Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New York to return further Bothmer cup fragments



Detail of cup attributed to the Euaion painter.
Centre of tondo in Villa Giulia; outer fragments from Bothmer collection.
Identification: Christos Tsirogiannis.
In March 2013 I noted that Christos Tsirogiannis had linked fragments of an Attic red-figured cup from the Bothmer collection to a tondo residing in the Villa Giulia in Rome. Earlier today it was announced that the Metropolitan Museum of Art would be returning the cup fragments to be reunited with the known tondo fragment attributed to the Euaion painter.

The images of the Bothmer fragments were removed from the MMA website in June. This created suspicion that an announcement was likely in the near future.

The announcement indicates that the cup can be linked to central Italy. Will the MMA disclose how Bothmer acquired the fragments? This is particularly important given the previous return of Bothmer fragments to Italy in early 2012. Are there other fragments that can be linked to objects that have been returned to Italy?

The return shows the value of the AAMD object register that made the identification possible. When will the MMA publish images of the rest of the Bothmer collection?

Apart from Christos Tsirogiannis, it is important to acknowledge the work by Daniella Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini who have been behind the return of so many key archaeological objects to Italy.


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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The looting of FYROM

I was thinking about the looting of FYROM today. I was wondering if the present New York proprietor of the archaic bronze Koreschnica krater had been in touch with the FYROM authorities. (Perhaps the present owner could offer to have it conserved and displayed back in FYROM.) And then there is a silver plaque, apparently from the same burial, and acquired by a major North American university museum.

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Fakes in China

The Guardian is reporting that the Jibaozhai Museum in China has a staggering  40000 fakes in its collection. indeed it's entire collection may be modern creations. This again is a reminder of the importance of obtaining objects with securely and documented collecting histories that preferably come from known archaeological contexts.

More interesting is the question about who created the forgeries? How were they acquired? Who authenticated them? who decided that they were worthy of display?

And has the Forger created material for other public and private collections?



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Monday, July 8, 2013

Etruscan antiquities seized

Source: MiBAC
I have noted the seizure of a series of Etruscan funerary urns that appear to have been removed from a family burial near Perugia.

Elisabetta Povoledo has now carried the story in The New York Times ("Tale of Glorious Art and Not So Glorious Thieves", July 5, 2013). It includes a statement that the Italian Ministry of Culture will be strengthening its cultural property legislation.

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Christie's and recently surfaced antiquities

Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis has written on antiquities identified at Christie's during 2012 ("Something is confidential in the state of Christie's", Journal of Art Crime [Spring 2013] 3-20). They include items spotted in the Medici Dossier as well as the Symes Archive. At least one object passed through the Summa Galleries.

The article makes uncomfortable reading for the members of the Christie's Ancient Art team in both New York and London. It suggests that their due diligence process is not identifying controversial material.

Will this research by Tsirogiannis encourage Christie's to tighten up their processes?

This appears to be the first in a series of articles by Tsirogiannis.

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Looted Suffolk and Digital Heritage

Dig Venturers gather for DVIP lecture
at Leiston Abbey © David Gill
On Thursday evening I was invited to be the DVIP at the Dig Venturers Excavation at Leiston Abbey. It was a glorious summer evening and we were able to sit outside the barn. My starting point was the looting of the Icklingham bronzes and I showed that one of the pieces features on the back cover of the standard work on Roman Suffolk. I took along the Harvard exhibition catalogue with one of the heads. This volume provides information about the "provenance" and its link to Suffolk. I also showed the Shelby White / Leon Levy Metropolitan Museum of Art catalogue and explained how some of this material has been returned to Greece and Italy (and, indeed, to Turkey) as a result of photographic recognitions.

Will Shelby White be returning this significant finds to Suffolk for display in the Ipswich Museum?

The discussion branched into the encyclopedic museum (including the nature of "the British Museum"), excavations in war-time (including Gallipoli [of interest to one of the Australian Dig Venturers]), where the Sutton Hoo finds should be displayed, and digital heritage. We explored how we could use Web 2.0 technologies to crowd-source the interpretation of a site.

So, thank you, Dig Venturers, for a wonderful evening.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Paolo Ferri: an asset for Italy

Anybody who follows the cultural property debate will know that former Italian prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri has played an invaluable part in doggedly pursuing "recently surfaced" antiquities so that they can be returned to Italy. He has called on major auction houses to withdraw lots after the items had been identified in the photographic dossiers. He also played a part in the case brought against Marion True, as well as the return of antiquities from a significant New York private collection.

He has continued to work with the Italian Ministry of Culture advising on recent claims.

It now appears that the Ministry has indicated that it wishes to part company with Ferri. Yet this is in spite of the growing number of identifications that have been made from the photographic archives (and which have yet to be claimed). The Italian authorities would be sensible to continue to use Ferri's formidable qualities to reclaim significant cultural property that has been removed from Italian territory (and from archaeological sites in Italy).

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Context Matters: Dallas Takes the Initiative

Apulian krater
formerly in the Dallas Museum of Art
Source: DMA
My latest essay on 'Context Matters' has appeared in the spring 2013 number of the Journal of Art Crime. The main theme is the initiative by the Dallas Museum of Art (and its director Maxwell Anderson) to return various antiquities to Italy as well as a mosaic to Turkey. This emerges from an investigation into the antiquities handled by Edoardo Almagià.

Can we expect other museum directors to follow Anderson's lead?

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts: marble statue identified

Cambridge University researcher Christos Tsirogiannis has made a further identification ("A marble statue of a boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts", Journal of Art Crime [Spring 2013] 55-60). The statue can be identified in a transaction between Mario Bruno and Gianfanco Becchina in August 1987.  It was then on offer through Galerie Nefer (owned by Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos) in 1989 and acquired by Virginia at that point. The curator in charge at this point was Dr Margaret Ellen Mayo (formerly linked to Summa Galleries in Beverly Hills).

Tsirogiannis' research demonstrates that Tchachos appears to have provided the statue with a created collecting history that linked it to Dr Arthur von Arx and Alfred Obrecht. The polaroid photographs also suggest that the statue was still in a broken and muddied state long after the time that Tchachos had been suggesting that the object was known.

Under the AAMD Guidelines this new evidence should compel the curatorial team in Virginia to contact the Italian authorities.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Excavated archaeological material and exhibition loans

The Motya Charioteer displayed in the Duveen Gallery,
British Museum
© David Gill
The Sicily exhibition moving from the J. Paul Getty Museum to the Cleveland Museum of Art reminds us of some of the issues relating to recently surfaced material. The display includes excavated material such as the charioteer found on the island of Motya (Mozia), western Sicily. Such finds, with known contexts and find-spots, help us to the reconstruct the cultural history of the island. Yet their display alongside recently-surfaced material which lack known find-spots (and usually collecting histories) gives endorsement to the unrestrained acquisition of antiquities that has led to the scandal of the so-called 'Medici Conspiracy'. What were the find-spots and the archaeological contexts of the material on loan from the Getty? In the case of the terracotta Hades we do not need to guess.

North American museums are encouraging the loan of archaeological material from Italian and Sicilian collections in return for co-operation in handing back material identified from Polaroids. But should such material be displayed alongside objects that have a less than clear history? What efforts have been made to provide full collecting histories? Would the Getty-Cleveland exhibition have been stronger if it had been formed with material solely from Italian and Sicilian collections?

On a related note, it is perhaps ironic that the Motya charioteer was displayed at the British Museum alongside the sculptures from the Parthenon.

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Cleveland and Sicily

Exhibition at Cleveland Museum of Art
In April this year LM pointed out that the image being used for the upcoming Sicily exhibition had been donated to the Getty by an individual linked to antiquities that had been returned to Italy. Where did Dr Max Gerchik acquired this head?

Other finds in the show include the ex-Steinhardt gold phiale, as well as the Morgantina silver, and the head of Hades that had been handled by Robin Symes.

It now appears that the authorities in Sicily are unhappy about the exhibition and concerns have been raised (and reported in the New York Times, Hugh Eakin, "Sicilian Protest Imperils Exhibition", June 21, 2013). It has been suggested that the stunning charioteer from Motya as well as the gold phiale should be withdrawn from the show.

This controversy is a reminder that North American museums continue to hold onto antiquities that surfaced subsequent to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

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