is to say objects that have lost their archaeolog…

Egyptian obelisk receives lack of care

The collapse of buildings in Pompeii have caused much concern. There have been suggestions by some that it demonstrates that Italy does not care for its cultural property: indeed, that 130 or so antiquities should have remained in their North American public and private collections rather than going back to Italy.

North American commentators who hold such views will have been chastened to read the text of a letter that Zahi Hawass has written to the president of the Central Park Conservancy and Michael R. Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City. It includes these strong words:
I am sure you are well aware of the obelisk of Thutmose III, referred to as “Cleopatra’s Needle,” that has resided in Central Park since 1880. I am glad that this monument has become such an integral part of New York City, but I am dismayed at the lack of care and attention that it has been given. Recent photographs that I have received show the severe damage that has been done to the obelisk, particularly to the h…

Toxic Antiquities: Concern for Dealers

One of the issues that is likely to become significant during the next few weeks relates to toxic antiquities. There are thousands of antiquities that can be identified from images seized during police raids in Geneva, Basel, and on the island of Schinousa. How can dealers avoid handling them? The easy solution would be to insist on an authenticated collecting history that can be traced back to the period before 1970.

But what if you had sold the material to a private collector a decade or so ago? And now the collector (or their heir) had asked you to sell the collection for them? And what if you knew the original source for the collection?

Do you refuse to handle the objects? But would that indicate that you knew that the items had an "interesting" collecting history?

Or do you agree to sell them and hope that nobody will notice that the items feature in one of the photographic archives? And as Marion True has so recently reminded us, some of these images were made availab…

Trebenishte krater on display in Rome

The magnificent Trebenishte krater has gone on display in Rome after receiving expert restoration in Italy. This is part of an exhibition on works of art from the National Museum in Belgrade.

This draws attention to a second Trebenishte style krater that has been on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. What is its collecting history? Where was it found? Why have the curatorial staff at MFAH been reluctant to answer questions?

And what has happened to Conrad Stibbe's study of this second krater?

Source: Quirinale.

Marion True: further comment

Jori Finkel ("Former Getty antiquities curator Marion True speaks out about her five-year trial in Italy", Los Angeles Times January 5, 2010) has commented on Marion True's statement in The Art Newspaper.

Paolo Ferri: Returns are Symbolic

Fabio Isman has interviewed former Italian state prosecutor Paolo Ferri for Il Giornale dell’Arte. This has been abstracted for The Art Newspaper ("Clandestine excavation is a crime that is hard to prove", January 5, 2010). HeFerritalks about an investivagation of a statue that appeared on the London market and noted the key Swiss companies Editions Services and Xoilan Trading.

The scale of the looting is significant. Ferri talks about the 130 objects returned to Italy (from North American public and private collections) and notes:
The few restitutions that have proved possible are largely symbolic: they concern perhaps 3% of the finds from clandestine excavations which have appeared on the antiquities market.This suggests that there are thousands more objects to be identified from the photographic dossiers and stacks of invoices. Indeed Ferri claims,
we have a database of at least 200,000 objects that come from clandestine excavations and ended up on the black market. This …

Marion True: statement

Marion True has given a full statement to The Art Newspaper ("Neither condemned nor vindicated", January 5, 2010) in the wake of the discontinued trial in Rome. She talks about the creation of the acquisition policy for the J. Paul Getty Museum:
And from 1987, at the request of Getty president Harold Williams, I worked with legal counsel to formulate an acquisition policy for antiquities that called for direct notification of the ministries of Mediterranean countries when purchases were proposed, and requested any information or objections to acquisitions under consideration. The policy also demanded that the ministries have immediate notification of objects acquired and, most importantly, the return of any object that could be proven to be illicitly excavated or smuggled. At the time this policy was the most stringent among major US museums, and was strengthened in 1995 with the requirement that any object proposed for acquisition be published as something known to the schol…

Sarpedon emerges for public display in Rome

Vernon Silver's study of the Euphronios cup is a must-read for anybody interested in the way that antiquities were removed from their archaeological contexts and then passed into the market.

Silver now completes the story of the "lost" cup "signed" by Euphronios showing Hypnos and Thanatos with Sarpedon (a companion piece to the Sarpedon krater returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art). This cup had formed part of the Hunt Collection (Wealth of the Ancient World [1983] no. 5) and had been sold at Sotheby's in 1990 (19 June 1990, lot 6). Silver writes:
Euphronios’ Sarpedon kylix has gone on display at Rome’s Villa Giulia museum with no fanfare or public announcement.There does not appear to be an official press release from the Italian Ministry of Culture.

The cup is displayed alongside other pieces returned from Italy (including the krater returned by Shelby White) and Silver notes:
Its label, which has no accession number, describes it as comi…

Looting Matters: Looking Ahead to 2011

There are several issues that are likely to be addressed.

First, there appears to be some consensus that the (inappropriately named) Treasure Act for England and Wales needs to be revised. Lord Renfrew is a key voice in the House of Lords. The Crosby Garrett helmet has highlighted weaknesses in the present system.

Second, more "toxic antiquities" are likely to surface. Auction-houses and dealers will need to improve their due diligence procedures.

Third, there are some outstanding issues that will need to be resolved: the Minneapolis krater, the Minoan larnax in Atlanta, and the St Louis mummy mask. The Miho Museum and Copenhagen will also need to reconsider their acquisitions.

Fourth, the AAMD needs to tighten up its due diligence procedures relating to long-term loans (see, e.g. the Dioskouroi, the Trebenishte style krater).

Fifth, Zahi Hawass would like to see material from Saqqara returned to Egypt.

No doubt there will be continued calls for the return of "historic&…