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A Roman Cavalry Helmet withdrawn from sale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The helmet has now been withdrawn from sale at Christie's. It appears to be the one that features in a series of photographs in the Hecht archive.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The Nolan amphora now seems to have been withdrawn from Christie's forthcoming sale.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.),

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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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...