Saturday, 3 December 2022

Identifications at Sotheby's in London

Image from the Becchina archive courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis

Professor Christos Tsirogiannis has identified three objects from the Becchina, Medici and Symes archives that were due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London on December 7, 2022. His identifications are covered in a report by Dalya Alberge, "Archaeologist urges Sotheby’s to cancel auction of ‘illicit’ artefacts", Daily Telegraph December 3, 2022.

Take for example the Roman bronze protome spout in the form of a dog or spout (lot 121). The history of the piece is provided:
  • Swiss private collection 
  • Royal-Athena Galleries, 
  • New York John W. Kluge, acquired from the above in 1989 (Christie's, New York, The Morven Collection of Ancient Art, December 10th, 2004, no. 590, illus.)
Notice on the image the annotation 'V[ia]/Jer[ome Eisenberg]' confirming the link with the Royal-Athena Galleries. The image is taken from the Becchina archive and records show that it was derived from Mario Bruno. Presumably one of these two sources is to be identified as the 'Swiss private collection'.

In the report in the Telegraph it is noted:
A Sotheby’s spokesman said that they “uphold the highest standards of due diligence”.
How did Sotheby's conduct a rigorous due diligence test on the anonymous Swiss private collection? Had they considered the possibility that Becchina or another such individual was the origin? 

Royal-Athena Galleries should also have raised an alert. Only in November three antiquities from this source were returned to Turkey: e.g. silver Apollo. Or in July this year an Attic krater from the Gallery was returned to Italy. This was among 60 antiquities from Royal-Athena Galleries. Again, had Sotheby's taken this into account as part of their rigorous due diligence process? 

In May 2017 a Paestan lekythos was provided with a nearly identical history to the bronze spout. Did this raise concern? Indeed it is clear that the Kluge collection has been linked to several antiquities that have been returned to Italy. This in itself should have alerted those preparing the catalogue entry for Sotheby's.

Will Sotheby's in London tighten up its processes? Is there a need to raise the standard of the due diligence approach to a more rigorous level?

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