Thursday 6 February 2014

"Looking at persuasive circumstantial evidence"

Returned from Dallas.
Source: Dallas Museum of Art
Julia Halperin and Javier Pes have written about the attitude of North American museums towards repatriation ("US museums' about-face on restitution", The Art Newspaper, February 2014). There are comments from Kaywin Feldman, director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, who now holds a more informed position than the one presented in December 2010: "It’s been a landslide change in collecting policy, procedures and ethics". There is a reference to the return of the Athenian red-figured krater (September 2011) that was recognised from the Medici Dossier and thence to hands of Robin Symes. Maxwell Anderson was also interview indicating his proactive position that led to the voluntary return of a range of objects from Dallas.

Feldman reports that some potential donors are "frustrated" by the new AAMD Guidelines. But it has probably saved some potentially damaging acquisitions. And Fordham University would have been wise to have researched a donation from a private collection.

The report mentions the Egyptian mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum that is known to have been excavated at Saqqara but somehow left its place in an archaeological store. Although the collecting history that was provided cannot be accurate, an official from SLAM was quoted as saying that the museum's "position on its legal ownership of the mask has not changed". This position contrasts with Anderson's transparent ethical stance for Dallas.

I am quoted in the report and call for improved documentation for acquired objects. Published collecting histories need to demonstrate the authenticated sources.

And the Art Newspaper notes that social media allow individuals to identify material that has been acquired my museums. So we can expect more returns.

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Tuesday 4 February 2014

Legal Fibbery and the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet

The Heritage Journal has discussed my scepticism about the alleged find-spot of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet.

There is an interesting expansion on legal "fibbery" and HJ rightly wonders how many objects in the PAS database have falsified find-spots.

This is a wider issue. Anyone following the Nostoi debate relating to antiquities returned from North American collections will know that collecting histories can be fabricated.

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Monday 3 February 2014

The Sappho Papyrus

It would be interesting to know the full and authenticated collecting history of the new Sappho Papyrus fragment that is due to be published in ZPE by Professor Dirk Obbink from Oxford (see press release from Christ Church). A news report (James Romm, "Scholars Discover New Poems from Ancient Greek Poetess Sappho", Daily Beast January 28, 2014) suggests:
The new Sappho papyrus probably came from Egypt and perhaps from Oxyrynchus, but its provenance may never be known. A thriving black market for papyri means that many of them emerge not from archaeological digs but from souks, bazaars and antiquities shops.
Part of the collecting history is known (but not made public): it is owned by an anonymous collector. Where and when did this anonymous collector acquire the fragment? When did it leave Egypt?

The online preprint (to ZPE 189 [2014]) is no longer available. However a translation by Tim Whitmarsh is available from The Guardian and another by Steve Dodson.

ZPE was also due to be the place of publication for the Fordham mosaics apparently derived from a Christian church in Syria. In 2012 there was debate about a new papyrus fragment from a German collection.

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Saturday 1 February 2014

The Apollo from Gaza

Vernon Silver has reported on the alleged discovery of a classical bronze in the sea off Deir al-Balah, in the Gaza strip ("The Apollo of Gaza: Hamas's Ancient Bronze Statue", Bloomberg Business Week, January 31, 2014). The bronze statue, nearly 2 m long, was found in 4-5 metres of water in mid-August 2013. The surprising thing, as Silver points out, is that the statue shows little evidence that it was submerged in the sea for centuries. Is the reported find-spot a blind to distract the authorities from a 'productive' site?

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The Bubon Caracalla at Fordham

The Fire of Hephaistos gives a brief mention of the bronze head of Caracalla that was removed from the Sebasteion at Bubon in Turkey (and others appear in the catalogue). The same head is mentioned in Gill and Chippindale, "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting", AJA 104 (2000).

And now this head appears in the Fordham University Collection inv. 7.068: "it has been suggested that the Fordham example may have belonged to a large statue group of Roman emperors from a Sebasteion in the city of Bubon". Indeed it has been suggested that the head fits the headless statue in Houston Museum of Fine Arts (also apparently one of the Bubon statues).

The curatorial team at Fordham may be unaware of the issues surrounding Bubon. But I hope that one of them will do the honourable thing and contact the cultural attache at the Turkish Embassy.

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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...