Wednesday, April 16, 2014

James Ede responds to Christos Tsirogiannis

London-based antiquities dealer James Ede has responded to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in Apollo ("In Defence of the Antiquities Trade", April 11, 2014). Ede is right to suggest that the scandal  --- is there another word that could be used? --- relating to recently surfaced antiquities has been "embarrassing" for those involved in the market. And it is surely appropriate for Tsirogiannis (and others) to draw attention to the need for the application of a rigorous due diligence process to be applied to objects offered for sale.

There is a suggestion by Ede that the photographic dossiers from Medici, Becchina and Symes are not available to authorities and to the Art Loss Register. I am aware of a case (in London) where the ALR was aware of the appearance of an object in the Medici Dossier and had informed the auction house who had still proceeded with the sale.

Ede cannot be unaware of the huge damage that was sustained to the reputation of Sotheby's in London following the detailed investigative book by Peter Watson that revealed the way that antiquities moved from Italy, India and elsewhere to the London market. The research undertaken by Tsirogiannis (and others) has been able to reveal the networks that allow the material to cross international frontiers.

Ede asks for the evidence that the objects were "stolen". Why do so many of the objects in the Polaroid photographs still show the objects in a broken and uncleaned state? These do not appear to be items that had been residing in some private collection. Rather there is the suggestion that they were fresh out of the ground when the photographs were taken. "Stolen" is an interesting word to use, and one used by the press officer of Christie's to describe objects identified from the polaroid photographs.

Ede concedes that some ("many") of the objects handled by Medici and Becchina entered the market "illicitly". It is therefore important for dealers and auction-houses to identify objects handled by Medici, Becchina, Symes (and others) in the collecting histories.

Have the changes in the market in the last twenty years --- 25 years takes us to the period before the Medici scandal broke --- been the result of enlightened dealers, or the concern that photographic evidence would emerge? Ede draws attention to the IADAA's Code of Ethics and to the removal of membership from some dealers. (He does not give their names, but see here.)

Ede suggests that documentation is hard to find. Yet the Medici Conspiracy places the emphasis on the need to demonstrate the authenticated collecting history for an object before it is offered on the market. The Conspiracy has shown us the way that "oral histories" have been supplied to mislead buyers.

Ede reminds us of Syria. The full collecting histories of a pair of statues now on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are not without interest. And material from Egypt is not without significance.

Ede wants the "legitimate trade" in antiquities to flourish. To do so, those handling recently surfaced antiquities need to work co-operatively with authorities seeking to return items to archaeological collections in the countries where they were discovered. I am aware of a number of cases where auction-houses and dealers (including a member of IADAA) have ignored photographic evidence linking items to the networks that handled recently surfaced antiquities.

The article in The Times is a reminder that we cannot be complacent about how objects have moved from archaeological contexts to the market.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hull Hands on History Museum

In November 2013 it was announced that Hull would be the UK City of Culture in 2017, beating Leicester, Dundee and Swansea Bay (see BBC News; DCMS Press Release). The news story reminded us:
Phil Redmond added that the panel was "particularly impressed with Hull's evidence of community and creative engagement, their links to the private sector and their focus on legacy, including a commitment to enhance funding beyond 2017".
Hull's Council Leader, Stephen Brady was also quoted:
"It will give Hull a platform to tell the world what this great city has to offer, transform perceptions and accelerate our journey to make Hull a prime visitor destination."
However, five months on, Hull City Council has decided that it will close the Hands on History Museum housed in the Old Grammar School with its associations with William Wilberforce (see Hull City Council website). The Hull Daily Mail has more details.

Those concerned about the removal of this museum from the portfolio of the UK City of Culture 2017 should consider signing the online petition (here). What message is Hull City Council "telling the world"?

For some of the objects from the museum see here.


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"Near North Cove Hoard": valuation

The finder of the the "Near North Cove Hoard" in Suffolk has been interviewed on the BBC website ("Suffolk Bronze Age axe and ring hoard 'undervalued'", April 12, 2014). The Bronze Age finds were discovered near Lowestoft in 2011 and their value has now been set at £550 (instead of the £6200 that the finder was expecting). The finder, Steven Walker, is quoted:
"I've been metal-detecting for 15 years and this was my best ever find and my experience does not inspire confidence in the official valuation process. 
Unless changes are made, people aren't going to donate their treasure finds to the nation."

Further details are available from PAS.

SF-BDA986SF-BDA986PAS record number: SF-BDA986
Object type: Hoard
Broadperiod: Bronze Age
County of discovery: Suffolk
Stable url: http://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/458499


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Friday, April 4, 2014

Tsirogiannis on recent identifications

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has written a short piece on the identification of Medici and Becchina pieces for Apollo ("Auction houses should do more to root out looted antiquities", April 2, 2014).
Since 2007 I have been identifying antiquities, depicted while not yet conserved, in these photograph archives, before the auctions take place. Since this happens several times every year, it is not usually considered ‘newsworthy’ by sources that non-experts notice, even though the estimated value of the objects I’ve identified ranges from a few thousand to several million pounds.
The surprising thing is that the auction houses do not pick up on the indicators.

And what is the role of the Art Loss Register?

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bonhams and Becchina

Bonhams has withdrawn one of its lots from a sale. It was a Canosan pyxis that had passed through the Ariadne Galleries in New York during the 1980s. So it surfaced well after 1970, has an obvious link with Italy, and was handled by a gallery that has been linked with recently surfaced antiquities (such as the Icklingham bronzes). These would be three good reasons to conduct a thorough due diligence search.

Yet an unnamed spokesperson for Bonhams is quoted by the BBC ("'Looted' artefacts removed from auction", April 2, 2014):
"We take immense trouble to check and verify the history of any object we sell and work closely with the Art Loss Register, the British police and Interpol on establishing accurate provenance. 
"At this point there is no evidence to show that it was illegally excavated. But we take any such intimation very seriously and hence we have withdrawn it for further investigation."
Bonhams is well aware of the issues relating to these Italian photographic archives after the case of the Geddes sale. Or what about the "Medici" statue? And note the similarity of this statement to ones in previous cases.

Perhaps the spokesperson for Bonhams would care to expand on Becchina's role in the handling of antiquities. Or will the "further investigation" include contacting Becchina and asking him for the full collecting history?

And we note that in the list of sources Bonhams did not think of contacting the Italian authorities. The omission is perhaps significant.

Is it time for the senior management at Bonhams to tighten up the due diligence procedures for selling antiquities? (I suggested this precisely four years ago.)


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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Becchina, Medici and the London market

Peter Watson has reported in today's Times (London) that the objects linked to Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici have been withdrawn from auction in London. This is due to identifications made by Cambridge University researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

The remaining question is why the due diligence process conducted by the two major auction houses were unable to detect these objects? We also note that one of the auction-houses appeared to be the vendor or co-vendor of one of the pieces.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Looting Matters: looking ahead

The Blogging Archaeology Carnival has asked contributors to reflect on the future of blogging.

I would like to think that the art market, private collectors, and public museums have now distanced themselves from handling recently surfaced antiquities and therefore there is no need to continue 'Looting Matters'. But in the coming days objects handled by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina are due to resurface on the London market through major auction houses. And in the last week it has been announced that Hungary has purchased part of the Sevso Treasure.

We also know that only some 1 per cent of the objects illustrated by the seized polaroid archives in Switzerland and Greece have been identified. So there is work to be done.

We are also aware of museums such as the Ny Carlsberg, the Allard Pierson Museum, and the Miho Museum that appear to have acquired recently surfaced antiquities.

Blogging requires time and that is a precious commodity. At a personal level I am about to change roles and that could allow for more time allocated to 'Looting Matters'. But would it be better to invest time in 'published' (i.e. print) outputs? But then there are times when the immediacy of blogging allows rapid comment and reflection.

I suspect that micro-blogging will become more important and that needs to be linked to blogs and online materials.

But the internet is changing along with the tools to generate information. Will I be incorporating self-generated audio and video commentaries within blog posts?

One thing that does need to concern bloggers is how we archive the information that we have generated over the years. Do we need a "blogging archaeology" archive? Where will it be hosted?

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Sevso Treasure and Hungary

It appears that the Hungarian Government has purchased 7 pieces of the Sevso Roman Treasure for 15 million euros. the details of the vendors have not been disclosed.

Can we be certain that the Sevso Treasu was found in Hungary? will other countries feel that they have an equal right to it? who are the beneficiaries of this transaction? 

Should this entire group be on public display as a group?

Readers of LM will know that I would want to emphasise the loss of knowledge. Where was the treasure found? What was the context? Were there any associated finds? what information has been lost?

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Becchina, Ariadne and a London sale

My Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that a Canosan polychrome painted and lidded pottery pyxis being offered at Bonhams London next week (April 3, 2014, lot 22) seems to appear in two photographs from the Becchina Archive. The pyxis has an estimated value of £3000-£5000. The stated collecting history is: "American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s". Did Becchina sell the pyxis to the Ariadne Galleries as the paperwork seems to suggest? (And what else did Ariadne Galleries acquire from this source?)

British readers will know that the Ariadne Galleries are associated with the infamous case of the Icklingham Bronzes. (When will they be returned to the UK?)

Will Bonhams be contacting the Italian authorities? How has Bonhams tightened up it due diligence process? How has it changed since the Geddes issue?

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The Medici Archive and a London sale

My Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that a Greek core-formed glass oinochoe being offered at Christie's London next week (April 2, 2014, lot 173) seems to appear in the Medici Dossier. The estimated price is £4000-£6000. It had surfaced through Sotheby's in London (Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 198). The oinochoe also appears to be owned or co-owned by Christie's: "From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot".

As Christie's have an interest in this piece, can we assume that they will be contacting the Italian authorities?

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