Skip to main content

Karlsruhe and Greece: new claim on Cycladic material

It appears that the Hellenic Ministry of Culture has asked the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe to return two pieces to Greece. They appear to be a marble Cycladic figure and a Bronze Age dish (that I also assume is Cycladic). Both pieces were purchased in 1975 after the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

The request appears to have been made as part of the condition to lend material to the Cycladic exhibition due to be mounted by Karlsruhe from December 2011 (details).

Harald Siebenmorgen, the director of the museum, is reported to have rejected the Greek request.
Siebenmorgen said they were purchased with public funds in 1975 and Greece had no legal claim to them, because of the moratorium on civil claims and Germany had not signed a convention on restitution of art treasures until 1992.

Siebenmorgen told SWR 2 television that a linkage between restitution claims and loans was 'not the international custom at all' and said it was 'like extortion.'

This raises several issues. The acquisitions were made after 1970, and Siebenmorgen will be aware that major North American museums have complied with Italian requests for the return of material that was acquired post 1970 (even though the USA had not become a signatory at that date). What is the full collecting history of the two disputed pieces? Is there good reason to believe that they were looted from archaeological sites in Greece?

Greece has been asked to loan archaeological material to an exhibition and its officials have every right to expect the highest ethical standards from the museum organising the Cycladic show.

Research by Gill and Chippindale has demonstrated the significant impact of looting on the archaeological record of the Cyclades, highlighted, in part, by an earlier exhibition of Cycladic material in Karlsruhe. I would have expected Siebenmorgen to have adopted a more positive and conciliatory approach to the Greek request.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know


On May 11th, 2011, Lord Renfrew gave a speech at the University of Athens on “Protecting Cultural Heritage: The Challenge of International Trade of Antiquities”. After expressing his disappointment because the problem of looting remains unresolved even now, not only for Greece but worldwide (a phenomenon attributed to the very high prices antiquities of unknown origin are being sold), Lord Renfrew stated that the illegal trafficking of antiquities is not linked only to private collectors, but also to museums. He went on naming three museums which have been involved in such scandals: the Met (Euphronios krater), the Getty (gold Macedonian wreath recently returned to Greece) and the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe (with the two Cycladic acquisitions).

I believe that Lord Renfrew’s speech and the reference made of the unresolved issue (Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe) in context with the two other already resolved ones (Met & Getty), has been crucial in helping Greek authorities to speed up the request process.

PS Has Harald Siebenmorgen ever heard the name of Dr. Elie Borowski?
Anonymous said…
David, Emmanuel,

I agree with your points on Siebenmorgen. Thank you both for raising the awareness! I want to add, I am sure there are national German laws that were broken by acquiring looted objects, too. Siebenmorgen should know he is at risk becoming the next candidate to face criminal charges. Lord Renfrew should refuse to speak at the conference planned with this exhibition.
The source of the requested Cycladic objects is unknown to me, so I am not suggesting that Dr. Elie Borowski has been involved in this particular transaction. This is a question the museum has to answer.

The reference to the name of Dr. Elie Borowski was made in an attempt to refresh memories about the “unfortunate” cooperation between Greece and the Badisches Landesmuseum in Karlsruhe, as far as the 2001 exhibition is concerned (“Im Labyrinth des Minos. Kreta - die erste europäische Hochkultur”). As a consequence of that, Greece denied the loan of exhibits to Karlsruhe for the 2008 exhibition “Time of Heroes: The "Dark Ages" of Greece 1200 - 800 BC”. (Ref.: and the museum’s reply at

Having said that, I fully agree with you that “Siebenmorgen should have adopted a more positive and conciliatory approach to the Greek request”. After all, the denial of the term “Europe’s Getty” for the museum he is in charge of must be followed by corresponding actions. Now is the right time for that and this is an opportunity the museum – a state museum - cannot afford to let it go.

You are right about Lord Renfrew’s presence in the conference. On second thought, I have the feeling that he wouldn’t like missing the opportunity of raising the issue of the Greek request in front of the audience and the museum’s executives...
Marc Fehlmann said…
Lord Renfrew has published one of the pieces in 1976 ... refusing to speak now at the conference would need a smart explanation. He could, however, just as well give a talk on how ethics have changed since 1976. He surely would have a keen audience.
Anonymous said…
I am just re-studying the old catalogue "Kykladen und Alter Orient: Bestandskatalog des Badischen Landesmuseums Karlsruhe", by Ellen Rehm (1997): I am just completely shocked by the old-fashioned style in that no provenance is given for most of the 400 or so pieces in this catalogue. A single page (p. 338) on “Fundorte (meist laut Kunsthändlerangaben).” Greece should refuse to participate in this new exhibition altogether. Ellen Rehm had written earlier a book on ancient near eastern, especially Achaemenid jewelry, problematic as one can only imagine with most material only on the art market.


There is no catalogue for the “Time of Heroes” I assume. Is this the same show that came to the US, and was shown here were Sabine Albersmeier was also curating, like in Karlsruhe?


Marc Fehlmann said…
There is a substantial catalogue Die Zeit der Helden: die dunklen Jahrhunderte Griechenlands (the Dark Ages of Greece):^&PID=lrJwDHHU7v-KrR2MIncwH6q3KWLEu&SEQ=20111024201111&CNT=25&HIST=1

It was not the same show as the one at the Walters Art Museum.

You might get the catalogue on Amazon.
Anonymous said…
@ Emmanuel: Oh I just saw. This is a different exhibition.

So, Dr. Katarina Horst is once again the curator of this show, and the only one who can answer whether the museum has ever been involved in displaying antiquities with doubtful provenance.

2008: "Το μουσείο δεν συμμετείχε ποτέ σε κύκλωμα αρχαιοκαπηλίας ή σε παράνομο εμπόριο αρχαιοτήτων. Και ο χαρακτηρισμός του ως «Το Γκετί της Ευρώπης» είναι αναληθής και επομένως συκοφαντικός."

At least the author of the reply from Germany understands that the Getty is really not a good place to be compared with in 2008.

Bechhina Archive, Robin Symes, Michaelides, Schinoussa, all there in Karlsruhe. What is the truth about this?

Who is the main sponsor of the Cyclades show opening in December? Is it the Costopoulos Foundation? Since the University at Heidelberg? is involved, is Panagiotopoulos teaching about the issues? Where do all these objects after 1970 come from if they were not looted?

Popular posts from this blog

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.