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Showing posts from 2019

Steinhardt and the Berlin painter oinochoe

Among the pots in the exhibition, The Berlin painter and his world, was an oinochoe (shape 1) from the Judy and Michael Steinhardt collection in New York (BN44; not in BPAD). The description is given:
Youth in himation leaning on stick to right, dropping red tidbit to a Maltese dog standing on its hind legs. The oinochoe was attributed to the Berlin painter by Robert Guy.

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis reminds me that this is indeed the oinochoe seized in January 2018 [see LM]. Tsirogiannis has now published on the Steinhardt seizure:

Tsirogiannis, C. 2019. "Nekiya: a reflection of the antiquities market: selected cases from the antiquities identified in 2018 and 2019." Journal of Art Crime 21: 63–75.
It appears as no. 3 in the list of objects, and Tsirogiannis notes that it was purchased in 1996 for $215,000. Tsirogiannis identified the oinochoe in two images from the seized Medici dossier.

This now raises a number of questions:

who sold the oinochoe to Steinhardt?who acquired the…

The return of looted objects to their countries of origin

‘The return of looted objects to their countries of origin: the case for change’, in S. Hufnagel and D. Chappell (eds.), The Palgrave handbook on art crime (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 797–813.

Abstract
The journalistic investigation into the activities of a major London auction house in the 1990s led directly to the seizure of an important cache of documentation and images at the Geneva Freeport. As a result over 350 items have been returned to Italy from dealers, galleries and auction houses, North American public museums and private collectors. The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property has provided a benchmark for claims on the return of cultural property. There is a need to enhance the due diligence process undertaken by the market. Although some North American museums have changed their acquisition policies, some curatorial staff display open hostility towards enhanced eth…

Viking: finds from the field

I recently visited the excellent 'Viking: Rediscover the Legend' exhibition at Norwich Castle.

One of the striking things to emerge from the exhibition was the number of hoards and collections derived from metal-detecting. These include the Vale of York hoard (2007) and the Great Camp Assemblage (2003) (also known as 'Ainsbrook'). It would have been helpful for the exhibition to have reflected on the value of scientific excavation for the contribution of knowledge on the Vikings in Britain.

The exhibition continues until September.

Tutankhamun, Christie's and rigorous due dligence

It was announced today that the Egyptian authorities would be taking legal action against Christie's over the sale of the head of Tutankhamun ("Egypt to sue Christie's to retrieve £4.7m Tutankhamun bust", BBC News 9 July 2019).

The BBC reports:
Egypt's former antiquities chief, Zahi Hawass, said the bust appeared to have been "stolen" in the 1970s from the Temple of Karnak. "The owners have given false information," he told AFP news agency. "They have not shown any legal papers to prove its ownership." Christie's maintain the history of the piece as follows:
It stated that Germany's Prince Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis reputedly had it in his collection by the 1960s, and that it was acquired by an Austrian dealer in 1973-4. However the family of von Thurn und Taxis claim that the head was never in that collection [see here].

Christie's reject any hint of criticism:
"Christie's would not and do not sell any work whe…

George Ortiz collection to be displayed in London

Christie's is due to display part of the former collection of the late George Ortiz in London in a non-selling show to mark the 25th anniversary of the exhibition at the Royal Academy. There is a statement on the Christie's website ("The Ortiz Collection — ‘proof that the past is in all of us’"). Max Bernheimer is quoted: ‘Ortiz was one of the pre-eminent collectors of his day’.

We recall the associations with Ortiz such as the Horiuchi sarcophagus, the Hestiaios stele fragment, the marble funerary lekythos, and the Castor and Pollux.

Bernheimer will, no doubt, wish to reflect on the Royal Academy exhibition by reading Christopher Chippindale and David W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." American Journal of Archaeology 104: 463-511 [JSTOR].

Bernheimer will probably want to re-read the two pieces by Peter Watson that appeared in The Times: , "Ancient art without a history" and "Fakes - the artifice b…

Renewed Italian claims on the Getty

Back in January 2013 LM noted that Fabio Isman had noted that two funerary lions in the J. Paul Getty Museum, acquired in 1958 (inv. 58.AA.7, 58.AA.8), had been photographed in an Italian collection in 1912. It now appears that the Italian authorities have requested clarity on the histories of the two lions [press release, May 22, 2019]. The lions were both acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis.

In addition, a Roman mosaic with the head of Medusa has been included in the request. It is alleged that it was stolen from the Museo Nazionale Romano. The mosaic was acquired from the Royal Athena Galleries in 1971 (inv. 71.AH.110). It is noted that the mosaic was found on the Via Emanuele Filiberto, Rome, Italy and was first recorded in A. Pasqui 1911 ("Roma. Nuove scoperte nella citta e nel suburbio." Notizie degli Scavi 8 (1911), 338-339). Further details on the findspot can be found here.

What is so surprising is that it has taken the Getty more than six years to respond to the cla…

Toledo Museum of Art and an Attic skyphos

In 2017 Dr Christos Tsirogannis wrote a study of the Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter (by Dietrich von Bothmer) and acquired in 1982. Tsirogiannis had spotted that the skyphos featured in the Medici Dossier, and elicited from the museum that it had been acquired from Nichols Koutoulakis. 

It has now been announced by the Italian authorities that the skyphos will be returned to Italy [press release, 16 May 2019].
Il ministero per i Beni e le attività culturali della Repubblica italiana e il Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) hanno annunciato oggi di aver raggiunto un accordo per il trasferimento alla Repubblica italiana di uno skyphos attico risalente al V secolo a-C (Vaso Potorio), che raffigura il ritorno di Efesto sull'Olimpo. Lo skyphos è stato acquistato da TMA nel 1982, ma recentemente, il Museo ha ritenuto di dover acquisire ulteriori informazioni dal Mibac circa la sua provenienza. In collaborazione con il Ministero e alla luce de informazioni fomite da…

Stele seized at Spata

A marble stele has been seized in a raid at Spata in eastern Attica ("Three men sent to prosecutor over stolen ancient grave stele", http://www.ekathimerini.com (10 April 2019); www.archaeologia.gr 11 April 2019). Three individuals were arrested.

I am grateful to Konstantinos-Orfeas Sotiriou for drawing my attention to the report.

Context Matters: Collecting the Past

I have been associated with ARCA for the last ten years, and its publishing arm, ARCA Press, will be issuing a series of essays later this year.

Context Matters is based on the twenty essays contributed to the Journal of Art Crime over its first ten years. They are supplemented by articles and review articles that were published alongside them. The chapters were written as museums in Europe and North America were facing a series of claims on recently acquired objects in their collections in the light of the photographic dossiers that had been seized from dealers in Switzerland and Greece. They engage with some of the recent debates over cultural property that include the Ka Ka Nefer mummy mask currently in the St Louis Art Museum, and the Leutwitz Apollo acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Two of the essays reflect on the recent and controversial metal-detecting finds in England, the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard. The volume contributes to the wider disc…

Cadbury's, Treasure and Damage to the Archaeological Record

LM has consistently commented on the damage to the archaeological record sustained by unscientific digging. In the UK, and specifically in England and Wales, LM has discussed the damage sustained by (some) metal-detecting. I was asked by the editors of the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology to write a forum piece on the issue. Subsequent published research has considered the cases of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet, and the Lenborough Hoard. I have been present at a meeting of the Cultural Property APPG and heard members from a major national museum refuting comments about the looting of archaeological sites in East Anglia. Contemporary concerns about looting have been raised in a review article for Antiquity. 

In this permissive culture there is little surprise that Cadbury's thought that it was acceptable to encourage individuals to go and dig up an archaeological site in order to find 'treasure'. The reaction from the archaeological community was resounding. Peo…

"Do whatever you can to avoid admitting the unattractive truth"

Peter Watson has written a short piece in The Times (7 March 2019) about the return of antiquities to Italy by Christie's. He reminds readers about how the story was revealed in The Times back in 2014, and that the identifications had, in part, been due to the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. Watson writes:
The man who spotted the looted objects in the 2014 sales was Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek-born forensic archaeologist. Though Christie's was aware of this tainted history, it still took it five years to persuade the consignors of these objects that they were looted. So it's a little rich for Christie's to talk of the "voluntary" return of these artefacts. It was embarrassed into doing so. A spokeswoman for Christie's conceded last week that Dr Tsirogiannis was right about the objects he spotted. She added that illicit antiquities were a minute amount of a predominantly "honourable" market. See my comments on the Apulian hydria, the gla…

Stolen sculptural fragments returned to Italy

Among the objects returned by Christie's to Italy last month were two fragmentary sculptures [press release]. One was a relief showing a satyr and maenad that had been removed from the gardens of the Villa Borghese in Rome in 1985. The second was a sarcophagus fragment that had been removed from the catacomb of San Callisto in Rome by 1982.

The press release from Christie's stated:
The works, that had been acquired in the past in good faith, were more recently identified as not having the required, verifiable title, export or provenance details needed to proceed with a sale and as such were returned voluntarily. How did these two pieces end up being consigned to Christie's? Where have they been residing over the intervening three decades? Who has been handling them? Who has been passing the sculptures on 'in good faith'?


Dutch Museum to return 139 Benin Bronzes

It has been announced that a museum in the Netherlands will be returning 139 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. This will no doubt send a signal to other universal museums that hold Benin Bronzes that they may be the next to negotiate a return. The circumstances of the Benin Punitive Expedition that allowed so many of these pieces to enter European, and subsequently North American, collections should be a reminder to curators and museum directors that the histories of pieces should be re-examined. The decision to return the pieces is a tangible challenge to the position of retention that has been argued by James Cuno among others.

Etruscan terracotta antefix returned to Italy

An Etruscan terracotta antefix was among the items returned to Italy from Christie's [see ARCA]. The piece had been recognised from the Medici Dossier by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis when it was offered at auction by Christie's in London on 15 April 2015 (lot 103) [see Looting Matters]. It had then been withdrawn, along with three other lots [see ARCA].

The antefix had surfaced at Sotheby's in London on 9 December 1985 (lot 273). (In 2009 Looting Matters had highlighted issues about objects surfacing through Sotheby's in 1985.)

Why does the Christie's press release fail to mention the link with the Medici Dossier and the identification by Tsirogiannis?

Glass oinochoe returned to Italy

A glass oinochoe is among the objects returned to Italy from Christie's. This appears to be the one offered in the sale of antiquities on 2 April 2014 (lot 173). That particular oinochoe had surfaced at Sotheby's in London on 11 July 1988 (lot 173). The identification of the oinochoe with an image in the Medici Dossier [see ARCA] was made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis [see earlier comments]. The piece was then withdrawn from the sale [see earlier comments].

Why has the official press release [Christie's] failed to mention either the Medici Dossier, or the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis?

Apulian hydria returned to Italy

Last month Christie's was reported to have returned eight antiquities to Italy [press release]. This initiative appeared to be a new one but it now appears that the objects may relate to historic cases. For example, the returned Apulian hydria attributed to the Varrese painter appears to be the one identified at the April 2015 Christie's sale [see Looting Matters] by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis from an image in the Becchina archive. 

One wonders why this historic information as well as Tsirogiannis' contribution has been omitted. Back in 2015 I commented on why the hydria's history (and the histories of its companions) had not been spotted by the auction-house.

Defining Treasure and DCMS Consultation

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is holding a consultation on 'Revising the definition of treasure in the Treasure Act 1996 and revising the related codes of practice' (link).
This consultation deals with proposed changes to the Treasure Act 1996 (‘the Act’), its associated Codes of Practice (‘the Codes’) and the process for finds that may be treasure following a review of the treasure process. The aim of the Act is to ensure that important archaeological items are preserved in public collections.  We propose to improve the treasure process so that it is more efficient, that it is focused on the aim of preserving significant finds for public collections, and that it is more rational and easier to understand. We are also keen to ensure that there is a sustainable future for the treasure process. The aim of the consultation is to gather views on the proposed changes, and obtain information that will help us to assess the impact of these changes on grou…