Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dallas and the Orpheus mosaic

Orpheus mosaic
source: DMA
The decision by the Dallas Museum of Art to return the Orpheus mosaic, purchased at Christie's in 1999 (December 9, 1999, lot 388), raises some important issues. It appears that the mosaic was photographed in situ by those removing it from a site near Urfa in Turkey. This recalls an ancient art consultant telling me, c. 1990, of mosaics from exactly this region being documented exactly in this way prior to being shipped to the US where they could be inspected. The photographs in the case of Orpheus were printed in Sanliurfa (Urfa).

John Healey, who published the inscriptions on the mosaic in 2006, was convinced that the Orpheus mosaic came from the series known from Edessa (Urfa). He noted that the inscription provides a date of April 194 BC.

It should be noted that the frieze of the mosaic was not retained with the mosaic and was presumably detached by the looters. This again reminds us of the deliberate damaging and defacing of ancient art in the cause of supplying new material for the market.

Orpheus mosaic photographed in situ
The decision to return the mosaic as part of a collaborative programme with Turkey is likely to set a precedent for that country's claims on cultural property in North American museums. It will undoubtedly put pressure on the Cleveland Museum of Art and Shelby White to return their bronzes apparently removed from Bubon, as well as holders of Byzantine silver plate.

Reference
Healey, J. F. 2006. "A new Syriac mosaic inscription." Journal of Semitic Studies 51: 313-27 [DOI].

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