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Showing posts from January, 2013

Hugh Eakin: an apology

I would like to make an apology to Hugh Eakin in the wake of his piece in the New York Times [my response]. It was inappropriate of me to suggest that he was writing to prepare the way for another organisation.

Eakin and I disagree on our response to the antiquities "scandal", but I hope that we can continue to debate the core issues.

Becchina: More Revelations from North American Museums?

North American museum directors and their curatorial staff know all too well the way that the Medici Dossier has shown how past acquisitions have damaged institutional reputations. Of course, more revelations from the Medici Dossier are likely to appear.

But I suspect the attention is beginning to shift to the Becchina archive. Readers will know that raids on this facility in Basel yielded 10,000 photographs as well as 200 bundles of receipts.

Becchina's name has been linked to an Athenian red-figured pelike, an Apulian situla, and the Roman marble janiform head seized from Christie's, the returned Etruscan hydria from the Toledo Museum of Art, the Apulian krater and the Campanian krater from the Dallas Museum of Art. Earlier returned pieces that had passed through Palladion Antike Kunst in Basel are three pieces (an Attic black-figured hydria, an Attic red-figured pelike, and an Apulian bell-krater) from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and two (an Attic red-figured amphora,…

Eakin: "Museums themselves are partly to blame"

Hugh Eakin has written an important, but I believe flawed, piece on the return of antiquities for the New York Times [NYT]. He has shown a nuanced approach in his comments on the writings of James Cuno, but shown sympathy towards the J. Paul Getty Museum over the coverage in Chasing Aphrodite.

There is one point where I agree with Eakin: "museums themselves are partly to blame". Since the 1970 UNESCO Convention (and the 1973 AIA Resolution), museums curators, museums directors, museum trustees, and museum boards have known the issues about acquiring recently surfaced antiquities. But the desire to acquire was too much. And this is why closer to 200 antiquities [not 100] have been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections. This is why major institutions such as Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art,…

Looting Villanovan Cemeteries

I have been re-reading Anna Maria Bietti Sestieri's The Iron Age Community of Osteria Dell'Osa: A Study of Socio-Political Development in Central Tyrrhenian Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). My interest was to get some additional information about the Villanovan bronze hut-urn in the Villa Giulia that was found in the Osteria cemetery at Vulci. Sestieri reminds us that the nature of the finds has prompted "clandestine digging and looting of graves" (p. 9).

The Osteria bronze hut-urn is also discussed in Francesco Buranelli's "The bronze hut urn in the Metropolitan Museum of Art", MMJ 21 (1986) 5-12 [MMA website]. Interestingly Buranelli points to a third example that surfaced in Palladion Antike Kunst in Basel with a significant Vulci association.

So what is the background to the Princeton bronze hut-urn? Where was it found? Who handled it? Who sold it?

Villanovan bronze hut from an undisclosed source?

In 1999 the Princeton University Art Museum purchased a Villanovan bronze hut [catalogue entry]. The collecting history was not stated. It is nearly a year since we noted that the hut was forming part of the Italian investigation. So Princeton has had a year to make a statement about its full collecting history.

Earlier this month the museum's curator made a statement about his role in the Italian investigation that led to the return of a material to Italy.

Michael Padgett was curator in 1999 when the hut was purchased. Will he be disclosing the hut's previous collecting history? What was the nature of his due diligence search?

Princeton needs to demonstrate the nature of its commitment to transparency over its acquisition policy.

Getty Lions from Preturo

Fabio Isman has identified the origin of two lions in the J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. 58.AA.7, 58.AA.8; Roman Funerary Sculpture nos. 45-46; "Due leoni all corti di Getty", Il Messaggero January 24, 2013). The pair appear in a photograph in the archive of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Rome. They feature in a 1912 photograph of the square of Preturo near Aquila.

The Getty apparently acquired them from an old Parisian collection; they are reported to have been handled by the dealer Koutoulakis.

Will the Getty be contacting the Italian authorities about the return of this major pieces of sculpture now that their true collecting history has been identified?

Collecting histories at the Getty

One of the returns from the J. Paul Getty Museum to Italy was an Etruscan duck askos (discussed by Gill and Chippindale in IJCP 2007 [abstract]). The duck was a gift of Vasek Polak. The identification was provided by a polaroid seized in Geneva.

Felch and Frammolino in Chasing Aphrodite have discussed the "donation" scheme of objects that passed through the Summa Gallery. They note (p. 36) that Polak donated $761,000 worth of antiquities. There are 292 records listed on the Getty database, although there is a distinct lack of information about their sources.

What was the origin of the Etruscan ivory fragments donated in 1982? What about the fragments of Athenian pottery given in 1981? The list could go on.

Has the moment come for the Getty to release the complete collecting histories of such "donations"?

Amber and the Getty Handbook

Two of the Gordon McLendon "gifts" of Etruscan amber appear in The J. Paul Getty Museum: Handbook of the Antiquities Collection (2010), pp. 140-41. A third, from an unstated source, also features. The amber kore, so the catalogue helpfully tells us, "was probably designed as a grave-gift".

Perhaps it was removed by illicit means from an Etruscan tomb.

Will the Getty be getting in touch with the Italian authorities?

Antiquities, the IRS and the Getty

Jason Felch has drawn our attention to some of the issues surrounding the Getty's acquisition of amber apparently derived from Italy. There is a key section in Bruce McNall's memoir, Fun While It Lasted:
Jiri Frel was sniffing around my gallery, picking up an amber carving here, a fragment of a marble statue there ... The great irony in this situation was that Frel had no trouble buying a million-dollar statue, but he couldn't acquire the little vases and bits of jewelry he pored over at Summa Gallery ... And as he traced his finger over a pottery fragment, he explained how I could solve his problem while making myself and my clients a bit richer. It was an ingenious idea. As he identified smaller items he desired—things at Summa Gallery, in Bob Hecht's holdings, or elsewhere—Jiri would notify me. If the object wasn't in my control, I would acquire it, usually on consignment. Then I would find a client to purchase it, at a most reasonable price. The buyer would the…

Gordon McLendon and the Getty

The role of Gordon McLendon's gifts to the J. Paul Getty Museum seem to be in the spotlight.

The Getty should perhaps now release the details of all McLendon's "gifts" to the Getty (including their previous collecting histories).

Here are some of the Athenian pots "donated" by him and identified by Jiri Frel in 1977 (I use Frel's list numbers) [in addition to the krater attributed to the Kleophrades painter, inv. 77.AE.11]:

4. Inv. 77.AE.46. Siana cup. C painter. [Beazley 8723]
5. Inv. 76.AE.101.21. Fr. Siana cup. C painter. Attribution: Bothmer.
6. Inv. 76.AE.87. Tyrrhenian amphora. Castellani painter.
7. Inv. 76.AE.101.29. Fr. hydria. Lydos. Attribution: Bothmer.
9. Inv. 76.AE.90. Lip cup. Tleson and Tleson painter. [Beazley 28857]
10. Inv. 76.AE.101.23. Fr. Lip cup. Tleson.
13. Inv. 76.AE.101.26. Fr. cup. Painter of the Louvre 132 bis.
14. Inv. 76.AE.101.27. Fr. cup. Pamphaios. Attribution: Bothmer.
17. Inv. 77.AE.54. Droop cup. Wraith painter. Attri…

Amber in the Getty

I have been looking at the holdings of amber in the J. Paul Getty Museum, and in particular the collecting histories for the items in the online catalogue:

76.AO.76 [Cat. 7]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.77 [Cat. 8]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.78 [Cat. 31]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.79 [Cat. 11]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.80 [Cat. 33]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.81 [Cat. 34]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.82 [Cat. 39]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.83 [Cat. 40]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.84 [Cat. 37]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.85.1 [Cat. 10]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
76.AO.85.2 [Cat. 15]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.

77.AO.81.1 [Cat. 3]. Not stated.
77.AO.81.2 [Cat. 5]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
77.AO.81.3 [Cat. 6]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
77.AO.81.4 [Cat. 14]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
77.AO.81.5 [Cat. 23]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
77.AO.81.6 [Cat. 55]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
77.AO.81.7 [Cat. 41]. Gift of Gordon McLendon.
77.AO.81.8 [Cat. 32].…

Amber for Getty

It appears that the Getty is facing further searching questions about the acquisition of amber objects derived from sites in Etruria and Northern Italy (Jason Felch, "Getty Museum review targets its antiquities collection", LA Times January 18, 2013). It seems that they were part of a scheme whereby antiquities were over-valued to obtain higher tax relief for donors. It is alleged that the amber pieces passed through a network that included Giacomo Medici, Fritz Bürki, Robert Hecht, and Bruce McNall. The ambers came through Gordon McLendon.

Felch lays out the issues in his usual clear way.

Online Getty catalogue of amber.

From Greece to Atlanta: overview

The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University acquired three disputed antiquities: two in 2002, and one in 2004. The first concerns were raised in the press by Greek investigative journalist Nikolas Zirganos in June 2007. In September 2008, in the wake of returns to Greece from the collection of Shelby White (including an impressive krater that had been part of a loan exhibition at the Michael C. Carlos Museum), it was announced that the Greek authorities were investigating the three objects: a statue of Terpsichore, a pithos, and a Minoan larnax. Emory University issued a press statement about the Greek request at the end of the same month.

I returned to the topic in August 2010 when it became clear that the Minoan larnax and the Greek pithos could be traced directly to Palladion Antike Kunst due to the raids on Basel in 2005.

In August 2011 it emerged that the Carlos Museum had acquired Egyptian antiquities from the Joseph Lewis collection. Enquiries were met with the same lack o…

Toledo: Correction Request

Gabriella Becchina, a resident of Castelvetrano in Sicily, has been in touch about an earlier post about the Etruscan hydria that had formed part of the collection in Toledo. She draws attention to the wording of the ICE press release (and I quote from a longer section in that release):
The kalpis, a ceramic vessel used in ancient times for holding water, depicts a mythological scene of pirates being transformed into dolphins by Dionysos. It was smuggled out of Italy after an illegal excavation prior to 1981. It was then sold in 1982 to the Toledo Museum of Art by art dealers Gianfranco and Ursula Becchina, who had earlier purchased it from convicted art smuggler Giacomo Medici. The Becchinas misrepresented the true provenance of the vase to the museum by providing falsified documentation.  Following a January 2010 lead from HSI Rome, Cleveland-based HSI special agents launched an investigation into the true provenance of the artifact. Working closely with law enforcement officials in…

AAMD Object Registry: "pieces with problematic pasts"

Over on Culturegrrl there has been an important discussion of the AAMD Object Registry in response to the Getty's latest return to Italy. Lee Rosenbaum rightly draws attention to Maxwell Anderson's totally honourable and professional use of the Registry to rehearse much earlier acquisitions (and that have led to a sizeable return of objects to Italy as part of Almagià-gate).

Lee Rosenbaum makes the point about the AAMD guidelines on acquisitions:
The purpose of these rules was to diminish financial incentives for looters and their marketplace enablers. This intended benefit is lost If museums repeatedly demonstrate a willingness to shell out money for pieces with problematic pasts, using their publication on a registry as a pretext to skirt the UNESCO guidelines that they purport to uphold. This comment has a response from Christine Anagnos of the AAMD: "AAMD's members understand that it is important to follow these guidelines---and we have every confidence that our …

Private collections

One of the questions raised at the Heritage Seminar on Monday was related to private collectors. We were talking about the Crosby Garrett helmet and someone raised the issue about what motivates private collectors.

I glanced across at the section of books on private (and public) collections. There were names of private collectors who purchased ex-Becchina, ex-Medici  and ex-Symes pieces. Yet some of these private individuals claim to love the past yet do not question the acquisition of newly surfaced items.

Icklingham bronzes: looking back

I am reviewing the history of the Icklingham bronzes case. In 1991 the New York Times reported on the case raised by John Browning, the land owner (William H. Honan, "Peripatetic Roman Bronzes Trailed by Lawsuit", May 14, 1991). Browning claimed that 16 bronzes had been removed from his land in the winter of 1981-82, and that these bronzes were the ones being offered by Ariadne Galleries Inc.
Frances Dunkels, a spokesman for the British Museum, said in a telephone interview last week that in 1982 Dr. Ian Longworth, the keeper of Roman-British antiquities at the British Museum, was shown photographs of 16 bronzes said to be in the hands of a British dealer who indicated that they had come from the Brownings' farm. In 1988, Miss Dunkels said, Dr. Longworth said Ariadne Galleries had those bronzes. One item to note is that Marion True would not touch the bronzes because she considered them to have been "stolen". Yet Shelby White seems to have been happy to acquire…

Pre-Columbian "provenances"

Nord Wennerstrom has drawn my attention to the sale of pre-Columbian antiquities where 95% of the objects do not apparently have collecting histories that can be traced back to the period prior to 1970 ("Provenance Puffery at upcoming Pre-Columbian art auction", Nord on Art January 15, 2013). Once again it reminds us of the abuse of the (redundant) word "provenance". When will auction-houses and galleries differentiate between the archaeological information and the collecting history?

Toledo, Becchina and HSI Commitment

In June 2012 it was announced that the Toledo Museum of Art would be returning an Etruscan hydria attributed to the Michali painter to Italy. The hydria had been supplied via Giacomo Medici and then Gianfranco Becchina and the falsified documentation clearly has implications for other North American, European and Japanese collections.

I am grateful to Paul Barford for drawing my attention to the ICE press release ("Transfer ceremony clears way for looted ancient vessel to be returned to Italy") about the handover of the hydria on Tuesday January 8, 2013. There is a quote from Toledo's Director, Brian Kennedy: "we have uncovered evidence that it has inadequate provenance". What Kennedy means it that the collecting history was flawed and that the archaeological context had been lost through illicit activity. But why had the Toledo curators failed to spot this at the time of the acquisition? And why has it taken Toledo so long to respond to the Italian requests?


Princeton update

In June 2010 the New York Timessuggested that there was an Italian investigation into a number of acquisitions at the Princeton University Art Museum and that this included the role of one of the museum's curator. The curator in question responded in the July 2010 number of the Princeton Alumni Weekly.

In January 2012 it was announced by the Italians (but not by Princeton) that Princeton would be returning a number of antiquities to Italy.

A discussion of the return (including a statement by the curator in question emphasising his innocence) was published in an academic journal during the summer of 2012.

The Princeton return had implications for other North American collections including Dallas.

It now appears that the Italian investigation into the Princeton curator is at an end (Mark F. Bernstein, "Curator no longer part of probe", Princeton Alumni Weekly January 16, 2013). Michael Padgett emailed PAW:
I’m pleased to tell you that last month I was notified that the inv…

Icklingham bronzes: call for their return

BBC Radio Suffolk had a focus on Icklingham today [iPlayer: final 10 minutes]. I was invited to say a few words about the Icklingham bronzes and their surfacing in New York. I reminded the listeners about how they were removed from the ground and what information had been lost. Interestingly one of the bronzes was displayed in a temporary exhibition at Harvard.

Shelby White, the present proprietor of the bronzes, has indicated that she intends to leave the bronzes to the British Museum. But our hope is that she will return them to be displayed in the Ipswich Museum or another collection in Suffolk.

New York market: overview

This updates the set of figures showing the sales of antiquities at Sotheby's and Christie's in New York. The market still seems to be buoyant, though there is a slight decline from 2011.

Houghton on Tempelsman

Arthur Houghton prepared a short note on the acquisition of the Tempelsman collection for the J. Paul Getty Museum. It is quoted in its entirety in The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Celia Todeschini (p. 125):
The collection represents a selection of objects from a larger collection formed by Maurice Tempelsman, a diamond merchant resident in New York, over the past twenty-five years. The individual pieces come from a variety of sources, although the largest number were provided directly by, or were bought through, Robin Symes of London. All have been legally imported into the U.S. The collection is currently in the Museum. Will Houghton be making a statement about his part in the acquisition? It appears that he was a member of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) at the time of writing the note.

See also Chasing Aphrodite.

Art Loss Register on BBC Radio 4

Chris Marinello from the Art Loss Register is talking about the return of the Matisse to Sweden on this morning's BBC Radio 4 "Saturday Live". [BBC News]

The programme is normally available on the BBC iPlayer.

The head from Morgantina: intellectual consequences

The terracotta head from Sicily that the J. Paul Getty Museum is not without interest. The catalogue entry for the head indicate the problems of trying to interpret an object without archaeological context.

The blue beard had suggested that the head represented Zeus. However the context, the sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone, where fragments of hair were located suggest that the correct representation is more likely to be Hades. Cited parallels suggested associations with South Italy, and specifically Capua, rather than Sicily (although Sicily is mentioned as a possible place of creation).

The entry suggests "probably broken off from a statue", though we do not know when this took place.

The collecting history suggests that it appeared on the "European art market" (for which we know equals Robin Symes) and then passed to a "private collection, United States" (i.e. Maurice Tempelsman).

The head was acquired in 1985. The previous year it had been publishe…

Getty returns terracotta head to Sicily

The J. Paul Getty Museum has announced that it will be returning a fourth century BC terracotta head to Italy [press release]. The press release makes it clear that comparative material was found at Morgantina and that fragments from the hair were found in a sanctuary confirming its original location.

The press release tells us that the head was acquired in 1985. Daniel Ng and Jason Felch ("Getty Museum to return Hades terracotta head to Sicily", LA Times January 10, 2013) inform us that it was acquired from Maurice Tempelsman. The original source was Robin Symes. Why did the Getty omit this part of the collecting history?

This raises the question about other material in the Getty that was sourced from Robin Symes.

Toxic antiquities: Sotheby's and 1985

I have had reason to comment before on the significance of pieces that surfaced through Sotheby's in London in 1985. One of the issues was the number of items consigned to the sale by Christian Boursaud.

What other pieces came from the same source? Which North American museums acquired such toxic antiquities? Which private collectors had purchased them?

Looting in Print

I have been reviewing the literature on looted antiquities (see preliminary bibliography here). The looting of archaeological sites in Italy ranges from Karl Meyer's The Plundered Past, to Chasing Aphrodite by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. Yet the key commentaries are Peter Watson's, Sotheby's: Inside Story and (with Celia Todeschini) The Medici Conspiracy, along with Vernon Silver's The Lost Chalice. Alongside these stands Fabio Isman's I predatori dell'arte perduta.

Universal Museums: Flawed Thinking

I have been thinking about the December 2002 Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums. The stress of the Declaration was on repatriation and a vague distancing from the problem of looted antiquities. Several of the North American museums represented by the signatories have returned archaeological acquisitions in the wake of the Medici Conspiracy. It has been notable that James Cuno in his promotion of the encyclopedic museum has failed to address this flawed aspect of the declaration.  It was clear from last year's AIA Annual Meeting that the curator of classical antiquities at one of the signatory museums was taking great delight in showing images of a major classical bronze that has a less than clear collecting history. And that same museum has been trying to break the AAMD's position on acquisitions by some less than straightforward pieces.

"If you get a slap on the wrist, you just do it again"

Simon Thurley, the Chief Executive of English Heritage has been speaking about Heritage Crime in England ("Courts must get tough on vandals, says heritage chief", Daily Telegraph, December 26, 2012). The interview specifically talked about the damage to Priddy Circles. His strongest words were about metal-detecting, no doubt in the light of the Irchester case, as he added:
However, Mr Thurley said there was evidence that many of those who targeted historic monuments, including metaldetector users who dug up archaeologically rich sites looking for valuable artefacts, were "habitual" offenders. He suggested that some thieves even trawled English Heritage's databases of protected sites looking for places likely to contain rich pickings. "There is no disincentive. If you get a slap on the wrist, you just do it again," he said. In the case of Irchester the scheduling is unequivocal.

Does the Encyclopedic Museum Matter?

All welcome.

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Looking Ahead: 2013

This time last year there was little expectation that a major university art museum would be returning a batch of material to Italy for a second time. Nor could we have anticipated that pottery collected by one of the most distinguished classical curators of the 20th century would be leaving the collection that he had helped to build. So perhaps the first point is this: expect the unexpected.

I suspect that Asian antiquities will continue to dominate the headlines in two specific areas: firstly items from India, and secondly Cambodian objects. Museums that purchased in these two areas over the last four decades may well begin to feel the discomfort that was experienced in the wake of the Medici Conspiracy.

The Medici Conspiracy will continue to have an impact. It is clear that objects that can be identified from the Medici Dossier regularly appear at auction, especially in New York. This determination to sell recently surfaced antiquities could undermine the wider sale of antiquities.…