Saturday, 24 September 2011

An Etruscan head on the market

I note with much interest an Etruscan terracotta votive head that is due to be auctioned at Christie's in London on October 6, 2011 (lot 176). The head, which had formed part of the Jacques Werner collection in Belgium, had surfaced through Galerie Archeologia, Brussels, in 1989.

Such votive heads are normally found in Italy. Where was this one found? Who handled it prior to the Galerie Archeologia? What is the full collecting history?

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Anonymous said...


How is Christie's even allowed to sell this head (and other objects in the October sale) when the UK ratified the UNESCO 1970 convention in 2002?
Would this not be illegal anyway to sell an object that has no provenance? I do not understand, but maybe there is a loophole I do not see?

David Gill said...

The more interesting issue is this. Imagine if the Italian authorities had written to Christie's about this piece but the auction house decided to continue with the sale. Would Christie's alert the buyer?

Anonymous said...

Oh I see, so we both have questions, and no answers. And I am afraid I add more. Can it only be Italian authorities or can it be any Italian who is proud of her/his heritage and helping to provide?

Still I do not understand how the UK can be so corrupt. Is there no way of preventing this October 6 sale to happen from within the UK? In an ideal place, cannot a British University, or education institution, preferably those around the corner from Christie's in London like UCL or so, just go there and say this is against UK heritage laws? Why is it that people always put the finger to the other countries? Bring protesters in front of the auction house October 6 as part of a class to teach. "Free Lot 176 (and others, for that matter)," put more journalists on it and bring media in. The UK should have not signed in 2002 anyway if they are not abiding to it. It is embarassing for the UK if it is not able to stop illegal activities in their own country.

David Gill said...

Dear Avatar
You note "and others". Indeed there are. I presume that Christie's Department of Antiquities are considering what to do.
With best wishes

Paul Barford said...

Avatar. The idea of peaceful protesters/picket is a great one.

Sadly the UNESCO Convention is no real help here. Take a look at it:

Article 7b(ii) is the one you need. But what if a state does not notice it's on sale, cannot get the papers together in time? Or whatever. That includes for example total lack of clarity from which country it was taken (like the Sevso treasure). Another reason for dealers staying quiet about where they got stuff.

Skip down to Article 13 "The States Parties to this Convention also undertake, consistent with the laws of each State:

(a) To prevent by all appropriate means transfers of ownership of cultural property likely to promote the illicit import or export of such property;

(b) to ensure that their competent services co-operate in facilitating the earliest possible restitution of illicitly exported cultural property to its rightful owner"
. Brilliant, eh?

The problem is that this needs a bit of will from the "market state". The UK does not show much will in that regard. A serious drawback is "according to the laws of that state" - there is not one in the UK.

The bright Brits passed the "Dealing in Cultural Property (Offences) Act" (2003) which is totally ineffective - moreover to be an offence, the object has to be take off a monument or dug up after the passing of the act (and not 1970). The head here was out of the ground by 2003.

Obviously we all need to take a good look at these laws and campaign to get them changed so they actually work to the benefit of the threatened cultural heritage and not the trade.

Anonymous said...

well ...less than 0.001 of antique that are looted will be seen in public ....i know treasure hunters that said to me ...give me a job to feed my children and i simply stop ...they get less than 5%of the international price....

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