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Becchina and the Funerary Markers from Greece

Marble loutrophoros from the Becchina archive.
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
Cambridge-based academic, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified two Attic funerary markers that have surfaced on the Swiss market (Howard Swains, "Looted antiquities allegedly on sale at London Frieze Masters art fair", The Guardian October 22, 2017). The items feature in the Becchina archive.

The marble lekythos and loutrophoros were displayed by Swiss-based dealer Jean-David Cahn at the Frieze Masters art fair in Regent's Park in London.

It appears that the items are being offered on behalf of the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt. They had apparently formed part of the stock seized from Becchina's warehouse in Switzerland. (For more on this see here.)

Strangely the Swiss authorities are claiming that the Italian authorities have given permission for the material to be sold. But these two items are objects that were created in Attica for display in Attic cemeteries. They are from Greek, not Italian, soil.

The key question is this: did the Swiss authorities as well as Cahn contact the Greek authorities to check that the sale was acceptable? If the answer to this is no, then there has been a major breakdown in the due diligence process. Any responsible dealer would have known that they need to contact the Greek authorities for objects that would have been found in Greek funerary contexts.

This makes the statement from James Ratcliffe, counsel for the Art Loss Register sound ridiculous: “If [the Italians] are not reclaiming it, it’s then in this grey area where legally it’s seemingly OK ... As far as [the Swiss] were concerned, they were selling with good title. Now if that’s not the case, and information has emerged that’s contrary to that, then quite clearly that’s something we would say changes our view.” But if the two funerary objects came from Greece rather than Italy, then Ratcliffe's statement reflects his apparent lack of understanding of the reality of the situation.

Cahn is not unfamiliar with handling material from Greece. Items include the statue of Apollo that had been looted from Gortyn on Crete, and another Attic marble lekythos.

Incidentally, the Becchina archive also includes images of a Minoan larnax from Crete now in the Michael C. Carlos Museum. This case is currently unresolved.

These two ex-Becchina items are now toxic. The Basel authorities and Cahn would be best advised to arrange for them to be returned to Greece before the Greek authorities make a formal request and with it all the associated publicity.



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