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Princeton and the Aboutaams

Among the antiquities which are to be transferred directly to Italy as a result of the October 30 2007 agreement between Princeton University Art Museum and Italy is a polychrome terracotta architectural relief with a centaur (inv. no. 1995-129). Details of the original acquisition appear in the Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 56, 1/2 (1997) 61, 62 (ill.) [available on JSTOR].

Six of the eight pieces (four will be on loan to Princeton) which will have their title transferred to Italy were "museum purchases"; two were gifts. This terracotta relief is recorded as:
Gift of Ali and Hicham Aboutaam.
These brothers now run Phoenix Ancient Art S.A. which has galleries in Geneva and New York. The year the Princeton terracotta was presented by the Aboutaams coincided with the "incorporation" of Phoenix Ancient Art.

Their appearance here is interesting. Ron Stodghill ("Do You Know Where That Art Has Been?", New York Times, March 18, 2007 [archived]) re…

Princeton antiquities and Italy: signing

Princeton University Art Museum and the Italian authorities formerly signed an agreement today ("Princeton University Art Museum and Italy sign agreement over antiquities" (October 30, 2007) [Press Release; Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali]).

Susan Taylor, Director of the Princeton University Art Museum claimed the return "is consistent with our long-standing commitment to responsible stewardship of our collections". The statements say little about the decisions that allowed these antiquities to be acquired.

For further details about the acquisitions see "Princeton antiquities and Italy: acquisition details".

Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum

Red figure psykter (ceramic), attributed to the Kleophrades Painter. Greek, Attic, ca. 510 500 B.C. One of four objects to be transferred in title to the Italian government but to remain on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Princeton antiquities and Italy: acquisition details

There is one striking feature of the announcement that the Princeton University Art Museum will be returning some antiquities to Italy and transferring the title of others to the Republic of Italy. It is so striking that it is like Sherlock Holmes' dog that did not bark in the night.

Previous agreements with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (Feb 2006), the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Sept 2006), and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu (Aug 2007) all gave the accession numbers of the objects. The Princeton press release does not.

The authorities of the MFA and Getty have been particularly helpful and provided the information which has allowed a picture of the suppliers and networks to emerge (see Gill and Chippindale 2006; 2007).

Princeton and Italy seem to have made a complex deal. Some pieces will be transferred in title but remain on loan to Princeton; others will be returned to Italy; and others will remain permanently in Princeton. [Details from press release]
Princ…

Princeton to return antiquities to Italy

Antiquities seem to be making the news today: incantation bowls at UCL, and the removal of a piece of Lydian silver from the auction at Bonham's. And now it has been announced on AP that "Princeton to Return Some Art to Italy". (For an earlier discussion see "Will Princeton Follow Yale?)

Today's report indicates that an agreement will be signed by Princeton on October 30. It states:
Among objects covered by the Princeton deal is a "psykter" — a Greek vase decorated with red figures that was used for cooling wine. ... The psykter's title will be transferred to Italy, but it will be one of the four pieces that will remain on loan in Princeton for four years. Prosecutors say the piece was looted from the Etruscan site of Cerveteri, north of Rome, by tomb raiders and sold to Princeton by American art dealer Robert Hecht for $350,000 in 1989.
Susan Taylor, director of Princeton's art museum, is quoted:

This agreement reflects and supports the research a…

Bonham's and the Lydian silver kyathos: some unanswered questions

The decision by Bonham's to withdraw the Lydian silver kyathos from its London auction on Friday October 26, 2007 is welcome. It has come as a surprise as the kyathos was on display at the preview on the Thursday evening.

But there are a number of questions which remain.

a. Who took the decision to withdraw the kyathos from the sale? Was it Bonham's or the owner?
b. Are there documents that show the history of the piece prior to its surfacing at Sotheby's in the mid-1970s?
c. Is the kyathos being sent to Turkey? Or is it going back to its present proprietor?
d. Had the staff at Bonham's checked with the authorities in Turkey to ensure that this piece was not "stolen, illegally alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported"? If not, why not?
e. What was the due diligence process undertaken by the staff at Bonham's?
f. Had Bonham's checked the kyathos against the Art Loss Register (ALR)? Was a certificate issued?
g. Why did the citation of a parallel…

UCL and the Incantation Bowls: new revelations

Michael Balter has reported on the Incantation Bowl saga at UCL ("University Suppresses Report on Provenance of Iraqi Antiquities", Science 318, October 26, 2007). The discussion is now about the commissioned report which has not been made available for circulation.
Lord Renfrew is quoted:It is shameful that a university should set up an independent inquiry and then connive with the collector whose antiquities are under scrutiny to suppress the report through the vehicle of an out-of-court settlement.
The archaeological community was looking forward to reading this report because UCL in a press release of May 16, 2005 had stated that it would
provide a model for best practice in dealing with the complex cultural issues that can arise from such situations.Is suppressing this report "best practice"?

Bonham's, Lydian Silver and a Code of Ethics

Tomorrow is due to see the auction at Bonham's of a piece of silver which, to use their words, is "virtually identical" to a piece from the "Lydian Hoard".

It is well known that the "Lydian Hoard" returned from New York "was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum over the period 1966-70 from John Klejman of Madison Avenue and the Swiss dealer George Zacos" (Stealing History: The Illicit Trade in Cultural Material, p. 10). The issues surrounding this particular "Hoard" case have been rehearsed elsewhere but Brodie et al. commented about the Metropolitan Museum of Art,

The Metropolitan failed to do the decent thing. Although caught red-handed and with deeply incriminating documentation in the museum's files, it went to court in an attempt to change the State of New York's rules about the period of time in which a claim for stolen property is allowed to proceed, hoping to keep possession. But in 1990 its case was dismissed. ... In…

Bonham's, Lydian silver and due diligence

A silver kyathos, "virtually identical" to one from the Lydian haul returned to Turkey, is due to be sold at Bonham's this Friday (October 26, 2007).

We know from a recent survey of Lydia that some 90% of these tumuli showed signs of looting. We know that this kyathos surfaced in the mid-1970s when parts of the Lydian haul were appearing on the market.

These points issues raise several issues.

Bonham's is a member of the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA). Item 2 of the Code of Conduct states:

I undertake not to purchase or sell objects until I have established, to the best of my ability, that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.
So has the due diligence process taken place so that is can be demonstrated that this piece of silver was not removed illegally from an archaeological site - and specifically a burial tumulus in Lydia, Turkey?

Making a direct parallel in the sale description to a…

"History Lost" exhibition in Trieste

This Friday the exhibition "History Lost" opens at Castello Di San Giusto in Trieste, Italy.
The exhibition also presents replicas of artifacts which were illegally exported and have now returned to their county of origin: the marble head of Dionysus of the Corinth Museum, the Aidonia Treasure from Ancient Nemea and the Kanakaria mosaics from Cyprus.
The exhibition also
reveals the extent of the looting of archaeological sites around the world today: that the majority of antiquities appearing for sale on the art market have been illegally dug and smuggled out of their country of origin. It explains the importance of provenance to a wide audience; why objects illicitly dug lose their historical value.
Linked to the exhibition is an excellent documentary, The Network (see review).

This is a thought-provoking exhibition which I saw at the Benaki Museum in Athens last year.

Misunderstanding the Portable Antiquities Scheme?

The UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a key way for members of the public to report chance finds. As the PAS says:

Every year many thousands of archaeological objects are discovered by members of the public, mostly by metal-detector users, but also by people out walking, digging their gardens or whilst going about their everyday work.
The point of the scheme is not to record all coins (or finds) made by archaeologists but rather to report chance finds made by members of the public.

Dave Welsh --- once again --- convincingly displays his misunderstanding of PAS by claiming:

The argument that those who go clandestinely prospecting for coins with metal detectors disturb archaelogical sites has been convincingly refuted by statistics compiled by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in the UK, which demonstrate that only 2% of reported coin discoveries are made by archaeologists.
If one of the aims of PAS is

To advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by sys…

Bolton and the "Amarna Princess"

Last week's announcement that a couple had pleaded guilty to selling a forged Egyptian alabaster statue to the Bolton Museum raises some interesting issues (Paul Stokes, "Couple sold fake Egyptian statue for £400,000", Daily Telegraph, October 20, 2007).

The sculpture was purchased back in 2003 for £440,000 with support from the National Arts Collection Fund [£75,000], the National Heritage Memorial Fund [£360,767] and the Friends of Bolton Museum and Art Gallery (story).

It came with the following history:

The sculpture was bought and brought to Bolton by the owner's great grandfather in 1892 at a sale of the contents of Silverton Park in Devon, the home of the 4th Earl of Egremont.
When the police started their enquiries last year it was noted:
It was bought by the museum from a local family in Bolton, Greater Manchester, who wanted to remain anonymous.
The NACF website also adds this information:

"Vendor: Through Christie, Manson and Woods Ltd".
One of Bolton&#…

"Lydian" silver at Bonham's

This Friday, October 26, sees the auction of a piece of "Lydian" silver at Bonham's in London as lot 216.

But why do I say "Lydian" when the catalogue description clearly states, "An Achaemenid silver kyathos"?

The reason is simple. This distinctive piece has a very close parallel as the Bonham's catalogue makes clear:

This ladle is virtually identical to the example in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (1980.11.14).
A glance at the New York catalogue, D. von Bothmer's A Greek and Roman Treasury no. 62, suggests the parallel is "Greek, sixth century B.C.", not (as Bonham's) "Achaemenid" and 5th century B.C.

So why am I not describing this piece as Greek? It is because the catalogue compilers at Bonham's overlooked one significant fact.

The parallel is no longer in New York. It has been deaccessioned. It has been returned to Turkey along with the rest of the "Lydian haul" (Lydian Treasure no. 30).

And where and wh…

"The Lydian Hoard" revisited

I was very struck by the study of Christopher H. Roosevelt and Christina Luke which describes "The Destruction of an Archaeological Landscape in Western Turkey". Their starting point is the notorious "Lydian Hoard" returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to Turkey.

They note that the "hoard" --- in fact a haul of material derived at least four separate grave mounds --- "made their way via Izmir and Switzerland to dealers in New York City". But Roosevelt and Luke rightly stress the "most destructive effect" of the looting --- "the loss of context".

A recent survey of Lydia shows the extent of the problem. They continue: "Of the 397 tumuli personally inspected, 357 or 90 percent showed signs of looting" (p. 179) [emphasis mine].

What is happening to the objects? How does this level of destruction influence our interpretation of Lydia?

References
Bothmer, D. v. 1984. A Greek and Roman treasury. New York: Me…

UCL and the incantation bowls: Q&A in the House of Lords

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn has raised the issue of the UCL report concerning the incantation bowls in the House of Lords. He received this written reply last week from Lord Davies of Oldham:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has not received a full copy of the report relating to the collection of Aramaic incantation bowls. I understand that University College, London, returned the bowls to the Schøyen Collection.

Old collections at the Basel Ancient Art Fair

I thought that it would be interesting to browse what is on offer at next month's Basel Ancient Art Fair (BAAF). Some of the dealers do not provide information about the "former owners" of objects on offer, but here are some of the "old" collections represented in the selection of "choice" pieces:

a. J.-P. A. collection, Brussels

b. the Collection of the Swedish architect Albert Tornquist (1819-1898)

c. Spitzer Collection, Wien-Paris, XIX century and, Moretti Collection, Bellinzona, Switzerland

And specifically from Rupert Wace:

d. "An Egyptian painted fresco fragment dating from the New Kingdom": "a Dutch collection", "private collection the Netherlands, acquired 1960s-70s"

e. "a limestone head of a cow", Egyptian, New Kingdom: "a private French collector in the mid 20th century"

f. "an Egyptian limestone relief fragment from the Middle Kingdom": "formerly in the noted collection of Georges H…

"Old Collections" at Bonham's

I was looking at the forthcoming highlights of the October 26, 2007 sale of antiquities at Bonham's, London. [I would have checked more of the catalogue but there seems to be an error on their website.]

The highlights include:

a. Lot 70, Egyptian cat. "French private collection. Accompanied by a French passport".

b. Lot 82, Egyptian glass inlay of Isis. "Frida Chacos in 1970". [I presume this is the same as Frida Tchachos.]

c. Lot 102, Roman cameo. "Ex private Hungarian collection. Acquired recently in Munich".

d. Lot 140, Byzantine bronze polycandelon. "Property of a European private collector, 1960s - present day".

e. Lot 164, Apulian volute-krater. "Property of a private English collector, acquired from a London dealer between 1997-2002, formerly in an English Private Collection in the 1950's".

f. Lot 173, Hellenistic silver skyphos. "Property of a European private collector, acquired in Germany before 2000."

g. Lot 174, R…

UCL and the incantation bowls

UPI reported over last weekend ("Iraqi antiquities center of British battle", October 7, 2007) that the UCL inquiry concerning the incantation bowls from the Martin Schøyen collection took a new direction.

Colin Renfrew, a member of that inquiry, is quoted as saying in response to a decision to withhold the report:

"UCL tried to do the right and ethical thing by setting up a committee of inquiry. Then, when threatened with a lawsuit, in my view, it gave way under pressure".
No doubt the signs were there last March when The Times reported, "Tycoon orders university to return his ‘magic’ artefacts" (March 22, 2007). The 654 bowls has been loaned to UCL "for academic research purposes" back in 1996.

In 2005 The Times ("Museum inquiry into 'smuggling' of ancient bowls" [archived]) reported that the bowls "were exported from Jordan, but their country of origin may have been Iraq, the site of ancient Mesopotamia."

Michael Worto…

Al Gore and the finite resource

Congratulations to Al Gore on the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. He has done so much to draw attention to global climate change. The BBC website records his comment:

"I will be doing everything I can to try to understand how to best use the honour and recognition of this award as a way of speeding up the change in awareness, and the change in urgency."
As I listened to the news report this evening, the story switched to those critics of Gore. They would have us believe that there is no climate change, and that Gore is scare-mongering.

And then I realised that I had heard it all before - from the pro-collecting lobby that pretends that looting does not damage the finite archaeological context.

"Objects have a meaning that transcends context"

Radical collectors and dealers do write some extraordinary things. For some reason they want to belittle the importance of archaeological contexts.

Michael Ward, a New York based dealer in antiquities, was interviewed by Peter Marks for the Kate Fitz Gibbon edited volume Who Owns the Past? (2005). He came up with this:

"Context is important, but to some people, objects have a meaning that transcends context: their humanity, their expression, something that we admire and that puts us in awe of the artist. And that's what we feel is important. These objects continue to live for that reason, and play a part in our spiritual lives."
It seems to be the artistic achievement which is so important - even though it is the work of an anonymous crafts(wo)man. The archaeological context appears to be unimportant even though it would tell us about the ancient viewer of these objects.

Ward reflects on his 1993 "show" of "Mycenaean gold" which he admits was "a dis…

Jack Davis: "The rising love of loot"

Jack Davis, the new Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), has given an interview on looting.

Given the recent vocal comments from the coin lobbyists, it was helpful to read the views of an experienced and distinguished field archaeology:

"Often the amount of devastation to an archaeological site is really disproportionate to the loot that's recovered. People will do huge damage to a site just to walk away with some coins, destroying sometimes the whole history of an area in an evening with a bulldozer. There's hardly a field archaeologist alive who hasn't seen that."
He also makes comments about the role of the private collector:

"I think some of the most avid collectors are paying the highest prices and are fuelling demand; they're driving the market. I don't want to see archaeological sites destroyed. I want to learn as much about the past as possible."
Davis is not afraid of the big or contemporary issues. He touc…

"Tainted Objects"

Southern Methodist University's Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility is holding a conference, "The Future of the Past: Ethical Implications of Collecting Antiquities in the 21st Century", later this month.

We are told, "The goal of the conference is to move participants toward solutions."

I notice that one of the sessions is described as "Tainted Objects" which will address "The Fate of Antiquities Having Problematic or Unknown Provenance".

This raises several issues.

a. What is meant by "tainted"? Surely the objects are either genuine or fake. Is the magnificent Euphronios krater now on loan from the Italian authorities to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in any way "tainted"? It remains an impressive example of Athenian red-figured pottery. It is not the object that has been "tainted" but rather the institution that purchased it.

b. What is meant by "provenance"? This art …

The Art Loss Register at the Basel Ancient Art Fair

The Art Loss Register (ALR) is listed as one of the participants at next month's (November) Basel Ancient Art Fair (BAAF). The Fair is described as:
"BAAF attracts leading specialists from all over the world, making it not only the largest, but also the most important fair of its kind under one roof. All participants are members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) and follow a strict code of ethics concerning the authenticity and provenance of the objects they sell."It is good to see the IADAA stressing their "strict code of ethics".

But I am interested in the presence of the Art Loss Register. Why are they present?

Let me speculate (though I would invite additions to this list):
a. To gain customers from among the private collectors who will be buying antiquities at the Fair. After all, one of the main strengths of the ALR is the registering of objects in case of theft.

b. To gain customers from among the dealers who will be able t…

Coins and Cyprus: action on the ground

I noticed the report from AP, "Cypriot police seize ancient artifacts, arrest 6 suspected smugglers" (and reported in the IHT, Friday, October 5, 2007 [archived]).

Apparently there was a police "sting" in Limassol, Cyprus, on Friday September 28, 2007. Six individuals were arrested. Among the confiscated antiquities were "gold leaves and rings, two mediaeval gold coins and a bronze cross".

The recent US import restrictions on antiquities from Cyprus have created much debate about the "looting" of antiquities on the island.

Feelings are running high with three officers of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) posting blogs or comments with such emotive titles as "Yes, it's a war", "Black Day for Numismatics: Import Restrictions on Cypriot Coins", and "Slapdash Effort at DOS".

So I wonder if Messrs. Sayles (Secretary), Tompa (President) and Welsh will join me in congratulating the authorities on Cyprus for this la…

Princeton and the Hecht Trial

My comments ("Will Princeton Follow Yale?") on the Attic psykter and the Apulian loutrophoros in Princeton were apparently timely. One of my contacts in Rome sent me an update of the September 26, 2007 hearing of the Hecht / True trial in Rome and is happy for me to share it with you.

Apparently:

"The witness, Daniela Rizzo of the Villa Giulia museum, brought up two works she said were at Princeton: an Apulian amphora and a terracotta panel depicting a horse."
It is reported that a Polaroid of the "amphora" seized from Giacomo Medici's store in the Geneva warehouse was shown.

"On the bottom of the Polaroid Medici had written "V-BO," a frequent notation of his that the prosecution contends means Medici sold an object "via Bob" Hecht."
Rizzo continued:
"during the June 2001 deposition of True at the Getty, the Italian team showed True various photos from Medici's archive and that True identified the amphora in that phot…

"A long tradition of philanthropy related to archaeology"

I have already drawn attention to last week's Times Higher Education Supplement [THES] (September 28, 2007) report on the repatriation of cultural objects and, in particular, the discussion surrounding the Attic psykter and the Apulian loutrophoros in Princeton.

Point three in the box on "Shadowy Origins and Compensation Claims" highlights the proposed Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. The THES notes opposition to the US$200 million gift "from a couple whose private art collection allegedly includes looted artefacts".

The NYU press release makes it clear that the gift comes from the Leon Levy Foundation and that its trustee is Shelby White.

One of the aims of the new Institute (due to open in 2008) is "to advance the understanding of the ancient world".

It is a pity that the antiquities which form part of the White/Levy collection have lost their archaeological context. If they had been excavated by archaeologists under …

From Malibu to Rome: implications for Shelby White

AP has reported that the first four of the items to be returned from the Getty left on Tuesday ("4 Getty items back in Italy", LA Times, October 3, 2007).

One of the four was "a fragment of a wall fresco from the 1st century BC depicting Hercules". This had formed part of the the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection (Getty [deaccessioned] 96.AG.171). As I had commented earlier, this fresco fragment had been purchased from Fritz Bürki who features prominently in The Medici Conspiracy.

Maxwell L. Anderson, who published the fragment in the exhibition catalogue A Passion for Antiquities (no. 126), noted,
"The upper portion of the fresco matches precisely the upper portion of a fresco section in the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection ... and is from the same room, as is catalogue number 125".The two other fragments alluded to by Anderson are:
a. The White/Levy fragment (Glories of the Past no. 142), also published by Anderson, which is noted as "par…

"The time of illicit acquisitions is long gone"

I take encouragement from Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway's helpful review article of the new Metropolitan Museum of Art catalogue, Art of the Classical World in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome (2007).

She makes her views crystal clear:
"the very Trustees of the museum number among them some notable, and notorious, collectors of illegally excavated antiquities, whose generous financial support, on the other hand, has significantly contributed to the renovation of the galleries."Her criticism heads right to the top of the curatorial department:
"This difficult situation has not been improved by some careless comments by the very author of this grand classical installation. Dr. Picón, in an interview granted to Rebecca Mead and published in The New Yorker of April 9, 2007, appears to have poked fun at archaeologists who are less skilled than tombaroli in finding valuable objects, and to have minimized the importance of the findspot in favor of the…

Antiquities Surfacing in Freiburg

One of the sources for antiquities that appear to be newly-surfaced is Galerie Günter Puhze in Freiburg, Germany. I say "appear to be" because there is rarely a declared history before Freiburg.

Let me give four random examples from among those listed in my research notes (KdA = Kunst der Antike, issued by Galerie Günter Puhze):
a. An Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Triptolemos painter. KdA 10, no. 200. Subsequently Christie's, London, November 12th, 1996, no. 142; Sotheby's, New York, June 5th, 1999, no. 171 (US$21,850); Sotheby's, New York, 6 June 2006, lot 17 (US$45,000).

b. An Apulian situla, attributed to the group of Copenhagen 4223. KdA 6 (1985), no. 226. Subsequently: Sotheby's, London, July 13, 1987, lot 308; purchased by Dr & Mrs Jerome M. Eisenberg. Now Boston, MFA 1991.242, gift of Dr and Mrs Jerome M. Eisenberg.

c. An Attic red-figured lekythos, attributed to the Oiokles painter. KdA 8 (1989), no. 211. Subsequently: Dr Elie Borowski …

Minneapolis and Robin Symes

CultureGrrl has commented on the recent appointment of Kaywin Feldman as director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Congratulations are clearly in order.

Feldman understands cultural material from the Mediterranean as her first degree was in classical archaeology. And will she soon face a dilemma in this area of "Ancient Art" in the MIA?

In the Minneapolis collection is an impressive Athenian volute-krater attributed to the Methyse painter. It was acquired from Robin Symes in 1983 (acc. no. 83.80) (see Star Tribune, November 14, 2005). As I have noted with Christopher Chippindale elsewhere, the krater is reported by Michael Padgett (in "Influence of satyric drama on a vase by the Methyse painter" [abstract], American Journal of Archaeology 88 [1984], 255) to have been "in private collections in Switzerland and Great Britain for ca. 15 years before 1983." (Note that 15 years suggests the krater surfaced prior to the significant date of 1970. What…