Wednesday 15 February 2023

A Roman fresco fragment and some apparent cut marks

Malibu 83.AG.222.9
Source: J. Paul Getty Museum

Among the fresco panels and fragments from ‘a wealthy Roman’s seaside villa in the area of the Bay of Naples’ acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1983 from Palladion Antike Kunst is this panel with two fish (inv.  83.AG.222.9). Someone appears, at some point prior to acquisition, to have tried to cut a square panel from the fragment.  Why would they want to damage the panel in that way? 

Is this evidence of how the panel(s) was (were) removed from the archaeological context?  Or was someone trying to cut down the panel to make it easier to move? What would have happened to the remaining section of the fragment?

Such an indication is reminiscent of the panel returned from the Shelby White collection (no. 142; 86.2 cm by 86.5 cm) that came from the same composition as two fragments from the Fleischman collection and acquired (and returned) by the Getty (nos. 125 and 126; 91 cm by 80.5 cm, 61 cm by 81 cm). [See discussion here.]

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Tuesday 14 February 2023

Two octagonal panels probably from the Bay of Naples

Two octagonal panels. Malibu inv. 83.AG.222.5, 7

Yesterday I noted three panels apparently from the same room of a villa that probably stood somewhere in the vicinity of the Bay of Naples. Like the other panels, this pair of frescoes was derived from Palladion Antike Kunst in 1983. Unlike the other pieces these two are not currently on display. 

How did these fragments leave their villa and move to California? Will the curatorial team at the Getty be raising this with their Italian colleagues?

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Monday 13 February 2023

The frescoes from a wealthy seaside villa

Three panels acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1983.
Inv. 83.AG.222.2, 4, 8.

In 1983 the J. Paul Getty Museum acquired a series of Roman frescoes on the 'European market', in fact from Palladion Antike Kunst in Basel. The Getty's handbook suggests that they are derived from ‘a wealthy Roman’s seaside villa in the area of the Bay of Naples’. 

Elizabeth Marlowe has commented on the displayed fragments, suggesting that the panels had been removed from a single room somewhere in the vicinity of Vesuvius. Indeed, there are fragments that were acquired at the same time that clearly come from a third panel, presumably from the same room. Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini have recently drawn attention to the problematic nature of these frescoes and published an image of a further section of the decoration that appears in the Becchina photographic archive. 

How does the Getty interpret the history of the fragments? Is the museum actively seeking to return the sequence of fragments to Italy?

Lapatin, K. D. S., and K. Wright. Editors. 2010. The J. Paul Getty Museum: Handbook of the Antiquities Collection. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.
Marlowe, E. 2020. "The reinstallation of the Getty Villa: plenty of beauty but only partial truth." AJA 124: 321–32. [Online]
Rizzo, D., and M. Pellegrini. 2021. "The Italian Archaeological Heritage Abroad: Between Agreements, Debates and Indifference." In Stolen Heritage: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Heritage in the EU and the MENA Region, edited by A. Traviglia, L. Milano, C. Tonghini, and R. Giovanelli, Antichistica, vol. 29: 99–114. Venezia: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari. [Online]

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Monday 6 February 2023

From Geneva to Athens

L: source, Phoenix Ancient Art
R: source, Hellenic Ministry of Culture

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced the return of 15 antiquities that had been seized from an unnamed antiquities gallery in Geneva [press release]. The Attic black-figured column-krater attributed to Lydos appears to be the one that features in the 2015 catalogue for Phoenix Ancient Art of Geneva and New York. Entry no. 4 shows the krater, reconstructed from 'large fragments', decorated with Herakles and the centaur Nessos. The entry suggests that it formed part of the Lambert collection in Neuchâtel prior to 1972 and then by descent through the family. 

Such histories may have to be treated with caution given the disagreement over the paths taken by the Ka-Nefer-Nefer coffin lid, the head of Drusus, and the Leutwitz Apollo. 

We do not know where the krater was unearthed, but northern Greece seems to be a likely possibility. 

I am grateful to a colleague in Italy who directed me to search the catalogue of Phoenix Ancient Art.

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Saturday 4 February 2023

Further returns to Italy from San Antonio Museum of Art and Shelby White

Oinochoe fragment
attributed to the Harrow painter
returned from
the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Source: San Antonio Museum of Art

The Manhattan DA has reportedly returned 14 more antiquities to Italy: though the objects and images presented at the press announcement counted 16 ("D.A. Bragg Returns 14 Stolen Antiquities to Italy", Manhattan DA February 2, 2023). Two sources were acknowledged: Shelby White and the San Antonio Museum of Art. The third, the source of a silver coin, was left anonymous in the press release.

At least three of the objects appear in the Glories of the Past catalogue of the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection. The release gives further information about the Attic black-figured hydria attributed to the Priam painter.
The piece first surfaced in Italy after being looted by Giovanni Franco Becchina, a well-known antiquities trafficker. From Italy, the piece was then smuggled and laundered by Paris-based Robert Hecht. Hecht ultimately sold the piece with false provenance to Shelby White in New York County in 1989.
These add to the 14 pieces featured in the catalogue that have been returned to Greece, Italy and Turkey.

The nine pieces featured in the images at the press statement are derived from the San Antonio Museum of Art. The objects are derived from several sources: Sotheby's in London; Christie's in London and Geneva; Galerie Palladion Antike Kunst; Galerie Günter Puhze; Royal Athena Galleries; Robin Symes. For example, the oinochoe fragment attributed to the Harrow painter surfaced through Galerie Palladion Antike Kunst, and was sold to Gilbert M. Denman, Jr. by Robert Hecht.  The nine objects may be added to other pieces that were handed over in 2022. We are also expecting further details about three other objects derived from Frederick Schultz that have been handed over by the museum. 

Three other objects featuring in the press statement have yet to be linked in a formal way to a specific collection though Christos Tsirogiannis has identified two of them in the Becchina archive and one in the Schinousa archive. 

The final piece is a silver coin.
The Sicily Naxos Coin. Minted circa 430 B.C.E in the Greek colony of Naxos, on Sicily, this silver coin features the bearded Dionysus on one side and his squatting drinking partner, Silenus, on the reverse. The Sicily Naxos Coin first surfaced on the international art market in 2013, when a known trafficker offered the coin for sale with no provenance whatsoever. Prior to its appearance at a London-based auction house, a co-conspirator of the trafficker supplied false provenance for the coin. The Sicily Naxos Coin is currently valued at $500,000 and was among a group of coins seized at JFK airport as it was being smuggled into New York pursuant to an ongoing joint investigation between this Office, HSI, and Italy. At least one individual has been arrested in the course of this investigation with more to follow.
Three Shelby White pieces, nine objects from San Antonio, one silver coin, and three other pieces equal 16 objects (not 14).

Objects from the San Antonio Museum of Art and in the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection were the subject of an extended discussion by Chippindale and Gill in the American Journal of Archaeology back in 2000. 
Chippindale, C., and D. W. J. Gill. 2000. "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting." AJA 104: 463-511. [DOI]
LM expects to add further detail to this summary in due course.

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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...