Tuesday, 15 January 2013

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?

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Unknown said...


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.

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