Tuesday 31 December 2013

Happy New Year!

© David Gill

I would like to wish all Readers of LM a very Happy New Year!

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Review of 2013

Source: MiBAC
At the beginning of 2013 I made a number of predictions. I drew attention to Cambodian antiquities and we have seen items returned. Sotheby's has also agreed to return a piece that had been due to be auctioned.

I also thought that more material would be identified from the Medici archive. This has been the case for items surfacing on the market (e.g. Gnathian krater, the Ackerman Apollo, an East Greek warrior, the Symes torso, the Symes Pan, the Medici Pan, and other items) as well as in established collections such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (and here).

The J. Paul Getty Museum agreed to return the terracotta head of Hades. The Italian enquiry into a curator at the Princeton University Art Museum came to an end. However there has been no movement on the Villanovan bronze hut. We continue to await the return of material to Greece from the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.

Bothmer fragments reunited
New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has continued to place a veil over the formation of the Bothmer collection of pot fragments. However one partial cup will be returning to Rome after Dr Christos Tsirogiannis made the link with a fragment in the Villa Giulia.

Cornell will be returning cuneiform tablets to Iraq.

And we have not forgotten about the mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum.

Italian authorities netted Etruscan antiquities in Operation Ifegenia. A fragment from a tomb at Paestum has been intercepted in North America.

The AAMD does not seem to have resolved some issues with items appear on the Object Register.

Turkey has yet to press hard for the return of material such as the Bubon bronzes. However Michael Bennett of the Cleveland Museum of Art has decided to add his voice to the debate. There has also been some discussion of a sarcophagus spotted in Geneva.

Little further work has been done on European (including UK) museums and their acquisition of material from Robin Symes, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. This is perhaps a task for 2014. We did however draw attention to the situation in Copenhagen.

Church theft in Devon
In the UK Simon Thurley (and see his Men from the Ministry) took up the case of Heritage Crime. I have also added my voice for the return of the Icklingham Bronzes. This was a theme taken up during an outdoor seminar during the excavations at Leiston Abbey in Suffolk. There have been some significant instances such as the paintings from a church in Devon.

On different fronts I revisited my thinking on the Universal Museum. The Cleveland Museum of Art has published its position on the Apollo and I have responded in an academic article. A small publication on the Crosby Garrett helmet appeared (and has done little to answer concerns about how it was removed from the ground). British Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed his views on the Parthenon marbles. I was able to hear Paul Barford present a seminar on portable antiquities during his visit to East Anglia. I have returned to my analysis of the value of the antiquities market. I also delivered my inaugural lecture on one of the founders of modern archaeology.

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Monday 23 December 2013

Christmas Greetings

Iona © David Gill
I would like to wish all readers of Looting Matters a very happy Christmas.

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Saturday 21 December 2013

Seasonal antiquities

My attention was drawn to this 'seasonal offering'. Classicists will enjoy some of the antiquities (including a Cycladic figure) contributing to the message.

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Saturday 14 December 2013

Antiquities sales in New York: Overview

© David Gill
The two December sales at Sotheby's and Christie's in New York are now complete. This allows me to review the sale of antiquities for 2013. Overall the two auction-houses have sold $32.6 million worth of antiquities in NYC this year, down from $35.6 million last year. Indeed this is the third consecutive fall from $133.8 million in 2010, and $62.4 million in 2011. Indeed 2013 is comparable with 2004 ($32.5 million).

This means that over half a billion dollars worth of antiquities have been sold at the two auction-houses in NYC since 1999, with Sotheby's well ahead of Christie's by some $142 million.

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Friday 13 December 2013

Medici and Symes material in New York

Fabio Isman has a piece on the Medici and Symes pieces surfacing on the New York market ("Pezzi di Medici e Symes all’asta: fino a quando?", Artemagazine December 2013). This draws on the identifications made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. It also has the images of one of the objects in the Swiss Gallery.

The piece is a reminder that auction-houses need to undertake a more rigorous due diligence process to prevent these toxic antiquities from appearing at the sales.

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Sale of Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's

© David Gill
I have been looking at the median value of Egyptian lots sold at Sotheby's New York from 1998 to 2013. The December median value has had a steady increase from $3,737 to $27,500. The contrast is with the June sales that have risen from $2,875 to $13,750.

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The Symes Pan: Update

I had noted that Cambridge University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, had spotted that a Pan on offer at Christie's today appeared in the Schinousa archive. The lot has been withdrawn.

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Sotheby's to return statue to Cambodia

Over a year ago LM discussed the Khmer statue that was being offered by Sotheby's. It appears that the collecting history for the piece was not as straightforward as it first seemed. My view was Sotheby's would wish to distance the auction-house from any notion of wrong-doing given the damaging impact of the Medici Conspiracy. It has now been announced that Sotheby's will be returning the disputed statue to Cambodia (Tom Mashbery and Ralph Blumenthal, "Disputed Statue to Be Returned to Cambodia", New York Times December 12, 2013).
The accord ends a long bare-knuckled court battle over the Khmer treasure, a 10th-century statue valued at more than $2 million. The Belgian woman who had consigned it for sale in 2011 will receive no compensation for the statue from Cambodia, and Sotheby’s has expressed a willingness to pick up the cost of shipping the 500-pound sandstone antiquity to that country within the next 90 days. 
At the same time, lawyers from the United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan who had been pursuing the statue on Cambodia’s behalf agreed to withdraw allegations that the auction house and the consignor knew of the statue’s disputed provenance before importing it for sale. 
The accord said the consignor, Decia Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, who had long owned the statue, and Sotheby’s had “voluntarily determined, in the interests of promoting cooperation and collaboration with respect to cultural heritage,” that it should be returned.
This seems to confirm my hunch that Sotheby's would want to be seen to be a positive contributor to the debate about international cultural property.

The NYT statement includes a very significant pronouncement that will cause consternation among those selling selling cultural property in North America:
In a statement, the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, said, “Today’s settlement reunites a priceless artifact with its rightful owners, the people of Cambodia.”  
 “The United States is not a market for antiquities stolen from other nations,” he added, “and we will continue to track down and return any that are brought here illegally.”
The news comes on the back of the decision back in May 2013 that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art would be returning two other Khmer statues. It seems that Cambodia will now press for the return of a statue in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

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Thursday 12 December 2013

Antiquities on the New York Market: Update

© David Gill
I have been plotting the sale of antiquities on the New York market for some years. Today's sale at Sotheby's New York shows that the two June and December auctions this year netted over $20 million, of which $6.8 million was represented by Egyptian material (34%).

Since 1998 some $77 million worth of Egyptian antiquities have been sold by Sotheby's New York, representing 20% of the value of the sales. Just over 61% of the lots in this period appear to have surfaced since 1973, a downward trend suggesting that Sotheby's is more cautious of objects that do not have a documented collecting history that can be traced back.

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The Medici Pan: Update

Following the identification of a Pan in the Medici Dossier, Sotheby's New York withdrew the lot from the sale. Such responsible behaviour reflects the seriousness that the auction-house takes over the due diligence process.

The Hermes-Thoth that had once been handled by Robin Symes sold for $4,645,000 (estimate: $2.5 - $3.5 million).

The entire sale netted $16,243,000.

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Monday 9 December 2013

The Symes Pan

Last week Dr Christos Tsirogiannis identified the Medici Pan that is due to be auctioned in New York later this week. Tsirogiannis has now identified a terracotta Pan from the Schinousa archive that is due to be auctioned at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza (December 13, 2013, lot 114, estimate $8000 - $12000).

Christie's have offered the following collecting history:

  • with Edward H. Merrin Gallery, New York, 1968. 
  • Private Collection, New York, 1968-2011.

So when was the Pan in the possession of Robin Symes? What is the identity of the private collection? Is the collecting history presented by Christie's robust? What authenticated documentation was supplied to Christie's?

The Edward H. Merrin Gallery has been linked to the bronze Zeus returned to Italy, material in the collection of Dr Elie Borowski, as well as the marble Castor and Pollux on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Friday 6 December 2013

English Heritage: Consultation

DCMS and English Heritage have published the consultation document, 'English Heritage New Model', today, December 76, 2013. Only yesterday the Heritage Alliance AGM was discussing the not-yet-published consultation document.

I am sure that readers of LM will be interested in the document and no doubt will wish to respond to the DCMS.

The announcement comes with a further £5m [press release].

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The Medici Pan

Sotheby's New York are due to auction a giallo antico marble bust of Pan next week (December 12, 2013, lot 51). The estimate is $10,000-$15,000. Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has pointed out to me that a polaroid image of the sculpture was found on the Geneva Freeport premises of Giacomo Medici. The image is stapled to a form for the Hydra Galerie, an outlet linked to Medici (and see also here).

Sotheby's provide the Pan with the following collecting history: "French private collection, Fontainebleau, acquired circa 1975".

What is the identity of the anonymous French collection? What does the association with Hydra Galerie imply?

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Thursday 5 December 2013

Symes and the Hermes-Thoth

Image: Schinousa Archive
I am grateful to my Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for pointing out that the head of Hermes-Thoth due to be auctioned at Sotheby's New York next week had once passed through the hands of Robin Symes (December 12, 2013, lot 39). The estimate is $2.5-3.5 million.

Sotheby's note the association with Symes and suggest that it had once been in the possession of Douglas H. Fisher in London during the 1950s and 1960s. The basis for this information is not indicated.

The head ("The Hermes of Hermoupolis") was on offer from Albrecht Neuhaus, Würzburg, in 1970 (see Burlington Magazine 112 [May 1970] p. lxxv [JSTOR]).

Robert Steven Bianchi notes the head in an unnamed collection in 2007 (Robert Steven Bianchi, “The Nahman Alexander,” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 43, 2007, 29 n. 6 [academia.edu]).

Colour images of the head feature in the Schinousa archive where they were identified by Tsirogiannis.

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Wednesday 4 December 2013

Medici and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Cambridge University researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another ancient object from the Medici dossier. He has identified a Gnathian askos acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 1980 from images seized in the Geneva Freeport. The item was derived from Fritz Bürki whose name is associated with many of the returns from North American collections to Italy.

According to AAMD Guidelines the curatorial staff at VMFA will need to contact the Italian authorities.

  • Tsirogiannis, C. 2013. "Nekyia. From Apulia to Virginia: an Apulian Gnathia askos at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts." Journal of Art Crime 10: 81-86.

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Tuesday 3 December 2013

Cleveland and the Apollo

The latest number of the Journal of Art Crime has appeared. This contains my essay on the so-called Cleveland Apollo.
"The exhibition of the Cleveland Apollo and the thinking behind the publication of Bennett’s book reveal what Roger Bland of the British Museum once described (in a review of James Cuno’s work) as “an example of US cultural imperialism at its worst”. Bennett has reignited the debate and prepared the way for a full and balanced discussion of the so-called Cleveland Apollo at some future managed event at the Cleveland Museum of Art."
  • Gill, D. W. J. 2013. "Context matters: The Cleveland Apollo goes public." Journal of Art Crime 10: 69-75.

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Saturday 30 November 2013

The Aesthetic of the Crosby Garrett Helmet

I was lecturing at the Institute of Philosophy yesterday on "The Intention of the Artist". One of my examples---and we noticed that the archaeologists speaking at the conference tended to use examples---was the helmet allegedly found at Crosby Garrett. I was suggesting that the aesthetic for what would have been a commonplace parade helmet in the Roman world had changed when it was presented at auction in London or placed in an exhibition at the Royal Academy. We had a useful debate about the "showiness" of such helmets and the parallel with its presentation as a "masterpiece".

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Tuesday 26 November 2013

Jonathan Rosen and the Israel Museum

There is much interest in the museums that have received donations from Jonathan Rosen (see here) in the wake of the returns to Iraq. Rosen's donation of 1200 silver coins to the Israel Museum has been shortlisted for the Apollo 2013 Acquisition of the Year. It will be interesting to read their full collecting histories. | |
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Monday 25 November 2013

Gower Repatriation?

© David Gill
Byron Davies, AM has reignited the repatriation debate about the "Red Lady of Paviland" (see my earlier comments with link back to the 2004 "call"). The bones, found at Paviland on Gower in 1823, are now in Oxford.

Mr Davies is quoted on the BBC ("Red Lady of Paviland bones 'should come home' to Wales", November 25, 2013):
"As a child I used to go down to the cave where it was discovered, and have always believed it's something intrinsically Welsh which needs to be back home. 
"With the City of Culture bid focusing everyone's minds in and around Swansea for the last year or so, it didn't seem the right time to champion it. 
"But last week I met [UK culture secretary) Maria Miller, who said that if I was prepared to put together a proposal, then she thought it would be a good idea for all sorts of reasons."
The bones were placed on temporary display in Cardiff in 2008.

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Friday 22 November 2013

The ex-Steinhardt Phiale

I have been looking at the catalogue for Sicily: Art and Invention Between Greece and Rome (Los Angeles, 2013). It includes, as I have noted elsewhere, the ex-Steinhardt gold phiale. The catalogue gives little away: 'From near Caltavuturo' and 'the phiale of Caltavuturo'. There is no mention of the fact that the phiale was seized in November 1995 and returned to Italy in 2000.

The catalogue apparently seems unaware of Michael Vickers and David Gill, Artful Crafts: Ancient Greek Silverware and Pottery (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994). The authors of the catalogue would have found a discussion of the weights of gold phialai (p. 43) that would have been relevant to the inscription. A comparable piece is the gold phiale in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art apparently purchased from Robert Hecht.

Also missing in the catalogue entry are the references to the publication of the phiale in SEG 39 (1989) 1034 and by Giacomo Manganaro.

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Thursday 21 November 2013

The finder(s) of the Crosby Garrett helmet

Dot Boughton, FLO for Lancashire and Cumbria, notes in the new booklet on the Crosby Garrett helmet that this piece of armour 'was discovered by two metal detectorists in May 2010 in Cumbria' (p. 17). This is the view taken by the Independent who identified the finders as a father and son team from Peterlee, a viewed shared by Boughton: 'The finders, a young man and his father from County Durham, had enjoyed detecting in Cumbria for quite some time ...'

Yet Bettany Hughes has claimed that there was a single finder. This seems to be the view also taken by Christie's at the time of the sale.

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Tuesday 19 November 2013

Tomb Fragment Apparently from Paestum Seized

Chasing Aphrodite is reporting on a Paestan tomb fragment that was seized at Newark Liberty airport in April 2011 ("Steinhardt Redux: Feds Seize Fresco Looted from Italian World Heritage Site, Destined for New York Billionaire"). It appears that the fragment came with "Macedonia" as its origin. The piece claimed it had surfaced in 1959. The intended recipient was Michael Steinhardt.

If the collecting history was fabricated, it raises much wider questions about those who supply Steinhardt with antiquities.

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Friday 15 November 2013

Rushed restoration for the Crosby Garrett helmet?

Professor David Ekserdjian in his introduction to the newly published study of the Crosby Garrett helmet draws attention to the newly surfaced Resurrection of Christ by Titian [see BBC]. Imagine if the Titian was sent for a quick clean and touch-up in a workshop under the railway arches in London. I would hope that Ekserdjian would be in the vanguard of those raising their voices in protest.

Yet when "a hauntingly unforgettable work of art", to use Ekserdjian's description of the Crosby Garrett helmet, was sent for a hurried restoration before its sale at auction, the silence appears to have been almost overwhelming. Indeed in the autumn of 2010 I was told that the restoration was conducted against the request from officers of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and a curator at the British Museum.

The new booklet on the helmet has a short note on its 'Restoration' by Darren Bradbury. This major archaeological find was not conserved but rather restored 'to prepare the mask ... and helmet for display'.

I read Bradbury's brief report soon after the sale. The half page statement that appears here in the booklet does little to allay concerns about possible the loss of information.

Will Bradbury publish a detailed report of his work?

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Thursday 14 November 2013

The Crosby Garrett Helmet

I am grateful to Paul Barford for drawing my attention to the publication of D.J. Breeze and M.C. Bishop (eds.) The Crosby Garrett Helmet (The Armatura Press, 2013).

The contents include:
  • Roger Cooke, 'Foreword'
  • David J. Breeze and M.C. Bishop, 'Preface'
  • David Ekserdjian, 'Introduction'
  • M.C. Bishop, 'Description'
  • Dot Boughton, 'Discovery'
  • Darren Bradbury, 'Restoration'
  • Mark Graham and Patricia Shaw, 'Geophysical and Landscape Survey'
  • Chris Healey, 'Archaeological Evaluation'
  • M.C. Bishop and J.C.N. Coulston, 'International Context'
I note that the bibliography does not include a reference to Sally Worrell, 'The Crosby Garrett Helmet', Papers of the Institute of Archaeology 20 (2010) 30-32 (a paper published the same year as the helmet's reported discovery) or my comments in 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?', Papers of the Institute of Archaeology 20 (2010) 1-11.

Readers of the booklet will no doubt be looking at the discrepancies between Worrell's first report (and indeed, my comments) and the version of events that appear here in this booklet.

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Monday 11 November 2013

Vasek Polak and the Kleomelos painter

I notice that Vasek Polak (a name associated with material now returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Italy) donated an Attic red-figured cup fragment attributed to the Kleomelos painter (inv. 81.AE.114.17). What is the previous collecting history of this fragment?

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Jonathan P. Rosen and Boston

The Cornell return of cuneiform tablets means that there is a general reassessment of material acquired through or from Jonathan Rosen (see here). Take, for example, the steatite bust of Helios now in Boston. It was first put on loan in 1983, and then presented to the MFA in 2004.

What is its full collecting history?

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From Geneva to Antalya: Roman sarcophagus

The Turkish press is reporting that a Roman marble sarcophagus decorated with scenes showing Hercules is likely to be returned to Turkey ("Stolen sarcophagus might return to Turkey", Hurriyet November 9, 2013). It appears that it was found at Perge. The sarcophagus had then passed into the hands of Phoenix Ancient Art in Geneva.
After the examination in Perge, the Swiss prosecutor met with A.Ç., who is imprisoned in Elmalı prison on a separate smuggling charge and is suspected of smuggling the artifact out of Perge. In discussions with the Swiss prosecutor, A.Ç allegedly confirmed that the artifact had been smuggled. 
International legal proceedings began with the aim of repatriating the sarcophagus to Antalya. The case is being closely followed by the Antalya Public Prosecution Office as well as the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry and Foreign Ministry. 
According to Turkish officials, legal action against the Phoenix Ancient Art Gallery will be completed by the end of the year, facilitating the return of the sarcophagus to Antalya.
I presume that this is the same sarcophagus noted here in March 2012.

If the sarcophagus is returned to Turkey it will increase the pressure on the Cleveland Museum of Art and the St Louis Art Museum to clarify the collecting histories for the Leutwitz Apollo (CMA) and the Egyptian mummy mask (SLAM).

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Saturday 9 November 2013

Cleveland and Phoenix Ancient Art

Last month I raised a question about Michael Bennett's claim (in 2008) that he had a long-standing link with the Aboutaams.

The Cleveland Museum of Art does not appear to publish full collecting histories for its objects either on the web or via its print catalogues. Will CMA now issue a list of all the objects that have been acquired from Phoenix Ancient Art along with their complete collecting histories?

This will demonstrate two things: rigorous due diligence and transparency.

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Friday 8 November 2013

Creating Stories?

One of the points that was made at the ARCA symposium at the V&A yesterday related to the fabrication of collecting histories, sometimes by forging supporting documentation. Richard Ellis suggested that the due diligence process should leave no stone unturned.

As I sat in the audience I kept thinking about the reported collecting history for the Leutwitz Apollo acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art. How much of it can be authenticated? How far has the museum explored discrepancies?

It is a good story as it is presented. Garden sculpture. Communist attack. Burial in the rubble of the house. Sale to a Dutch dealer.

Does the curatorial team at Cleveland believe it?

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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...