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 Getty Kouros: "The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance"

In the wake of the 1992 Athens conference to discuss the Getty kouros (85.AA.40), one of the delegates, a "distinguished" American museum curator, was quoted ("Greek sculpture; the age-old question", The Economist June 20, 1992):
The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance.
The recent discussions about the return of antiquities from North American museums to Italy and Greece may seem far removed from the acquisition of what appears to be a forged archaic Greek sculpture in the 1980s. However, there are some surprising overlaps.

The statue arrived at the Getty on September 18, 1983 in seven pieces. True (1993: 11) subsequently asked two questions:
Where was it found? As it was said to have been in a Swiss private collection for fifty years, why had it never been reassembled, though it was virtually complete?
A similar statue surfacing in the 1930s
A decision was taken to acquire the kouros in 1985. The official Getty line at the time (and reported in Russell…

Symes and a Roman medical set

Pierre Bergé & Associés of Paris are offering a rare Roman bronze medical set (16 May 2018, lot 236). Its recorded history is: "Ancienne collection Hishiguro, Tokyo, 1992". The catalogue entry helpfully informs us that the set probably came from a burial ("Cette trousse de chirurgien a probablement été découverte dans une sépulture ...").

The set appears to be the one that has been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogannis from an image in the Schinousa archive thus linking it to Robin Symes.

Given that the catalogue entry suggests that this piece came from a funerary context and that the history of the piece can only be traced back to 1992 (and not to 1970), questions are being raised about the set's origins.

What due diligence was conducted on the medical set prior to offering it for sale? Did Symes sell the set to Hishiguro? How did Symes obtain the set? Who sold it to him?

I understand that the appropriate authorities in France are being informed about the …

The Minoan Larnax and the Michael C. Carlos Museum

I was recently asked to comment on the acquisition of recently surfaced antiquities in Greece as part of an interview. One of the examples I gave was the Minoan larnax that was acquired by the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Although this piece has been discussed in the Greek press, the museum has not yet responded to the apparent identification in the Becchina archive.

Is the time now right for the Michael C. Carlos Museum or the wider authorities at Emory University to negotiate the return of this impressive piece so that it can be placed on display in a museum in Greece?