Friday, August 13, 2010

From Crete to Atlanta

The curatorial staff at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia are under renewed pressure. In 2002 the museum acquired a Minoan larnax that is likely to have been used as a sarcophagus on the island of Crete in the Late Bronze Age. The collecting history for the larnax has not been disclosed.

The decoration is very distinctive with a fish painted on the inside of the larnax. Wavy lines decorate the base. These features helped researchers to link the Atlanta larnax with one that features in the documentation (images and receipts) of a Swiss-based antiquities dealer whose warehouse facilities have been raided. Although the identification was made in 2007 and, according to Greek press reports, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture appears to have asked for the return of the larnax and two other pieces, there is, as yet, no movement.

The same Swiss dealer has already been linked to antiquities returned to Italy from North American museums. It also appears that over 4000 objects, filling three trucks, were returned from a Basel warehouse to Italy.

The Michael C. Caros Museum under Maxwell Anderson was well known for its enlightened ethical position on antiquities. The museum still maintains that it "will not knowingly acquire any object which has been illegally exported from its country of origin" (press statement). As a university museum (and AAMD member) it has a responsibility to disclose the full collecting history of the larnax ("full and prompt disclosure") and explain how the larnax features in the Swiss photographic archive.

The Atlanta piece is not the only larnax to have surfaced in North American collections in recent years.

Image
Left: polaroid image from the archive of a Swiss dealer; right, larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

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