Skip to main content

The impact of the Medici and Becchina archives

Source: MiBACT
The Art Newspaper (Melanie Girlis, "Calls to open looted-art archives grow louder", 2 June 2015) has published a skewed comment on the impact of the photographs (and other documentation) from the Medici and Becchina archives (and there is, of course, the Schinoussa archive). Over 300 items have been returned to Italy as a result of the on-going investigations into the trade in recently surfaced archaeological material (see interim report). Museums have included: Boston's Museum of Fine Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Princeton University Art Museum. (The Dallas Museum of Art conducted a voluntary internal review and returned a number of items.) The returns have included private collectors such as Shelby White and the late Leon Levy, Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, and Muarice Tempelsman. And objects have been withdrawn, returned or seized from auction houses and galleries in North America. And even a pair of statues were returned from a health insurance company.

It is clear that in spite of the 1970 UNESCO Convention auction houses, galleries and dealers continued to handle recently surfaced material from Italy, and that public museums (including university collections) and private collectors continued to acquire this material without asking serious questions about how the material arrived on the market.

Christopher Chippindale and I explored some of the themes in 2000 [see JSTOR] without access to the photographic archives. We were able to identify pieces without a collecting history that could be traced back to the period before 1970 that were subsequently returned to Italy.

Peter Watson's investigations into a major auction-house in London identified the way that objects were consigned to the market, and these sales have been represented by a number of objects that have been returned.

So why are dealers and museum directors calling for these photographic archives to be made public? First, they do not wish the lack of due diligence in the preparations for sales and acquisitions to be made public. Second, there is concern that there could be reputational damage if objects are identified in collections are sales.

So what can the market do? There needs to be an improvement in the due diligence process, and objects need to be provided with properly authenticated and documented collecting histories. Is that too much to ask?

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

kyri said…
hi david ,maybe they are calling for the archives to be published so that they can do their due diligence to a higher standard.we all agree that the ALR is not fit for purpose when it comes to looted pieces because they simply dont come up on the radar,the auction houses are in the same predicament.you use phrases such as "recently looted" or "recently surfaced" but some of these pieces have been published,sold and resold and have been in circulation for 25/35 or even 45 years,to keep calling them recently surfaced is stretching it a bit dont you think.
kyri.

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 …

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

A fragmentary relief of Mithras was discovered in 1964 at Tor Cervara on the outskirts of Rome. It was acquired by the Museo Nazionale Romano.

A further fragment of the relief was acquired by the Badisches Landesmueum in Kalrsruhe in 1976. The source was an unstated Swiss dealer. This fragment has been reunited with the rest of the relief [press release].

Today a further fragment of the relief was reunited with the other pieces. This had been recovered during a raid in Sardinia.

The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics an…