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Showing posts from April, 2011

Polaroids and unresolved issues

Over the last five years some 130 antiquities have been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections. We know that more than 130 antiquities were identified in those museums and private collections that co-operated with Italian authorities. In addition, several objects have been identified at auction houses and galleries in New York and London.

However there are still unresolved cases. One of the most pressing is the krater in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), in Europe Copenhagen and the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid have yet to sort out the claims against some of its objects, and the Miho Museum in Japan has been placed under pressure.

Over the next few months another European museum (or rather the private collectors behind it) will be shown to have acquired material that has been identified from the Polaroid archives.

LM will keep you informed of these developments.

Due Diligence and Auction Houses: the Italian Dimension

Over the last few years there have been several instances from both sides of the Atlantic when auction houses and dealers have offered antiquities for sale that have been identified from images seized in police raids in Switzerland and Greece. The auction houses will no doubt claim, and indeed have claimed, that they have conducted an appropriate due diligence search. Yet it is clear that the procedures followed by the auction houses lack appropriate rigour. They rely on searching databases that will indicate objects stolen from recent collections but not items removed illicitly in recent years from archaeological contexts.

So how can auction houses and dealers avoid offering objects that have surfaced in recent years? Here are three suggestions:
a. Check and authenticate collecting histories (so-called "provenance"). Collecting histories can be fabricated so the paper trail needs to be researched with care.
b. Can the collecting history be traced back to the period prior to…

A view from Princeton: "render unto Egypt what is Egypt’s"

There has been an interesting debate about cultural property in the Daily Princetonian. This is particularly significant given the return of antiquities from the Princeton University Art Museum to Italy as well as the apparent Italian investigation into acquisitions derived from Edoardo Almagià.

Aaron Applbaum started the debate with a review of historic acquisitions ("Keep the artifacts as they are", April 12, 2001). The focus is on monuments such as the Parthenon marbles, although there is mention of more recent claims on Egyptian material in European collections. Applbaum resorts to the argument of precedent.
Essentially, returning these artifacts would be doubly detrimental: it would set a precedent that could lead to the liquidation of the collections of museums, and, by decentralizing these important artifacts, would leave the world culturally poorer. Returning artifacts would place them in geographical and cultural ghettos, whereby Greek sculptures could only be viewed…

Italian antiquities seized at Swiss border

Earlier this month antiquities were seized by the Carabinieri at the border between Italy and Switzerland (report, Il Mattino April 7, 2011). Apparently the objects, dating to the fourth century BC had been hidden in the boot of a car. The driver was Swiss-Italian, aged 43 years. His family came from Serino in Italy, just to the east of Naples. Paperwork was also seized.

The objects are listed:

5 clay amphorae with geometric patterns and figure-decorated scenes a clay container with geometric patterns a black-glossed clay juga clay egg-shaped objecta fishplate decorated with fish and shellfish3 pairs of gold and silver ear-ringsThe pieces appear to have been found in the region of Avellino and Salerno in southern Italy.
The house belonging to the man's father was searched and a number of Roman coins were recovered as well as a Spanish-made pistol. 

The Staffordshire Hoard Symposium

Papers from the Staffordshire Hoard Symposium (March 2010) are now available from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) website.
A Symposium was held at the British Museum in March 2010. Twenty seven papers were delivered and there was much useful discussion. Summaries of many of the papers, together with some of the discussion and subsequent thoughts, will be added to this page over the next few months. In some cases, the embedded images have been processed to allow for a zooming image interface.

TEFAF Maastricht 2011: reflecting on sales

Dr Jerome Eisenberg has been talking about the sale of antiquities at TEFAF Maastricht 2011  ("Big-money still being spent on works of art despite world's traumas", The National March 24, 2011).
At Royal-Athena Galleries, the American antiquities dealer Jerome Eisenberg said business was good. Clients were buying Greek and Etruscan vases from the collection of Patricia Kluge (widow of the movie mogul John Kluge), he noted. "Right now a lot more interest is in the investment benefit because of the phenomenal prices in the auctions last year," he said. He said that new clients included a museum of ancient art in Mougins, France, and a private collector in an undisclosed Gulf state who bought €2.8m worth of vases in January. Interest was also high in Egyptian objects, said Eisenberg, pointing to a relief of Arsinoe II from the Ptolemaic period that he sold the first night of the fair for €52,600.The Kluge collection was discussed by Fabio Isman in the Italian press…

The Lewis Chessmen

BBC Radio Scotland has broadcast an interview about the Lewis Chessmen. A local councillor, Norman A. MacDonald, from the island's Uig ward argues that some should remain on permanent display at Stornoway. He makes the point that Lewis was the final (archaeological) context. Interestingly the interviewer uses the "universal museum" point that more people would see the chessmen in London and Edinburgh ("given their importance").

The Zahi Look

One of feeds delivered to my reader is from the ever entertaining (and informative) Archaeopop written by Daniel Shoup of the University of Bologna. The latest entry is on the Zahi Hawass range of clothing.

I am sure LM readers will be interested.

Raising an Eyebrow over an Apulian Fishplate

I was very interested in the images of an Apulian fishplate in the files of a Swiss-based dealer. The fishplate is shown before and after restoration. There is clearly damage on the face of the striped perch, on the body of the bream, and next to one of the scollops. There are small details to notice like the comma-shaped patch in the central recess for the fish sauce.

The fishplate was apparently restored soon after March 14, 1998 (and apparently before February 10, 1999).

It is remarkable that this fishplate appears to be the same one, attributed to the Eyebrow painter, that was sold at Christie's for £3750 earlier this week (April 14, 2011, lot 242). The Christie's fishplate has a declared collecting history:
With Eduard Burkhard, Basle, 1976.
Walsch Collection, Germany.I presume that Eduard Burkhard is the same as Eduard Burkhardt Antiken of Basle.

And this raises a question. Who consigned the fishplate for restoration?

Did Eduard Burkhardt Antiken send it for repair 22 y…

A Corinthian olpe from a (recent) Swiss "collection"

In March I commented on a story from the Wall Street Journal. The interview included quotes from Max Bernheimer of Christie's.
"Buying through an auction house, where due diligence is incredibly thorough and everything is openly published in the catalogue, limits the possibilities over ownership and repatriation issues later on." Yesterday Christie's held a sale of antiquities in London.

What was the collecting history for the Corinthian olpe (lot 197), that sold for £32,450 (est. £20,000-£30,000)? It is said to have been "Acquired on the Swiss art market in 1996". Were senior figures at Christie's aware of any indication of its previous "owner"? Had they checked with the Italian authorities as part of their due diligence process? If the answer is "no", does this undermine Bernheimer's claim that Christie's "due diligence is incredibly thorough"?


Auction results: Christie's in London

I note that the results of the sale of Antiquities at Christie's South Kensington have now appeared (April 14, 2011). A total of £5,245,175 was achieved.

This is one of the highest achieving sales of antiquities for Christie's in London in recent years.

Lewis Chessmen on Stornoway

It is good to see that some of the Lewis Chessmen will be on show in Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway (15 April-12 September 2011). Some of the pieces from Edinburgh and the British Museum will be on display.

This raises several interesting issues. Should the pieces be displayed in the Outer Hebrides where they were found? Or in the British Museum, far removed from their findspot? Or in Edinburgh? 


And do they belong culturally to Scandinavia?



Whatever the issues, it is a momentous decision to see the pieces back in the Hebrides.

Contradictory Collecting Histories

One of the issues surrounding one of the lots due to be auctioned shortly relates to its collecting history. The catalogue entry claims to give a history stretching back over several decades to what appears to be a named Swiss private collector (though apparently a Swiss based dealer). However documentation suggests that the piece in question was only undergoing restoration in the 1990s.

Has a flawed collecting history been supplied? Was it created by the vendor? Who is the vendor?

At least the auction house now knows the truth. But will the sale of the lot proceed?

Collecting histories matter and it is becoming increasingly common for them to be fabricated.

Polaroids and the Market

At the end of March I contacted the local head of the ancient art department of a major international auction house. It appears that two pieces in a forthcoming sale appear to feature in two separate photographic archives seized in Switzerland. This brings into question the collecting history of one of the pieces, and confirms the nature of the 'Swiss private collection' of the other.

As the pieces continue to be on offer we can assume that the auction house has contacted the Italian authorities. Or is that too much to expect?

Uncertainties like this can only serve to undermine the Market.

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Looting Matters Celebrated

Later this morning a Blue Plaque will be unveiled on the north side of Gordon Square, London to mark the venue of a landmark lecture presented through the Heritage Studies Research Group. Blue Plaques are a feature of London's cityscape and they are placed to note important historical and cultural locations in the capital.

Looting Matters is honoured to have been selected for this treatment.