Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking back over 2016

Source: Schinousa Archive
This has been a year when more of my focus has been on the economic impact of heritage including an analysis of the economic contribution of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Greece. Last year I anticipated further developments around Syria and Northern Iraq, as well as on-going pillaging of archaeological sites in England and Wales. I also suspected that Madrid and the Michael C. Carlos Museum would not be handing over their disputed objects in a hurry (and so they can continue to receive a mention here).

However, some of the themes that have emerged.

Westminster
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Cultural Property has been meeting in Westminster. One of themes was damage to the archaeological record in the UK. Part of its business has been to prepare the legislation in order to ratify the Hague Convention. The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill started its way through Parliament and some of the debate was instructive. Some of the honing of the wording is underway. Lord Ashton discussed the Bill at the Heritage Alliance Day.

Returns to Italy
The head of Hades was returned to Italy from the J. Paul Getty Museum in January reminding us that disputed cultural property continues to reside in major museum collections. Material from a warehouse associated with Robin Symes has been returned consisting of 45 cases. This includes material linked to Giacomo Medici. Some 350 items have now been returned to Italy from North American public and private collections. Some of the material returned to Italy featured in the catalogue for the Sicily exhibition at the British Museum. The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen agreed to return a large number of objects to Italy.

Syria and Iraq
Channel 4 produced a programme on antiquities from Syria and Iraq. During the preparation for the programme the team identified a recorded lintel from Syria on sale in London.

Returns to Egypt
A relief of Seti I was returned from London, as was a relief from the temple of Hatshepsut. My overview of recent looting in Egypt was made available. Sarah Parcak is conducting important work on remote sensing to detect the extent of looting in Egypt (and elsewhere).

Greece
A network of suppliers was disrupted in Greece.

Parthenon Marbles
2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum.

Metal-detecting in the UK
In January I observed that unauthorised and illegal metal-detecting had been taking place at one of the Roman Saxon Shore forts at Bradwell on Sea in Essex. Yet there is the public presentation of 'treasure hot-spots' without open acknowledgement that damage is being sustained to the archaeological record. An Anglo-Saxon find from Norfolk was declared Treasure.

Coins
Nathan Elkins published important work on coins and the market and specifically the ACCG Test Case. The BM has published a useful book on Hoards.

Due diligence
The conflict in Syria and northern Iraq has re-invigorated the debate about "due diligence" and auction-houses. Some of the commentators have overlooked some of the material appearing in London. I keep suggesting that we need to outline collecting histories for objects and to drop the use of the word "provenance". Two lots were withdrawn from Christie's in New York after concerns had been raised about their associations with Becchina and Medici. Christie's in New York sold a Roman mosaic in spite of concerns being raised about its earlier collecting history. In October the same auction house attempted to auction a sculpture that was identified from the Schinoussa Archive. An Attic amphora due to be auctioned at Christie's in London was identified from photographs taken during a police raid in Greece and subsequently withdrawn. Bonhams in London offered an ex-Chesterman terracotta that had been identified from the Medici Archive and subsequently withdrew it. This raised questions about the Chesterman Collection sold to a major UK university museum. Failure to address the issue undermined the position of dealers and galleries contributing to the discussions at the APPG on Cultural Property. This lack of due diligence also appears to apply to major museums that continue to acquire objects with incomplete collecting histories.

A Munich auction house offered a number of items with questionable collecting histories: some had been identified when they were offered by a gallery in New York.  A New York dealer has been charged in relation to handling material from south-east Asia.

Heritage Crime
Charges have been made over the theft of lead from churches in Norfolk. Dinosaur footprints on Skye were damaged.

Thefts from Museums
There was a theft from the Dunblane Museum.

Trafficking Culture
The Trafficking Culture project in Glasgow ended.

Publication Policy
The SBL published a new policy relating to publication of recently surfaced material.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Sueono's Stone

The panels surrounding Sueno's Stone in Moray, Scotland have been damaged earlier this week (BBC News). The 7m high stone dating from the 10th century is in the care of Historic Scotland (HES).

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dinosaur footprints on Skye damaged



Police are reporting that dinosaur footprints on the beach at Staffin on Skye, Scotland, have been damaged. It appears that someone poured paster into the imprints. Reports suggest that the person involved was in a camper van.

Staffin © David Gill

Further details from the BBC.

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Tiffany Jenkins on Cultural Property

(2016)
I am working my way through Tiffany Jenkins, Keeping their marbles: how the treasures of the past ended up in museums ... and why they should stay there (Oxford: OUP, 2016).

I will refrain from making my comments until I have finished but it is worth pointing out some of the reviews:
  • Mark Fisher, The Spectator March 2016: "Her level-headed and balanced book -- which not only considers the role of museums in shaping our historical understanding, but notes the way museums are being transformed by an outstanding generation of contemporary architects -- is a valuable contribution to the international debate, and will enrich audiences and scholars for a long time to come."
  • Kwame Opoku, Modern Ghana March 2016 [online]: "Jenkins, like many supporters of retention of artefacts of others, is very quick to argue that repatriating artefacts 'would be allowing modern-day sensibilities to rewrite history ' Seriously, does anybody believe that returning one Benin bronze to Benin is to rewrite history?"
  • Robert Hewison, Apollo April 2016: "Jenkins sees the collapse of grand museological narratives as the sign of a 'post-ideological age', but this book is hardly ideology-free. Concluding with the explosion of museum building in the Gulf and China, she writes that 'money has replaced might'. Yet these museums are a physical manifestation of the geopolitical forces that once brought the marbles to London. It seems inconceivable at present, but Greece may yet get them back."
  • Henrik Bering, WSJ 7 May 2016: "But for a poorly run country like Greece, what better way for the government to distract the population's attention than to engage in cultural warfare? From this perspective, says Ms. Jenkins, it is surely better that the marbles remain in Britain, so that the Greeks can continue to pose as much-wronged victims. Ms. Jenkins has produced a courageous and well-argued book; the howls you hear in the background are those of the contrition crowd."
  • Vicky Allan, The Herald [Glasgow] 16 May 2016: "Jenkins sets her arguments out unflinchingly, yet with balance".
  • Stefan Beck, The Weekly Standard June 2016: "This leads us, at last, to Jenkins's shrewdest and most devastating observation. Returning objects, and angrily demanding their return, serves today's great powers in much the same fashion that seizing those same objects served them centuries ago."
  • Lucia Marcini, Minerva 24.4 (July / August 2016): "She asserts that large visitor numbers and easy access for researchers are important reasons why leading museums should hold on to their celebrated treasures even though they may be plunder".
  • Sara Wajid, The Museums Journal 116.9 (September 2016) [online]
  • Johanna Haninck (Brown University), BMCR December 2016 [online]. "And while I find myself wholly at odds with the politics of this book, it is also the task of the reviewer to judge whether an author succeeds, on her own terms, to make a credible and persuasive intervention on behalf of her positions. Jenkins does not. Despite the sensationalistic claims made in the introduction and in the splashy marketing material, Keeping Their Marbles contributes almost nothing to (and arguably even sets back) the broader, evolving, and ever more sophisticated conversation about critical heritage studies, which should be a matter of concern to everyone who reads BMCR. The book is a diatribe—and not a very well-researched, well-documented, or well-written one—that has been dressed, advertised, and reviewed as an authoritative monograph issued by one of our field’s flagship presses."

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Relief from temple of Hatshepsut returned to Egypt

AP circulated a press release last week noting that a relief stolen from the temple of Hatshepsut in 1975 had been returned to Egypt from London (e.g. "Egypt receives ancient stolen limestone relief", Daily Mail December 20, 2016). It appears that the relief had been purchased from a gallery in Spain by a London based dealer.

Which gallery in Spain?

I am particularly interested in the identity of the London dealer as due diligence in the London market is a major theme of the APPG on Cultural Property.

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Charges against New York art dealer Nancy Wiener

ARCA has provided a text-base version of the charges against New York dealer Nancy Wiener [see here].
There are some points to note:
  • apparent falsification of the collecting history ("provenance") of an object
  • apparent consigning genuine objects with other works to provide cover when passing through customs
  • weakness in the policy for accepting lots by a major New York auction house
  • the apparent changing of a stated collecting history by the same major New York auction house
We are particularly interested in co-conspirator #6:
Co-Conspirator #6 and his father are suppliers of illicit cultural property from primarily Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to several recorded conversations, Co-Conspirator #6 has been shipping large quantities of newly dug-up, stolen antiquities from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Thailand, often via Hong Kong, and then to dealers from around the world for more than a decade.
We note:
Co-Conspirator #6, who in the mid-1980s was a child living in Pakistan and England


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Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Christmas 2016

Philippi © David Gill

I would like to wish all readers and followers of Looting Matters a very Happy Christmas.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Arrest of New York dealer

The New York Times is reporting continuing fall-out over the antiquities from Asia case (Tom Mashberg, "Prominent Antiquities Dealer Accused of Selling Stolen Artifacts", New York Times December 21, 2016). The case relates to Nancy Wiener.

The complaint states:
“Defendant used a laundering process that included restoration services to hide damage from illegal excavations, straw purchases at auction houses to create sham ownership histories, and the creation of false provenance to predate international laws of patrimony prohibiting the exportation of looted antiquities,”
Such claims undermine the position of the market at a time when dealers are claiming to conduct due diligence. How common is the creation of "sham ownership histories"? What about placing objects in collections so that they pre-date the 1970 UNESCO Convention?

Jason Felch adds an important observation:
“Even after a decade of reforms, the art market continues to be pervaded with stolen and looted antiquities.”

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Cultural Property APPG Meeting (December 2016)

Westminster © David Gill
The Cultural Property APPG met this afternoon (see also statement from "Walk of Truth"). There were two main themes: the first, the movement of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill through Parliament; the second, enforcement.

It made me reflect on what constituted cultural material with a "worldwide significance", perhaps prompted by some who wanted to ensure that they could continue to trade in low value pieces. (And readers might want to reflect on what pieces of cultural property have truly "worldwide significance".) Is there an over-reliance on the Red List (e.g. for Syria)? I have observed that some objects that appear to be derived from Syria and that are surfacing on the London market are in categories that do not feature in the list. Should we be concerned about them?

We await the formal minutes of the meeting.

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Lord Ashton on the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill

Heritage Alliance, 2016 © David Gill
Lord Ashton used the Heritage Alliance "Heritage Day" on 1 December 2016 to draw attention to the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill that is currently moving its way through Parliament. In his speech (available here from DCMS) he noted:
I have responsibility in the House of Lords for the passage of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. It will protect cultural property at home and abroad; introduces the Blue Shield – an emblem which is the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross; and makes it a prosecutable offence to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property from an occupied territory. 
More than six decades after signing it, we will become the first Permanent Member of the UN Security Council to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention and its two Protocols.
Lord Ashton also answered some questions.

For some of the themes of the "Heritage Day" see here.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

Vibia Sabina and the Kyknos krater

Dr Christos Tsiriogiannis has published a significant study of the routes by which the marble statue of Vibia Sabina and the Kyknos krater passed through the market.

Christos Tsirogiannis, "False Closure? Known Unknowns in Repatriated Antiquities Cases", International Journal of Cultural Property 23 (2016) 407-31. [Cambridge University Press online]

Abstract
Based on research into the confiscated photographic and document archives in the hands of the top antiquities dealers (Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides, Robert Hecht, Giacomo Medici, and Gianfranco Becchina), so far more than 250 looted and smuggled masterpieces have been repatriated from the most reputable North American museums, private collections, and galleries, mainly to the Italian and the Greek states. Most of these repatriations were advertised in the press as voluntary action by the institutions and the individuals who possessed them. However, this is far from true; the repatriations were the results of lengthy negotiations, where the presentation of evidence alternated with diplomatic tactics and legal threats in order for the two parties (in some cases, three) to reach an agreement. Among the much-celebrated repatriated antiquities are at least two cases that require further research regarding their legal owner. This article aims to analyze these two cases and to set out new questions. In the end, there is doubt that the state who finally received these antiquities is necessarily the one from which they have been looted and smuggled. Based on this analysis, the article aims to highlight alternative paths to the discovery of the truth, paths that might have been more effective, if they had been followed.

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

An Apulian Situla, the Becchina Archive, and a Munich Auction

Source: Becchina Archive
The forthcoming auction at Gorny & Mosch is due to include an Apulian situla attributed to the Lycurgus painter (Lot 87). The collecting history is presented:
Aus der James Stirt Collection, Vevey in der Schweiz, erworben 1997 bei Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich.
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has pointed out that an image of the situla appears in the Becchina archive. He notes: "A handwritten note indicates that the images were sent from Raffaele Montichelli, a convicted antiquities trafficker, to Becchina on 18 March 1988". The image shows that the situla is covered in salt encrustations and is presumably relatively fresh out of the ground.

It is known that part of the James Stirt collection was derived from Ellie Borowski (e.g. an Athenian black-figured cup that passed through Christie's London in 2014 [see Beazley Archive]). In this case the source is Heidi Vollmöller of Zurich.

Dale Trendall [not Sir John Boardman as in the catalogue] described the Lycurgus painter as representing "the culmination of the second phase of the 'Ornate'" (Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily, p.80).

The Becchina image suggests that this situla surfaced post-1970. The Munich auction-house needs to be seen to act responsibly, to withdraw the situla from the auction, and to contact the Italian authorities.


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Friday, December 2, 2016

A Gnathian squat lekythos and the Becchina Archive

Source: Becchina archive
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that a Gnathian squat lekythos that is due to be auctioned by Gorny & Mosch (lot 127). The collecting history is provided:
Ex Christie´s London, 15.04.2015, ex 113; aus der Privatsammlung von Hans Humbel, Schweiz, erworben bei der Galerie Arete, Zürich in den frühen 1990er Jahren.
Tsirogiannis points out that the Becchina photograph is dated to 24 September 1988. The objects appear to have been supplied by Raffaele Montichelli.

The significance of the collecting history is that the object was offered for auction at Christie's (London) on 15 April 2015 (lot 113). This is one of four lots withdrawn from the Christie's sale after Tsirogiannis had raised concerns about their collecting histories. It is perhaps noteworthy that the online Christie's catalogue has removed information about the askos.

This raises a number of questions:

  • Was the askos sold at Christie's in spite of being withdrawn?
  • Was the askos returned to its vendor?
  • Is the vendor at Gorny & Mosch the same as at Christie's?
This raises further issues about the lack of sufficient rigour on the part of the team at Gorny & Mosch. Were they unaware of the controversy surrounding the askos at last year's sale?

Gorny & Mosch need to take responsible action and withdraw the askos from the auction and to contact the Italian authorities.


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Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Etruscan bronze athlete from an old Swiss collection

Source: Schinousa archive
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has drawn attention to four items in the December sale of antiquities at Gorny & Mosch in Munich.

I am particularly interested in the fifth century BC Etruscan bronze figure of a youth. The collecting history is given as follows:
Ex Sammlung R.G., Deutschland. Bei Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, 43. Ex Sotheby´s Catalogue of Antiquities 13. Juli 1981, 341.
If we tidy this up, it could be presented as:
R.G. Collection, Germany; Sotheby's (London) 13 July 1981, lot 341; Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, no. 43.
However if you check the Royal-Athena Galleries catalogue for 2010, the following collecting history is provided:
Athos Moretti collection, Bellinzona, Switzerland; Royal-Athena Galleries, 1985; R.G. Collection, Calodyne, Mauritius, 1985-2008.
From my notes on the piece I can provide a little more information:
Athos Moretti collection, Bellinzona, Switzerland; Sotheby's (London) 13-14 July 1981, lot 341; Royal-Athena Galleries, Catalogue IV, 1985, no. 185; Dr Leo Mildenberg for the R.G. Collection; R.G. Collection, Calodyne, Mauritius, 1985-2008.
I am curious about the information in the Gorny & Mosch catalogue:

  • Why is there no mention of the Athos Moretti collection in Bellinzona? What is the authenticated documentation that it was in this collection?
  • Why is there no mention of the Royal-Athena Galleries catalogue of 1985?
  • Why is there no mention of Dr Leo Mildenberg?
  • Why place the R.G. collection in Germany rather than Mauritius?

The more intriguing question is when was the bronze handled by Robin Symes? And why is there no mention of this?

It would be interesting to learn more about the collection of Dr Athos Moretti, not least because the Dallas Museum of Art is reported to have acquired a large part of his collection of jewellery in 1991.

It does suggest that the due diligence process for Gorny & Mosch needs to be tightened. For previous mentions of this auction house see Operation Ghelas.

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