Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spotlight on Amsterdam

After the series of returns to Italy the spotlight is now turned on European collections. Theo Toebosch has considered the series of acquisitions made since 1970 by the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam ('Twijfel over collectie van Allard Pierson', NRC Handelsblad April 3, 2009, p. 8). His opening statement is provocative:
In de collectie van het Allard Pierson Museum zitten zeker vijftien objecten die zeer waarschijnlijk afkomstig zijn uit de illegale handel in oudheden.
What are these 15 objects? A list of the disputed pieces is provided in a box at the end of the article. They include Greek pottery (including two Siana cups), Sicilian terracottas, as well as a terracotta antefix and associated mould. There are some familiar names, dealers and auction-houses: Elie Borowski, Palladion, Robin Symes, and Sotheby's (London) [July 1985]. It would be helpful if the museum could provide complete histories for all the items.

One of the most interesting pieces identified by Toebosch is what appears to be a dismembered Roman mosaic with fragments in at least two other European museums (two are mentioned). The Amsterdam piece was apparently purchased a gallery in Freiburg in 1978. Its style points towards a Syrian origin. Do all the pieces share a common (recent) source?

The usual statements are made. Outgoing director Robert Lunsingh Scheurleer is quoted as saying that the pieces had been purchased in good faith ("de voorwerpen in goed vertrouwen heeft gekocht").

The article coincides with a 75th anniversary exhibition. It is perhaps time to review the acquisition policy of the museum.

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