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"A stratigraphical relationship could not be established"

I have been reading the report (compiled by Richard Abdy and Richard Hobbs, both of the British Museum) on the Newport Pagnell coin hoard that was discovered on December 1, 2006. It consisted of 1456 coins mostly dating to the 340s and 350s CE. The coins had been placed in a "squat coarseware storage jar".

Apparently the coin hoard had been "deposited on the same spot as a Roman rubbish pit or midden". The report continues: "due to the fact that the find had already been removed prior to investigation a stratigraphical relationship could not be established". In other words the precise archaeological context for the hoard had been lost during its removal in the dark of a December evening.

Other material noted in the report include brick, tile and mortaria fragments suggesting that this hoard has not an isolated find.

The Newport Pagnell Coin Hoard: Update

I have had further feedback about the discovery of the Newport Pagnell coin hoard. Julian Watters of the Verulamium Museum who acted as the Finds Officer for the case has informed me:
Just to clarify, it is a hoard of 1471 mid 4th century nummi. Most of the coins were initially recovered by the two finders; I was then called the next day and came out and did an excavation, recovering some pottery and more coins in the process.He then adds:
The detectorists dug out the coins and then filled the hole in. The excavation was entirely my work (I think it was 2m by 2m). I'm not sure which photos you are referring to but if they show a man in a square hole, they were taken the following day.
The photographs appear here.

So it seems that the detectorists dug a 1 m deep hole in the dark to recover most of the coins and that Julian Watters investigated the disturbed find-spot the following day.

The hoard is not yet on the PAS database as that will be upgraded in the new year.

The Newport Pagnell Coin Hoard: Further Thoughts

Earlier this week I commented on the decision by the Milton Keynes Coroner relating to the discovery of a fourth century CE Roman coin hoard found in a field near Newport Pagnell. The two finders of the hoard, Dave Phillips and Barrie Plasom, should be commended for reporting their discovery.

My concern is that digging a 1 metre deep hole on a December evening ("it was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing") is not the best way to recover scientific information. Do the fragments of pottery relate to a pot that contained the coins? Why is it "believed [that] the hoard was deposited on a Roman rubbish pit"? More information is needed (and has been requested).

Nathan Elkins has written a response to the news story placing the discovery of Roman coin hoards in context ("The controversial 'excavation' of a coin hoard"). He closes his thoughtful piece with this:
There is a difference from picking up decontextualized surface finds and disturbing conte…

"An example of US cultural imperialism at its worst"

Roger Bland of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has published a hard-hitting review article of James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? ("What's yours is mine"), in the London Review of Books (November 6, 2008). Bland shows that Cuno has missed the point by concentrating on ownership:
Archaeologists' principal complaint is not that objects belong in the countries where they were made but that their uncontrolled trade is a major cause of the destruction of archaeological sites across the world.Bland's wording could be tightened. The Euphronios krater has been returned to the country (Italy) where it was found rather than to the country (Greece) where it was made. And this is true for the batch of Athenian, Laconian and Corinthian pots that have been returned to Italy.

There is discussion of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, noting, "the real significance of the Unesco convention is that it shows the signatory states are serious about curbing the illicit trade in ant…

Pre-Columbian antiquities: Leonardo Patterson points finger towards Germany

There has been much comment about the return of 45 pre-Columbian antiquities to Peru (AFP). These pieces were handed over by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain during a state visit. At least twelve of the objects derived from illegal digging in the Lords of Sipan cemetery in the 1980s.

It is reported:
The artifacts were among 253 pieces that Spanish police seized in 2007 from a warehouse owned by Costa Rican Leonardo Patterson, a renowned antiquities dealer and former U.N. cultural attache.(For the original seizure: "Perú reclama a España 241 piezas precolombinas incautadas a un costarricense", AFP, August 26, 2007 [online].)

The latest report added:
Patterson denies any wrongdoing, saying the artifacts were on loan from German businessman and collector Anton Roeckl for the exhibit.

"I wish they would keep my name out of it," Patterson said Monday in Germany. "I gave all that stuff back to Mr. Roeckl. It's his."

Roeckl declined to comment.

The remaini…

"Just finding the history": digging for coins on a British archaeological site

A hoard of some 1400 Roman coins dating to the 4th century CE have been recovered from an archaeological site near Newport Pagnell (Laura Hannam, "Treasure hunters set to coin it with Roman haul", MK News). The recovery took place in the dark during a December evening: "It was about 5.30pm at this time of year so it was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing." And this was not a surface find: the hoard was about 1 metre (c. 3 feet) below the surface. The report adds, "it is believed the hoard was deposited on a Roman rubbish pit." Sadly this archaeological context is now disrupted.

Paul Barford has already commented on the story making the point that this find shows that Roman coins can be found in association with an archaeological site. Indeed the hoard contradicts the misinformation generated by Dave Welsh, one of the officers of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) (see also other comments).

One Fifth Avenue: The Hedge Fund Manager and His Collection

I was listening to Front Row on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday evening. Candace Bushnell was talking to Kirsty Lang about her new novel, One Fifth Avenue. Apparently one of the characters is a hedge fund manager who collects antiquities. Bushnell than commented on such a collector who had appeared in the New York Times in the last few months. Is this who I think it is?

The Universal Museum

The argument for displaying antiquities outside their country of origin is that these pieces are part of our shared, universal, cosmopolitan culture. Does it matter if archaic Athenian funerary sculptures are displayed in Manhattan? South Italian pottery in Melbourne? Roman imperial portraits in Malibu? Greek architectural sculptures in Munich? Egyptian funerary portraits from the Faiyum in Manchester?

Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities can be enjoyed, appreciated, and discussed, whether they are in Cairo, Athens, Istanbul, Rome, or indeed Paris, Berlin or Boston. Indeed they have the power to inspire new generations of students and scholars who have the enthusiasm to engage with their subject. How many students in Cambridge during the 1920s and 1930s were drawn into the study of the prehistoric Aegean by the Prehistoric displays in the Fitzwilliam Museum designed by Winifred Lamb? The pioneering careers of Robert Carr Bosanquet (Palaikastro), Alan Wace (Mycenae) and John Pendlebury

"A great sucking sound of cultural migration": From Berlin to Kansas

Steve Paul has responded to Sharon Waxman's Loot by looking at an Egyptian coffin acquired by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City in 2007 ("Ethical questions haunt museums' acquisition of antiquities", The Kansas City Star, October 26, 2008). Paul writes:
There's no telling what really occurred when the sarcophagus, which once held the remains of a noblewoman named Meretites, left a well-known Egyptian museum collection back in 1972, though Nelson curator Robert Cohon confirmed that heirs of the original private collector had been unloading the family holdings since the 1950s.

And there's no real sense of the character and intentions of the German and Swiss middlemen with whom the coffin resided over most of the next three decades.

That original transaction preceded by a decade Egypt's effort to tighten its laws on the excavation and export of antiquities.

Yet the Nelson's acquisition in 2007 had to wait for a German court to rule against Egypt…

Eye of Amenhotep III Returned to Egypt

The eye of a statue of Amenhotep III from his mortuary temple near Luxor was returned from Switzerland on Thursday October 23, 2008. The piece had apparently formed part of the Norbert Schimmel Collection and then passed through various hands before being acquired by the Antikenmuseum in Basel [see earlier posting]. The identities of the Swiss collector and the German dealer have not been revealed. (They may, indeed, be one and the same.)

What is more interesting is the statement from the Egyptian State Information Service ("Amenhotep's eye back to Cairo from Switzerland", October 24, 2008):
The Swiss President had said his country gave back to Egypt one thousand pieces of antiquities. What about these 1000 pieces? Were they returned from museums, private collectors or dealers?


Karl Meyer on Loot!

Karl E. Meyer has written a review of Sharon Waxman's Loot! (truthdig, October 24, 2008). It gives balance to the unnecessary snippets of sleaze that have emerged in recent days (see sensible comments on CultureGrrl).

Meyer starts his review:
A seasoned reporter with an Oxford degree in Middle East studies, Sharon Waxman has updated and surpassed my explorations, in part because the outcry over the illicit traffic has reached fever pitch, provoking voluble, angry and indiscreet utterances from curators, collectors, dealers and a new breed of watchdogs, viz.: “You end up thinking we’re all a bunch of looters, thieves, exploiters, that we’re some kind of criminals … but who would be interested in Greek sculpture if it were all in Greece? These pieces are great because they’re in the Louvre.” So protests Aggy Leroule, the Louvre’s press attaché ...
He continues:
The first merit of Waxman’s book, the best on its subject, is her verbatim account of conversations with everybody who matter…

Knidos: Possible Request for the Return of Sculptures

There are reports in the Turkish media that the town of Datça in western Turkey will be making a formal request for the return of sculptures removed from the site of nearby Knidos ("Datça to seek return of ancient sculptures", Today's Zaman October 23, 2008). Among them is a colossal lion and a statue of Demeter both now in the British Museum.

Some of the sculptures were removed by Charles Newton in the spring of 1858 (details in Debbie Challis, From the Harpy Tomb to the Wonders of Ephesus [2008]). As the newspaper report comments, "It was not taken without permission, as unfortunately the Ottoman palace consented to it". In other words, a firman had been granted by the Ottoman authorities for Newton's activities.

The British Museum is a partner in the renewed excavations at Knidos.

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Replica of the lion from Knidos.

Basel Ancient Art Fair 2008

Details of the Basel Ancient Art Fair (BAAF) 2008 are available on the web. We are informed:
BAAF’s quota of leading world specialists makes 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. Among the objects listed on the press release are:
Greek marble head of a veiled goddess. Private Israeli Collection, acquired in the 1970's. Safani, New York.Mycenaean kylix. Private German Collection, acquired in 1985. Safani, New York.Kiliya marble figure of a goddess. Private American Collection since 1985. Safani, New York.Canaanite bronze female fertility goddess. Ex. private collection UK, acquired early 1980s. Rupert Wace, London.Graeco-Roman torso of Dionysos. Professor Bernhard Kommel Collection. Safani Gallery, New York.Torso of the Doryphoros. Paris…

The Frozen Antiquities Market

Alan Safani of Safani Gallery Inc. in New York has been interviewed about the impact of the "credit crunch" on the antiquities market (William Sherman, "It's worst of times for the finer things", Daily News October 19, 2008). Sherman writes that for Alan Safani, "there are some days when it just doesn't pay to go to work in this struggling economy".

Safani is quoted:
I could close up shop for five months and it wouldn't make any difference ... Nobody's buying. Nobody's selling. People are paralyzed by the uncertainty of what's going on in financial markets, not just here but around the world.
Safani anticipates the selling of collections of antiquities that have been purchased as investments:

Wealthy people will have to sell art to raise money because of the stock market losses, or because they lost their jobs, and I think for me and collectors in general, there will be a window of opportunity to buy great works of art at relatively lo…

Nostoi: Should Britain press for the return of the Icklingham bronzes?

As Italy and Greece celebrate the return of an array of antiquities from North American private and public collections in the "Nostoi" exhibitions (currently in Athens), should the United Kingdom Government press for the immediate return of the Icklingham bronzes? Paul Barford raises this issue on "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues".

The present proprietor of the Icklingham bronzes is Shelby White who has returned part of her collection to Italy and Greece.

Provenience: The Use of the Term

I have been thinking about the use of the words "provenance" and "provenience" in relation to archaeological material. I prefer to use the terms "archaeology" and "history" for understanding how an object appears in an archaeological context ("archaeology") and then passes through the hands of collectors, galleries and museums ("history").

I noticed that the Oxford English Dictionary cites Ellen Herscher's review of Oscar Muscarella's The Lie Became Great (2000) that appeared in Archaeology 54, 1 (Jan/Feb 2001):
Perhaps even more devastating to our knowledge of the past is the widespread practice in the illicit trade of falsifying the alleged findspot of genuine antiquities. Once certain cultures become popular with collectors, other plundered artifacts appear on the market with the same attribution, although they may in fact come from a totally unknown area. A variation of forging provenience is the dealer's claim…

Artbeat: Antiquities from Afghanistan in London

Special Constables from "Artbeat" will be visiting auction houses, dealers, galleries and museums in London to alert them to the issue of stolen antiquities from Afghanistan ("Police to clamp down on trade in looted Afghan art", Daily Telegraph, October 21, 2008). This is part of the Metropolitan Police's Operation Syenite. The report concluced:
Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley from the Met's Art and Antiques Unit added: "The message is clear, do not purchase any Afghan antiquities without clear title and established provenance."Indeed it could be well said: do not purchase or handle any antiquities without clear title and established provenance.

The Graham Geddes Collection: Previous Loans

The lots withdrawn from the sale of the Graham Geddes collection at Bonhams on October 15, 2008 had previously been on display in four separate locations in Melbourne, Australia. Indeed, other parts of the collection had been on loan to different museums (e.g. Apulian pottery at auction in October 2008; earlier material sold through Christie's).

What were the loan policies of these museums? Do the museums require loans to have a recorded history that can be traced back before the 1970 UNESCO Convention?

Melbourne, the National Gallery of Victoria
Lot 6. Attic black-figure column krater, attributed to the Swing painter. Loan: April 2005 - April 2008.Lot 10. A large early Apulian red-figure hydria, attributed to the painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl. Loan: April 2005 - April 2008.[Website]

The University of Melbourne
Lot 6. Attic black-figure column krater, attributed to the Swing painter. Loan: March 1988 - February 1994Lot 26. A small Campanian red-figure bell krater, attributed to t…

Bonhams: Don't Be Miffed With The Italians

The staff at Bonhams are clearly feeling sore ("furious" according to some sources) over the Italian request that several lots in this week's auctions should be withdrawn. Robert Brooks, the chairman of Bonhams, clearly felt cross (according to the press release):
we would welcome a greater openness on the part of the Italian Government, which would allow us far more advance warning and information about concerns they have. Responsible institutions need to work together and not to keep information hidden, for whatever reason, until the very last minute.Yet the management team would do well to reflect for a moment.

At least seven of the pieces withdrawn from the Geddes collection had "surfaced" through Sotheby's in London. Thanks to Peter Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story (London: 1997) we have been provided with a glimpse of how material passed from (looted) archaeological sites in Italy, to Switzerland, and thence to the market in London. (The chapter…

The Geddes Collection at Bonhams: Forecast and Results

I have been re-reading Belinda Tasker's forecast ("'Elvis' sculpture stars in auction of Aust art collection", AAP, July 22, 2008) about the Graham Geddes auction that took place at Bonhams on October 15.

She highlighted three lots:
Lot 10. A large early Apulian red-figure hydria. Attributed to the painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl. Estimate: £80,000 - 120,000 ("expected to attract bids of up to STG110,000 ($A225,600)"). Lot withdrawn.Lot 65. A Roman Marble Acroterion. Estimate ("worth"): £25,000-£35,000. Sold for: £24,000.Lot 56. A large Roman marble sarcophagus fragment; "Diana, the goddess of the hunt standing at the centre". Estimate: £60,000 - 90,000. Unsold.Tasker also predicted:
Graham Geddes is expected to pick up more than STG1 million ($A2.05 million) by selling off more than 150 Greek vases and Roman marble reliefs at the Bonhams auction in October.In fact the sale appears to have made just over £470,000; many lots were ap…

Bonhams: "The session went as well it could ever have"

Souren Melikian has written about the sale of antiquities at Bonhams this week: "Antiquities reveal surprising strength at lower end of market", IHT, October 17, 2008. Melikian notes, Bonhams is working hard to hold its ground in the middle and lower levels of the market by making itself as attractive as possible. There is comment on the sale of Graham Geddes collection.
A terse notice in the catalogue, however flattering the tone, revealed that Graham Geddes was an Australian dealer who started in the 1960s. It did not specify that the objects consigned for sale were those that had remained unsold, but this is how any experienced market hand with the slightest inclination to cynicism would have read the said biographical information. In the current climate, disaster seemed bound to strike. Yet, it did not.

True, a number of objects remained unwanted. In the morning, 11 of the first 30 pieces that came up failed to sell, by my count. But most of these would be unsaleable under…

Sharon Waxman on Looted Antiquities

Sharon Waxman's Loot: The Battle Over The Stolen Treasures Of The Ancient World (New York: Times Books, 2008) is about to be published. For further details see the book's website along with preliminary reactions. [WorldCat]

Elvis and Bonhams: "You'll Be (Going, Going) Gone"

The staff of Bonhams were probably looking for some crumb of good news after yesterday's sale of antiquities. And it comes in the form of a very short piece in The Express: "GBP 24,000 for 'Elvis'" (October 16, 2008). It relates to lot 65 of the Graham Geddes collection that received so much publicity earlier in the summer. The head, deemed to share a profile with the King, once formed part of a Roman sarcophagus.
Antiquities specialist Georgiana Aitken said: "It bears an uncanny likeness to Elvis. It's the quiff that does it. It wasn't a hairstyle of the day as far as I know."

Bonhams Magazine: the Irony

A spokesperson Bonhams has commented on the amount of publicity involved in the marketing of their antiquities: "You can imagine the amount of work that goes into marketing a sale like this around the world.". This is partly through their glossy magazine (available on-line).

The autumn 2008 number has a remarkable cover showing the detail of a battle between the Arimasps and Griffins from an Attic red-figured bell-krater attributed to the Retorted painter. This had been due to be sold at Bonhams yesterday as lot 9: but it was withdrawn. The krater had surfaced through Sotheby's (London) in 1985.

Bonhams Withdraws Further Lots: Press Comment

Nick Squires has written for The Daily Telegraph ("Suspicions that Roman artefacts were illegally traded", October 16, 2008). He recycles the Bonhams press release but adds a little more informal comment. The anger felt at Bonhams is clear:
The auction house was furious that the Italian authorities gave just 24 hours' notice about the objects' suspect provenance.

"We were a bit miffed to say the least," a spokesman said. "You can imagine the amount of work that goes into marketing a sale like this around the world.

"Obviously we are not in the business of selling something that shouldn't be sold, but to have a demand made like this at such short notice is not something we take lightly."
Many of the pieces had due to be sold as part of the (Australian) Graham Geddes collection. The Telegraph added:
Bonhams said it expected Italy to make a formal claim on the antiquities, which were owned by British, Australian and American collectors.
Meanwhile…

Bonhams and Antiquities from Italy: Press Release

Bonhams issued a press release today.
BONHAMS WITHDRAWS OBJECTS FROM ANTIQUITIES SALE FOLLOWING REQUEST FROM THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT

Bonhams has withdrawn ten objects from its 15 October Antiquities Sale which features nearly 600 items, following a formal request from the Italian Government just 24 hours before the sale.

Despite the last minute nature of the Italian request, Bonhams said it would remove the items in line with normal procedure when an object's provenance is called into question.

Chairman of Bonhams, Robert Brooks, announcing the decision said: "We are always happy to cooperate with any action that limits the chance of items being sold that should not be sold. Having said that we would welcome a greater openness on the part of the Italian Government, which would allow us far more advance warning and information about concerns they have. Responsible institutions need to work together and not to keep information hidden, for whatever reason, until the very last minute.…

Bonhams: "The most important item in the Geddes collection"

The Bonhams press release for the sale of the Graham Geddes Collection later today quoted Chantelle Waddington (Rountree), the head of the antiquities department:
The most important item in this collection is a vase by the famed painter of the 'Berlin Dancing Girl', a vase of incredible quality and condition, which marks the transition of Greek vase painting from the Attic to the South Italian.The piece in question is an Apulian red-figured hydria (lot 10). The estimate was £80,000-£120,000.

Why has the most important piece in the collection been withdrawn? Is another press release due?

Apulian Pottery and Sotheby's

I suggest that anybody interested in Apulian pottery would be advised to read chapter 5, "The Apulian Vases", of Peter Watson's, Sotheby's: Inside Story (London, 1997). It is also worth studying the related plates in some detail.

It perhaps makes sense of some of the events of this week.

Bonhams Withdraws Further Lots

This evening it has become clear that Bonhams has withdrawn further lots from tomorrow's sale of the Graham Geddes collection. No explanation has been given.

Attic
Lot 6: Attic black-figured column-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 13th-14th, 1987, lot 440.Lot 9: Attic red-figured bell-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 20th, 1985, lot 383.
Apulian
Lot 10: Apulian hydria. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21st, 1984, lot 384.Lot 15: Apulian oinochoe. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 185.Lot 28: Apulian bell-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 188.
Campanian
Lot 26: Campanian bell-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 22nd, 1989, lot 199.Lot 36: Campanian neck-amphora. "Ex Amati collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s."
South Italian Terracotta
Lot 133: Figure of Eros. "Ex Australian private collection, acquired in…

The Geddes Collection at Bonham's: Withdrawn Lots

Several lots in tomorrow's sale of the Graham Geddes collection have been withdrawn. No further explanation has been given.
Lot 51: A Roman marble torso of a dancing satyr. Ex Foley Collection, 1979. Formerly in the Dean Collection, Melbourne.Lot 53: A Roman marble statue of a Togata. Acquired from David Jones Gallery, Sydney, 1981.Lot 54: Another Roman marble statue of a Togata. Acquired from David Jones Gallery, Sydney, 1981.
Lot 72: A Roman marble statue of a Togatus. Acquired in the UK in 1981.
Lot 73: A Roman marble statue of a Togatus. Acquired in the UK in 1981.Lot 150: An Apulian red-figure pelike. Acquired in England in 1979.Two items have been changed and are now 'after the antique':
Lot 118: An Etruscan hollow terracotta male torso. Ex Dean Collection, Melbourne, 1990.Lot 129: An Etruscan hollow terracotta bust of a bearded man. Acquired in May 1984.

Brent R. Benjamin: "Mistakes Can Be Made"

The appointment of Brent R. Benjamin, director of the St Louis Art Museum, to the Cultural Property Advisory Commitee (CPAC) is now being described as "outrageous".

The reason is the on-going dispute between Egypt and SLAM over the 1998 acquisition of an Egyptian mask that all would agree was excavated at Saqqara in 1952. Yet although Benjamin was quoted in February 2006 as saying, "Mistakes can be made", there seems to be no resolution. (For subsequent comments by Zahi Hawass, see the interview on Al-Jazeera, July 2007.)

Benjamin is a man of integrity and must now see that his position on CPAC can only undermine its work to address the issue of cultural property.

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River Front Times

The Graham Geddes Collection and Apulian Pottery

The sale of the Graham Geddes collection at Bonhams on October 15 will include a number of Apulian pots. (For earlier Apulian pottery at auction see here; for the publicity of the South Italian pottery in this sale see here.)

Lot 10: Hydria. Attributed to the painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21st, 1984, lot 384. On loan: the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (March 1995 - April 2005); the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (April 2005 - April 2008).

Lot 12; Calyx-krater. Attributed to the Judgement Group, by the Painter of Naples 2289. Purchased: Ex Amati Collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. Formerly from Christie's. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - July 2003).

Lot 15: Oinochoe. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 185. On loan: the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne (February 1997 - April 2008).

Lot 16: Oinochoe. Previou…

Apulian Pottery at Bonhams

The Apulian volute-krater that is due to be auctioned at Bonhams next week (October 15) is one of several Apulian pieces in the same auction. (This is separate from the sale of the Graham Geddes collection.)
Lot 179: Squat lekythos. Previous history: "Acquired by the French owner at auction in the UK in 1993. Accompanied by a French passport."Lot 180: Volute-krater. Previous history: "Ex Robin Symes Collection."Lot 182: Knob-handled patera. Previous history: "Ex London private collection."Lot 183: Plate. Previous history: "Property of an English gentleman, acquired in the U.K. between 1977 and 2003."Lot 185: Thymiaterion. Previous history: "Acquired at French auction, accompanied by a French passport."Lot 190: Chous. Previous history: "Property of an English gentleman, acquired in the U.K. between the 1950s and the 1980s."Lot 266a: Oinochoe. Previous history: "Property of an English gentleman, acquired in the U.K. between…

Press Exposure and Bonhams

Bonhams experienced some light-hearted publicity when it announced details of its forthcoming sale of antiquities from the collection formed by Graham Geddes. The profile of a fragmentary Roman sarcophagus evoked "the King" and the headline writers went to town.

But now the New York Times has joined the commentary on the sale of antiquities next week: Elisabetta Povoledo, "Italy Questions Items in Antiquities Auction", October 10, 2008. The focus is on a single Apulian krater that had once passed through the collection of Robin Symes.

Yet there is a more important issue at stake. What are the sources for antiquities that have no declared (and secure) histories ("provenance") prior to 1970?

Bonhams Responds to Rutelli

A spokesperson for Bonhams is quoted in a further report in The Times (Dalya Alberge, "Italy tries to block sale of Bonhams antiquities linked to disgraced dealer", October 10, 2008).
“We have not officially heard anything from the Italian Parliament. We would obviously act the moment we receive anything requiring us legally to respond and do as we always do. If there is any question mark on something like this we either withdraw it or get into discussions ... No one here was aware of the statement in the Italian Parliament.” It is also reported that the Apulian krater in question is "believed" to have been owned by Symes "prior to 1980" and that it had passed through “many hands over the past 28 years”. So the piece is only "believed" to have been in the Symes collection prior to 1980; the spokesperson does not say that the ownership was documented. And who were the people attached to these many hands? This spokesperson has only served to raise …

Bonhams and Robin Symes

The Times (London) carries a striking headline today (October 10, 2008 [story]) in response to Francesco Rutelli's press conference yesterday:

Bonhams urged to halt sale of Italian antiquities

The dispute is over an Apulian (South Italian) volute-krater from the "Robin Symes Collection" that is due to be auctioned next week. Bonhams will apparently press ahead with the sale.

It is reasonable for Rutelli to be asking questions, whether or not the piece has come from the dispersal of the assets of Robin Symes. How did the krater enter the Symes collection? Who was the previous owner?

It is public knowledge that the cemeteries of ancient Apulia have been devastated by systematic and extensive looting. Can Bonhams demonstrate that the krater was known prior to, say, 1970?

It is also public knowledge that 15 or so antiquities returned from various museums and private collectors in North America to Italy and Greece had passed through the hands of Robin Symes.

Francesco Rutelli on Robin Symes

Francesco Rutelli, the one-time Italian Minister for Culture (MiBAC) who can be credited with the success of retrieving so many looted antiquities, has issued a press statement about Robin Symes today. This appears to be in response to yesterday's news that the Symes collection would be dispersed.

Here is Rutelli's original text:
Al Ministro per i Beni e le Attività Culturali

Premesso che

- il Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali ha intrapreso a partire dall'estate 2007 un negoziato extragiudiziale con la Commissione Liquidatrice della Collezione Symes nominata dal Tribunale di Londra al fine di verificare la possibilità di recuperare beni archeologici appartenenti al patrimonio italiano;

- che la collezione Symes rappresenta uno dei più scandalosi fenomeni di accumulo di beni archeologici attraverso operazioni illecite, intermediazioni disinvolte, acquisizioni di patrimoni trafugati illegalmente, in misura molto rilevante provenienti dal nostro Paese;

- che il recupero …

Robin Symes: The Dispersal Begins

Fabio Isman has updated the Robin Symes story ("Scandalo a Londra: l'arte rubata finisce in vendita", Il Messaggero October 8, 2008). Some 17,000 objects (worth 160 million Euros [= £125 million]) were recovered from 33 warehouses; see also Peter Watson and Celia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, 254 [and my earlier comments]. It is now estimated (as a result of a study by a team from Italy) that 60% of the objects were removed from archaeological sites in Italy; that is to say over 10,000 of the items in storage. (Where were the other 7000 or so pieces found? Greece? Turkey?)

The present proprietors of the Symes' material are now reported to be dispersing the collection to realise his assets: hence the headline in Il Messaggero. I can now reveal that the British Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) informed me in April 2008 that an "arrangement involving the Italian Authorities and other parties ... was facilitated by this Department [sc. DCMS], which i…

More of the Parthenon Sculptures to Return to Greece

The "Nostoi" exhibition in the New Akropolis Museum already includes a fragment from the Parthenon frieze that has been returned from Palermo. Later this month two further fragments at present in the collections of the Vatican will be handed over (Associated Press).

An Australian Take on the Parthenon Marbles

Keith Austin in the Sydney Morning Herald ("Britain plays keepsies as the Greeks fume", October 7, 2008) has a blunt commentary on what he perceives as British Imperialism and the non-return of the Parthenon marbles for display in the New Akropolis Museum.
"Tommy, did you take Stavros's marbles?""Yes, miss. I liked the pretty ladies.""Well, that's not very nice, is it?""No, miss.""Good boy. Now give them back and we'll say no more about it."...There is more ...

Homecomings: Lucanian Pottery

Two pieces of Lucanian pottery have appeared in the "Nostoi" exhibitions. Both pieces are of the same shape, a nestoris (or trozzella). They have been attributed to the Amykos painter and were probably made in the vicinity of Metaponto in southern Italy. Both had been acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston: 1971.49 and 1998.588.

The first was purchased from Dr Leo Mildenberg of Bank Leu AG, Zurich. (It appears to have been supplied with a fabricated history suggesting that the nestoris had passed through a Madrid private collection.) The MFA catalogue (no. 4) notes, "This nestoris may be the earliest known red-figure example".

The second piece had surfaced at Sotheby's in London in December 1982 (lot 298). The nestoris was subsequently placed on loan at the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne from 1988 to 1994; Ian McPhee of La Trobe University informed me in October 2006 that Mr G. Geddes made the loan though he may not have been "…