Thursday 23 March 2023

Return of antiquities to Türkiye

Source: Manhattan DA

Twelve antiquities have been handed over to Türkiye ("D.A. Bragg Returns 12 Antiquities to the Republic of Türkiye", March 22, 2023). Nine of the objects are derived from the Shelby White collection. The remaining three include a head from Perge:
The Perge Theater Head, dating back to 290 C.E., was looted from Perge, an archaeological site in Türkiye. The piece first surfaced on the international art market at Sotheby’s in 2000. It then resurfaced at Christie’s in 2012, when it was purchased by a private collected who loaned it to the Met. It remained at the museum until it was seized by the Office in January.
Formerly New York MMA L.2011.4
© David Gill
Another is a bronze statue apparently looted from Bubon:
A bronze statue of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, dating back to 225 C.E. The statue was stolen in the late 1960s from Bubon, an archaeological site in Türkiye, by looters and was eventually smuggled into Switzerland by Robert Hecht. Coin dealer Charles Lipson eventually loaned the piece to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It landed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011, which it remained on display until it was seized by the Office in February. With its partners in Türkiye, the ATU was able to find and interview one of the individuals who actually looted and smuggled this statue.
This statue will join the Lucius Verus returned to Türkiye from the White collection in 2022. This will have implications for other European and North American museums that currently possess bronzes from this particular site.

It is possible to recognise some of the items from pictures from the press conference. They include a marble 'stargazer' (Glories no. 4), a bronze waggon with oxen (Glories no. 19), and an East Greek trefoil oinochoe decorated with two grazing ibex (Glories  no. 100). A further White piece is:
The Sitting female figure from Çatalhöyük, which dates between 6000 and 5000 B.C.E. After it was smuggled out of Türkiye, it first appeared on the market in London at the Rabi Gallery, where it was purchased by Shelby White in 1985. It remained in his possession until it was seized by the Office in 2023.
This is the steatite sitting female figure (Glories no. 3).

Source: Türkiye, Consulate NY

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Wednesday 22 March 2023

Bronze Hydria Returns to Greece

Source: Homeland Security

Further photographs of the latest return to Greece have been released. The bronze hydria from the Shelby White collection is of particular interest (Greek Bronze Vessels no. 8). Jasper Gaunt drew a parallel with a bronze hydria in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University (inv. 2002.012.001). The 'provenance' for this second hydria is given as:
Ex coll. Doris Seebacher, Munich, Germany. Purchased by MCCM from Robert Hecht (1919-2012) [Robert Hecht Gallery], New York, New York.
Is this the Doris Seebacher linked to Nino Savoca? Should the Michael C. Carlos Museum be contacting the Hellenic Ministry of Culture?

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Further returns to Greece

Source: Manhattan DA

The Manhattan DA has announced the return of 29 antiquities, worth over $20 million, to Greece ("D.A. Bragg Returns 29 Antiquities to Greece", March 21, 2023 press release; see also here).

The items include a gold coin celebrating the assassination of Julius Caesar that surfaced on the Munich market in 2016.

The press release mentions the seizure of a bronze krater:
The Bronze Calyx Krater, which dates to 350 B.C.E., once held the bones of a deceased individual in a chamber tomb. It was looted and smuggled into Switzerland, where it was cleaned and restored by Fritz and Harry Bürki, the Zurich-based restorers and business partners of Robert Hecht. Hecht then arranged to smuggle the piece into New York, where it was sold to Leon Levy and Shelby White. It was seized by the Office in January of this year.
This seems to be a companion to the krater apparently looted from Pieria that was returned to Greece in 2008.

Unmentioned in the release, but placed next to the krater, was a bronze hydria that appears to be the one from the Shelby White collection (Bronzes no. 8). It is decorated beneath the vertical handle with a relief of Orpheus and a satyr. Chi and Gaunt draw attention to a companion piece in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (inv. 2002.012.001) that was acquired from Robert Hecht.

The release also mentions the return of a Late Neolithic marble group:
The Neolithic Family Group, which dates to 5000-3500 B.C.E and valued at $3 million. This group of objects compromises five human and animal figures carved from marble, and was looted from the island of Euboea by a Greek trafficker who smuggled the pieces into Switzerland. In 1982 dealer-trafficker Nicolas Koutoulakis sold the group to New York-based collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White. White loaned the group to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000, where they remained on display until March of this year, when it was seized by the Office.
The group had been owned by Charles Gillet and Marion Schuster. They are "said to be from Euboea, or the east coast of Attica opposite, near Porto Raphti, perhaps from an islet attached to the mainland in prehistoric times" (Glories no. 8). It is interesting that the release emphasises the findspot on Euboea rather than Porto Raphti or more generally Attica preferred by Getz-Preziosi and Thimme. There are aspects of the group that make me wonder if they are ancient, a concern raised by Thimme back in 1977.

Next to the Late Neolithic group, but unmentioned in the release, was a double Cycladic figure: a small female figure standing on the head of a larger one. This appears to be the figure in the Shelby White collection (NAC no. 18; Glories no. 9; Katonah no. 15). Next to them was an Early Cycladic II bowl that also appears to be from the Shelby White collection (Glories no. 15).

Among the other items that appear to have been other items that formed part of the Shelby White collection:
  • Glories no. 76: A Late Geometric pair of horses 'said to have been found on Corfu, and for at least twenty years was in a collection in Austria. In October 1970, the group was lent to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna for restoration.'
  • Glories no. 80: an armlet, two lidded pyxides, and an oinochoe from a hoard of at least 40 pieces found in northern Greece.
  • Glories no. 141: a gold treasure consisting of a pair of coiled snake armbands, a pair of earrings with swans, a gold and carnelian necklace, a gold ring with carnelian intaglio, part of a gold wreath, and a gold diadem. 
The press release mentions that the Royal-Athena Galleries have co-operated with the investigation suggesting that some of the other items were from that source (perhaps including a fragment of wall-painting).

I note that Christos Tsirogiannis was involved with some of the identifications. 

We await for a full list of the return.

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Monday 13 March 2023

UK Government and the Parthenon: Update

Parthenon metope in the British Museum © David Gill

British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has commented on the proposal that the architectural sculptures from the Parthenon that are currently displayed in the British Museum should be returned to Greece. Nick Gutteridge, writing in the Daily Telegraph ("Elgin Marbles will not stay in Greece, says Rishi Sunak", March 13, 2023), quotes Sunak on the "Elgin marbles" (commenting, "Greece calls [them] the Parthenon marbles" - perhaps overlooking the fact that archaeologists also talk about the building from which they were removed):
“The UK has cared for the Elgin Marbles for generations. Our galleries and museums are funded by taxpayers because they are a huge asset to this country,”
Is he suggesting that because the sculptures have resided in London for 200 years that they should remain here? Is Sunak placing an economic value on the heritage assets that reside in the UK's museums and galleries?

Sunak is also quoted as saying, 
“We share their treasures with the world, and the world comes to the UK to see them. The collection of the British Museum is protected by law, and we have no plans to change it." 
Tourism seems to be the justification for the UK to retain the sculptures. 

The Times (London) indicated that Sunak was in favour of a temporary loan of (some of?) the sculptures to Greece (Chris Smyth, Oliver Wright, Richard Fletcher, "Rishi Sunak latest: PM unveils defence spending boost and submarine deal", March 13, 2023). The report noted:
However, the museum is banned by law from disposing of objects in its collection and Sunak said “we have no plans to change it”. It is understood that Sunak does not believe that a long-term loan would be in the spirit of the British Museum Act.
There is little understanding that the Parthenon architectural sculptures were designed to be part of a specific building that now forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Athenian Acropolis.

See also D. W. J. Gill and C. Chippindale, "The trade in looted antiquities and the return of cultural property: a British parliamentary inquiry", International Journal of Cultural Property 11 (2002), 50-64. [DOI].

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The Stern Collection in New York: Cycladic or Cycladicising?

Courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis There appears to be excitement about the display of 161 Cycladicising objects at New York's Metropolit...