Skip to main content

Collecting histories and objects

Readers of LM will know that I dislike the word "provenance". I have discussed the use of the term in an article in the Journal of Art Crime that can be found here.

Chris Chippindale and I suggested that we use the terms "archaeology" and "collecting history". Thus the find-spot is discussed under "archaeology", e.g. this core-formed glass alabastron was found in grave 172 of the Fikellura cemetery at Kameiros, Rhodes; or, this bronze oinochoe has no known find-spot. And collecting history charts the movement of the object from collector to auction house to museum, e.g. the Baron Icklesford collection; London market; the Hortenshaw Art Museum. (For an example of how to describe objects using this method see here.)

Yet I note that some persist in tying themselves in knots trying to explain what they mean by "provenance" or even "unprovenanced". For example, a discussion of a Late Roman treasure could have said, "we do not know where this found" (that is the "archaeology") but we know it passed through the hands of the following individuals and companies (that is the "collecting history").

So we could end up with the garbled statement: 'This "unprovenanced" Roman penknife has a "provenance" in a Soho private collection'. So let me rephrase this for clarity: "This Roman penknife has no recorded archaeological context but it formed part of a Soho private collection".

Academic readers please note: there really is no need to use the term "provenance". Find an alternative term for your publications.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

How about the anglicized "provenience" for archaeological findspot? That is more commonly in use, I think, among American archaeologists of the anropologicsl persuasion already.
David Gill said…
Why use "provenience" when you mean "collecting history"?

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.