Skip to main content

Toledo, Becchina and HSI Commitment

Etruscan hydria formerly in Toledo
Source: ICE
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?

The ICE statement notes that the return of the hydria was "part of a larger scheme by the Becchinas to sell illegitimately obtained cultural property". Moreover we are assured by the words of William Hayes, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Securities Investigations (HSI) Detroit: "And other governments around the world can be assured that HSI remains a committed partner in the effort to return stolen and looted priceless cultural objects to their rightful owners".

Minoan larnax from the Becchina archive
Does this mean that ICE agents will be popping down to the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University to investigate the collecting history of the objects that appear in the Becchina archive? For example, what would they make of the pithos that features so clearly in the documentary evidence? Or what about the Minoan larnax? Or the Terpsichore? It does seem that the Hellenic authorities had asked for their return several years ago (see museum press statement).

What the Toledo in fact indicates is that the focus will now shift from the Medici Dossier to the Becchina archive of some 10,000 photographs and documents. Will we seeing further returns during 2013?

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know



For the sake of pertinence, correctness and clarity, or, in short, journalistic ethics if you will, I believe the following statement ought to be rectified.

I noticed that the lack of meaning or false assumption ensueing from the following text exerpt of yours (<>) could simply be restored or corrected by quoting the original, which I am sure is exactly what you intended to do. I followed your own lead and clicked on the link to the original ICE statement you provide a few lines earlier, to check the exact text, and sure enough...

I therefore quote:

"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."

Now this makes more sense. No mention, as you can see, of a scheme linking the return of the artwork and further illicitous purveying plans.

I trust you will be quick to rectify the citation.

Thank you for your attention.

Best regards,
Gabriella Becchina
David Gill said…
An updated post with a longer citation from the ICE Press Release has been posted here.

Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

George Ortiz collection to be displayed in London

Christie's is due to display part of the former collection of the late George Ortiz in London in a non-selling show to mark the 25th anniversary of the exhibition at the Royal Academy. There is a statement on the Christie's website ("The Ortiz Collection — ‘proof that the past is in all of us’"). Max Bernheimer is quoted: ‘Ortiz was one of the pre-eminent collectors of his day’.

We recall the associations with Ortiz such as the Horiuchi sarcophagus, the Hestiaios stele fragment, the marble funerary lekythos, and the Castor and Pollux.

Bernheimer will, no doubt, wish to reflect on the Royal Academy exhibition by reading Christopher Chippindale and David W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511 [JSTOR].

Bernheimer will probably want to re-read the two pieces by Peter Watson that appeared in The Times: , "Ancient art without a history" and "Fakes - the artifice b…

Adding to the history of an Attic black-figured amphora

The post-excavation histories of objects are important as we map the that cultural property passes through collections and the markets. This is clear for an Attic black-figured amphora, attributed to Group E, that is due to be auctioned at Christie's New York on October 31, 2018 (lot 31). It shows Herakles and the Nemean lion, and Theseus and the Minotaur.

The auction catalogue claims that it surfaced in the hands of John Hewett in London in 1970 (or earlier), then to a private collection in Europe, followed by a series of auctions:
A European private collection; Antiquities  Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 130thence to a private collection, New YorkAntiquities Christie's, New York, 15 December 1992, lot 81Antiquities Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1996, lot 50Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1998, lot 102 The amphora appears in the Beazley Archive (BAPD 350425). This provides the history sequence as follows (though in the list of auction catalogues s…