Skip to main content

Looking back over 2016

Source: Schinousa Archive
This has been a year when more of my focus has been on the economic impact of heritage including an analysis of the economic contribution of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece. Last year I anticipated further developments around Syria and Northern Iraq, as well as on-going pillaging of archaeological sites in England and Wales. I also suspected that Madrid and the Michael C. Carlos Museum would not be handing over their disputed objects in a hurry (and so they can continue to receive a mention here).

However, some of the themes that have emerged.

Westminster
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Cultural Property has been meeting in Westminster. One of themes was damage to the archaeological record in the UK. Part of its business has been to prepare the legislation in order to ratify the Hague Convention. The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill started its way through Parliament and some of the debate was instructive. Some of the honing of the wording is underway. Lord Ashton discussed the Bill at the Heritage Alliance Day.

Returns to Italy
The head of Hades was returned to Italy from the J. Paul Getty Museum in January reminding us that disputed cultural property continues to reside in major museum collections. Material from a warehouse associated with Robin Symes has been returned consisting of 45 cases. This includes material linked to Giacomo Medici. Some 350 items have now been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections. Some of the material returned to Italy featured in the catalogue for the Sicily exhibition at the British Museum. The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen agreed to return a large number of objects to Italy.

Syria and Iraq
Channel 4 produced a programme on antiquities from Syria and Iraq. During the preparation for the programme the team identified a recorded lintel from Syria on sale in London.

Returns to Egypt
A relief of Seti I was returned from London, as was a relief from the temple of Hatshepsut. My overview of recent looting in Egypt was made available. Sarah Parcak is conducting important work on remote sensing to detect the extent of looting in Egypt (and elsewhere).

Greece
A network of suppliers was disrupted in Greece.

Parthenon Marbles
2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.

Metal-detecting in the UK
In January I observed that unauthorised and illegal metal-detecting had been taking place at one of the Roman Saxon Shore forts at Bradwell on Sea in Essex. Yet there is the public presentation of 'treasure hot-spots' without open acknowledgement that damage is being sustained to the archaeological record. An Anglo-Saxon find from Norfolk was declared Treasure.

Coins
Nathan Elkins published important work on coins and the market and specifically the ACCG Test Case. The BM has published a useful book on Hoards.

Due diligence
The conflict in Syria and northern Iraq has re-invigorated the debate about "due diligence" and auction-houses. Some of the commentators have overlooked some of the material appearing in London. I keep suggesting that we need to outline collecting histories for objects and to drop the use of the word "provenance". Two lots were withdrawn from Christie's in New York after concerns had been raised about their associations with Becchina and Medici. Christie's in New York sold a Roman mosaic in spite of concerns being raised about its earlier collecting history. In October the same auction house attempted to auction a sculpture that was identified from the Schinoussa Archive. An Attic amphora due to be auctioned at Christie's in London was identified from photographs taken during a police raid in Greece and subsequently withdrawn. Bonhams in London offered an ex-Chesterman terracotta that had been identified from the Medici Archive and subsequently withdrew it. This raised questions about the Chesterman Collection sold to a major UK university museum. Failure to address the issue undermined the position of dealers and galleries contributing to the discussions at the APPG on Cultural Property. This lack of due diligence also appears to apply to major museums that continue to acquire objects with incomplete collecting histories.

A Munich auction house offered a number of items with questionable collecting histories: some had been identified when they were offered by a gallery in New York.  A New York dealer has been charged in relation to handling material from south-east Asia.

Heritage Crime
Charges have been made over the theft of lead from churches in Norfolk. Dinosaur footprints on Skye were damaged.

Thefts from Museums
There was a theft from the Dunblane Museum.

Trafficking Culture
The Trafficking Culture project in Glasgow ended.

Publication Policy
The SBL published a new policy relating to publication of recently surfaced material.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Getty Kouros: "The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance"

In the wake of the 1992 Athens conference to discuss the Getty kouros (85.AA.40), one of the delegates, a "distinguished" American museum curator, was quoted ("Greek sculpture; the age-old question", The Economist June 20, 1992):
The moral is, never ever buy a piece without a provenance.
The recent discussions about the return of antiquities from North American museums to Italy and Greece may seem far removed from the acquisition of what appears to be a forged archaic Greek sculpture in the 1980s. However, there are some surprising overlaps.

The statue arrived at the Getty on September 18, 1983 in seven pieces. True (1993: 11) subsequently asked two questions:
Where was it found? As it was said to have been in a Swiss private collection for fifty years, why had it never been reassembled, though it was virtually complete?
A similar statue surfacing in the 1930s
A decision was taken to acquire the kouros in 1985. The official Getty line at the time (and reported in Russell…

Symes and a Roman medical set

Pierre Bergé & Associés of Paris are offering a rare Roman bronze medical set (16 May 2018, lot 236). Its recorded history is: "Ancienne collection Hishiguro, Tokyo, 1992". The catalogue entry helpfully informs us that the set probably came from a burial ("Cette trousse de chirurgien a probablement été découverte dans une sépulture ...").

The set appears to be the one that has been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogannis from an image in the Schinousa archive thus linking it to Robin Symes.

Given that the catalogue entry suggests that this piece came from a funerary context and that the history of the piece can only be traced back to 1992 (and not to 1970), questions are being raised about the set's origins.

What due diligence was conducted on the medical set prior to offering it for sale? Did Symes sell the set to Hishiguro? How did Symes obtain the set? Who sold it to him?

I understand that the appropriate authorities in France are being informed about the …

The Minoan Larnax and the Michael C. Carlos Museum

I was recently asked to comment on the acquisition of recently surfaced antiquities in Greece as part of an interview. One of the examples I gave was the Minoan larnax that was acquired by the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Although this piece has been discussed in the Greek press, the museum has not yet responded to the apparent identification in the Becchina archive.

Is the time now right for the Michael C. Carlos Museum or the wider authorities at Emory University to negotiate the return of this impressive piece so that it can be placed on display in a museum in Greece?