Wednesday 30 December 2020

Fragments attributed to the Berlin painter

What questions should we be considering when we study the fragments of Athenian red-figured pottery that are dispersed between different collections and museums? This short study takes the example of some five pieces attributed to the Berlin painter (BN3, BN9, BN12, BN29, BN38); two have been returned to Italy. When were these fragments moved to different collections? Who was involved? In the case of two of the pieces, the initial fragments were presented to the museum only to be followed by purchases from a different source. Such a pattern of acquisition is not confined to the Berlin painter.

This paper questions the position taken by James Cuno that scholars should not seek the clarify the "provenance" (I prefer "history") of such fragments. 

The fragments are a reminder of the information that has been lost by the unscientific removal of Athenian pottery from funerary and other archaeological contexts.

Gill, D. W. J. 2020. "Fragmented Athenian Pots and the Berlin Painter: Recent Breaks?" Academia Letters, Letter 40: 1–5. [DOI]

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Monday 21 December 2020

Portable Finds and Roman Britain

My review of 50 Roman Finds from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (2020) has appeared in the latest number of the Journal of Art Crime. Several issues are explored including the accuracy of the find-spots.

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Donations and purchases at the J. Paul Getty Museum

My latest essay for the Journal of Art Crime looks at the pattern of donations of figure-decorated pot fragments to the J. Paul Getty Museum by Werner Nussberger. Some 6000 pieces were donated to the Getty in 1981. The study identifies how additional pieces from the same pots were purchased from Galerie Nefer in 1985 and 1986. Other handlers of pot fragments are identified. 

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Thursday 10 December 2020

Funerary reliefs from Ostia

Funerary reliefs of the Caltilii.
Source: Tampa Museum of Art (L), The J. Paul Getty Museum (R).

The Italian Senator, Margherita Corrado, has raised the issue of funerary reliefs from the tomb of the Caltilii in Ostia ("Italian Senator Margherita Corrado commenting on two suspect Roman altars at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art", ARCA blog, December 8, 2020).  She has identified two Roman funerary reliefs that appear to come from a family burial area on the Via dei Sepolchri. One is in the J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. 83.AA.209), donated by Achille Moretti, and the other in the Tampa Museum of Art (inv. 1991.001), purchased by The Collectors. 

The Tampa relief is the monument of L. Caltilius Diadumenus (with a mention of L. Caltilius Euhodus) (AE 2001 [2004], no. 621, 'fouilles clandestines'), and the Getty shows the funerary altar of L. Caltilius Stephanus and Caltilia Moschis. Caltilia Moschis also appears in a second relief now in the Palazzo Mattei in Rome (and discussed in Roman Funerary Sculptures no. 27). The Getty relief surfaced in an exhibition, partly arranged with J. Frel, at Geneva's Musée d'histoire et d'art in 1982. Corrado's press release claims that documentation in the seized Becchina archive shows that Palladion Antike Kunst tried to sell the altar to a US museum on behalf of a Swiss-based collector. 

Did the curatorial team at Tampa investigate the history of the relief when concerns were raised about it in 2004? Who handled the relief before it was sold to Tampa?

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Monday 12 October 2020

An EPC Kotyle from the Medici Dossier

EPC Kotyle from the Medici Dossier.
Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis.
Christos Tsirogiannis, Associate Professor at the University of Aarhus, has linked a photograph from the Medici Dossier with the reverse of an Early Protocorinthian kotyle that is due to be offered for auction at Christies  (New York) on October 13, 2020 (lot 27). Although only one side is shown on the Christie's online catalogue, Tsirogiannis requested an image of the reverse from the auction-house and this has confirmed that they are one and the same. I understand that the District Attorney's office in New York was informed on Friday last week. 

The kotyle is provided with a history:
  • Private Collection, U.K. 
  • Art Market, U.K. 
  • with Peter Sharrer Ancient Art, New York. 
  • Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1997.
It is currently owned by an anonymous 'distinguished private collector'.

Peter Sharrer has been linked with at least one objects that has been returned to Italy: a Roman relief that was returned from Princeton in 2002. Sharrer was also the source for objects acquired by the Fleischmans as well as the Getty, the Michael C. Carlos Museum and Princeton. He is known to have acquired items from Robin Symes.

Why are the UK dealer and private collector anonymous? Are they are unknown? And where is the mention of the anonymous European collector in Christie's history?

Will other museums and collectors who purchased directly or indirectly from Sharrer conduct due diligence on their acquisitions?

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Monday 28 September 2020

Stela from Saittai (Lydia)

A Roman period stele from the sanctuary of Apollo at Saittai in Lydia, modern Turkey, has been recovered in Italy ("1,800-year-old artifact delivered to Turkey from Italy", Anadolu Agency 23 September 2020). It was seized in 1997 from an undisclosed antiquities dealer. The stela, inscribed in Greek, has now been returned to Turkey for display in Anakara. 

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Monday 24 August 2020

Suspected illegal metal-detecting at Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill © David Gill
Silbury Hill © David Gill

There are reports from the Wiltshire Constabulary of "illegal metal detecting" at Silbury Hill, part of the Avebury prehistoric landscape. How can such activity be considered to be acceptable? 

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Thursday 13 August 2020

Illegal detecting on Hadrian's Wall

This intentionally significant Roman frontier system needs to be protected.

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Protecting archaeological contexts ... or not?

Tim Loughton, the MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, has tabled a question (15 July 2020):
To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what requirements are placed on organisers of commercial rallies to (a) report Treasure, (b) follow best practice, (c) ensure that in-situ archaeology is protected and (d) ensure that archaeological finds made on their events are lawfully exported.
Note that there are themes here: reporting, best practice, preservation of archaeological context, and restrictions on the movement of cultural property of national significance.

There is a parallel question on the same date:
To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what in-situ (a) hoards and (b) other archaeological finds found on metal-detecting rallies and club events have been excavated without archaeological support in 2020; what assessment his Department has made of the level of loss to knowledge of those excavations.
Note this is a question specifically about hoards and other archaeological finds, as well the monitoring of the intellectual consequences of such activity.

The response from Caroline Dinenage, MP for Gosport, is telling:
Guidance for both individual metal detectorists and organisers of events operating during the covid-19 lockdown was published on the page Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19 on 9 July 2020. The guidance points organisers to directions on operating inside and outside events and also advises organisers and finders what to do if they discover a new archaeological site. The page also directs finders and organisers to the National Council for Metal Detecting guidance on best practice when detecting. 
Rallies and club events are legally permitted and take place on private property with the landowner’s consent, The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport does not currently monitor or record activities at these events. 
Responsibility for reporting possible treasure finds and arranging for an export licence lies with the finder and owner of the cultural object. Guidance on reporting treasure and applying for an export licence during the present situation is included on the pages Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19 and Export art, antiques and cultural goods: special rules. Anyone not reporting a potential treasure find or not obtaining an export licence where necessary can be subject to legal sanctions.

Dinenage, no doubt informed by someone within DCMS, ignores the issue about hoards and archaeological contexts and instead talks about 'a new archaeological site'. 

But essentially her answer appears to be: 'DCMS has not made any attempt to assess the level of loss to knowledge of those unscientific diggings to remove hoards and other material from archaeological contexts'.

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Monday 27 July 2020

Knowledge destruction, confusion and collecting

Suzie Thomas and Bonnie L. Pitblado have written a 'Debate Article' for Antiquity: 'The dangers of conflating responsible and responsive artefact stewardship will illicit and illegal collecting'. They create a 'straw-man' suggesting that some archaeologists assert 'all private owners of cultural material ... have ill-intent or engage in illegal behaviour'. Take, for example, the pharmaceutical millionaire Sir Henry Wellcome whose collection of Egyptian antiquities form the core of the Egypt Centre at Swansea University. The collection is drawn, in part, from his share of finds from the archaeological excavations that he sponsored, as well as from purchases on the market, often from old (and named) collections. Thomas and Pitblado do not provide any evidence to support their (flawed) assertion (made in the abstract for their article). Which archaeologists have made this universal claim?

Their opening paragraph suggests that 'early archaeological expeditions purchased artefacts for museum collection to complement material from their excavations'. Their citation points to excavations in Egypt but does not specify a time period. If we look to Greece, the early excavations of the British School at Athens (from its opening in 1886) would not support this claim. There is somehow a lack of clarity in what Thomas and Pitblado are trying to assert.

The focus of the paper is about the relationship between 'private artefact' collectors and archaeologists, and specifically 'to counteract the damage done by stereotyping all members of the collecting public and the archaeologists who work with them'.

Let us imagine a largely unexcavated archaeological site with a Roman component in a rural part of England, say East Anglia. For the sake of argument let us say that the site was 'investigated' by metal-detectorists. Did they have permission from the local landowner? Was any damage sustained to the archaeological record? Was any contextual information lost?

But let us take this a step further, imagine that a set of impressive Roman bronzes was found and then removed from the UK. These bronzes were then sold by, say, a Manhattan gallery to a private artefact collector who keeps the figures in their apartment and occasionally loans the objects for an exhibition in, say, a university museum. Would Thomas and Pitblado commend the private collector for 'saving' and 'sharing' the bronzes? What if the collector claimed to have purchased the bronzes 'in good faith' through the 'licit market'? Would Thomas and Pitblado find such an explanation acceptable? Would they feel able to include the bronzes in an account of Roman East Anglia? How would such a scenario relate to their claim, 'we do not condone either the illicit trade in antiquities or the collection of artefacts in violation of any law'?

Would Thomas and Pitblado suggest that this rifling of this (imaginary) Roman site was acceptable because those conducting the search were taking exercise 'outdoors', 'socialising', and taking an interest in the latest technology? (These specific examples are taken from the section, 're-nuancing motivations'.)

Who, in this fictional example drawn from eastern England, are the individuals 'contributing to archaeological knowledge'?

Thomas and Pitblado go on to cite the SAA statement encouraging the recognition of 'the importance of privately held collections as potential sources of information about sites, and the irreplaceable loss of this information when responsible and responsive stewards are ignored or treated disrespectfully'. As it so happens I am writing about a high profile private collection that contains material that I suspect comes from a specific site: but the information either has been lost or has not been disclosed. The result is that the objects are not a potential source of information about a specific site. Indeed the conclusion is that there has been an 'irreplaceable loss of ... information'. This aspect of knowledge destruction is left unaddressed by Thomas and Pitblado.

Thomas and Pitblado conclude: 'When we work with and listen to others, it is better for everyone—and it is better for archaeology'. Are they listening to those, such as Sam Hardy, who are raising genuine concerns about the destruction of the archaeological record?

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Saturday 4 July 2020

Septimius Severus from Santa Maria Capua Vetere

It has been reported (by ARCA) that a portrait of the emperor Septimius Severus that had been stolen from the Antiquarium of Santa Maria Capua Vetere in November 1985 has been seized at Christie's New York (June 2020) after being offered at auction by them on 28 October 2019, Faces of the Past: Ancient Sculpture from the Collection of Dr. Anton Pestalozzi.

According to the stated history, the head first passed to Jean-Luc Chalmin, London. Chalmin also supplied antiquities to the Stanford Place collection and to the Fleischman collection (apparently the fourth most important supplier). The Severus then passed to Galerie Arete in Zurich in 1993. (The same gallery appears to have handled ex-Becchina material.) It was then sold to Dr Pestalozzi.

How did the portrait appear at auction when it had been reported as stolen? Was the history of the piece checked? What was the due diligence process?

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Thursday 25 June 2020

Selinous at the Getty

Lex Sacra from Selinous
My next column for 'Context Matters' has appeared in the Journal of Art Crime vol. 23 (Spring 2020). It reviews the range of material from Selinous on Sicily that was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum. One text, acquired from Dr Max Gerchik, has been returned to Italy. Previous publications accepted that some of the objects were derived from "clandestine operations most probably at Selinous".

Other pieces include stelai, architectural elements, as well as other hexametric texts.

Gerchik's other donations to the Getty are considered including material from Italy that appears to have passed through Switzerland.

At least one of the Selinous pieces, a lionhead spout, passed through the Summa Galleries.

For some of the texts:
Faraone, C. A., and D. Obbink. Editors. 2013. The Getty hexameters: poetry, magic, and mystery in ancient Selinous. (Oxford).

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Monday 15 June 2020

Christie's withdraws four lots

Pelike attributed to the Washing painter
Image from the Becchina archive
Courtesy of Christos Tsirogannis
Christie's has withdrawn for lots from its June 2020 auction after the objects had been identified by Professor Christos Tsirogiannis (Dalya Alberge, "Christie's withdraws 'looted' Greek and Roman treasures", The Guardian 14 June 2020). The four pieces are as follows:

  • lot 25 a bronze Roman eagle identified from the Becchina archive
  • lot 49 a Roman marble hare identified from the Becchina archive; acquired from "Tullio" in 1987.
  • lot 113 an Attic black-figured Band cup identified from the Becchina archive. Reported to be in a private collection, Basel, and consigned to Galerie Günter Puhze, Freiburg; J.L. Theodor collection, Brussels; Sotheby's (New York) 17 December 1998, lot 77.
  • lot 121 an Attic red-figured pelike attributed to the Washing painter identified from the Becchina archive. Surfaced: Sotheby's (London) 14–15 December 1981, lot 236. Then Dechter collection of Greek vases.
It would suggest that Christie's needs to tighten its due diligence process. Did the auction-house authenticate the histories of the lots before they were placed in the auction? Did it check with the Italian and Greek authorities before the sale?

I am grateful to Professor Tsiorgiannis for sharing this information with me.

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Friday 12 June 2020

Geometric horse due to return to Greece

From the Schinousa archive
courtesy of Christos Tsiorgiannis
A Geometric horse, identified by Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis in May 2018, is due to be returned to Greece ("Greece to reclaim ancient horse from US after court ruling", 11 June 2020). The date that the horse left Greece does not appear to have been made public. Were the present owners unable to provide the authenticated documentation?

One of the major concerns for auction houses, galleries, museums and collectors is that the horse is known to have passed through the Basel market in 1967, well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Does this mean that countries such as Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey will step up their claims?

A spokesperson for Sotheby's responded:
While we are disappointed with yesterday's decision, it does not impact what is at the heart of this matter – there is, and remains, no evidence to support Greece's claim to ownership of the bronze sculpture.
Sotheby's can be expected to demonstrate conclusively that either the horse was found outside the present state of Greece, or the horse was exported from Greece with the relevant paperwork.

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Tuesday 21 April 2020

Coins in context

One of the conservators at the British Museum speaks about why it is important to treat coin hoards as part of an archaeological context.

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Wednesday 15 April 2020

Context Matters: Collating the Past

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 discussion about the appropriate due diligence process that should be conducted prior to the acquisition of archaeological material. 

Gill, D. W. J. 2020. Context matters: collating the past. ARCA. ISBN-13: 978-1734302615.

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Wednesday 1 April 2020

Peter Sharrer and the Getty

It would be interesting to know the source of the Greek Neolithic figures (eleven in number) and vase fragments that the Getty acquired in 1995. They appear in the published list as "donated jointly by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman and Herbert L. Lucas". But the Getty's online catalogue tells that they were sold by Peter Sharrer Ancient Art of New York. 

Why the differing accounts? Are the listed donors just the people who paid the bills?

Lucas, incidentally, donated fragments for the krater attributed to the Berlin painter that the Getty returned to Italy.

Sharrer also sold a proto-Corinthian recumbent ram and a Corinthian lion rattle to the Getty in 1986, and a Minoan jar in 1990. Sharrer is also known to have purchased from Robin Symes, e.g. the portrait head of Faustina the Younger.

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Tuesday 31 March 2020

Questions about the source of a dealer's fragments

I am working on the sources of Attic figure-decorated pottery fragments at the moment. I was interested to see that two fragments of a cup attributed to Euphronios by J.R. Guy (Euphronios no. 50) that had been on loan to Princeton University Art Museum (L.1990.134a–b) are now in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (2005.026.004A [and B?]). (I presume that the other fragment was acquired as the kalos inscription naming Lea]gr[os is on the second fragment. (Does the date for Leagros kalos need to be adjusted?)

The history of the fragment is provided as follows:
Ex coll. Peter Sharrer, New Jersey, acquired European art market, 1982-1983. Purchased by MCCM from Sotheby's New York, June 7, 2005, lot 26.
Sotheby's note the following:
acquired together on the European art market in 1982/1983 as part of a group of fragments by various painters
What were the other fragments acquired by Sharrer in 1982/83? Where are they now? Who acquired them?

But the more interesting question relates to the identity of the "European art market". Who was involved?

Why the interest in Sharrer? He supplied a fragmentary Roman relief to Princeton University Art Museum in 1985 that was returned to Italy in 2002 after it was realised that it had been found near Tivoli. Moreover, Sharrer was the source of a fragmentary Attic figure-decorated lekythos attributed to the Pan painter that was donated to Princeton in 1998 and again returned to Italy.

Were any of the pot fragments sold by Sharrer to another major North American university museum also derived from the same "European art market"?

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Saturday 28 March 2020

The anonymous history of a Minoan larnax

Minoan larnax from the Becchina archive (l), and in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (r)
The Minoan larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum has been provided with a 'history'.

  • Ex private collection, Switzerland, 1980s. 
  • Ex private collection, Japan, 1990s. 
  • Purchased by MCCM from Robert Haber & Associates, Inc., New York, New York.

As the larnax appears in the Becchina photographic archive, it would be logical to identify Becchina (a dealer) as 'private collection, Switzerland'. There is no history prior to Becchina; in other words, there is no history that predates the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

The identity of the 'private collection, Japan' is not provided. But we know that Becchina had links with at least one Japanese dealer. And as the Michael C. Carlos Museum seems to describe dealers and private collections, it could be fair to assume the possibility that the 'private collection, Japan' is also a 'dealer, Japan'.

As for Robert Haber & Associates, there is an instance of them handling what appears to be ex-Becchina material. What was their due diligence process to check the history of the larnax?

A responsible university museum would have resolved an issue that was first raised in 2007. Are the museum's curatorial team unaware of the apparent Becchina link with this piece? How do they explain the movement of the larnax from Crete to Switzerland in the '1980s'? Is there any supporting documentation?

I am grateful to Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis who made the first identification of the larnax from the Becchina archive.

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Wednesday 18 March 2020

TEFAF Update

Following identifications made by Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis, two antiquities were seized at TEFAF, Masstricht last week (Theo Toebosch, "Twee oudheden in beslag genomen op kunstbeurs Tefaf", 17 March 2020). 

A Roman head of Apollo had formerly passed through the hands of Gianfranco Becchina and Palladion Antike Kunst in 1976. It is reported that it was displayed in the Merrin Gallery in New York from 1978–81, before passing into the hands of a Beverly Hills collector. It was auctioned in New York in 2008. This head had been displayed by the Chenel Gallery in Paris.

An Egyptian alabaster vase had passed through the hands of Robin Symes. This was displayed by the Merrin Gallery.

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The Reinstallation of the Getty Villa

Elizabeth Marlowe has written a review article on 'The Reinstallation of the Getty Villa: Plenty of Beauty but Only Partial Truth',  AJA 124.2 [online]. Sections include: 'Opportunities missed and stories not told', and 'Why context matters'.

Earlier this month I had listened to one of the Getty curators talking at a Cambridge conference on the "provenance" section of the Getty online catalogue. He was using examples that had a history that went back to the period before the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Marlowe's essay is a reminder of some of the histories that need to be told in more detail. Indeed, some of the stories may mean that the Getty will need to return further objects to Italy.

I was pleased to see my review of the Getty's Masterpieces cited:
Gill, D. W. J. 1998. Review of Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Antiquities (Los Angeles 1997). Bryn Mawr Classical Review. [BMCR]

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Friday 28 February 2020

Looting at English Heritage Sites

Old Sarum © David Gill
It has been noted that reported incidents of looting at heritage sites in England have doubled in the last year ("English Heritage urges end to illegal metal detecting at historic sites", BBC News 27 February 2020). The sites include:

  • The site of the Battle of Hastings
  • Goodrich Castle
  • Old Sarum
It is noted that up to 75 holes were dug at each site.

Back in 2015 I noted that such incidents were falling outside the definition of "Heritage Crime" that was being promoted by some commentators. 

Are such incidents being trivialised by some in the academic community? The archaeological record needs to be protected from such acts of looting.

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Thursday 13 February 2020

A parade helmet among 50 Roman finds

John Pearce and Sally Worrell have presented 50 largely decontextualised Roman finds from England. Among them (no. 4) is the so-called 'Crosby Garrett helmet' that some claim comes from Cumbria, though there remains a possibility that it was recovered near Catterick on the other side of the Pennines. 

How reliable are these reported find-spots? Why is there no discussion of the loss of archaeological context?

For some of the issues related to this helmet are discussed here.

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Another Bubon bronze head likely to be repatriated

It appears that a bronze head acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum from Nicolas Koutoulakis has been removed from display and appears to be...