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Showing posts from November, 2007

"The right to everything that's in the ground"

It was a coincidence that my posting on Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, appeared the week that he was interviewed by Richard Lacayo ("A Talk With: Philippe de Montebello", "More Talk With: Philippe de Montebello", November 27/28, 2007).

I had commented on a 2006, post Euphronios krater return announcement, where de Montebello had attacked archaeologists for their emphasis on context. And he has once again shown his basic misunderstanding of archaeological stratigraphy:
One can question whether one particular discipline can arrogate to itself the right to everything that's in the ground. There are many different contexts, many different ways to look at these objects. So you have a discipline that goes too far in claiming that an object is of no merit, of no value, the moment it's out of the ground and you don't know who buried it. That's one context. It's obviously a very precious one, because once an object is o…

"We don't know what the vase painters ate"

The March 2006 discussion about antiquities and provenance (or lack thereof) provided some interesting material (see "Is It All Loot? Tackling The Antiquities Problem", New York Times, March 29, 2006).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art had just (Feb. 2006) signed up to an agreement with the Italian Government. This had included the (in)famous Attic Euphronios krater.

In spite of this the Met's Director, Philippe De Montebello went on what can only be described, in Stephen Dyson's words, as an "unrepentant" offensive. He claimed,

I think the reality, since we have been talking about the Euphronios vase, is that the knowledge that we have of Greek vase painting is based 98 percent on vases that were never excavated by licensed archaeologists. Archaeologists talk about the loss of context. We have almost a totality of the possible knowledge we could have, although we don't know what the vase painters ate.I doubt the accuracy of De Montebello's estimate that …

Marion True and Greece: update

The IHT has reported ("Greek court throws out case against former Getty Museum curator", November 27, 2007) that a court in Greece has decided that it will not prosecute Marion True over the J. Paul Getty Museum's acquisition of a Macedonian gold wreath in 1993. (This has now been returned to Greece for display in Thessaloniki.)

However this is not the end of legal cases in Greece. The IHT also notes:
True still faces charges of illegally possessing at least a dozen antiquities found during a police raid on her holiday home on the Aegean island of Paros in April last year. No trial date has been set in that case.

Making a difference starts at home

Am I doing my bit for the planet?

I could grumble that other people are not doing their bit.

I could point to other polluting countries.

I could wring my hands over the destruction of the rain forest.

But I can use 'a bag for life' when I go shopping.

I can switch off the TV instead of leaving it on 'standby'.

I can sort my rubbish so that it can be recycled.

I can do my bit for the planet.

And it is a bit like saving the archaeological record.

I could point the finger at those who do not appear to be protecting sites and monuments.

I could criticise government authorities for restricting the movement of archaeological materials across national frontiers.

I could even assert my right to collect archaeological material that has no previous history.

Or I could do my bit to save part of our universal cultural heritage.

I know which I would rather do.

Do you?

Modern-day Maecenases or robber barons?

Stephen L. Dyson is a leading authority on the history of classical archaeology. His review of The Medici Conspiracy(2006) is thus a significant one (Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 234-35). Perhaps what marks out his review is this extended observation:
a counter-offensive is already under way in centres of museum power, especially in the United States. It is being led by powerful and largely unrepentant museums, supported by compliant journalists and academics, and ultimately financed by wealthy collectors who want to see themselves once again depicted as modern-day Maecenases and not as contemporary robber barons. Their justifications rest on the latest version of cultural imperialism, now bearing labels like 'cosmopolitanism' by which the dominant political, military and economic power claims that it embodies civilization and asserts the right to gather unto itself the looted treasures of the world.
There is more in the review but it is a good reminder of the road tha…

The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum: some ethical issues

I have recently suggested, "The fascicules of the CVA for museums outside Greece and Italy map the history of the collecting of Greek pottery from the Grand Tourists of the 18th century to the tombaroli of the late 20th and early 21st centuries" (Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 226-27).

The recent returns of Greek pottery from North American museums to Italy has drawn attention to the problem of flawed acquisition policies that have allowed looted material to enter permanent collections. If the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (CVA) is to be a record of permanent collections two issues need to be addressed.

1. Loans. Loan collections have featured in the fascicules of the CVA from its earliest years. For example, the collection formed by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon was loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge University) and published by Winifred Lamb in the second fascicule of the CVA (1936).The collection was bequeathed to the museum (by Shannon) in 1937. The Kes…

Loan Exhibitions and Private Collectors

Geoff Edgers raises some important issues about exibitions of material from private collections ("Jade sale creates complications for MFA", Boston Globe, November 24, 2007), He discusses the Alan and Simone Hartman collection of Chinese Jade which was exhibited ("Chinese Jades from the Hartman Collection") at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from August 2003 to November 2004.

The first part of the collection was subsequently sold at Christie's Hong Kong in 2006 and the second part this coming week. Edgers writes:
Some museum ethics experts and officials say it is disturbing to see an entire collection up for auction so soon after being displayed at the MFA. They raise questions about a nonprofit museum giving its imprimatur to works owned by wealthy collectors who are generous donors to the institution. Some say that the Hartmans, who run an antique business in New York, put the MFA in an awkward position with the sale.
Malcolm Rogers, the director of the MFA, has c…

Cultural Ceasefire: is 1970 the right date?

Lee Rosenbaum ("My Ceasefire Proposals for the Cultural-Property Wars", Culturegrrl, November 19, 2007) has proposed a cultural ceasefire on the return of "illicit" antiquities. As part of that proposal she has posed the questions:
Should the known provenance have to go back to before the 1970 date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? Or should the date be in 1983, the year when the U.S. officially became a party to the UNESCO Convention?I am not sure this takes account of the present situation.

We need to remember that the earliest object returned from Boston to Italy, a Lucanian nestoris, was acquired in 1971. Likewise the Roman fresco fragments were purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1971.

In fact if the 1983 date was used it would have excluded six of the thirteen antiquities from Boston, and at least twelve of the 40 items on the list from the Getty. (

Switzerland and "illicit" cultural property

Simon Bradley has reported on the Swiss concern over the handling of Peruvian antiquities ("Red alert goes out for stolen treasures", Swissinfo.ch, November 23, 2007). ICOM and the Swiss Federal Cultural Office have created a "red list" and acknowledged "irreparable loss" to Peruvian archaeological contexts. The report notes:
Switzerland is among the world's five biggest trade hubs for art objects. It was known as a transit point for stolen artefacts before it introduced legislation in 2005 that brought it into line with a United Nations convention against trafficking in illicit goods.
Yves Fischer, at the Swiss Culture Office, commented on the Swiss role in the movement of "illicit" antiquities:
Switzerland made a clear statement that these kind of activities are no longer accepted here. The new measures have a preventive and repressive impact.
It is not yet clear how effective the Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property

Happy Thanksgiving - and a look back

First, I would like to wish all my North American readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

Second, I thought it would be a good idea to review the last year and to see what has been happening. We have seen significant returns of antiquities from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Princeton, and even a dealer. However it is important to remember that in virtually every case (perhaps excepting the objects stolen from museum collections) the archaeological contexts have been lost and they can nver be recovered. There has been recognition for the destruction of archaeological sites on Cyprus and US import restrictions have been extended to include coins. But there is also an active lobby apparently seeking to liberalise the market and reverse this decision.

There are still issues to address because looted archaeological sites represent a loss of scientific knowledge.

A gold wreath from Macedonia

The New York Times has reported that Marion True went on trial in Athens earlier this week. At the centre of the case is the acquisition by the J. Paul Getty Museum of "an ancient gold funerary wreath that Greek officials say was illegally removed from Greek soil about 15 years ago". It had been reported last year:
The Greek police said they now had evidence that the funerary wreath was dug up by a farmer in 1990 near Serres, in northern Greece, and passed on to the art market through Germany and Switzerland before being sold to the Getty in 1993.
The sum is said to have been in excess of US$1 million (BBC).

The story broke back in 2005 with a story by Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch in the LA Times ("Greek officials demand the return of Getty antiquities", October 24, 2005)

The Getty's former chief antiquities curator, Marion True, acquired the wreath from a Swiss art dealer, Christoph Leon, for $1.15 million. Leon guaranteed that it came from a private Swiss col…

The Fano athlete

I have earlier commented on the Fano athlete (at present in the J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. 77.AB.30, "Victorious Youth") as an example of cultural property which (literally) "surfaced" prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Jason Felch has now reported on the decision by an Italian judge ("Italian group's bid for Getty statue rejected", LA Times, November 20, 2007). Felch reports:
An Italian judge Monday rejected the request of a local cultural group to seize an ancient bronze from the J. Paul Getty Museum, further increasing the chances that the prized statue will stay in Los Angeles.
Carol Mattusch has provided the information in a J. Paul Getty Museum publication:
The statue of the Victorious Youth was evidently found during the early 1960s at some distance from shore by fishermen from Fano, a resort town on the Adriatic Sea about halfway between Rimini and Ancona .... The statue's history over the next ten years is uncertain, for even though the Ita…

Coins and Cyprus: the destruction of archaeological heritage

The legal action against the US state department has failed to acknowledge the central issue: the protection of the finite archaeological resource on the island of Cyprus. This has been the reason why individuals, including myself, have expressed an opinion on the restriction of imports of archaeological material from Cyprus.

Some are presenting archaeological concerns as "unprecedented threats to ancient coin collecting" (Wayne Sayles).

Others present the restrictions as the result of "the conservation lobby" (David Welsh). It is perhaps telling that the opposite of "conservation" is "destruction". Is that what the three groups of coin collecting bodies wish to endorse?

Coins lying in a stratified archaeological context are part of the heritage of that island. Is that what the "destructionist lobby" is wanting to annihilate?

Reference
Hadjisavvas, S. 2001. "The destruction of the archaeological heritage of Cyprus." In Trade in i…

Coins and Cyprus: a partial picture from the NYT

Jeremy Kahn has reported on the decision by three coin groups to take legal action against the US State Department ("Coin Collectors Sue State Department Over Import Rules", New York Times, November 17, 2007). Kahn identifies the trigger as "a controversial decision by the State Department in July to ban imports of ancient coins from the island of Cyprus". The decision was welcomed by archaeologists who perceived it to be designed to protect the destruction of archaeological sites on Cyprus. It was considered to be "controversial" only by those who opposed it and who are seeking to liberalise the movement of archaeological material (including coins).

Safecorner ("All the news that's fit to print?") has posted a response to Kahn - and makes the interesting economic comparison between the cost of providing somebody to guard an archaeological site and the fees charged by an attorney to bring this case.

Meanwhile ACCG has helpfully published the f…

Bolton and the "Amarna Princess": update

I have commented earlier about the "Amarna Princess" acquired by Bolton Museum. The forger has been convicted today and will go to prison for four years and eight months ("Statue forger jailed for art con", BBC, November 16, 2007).

Judge William Morris is quoted:

This was an ambitious conspiracy of long duration based on your undoubted talent and based on the sophistication of the deceptions underpinning the sales and attempted sales.
Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley, from the Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiques Unit said ("Fraudsters who resented the art market", BBC, November 16, 2007):

I think with all of these things it was the provenances that sold them. Looking at them now I'm not sure the items would fool anyone, it was the credibility of the provenances that went with them. There are far better artists in this world than Shaun Greenhalgh and far better forgers but I've never come across a forger able to do that many disciplines, that…

Coins and Cyprus: why is the ACCG filing a suit?

A Freedom of Information Act suit has been filed against the US Department of State in response to the restriction of ancient coins from Cyprus ("Coins and Cyprus: further developments"). The notice on the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) website states:
The State Department recently imposed unprecedented import restrictions on ancient coins from Cyprus—requiring importers of even a single common coin of “Cypriot type” to provide unfair, unworkable and unnecessary documentation.
The suit is reported to be backed by three bodies: the ACCG, the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG).

Who are these other bodies?
Here are the statements from the websites of the IAPN and the PNG.
The IAPN is a non-profit organisation of the leading international numismatic firms founded 1951. The objectives of the Association are the development of a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade conducted according to the highest stand…

Cyprus and Coins: further developments

The US Government has had a long-standing commitment to the protection of the archaeological heritage of the Republic of Cyprus. Back in April 1999 the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee made a recommendation that led to "an emergency restriction on Byzantine ecclesiastical objects and ritual ethnological material from Cyprus". This agreement was extended in August 2003.

The 1999 agreement quickly came under fire (Nina Teicholz, "You Can't Bring Those Antiquities In Here!", The Washington Post, December 24, 2000). The attack was nationalistic in tone:
A little known State Department body, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), is working to prevent Americans--and only Americans--from buying antiquities.Indeed it was claimed:
But like a parent who loves so much that the child is smothered, the archaeologists at CPAC are advocating policies that harm the very objects they seek to protect.In spite of opposition, the agreement with Cyprus was strengthen…

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: a correction

On Saturday I commented on the return of eight antiquities to Italy by Jerome Eisenberg. In it I posed the questions:


What was his due diligence process? Had he consulted and obtained clearance from the Art Loss Register?
Dr Eisenberg has responded to me (and his letter has been attached in full to the original posting). He leads with this statement:
It should be brought to your attention that the Art Loss Register was not established until 1991.
He is right (see ALR website) though there was an earlier archive established by The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) in 1976. I must apologise for giving a misleading impression.

The earlier history for six of the eight antiquities is available:

a. The neck-amphora surfaced at Sotheby's (London) in 1985, passed through the Freiburg market, and was in the possession of the Royal-Athena Galleries by 1992.
b. The hydria surfaced in the Royal-Athena Galleries in 1990.
c. The column-krater surfaced at Sotheby's (London) in 1987 an…

Damage to archaeological sites: metal detectors in the UK

Heritage Action is an organisation in the UK raising awareness of the damage to archaeological sites:

Heritage Action is a rallying point for anyone who feels that society is deaf to the threats to heritage places, especially the most threatened of all, our most ancient sites.

We want to help individual voices to be heard loud and clear by the public, the media and the authorities.

We believe that this generation holds its heritage in trust for future generations and we should never break this trust. From this comes our single purpose — to build a powerful voice for action on all threatened heritage places.

Our most ancient sites are often most at risk, particularly prehistoric ones, and we specialise in these. However, we also give consideration to later sites if there are special circumstances, especially when there is a prehistoric 'background'.

We aim to promote an appreciation of the value of these places, highlight threats to them, and encourage the public to become involved …

SAFE 2008 Beacon Awards: Congratulations

The SAFE 2008 Beacon Awards have been announced. Congratulations are in order:
On Saturday, January 5, SAFE will present the 2008 Beacon Award to Dr. Neil Brodie and Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, honoring them for their outstanding efforts at raising public awareness about the devastating effects of looting and the illicit antiquities trade.
On a personal note it is good to see the contribution of the now defunct Illicit Antiquities Research Centre in Cambridge acknowledged in this public way.

Sevso and Questions in Parliament

There has been growing political interest in the Sevso Treasure since its outing at Bonham's last year. This controversial hoard has drawn comment in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn received a written answer to his question about the Bonham's exhibition on 12 October 2006. Lord Davies of Oldham replied:

We are not aware of any proposal by a UK public museum or public institution to acquire or exhibit the Sevso silver. My department's document Combating Illicit Trade: Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material sets out guidance and is not legally binding on institutions. However, it is stated clearly under those guidelines that, if a public institution feels that there are any doubts about the legal or ethical status of an object, it should not proceed with an acquisition or loan of that object.
A further question was asked by Mark Fisher on 4 Dec 2006. The minister, Da…

Minerva: holding back on the detail?

I confess that Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology has not been one of my favourite magazines. I have not changed my views since 1990 when Kevin Butcher and I published a review article of the first few numbers.

Its founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher is Dr Jerome Eisenberg. And it is Eisenberg, wearing his other hat as founder and director of Royal-Athena Galleries in New York, who has returned eight antiquities to Italy.

It now looks as if some of the material handled by Eisenberg --- but purchased at auction in London --- could have derived from Giacomo Medici. The impact of the "Medici Conspiracy" is immense. The last two years have seen major North American museums agreeing to return objects with little apparent fight --- and one suspects the evidence was too compelling.

So what does a dealer and magazine editor-in-chief like Eisenberg make of the returns to Italy? He has helpfully published lists of the returns but has held back on the

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: a link with Giacomo Medici?

The sources for Jerome Eisenberg's antiquities that are being returned to Italy are now becoming clear. Apart from the three bronzes that had been stolen from museums in Italy, some or all of the remaining five pieces (four pots and a piece of sculpture) appearently derived from Giacomo Medici ("Generous New York Dealer Returns Italian Artefacts", ANSA, November 6, 2007).
The latter five, probably looted from unauthorized digs in central Italy, were part of a contested group of artefacts that passed through the hands of the Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.
Two of the four pots passed through Sotheby's in the mid-1980s. And it is now well documented that these sales contained indirect consignments from Medici that had passed through Switzerland.

This episode is beginning to suggest that Eisenberg's objects are featured in the Polaroids seized in Geneva. Such evidence is clearly behind the returns of antiquities from North American museums.

What else will be…

"The noose is tightening ": where next?

The return of antiquities to Italy is beginning to be a regular feature. Over the last few weeks there has been news over a further North American museum collection and a New York based dealer.

I have already commented on possible next moves. But earlier this week Italian Culture Minister, Francesco Rutelli, was quoted ("Ancient artifacts looted from Italy returned by New York dealer", IHT, November 6, 2007 ) as saying:
The noose is tightening around activities that for decades seemed unstoppable ... Not only museums are giving back (artifacts), but collectors and dealers are doing the same.The identity of the collector John Kluge was revealed by Lee Rosenbaum earlier this summer. She also commented on the possibility that Shelby White will be returning objects ("Has Italy Struck an Agreement with Shelby White?", CultureGrrl, July 12, 2007). She quoted Francesco Rutelli talking about the Shelby White (and Leon Levy) collection:
We are a step away from a final accord.…

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: some implications

Jerome Eisenberg has liked to present himself as a pro-active dealer of antiquities. The website of the Royal-Athena Galleries tells us:
Since 1954, [Eisenberg] has made nearly 200 overseas trips, purchasing many thousands of works of art for tens of millions of dollars.

This aggressive purchasing policy, perhaps without parallel in the field, enables us to offer an extraordinary number of choice objects at very reasonable prices. This "policy" contrasts with the actions of the Italian authorities:
Italy has been aggressively seeking the return of looted antiquities it says were smuggled out of the country and sold to top museums and collectors worldwide.Eisenberg has clearly changed his position since his comments that the Italian attempts to restrict the movement of cultural artefacts to the USA were "absurd" and "oversimplified" (Guy Gugliotta, "Policing Plunder, Italy Requests U.S. Help in Stemming Loss of Its Antiquities", Washington Post, Oct…

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: further details

Further details on the return of eight antiquities from Jerome Eisenberg to Italy are beginning to emerge [Italian press release]

a. Attic black-figured neck-amphora showing Hephaistos. Attributed to the Leagros group. Said to be from Etruria.
b. Attic red-figured hydria showing women. Said to be from South-Central Italy.
c. Attic red-figured column-krater showing Dionysos. Geras painter. Said to be South-Central Italy.
d. Pontic oinochoe showing warriors. Tityos painter. Said to be from Etruria.
e. Roman marble nymph from fountain. Said to be from Central Italy.

The neck-amphora (a) appears to be listed on the database of the Beazley Archive as surfacing at Sotheby's in London (17-18 July 1985, lot 257). It then passed through Galerie Günter Puhze in Freiburg, and was in the hands of the Royal-Athena Galleries in 1992.

The hydria (b) is listed on the database of the Beazley Archive. It surfaced in the Royal-Athena Galleries in 1990.

The column-krater (c) appears to be listed on the datab…

Jerome Eisenberg returns antiquities: new deal with Italy

Reports are breaking that Jerome Eisenberg of the Royal-Athena Galleries in New York has returned eight antiquities worth US$510,000 to Italy (Alessandra Migliaccio and Adam L. Freeman, "Art Dealer Eisenberg Returns Antiquities to Italy", Bloomberg.com, November 6, 2007; Ariel David, "Looted Art Returns to Italy From NY", Guardian Unlimited, November 6, 2007).

This comes hard on the heels of the news that Princeton has come to an agreement with Italy.

The items, some of which had already been sold, include "three bronze Etruscan statues, four vases" and "a 1st century Roman statue of a reclining woman that was used to decorate a fountain". Two items are reported to have been returned to Italy in the fall of 2006.

Ariel David notes that most of the returning items were acquired at auction in London during the 1980s.

Eisenberg, who has been exhibiting at the Basel Ancient Art Fair over the last few days, is quoted as saying:

It was the right thing to…

Puzzled over Princeton

Kelly Lack ("Art pieces relinquished to Italy", DailyPrincetonian.com, November 5, 2007) has reported on the recent agreement between Princeton and Italy.

I remain puzzled why the agreement is so keen to list seven objects (acquired between 1989 and 2000) that will remain in Princeton. These include a Corinthian plate ("anonymous gift in memory of Isabelle K. Raubitschek and to honor Antony E. Raubitschek"), and an Attic red-figured cup, attributed to the Brygos painter ("anonymous gift in honor of J. Robert Guy").

A university spokeswoman, Cass Cliatt, is quoted as saying:
Regarding these specific items [that the University is keeping], we can now say with a clear conscience that the works we have are rightfully ours.While we can accept this statement at its face value, it does not really address the issue.

Why were these seven pieces investigated in the first place?

I find it hard to believe that the Italians listed seven items on a whim. Did these seven pie…

"Buying good things with a legitimate provenance"

In the wake of the returns to Italy from Boston, Malibu, New York, and Princeton, the market in antiquities is said to be unsettled.

Ariel David ("Italy cracks down on art looting", October 20, 2007, AP) presents several interesting comments.

First from Pietro Casasanta, one time tombarolo in Tuscany, and finder of the ivory mask handled by Robin Symes. This was said to have been found in an imperial Roman complex near Lake Bracchiano (Cecilia Todeschini and Peter Watson, "Familiar route out of Italy for looted ivory head", Culture Without Context 12, Spring 2003). He claims that there is less interest in looting archaeological sites:
There are no more young recruits, it's become more difficult to dig and to sell, the whole network of merchants has disappeared. This seems to be confirmed by comments in a second interview with Gen. Giovanni Nistri of the Italian Carabinieri. David reports, "in 2006 [Nistri's] unit discovered fewer than 40 illegal digs. I…