Tuesday 31 July 2012

Olympia and the griffin

In 1914 a bronze griffin head was discovered in the bead of the river Kladeos at Olympia. By 1938, as Oscar Muscarella has reminded us, the griffin was no longer known in the collection at Olympia. It was purchased by Walter C. Baker in New York in 1948, and then bequeathed by him to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1971 (inv. 1972.118.54). It appears to have been part of a larger dedication that contained two further griffins, one in the National Museum in Athens (and purchased in 1869),  and the other found at Olympia in 1938 (with an ear in 1959).

How did a bronze found in 1914 (and published in 1915) end up on the New York market?

Would it be positive gesture for the Metropolitan to offer to return this significant bronze to Greece in this an Olympic year?

Mattusch, C. C. 1990. "A trio of griffins from Olympia." Hesperia 59: 549-60. [JSTOR]
Mertens, J. R. 1985. "Greek bronzes in the Metropolitan Museum of art." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 43: 20-21, no. 9 ("From Olympia"). [JSTOR]
Muscarella, O. W. 2000. The lie became great: the forgery of ancient Near Eastern cultures. Studies in the Art and Archaeology of Antiquity, vol. 1. Groningen: Styx: 22.
Picón, C. A., J. R. Mertens, E. J. Milleker, C. S. Lightfoot, and S. Hemingway. 2007. Art of the Classical world in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: 53, 415-16,  no. 36 ("From Olympia").

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Monday 30 July 2012

Frieda Tchacos and New York

Galerie Nefer in Zurich is known to have handled material that has been returned to Italy by a major North American museum. For example the Douris phiale returned by the J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. 81.AE.213) was formed from a series of fragments acquired as purchases, gifts and loans in 1981, 1985, 1988 and 1992.

I happened to be checking details about the proprietor, Frieda Tchacos, and noticed that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art had acquired a fragmentary red-figured pelike attributed to Euthymides in 1990: "Gift of Mrs. Frieda Tchacos, 1990" [MMA]. The accession number is given as 1990.305.

The fragment is noted in the Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art 121 (Jul. 1, 1990 - Jun. 30, 1991) 32 [JSTOR]. This accession number, 1990.305, is listed as a gift of Dietrich von Bothmer.

Tchachos gave a fragment of a red-figured cup attributed to Makron in 1990: acc. no. 1990.170. It appears elsewhere as "Gift of Mrs. Frieda Tchacos, in honor of Dietrich von Bothmer, 1990" [MMA]. The fragment joined a cup acquired by the MMA in 1979, acc. no. 1979.11.8, "Mr. and Mrs. Martin Fried Gift, 1979" [MMA]. Bothmer was able to add two further fragments in 1989 [MMA], and another fragment in 1994 [MMA]. When was this cup broken up? How and where did Bothmer acquire these pieces?

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Saturday 28 July 2012

Indian Antiquities Seized in New York

I note that US authorities have seized $20 million worth of Asian antiquities in Manhattan ("Museums Studying Dealer’s Artifacts", New York Times July 27, 2012). The dealer, Subhad Kapoor, is presently under arrest in India. The NYT notes:
Before his arrest, Mr. Kapoor, 63, used the Web site (now closed) for Art of the Past, his gallery at 1242 Madison Avenue, at 89th Street, to advertise the many prominent museums to which he had donated or sold items. The list includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif.; and the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington.
I have been checking the Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and note the appearance of Kapoor's name as a donor. Harold Holzer of the Met comments to the NYT about the gifts from Kapoor, though I also observe that they include a West Bengal antiquity "in honor of his daughter" and a West Bangal terracotta figure "in memory of his mother". One of his earliest gifts was a stone figure of Nagaraja in 1991.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Friday 27 July 2012

Roman sarcophagus recovered in London

Source: Omniroma
The Italian Ministry of Culture has announced that it has recovered a Roman sarcophagus stolen from the Chiesa della Madonna della Libera di Aquino [press release]. The item was removed on 2/3 September 1991. It dates from the second century AD.

The return was made as part of Operation Giovenale.

Cristina Bassi, writing in Il Giornale, notes that it was in the "collection" of Robert Hecht.
Il sarcofago era nella collezione di Robert Hecht, uno dei più celebri antiquari americani, il cui nome è stato spesso legato a vicende di traffici di opere d’arte.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Thursday 26 July 2012

Cleveland returns to Italy

Rhyton formerly in the Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art has yet to issue collecting histories for the antiquities that were returned to Italy. So for convenience I have reissued the list in order of acquisition with some additional information.

The pieces appeared in the Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art:

1975.23: Etruscan duck askos. Purchase, J.H. Wade Fund [JSTOR]
1975.91: Sicilian pig. Gift of Dr Leo Mildenberg [JSTOR]
1977.92: Rhyton. Purchase, John L. Severance Fund [JSTOR]
1986.200: Apulian or Campanian lekanis. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen [JSTOR]
1986.201: Gnathian epichysis. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen [JSTOR]
1986.202: Gnathian epichysis. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen [JSTOR]
1986.203: Gnathian lekythos. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen [JSTOR]
1986.204: Campanian acorn lekythos. Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen [JSTOR]
1987.209: Campanian bird askos. Gift of Mr and Mrs Lawrence A. Fleischman [JSTOR]
1988.41: Apulian krater, Darius painter. Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund [JSTOR]
1990.1: Sardinian warrior. Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund [JSTOR]
1990.81: Corinthian krater. Purchase, J.H. Wade Fund [JSTOR]
1996.16-17: Etruscan silver bracelets. Gift of Edoardo M. Almagia and Courteney Keep in honor of Arielle P. Kozloff.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Mildenhall Treasure returns to Suffolk

Detail of the Mildenhall Great Dish
© David Gill
The Mildenhall Great Dish has returned to Suffolk as part of a loan to the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. It will be displayed alongside other 'Treasures of Roman Suffolk' including the Cavenham crowns, the Sudbury lantern, the Woodbridge gold coin hoard, the bronze bust of Antinuous from Capel St Mary, and the Holbrook horse harness.

It would be good if these objects found in East Anglia could be joined by the Roman bronzes from Icklingham (not far, incidentally, from Mildenhall). Perhaps Shelby White could demonstrate her commitment to archaeology and offer to return the pieces so that they can be put on display in the Ipswich Museum.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Tuesday 24 July 2012

The Berlin painter krater fragments in Malibu

I have noted the return to Italy of a fragmentary red-figured krater attributed to the Berlin painter. The fragments were donated sequentially.

The earliest fragments were donated in 1977 by Herbert Lucas (inv. 77.AE.5), followed by a gift of Vasek Polak in 1982 (inv. 82.AE.124.1-42). Dietrich von Bothmer gave eight further fragments in 1984 (inv. 84.AE.972.1-8) [JSTOR] [no. 22], and two other pieces were sold from Galerie Nefer ("European art market") in 1984 (inv. 84.AE.68) [no. 21].

One of the other sellers of a fragment was Frederick H. Schultz, Jr. who was associated with Jonathan Tokely-Parry. He sold his fragment in 1987 (inv. 87.AE.51), though the J. Paul Getty Museum recorded it as a donation by Bothmer [JSTOR].

Fifteen further fragments were added in 1990 from the "London art market" (inv. 90.AE.2.1-15) [JSTOR]. A further set of loans was made in 1989 (L.89.AE.43.1-3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13-15, 20, 23, 24, 28, 30, 39).

Peter Watson has commented on these fragments in The Medici Conspiracy: "In the case of the Berlin Painter krater,  the bulk [of the fragments] came from Symes, quite a few came from Dietrich von Bothmer, a few came from Nefer Gallery, and one from Fred Schultz" (p. 227). Watson also implies that the the loan of fragments was made by Giacomo Medici who had offered to sell them for $125,000 (p. 225).

Where did Bothmer acquire the fragments that he presented?

Moore, M. B. 2000. "The Berlin painter and Troy." In Greek vases in the J. Paul Getty Museum, vol. 6: 159-86. Malibu: The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Monday 23 July 2012

Silent Met: where did the fragments surface?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has been keeping quiet over the return of fragments once in the significant private collection of Dietrich von Bothmer.

Did the fragments match or fit pots that were formerly in other collections?

Do the fragments point us back to network of those selling recently surfaced antiquities?

Does silence from the Met authorities indicate that there is something that they would prefer to keep hidden?

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

The restoration of the Crosby Garrett helmet

I have been watching part of the final episode of ITV's "Britain's Secret Treasures" (Sunday 22 July 2012). Number 9 was the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet (see PAS entry) [at c. 7 minutes on ITV player]. Michael Buerk makes the point that the helmet is "now lost to the nation".  

We have reviewed the reported story of its finding and its reporting to PAS elsewhere.

Bettany Hughes now tells us that there was a single finder (yet note that the Independent reported that it was found by a father an a son). She states that the finder reported the discovery to the British Museum (known to be Sally Worrell of PAS), and instructed Christie's to "reconstruct and sell" the helmet. I have read the report from the restorer and have noted the wider concern that this object should have been placed in the hands of a skilled archaeological conservator. Hughes claims that the restoration took some six months, but in fact it was closer to three.

Hughes makes the point that the disappearance of the helmet subsequent to the sale has left "a hole in history", but did not raise the more important issue that the removal of this helmet from its archaeological context (wherever that was) has destroyed knowledge.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Friday 20 July 2012

CPRI: is research a misnomer?

The so-called Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI) was recently cited in the New York Times. When it was launched in 2009 it claimed to be embarking on a programme of "research" projects. The first report on private collecting in North America was seriously flawed and failed to present the data. A year ago I noted that the CPRI was failing to deliver on its projects, and that situation remains unchanged.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Thursday 19 July 2012

Gold: the good news story

I had an extremely agreeable meeting with colleagues in London yesterday. The topic of "that programme" was mentioned in the conversation. A contrast was made with the intellectually stimulating and rewarding "History of the World" in a 100 objects by Neil MacGregor.

We were left wondering why the Scheme had allowed itself  to be drawn into a programme that was so far removed from archaeology (confusing archaeology with treasure-hunting), and that would only alienate it from professional colleagues.

There was a feeling that it is only possible to make positive comments about the Scheme ... and that conversation resulted in oblique comments to a certain forum piece in PIA that was intended to generate debate.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Looted Antiquities on Midweek

Cambridge-based archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis is discussing looted antiquities live on Midweek with Libby Purves on BBC R4.
Christos Tsirogiannis is a forensic archaeologist who investigates the theft of antiquities from ancient sites and museums. For several years Christos was the only archaeologist working for the Greek Police Art Squad in his native Athens. Now based at Cambridge University, he says the plundering of ancient artefacts is increasing as countries with the richest archaeological heritage are sinking further into financial crisis.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Britain, archaeology and treasure

I have now watched the first episode of ITV's "Britain's Secret Treasures" (on ITV Player) presented by journalist Michael Buerk and Bettany Hughes. The opening sequence appears to suggest that there is gold under the rolling English fields (and specifically under trampled cornfields). Bettany Hughes very early on in the sequence reminds us that these treasures can be found "feet" below the surface ("all just a few feet beneath our feet") (so presumably this causal "digging" will be damaging stratified layers well below ploughing; see here).

I am not sure why a Roman "slave shackle", reportedly found near the Roman road between Winchester and Silchester, should take us to the amphitheatre ("the O2 arena of its time") at Silchester. Or does a horse boss have to have been lost on a particular day?

This is a superficial programme that suggests that there is money to be made from digging up our cosmopolitan past.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Monday 16 July 2012

Orphans and antiquities

Ralph Blumenthal and Tom Mashberg have written on the issue of objects that do not have full collecting histories ("The curse of the outcast artifact", New York Times July 12, 2012). Collectors are finding that they are unable to donate their objects to public museums. Among them is Alan M. Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at the Harvard School of Law. Dershowitz wishes to sell an Egyptian sarcophagus purchased from Sotheby's in the 1990s (a period explored in Peter Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story) but he "can't get proof of when it came out of Egypt".

Interestingly the NYT cites the seriously flawed study by the Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI).

Among those interviewed is William G. Pearlstein who asserts that the lack of a collecting history is not necessarily significant. However, the Medici Conspiracy has taught us a great deal about how such objects entered the market.

It is perhaps significant that Christie's are reported to have made the claim that they do not sell Egyptian antiquities "unless it was absolutely documented that it left Egypt before 1970". This seems to contrast with Christie's attitudes over antiquities that can be traced to the Medici Dossier.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Monday 9 July 2012

Museums Matter

My review of James Cuno's Museums Matter: In praise of the encyclopaedic museum (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011), is now available in The Journal of Art Crime 7 (2012), 86-87. [Link to publisher]
Cuno is passionate about the contribution of the encyclopedic museum to the cultural landscape of our cosmopolitan world. The implicit statement of his title is a change from the earlier questions that he has raised: Whose Muse? (2004), Who Owns Antiquity? (2008), and Whose Culture? (2009) ... The four core chapters on the Enlightenment, the Discursive, the Cosmopolitan, and the Imperial Museums had their origins in the 2009 Campbell Lectures at Rice University. 
Cuno avoids turning his attention to the issue of antiquities. Yet they lurk on the periphery of his text.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Friday 6 July 2012

Gandharan antiquities seized

The BBC is reporting that a batch of Gandharan antiquities have been seized in Karachi earlier today. It appears that some of the items, found in a shipping container, had been marked as 'furniture'.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Source of the Weiss coins

Where did coin-dealer Arnold Peter C. Weiss obtain his (not so ancient?) coins? I note that Janon Fisher in the New York Daily News points us in a new direction ("Prominent hand surgeon pleads guilty to selling phony ancient coins to undercover agent", July 3, 2012):
Herbert Kreindler, a Long Island coin dealer who Weiss says sold him the bad pennies, was not charged in the crime.
A company with this name is a member of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). Weiss is also a founding partner of an IAPN member numismatic company.

Will the IAPN be investigating how these "toxic" coins entered and circulated in the market?

I also note that the Washington lobbyist who acts for the IAPN has been remarkably silent.

It has been suggested to me by an academic numismatist that there is a possible link with Operation Ghelas that uncovered evidence for fake coins. If this is the case then there are likely to me major implications for some of the large European numismatic traders.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Thursday 5 July 2012

Fake Coins: a lesson

The case of the Weiss coins is reminiscent of the "Fitzwilliam Goddess" [JSTOR].

  • The important object with the large price tag
  • The semi-professional dealer who handled the sculpture / coins
  • The authentification prior to the sale
  • The reported find-spot that added authenticity

Perhaps this article should be on Weiss' reading list as he prepares his longer article for the benefit of coin collectors.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Coin dealer pleads guilty

In January this year coin dealer Arnold Peter C. Weiss, a founding partner of "the second incarnation of the firm Nomos A.G., of Zürich", was arrested and charged. It has now been reported that Weiss has pleaded guilty ("Prominent hand surgeon pleads guilty to selling phony ancient coins to undercover agent", New York Daily News July 3, 2012).
The renowned doctor pleaded guilty Tuesday in Manhattan Criminal Court to criminal possession of the three Fifth Century B.C. Sicilian coins. 
Weiss said he thought the coins were real, but admitted he knew he violated Italy’s Code of Cultural and Landscape Heritage, which makes it a crime to remove from the country anything that has been unearthed after 1909. 
“I know that there are foreign statutes that prohibit the removal of antiquities, including coins from countries,” Weiss said in court.

Apart from 70 hours of community service, the court has imposed a creative task on Weiss.

Under a plea agreement with Manhattan prosecutors, Ivy League surgeon Arnold-Peter Weiss, 52, has to write an article detailing the widespread corruption among collectors selling and trading rare coins without the proper paperwork. 
Weiss, a professor of Orthopaedics at Brown University and a trustee of the American Numismatic Society, must also chronicle how the anything-goes atmosphere threatens historical records and he must suggest ways of policing the hobby. 
“Thanks to today’s disposition, the article to be written by the defendant for a coin trade magazine will raise needed awareness about unprovenanced coins, and will promote responsible collecting among numismatists,” said Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.

This should be an interesting read. The twist in the case is that the coins turned out to be modern creations.

Weiss had earlier opposed any restrictions on the movement of coins from Italy.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

The Stern Collection in New York: Cycladic or Cycladicising?

Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis There appears to be excitement about the display of 161 Cycladicising objects at New York's Metropolit...