Wednesday 29 November 2023

The Parthenon Sculptures and the political arena

Metope from the Parthenon © David Gill

Listeners to Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament today can hardly have failed to notice that the Parthenon marbles are very much a live issue (see "PMQs: Rishi Sunak accuses Greek PM of grandstanding over Elgin Marbles", BBC News 29 November 2023). This follows the cancellation of a planned meeting between the British Prime Minister and the Greek Prime Minister that had been due to take place earlier in the week ("Sunak cancels Greek PM meeting in Parthenon Sculptures row", BBC News 28 November 2023). 

So much of the debate has been about whether or not the British Museum has the legal powers to return the sculptures. The Leader of the Opposition has hinted that he would be open to supporting a loan to Athens ("Parthenon Sculptures: Row about politics as much as history", BBC News 28 November 2023). 

But the art historical position is surely this: was the intention of the sculptors who created these architectural marbles—as well as Pheidias who oversaw the project—that they should be displayed together rather than to be dispersed? And should they be placed so that the public can see them in line of sight with the Parthenon? 

Then there is a cultural question: how can the display of the sculptures in Athens enhance the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Athenian Akropolis

© David Gill



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Friday 10 November 2023

The Wild Goat Plate Fragment and Francavilla Marittima

Source: Michael C. Carlos Museum


The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University has returned a Wild Goat fragment to the Italian government. The statement notes:
In June 2021, Italy’s Ministry of Culture presented the Carlos with photographic evidence that the Carlos fragment joins with two other fragments from the same plate. One fragment, currently housed in the Museo Nazionale Archeologico della Sibaritide, was unearthed during official excavations at the Timpone della Motta Sanctuary in Francavilla Marittima. The second fragment was returned to Italy from a European museum following evidence it had come from illegal excavations at Timpone della Motta.
This is no doubt associated with the 3500 fragments acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1979 and 1983: the 1983 batch included joining fragments from the Institute of Archaeology in Bern. Other museums, including the Ny Carlsberg in Copenhagen, are said to have fragments from this same cache. 

The main cache of material was returned to Italy in 2001, four years before the Carlos Museum acquired its fragment. 

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The Michael C. Carlos Museum and the Becchina Archive


Image from the Becchina photographic archive courtesy of Christos Tsirogiannis;
objects in the Michael C. Carlos Museum

The Michael C. Carlos Museum has issued details of the five items that will be handed over to Italy (and three of them will remain on loan). Three of the pieces—the Laconian cup, the Attic Band Cup, and the Apulian fishplate—feature in images from the Becchina archive. The implications of the images are clear: "the fact that the Carlos could not determine where the [cup] was before it was with Palladion, there is a high probability the cup was looted".

This makes us turn to two other pieces in the Carlos Museum that feature in the Becchina archive: the Minoan larnax and the Rhodian pithos. The larnax is now only said to have been with Nikolas Koutoulakis, whereas in 2022 it was said to be 'with' Koutoulakis. What is the basis of the evidence? Does the Becchina image and paperwork suggest that it passed to other collections? Note that the larnax later passed to Noriyoshi Horiuchi in Japan.

The history for the pithos that is placed on the Carlos Museum website makes no mention of it passing through the hands of Becchina or Palladion Antike Kunst. Has the history as it has been presented been fabricated? What is the authenticated documentation for the Carlos Museum version of events? Was it supplied by the vendor, Phoenix Ancient Art? 

The curatorial staff at the Carlos Museum are clearly wanting to do, and be seen to do, the professional thing by returning objects to their countries of origin when new information comes to light. (Incidentally the pithos and larnax were discussed in the Greek press in June 2007 after they had been identified in the Becchina archive by Christos Tsirogiannis.)

Where does this leave other Becchina material in the Carlos Museum?

I am grateful to Christos Tsirogiannis for sharing the images with me.

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Thursday 2 November 2023

LHIII Glass Necklace(s) at the Michael C. Carlos Museum

Source: Michael C. Carlos Museum


In 2004 the Michael C. Carlos Museum purchased a series of LHIII glass necklace fragments from Harry Bürki (inv. 2004.037.001, 002, 003, 004, 005, 006, 007, 008, 009, 010, 011, 012, 013, 019, 023). There were also some LHIII glass bead fragments (inv. 2004.037.014, 016, 017, 018, 020, 021, 022, 024, 025, 026, 027, 029, 030, 031, 032).

There is no mention of previous publication ('to our knowledge, this object has never been published') or previous owners. How did Bürki acquire them? Where were these fragments between 1970 and 2004? What was the museum's justification for acquiring them? What was the rigorous due diligence process?

Also in 2004, Phoenix Ancient Art gave the Carlos Museum a series of LHIII glass necklace fragments: rosette (inv. 2004.017.001, 002, 003, 004), double rosette (inv. 2004.017.009, 010, 011, 012), octopus (inv. 2004.017.005, 006, 007, 008). There was also a gold 'necklace element in the form of a papyrus spray' (inv. 2004.017.020).

There is no mention of previous publication or previous owners. How did Phoenix Ancient Art acquire them? Where were these fragments between 1970 and 2004? What was the museum's justification for acquiring them? What was the rigorous due diligence process?

Will the Carlos Museum be providing the background information to these acquisitions given the sensitivity over the so-called Aidonia Treasure? Is there a reason that some of these pieces do not appear to feature on the AAMD Object Register, or that for others there are pictures on the Object Register but not on the museum's website? 

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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...