Thursday 28 February 2013

Bothmer fragments raising questions about transparency

One year on from the announcement that the Met had handed over a number of unspecified pieces from the approximately 10,000 fragments bequeathed to the museum by Dietrich von Bothmer, the museum has posted a token image on the AAMD Object Register. Is the Met serious about transparency? A first step would be to release the full details of the 40 fragments that have been returned. They have been asked the question but have declined to answer.

It is important for the museum to declare the collecting histories of the returned fragments. How were they acquired?

As the Met starts to use the AAMD Object Register in a tokenistic way, will the museum commit itself to revealing the full collecting information of each fragment? What narrative will emerge from the publication of the fragments? Can we expect further returns to Italy and transfers to other collections?

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Tuesday 26 February 2013

Looting Matters for Comic Relief

Mark Murphy at BBC Radio Suffolk has challenged me to wear a "Comic Tie" for Red Nose Day on 15 March 2013. Readers of LM can sponsor me here.

To find out about the projects supported by Comic Relief click here.

The hunt is on to find the right tie (suggestions welcome!). And an image should appear on LM.

‘Comic Relief, registered charity
326568 (England/Wales)
SCO39730 (Scotland)’

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Monday 25 February 2013

Does find recording stop looting?

Earlier this month I was discussing the differences between the situation in Italy and in England and Wales. A reader in Rome has emailed me to ask, if Italy adopted the same scheme as in England and Wales would it encourage more widespread looting of archaeological sites?

Let me take a well-known example from England: the Crosby Garrett Roman helmet. What do we know of the helmet's find-spot? Can we be certain of where it was found? Did the finder (or finders?) report his (or their?) discovery immediately? Why did the helmet not receive appropriate detailed conservation? Why is the present proprietor of the helmet undeclared? Why is this archaeologically and historically significant helmet not on public view? (The present anonymous owner did let it appear in Bronze at the Royal Academy.) Why has the present legislation failed to ensure that this part of England's heritage was saved for the nation?

These types of question were asked in a forum piece for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology in 2010.

So would a Portable Antiquities type-Scheme be appropriate for Italy? I suspect not.

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Saturday 23 February 2013

Bothmer fragments on the AAMD Object Register

Group of approximately
10,000 terracotta vase fragments.
The approximately 10,000 von Bothmer fragments now feature on the AAMD Object Register. Details of the collecting history are provided:
Dietrich von Bothmer was a long-time curator and scholar of Greek & Roman Art at the Museum, from 1946 until his death in 2009. Throughout his career at the Museum, he acquired Attic vase fragments which came to form a study collection. For some of the fragments, the Museum knows the date and dealer for Dr. von Bothmer’s acquisition. For others, there is no acquisition information. 
Most of the pieces are unpublished. The exceptions appear in Sir John Beazley’s compendia of Attic vase-painting: Attic Black-figure Vase-painters (1956), Attic Red-figure Vase-painters (2nd edition, 1963), and Paralipomena (1971). Many of the fragments by Douris are included in Diana Buitron’s monograph on the painter (Mainz, 1995). Fragments by Makron are included in Norbert Kunisch’s monograph (Mainz, 1997). Isolated works are published elsewhere. 
The collection has not yet been catalogued, however the Museum is committed to cataloguing, photographing and publishing it electronically. Once the fragments are catalogued, any known provenance will be published on the Museum’s web site.
When will the Metropolitan Museum of Art publish the known information? What will the names of the dealers tell us? When will images of the fragments be available for scrutiny?

The Met also provides information why the Bothmer collection should be excluded from the 1970 rule:
The study collection assembled by Dr. von Bothmer represents over fifty years of study and expertise, and it complements the Museum’s distinguished collection of prehistoric, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman pottery. Dr. von Bothmer identified and grouped the fragments according to well-defined art historical criteria – shape, date, painter, sometimes potter, subject matter. The degree of refinement in the classification is considerable. 
Though the material consists primarily of small pieces, its artistic interest resides, to a considerable degree, in the artists who are represented, including Onesimos, Epiktetos, Douris, Makron, the Brygos Painter, the Berlin Painter, the Villa Giulia Painter, and other well-known names. Still other fragments are noteworthy for details of shape or execution. 
The Bothmer Fragment Collection presents a very extensive and significant range of opportunities for study among scholars world-wide, notably those expert in Greek vase-painting. In addition, it makes possible joins with pieces in other museums, particularly those with holdings acquired during the nineteenth century from the Campana Collection. 
In the spirit of cooperation between the Museum and Italy, the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities of the Italian Republic consented to the Museum accepting this bequest as a resource for research, publication, and display. In its agreement with the Ministry, the Museum agreed to strive to facilitate the recomposition of original objects by donating joining fragments in the Bothmer Fragment Collection to other institutions, or, where appropriate, requesting donations to the Museum, in order to augment fragments in the Bothmer collection.
It is striking that no mention is made of the returns of the Bothmer fragments to Italy as they appeared to join other pots already returned to Italy.

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The Bothmer Acquisition

Group of approximately 10,000 terracotta vase fragments.
For completeness the Annual Report of the Metropolitan Museum of Art mentions the gift of pot fragments made by Dietrich von Bothmer:
The von Bothmer Fragment Collection; terracotta; Greek, 6th–4th century B.C.; TR.572.2011, accession numbers pending; Dietrich von Bothmer, Distinguished Research Curator, Greek and roman art
No further information was provided there.

However some group photographs are now available.

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Fragments of Love

The AAMD Object Registry has an interesting entry: the 2011 acquisition of 27 pot fragments or groups of pot fragments by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art from Iris Love. Iris Love appears in the Beazley Archive as the owner of a number of pieces acquired during the 1960s. But these fragments appear to be different:
The 27 Greek vase fragments and groups of fragments acquired as a gift from Iris Love join or belong to the same vases as fragments acquired by the Metropolitan Museum through the large study collection donated by the late Dietrich von Bothmer (TR. 572.2011). The Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities of the Italian Republic consented to the Museum accepting the Bothmer gift as a resource for research, publication and display. A major consideration in the Museum’s acceptance of the Bothmer gift was to contribute to the reunification of pieces that belong together and had become dispersed. The gift from Iris Love is consistent with this purpose. As the material is accessioned, it will become available for study.
The acquisition was made prior to the return of part of the Bothmer collection to Italy. Do any of the Love fragments link to any of the returned Bothmer fragments? And what were the common sources for Bothmer and Love?

More important, why had the pots represented by the Bothmer fragments been broken and the fragments dispersed? When will the Met issue the full details of the return along with information about the pots that they join? How did Bothmer acquire the pieces that were returned?

And should the AAMD Object Registry publish all 27 images? And why not the joining fragments in the Bothmer collection?

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Cameron on the Parthenon marbles

Duveen Gallery, British Museum © David Gill
The Greek press has picked up on comments made by British Prime Minister David Cameron ("Cameron rules out return of Parthenon marbles", Ekathimerini February 21, 2013). After being asked about the Koh-i-Noor diamond, Cameron added that Britain would not be returning the "Elgin marbles". It is perhaps astonishing, but not surprising, that Cameron is so unaware of the sensitivities of the issue that he does not refer to the architectural sculptures removed from the Parthenon in a more appropriate way.

What is more interesting is the way that Cameron makes the case for the Encyclopedic Museums: "The right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions to do exactly what they do, which is to link up with other institutions around the world to make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world". It has perhaps escaped the notice of Cameron, and his civil servants advising him, that a large number of the signatories of the Declaration on the Universal Museum (which has just "celebrated" its tenth anniversary) have had to return recently surfaced antiquities to countries such as Greece, Italy and Turkey.

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Friday 22 February 2013

Focus on Apollo

The Cleveland Apollo Souroktonos, "from an old East German collection", will be the focus of an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art from September 2013. There will be an accompanying catalogue. The exhibition information claims of the statue: "Its acquisition by the Cleveland Museum of Art ensures that the sculpture will continue to be studied within a broad art-historical context."

I am sure that the Apollo will be the focus of searching questions about the alleged collecting history. What curatorial investigations were made during its acquisition? What else had the museum purchased from the same vendor?

Cleveland is one of several institutions to return antiquities to Italy.

The focus exhibition will also remind us of Cleveland's bronze from Bubon in Turkey. Will the museum be opening up the discussion on its return?

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Friday 8 February 2013

On the Fascination of Objects

In April the Great North Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne will be hosting a conference to honour the late Professor Brian Shefton. The emphasis will be on objects acquired by the (former) Greek Museum. One of the themes will be the creation of a classical collection from the late 1950s.

I will be looking at Athenian black-glossed pottery derived from an English country-house collection.

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Comparing England and Italy

One discussion at Cambridge this week involved a comparison between the removal of archaeological material from the ground in Italy and in England. Imagine that an individual digs down in a field in Italy and finds a Roman ivory mask. At the same time, another individual digs down into a field in northern England and finds a Roman bronze helmet.

How do the two events differ?

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Monday 4 February 2013

From Gela to Malibu

I am undertaking some research on material from Sicily. I noticed that the gorgon antefix acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1972 (inv. 1972.AD.124) has no stated donor. Birgitta Wohl, who published the antefix in 1977 [JSTOR], noted that there were two other antefixes "from the same mold" that had surfaced on the Swiss market (Galerie Heidi Vollmoeller) in 1975.

Did all three antefixes surface together? What was the "collecting history" of the Getty antefix? Where were they originally displayed? Was the building in Gela?

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Saturday 2 February 2013

Cuno and the Encyclopedic Museum

Next week I am due to be lecturing on the Encyclopedic Museum in Cambridge. I am grateful to Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl for her comments on James Cuno's Davos discussion on the subject. Many Encyclopedic Museums have returned large numbers of antiquities since the Declaration on the Universal Museum.

I think that we are going to have a good debate in Cambridge.

Wednesday, 6th February 2013, 4.30-6.00 pm
Heritage Group Research Seminar
McDonald Seminar Room

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Friday 1 February 2013

Sicilian antiquities in the Getty

Lex sacra from Selinus
I have been reviewing some of the early returns from North American museums to Italy. One that featured in the Nostoi exhibition (no. 39) was a Greek text on lead sheets now displayed in the Museo Civico in Castelvetrano in Sicily. The text is a lex sacra linked to cults at the Greek colony of Selinus in south-western Sicily.

The lead sheet was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1981, deaccessioned in 1991, and returned to Italy in 1992. Shortly afterwards the text was published by M.H. Jameson, D.R. Jordan and R.D. Kotansky in A Lex Sacra from Selinous (Greek, Roman and Byzantine monographs 11; Duke University, 1993). John Walsh explained that as "the Getty Museum does not exhibit material of primarily historical interest, we concluded that the piece would be better returned to Italy". Walsh also affirmed the "importance" of the inscription "for further study and interpretation of the site of ancient Selinous".

Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino mention the return (Chasing Aphrodite, 118-19):
The Lex Sacra ... was inscribed with instructions for a religious ritual and had been traced to a sanctuary of Demeter near ... Selinunte. Despite the tablet's historical significance, the Getty had never taken it out of storage because it was not deemed beautiful enough for public display. Now, without any prompting, the cirator was willing to give it back.
They place the return in the wake of the October 1991 Rome conference where recently surfaced antiquities were discussed.

Detail from bell-krater
This is not the only inscription on a lead plaque linked to Selinus and acquired by the Getty. "The Getty Hexameters" tablet was also acquired in 1981 as a gift from Dr Max Gerchik (inv. 81.AI.140.2). (The inscription was first loaned in 1980.) The Getty catalogue suggests that it was derived from Selinus. This is one of several lead plaques acquired from Gerchik in 1981 with a Selinus link.

It is of more than passing interest that Max Gerchik was the donor of an Attic red-figured bell-krater that has also been returned to Italy (inv. 81.AE.149; Gill and Chippindale, no. 15; Nostoi no. 30).

Will the Getty be releasing full details of the collecting histories of these and other Sicilian pieces acquired by the museum? Where did Gerchik acquire them? How long did they reside in his "collection"? What is the basis of the Sicilian association?

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Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...