Friday, 1 April 2022

Loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned to Libya

Source: Manhattan DA


A marbled head of a veiled woman has been returned to Libya after being placed on long-term loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1998 ("D.A. Bragg Returns Two Antiquities Valued at Over $500,000 to the People of Libya", Manhattan DA March 30, 2022). It appears that the head had been looted from Cyrene. It is being returned with the head of a bearded man that surfaced through the market in Switzerland. 
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Friday, 25 March 2022

A Roman Cavalry Helmet withdrawn from sale

Helmet from Hecht archive
Source: Christos Tsirogiannis

Christie's had been due to auction a Roman cavalry parade helmet on April 12, 2022 (lot 90). It currently forms part of a 'distinguished private collection'. The helmet has a recorded history. It surfaced in the collection of Axel Guttmann in 1996, and was sold in The Art of Warfare: The Axel Guttmann Collection, Part 1, at Christie's, London, 6 November 2002 (lot 89) for £58,750. It then passed into a UK based private collection before being sold at Christie's, London, 2 May 2013 (lot 115) for £205,875.

The Guttmann collection is not without issues

The helmet has now been withdrawn from sale at Christie's. It appears to be the one that features in a series of photographs in the Hecht archive. The identification was made by Christos Tsirogiannis. 

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The Becchina Nolan amphora: update

Photograph from the Becchina archive
Source: Christos Tsirogiannis

Further details on the history of the Nolan amphora that appears in the Becchina archive have come to light. Professor Peter Stewart has kindly checked the details in the Beazley archive. The amphora was photographed by Sir John Boardman at Sotheby's in London in July 1983. It was then offered at Sotheby's London on 12 July 1983 (lot 531). Christos Tsirogiannis points out that the price on the Becchina photograph suggests that it was sold for £1500 (estimate £800–1200). Does this suggest that Becchina consigned the amphora to Sotheby's? What else did he consign to that sale? The amphora then was sold at Sotheby's New York in June 1988.

It should be noted that an Attic black-figured hydria, identified from the Medici dossier, surfaced at the same 1983 London sale. This was seized from the Steinhardt collection.

The case is a reminder that auction houses need to conduct a more rigorous due diligence process prior to sales.

The Nolan amphora now seems to have been withdrawn from Christie's forthcoming sale. (Lot 76 no longer appears.) 

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Monday, 21 March 2022

A Nolan amphora from the Becchina archive

Nolan amphora from the Becchina archive.
Image source: Christos Tsirogiannis.

In 1988 an Attic red-figured Nolan amphora, showing on one side a woman with a phiale with a bearded man holding a sceptre, surfaced at Sotheby's New York (June 15, 1988, lot 79). It features in the Beazley Archive Pottery Database without attribution or even full details of the sale, though it suggests it passed through London rather than New York (BAPD 50027): a label is attached to one of the handles, presumably giving details of the lot. The Nolan amphora is now due to be auctioned at Christie's on April 12, 2022 (lot 76) as the property of an anonymous Pennsylvania Private Collector. It is now attributed to 'near the Sabouroff painter' and the estimate is placed at $15,000-$20,000.

Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that this same Nolan amphora appears to feature in the Becchina archive. Notice the damage to the rim (now restored without comment in the lot notes) and the retouching of the black gloss. 

Who originally consigned the amphora to Sotheby's? What part did Becchina play? What is the authenticated documentation for this amphora that allows its full history to be traced?

Will Christie's be contacting the Italian authorities to check the background to this piece?

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Roman Fresco Fragment: The Woman on a Balcony

Fresco Fragment: Woman on a Balcony,
10 B.C.–A.D. 14, Fresco

60 × 45.2 × 3 cm (23 5/8 × 17 13/16 × 1 3/16 in.),
96.AG.172

The J. Paul Getty Museum,
Villa Collection, Malibu, California,
Gift of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman

The research of Christos Tsirogiannis has been highlighted in The Observer (Dalya Alberge, "Fresco fragment from Pompeii reopens row over 'looted' antiquities", March 20, 2021). The Roman fresco fragment had formed part of the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection. The fragment had been acquired from Fritz Bürki in 1987, but it had also featured in the photographic archive of Robert Hecht. 

There are some 60 items in the Fleischman collection that were acquired from Bürki; only four are formerly listed as derived from Hecht. 

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Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Revised History for the Carlos Museum Pithos

L: image from the Becchina archive
R: pithos in the Michael C. Carlos Museum

In 2004 the Michael C. Carlos Museum acquired a relief pithos dating to the 7th century. Concerns about its acquisition had been raised in 2007. The pithos itself seems to feature in images seized from the Becchina archive suggesting that it passed through Palladion Antike Kunst. 

Yet the newly issued history of the pithos suggests a different path.

PROVENANCE Ex coll. Professor Adolphe Goumaz, Lausanne, Switzerland, from 1960. Thence by descent to Roland C. Ansermet, Neuchatel, Switzerland, by December 2003. Imported to USA in 1991. Purchased by MCCM from Phoenix Ancient Art, Geneva, Switzerland.

The museum's history makes no allowance for the pithos passing through Palladion Antike Kunst as it is claimed that it passed 'by descent' from Goumaz to Ansermet. It is also unclear who was responsible for importing the pithos to the USA in 1991. Why did the family not keep it in Switzerland? Would the Carlos Museum be able to clarify the history with a little more detail?

In 2008 Christie's offered an Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to Makron at auction that was claimed to have resided in the Goumaz collection in 1958 (BAPD 9021866). Yet the Beazley archive makes no link with Goumaz. What is the authenticated documentation linking Goumaz with this skyphos? 

Phoenix Ancient Art offered a 4th century CE menorah reported to be from the Goumaz collection in 2013 [catalogue].

We are mindful that some unsubstantiated histories have been created for objects emerging on the market: the head of Drusus Minor that was claimed to come from an old Algerian collection (but which had been removed from an archaeological store in Italy); the parallel histories [both cannot be correct] for the mummy mask currently in the St Louis Art Museum; the placing of the Leutwitz Apollo in a German estate; the marble statue of Sabina from an old Bavarian collection. This is why is it so important for museums to indicate the authenticated source or sources for the histories that are provided in the record. Doubt can always be expressed with terms such as 'said to be', 'allegedly from', or even 'the owner of the gallery assured us that ...' 

The Becchina archive suggests that there could be another explanation for the route taken by the pithos that the museum has overlooked for 15 years.

I am grateful to Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis for suggesting the link with the Becchina archive.
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Revised history for the Carlos Museum Minoan Larnax

L: image from Becchina archive.
R: larnax in Michael C. Carlos Museum

Back in 2007 Christos Tsirogiannis identified a Minoan larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University from an image in the Becchina archive showing that it had passed through Palladion Antike Kunst. The larnax had been acquired in 2002. The museum has apparently declined to negotiate with the Hellenic authorities.

Two years ago, almost to the day, I checked the history of the larnax and found that the sequence was presented as:
  • Ex private collection, Switzerland, 1980s. 
  • Ex private collection, Japan, 1990s. 
  • Purchased by MCCM from Robert Haber & Associates, Inc., New York, New York.
The paperwork for the Steinhardt seizure mentioned the Carlos Museum larnax (due to the mention of Haber [pp. 70–71]). This has prompted me to check the museum website and found that the history of the object has been clarified and amplified.

PROVENANCE With Nicolas Koutoulakis (1910-1996), Geneva, Switzerland, late 1960s. Ex private collection, Switzerland, 1980s. Ex coll. Noriyoshi Horiuchi, Japan, 1990s. Purchased by MCCM from Robert Haber & Associates, Inc., New York, New York.

It now appears that the anonymous Japanese collection is in fact the dealer Noryioshi Horiuchi. Horiuchi was linked to Becchina as a result of the investigations as part of Operation Andromeda.  It is unclear why the museum still fails to acknowledge that the larnax passed through Palladion Antike Kunst: why is a gallery and a dealer described as a Swiss private collection? Is the Becchina image too awkward to accept?

It now appears that Koutoulakis has been added to the history with a date just prior to the 1970 Convention. What is the authenticated documentation to support this claim? Why has it taken twenty years for this information to come to light? Indeed, the association of an object with Koutoulakis should sound an alarm bell. Another Koutoulakis linked larnax is currently in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art: what is its (authenticated) prior history? (For more on Koutoulakis see here.)

Is the time fast approaching when the Michael C. Carlos Museum will return to the values held by EUMILOP in the late 1980s? A university museum needs to uphold the highest ethical standards when it comes to acquisitions as well as resolving cases when new information comes to light. 

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Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Steinhardt helmet returns to Bulgaria

Helmet from the Steinhardt collection
Source: Manhattan DA

A fourth century BCE helmet once in the Michael Steinhardt collection has been returned to Bulgaria ("Ancient Helmet Likely Belonging to Philip of Macedon Returned to the People of Bulgaria", Manhattan DA, February 10, 2022). It is reported to have been discovered near Pletena in south-west Bulgaria. Steinhardt purchased the helmet from Axel Weber of Köln, Germany, on March 24, 1998 for $175,000. 

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Monday, 28 February 2022

Apulian grave group in Berlin subject to Italian court order

Apulian grave group currently in Berlin
© David Gill

The apparent grave group consisting of Apulian pottery now in Berlin is the subject of a court order from the Tribunale di Roma ("Scoppia la "guerra" dell'arte Italia-Germania. Il tribunale di Roma confisca 21 vasi al museo di Berlino", ItTempo.it February 25, 2022). The group has been the subject of discussion by LM back in 2007. Three of the volute-kraters are attributed to the Darius painter. This painter was the subject of an exhibition in Geneva: 
Aellen, Christian, Alexandre Cambitoglou, and Jacques Chamay. 1986. Le Peintre de Darius et son Milieu: Vases grecs d'Italie méridionale. Hellas et Roma, vol. 4. Geneva: Association Hellas et Roma.
The Berlin pots were acquired in 1983 (and accessioned in 1984), and they appear in the Medici Dossier. 

The acquisition record links the group to Jacques Chamay of Geneva's Museum of Art and History. 
«l’organo giudicante evidenziava una complicità con Medici degli indagati Jacques Chamay, all’epoca direttore del museo archeologico di Ginevra, e Fiorella Cottier Angeli, restauratrice, nella vendita al museo archeologico di Berlino dei 21 vasi».
It has been suggested that the grave group had once resided in a 19th century collection but there does not appear to be any authenticated documentation to support this claim. 

Will Berlin finally return this group to Italy?

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Thursday, 24 February 2022

Steinhardt Antiquities Returned to Greece

Kouros seized from the Steinhardt Collection
Source: Manhattan DA

Antiquities worth some $20 million that were seized from the collection of Michael Steinhardt have been handed over to Greece (Press Release, "55 Antiquities Valued at More Than $20 Million Repatriated to the People of Greece", February 2022). 

The kouros as well as a Minoan hoard were all acquired from Robert Hecht. 

The release also notes: "Eight other pieces that were seized pursuant to another ongoing investigation were also repatriated." Does this mean that there is due to be another announcement?

LM listed the antiquities that would be returning to Greece back in December 2021. 

Monday, 24 January 2022

The whole history of a Little Master cup

These fragments of an Athenian Little Master cup, decorated with 'nonsense' inscriptions are among the pieces being returned to Italy by the San Antonio Museum of Art.

It is a reminder of the way that museums restrict information. The published catalogue, by H. Alan Shapiro, Carlos A. Picón and Gerry D. Scott III merely note that it was a gift of Gilbert M. Denman, Jr in 1986. The Beazley Archive records nothing about its history (BAPD 20266). Yet now it seems that the fragments, including this Little Master cup, had been found at Barbarano Romano, and had been purchased by Edoardo Almagià in 1985. How was such information deemed to have been unknown to those preparing the catalogue? 

Were these fragments processed by Almagià with the help of an academic?

Are there other pieces remaining in San Antonio that also derive from Barbarano Romano or other sites in Italy?

Why were such large numbers of fragments acquired by San Antonio? Was there an expectation that other fragments from these figure-decorated pots would be acquired in future years? Was the museum following the pattern of other collections? 


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Friday, 21 January 2022

Weiss coins return to Turkey


LM has covered the story of Arnold Peter Weiss on previous occasions. It was announced today that 14 coins from the collection of Weiss have been returned to Turkey ("D.A. Bragg: 28 Antiquities Repatriated to the People of Turkey", press release January 21, 2022). Alongside the return of antiquities from the Steinhardt collection it was announced: "Twelve of the coins, with a collective value of $58,000, from WEISS’ collection were repatriated to Turkey as part of today’s ceremony."

This is in addition to the coins returned to Greece.

Coin collectors should note the reminder:
As part of his plea agreement and sentence, WEISS agreed to forfeit 23 coins in his possession, pay a criminal fine, perform 70 hours of community service, and author an article for the American Numismatic Society Magazine detailing the dangers of collecting unprovenanced coins.

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Steinhardt antiquities return to Turkey

Silver rhyton
Source: Manhattan DA

The Manhattan DA has announced that 14 antiquities from the Michael Steinhardt collection have been returned to Turkey ("D.A. Bragg: 28 Antiquities Repatriated to the People of Turkey", press release January 21, 2022).

Among them is an important silver stag's head rhyton that is reported to have been found at Milas, Turkey. Steinhardt purchased the piece from the Merrin Gallery on November 22, 1991 for $2,600,000, and subsequently placed it on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art on March 11, 1993.

This is not the only ex Merrin piece to have been placed on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
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Thursday, 20 January 2022

The Steinhardt Returns: The Implications for the Michael C. Carlos Museum

Left: Larnax shown in the Becchina archive
Right: larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum

The return of the Steinhardt Minoan larnax to Greece has implications for the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University as it appears in the Statement of Facts

Back in 2007 the larnax was identified by Associate Professor Christos Tsirogiannis; it had been acquired by the museum in 2002. 

Why have the authorities at the Michael C. Carlos Museum yet to resolve this long-standing request from the Hellenic authorities? Could the return of the Steinhardt larnax be the prompt that will allow them to take the appropriate action? 

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Monday, 17 January 2022

The ownership trail of an Apulian krater

Apulian volute-krater
attributed to the Virginia Exhibition painter
Source: Fordham University

In February 2018 I drew attention to the Fordham Apulian volute-krater, attributed to the Virginia Exhibition painter, and its association with Edoardo Almagià (formerly inv. 8.001). I subsequently asked the question, 'Has the curatorial team at Fordham contacted the Italian authorities to check the history of the Apulian krater?' One of my concerns was that the name of the pot-painter is derived from the display, at Virginia, of five pieces all said, according to Dale Trendall, 'to come from the same tomb'. We do not, however, know the location of that tomb.

The krater was presented to Fordham in 2006 by William D. Walsh. Walsh had declared that it had been purchased from Arte Primitivo in 1994. Yet Trendall and Cambitoglou recorded the krater in 1992 as residing with Almagià on the New York market.

What other pieces from the Walsh collection were acquired from Arte Primitivo? When did the Apulian krater pass from Almagià to Arte Primitivo?

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Thursday, 13 January 2022

Context matters: looking beyond the objects


I was in a meeting earlier today with European colleagues. We were discussing the implications of the return of material from the Michael Steinhardt collection as well as items from Fordham University, the Getty, the Cleveland Museum of Art and San Antonio Museum of Art. And as we reflected on the number of items involved, my colleague cried out, "We need to look beyond the objects".

He articulated the major issue for these returns. It is not just about where these objects reside. But it is about the archaeological contexts that have been lost. It is about the permanent loss of knowledge. 

The couple of hundred objects are likely to represent a couple of hundred contexts that have been ripped apart; associations lost for good.

As academics should we be shifting the discussion towards the intellectual implications and consequences of such destruction? 

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Steinhardt head from Cyrene returns to Libya

Source: Manhattan DA
The marble head of a woman has been returned to Libya after being "surrendered" by New York collector Michael Steinhardt ("D.A. Bragg: $1.2M Antiquity Seized From Michael Steinhardt Returned to the People of Libya", Manhattan DA press release, January 12, 2022). The head, dating to the mid fourth century BCE, has been valued at $1.2 million. The head is reported to have been looted from a tomb in the vicinity of Cyrene.

The head was purchased on November 10, 2000 from the Manhattan dealer Michael Ward for $1.2 million. The invoice is reported to have noted, "possibly from North Africa". 

Michael Ward also handled the "Aidonia Treasure" that was returned to Greece; a Campanian calyx-krater returned to Iyaly from the Dallas Museum of Art that had been acquired from Becchina; and items that have been associated with the discovery of the Korsechnica krater

Michael Ward had acquired an Attic black-figured hydria from the Bastis collection; this was sold to Steinhardt and will form part of the returns to Italy.
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Tuesday, 11 January 2022

A Bothmer fragment sourced from Almagià


When 40 of Bothmer pot fragments were returned to Italy from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art there was the statement from the museum's spokesperson, Elise Topalian, reported by Chasing Aphrodite:
Von Bothmer was a client of Almagia for many years, Topalian said. The fragments von Bothmer obtained from the dealer were returned to Italy “to serve as evidence in the investigation and possible trial of Edoardo Almagia.”
In the statement of fact relating to Michael Steinhardt's collection an example of Almagià's sales from the summer of 1994 is provided. This suggests that Almagià provided "Frammenti Attici" that had been purchased from Mauro Morani $22,000.

One of the pieces purchased by Bothmer from Almagià in 1987 was a fragment, measuring 1.9 cm, of an Attic red-figured cup attributed to the Triptolemos painter (Malibu inv. 87.AE.154). 103 fragments of the same cup were purchased in 1990 from Galerie Nefer (Malibu inv. 90.AE.35). 

Where did Almagià acquire his fragment? Where did the Galerie Nefer acquire its fragments? 

Were other Bothmer fragments in the Getty acquired from Almagià?
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Friday, 7 January 2022

Cleveland Museum of Art: material from Latium


Two of the three antiquities returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art appear to be impasto amphorae with 'spiked handles' of the type that have been found at Crustumerium in Latium. The two pieces were acquired in 1995 (inv. 1995.64–65). 

The third piece is a Near Eastern head pendant (inv. 1994.97). 

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Thursday, 6 January 2022

Cleveland Museum of Art: further returns to Italy

Etruscan silver bracelets
Gift of Edoardo Almagià
Returned from Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art has returned three further items associated with Edoardo Almagià to Italy. These have been described as ("Valuable artifacts considered stolen being returned to Italy, including items from Cleveland Museum of Art", December 15, 2021 cleveland.com): 
The Cleveland Museum of Art said in a statement that it acquired three items from Almagià in 1994 and 1995, two Roman amphora with spiked handles and a tiny ancient near eastern glass bead in the shape of a head.
Are the 'two Roman amphora with spiked handles' the same as the distinctive impasto ware amphorae with spiked handles from Crustumerium in Latium? Certainly material from Crustumerium is featuring in material returned from other sources.

Back in 2010 the museum was reluctant to reveal what else had been acquired from Almagià (in addition to the pair of silver Etruscan bracelets given by him and Courtney Keep in 1996). 

There does not yet seem to be a press release about the latest returns from Cleveland. Why is there reluctance to be transparent about the objects? 

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Broken pot fragments matter

Source: San Antonio Museum of Art

Among the material linked to Edoardo Almagià  and returning to Italy are 192 Attic cup fragments from the San Antonio Museum of Art. These are in addition to the calyx-krater fragments attributed to Euphronios that were returned from Princeton University Art Museum. 

These returns challenge the belittling of the issue by James Cuno who used the example of the 200 or so fragments acquired by Harvard as part of his attack on those who would wish to see a more rigorous approach to museum acquisitions. Harvard will no doubt be looking again at the histories of the fragments. Were any acquired from a New York based dealer? Have connections been made with fragments in other collections?

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Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Barbarano Romano: the Attic fragments

Source: San Antonio Museum of Art

The San Antonio Museum of Art will be returning 192 fragments of Attic black-figured, red-figured and black-glossed cups to Italy. They are reported to have been found at Barbarano Romano to the south of Viterbo and were sold to Gilbert M. Denman, Jr. by Edoardo Almagià in 1985; Denman gave the fragments to the museum the following year (inv. 86.134.196). 

The Steinhardt legal papers cite two pieces of correspondence about pottery fragments from Barbarano Romano: the recipient is clearly in Texas. Almagià states the findspot and explained how the fragments were removed to Switzerland, and then moved to New York where they were cleaned and grouped with the help of a vasologist. Further fragments from the site were then noted, though they remained in Italy. 

It is unclear if the San Antonio fragments and the Texas letters are linked. But this does raise issues about other pot fragments that were handled by Almagià and those associated with him. 

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Saturday, 1 January 2022

Looting Matters 2022: Looking Ahead


What ideas will be explored in 2022? 

First, the detail of the objects returned from the Michael Steinhardt collection and Fordham University will provide material for discussion. There will be the potential to look at the way that the histories of objects can be fabricated as they pass through the market.

Second, the returns of the Steinhardt and Fordham objects have pointed to other material that may be contested. I have been particularly struck by objects derived from Latium.

Third, the Almagià returns have reminded us of the issue of figure-decorated pot sherds. Were pots broken up with the intention of reuniting the fragments? This has been explored before; for example, a discussion of the Nussberger donations to the Getty.

Fourth, it is over 10 years since the invited Forum Piece on the Portable Antiquities Scheme for the Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. My review article of 50 Roman Finds raised some issues about the reliability of information relating to findspots. What are the differences between the removal of small finds from sites in England, and parallel acts in, say, Mediterranean settings?

Fifth, I am looking forward to working on a more collaborative piece of research on the protection of heritage in England. 

I would like to wish readers of LM all my best wishes for a more hopeful 2022.

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Loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art returned to Libya

Source: Manhattan DA A marbled head of a veiled woman has been returned to Libya after being placed on long-term loan to New York's Metr...