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Showing posts from December, 2008

Looting Matters: A Review of 2008

This time last year I suggested that we were likely to see resolutions over the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Shelby White collection. The return of material from the White-Levy collection was announced in January, and from Cleveland in November. January also saw the arrival of the Sarpedon (Euphronios) krater in Rome.

Other material returned to Italy was recovered by Operation "Ghelas", Operation "Ulisse" and Operaton "Online". Apulian pottery seized in Spain was handed back, as well as the contents of a warehouse belonging to a dealer in Basel. A new Euphronios fragment turned up at Cerveteri. Some of this returning archaeological material was displayed in the second Nostoi exhibition in the Palazzo Poli in Rome; Nostoi moved to Athens in September.

Greece has been more active in calling for the return of antiquities. A major conference on cultural property was held in the New Acropolis Museum back and this led to renewed…

Neil MacGregor: Briton of the Year

The Times (London) has named Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, as "Briton of the Year" (The Times December 27, 2008; see also Leader). The article touches upon the successor to Philippe de Montebello at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
[MacGregor] declined the Met on principle. It was not a public institution, he said. And he wanted to stay at a museum that was free to everyone. MacGregor, it would appear, is profoundly democratic. Refocusing upon the founding ideals of the institution that was established by Act of Parliament in 1753 as a museum for the world, he has radically redefined the role that it can play in public life. There is discussion of the Museum's exhibition policy:
Helping to release the power that lies implicit in the world’s ancient artefacts, MacGregor has turned the British Museum into an arena in which some of our most fraught and contentious contemporary political debates can be approached with a freshened sensitivity and depth of under…

The Sevso Treasure Revisited

Time Team covered the Sevso Treasure on (UK) Channel 4 on December 26, 2008 ("The mystery of the Roman treasure"). Channel 4's website has plenty of useful links including a quiz on "the illegal antiquities trade".

As Channel 4 recommends "Looting Matters" in its list of resources to "Find Out More" here are previous postings on the Sevso Treasure:
The Sevso Treasure and "Unprovenanced Antiquities": A Response to John H. MerrymanSevso and Questions in Parliament

James Cuno Responds to Roger Bland

James Cuno has responded to Roger Bland's review of Who Owns Antiquity? ("Yesterday Nebuchadnezzar . . .", London Review of Books 30, no. 24, December 18 2008). He claims that Bland has "misread" the book and states, "My argument is that cultural property is a political construct put to the service of modern governments’ agendas [sic.]". Cuno places an emphasis on Iraq in his response.

He concludes:Bland calls my arguments ‘US cultural imperialism at its worst’. On the contrary, my book is an argument against the nationalism of culture (on the part of the US and all other governments) in favour of encyclopedic museums like the British Museum (Bland’s employer).

Other reviews

"Sheer persistence pays dividends": Head of Amenhotep III Returns to Egypt

The head of Amenhotep III, once handled by Jonathan Tokeley-Parry, has been returned to Egypt ("Priceless Egyptian Sculpture To Be Returned Home after 18 Year Absence" (press release, Mishcon de Reya, December 19, 2008).
Dr Zahi Hawass personally retained Karen Sanig, Head of Art Law at Mishcon de Reya to assert the ownership rights of the Arab Republic of Egypt and to effect repatriation of the Head. The case was extremely complicated as the Head was the subject of two criminal proceedings, in the UK and the US, it had passed through the hands of innocent parties unaware of its chequered history and travelled to various jurisdictions which gave rise to other alleged ownership rights. Despite all this, as a result careful negotiation, led by Karen Sanig, the Head has today gone home and avoided making its third court appearance in the High Court in London.
Karen Sanig added:
In this case the determination of Dr Zahi Hawass backed by the Egyptian Government enabled a successfu…

Trends in the Sale of Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's

I have been doing some further analysis of the Egyptian lots in the sales of antiquities at Sotheby's New York. While the median has been increasing steadily since 1998, both sales in 2008 showed a downturn. There have been drops before, but it does look as if the present financial crisis is having an impact on sales.

I have excluded two special sales (in 1999 and 2004) for this study. (The median for the one in 2004 was $14,400, in the middle of the two others for that year.)

Financial Innovations and the Sponsorship of Archaeological Excavations

This post will address the second of the Milken Institute's proposals to fund archaeology (see my earlier comments on leasing). The second solution is to "Develop museum/collector partnerships to sponsor archaeological digs".

This solution advocates the role of the private collector.
Because museum lease models include only a few of the players within the value chain, another option would include a limited participation level for individual collectors who have spending power to generate substantial revenues. Countries of origin have been historically reluctant to lease items to personal collections. However, the bias against collectors ignores the demand that drives the trade, creating a vacuum in which billions of dollars cross through the black market.In one sense this is an old model. Private individuals (and museums) supported bodies such as the Egypt Exploration Fund (see the example of Sir Henry Wellcome) and then received a share of the finds (so-called partage whic…

Financial Innovations and the Lease of Antiquities

I have been reading the Milken Institute's Financial Innovation Lab Report on Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation (December 2008) [pdf: registration required].

Three "Financial Innovations for Developing Archaeological Discovery and Conservation" are presented. (It is a pity that the innovations did not cover discovery, conservation and publication.)

The first solution is to "Promote long-term museum and exhibit leases". The report highlights the income generated by the recent treasures of King Tutankhamun tour which is expected to generate US $40 million for the new Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
These tours, while generating capital for the companies that sponsor them, could work within lease models, with museums collaborating on the exhibition of specific collections from countries of origin to create shared revenue pools.There have been models for such collaborative loan schemes: a good example was provided by "The Em…

Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's

I have been following the sale of antiquities at Sotheby's New York over the last decade. 2008 came fourth in the ranking for the proportion of sales for Egyptian lot: 40% of the value of the two lots for the year. This was worth some US $7.16 million (out of a total US $ 17.83). (The top three years are 2004, 2003 and 1998.)

Sotheby's New York has sold just under US $50 million worth of Egyptian antiquities since 1998. This is some 22% of the sales of antiquities (worth US $230.97 million). This is slightly distorted by the sale of the Guennol lioness in 2007, even though this year saw the fourth highest sum raised for Egyptian antiquities (US $6.58 million).

I have also been keeping an eye on past collecting histories. Some 67% of the Egyptian lots in this period (1998-2008) do not appear to have been known prior to 1973 (the date of the declaration by the Archaeological Institute of America). Some 95% of the lots have no recorded find-spots.
Comments after June 2008 sales

Farmer arrested in Italy

A 6th century BCE sanctuary to the south of Rome has been systematically looted (Ariel David, "Farmer digs up ancient sanctuary in Italy", AP December 17, 2008). The farmer's home was raided by the Carabinieri and some 500 objects were seized. The sanctuary, indicated by votives, was located near Aprilia.

The Carabinieri also revealed further finds including a 3rd-4th century CE mosaic removed from one of the Roman catacombs. The present proprietor had claimed it had been given to his family by Vatican authorities.

Sir Norman Rosenthal on Provenance Research

Sir Norman Rosenthal, the exhibitions secretary of the Royal Academy of Arts in London (1977-2008), has written about the impact of "provenance research" ("The time has come for a statute of limitations", The Art Newspaper December 11, 2008). "Provenance" is used here to describe the collecting history of a painting or object: the former owners, the collectors, the dealers and the auction-houses through which a piece has passed since its creation.

Rosenthal concentrates on material taken by the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s, but states, "If valuable objects have ended up in the public sphere, even on account of the terrible facts of history, then that is the way it is." He is unsympathetic to claims that the objects should be restored to families.

Rosethal extends the issue to antiquities and in particular the Sarpedon (or Euphronios) krater returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Italy earlier this year.
The outgoing director…

Cycladic at Auction: over $1 million

Today's auction at Sotheby's, New York, saw a Cycladic figure of Spedos type fetch US $1,022,500 (lot 27). The piece was first known as the property of Michel Dumez-Onof of Mount Street, London, (October 1980). It then appeared in the exhibition, "Classical Antiquities from Private Collections in Great Britain. A Loan Exhibition in Aid of the Ashmole Archive," Sotheby's, London, (January 15th-31st 1986), before passing into the hands of Stanley J. Seeger.

Two Egyptian pieces fetched over US $1 million. First was a royal figure, perhaps from one of the boundary stelai of Amarna (lot 15, $1,082,500). This was known to be in the hands of Leo Mildenberg, Zurich, in 1960. It then formed part of the collection of Denys Sutton, editor of Apollo. The second was an Egyptian greywacke figure of a man that was said to have been discovered by Henry Salt "in the Temple of Bubastes, Lower Egypt" (lot 17, $1,650,500). It subsequently formed part of the Warwick Castle c…

Antiquities at Christie's: Results

The sale of antiquities at Christie's, Rockefeller Plaza today (December 9, 2008) generated US$4,735,100.

The Cobham Hall Hadrian (lot 164) realized $902,500 (well above the upper estimate of $550,000). The (apparent) third century bronze portrait of the first century emperor Vespasian (lot 180) --- once in the possession of Atlantis Antiquities (in 1982) --- appears to have been left unsold.

Vespasian was one of five "highlights" that failed to sell (see Christie's pre-sale press release). Two others were "an early Christian silver patten" (lot 186) and a Bactrian copper alloy seated female figure (lot 45). The latter had once passed through Koutoulakis, Paris (prior to 1989) before entering a French private collection. The fourth was a Late Period to Early Ptolemaic figure of a treasurer from a European private collection (lot 35). The fifth was a marble portrait of Faustina the Younger (lot 166) from a British private collection ("Acquired by the curr…

Antiquities from the Villa Rufolo at Sotheby's: Update

Yesterday I noted the concerns of "Ravello Nostra" about the sale of antiquities once displayed in the Villa Rufolo. Sotheby's has now issued a statement refuting the suggestion that the pieces were "stolen" in 1974.

Statement from Sotheby’s
December 8, 2008

Sotheby’s is aware of a report in the Positano News alleging that three objects (Lots 50, 58 and 94) in Sotheby’s Antiquities auction, to be held in New York on December 10, 2008, supposedly were taken out of Italy improperly from the Villa Rufolo in Ravello, Italy in 1974 when the Italian villa was sold to the Ente Provinciale per il Turismo di Salerno. The allegations cannot be squared with the results of the extensive due diligence and research Sotheby’s conducted in connection with the consignment of the three objects, and while Sotheby’s will consider any specific evidence that is presented to us, it is important that the record be clear.

A Sotheby’s specialist personally inspected the three objects in Pa…

Antiquities from the Villa Rufolo at Sotheby's

This Wednesday (December 10, 2008) Sotheby's (New York) is due to auction three antiquities formerly in the Villa Rufolo, Ravello. All three are stated as being the property of an anonymous French private collection.

All three peices had formed part of the collection of Francis Nevile Reid (1826-1892) at the Villa Rufolo. They then passed to Charles Carmichael Lacaita (1853-1933) and Mrs. Tallon-Lacaita, both of the Villa Rufolo. In 1939 the three pieces are reported to have moved to Paris and then "by descent to the present owner".

However the cultural group "Ravello Nostra", as well as the Soprintendenza di Salerno, and the Carabinieri responsible for archaeological sites in Campania, have raised concerns about the three pieces ("Ravello, si attivano i Carabinieri per l'asta di Sothebys", Postiano News December 6, 2008). Paolo Imperato, the mayor of Ravello, has voiced his concern and called for their return to the town:
Faremo di tutto per recuper…

Christie's Withdraws Jewellery Lot

It was announced today that lot 215, a piece of jewellery apparently from Iraq, has been withdrawn from next week's sale of Antiquities at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza (Jane Arraf, "Christie's takes disputed earrings off auction block", The Christian Science Monitor December 5, 2008).

The report adds:
The gold neo-Assyrian earrings were claimed by Iraq but awaiting the highest bidder Monday in New York. Just days before the sale of ancient art and antiquities, however, Christie's took the jewelry, believed to be from the treasure of Nimrud, off the auction block.

Christie's says it is cooperating with an investigation into whether the earrings were in fact stolen from Iraq.

"When Christie's learned that there might be an issue with the provenance of the earrings they withdrew the lot from the sale," says Sung-Hee Park, a spokeswoman for the auction house in New York. "The lot is still with Christie's in New York, but we are cooperating…

Atlantis Antiquities in the Press: an Overview

I have been reviewing the appearance of Atlantis Antiquities in the press.

One of the earliest mentions was back in 1988: Rita Reif, "Archaic Smiles Have Persisted For 2,000 Years", New York Times June 19, 1988. This commented on the exhibition, ''Greek and Etruscan Art of the Archaic Period" [Catalogue]
The exhibition is the first in memory at a New York gallery to present a broad view of the Archaic Period, and the first major show presented at Atlantis, which opened 21 months ago. The 70 works in terra cotta, marble, painted clay, bronze, amber and gold were selected by Robert Hecht Jr., an American antiquities dealer based in Paris. Mr. Hecht is a part-owner of the gallery, along with Jonathan Rosen, a real estate developer and collector of ancient art. Andrea Hecht, the dealer's daughter, is the director of the gallery.The gallery then featured in a report on antiquities from Turkey (Geraldine Norman, "Talking Turkey; Who owns the treasures of anti…

Highlights at Christie's: Late Antique Silver

I noticed that one of the highlights in next week's sale of antiquities at Christie's at the Rockefeller Plaza, New York (December 9, 2008) is "an early Christian silver patten" (lot 186). This piece of Late Antique silver (i.e. late 4th-early 5th century AD) is decorated with theTraditioLegis (Christ, Peter and Paul). There is an ancient weight inscription: 2 lbs, 2 scr. (the patten weighs 638.4 g).

The piece was apparently in a "European private collection" in 1978 and it is being sold by "a U.S. private collector". There are no named owners and no list of previous publications.

The catalogue entry has been prepared with the assistance of Ruth E. Leader-Newby, author of Silver and Society in Late Antiquity (2004) [WorldCat] [review by me in Classical Review].

The patten has clearly been the subject of scientific analysis:
A laboratory report number 93075 issued by Conservation and Technical Services Limited, London, analyzing the condition and metho…

Further Fragment of the Parthenon Returned

A small fragment of the Parthenon removed by an Austrian soldier during World War II has been returned to Athens (press release). The piece is inscribed with the date of its removal, February 16, 1943. The fragment was returned from Sweden by Martha Dahlgren, the granddaughter of the soldier.

This is in addition to recent returns of Parthenon fragments from collections in Palermo and the Vatican.

Sharon Waxman on Transparency

Sharon Waxman was written a short piece in the New York Times ("How Did That Vase Wind Up in the Metropolitan?", December 1, 2008; see also "NYT Op-ed: Thoughts for Tom Campbell at the Met", December 1, 2008). Some of the examples are derived from her new book, Loot!

Waxman comments on the importance of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and relates it to the recent returns of antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:
The Association of Art Museum Directors has already readied a path for Mr. Campbell [the incoming director of the MMA]. This past summer, the association finally issued new guidelines, which recognize that buying unprovenanced antiquities encourages their illicit trade and recommend that its members purchase only antiquities that can be proven to have been legally exported after 1970, or else removed from their country of origin before that date. (It was in 1970 that Unesco adopted an international convention barring the illegal export and t…