Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year - and Happy New Decade!



Looting Matters would like to thank all its readers and contributors for their support during 2009. There have been over 110,000 visitors this year (not counting those who view by email or RSS subscription). I look forward to welcoming you back in 2010.

Happy New Year!

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© David Gill

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nefertiti: Hawass plans action

I have earlier commented on the acquisition of the head of Nefertiti from Amarna. The head was the main subject of a meeting of the Egyptian National Committee for the Return of Stolen Artifacts this week. Zahi Hawass notes that the session "discuss[ed] the procedures needed to make a formal request for the return of the Bust of Nefertiti now on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin".

Hawass gave the immediate outline of the case:
Earlier this month Dr. Seyfried met with Dr. Hawass and presented him with copies of all of the key documentation held by the Berlin Museum concerning this iconic piece. This includes the protocol of 20 January, 1913, written by Gustav Lefébvre, the official who signed the division of finds on behalf of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, and excerpts from the diary of Ludwig Borchardt, the excavator of the Bust.
The case was made in an earlier report about Hawass' visit to Berlin:
Dr. Seyfried presented Dr. Hawass with copies of all of the key documentation held by the Berlin Museum concerning this iconic piece. This includes the protocol of January 20, 1913, written by Gustave Lefevre, the official who signed the division of finds on behalf of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, as well as excerpts from the diary of Ludwig Borchardt, the excavator of the piece. These materials confirm Egypt’s contention that Borchardt did act unethically, with intent to deceive: the limestone head of the queen is listed on the protocol as a painted plaster bust of a princess. Borchardt knew, as his diary shows, that this was the queen herself; he also knew that the head was of limestone covered with plaster and painted, not simply of plaster, as this was clearly visible through inspection of the piece itself. It seems that there was an agreement between Borchardt and Lefevre that all the plaster pieces (which included an important group of plaster masks of the royal family at Amarna) would go to Berlin, and this appears to have been one way that Borchardt misled Lefevre to ensure that the bust would also go to Berlin.




Egypt appears to be making a case that there was deliberate deception as part of the division of the finds.
 
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© David Gill

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Where should the remains of St Nicholas reside?

One of the news stories on the BBC today related to the bones of St Nicholas, perhaps better known as Santa Claus (Jonathan Head, "Turkey seeks return of Santa Claus' bones", BBC December 28, 2009). Nikolaos was Bishop of Myra in Lycia in southern Turkey. His body was placed in a sarcophagus in the Byzantine church in the city. (This Byzantine church was restored in the 19th century by the Russian Tsar, Alexander II.)

The remains were removed by Italians in 1087 and placed in the church at Bari in southern Italy.

Now a Turkish archaeologist, Professor Nevzat Cevik, from Demre (the modern town on the site of Myra) has called for the bones to be returned, and Turkish authorities are reported to be taking the claim seriously.

The issue will no doubt provide fascinating discussions: a culturally Greek Christian bishop from a now Muslim Turkey. But I suspect the publicity will help to boost visitors to Demre and the town's famous plastic Santa.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Seasonal Greetings!






Looting Matters wishes all its readers a Happy Christmas.

Nadolig llawen i chi!



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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What are "redundant antiquities"?

The AAMD written testimony to the CPAC review of Article II of the MOU with Italy is now available [pdf]. The submission by Kaywin Feldman, Director and President of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is one of the pieces made available (dated, November 13, 2009). Feldman took a critical position against the Italian authorities. (Members of the AAMD need to remember that several of their institutions had been happily buying, no doubt in "good faith", recently surfaced antiquities ripped from archaeological contexts in Italy.)

Feldman appears to misunderstand archaeological material when she wrote:
The spirit of support and cooperation emphasized in the MOU would be much better served if American museums could acquire redundant antiquities and borrow objects for long-term loan from Italian museums. AAMD believes that the United States government should encourage developed countries, such as Italy, to make redundant antiquities available to the legitimate market as a way to curtail looting.
What are these "redundant antiquities"?

The phrase seems to be traced back to William G. Pearlstein, "Claims for the Repatriation of Cultural Property: Prospects for a Managed Antiquities Market",  Law and Policy in International Business, Vol. 28 (1996). Pearlstein, who also gave a presentation at the MOU review, wrote:
Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of the patrimony claims has been to chill the overall appetite of U.S. market participants for new acquisitions to the point that, unless the present trend is reversed, the long term viability of the U.S. antiquities market may be in doubt. This chilling effect extends not only to the high-end of the antiquities market, where the market value of an acquisition can justify the legal costs of a patrimony claim, but to the great majority of redundant antiquities that lack special archeological, historical, or cultural significance to any particular source nation.
What did Pearlstein have in mind? And what does Feldman consider to be in this category?

Are they suggesting breaking up tomb-groups in the reserves of Italian museums to sell on some notional licit market? What will be the implications for future studies of this archaeological material?

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Monday, December 21, 2009

"A growing NY Times campaign to disparage source-country claimants"

Lee Rosenbaum on CultureGrrl has written a thoughtful response to the news coverage of China's research into the dispersal of antiquities from the summer palace in Beijing.


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Looking back over 2009

I started the year by looking ahead.

I suggested that we would continue to see fallout from the Medici Conspiracy. This has included the seizure of a Corinthian krater from Christie's in New York, as well as two pieces that had passed through a gallery in California. A further mural fragment from the J. Paul Getty Museum has been returned to Italy; this seems to form part of a series of fragments that had formed parts of two separate New York collections. Giacomo Medici's appeal against his conviction failed, while the Rome trial of Marion True and Robert Hecht has continued. Returned objects from the Cleveland Museum of Art went on display in Rome. However the case of the Cleveland Apollo remains unresolved. A new exhibition of returned objects went on display in the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

The situation with the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and the Miho Museum remains unresolved, though in the former case more information has become available.

Italian authorities recovered frescoes found at Boscoreale: parts were recovered in London and New York.

The AAMD's position on the loan of archaeological material took an interesting twist during the review of the MOU with Italy. Member institutions need to look at the long-term loan of archaeological material where the histories ("provenance") cannot be traced back to the period before 1970.  New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art adopted 1970 as a benchmark for acquisitions. The AAMD's new policy on acquisitions seems to be having an impact on private collectors.

The US issued a MOU with China over the import of archaeological material. China made the headlines over the sale of Chinese antiquities at the Yves Saint Laurent sale in Paris. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case against the US State Department brought by the ACCG, the IAPN and the PNG came to a significiant conclusion.

It also appears that the market is still nervous about the acquisition of antiquities. A fuller analysis is in preparation.

Long-standing issues over cultural property have been discussed with the opening of the new Acropolis Museum in Athens. Zahi Hawass has also been renewing calls for the return of the Rosetta Stone.

Other stories included the statements following the reported arrest of a Swiss-based dealer in Sofia, Bulgaria, after the issuing of an arrest warrant by Egyptian authorities. A head of Asklepios stolen from the Butrint Museum was returned to Albania. A bronze rider found in Cambridgeshire was sold on the London market and then "redeemed" by public money. The UCL report on the incantation bowls became widely available. Egypt was successful in its bid to recover paintings from a Theban tomb (TT15) that had been acquired by the Louvre in Paris.

2009 saw the launch of the Journal of Art Crime. Looting Matters has a regular column.

Finally Looting Matters has been working with PR Newswire to bring key stories to a wider readership ... though it did not use advertising on London buses.


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Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Rosetta Stone: "an icon of our Egyptian identity"

Matt Bradley has written about Zahi Hawass' claims for the return of cultural property from European and North American museums (Matt Bradley, "Indiana Jones, but in reverse", The National December 19. 2009). Bradley anticipates the 2010 conference that is expected to have representations from 12 different countries (including China, Greece, Italy, and Mexico). An earlier Reuters interview is cited where Hawass restated his desire for the Rosette Stone to be returned to Egypt.

Among those interviewed for the piece were James Cuno, Katja Lembke (director of the Pelizaeus Museum), and myself.

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©David Gill


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Arguments for doing nothing"

Fans of the Cambridge classicist Francis Cornford (1874–1943) [ODNB] will know his Microcosmographia Academica (subtitled "being a Guide for the Young Academic Politician"), first published anonymously in 1908. (A centenary edition was published in 2008 by Cambridge University Press as University Politics [CUP].)

Chapter VII addresses the issue of "Argument": "There is only one argument for doing something: the rest are arguments for doing nothing".

Cornford then expounds:
The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.
Should Cornford be required reading for archaeological ethicists and museum curators?


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The Rosetta Stone: Clarification from Hawass

Zahi Hawass has commented further on the request for the Rosetta Stone (Harpreet Bhal, "Egypt to ask British Museum for Rosetta Stone", Reuters, December 14, 2009). In an interview held over last weekend, Hawass told Reuters:
I did not write yet to the British Museum but I will. I will tell them that we need the Rosetta Stone to come back to Egypt for good ... The British Museum has hundreds of thousands of artefacts in the basement and as exhibits. I am only needing one piece to come back, the Rosetta Stone. It is an icon of our Egyptian identity and its homeland should be Egypt.
He seems to have moved his position from his earlier request of a loan for the opening of the Giza Museum in 2012. Reuters commented that Hawass "would no longer settle for just a loan".

I was interviewed for the report and talked about the issue of other issues in the collection:
The whole issue for the British Museum is if they say we're going to give you back the Rosetta Stone, it sets a precedent.
The case for the universal museum displaying objects from world cultures was made in an interview with a tourist from Japan:
It is easy to travel here especially for tourists compared to travelling to Egypt. And that makes it open to everybody.
The British Museum issued a short statement last week in connection with Hawass' visit to the Museum:
The current situation with regard to the Rosetta Stone is that the Museum has received a request from the Supreme Council of Antiquities requesting the short term loan of the stone for the opening of the new museum in Giza in 2012 or 2013. The Trustees of the British Museum will consider this request in due course.

The British Museum exists to tell the story of cultural achievement throughout the world, from two million years ago to the present. The Museum is a unique resource for the world: the breadth and depth of the collection allows a wide public to re-examine cultural identities and explore the complex network of interconnected human cultures. The Trustees feel strongly that the collection must remain as a whole in order for the Museum to continue to fulfil this purpose.



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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Rosetta Stone: The Times Responds

Graham Stewart, a columnist for The Times (London) has responded to the publicity surrounding the Rosetta Stone ("The booty included the four bronze horses of St Mark's, Venice", The Times December 12, 2009). Stewart confuses two separate issues: significant cultural objects that left their countries long before 1970; and the recent (i.e. post 1970) looting of archaeological sites to provide material for the market.

Stewart presents a simplistic view of those who argue for the return of cultural property:
"To those who believe antiquities must be repatriated to the land that created them it is all about honouring context and respecting national identity."
First, archaeological objects can be understood when they are retrieved from archaeological contexts in a scientific manner. Second, archaeological objects lose their contextual information when looted. Third, recently looted archaeological objects should be returned to the country from which they had been looted. Thus the Athenian Euphronios / Sarpedon krater was not returned to Greece but rather to Italy because it appears to have been snatched from an Etruscan tomb.

Stewart's presents a Cuno-like argument for the universal museum:
"worldclass museums protest that they exist to promote scholarship and cultural understanding far beyond the narrow confines of their own national borders."
But one of the things that we can learn from the returns to Italy is that several "worldclass museums" in North America were more keen to acquire than to put in place ethical acquisition policies.

The British Museum is now faced with requests to return the Parthenon marbles (Stewart insists on using "The Elgin Marbles") and the Rosetta Stone.(And what about the Benin Bronzes?)

Stewart sees the justification for retaining cultural property in the actions of Napoleon:
"The French looted far more from their fellow Europeans than from the Egyptians."
Indeed Stewart cites the bronze horses of San Marco in Venice as examples of material "stolen" by Venetians from Constantinople.

Stewart asks a further question:
ought the British to demand that the Russian National Library returns its copy of the 8th century manuscript of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People by the Venerable Bede? The key work by the father of English history could hardly be of greater significance to the country of its origin. Yet, that it exists at all may be precisely because a Russian diplomat, Peter Dubrovsky, removed it from Paris during the French Revolution, fearing it was not safe in a city being plundered by Jacobin mobs.
Stewart states that the Northumbrian Bede should remain in St Petersburg. There is an implicit statement about the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon marbles.

Stewart avoids the main questions. Is it better to display the Parthenon marbles in a purpose-built museum within sight of the Parthenon or to let them remain in the Duveen Gallery in Bloomsbury? And is the Rosetta Stone such an icon of Egyptology that it deserves to be displayed in Egypt, the land where it was found?

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The Rosetta Stone and the Global Village

I noticed a letter in today's Independent by Alan D. Foster in response to the Rosetta Stone debate (December 14, 2009):
... Taken to its logical conclusion, every significant cultural artefact from another country currently housed in the British Museum would have to be repatriated. But how dull, then, if our country boasted only its own heritage and culture. Surely part of living in the global village is learning to share and value each other's art and history? ...
But is Egypt asking for the emptying of all the Egyptian sculpture galleries in the British Museum, or asking for the loan of a single, unique document that is iconic for the study of Egyptology?


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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Italy and US co-operate over antiquities

There is further evidence of the close working relationship between Italy and US authorities. It has been reported that 1700 antiquities have been seized ("Italian police recover hoard of looted artifacts", AP, December 11, 2009). At least 19 people appear to be under investigation.

The objects seem to have been derived from tombs around Naples and in north-eastern Italy. Among the finds was a bronze bust of Augustus.

It appears that some of the material had already been sent to North America. Who were the dealers involved?

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are reported to have recovered "47 ceramic and bronze statutes that had been looted from a tomb in southern Italy dating between the 6th and 5th centuries B.C."





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Friday, December 11, 2009

Looting Matters and PR Newswire

Looting Matters has been issuing a series of stories through PR Newswire since May 2009.

The 20 topics are:


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Looting Matters: Archaeological Institute Offers Views on Italian Antiquities

Looting Matters: Archaeological Institute Offers Views on Italian Antiquities

The AIA submission to the CPAC review of the MOU with Italy.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sotheby's results: market still nervous over antiquities



Today's auction of Egyptian, Classical, and Western Asiatic Antiquities at Sotheby's shows that the market is still unsettled. The $5.8 million raised today brings 2009's total to just under $8.6 million. The value of sales in 2008 was $17.8 million.

Egyptian antiquities are playing an increasingly small part in the sale, down to 17% in value. This makes 2009 the third lowest component of Egyptian antiquities since 1998. While the median value shows a slight increase on December 2008, the market seems to be back at 2004 levels.

The reason may be more complex than the recession. Have the recent actions by Egyptian authorities (and in particular Zahi Hawass) had an impact on the market?

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© David Gill, 2009


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CPAC review of MOU with Italy: the AIA version

I have already given a comment on the CPAC review of Article II of the MOU with Italy that related to "the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy".

I had noted that Sebastian Heath's presentation on behalf of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) had caused concern. A collector advocacy group issued a press release in the wake of the review and described the AIA presentation as "a wakeup call for thousands of private collectors, museums and independent scholars".

Sebastian Heath has now placed a report (as well as the text of his submission to CPAC) on the website of the AIA ("Politics & Archaeology: A First-Person Account of the CPAC Meeting Reviewing Italian Import Restrictions"). He commented on the response from the museum community:
When we had all finished, I was pleased to note that the speakers representing museums generally praised the cooperation of their Italian counterparts in efforts to arrange loans to American institutions. It is clear that museums in this country would like to display Italian objects for longer periods than is currently possible, which seems to be a reasonable request. Only one museum representative, from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, seemed to question the premise that it is appropriate to use the MoU to restrict import of antiquities from Italy with the goal of protecting sites and preserving information on the context of ancient art.
No doubt the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is wanting to deflect interest from the Athenian red-figured volute-krater that was reportedly acquired from Robin Symes.

I was particularly interested to read Heath's version of the discussion about ancient coins. I had earlier observed:
Tompa asserted that "Italy has done a poor job taking care of the coins at state institutions and archaeological sites".
Now we can read the perspective of the AIA representative:
Another voice heard at the CPAC meeting was that of ancient coin collectors and dealers. Like many AIA members, one of the areas in which I’ve published scholarly articles is ancient numismatics so the protection of coins is of great interest to me. Archaeologists are members of the numismatic community, and it is important that our voice is heard. Speaking for coin dealers, Peter Tompa, who represented both the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild and who has also released a summary of his written submission, suggested that Italian museums are not good stewards of their numismatic collections and that Italian archaeologists do a poor job publishing excavated coins. My experience suggests that neither is the case. The Palazzo Massimo in Rome has a superb numismatic display that features excavated material, including hoard finds, to trace the rise and use of coinage from the Republican period onwards. The website www.fastionline.org reports the discovery of coins and often places them in context by discussing the sites on which they were found. Unfortunately, the current MoU does not include coins as a protected category. If Italy does request that coins be included in a future agreement, it is likely that the AIA would support such a move.
Heath seems to suggest that Tompa was either deliberately presenting misleading information to CPAC or was unaware of the true situation in Italy. Such a conclusion is surprising given that Tompa is a director of the Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI). What does Tompa's presentation say about the quality of the "research" that is likely to be produced by the CPRI? (For earlier reservations see here.)

Tompa's apparent misrepresentation of evidence would seem to strengthen the case for including coins in any future review of the MOU with Italy.

Heath's account comes close on the heals of the outcome of the FOIA case relating to the import of coins from Italy.


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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hawass: "We are not the Pirates of the Caribbean"

The Rosetta Stone was debated on this morning's BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme. Sarah Montague interviewed Zahi Hawass and Roy Clare (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council).

Hawass rejected a short-term loan. He commented on the security of the new museum in Cairo: "Security will be perfect". He rejected the suggestion that Egypt would not return a loan: "We are not the Pirates of the Caribbean."

He asked for the return of the Rosetta Stone as part of Egypt's identity: "I want the Rosetta Stone to be back in Egypt".

Clare presented the legal position and the role of the Trustees of the British Museum. He made it clear that he did not want a discussion about the "recovery" of the Rosetta Stone. Clare stated that it is an "icon for global culture", in effect making a case for the universal museum. He described the British Museum as a centre for world culture.

Montague asked if Hawass would get the Rosetta Stone back: "Believe me, we will". Hawass then talked about the case of the wall-paintings returned from the Louvre. When Montague mentioned the action that Egypt had taken against the Louvre, Hawass rejoined, "I am not going to threaten the British Museum".

Clare asserted that the Rosetta Stone has "acquired" additional "culture" by being displayed in the British Museum.

Hawass also talked about the proposed meeting in Cairo to discuss the return of cultural property.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A "Lydian" silver bowl at auction

I have commented before on the level of looting in ancient Lydia. I drew attention to the study by Christopher H. Roosevelt and Christina Luke that demonstrated in their survey of Lydia, "Of the 397 tumuli personally inspected, 357 or 90 percent showed signs of looting".

My attention has been drawn to a 'Greek silver bowl' that is being offered at auction later this week (Christie's December 11, 2009, lot 87). Its collecting history is stated as, "Japanese Private Collection, 1970s."

A parallel is offered: "For a similar example from Sardis see no. 14 in von Bothmer, A Greek and Roman Treasury." This parallel piece, now in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art 26.164.13, was found at Sardis and given by The American Society for the Exploration of Sardis.

So what is the full collecting history of this second "Greek", or more likely Lydian, silver cup? And why describe it as "Greek" when the closest parallel comes from Sardis?

A Lydian silver kyathos (that also surfaced in the 1970s) was withdrawn from a 2007 auction at Bonham's in London.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Journal of Art Crime: Fall 2009

The Fall 2009 number of the Journal of Art Crime edited by Noah Charney and published by the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (details here) is now available.

Those interested in antiquities will be interested in the following items:

Articles
  • Issues in Identification and the Authenticity of Artist’s Signatures,  Graham Ospreay: 3-11
  • Art Crime Archives, Bojan Dobovšek, Noah Charney, and Saša Vučko: 25-33
  • A Permanent International Art Crime Tribunal? Judge Arthur Tompkins: 35-41
  • Lessons in Looting, Stephanie Goldfarb: 43-49

REGULAR COLUMNS
  • Context Matters, “Looting in the Balkans”, David Gill: 63-66
  • An Empty Frame: Thinking About Art Crime, “Are Police Posters Art?”, Derek Fincham: 67-69
  • Art Law and Policy, “Holocaust Era Cases Reviewed”, Donn Zaretsky: 71-73
  • Cultural Heritage, “Protection of the Concept and Profiles”, Col. Giovanni Pastore: 75-81 (English and Italian)


EDITORIAL ESSAYS
  • Understanding the Motivations Behind Art Crime and the Effects of an Institution’s Response,  Mark Durney: 83-86
  • Cultural Artifacts in Nigeria, Abiodun Johnson Eniyandunni: 87-88
  • Financing Terror, Judith Harris: 89
  • Turkish Archaeological Sites and the Trade of Illegal Antiquities, Catherine Schofield Sezgin: 91-94

REVIEWS
  • L’Arma per l’Arte. Antologia di Meraviglie, David Gill: 95-96
  • Tesori Invisibili at Castel Sant’Angelo, and L’Arma per L’Arte: Antologia di Meraviglie at Castel Sant’Angelo, Nathalie di Sciascio: 97-98
  • Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate Over Antiquities (James Cuno), David Gill: 99-100
  • The Lost Chalice: The Epic Hunt for a Priceless Masterpiece (Vernon Silver), Douglas L. Yearwood: 101-02
  • ARCA War Looting Literature Review, Emily Blyze and Kate Panella: 107-09
  • Profile of Chris Marinello, Executive Director & General Counsel, Art Loss Register,  Mark Durney: 114



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Conference to discuss the return of antiquities

Zahi Hawass has announced that Egypt will be hosting a conference (date to be set) to discuss the return of antiquities ("Egypt wants to host international meeting to return relics", AFP December 6, 2009). Hawass has already outlined some of the pieces that he would like to see back in Egypt.

The release states that Greece and Italy will be invited.


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Friday, December 4, 2009

Looting Matters: Antiquities Returned to Italy

Looting Matters: Antiquities Returned to Italy

Comment on the handing over of two antiquities - a wall-painting from Boscoreale and a Corinthian krater - to Italian authorities.


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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Toxic Antiquities: the sales of 1985

Today's news that two antiquities had been handed over to the Italian authorities is a reminder of the continuing issue of toxic antiquities. The Corinthian krater had apparently been handled by Giacomo Medici and had then surfaced on the market in 1985 through Sotheby's in London ("ICE returns stolen artifacts to Italy", ICE December 2, 2009).

It is significant that an Attic bell-krater that had surfaced at Sotheby's in 1985 had to be withdrawn from a sale at Bonham's in London in October 2008.

Two other pieces that have been returned to Italy had  passed through Sotheby's in 1985. An Attic black-figured neck-amphora was returned from the Royal Athena Galleries, and an Attic black-figured amphora of Panatheniac shape had formed part of the collection of Shelby White and the late Leon Levy.

It is a matter of concern that two auction-houses --- Christie's and Bonham's --- have been willing to offer material from sales that are known to have contained material supplied by Medici and his associates. Why did their due diligence processes fail to identify the potential problem with this particular "provenance"? Auction-houses need to be very wary of antiquities that first appeared at Sotheby's in London during the 1980s and 1990s.


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Antiquities returned to Italy

Two antiquities that had been due to be auctioned in New York in June this year have been handed over to Italian officials ("Looted artifacts being returned to Italy from NYC", AP December 2009). One was a fragment of Roman wall-painting that had been found at Boscoreale (see earlier comments). Five other fragments from the same series have also been recovered from other locations. The other piece is a Corinthian krater that was recovered from Christie's (see earlier comments). It had apparently been handled by Giacomo Medici and sold at Sotheby's in 1985.

Other items that apparently passed through Christie's this summer have also been seized (see earlier comments).

Why is such material passing through a major auction-house?


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Monday, November 30, 2009

Operation Tartuffo: has the ACCG detected a conspiracy?

Earlier this year it was suggested that I was "acting as an undisclosed agent of influence for some nationalistic, repatriation seeking foreign government, like that of Greece". Indeed it was even stated, without any hint of evidence, that I was paying "a rate of $400 per 400 words for [my] frequent PR Newswire releases".

Now it seems that my posting on the outcome of the ACCG, PNG and IAPN FOIA case against the US State Department has led to further comments by Peter Tompa.
  • "That does beg the question, however, how Prof. Gill became aware of the decision so quickly"
  • "How did David Gill learn about this decision so quickly ... ?"

Nathan Elkins has made the interesting observation:
It would appear that the ACCG had intended to keep the decision quiet until determining how to react since no comment came from them until immediately after Gill publicized the ruling.
Subsequent to Elkins' post there has been an extended exchange between Elkins and Tompa. Elkins made the point:
Why don't you ask David how he found out? The decision was posted by the court publicly and freely online. Why is there an implication of conspiracy? Why do you seem miffed he found out about it if, as you say, it is wrong to read anything into the fact that the lobby did not publicize anything about the ruling until after Gill's post? After all, the ACCG is usually on the ball with press releases on things like this.
Tompa has not yet asked me directly how I found out.

Imagine the scenario. There is a conspiracy of counter-briefings, press releases paid for by foreign governments, and the sharing of intelligence on the antiquities market. Dossiers of information are perhaps even being handed over to British academics in the Piazza Navona in Rome.

Or the explanation could be just a little more mundane. Back in April I suggested that the outcome of the FOIA case could be known "in time for Thanksgiving" (a projection based on a statement by Tompa). So as Thanksgiving was approaching I pasted "Civil Case No. 07-2074 RJL" into Google ... and it took me straight to the decision in a pdf format.  The information on the outcome was that public.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Looting Matters wishes to extend a "Happy Thanksgiving" to all its North American readers. (Today's snapshot tells me that 51% of readers in the last 24 hours came from the USA, followed by the UK at 17%.)

Looting Matters has received over 100,000 visitors this year. This excludes those who read the posts through the email distribution service, RSS feeds and other syndicated services, as well as postings on various newsgroups.

So thank you for your continued support and readership.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"This litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs": The ACCG responds to FOIA decision

Yesterday I drew attention to the decision over the FOIA case brought by the ACCG, the IAPN, and the PNG. A short statement subsequently appeared on the ACCG website, "Ruling in FOIA case condones DOS intransigence". Judge Richard Leon is described as holding "pro-government views".

Although the decision went against the plaintiffs (ACCG, PNG, IAPN), the ACCG statement proclaims, "Despite the disappointing decision, this litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs."

There is also fighting talk:
The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild still plans to pursue a test case regarding whether those import restrictions were promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious fashion.
This apparently relates to coins from Cyprus and China brought into the US through Baltimore (see the helpful discussion by Paul Barford).

This FOIA case was so critical to two of the plaintiffs that they have yet to comment on the outcome (PNG, IAPN).

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The ACCG, IAPN and PNG FOIA Case: Opinion Delivered

The long-running FOIA related case (Civil Case No. 07-2074 RJL) brought against the US Department of State (Defendant) by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) (Plaintiffs) appears to be drawing to a conclusion. On Friday last week (November 20, 2009) Judge Richard J. Leon delivered his opinion [download here].
... the State Department has established that it conducted a reasonable search, that it properly withheld the disputed information under FOIA exemptions, and that it complied with its obligation to segregate the exempted material from non-exempted material. The Court will therefore GRANT the Government's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENY the plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.
I notice that one of the FOIA requests included: "Count IV: documents evidencing the potential inclusion of coins on the list of items subject to import restrictions with Italy".

This means that only one week before this conclusion, the representative of the IAPN and the PNG was presenting the issue of coins to CPAC as part of the review of the MOU with Italy. The ACCG also issued a press release in the wake of the CPAC meeting attacking the AIA. Indeed only today, in spite of knowing the decision of of Judge Leon, Wayne Sayles ("Symbiosis Lost and Nuance in New York", Coinlink November 24, 2009) of the ACCG could write:
The die is cast, I fear, and the present struggle will continue until archaeology has established its dominance or private collecting its independence. I would predict that neither will happen soon nor without considerable animosity and a terrible loss of opportunity.
Sayles' position is hardly in keeping with the outcome of the FOIA request.

I suspect that the plaintiffs will be mounting an appeal but it is surprising that they have been unusually quiet on the decision.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Committee, The Institute, The Guild and the Debate Over Coins

The ACCG issued a press release in the wake of the CPAC review of Article II of the MOU with Italy ([Wayne Sayles], "Archaeologists Plead for Import Restrictions on Common Coins", The Xpress Press News Service November 18, 2009). The review was an opportunity for CPAC to acknowledge all that Italy has done to combat the problem of looting (see my overview issued through PR Newswire). Sebastian Heath, speaking for the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), seems to have caused concern when he is reported to have mentioned a particular type of archaeological evidence: ancient coins.

The ACCG ("a collector advocacy group") sees Heath's comments as "a wakeup call for thousands of private collectors, museums and independent scholars". The AIA position is described as "controversial, even among archaeologists, with some AIA activists suggesting that preventing trade would end site looting".

Is it "controversial" for archaeologists to be concerned when sites---a finite resource---are destroyed or "dug over" in order to provide material for the market? Is it "controversial" to expect our policy-makers to adopt an ethical approach over recently-surfaced archaeological material? Is it "controversial" to seek the end of looting?

The ACCG press release also attacks the AIA publication policy. The AIA's position can be found in N.J. Norman, "Editorial Policy on the Publication of Recently Acquired Antiquities," AJA 109 (2005), 135-36 [here]. The policy is summarised as follows:
The point is to remind us all of how much information and value is lost when an object is illegally removed from its archaeological context.
In other words, one of the central concerns relates to the intellectual consequences of looting, an issue long argued by Christopher Chippindale and myself.

The ACCG needs to work with archaeologists to preserve the archaeological record. Its present position seems to suggest that collecting is more important than the preservation of our cosmopolitan past.

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Iraq: "Now that would be a crime"

Melik Kaylan has written a provocative piece on looting in Iraq ("Babylon revisited", Forbes.com November 20, 2009). Here are his closing remarks:
The archeo-academic community, along with the media, have served us abominably in bringing so little context and balance to a highly sensitive issue. It's time they undertook a long overdue self-examination of their performance.
This has attracted a series of comments from a number of scholars, a Washington lobbyist and others:
  • Larry Rothfield: "It certainly is inconvenient that Col. Bogdanos disagrees with Kaylan, since as a genuine war hero he cannot be tarred as anti-military or anti-American. Shamefully, Kaylan chooses to smear him as self-serving (ignoring that the proceeds of his book, for which he was awarded, I believe, the National Humanities Medal by Pres. Bush, go to charity), and belittle his investigation (he's only a NYC prosecutor when not in the military, after all)."
  • John Robertson: "Kaylan is turning on all of the experts, relying entirely on the report of one very non-expert, and likely biased, source. "
  • Neil Brodie: "From what I can make out, this same Heider Farhan is the sole source of the claim that the National Museum was looted in the 1990s. But there is no verification and no corroboration. Before you award it the status of "fact", as you do, shouldn't you investigate further? Locating the documents that were in the possession of Farhan would be a start. Why weren't they handed over to Bogdanos?
    Finally, I don't understand why journalists expect archeo-academics to know all about looting and illegal trade. Shouldn't they be asking the collectors and dealers?"
Contrast this with Peter Tompa, the legal officer for the Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI) and lobbyist for trade associations:
There needs to be a full accounting of the archaeological community's collaboration with Saddam Hussein's regime before the war ...
Neil Brodie has responded:
If people are to be called to account, it should be the collectors and their associates who acquired and studied stolen material that had passed through the hands of Saddam's cousin Arshad Yassin, as documented by Sandler. Now that would be a crime.
For Marrero's A Quiet Reality that is mentioned in the discussions see here.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market"

Lucian Harris has written about the gold vessel that appeared to have been looted from Iraq ("German court orders return of ancient vessel to Iraq", The Art Newspaper November 18, 2009) [see earlier comments]. Harris reports: "The decision of the Finanzgericht or financial court in Munich on 25 September was reached on the basis of a second expert opinion which concurred that the vessel was of Iraqi origin and it was ordered that it should be handed over to Iraqi authorities."

The report quotes Alaa Al-Hashimy from an October 2009 interview:
Unfortunately, we have information that make it clear that Germany has become a hub for the illegal international art market and the authorities have not yet done enough to prevent it.
A 2007 interview with Dr Michael Müller-Karpe, a German museum curator, had described Germany as a laundry for antiquities.

Müller-Karpe now adds the telling comment:
In Germany you are punished if you buy a stolen car radio, but if you buy a stolen cylinder seal, or clay tablet, you are not.
The gold vessel is reported to have surfaced with Münzenhandlung Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger of Munich, Germany. This gallery is a member of the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN). As I have stated before, the IAPN "is one of three bodies involved in a legal suit against the US Department of State over the import of antiquities to the USA". It is also interesting that the IAPN, a "numismatic trade body", was represented at this month's review of the US MOU with Italy. One assumes that the IAPN is not in favour of import restrictions on archaeological material.

Has the time come for German authorities to take the issue of looted antiquities more seriously? Dr Müller-Karpe deserves praise for his brave stand over this part of Iraq's (and indeed our) cultural heritage.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Head from the Keros Haul at Auction

The head of a marble Cycladic figure is due to be auctioned at Christie's New York, Rockefeller Plaza on 11 December 2009, lot 78 [entry]. The estimate is $20,000-$30,000. The head is attributed to "the Goulandris sculptor". The head had passed through the hands of Charles Ede (2005), and is sold as "property from the collection of Mr. &  Mrs. Charles W. Newhall, III".

The head surfaced in the 1977 Karlsruhe exhibition, Art and Culture of the Cyclades, Karlsruhe, 1977, no. 172. It then resided in the Kurt Flimm collection; there was no known find-spot ("provenance unknown").

However Pat Getz-Preziosi (Sculptors of the Cyclades, Individual and Tradition in the Third Millennium B.C., Ann Arbor, 1987, 160, no. 34) subsequently placed the head in the so-called "Keros Hoard" (or to be more accurate the Keros Haul) [earlier comments of this misnomer with on-line links]. This information was repeated in P. Getz-Gentle, Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture, Madison, 2001, 163, no. 34.

The head also appears in Peggy Sotirakopoulou, The "Keros Hoard": Myth or Reality? Searching for the Lost Pieces of a Puzzle, Athens: N.P. Goulandris Foundation - Museum of Cycladic Art, 2005, 214-15, no. 210.

Why does the Christie's entry fail to mention Getz-Preziosi's / Getz-Gentle's attribution to the Keros Haul? Why was there no mention of Sotirakopoulou's study in the catalogue entry?


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The CPAC review of the MOU with Italy

On Friday last week the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met to review Article II of the MOU with Italy. This agreement relates to "the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy". The background to the MOU, which dates back to 2001, was the perceived problem of archaeological sites being pillaged to provide material for the antiquities market. The import restrictions were intended, in part, to check that archaeological material that was brought into North America had not surfaced recently (i.e. after the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property).

Police raids in the Geneva Freeport had drawn attention to the organised looting and redistribution of the antiquities from Italy (and elsewhere) . The evidence gathered from the raids led to the "Medici Conspiracy". One major auction-house effectively closed down its London antiquities department, and several high-profile North American museums have handed more than 100 antiquities back to Italy. One of the highlights was the Sarpedon krater from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. These pieces have been joined by objects from a prominent New York collector.

Different groups gave presentations to CPAC. Museum Directors from the AAMD emphasised the need for more loans from Italy. Some loans have already been made. At the same time the Italian authorities have been generous in making loans to museums that appear to have minimal regard for ethics when making acquisitions. Back in the 1980s Maxwell Anderson understood the ethical issues and created EUMILOP that hosted a series of imaginative exhibitions of archaeological material from Italy.

At least two board members from the newly established Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI) gave presentations. Its director, William Pearlstein, was concerned that Italy was identifying material pictured in the Geneva archive when it was being offered at auction in New York. Peter Tompa, the legal officer for the CPRI, also spoke on behalf of two numismatic trade bodies, the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG). Tompa asserted that "Italy has done a poor job taking care of the coins at state institutions and archaeological sites". It seems that the challenge to the MOU is in order to free up the trade in archaeological material between Italy and North America.

Representatives of the Archaeological Institute of America (Sebastian Heath) and the University of Pennsylvania (Richard Leventhal) are reported to have indicated that the MOU should extend its definition of archaeological material to include ancient coins. Stefano De Caro, of the Italian Ministry of Culture, appears to have suggested that Italy favours a revised MOU that will include coins as part of the agreement.

The MOU appears to be working to preserve the archaeological heritage of Italy - and indeed the rest of us -  but needs to be revised in the light of the concerns of the Italian authorities.



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"Cuno risks coming across as a bad loser"

Tom Flynn has written an account of Tuesday's lacklustre "debate" with James Cuno at the LSE.  Flynn writes:
At root, however, [Cuno's] mission is to shore up the concept of the encyclopedic museum — a fortress whose boundaries are everywhere under challenge. Once again he reiterated the patently absurd notion that encyclopedic museums should be established everywhere.

Maurice Davies raised the issue of the loan of archaeological material to North American museums in the wake of the return of key pieces such as the Sarpedon krater. After last week's presentation by AAMD representatives to CPAC's review of the MOU Italy it is hardly surprising that Cuno dismissed Italy's generous offers in this area.
Cuno dismissed this as negligible and insisted that relations between the two nations were still not that good. Unlike Montebello, who saw the benefits that issued from the affair, Cuno risks coming across as a bad loser.
Cuno needs to revise his position in the light of the returns to Italy. Why were AAMD member institutions acquiring recently-surfaced material? Why did they ignore ethical concerns? Have they adopted ethical acquisition policies?



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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Identifications and the Medici Dossier

The Italian authorities have a major task on their hands: the identification of more than 10,000 antiquities that feature in the so-called Medici Dossier. And there will be another 10,000 or so from the seizures in Basel. (And we should not forget the Symes photographic dossier in the hands of the Greek authorities.)

We know that the Italians have acted generously with several North American museums. The list of objects returned to Italy is much smaller than the list of disputed pieces that feature in the photographic archives. But would it be worth the legal tussle and the bad publicity arising from a court case if museums disputed the cases?

But now North American lawyers are complaining (or at least are reported to have been complaining) that the Italian authorities are identifying recently-surfaced material that turns up at New York auction-houses. No doubt cultural property lawyers will be cross that material is being seized rather than being dragged through the courts.

The Italians hold a substantial dossier. Auction-houses have a choice. They can either handle material that has surfaced subsequent to 1970 (and face possible consequences and bad publicity if the pieces turn out to feature in the dossier) or they can take a more ethical approach.

Wise lawyers dealing with cultural property cases will no doubt be offering their clients some sensible advice.


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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Portable Antiquities Scheme cited in Washington

It looks as if the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme was frequently cited at last week's review of Article II of the MOU with Italy.

Peter Tompa, the spokesperson for the numismatic trade bodies the IAPN and the PNG, "advocated" that CPAC should ask Italy to "adopt" a PAS style scheme.

Wayne Sayles in the ACCG's letter of submission to CPAC wrote:
The argument that every object in or on the ground is part of an archaeological context may seem noble to some, but it is unrealistic. Literally millions of objects from the past are found every year. Must we record and control all of them? Of course not, and the British have recognized that rather obvious fact in their equitable Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme for the reporting of finds by the public.
What is unrealistic? The recording of "millions" of objects that are ripped from their archaeological contexts? Or is it "unrealistic" for the collecting lobby --- and remember that some speaking at the CPAC review were representing numismatic trade bodies --- to acknowledge or to accept that they contribute to the destruction of archaeological sites by their pursuit of objects?

The Scheme is elaborated by Sayles:
In 2007, the ACCG (through the kind assistance of Representative John Culberson of Texas) hosted a presentation at the U.S. Capitol by the British Museum’s head of the Department of Treasure and Portable Antiquities. Dr. Roger Bland addressed a diverse group that included two members of CPAC, representatives from the U.S. State Department, representatives from foreign embassies, the President of the Archaeological Institute of America and a host of other interested parties—including Mr. Culberson himself. Dr. Bland’s PowerPoint presentation, “Recording and Preserving the Past: Ten Years of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales”, is available online. In 2008, the ACCG and the Field Museum co-hosted Dr. Bland’s presentation “A British Approach to Antiquities and Buried Treasure” at the museum in Chicago. The well-documented benefits of this program in Britain could just as easily have been accrued by the people of Italy through the implementation of a similar program. The most notable benefit of the British system is that it encourages and rewards cooperation between amateurs and professionals.
I wonder if the staff of the Portable Antiquities Scheme share this view. Only this month Dr Pete Wilson of English Heritage has spoken about the destruction of archaeological contexts in England.

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Is the "Bulldog" on the Minneapolis case?

In an in-depth interview in the UK's Sunday Telegraph, Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian state prosecutor, spoke about future action ("Maurizio Fiorilli: scourge of the tomb raiders", Sunday Telegraph August 10, 2008) [previous discussion].

Alastair Smart wrote:
Britain also has far less of a tradition of voracious collectors such as the Fleischmans passing on their purchases to its museums. All of which explains why Fiorilli's major battles so far have been transatlantic. And although he stresses that his investigations 'are now turning to Europe and Japan', he's far from finished in America, where the Cleveland Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Arts and a host of private collectors are on his hit-list ...
At last week's CPAC review of the Article II of the MOU with Italy one of the speakers was Kaywin Feldman of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I wonder if she has resolved the issue of the Symes krater.

Here is an earlier comment from me:
In its collection is an Attic red-figured volute-krater attributed to the Methyse painter. It was purchased in 1983 from Robin Symes. It has been reported, "A Greek vase owned by the Minneapolis museum appears to match a photo of a vase that Italians say was looted" ("Italy claims Minneapolis museum holds looted vase", Star Tribune, November 9, 2005). Apparently the krater features in the dossier of Giacomo Medici's Polaroids seized in the Geneva Freeport. In 2006 it was said that the MIA was researching the krater: "The MIA is researching the vase, and has not been contacted by Italian authorities ..." (Steve Karnowski, "To protect the treasures, museums find detective work pays", AP, June 14, 2006) Is there documented evidence to show that the krater was known prior to 1970? Will the MIA release its findings?
Will Feldman release the full collecting history ("provenance") for this krater? What are the results of the 2006 research into the piece? And if the krater does indeed feature in the Medici dossier will she be handing it over to the Italian authorities in the spirit of the MOU with Italy?

Pots attributed to the Methyse painter are interesting. They include:
  • an oinochoe from a Swiss private collection first recorded in 1976
  • a bell-krater that surfaced in a London Sotheby's sale in  July 1982 
  • a bell-krater that surfaced in Sotheby's New York in November 1989
  • a bell-krater in a New York private collection (attributed by Robert Guy)
  • bell-krater fragments on the Basel market
  • a hydria that surfaced on the Swiss market
Those with recorded find-spots include:
  • two loutrophoros fragments from the Athenian acropolis
  • a bell-krater fragment from the Athenian acropolis
  • a bell-krater from Argos
  • a fragment from Argos
  • a fragment said to be from Boeotia
  • a bell-krater fragment from Camarina
  • a calyx-krater from Vulci
  • a stamnos from Vulci
  • a stamnos said to be from Vulci
  • a dinos fragment from Spina
  • a bell-krater said to be from Numana
  • a chous from Kerch
What is the collecting history of the piece in Minneapolis? Where was it found?


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Monday, November 16, 2009

Battle of Ideas: James Cuno speaks

James Cuno will be speaking at tomorrow evening's debate on "Who Owns Culture?" at the LSE (London School of Economics). The other speakers are:
  • Maurice Davies of the Museums Association
  • Tatiana Flessas of the LSE
Tiffany Jenkins will be chairing the debate.

It would be worth asking the question why the returns of antiquities to Italy (and Greece) have included so many high profile members of the AAMD, i.e. Cleveland Museum of Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Any why have museums in the UK been relatively untouched by the same issues? Is it because UK museums (through the Museums Association) have stuck to ethical acquisition policies? Is it because wealthy benefactors have influenced decisions in the US?

My own thoughts on Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? can be found here (from the AJA website). I suggested:
What [Cuno] has failed to notice is that the “battle” over the issues finished some time ago; he needs to engage with the creation of a new cultural landscape where museums and collectors value the information that can be derived from scientifically excavated objects.
I hope that Cuno reflects on the debate before he speaks tomorrow.

But I suspect he is unmoved. I have just reviewed his edited volume, Whose Culture?, and here is a flavour:
The failure of this volume to engage with the contemporary debate, and indeed to silence the voices of those who do not hold the editor’s position, hardly demonstrates, as Cuno would like, ‘that our public museums build their antiquities collections responsibly and for the public’s benefit’.
I hope that the panelists and audience will ask them some searching questions.

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