Today is the Day of Archaeology 2012 and I have just written a short overview of my week (so far). There are some great posts out there that reflect the variety of activities that fall under the term archaeology.
I am also helping to raise money for the St Mary at the Quay project in Ipswich that will be converted into a 'wellbeing heritage centre'. This is being administered by Suffolk Mind and the Churches Conservation Trust. So if readers of LM would like to sponsor my attempt to walk 10,000 steps every day (for the next four weeks) they can do so here ... and help part of Ipswich's medieval heritage.
UNESCO has mounted a small exhibition of "Recovered Treasures" in Paris (June-July 2012). A short description is provided:
31 stolen and recovered original works of art from the IVth century B.C. to the XVIIth century will be exhibited including several archaeological vases, two portions of a fresco, a painting by Guercino, another by Ludovico Carracci, a precious XIIth century ivory cross, several pages of illuminated manuscripts, one of the first letters by Christopher Columbus printed in Latin, two XVth century panel paintings by Bernardino Fungai.
Among the items on display is the Asteas krater returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum.
I received the latest volume of the Journal of Art Crime today. It includes my regular column, "Context Matters". For this number I decided to break with my previous custom and write a longer piece on the recent return of antiquities from Princeton to Italy. I include a list of the returned pieces as well as a discussion of the need for transparency.
The discussion piece also notes some of the other North American museums that have acquired material once owned by Edoardo Almagià, including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Tampa Museum of Art, and Boston's Museum of Fine Art.
I conclude with the question: "How can Princeton proceed and seek to restore its patinated reputation?"
Gill, D. W. J. 2012. "Context matters: Princeton and recently surfaced antiquities." Journal of Art Crime 7: 59-66.
The news that the Etruscan hydria would be returned from the Toledo Museum of Art hardly comes as a surprise. In March 2006, Vanity Fair ("The Getty's Blue Period") noted:
True was indicted last April by Paolo Ferri, a tenacious Italian prosecutor who had been working on the case for many years. The primary evidence was Polaroid photos of thousands of allegedly looted antiquities, some still covered in dirt, which had been discovered in a Swiss warehouse belonging to Giacomo Medici, a Maserati-driving Italian dealer. While True is the only major museum curator to have been indicted by Ferri, the Getty is not the only U.S. museum to own objects that appear in the photographs. So do New York's Metropolitan Museum, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Princeton University Art Museum, according to Italian court records.
As well the J. Paul Getty Museum, each of the museums noted in the article have return…
The agreed return of the Etruscan hydria from the Toledo Museum of Art to Italy raises other issues. The statement from the US Attorney's Office ("Agreement Paves Way For Artifact's Return To Italy", 20 June 2012) includes this highly significant section:
Following a January 2010 lead from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigation’s (ICE HSI) Rome attaché, Cleveland-based HSI special agents launched an investigation into the true provenance of the artifact. Working closely with law enforcement officials in Italy, HSI agents were able to definitively establish that the documentation provided to the Toledo Museum of Art was falsified and part of a larger scheme by the Becchinas to sell illegitimately obtained cultural property.
This suggests that the collecting history (please can we stop using the misleading term provenance?) for the Etruscan hydria had been "falsified".
So is the falsification of the documentation of the hydr…
The presence of an Etruscan hydria in Toledo has been controversial for some time (see here). It has now been announced that the Toledo Museum of Art will be returning the pot to Italy. It had been acquired from Gianfranco and Ursula Becchina in 1982. It is suggested that it is valued at $665,000. The pot is attributed to the Michali painter.
A full story in the Toledo Blade can be found here. What is so surprising is that it has taken the museum so long to decide to return the piece.
I am grateful to Fabio Isman for drawing my attention to the story.
In 2009 I noted the filing of papers by Scott A. Hodes on behalf of "non-profit numismatic groups". This was followed by the turning down of the request. Last week I observed the ruling that there had indeed been no "cover up" by the US State Department.
Hodes has now issued a statement about the appeal. But he has also been less than transparent. He refers to comments made by an "ancient coin collector" without noting that this same "collector" is in fact a paid Washington lobbyist for the three numismatic organisations who appear to have fronted the FOIA request.
It is also interesting that the IAPN and the PNG continue to be silent on the FOIA request made in their names.
I note that the Courthouse News service is reporting that there was no concealment of evidence as alleged by the IAPN, the PNG and the ACCG. This must come as a blow to the paid Washington lobbyist who has argued for a cover-up.
This will hopefully bring an end to the shameful attack on the late Dr Danielle Parks whose emails have been the subject of interest by the request made by the three organizations.
The S.E.A. in Greece has issued a video highlighting the issues relating to the theft of cultural property in Greece.
The video is set in the National Museum, Athens, where some of the objects returned from North American public and private collections have been placed on display.
It appears that the pair of Canosan kraters offered by Christie's and identified by Christos Tsirogiannis in the Medici Dossier were left unsold. I understand that they failed to reach their reserve price.
What is interesting is that Christie's seemed to press ahead with the sale even though it appears that they were contacted by the Italian authorities.
Did Christie's undertake its own independent research? How rigorous is its due diligence process?
In April this year Christie's returned material to Italy that had been identified from similar photographic evidence.
Lee Rosenbaum has discussed the claims over Cambodian sculptures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Director Tom Campbell spoke to the press and made this surprising claim about cultural property: "we are fully committed to dealing with such claims with transparency".
Perhaps transparency does not extend to disclosure about the nature of the material returned to Italy from the collection of former curator Dietrich von Bothmer.
Would the Met like to issue a statement about this return even if it is five months after the event?
The Art Loss Register (ALR) states on its website that it "searches all auction catalogues and private sales for Christies to identify before sale any items which are registered as stolen, fake, missing, looted". The ALR continues: "This is the foundation of due diligence to ensure that the buyers obtain good title free of disputes."
This is a bold claim. Are all looted antiquities documented and photographed? Do looters submit their photographs to the ALR? So the statement assumes that looted antiquities have to be registered.
And what if objects in one of the auctions are identified from one of the photographic dossiers seized in Switzerland and Greece? Will Christie's only respond if the ALR makes the identification?
And does the work of the ALR guarantee that "buyers obtain good title free of disputes"? What if the Italian authorities make the identification themselves and approach the auction-house directly?
Christie's still seems to be planning to auction the pair of Canosan kraters identified by Christos Tsirogiannis from the Medici Dossier. Has Christie's received requests from the Italian authorities to withdraw the kraters from the sale? Is Christie's ignoring such requests?
Such an attitude seems to follow a pattern for this auction-house.
Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis has identified a further item featured in the Medici Dossier and due to be auctioned in New York tomorrow. The piece had formed part of a Swiss collection that Christopher Chippindale and I discussed in 1993.