Saturday 29 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 and create disorder, but the civilians are taking control and organising traffic. They are also protecting property from looters and thieves, and taking back stolen goods, which are being placed in the yard of the museum for safety. We want this protest to be peaceful."
See also the comment from Culture Monster at the LA Times.

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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.

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Wednesday 19 January 2011

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.

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Tuesday 18 January 2011

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. He notes the statement from Judge Aurora Cantilòlo: "Non è possibile procedere all’assoluzione per nessuno dei reati contestati". Cantilòlo is also reported to have written:
«Le acquisizioni probatorie non consentono una constatazione di tal tipo, nemmeno per il delitto di associazione a delinquere»; dagli «atti e testimonianze, emergono gravi indizi sull’esistenza di un’articolata organizzazione a livello transnazionale, dedita alla ricettazione e al traffico internazionale di opere d’arte provento di furto o scavo clandestino, esportate in modo clandestino e destinate in molti casi all’acquisto da parte dei più prestigiosi musei del mondo».

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"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.

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Saturday 15 January 2011

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 there is such a stringent code of conduct, how has this happened? What are the full collecting histories of the objects? Was the dealer aware of the origins of the objects? Were the pieces purchased in "good faith"?

It needs to be remembered that 9 of the 16 identified items appear to have passed through the hands of the same dealer on previous occasions (since 1985 and up to 1991). Who were the sources for the pieces?

Some are designated as "ex Swiss collection" or "ex English collection". Were these private collectors?

Will the IADAA be checking that the circumstances of the 16 pieces?

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Thursday 13 January 2011

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 la Morte di Sarpedonte. La pisside apula, la cui foto era tra quelle di Medici, è immortalata proprio accanto a uno degli oggetti finiti al Museo di Madrid.
The pxyis was attributed to the Baltimore painter by A.D. Trendall.

Isman's article is informed by the meticulous work of Cambridge researcher Christos Tsirogiannis. Some 16 objects were linked to the photographic archives obtained through raids in Geneva, Basel and on the island of Schinousa. Isman makes clear that how it had been possible to consult the images:
Il portfolio di Medici è stato pubblicato, e per qualche tempo era possibile consultarlo, sul sito del Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del patrimonio culturale; anche quello di Becchina è pubblico: già da tre anni allegato al processo di Roma contro Marion True (nel frattempo prosciolta) e Robert Hecht.
Isman reviews how these images have been used in recent years to identify items resurfacing on the market in London and New York.

Nine of the items, all Attic, Etruscan or South Italian pots, had formed part of the Patricia Kluge collection. One piece, an Campanian oinochoe, had also resided in the John Kluge collection. Back in 2007 Lee Rosenbaum (Culturegrrl) reported on some bronzes that were returned to Italy:
[The dealer] told me that he had sold the bronzes in the 1980s to collector John Kluge, who put them up for auction at Christie's on June 8, 2004. [The dealer] repurchased them there (for $6,573 and $9,560, respectively). He said that he had also voluntarity returned other pieces, when he learned that they had been illegally taken from Italy.
It appears that the bronzes had been removed from Italian collections in the 1970s.

Isman also comments on the Clarence Day sale at Sotheby's New York in December 2010.
Lo stesso vale per i tre bronzetti ex Symes andati all’asta da Sotheby’s a inizio dicembre: un cinghiale valutato 50mila dollari, un giovane danzatore etrusco (60mila) e due applique anch’esse etrusche (90mila). Provengono dalla favolosa collezione del filantropo Clarence Day, morto a 82 anni nel 2009, ed erano riemersi circa 30 anni fa da Mathias Komor, mercante newyorkese deceduto nel 1984. Day, infatti, s’innamora dell’archeologia negli anni ’70, come dimostrano le fotografie dell’isola greca, in cui la polizia ellenica ha sequestrato nel 2006 il portfolio d’infinite opere di provenienza illegittima passate per le mani di Symes e di Christos Michaelides, allora suo socio, come ha ricostruito sempre Gill. Nella fotografia il giovane danzatore etrusco è ancora sporco della terra di scavo.
It looks as if the collecting histories of that collection deserved a little more scrutiny.

Isman concludes his pieces with some comments from Paolo Ferri, the former state prosecutor.
È difficile capire, 15 anni dopo, come antichità di cui alcuni tra i maggiori mercanti possedevano le immagini prima del restauro, possano essere ancora in circolazione nel mercato.
No wonder Ferri considers the appearance of such antiquities on the market an "open wound".

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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.

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Wednesday 12 January 2011

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.

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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 archaeological context.
  • Douglas L. Yearwood, review of "Art and crime: exploring the dark side of the art world", 111-112.

Those interested in Nazi Looted Art Objects and Art Crime in general will find much in the number.

For Spring 2010 see here.

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Tuesday 11 January 2011

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 hieroglyphic text, which in places has been completely worn away. I have a duty to protect all Egyptian monuments whether they are inside or outside of Egypt. If the Central Park Conservancy and the City of New York cannot properly care for this obelisk, I will take the necessary steps to bring this precious artifact home and save it from ruin.
I am sure that with a little common sense a solution for the obelisk can be found - just as one will emerge for the far more extensive and complex site of Pompeii.

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Monday 10 January 2011

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 available on the Carabinieri website.

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Friday 7 January 2011

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.

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Wednesday 5 January 2011

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 is why it is vital to work with the areas most affected by clandestine excavations. It is also necessary to continue negotiations with museums that have made purchases of these finds.
Isman's closing question asked,
Which antiquities have proved most difficult to retrieve and which ones still need to be tracked down?
Ferri's immediate reply was this:
Coins come to mind: the first antiquities that are found using a metal detector, they are often of crucial importance for dating an archaeological site or a tomb.
His comments are no doubt linked to the renewal of the MOU with Italy.

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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 scholarly world before 1995.
She links her trial directly with the desire for Italy to return the Morgantina Aphrodite.

True's statement reminds us that some images from the Medici Dossier were made available on the Carabinieri website in 1999.

She talks about Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman and their collection.
We were, in fact, competitors in the market. The Fleischmans built a fine collection with intelligence and passion—but it was not made for the Getty.
She draws attention to the way that North American museums returned objects to Italy and comments on the current allegations surrounding the Princeton University Art Museum:
The strategy worked extremely well. American museums chose not to join forces to challenge the Italian position, but silently went their separate ways, with directors travelling to Italy to make private deals to return objects in the hope of appeasing the prosecutor. There was even a sense of relief that I was the only target of the Italians. Yet, it now appears that I will not be the only victim. Six months ago, The New York Times announced that a second American curator, Michael Padgett of Princeton University Art Museum, is under investigation together with another group of dealers for charges very similar to those lodged against me. This too in spite of Princeton’s willingness to work with Italy to return disputed objects.
She is defiant and closes with this comment:
If the case against Princeton goes forward, perhaps American museums will stand together and not yield to intimidation.
Yet it is hard to escape the fact that over 130 recently-surfaced antiquities have been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections.

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Tuesday 4 January 2011

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 coming from the Geneva raid (and doesn’t mention that, technically, it’s still Medici’s property, pending the resolution of his legal cases).

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Saturday 1 January 2011

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" acquisitions to their countries of origin.

I remain grateful to readers for suggested topics, stories and leads.

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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...