Monday, September 17, 2012

The Cleveland Drusus without a "slam-dunk paper trail"

Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
Newsweek has reviewed the recent criticisms of Cleveland Museum of Art's acquisition of the apparently recently-surfaced portrait of Drusus ("Who Owns Antiquity?; Two U.S. museums wrestle with the provenance question", September 17, 2012). The acquisition is defended by the director, David Franklin, who accepts that "the 2,000-year-old marble head didn't come with a slam-dunk paper trail proving that it could not have been illegally unearthed since the time of the UNESCO convention".

Newsweek should have explored the sale in Paris. How reliable is the reported collecting history that attempts to place the Drusus in Algeria?
Franklin felt this oral history gave him enough to run with: "We did as much if not more than anyone could have done to research this object ... If all the arrows are pointing in one direction, you can make a reasoned assumption," he says. The inevitable risks that this assumption might turn out wrong are balanced, he feels, by the open access that scholars and visitors now have to this wonderful work of art.
Cleveland is clearly now admitting that there is no verifiable and authenticated documentation for the head.

Franklin makes his appeal to James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? Perhaps he needed to read some of the reviews to understand the weakness of his position. I would draw Franklin's attention to the perceptive comments made by Dr Roger Bland of the British Museum.

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