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Showing posts from January, 2012

Dallas and Almagia

Maxwell L. Anderson, Director of the Dallas Museum of Art, appears to be concerned about some of the acquisitions made by the museum before his appointment. He has placed a number of recent acquisitions on the AAMD's object register. Among them is a volute-krater, attributed to the Underworld painter, purchased from Edoardo Almagià in 1998 (inv. 1998.74). The krater first surfaced 1989, and it is claimed ("reputedly") that it had previously formed part of an (anonymous) English private collection.

Dallas also has a pair of Etruscan bronze shields with head of Acheloos (Inv. 1998.115.1-2.M), "Reputedly in a European collection prior to sale by Edoardo Almagia. Purchased by the Munger Fund from Mr. Almagia." [AAMD] What is the name of the anonymous European collection?

Almagià is directly associated with objects returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art and Princeton University Art Museum. Almagià should be able to supply Dallas with the name of the spec…

Princeton: collecting histories needed for further antiquities

In June 2010 details were provided of a longer list of material that was under investigation at Princeton. This included an Attic pot sold to the museum in 2001. It can now be confirmed that this is indeed the black-figured Tyrrhenian amphora attributed to the Guglielmi painter purchased in 2001 (inv. 2001-218) [JSTOR] [Museum catalogue] [Beazley Archive 9003149]. Will the museum reveal the collecting history of this amphora prior to 2001?

A second piece that appears to be under investigation is a bronze Villanovan cinerary urn in the form of a hut that was purchased from an unstated source in 1999 (inv. 1999-70) [JSTOR] [Museum catalogue]. Again, what is the collecting history of the cinerary urn?

There is, so I understand, a much longer list. Will Princeton be making a full statement about the background to the recent returns? Did all the pieces come from the same source? What are the complete collecting histories? Is there a reason to maintain a silence?

Part of the mission of the …

Attack on Becchina

There is a report in the Italian press that the house of Gianfranco Becchina in Castelvetrano sustained a shotgun attack ("Escalation di attentati intimidatori a Castelvetrano e Campobello",, January 24, 2012). Becchina has been linked to a number of antiquities that passed through Switzerland on the way to North American public and private collections.

Broughton Coin Theft

I know that a number of numismatists read LM ... so perhaps they could do their bit to help solve the theft of some coins from a house in the Scottish Borders.

An orphan in the larger picture

I have been reflecting on the announcement of fragmentary Greek pots to Italy. And it strikes me that a fragment acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1984 and its relationship to other fragments of the same Athenian red-figured cup probably give us a clue.

The significance lies in the list of donors and former owners who held the fragments.

And have any pieces from the same cup been returned to Italy in the latest batch of material?

Planet Princeton Comments

Planet Princetoncomments on the return ("Princeton University Returns Art to Italy", January 26, 2012).

But what is more interesting is the response from Robert Steven Bianchi and I give a flavour here:
The repatriation of these objects is absurd in the extreme ... the Italians cannot take care of their own so they launch witch hunts against those who cherish, protect, preserve, and educate the world about that heritage in order to conceal their own disregard for and indifference toward their own cultural property.Why did Princeton hand over this material? Had the objects been known before 1970? Where had the architectural fragments been found?

Sabratha portrait head returned to Libya

A Roman portrait of Domitilla Minor that was found at Sabratha in Libya will be returning home. The head had surfaced at Christie's in London where it appears to have been provided with a falsified collecting history that had placed it in a Swiss private collection in the 1970s. In fact the head had been stolen from the Sabratha Archaeological Museum in 1990.

The head was handed over by Professor Mario Monti, the Italian Prime Minister.

The return raises serious issues about the rigour of the due diligence process conducted by auction-house. Will Christie's be revisiting their procedures?

The handover ceremony [press release from MiBAC]

The significance of the von Bothmer return

Chasing Aphrodite has a very useful discussion about the nature of the ex Dietrich von Bothmer fragments that have been returned to Italy. It suggests a possible link with the material returned from Princeton as they seem to be derived from a common source.

What has Princeton returned?

Princeton has been reluctant to provide specific details of what has been returned to Italy. So here is a possible list based on the MiBAC and Princeton press releases. I have also looked back to the original report that appeared in the New York Times (see here). It appears that the returned items were acquired between 1993 and 2002.

a. "a black-glazed askos" / "un askos a forma di astragalo". Apparently 2002-156. "Gift in memory of Emily Townsend Vermeule, Honorary Degree Holder of the Class of 1989". [Published 2003]

b. "a pair of female statuettes" / "due statuette di donna, di cui una che suona un tamburello e l'altra la lira". Apparently y1993-28, and y1993-28. Canosan "statuette of a woman playing a tambourine" and "playing a lyre". Both Museum purchase and source unstated. [Published 1994]

c. "four fragments of a red-figure calyx krater" / "quattro [frammenti] di un cratere a figure rosse&q…

Princeton Issues Statement

Princeton University has issued a limited statement that does little to provide information about the return of material to Italy ("Princeton University Art Museum, Italy reach new antiquities agreement", January 25, 2012, press release). There is no comment about the donor or the vendor of the pieces.
The transfer agreement is an addendum to an agreement with Italy that the University entered into in 2007. It builds upon the museum's history of successfully resolving ownership claims for works of art in its collections.Under the agreement, six works were returned to the Republic of Italy in December 2011. The transfer of title for the six returned items is an important aspect of the agreement because it recognizes that legal title rested with Princeton before the transfer and that the works were acquired by Princeton in good faith.

The items that were transferred are a black-glazed askos; a pair of female statuettes; four fragments of a red-figure calyx krater; fragments…

Princeton maintains silence

Princeton University seems to be avoiding commenting on the fact that the Princeton University Art Museum has returned a major block of antiquities to Italy. Earlier in the week the spokesperson seemed to be unsure how to respond to the Italian press release.

Chasing Aphrodite has now written an extended comment on the return and specifically notes the role of the press team at Princeton:
In response to a previous request for information, Princeton Museum spokeswoman Cass Cliatt took pains to distance the museum from the Padgett/Almagia case: “The[re] were not and have not ever been any allegations against the University related to the current investigation, and the Italian authorities at no point contacted the University about the current investigation. Great care should be taken about implying a connection.” It is not clear how a criminal investigation into the museum’s curator and a major donor (and alum) have nothing to do with the museum, and these returns only raise further quest…

Princeton: identification

The Etruscan white-on-red pithos seen in the front of the image issued by the Italian Ministry of Culture appears to be the one given by Edoardo Almagià in 1999 (inv. 1999-8). [JSTOR]

Such an identification raises issues about Princeton's apparent failure to provide a press release.

Items from deceased New York collector returned to Italy

Perhaps one of the most telling sections in the Italian Ministry of Culture's statement was this: "quaranta reperti archeologici frammentati, in restituzione dal Metropolitan Museum di New York, riconducibili alla collezione privata di un cittadino americano, deceduto".

Italian journalist Fabio Isman reported in Il Messaggero on Saturday: "Ma 40 frammenti li ha spediti anche il Metropolitan di New York: parte dell’eredità che gli ha lasciato uno studioso dei più celebri, Dietrich von Bothmer".

There is no statement on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's press website.

Venus from Rimini returned to Italy from New York gallery

The Italian Ministry of Culture has reported that a bronze statue of the Roman goddess Venus ("Venus di San Giovanni in Perareto") that was stolen from the Museo Civico in Rimini in August 1962 has been recovered ["Recuperati negli Usa eccezionali reperti archeologici di provenienza furtiva e da scavo illecito in Italia", January 20, 2012 press release; see also Carabinieri press release]. The piece was apparently spotted in the stock of an antiquities gallery in the USA.

Although the press release did not name the gallery, a newspaper report by Fabio Isman, and a statement issued by ANSA identified the gallery as the Royal-Athena Galleries ("Così il proprietario della Royal-Athena (Londra e Manhattan: forse, la massima galleria), Jerome Eisenberg, l’ha consegnata a New York".) It is reported that the return was undisputed and no compensation was requested.

The gallery has returned antiquities to Italy on a previous occasion.

Humana returns Fortuna

The Italian Ministry of Culture has announced that two marble statues, one of Fortuna, have been returned from the North American healthcare company, Humana. Their New York source has not been declared.

However it has now been disclosed that the Fortuna was stolen in Rome on 4 October 1986. The second statue was identified from photographs seized from Giacomo Medici.

Princeton: more on the return

Earlier today I was in touch with the press office at Princeton University but the university spokesperson was unable to clarify the objects returned by Princeton University Art Museum ("I am not aware of the announcement you refer to, so please send me additional information to help me determine the best way to address your inquiry").

However it now appears that Fabio Isman had written about the return on Saturday. He reports that some 170 complete pieces and fragments were returned. They appear to be linked to Edoardo Almagià.

Objects include a fragmentary red-figured krater and architectural fragments. As Princeton has not yet issued a list it is not possible to comment in a detailed way. But an askos in the form of an astragal ("un askos a forma di astragalo") was acquired in 2002 in memory of Emily Townsend Vermeule [JSTOR].

This story was first reported by the New York Times in June 2010. The implications for the curator named in the original report are uncle…

Princeton: breaking news

It appears that Princeton University Art Museum has returned a further batch of material to Italy.
centosettanta tra reperti archeologici interi e frammentati restituiti dal Princeton University Art Museum, tra cui un askos a forma di astragalo, due statuette di donna, di cui una che suona un tamburello e l’altra la lira, un pithos a figure rosse e bianche, raffigurante animali, e 166 frammenti (quattro di un cratere a figure rosse, cinque di rilievi architettonici, un gruppo di 157 elementi architettonici con figure di tori).The suspicion is that the material relates to a recent investigation.

Hecht Trial: Jason Felch comments

Jason Felch has commented on the expiry of the Robert Hecht Trial for the LA Times.
“There is plenty of evidence,” Ferri said, citing as an example Hecht’s own handwritten memoir, in which the dealer detailed his long career buying ancient art from Medici and other suppliers whom Hecht described as “clandestine diggers.” An organizational chart seized from a middleman in the illicit trade showed Hecht’s name at the top of a pyramid of suspected looters and smugglers.I am grateful to Chasing Aphrodite for the link.

Correction: I misattributed this report to Vernon Silver.

The Baltimore Test Case: Federal Attorneys Respond

Readers of LM are likely to have been following the process of the so-called Baltimore Test Case relating to the import of coins without supporting paperwork. Attorney Rick St Hilaire has a very important post on "Federal Attorneys File Appellate Brief in Baltimore Coin Case". I suggest that those interested in this case should read the full post, but here is a little flavour.
The United States rebukes the ACCG for short-circuiting the judicial forfeiture proceeding, avoiding its burden of proof, and claiming that the government acted beyond its authority (i.e. ultra vires). The government contends that the “Plaintiff [ACCG] cannot properly circumvent the statutory scheme established by Congress by asking a district court to review this seizure under the APA and under the rubric of ultra vires review and . . . to further confound Congress’s intent by asking the court to disregard the burden of proof established by the CPIA.”

Attorneys for the United States further maintain t…

Robert Hecht trial expires

Those following the trial of Robert Hecht in Rome will remember the predictions back in 2006: "For a man accused of crimes punishable by as many as eight years in prison, Mr. Hecht seems relatively unperturbed by the trial. (The reason may be that even if he is convicted, he is unlikely to spend a single night in prison, if only because of his age, legal experts say)" (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Antiquities Dealer on Trial in Getty Case Is Vexed but Unbowed", New York Times June 21, 2006). He was linked to the sale of the Sarpedon krater to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as a hoard of Hellenistic silver ("The Morgantina hoard"). The article reminds us that objects sold through Atlantis Antiquities, co-owned by Jonathan Rosen, have been returned to Italy. Indeed Shelby White and Leon Levy were apparently numbered among his clients.

Povoledo now reports that the Hecht trial has expired due to the statue of limitations ("Italian Trial of …

Owner of IAPN member organisation charged?

Concerned numismatists have been in touch to point that Arnold Peter C. Weiss, who is reported to have been arrested and charged in New York City on January 3, 2012, should no longer be described as a "coin collector".

If the authors of Chasing Aphrodite are right to link Weiss with a hand surgeon at Brown University who states on his work website that he "serves as Trustee of the American Numismatic Society (New York)" then further questions need to be asked.

Coin World has indicated that Weiss is a "partner in Nomos AG" of Switzerland. The website of Nomos AG states "the firm itself and its invaluable photo file was acquired ... by a long-time collector of ancient coins, Dr. A. Peter Weiss, who had decided to continue the business".

The ANS also states: "Dr. Weiss is one of the founding Partners of the second incarnation of the firm Nomos AG, of Zürich, Switzerland".

Nomos AG is a member of the International Association of Professio…

Rhode Island Coin Collector

Coins as investments

The raid on a dealer at a Numismatic Convention begins to get interesting. In 2002 the New York Times (October 27, 2002) carried a story by Bernard Simon, "Coin Trade Becomes More Like A Market".
Over the last few years, some investors have shifted money from the stock market into coin collections. "They have good rates of return -- not as good as when we were riding the Internet bubble, but the coin market hasn't burst," said Arnold-Peter C. Weiss, a surgeon in Providence, R.I., who has played both markets.

Dr. Weiss said he had taken "a big hit" on a few dot-com investments. But he has done well, on paper, at least, in coin investments. In 1998, he bought a type of ancient Greek silver coin, minted by the city-state of Megalopolis and featuring the head of Zeus, for $60,000. It fetched about $200,000 last year at an auction at Bank Leu in Zurich, Dr. Weiss said.What is the ethical basis of such an investment policy?

Coin talk on the sidewalk

Word in Manhattan is that one of the seized coins may indeed be more interesting than first realized. The present proprietor and his partner will have to make some difficult decisions. more soon ... | |

Coins from Sicily seized in New York City

It can be revealed that last week there was a raid on the New York International Numismatic Convention. Two coins were seized with a value of some 2.8 million USD. Arnold-Peter Weiss, the apparent owner of the coins, is reported to have been detained: oral reports circulating here in NYC suggest that handcuffs were applied though this has to be confirmed.

Weiss is reported to be a professor at Brown University of Medicine.

Alan Walker, co-director of the company, claims that the material was being traded legally though he does not seem to have commented on their origin. Were the coins found in Italy? Did they leave Italy legally?

This development seems to suggest that the US authorities are taking firm action over high value cultural property that originates in Italy.

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AIA Award: Does Looting Matter?

AIA Outstanding Public Service Award

AIA President, AIA Members, I am immensely grateful to receive this award with its emphasis on public service. Archaeology is not a private discipline, it is carried out in the public arena. And archaeologists seek to serve by valuing our shared—dare I use the word cosmopolitan?—cultural heritage whether it lies stratified and as yet unexcavated, or if it is on display in the great public—should that be encyclopedic?—museums around the world.

I can place the origins of my research to a post-lunch conversation in the rooms of the then reviews editor of Antiquity in King’s College, Cambridge. My co-researcher, Christopher Chippindale, and I were looking at images of recently surfaced Gandharan antiquities that had been photographed in St James’ Park in London. We were outraged, our attention turned to the intellectual consequences of looting, and we started work on our paper on Cycladic figures published by the American Journal of Archaeology.

Last ye…

Presenting the Past in the 21st Century

I attended the session on Presenting the Past in the 21st century. The moderator introduced the session by saying that ethical issues should not be aired at the session. There was an interesting session by Michael Bennett of the Cleveland Museum of Art who showed the Apollo Sauroktonos as the object that introduces visitors to the classical part. His talk was peppered ith references to the encyclopedic museum and cosmopolitanism. The second presentation looked at Harvard and it would have been interesting to learn about the use of the orphans in the display. The third and fourth slots considered the ISAW sponsored Vani exhibition. This made the excellent point that achaeological context matters when it comes to interpretation.
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AIA Ceremony

I am honoured to receive the Archaeological Institute of America's Outstanding Public Service Award.

Details of the ceremony can be found here.

Looting Matters: Looking Ahead to 2012

2012 will start with the award of the Archaeological Institute of America's Outstanding Public Service Award. I hope that this will encourage a rigorous debate over compliance especially by those involved in the antiquities market.

On past records it can be expected that more objects identified from photographic archives will appear on the market. The main matter of concern is that one auction house seems to press on with sales even when objects have been spotted.

There are still several unresolved cases of cultural property from Italy. The museums include the Miho Museum, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, and the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. The dispute between Egypt and the St Louis Art Museum also remains unresolved.

The US Government seems to be developing a series of MOUs with other countries to restrict the movement of recently surfaced antiquities. I suspect that there will be some interesting protests from some qua…

Does Looting Matter?

Those attending the AIA Conference in Philadelphia are warmly invited to attend the Roundtable Discussion Group, "Does Looting Matter?".

Date: Saturday 7 January 2012. Time: 11.30 am - 1.00 pm. Franklin Hall

Here are some ideas for the discussion:

Why should archaeologists care about looting?

First, there are the material consequences: archaeological sites are disturbed and wrecked.

Second, there are the intellectual consequences: the loss of information that hinders the interpretation of the objects.

The last five years have seen renewed interest in the damage to the archaeological record of Italy. Well over 100 objects have been returned from North American public and private collections to the Italian state, many of them identified from photographic images seized in the Geneva Freeport. Why did high profile institutions continue to acquire recently surfaced objects in spite of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export …