Skip to main content


Showing posts from 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".

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. | |

Gower Repatriation?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 …

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…

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?

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?

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…

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.

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?

Art Forgery and Provenance

I attended the ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art) Art Crime Symposium at the V&A in London today. There were two sessions:

a. Art Recovery and Reward: Det Sgt Claire Hutcheon (Metropolitan Police), Charlie Hill, Richard Ellis, Jonathan Jones.b. Art Forgery and Provenance: Vernon Rapley, Christopher Marsden, Christos Tsirogiannis, Noah Charney.
I tweeted some of the themes here.

I was very struck by Jonathan Jones' point that art can be displayed in its original context (e.g. a church) rather than the sanitised environment of a museum. (It reminded me of the Houghton Hall exhibition --- and interestingly Peter Watson alluded to the exhibition during the discussion.)

During the discussion, Richard Ellis reminded us that due diligence meant that we needed to ensure that we left no stone unturned as we researched past collecting histories.

Vernon Rapley kept coming back to the Amarna Princess as well as other pieces from the same forger. He reminded us of littl…

Jonathan Rosen and the Met: the Etruscan dimension

Cornell's controversial acquisition of cuneiform tablets from (or via) Jonathan Rosen raises issues for other collections.

Here are some of the Etruscan donations acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art:
1991.171.2. Lunate razor of sharply curved form. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [3.19]1991.171.3. Sanguisuga-type fibula. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [3.8]1991.171.4. Sanguisuga-type fibula. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [3.9a]1991.171.8. Navicella-type fibula. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [3.7c]1991.171.16. Dragon-type fibula. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [3.4b]1991.171.17. Dragon-type fibula. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [3.4a]1991.171.18. Dragon-type fibula. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [3.4c]1991.171.29. Bow fibula. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [3.6]1991.171.44. Antefix fragment with gorgon head. Gift of Mr & Mrs Jonathan P. Rosen. [4.123b]1991.171.50. Samnite belt. Gift of M…

Cornell and so-called unprovenanced tablets

In 2009 I reviewed James Cuno's edited volume Whose culture? for the Journal of Art Crime (pp. 99-100). This 'partial and partisan' book (as I described the book) contained an essay, "Censoring knowledge: the case for the publication of unprovenanced cuneiform tablets", by David I. Owen, the Bernard and Jane Schapiro Professor of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University (pp. 125-42, [pp. 130-42 = endnotes]). Readers of LM will know that I dislike the terms "provenanced" and "unprovenanced": I prefer to use the phrase "collecting histories" (or lack!).

Perhaps David I. Owen can tell the full story of how Cornell acquired all these tablets.

In the meantime we look forward to reading the press release that Cornell has yet to issue.

Cornell to return cuneiform tablets to Iraq

Jason Felch is reporting that Cornell University will be returning some 10,000 cuneiform tablets to Iraq (Chasing Aphrodite, November 3, 2013). They were donated or placed on loan to Cornell by Jonathan Rosen, a former partner with Robert Hecht. Rosen was also one of the figures behind Athena Fund II.

These tablets should not be seen in isolation. Objects donated by Rosen (or that have passed through Atlantis Antiquities) to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum and Princeton University Art Museum have been returned to Italy.