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Showing posts from August, 2007

"Demonstrably stolen": where does the burden of proof lie?

Sir John Boardman (in Eleanor Robson et al. [eds.], Who Owns Objects [2006]) recently suggested that current legislation over the protection of cultural property has created:
"The denial of the right of persons or museums to acquire antiquities which are not demonstrably stolen or the result of plunder, since most are only so deemed, not proved."What does he mean? Does somebody have to be present at the time the archaeological site is raided?

Nigel Spivey has pointed out the problem with that course of action by quoting Professor Mauro Cristofani.
"And what will you do ... when staring down the barrel of a sub-machine gun?"Is it enough to have photographs or Polaroids of, say, Athenian red-figured pots that are still covered in dirt? Does that imply that the objects were fresh out of the ground? And, if they were not excavated by archaeologists, can they be considered to have been "demonstrably stolen"?

Or what about a site where the bases of statues survive …

Legless in Boston: reunited in Antalya?

One of the striking pieces of sculpture in the exhibition, Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, was a marble "Statue of Herakles resting, perhaps contemplating Telephos" (no. 172). It seemed to be a second century CE copy of a fourth century BCE statue.

Unusually there were two owners. The sculpture was partly owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (1981.783), and partly by Leon Levy.

The catalogue statued that Boston had been presented with this part of the fragmentary statue in 1981 by the Jerome Levy Foundation (established by Leon Levy). However this has now been clarified:
"Gift of Leon Levy and Shelby White and Museum purchase with funds donated by the Jerome Levy Foundation, 1981"
Although the exhibition catalogue provided no hint of a find-spot, it did speculate,
"The Levy statue (or group ...) might have stood in a small public building, such as an urban bouleuterion, or a gymnasium-bath complex ..."The …

Looting in Bulgaria

I was enjoying my post-lunch cup of tea while reading the paper. As I moved into the world section I noticed colour images of gold plate from the famous Panagyurishte Treasure found by chance in 1946 and now in the Plovdiv Archaeological Museum, Bulgaria. The piece by Malcolm Moore was about looting: "Tomb raiders strip Bulgaria of its treasures" (August 29, 2007).

There are some startling figures (for what they are worth):

a. "Tomb-raiding" in Bulgaria is worth an estimated £4 billion a year.

b. 16,000 artefacts have been seized since October 2006.

c. An estimated 30,000 individuals are involved in "tomb-raiding".

d. One consignment of 100 antiquities was intercepted in a lorry heading for Germany last Friday (August 24).

However it was reassuring to find that this "blog" had got there first on one issue, The Stanford Place Dish. Moore reports:

"Last November, Christie's in London was forced to withdraw a Byzantine plate after a complaint fro…

Apulian pots and the missing memorandum

One of the most important studies of the scale of looting in Southern Italy has been conducted by Professor Ricardo Elia of Boston University ("Analysis of the looting, selling, and collecting of Apulian red-figure vases: a quantitative approach." In Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world's archaeological heritage, edited by N. Brodie, J. Doole, and C. Renfrew, pp. 145-53. Cambridge: McDonald Institute, 2001). Elia quantified the recent surfacing of Apulian pottery and suggested that perhaps as little as 5.5% of the corpus had come from scientific excavations. (Compare this with the figure for Cycladic marble figures where some 85% of the funerary record of the Early Bronze Age has been lost, i.e. only 15% either came from scientific excavations or had been provided with some sort of reported find-spot.)

Elia's study was cited as the first of three case studies --- the other two were on Cycladic figures and hoards of Greek coins --- in the final re…

Coins and Cyprus: Listening to the Coin Forum

Recently I suggested that there was much "huff and puff" in the discussion over the issue to include coins in the treaty with Cyprus.

I am glad to see that there is commonsense coming from the Coin Forum ("US imposes restrictions on importing Cypriot coins", on July 18, 2007):

"Trying to demonize the archeologists, museum people, and governments of source countries who genuinely believe that private ownership of old coins and artifacts leads to the destruction of historical sites and historical knowledge just turns people off, I believe. There are grains of truth in their arguments, even if their argument as a whole are wrong. We need to be credible. We're the good guys. Right now we're losing the debate and being seen as the bad guys."

Can we stick to the issues?

What are the material and intellectual consequences of collecting? That is where the debate lies.

Coins and Cyprus

There have been various unhelpful comments circulating about the decision to include coins in the agreement with Cyprus.

There was a public invitation to comment posted by the Archaeological Institute of America on January 28, 2007:

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of State is asking for additional public comment on the inclusion of ancient coins in the Cypriot request for import restrictions

I was one of those who wrote to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (on January 31, 2007) concerning this issue. (For the AIA response.)

In the interest of transparency I include the core of my letter here:

I am writing to comment on the issue of whether ancient coins should be included as part of the agreement between the US and Cyprus. ...

It is clear that a considerable amount of newly surfaced archaeological material appearing in sale rooms and galleries (our research suggests a figure of some 85-90 per cent) has no previous history. Ancient coins, whether foun…

Keros and Katonah

At the end of 2006 the Katonah Museum of Art hosted an exhibition, "Ancient Art of the Cyclades".

It was noted, "It is only the fourth museum exhibition in the United States devoted to Cycladic art, and only the second to draw exclusively on objects in American collections".

Christopher Chippindale and I have discussed in detail elsewhere the material and intellectual consequences of collecting Cycladic figures. And the museum was clearly aware of the issues.

Neil Watson, Executive Director of the Museum, wrote:
"Given the red-hot controversy and quagmire of ownership issues regarding antiquities, which have been consistently in the world news, it becomes clear just how indebted we are to the many lenders."The Guest Curator, Pat Getz-Gentle, is more frank:
"At a time when museums and collectors of antiquities have been castigated in the press, these institutions and individuals have made it possible to enrich the experience of Cycladic art for those alrea…

Borowski and Boston

The recent focus of the antiquities market has been on Robert Hecht and Giacomo Medici. But other characters feature on the infamous organigram (conveniently reproduced in The Medici Conspiracy). Among them is the name of Dr Elie Borowski.

I happened to notice his name against two Sicilian pots that now form part of the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Both were acquired in 1970. Both were purchases from the Arthur Tracy Cabot Fund (acc. nos. 1970.478, 1970.479; cat. nos. 150 and 151). Both are of Centuripe Ware a type which the museum catalogue notes:
"Most examples of this ware have been found in the area around Centuripe, a small town in eastern Sicily, where they were apparently made. The vases are usually found in tombs, sometimes in contexts suggesting production in the third century B.C."The printed museum catalogue does not provide their source (or mention Borowski), but the MFA website states that both were purchased on May 13, 1970 from "Elie Bor…

Due diligence and the auction houses

We have been talking about "due diligence" and collecting institutions, but what about due diligence and auction houses / galleries / dealers?

The return of the Middle Kingdom duck to Egypt after it had surfaced at Christie's in New York is something to be celebrated. But if Christie's had conducted some research and contacted the Egyptian authorities would they have spotted that the duck had been stolen before Interpol had "got on the case"?

But is this the first time that excavated material has been stolen and resurfaced at Christie's?

Take the Corinth theft. Several pieces stolen from the Archaeological Museum at Corinth popped up at Christie's: "The Property of an American Private Collector". (Three pieces were subsequently bought by Royal Athena Galleries and one was placed in the gallery's sale catalogue.)

Such lots suggest that there is no rigorous process of "due diligence".

And then it struck me. Have members of staff at …

Can there be a "licit" trade in antiquities?

Derek Fincham has responded to my comments on due diligence.

Essentially we are both reacting to John Henry Merryman's essay, "A Licit International Trade in Cultural Objects" (2005; originally published in 2004).

Can there be a licit trade?

Where are the objects with secure histories?

Here are some possible sources:

a. De-accessioned material from museums. Take, for example, the Apulian column-krater attributed to the Laterza painter that was given to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by Thomas G. Appleton in 1876 (Acc. no. 76.66 = Padgett, no. 35). This was sold at Sotheby's New York on December 11, 2002 (lot 62) for US$10,158.

b. Documented old collections. The Sotheby's New York December 9, 2004 sale included several Apulian pots from the William Randolph Hearst collection; some could be traced back to the collection "owned" by the Chapter of Durham Cathedral (England).

c. Excavated material that has left the country of origin through partage. Part of Sir Hen…

Gospel of Judas

Driving home this evening I listened to the BBC Radio 4 discussion of 'The Gospel of Judas' on 'Beyond Belief'.

The 'Gospel' has been brought to us courtesy of National Geographic.

And as I listened to the debate I could not help thinking that this was a 'classic' sequence of looted material with some of the well-known walk-on parts (this sequence is based on National Geographic):

a. Some sources say the Codex 'surfaced' around 1970. Always a good date to cite - 1970 UNESCO Convention.

b. It is reported that it was found at El-Minya in Egypt.

c. In 1978 the Codex was sold to a Cairo dealer.

d. Around 1980 the Codex was stolen and left Egypt. It was recovered with the help of a Swiss dealer. (No account would be complete without Switzerland as a setting.)

e. In 1984 the Codex was deposited in Hicksville, New York.

f. In 2000 the Codex was purchased by the Swiss-based dealer, Frida Nussberger-Tchacos. (She handled some of the material which the Getty is …

Coins, cabals ... and huff and puff

There is "said to be" a conspiracy.

Apparently there is a secret "cabal" consisting of organisations such as the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), the Republic of Cyprus, and The United States Department of State (Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs) - and into this clandestine group fall several distinguished scholars.

This alleged grouping is reported to be using "stealth tactics" in its "stealth war on collecting".

Indeed, we are told, this conspiracy is serious:

"This development should concern not only coin collectors, but also every American citizen who values his or her personal freedom. Big Brother is watching you, and Big Brother does not like collecting."

Does anybody believe this nonsense?

The AIA makes its position on antiquities (including coins) quite clear. It publishes its views on its public website.

The US State Department does the same.

Scholars publish their ideas which then fall into the public domain.

So w…

Due diligence at the St Louis Art Museum

I have recently commented on John H. Merryman's support for "due-diligence" procedures and expressed my reservations.

I noticed that this was the phrase used by The Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) concerning their acquisition of a 19th Dynasty Egyptian mummy mask known as Ka-Nefer-Nefer.

"The dealer provided detailed, documented provenance on this important Egyptian antiquity. The Museum then conducted its own additional research and diligence." [Press release, "Saint Louis Art Museum Calls on Egyptian Official to Disclose Documents Supporting Mummy Mask Allegations", May 12, 2006]

So what is this due diligence?

The History of the Mask: the St Louis view
The mask was purchased by SLAM from Phoenix Ancient Art in Geneva, Switzerland. The press release noted, "The dealer provided detailed, documented provenance on this important Egyptian antiquity." This was then checked, "The Museum independently verified the mask's known ownership hist…

"Due-diligence procedures are not enough to satisfy them"

John H. Merryman (in Kate Fitz Gibbon [ed.], Who Owns the Past? [2005]; the original publication of the essay was in 2004) has recently turned his attention to "The Archaeologists' Crusade". In particular he observed:
"Archaeologists have intensified the antiquities problem by demanding that museums, collectors, and the art market acquire only properly documented objects. Elaborate due-diligence procedures are not enough to satisfy them. These Crusaders presume that an antiquity that is not fully and properly documented is illicit: guilty, in other words, until proved innocent" (p. 278).So which museum provides the model for "due-diligence procedures"?

The J. Paul Getty Museum.

And the curator cited (p. 287 n. 11) is Dr Marion True.

Merryman continues:
"At a private international conference held at the [Getty] museum in 1989, archaeologists attacked the Getty procedure as disingenuous. They insisted that an antiquity that was not fully and properly do…

"Private collectors are a potential threat to our cultural heritage"

There has been a suggestion in Current Archaeology that "there are many benefits to having a thriving background of private collectors" within the context of the British Archaeology.

I disagree.

Current Archaeology (Number 211, Sept/Oct 2007, p. 49) has published my response in which I use the illustration of the "Icklingham Bronzes" looted from Suffolk (UK). The North American private collectors were Shelby White and Leon Levy who acquired them through the Ariadne Galleries in New York. (See memorandum from Neil Brodie presented to the UK Department of Culture Media and Sport.)

The bronze "Portrait Head of a Youth" which I cite was displayed in the Harvard University Art Museums exhibition, The Fire of Hephaistos (1996) no. 31. The "provenance" (i.e. find-spot) is given there as "Found in Suffolk, in southeastern England; purchased in 1988".

The catalogue entry laments, "Unfortunately, we have no way of discovering more about this y…

The chariot from Monteleone di Spoleto

Dr Jerome Eisenberg has issued a press statement announcing his view that the Etruscan chariot in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no. 03.23.1) is a forgery (see short announcement).

The find-spot is recorded in the new catalogue for the Met (C.A. Picón, J. R. Mertens, E. J. Milleker, C. S. Lightfoot, and S. Hemingway, Art of the Classical world in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Creece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007.).

"In 1902, a landowner working on his property accidentally discovered a subterranean built tomb covered by a tumulus (mound). His investigations revealed the remains of a parade chariot ..." (no. 323).

The find-spot is given as: "Found near Monteleone di Spoleto in 1902".

Is this a reminder that even historic "find-spots" can be misleading? What other "objects" were created by this "master forger" from 1890? Should the Met catalogue have inserted "said to be"? Is this an…

A Hoard of Byzantine Silver "from Bulgaria"?

The last time I was in the Benaki Museum in Athens I had a look at set of three pieces of Byzantine silver from a "hoard" - the find-spot was not provided. (A Podcast of my audio notes reacting to the display and label is now available [with an unrelated background].) There was an appeal to buy the silver plates (for a reported 2.2 million Euros) and put them on display in Greece. (The purchase was reported to be from a London-based dealer.)

Where was the "hoard" found?

Recent reports in Kathimerini ("Artefacts in Greece ‘legally’", August 1, 2007; see also "Greek prosecutors investigate Bulgarian claim to Byzantine-era silver plates", International Herald Tribune, July 31, 2007) suggest that Greece has rejected a request from Bulgaria "for the return of nine silver medieval plates which Sofia says were illegally excavated and smuggled out of the country". It is claimed that the hoard was found in Bulgaria during the 1990s. The official …

A Middle Kingdom Alabaster Duck - and a member of the IADAA

A Middle Kingdom alabaster duck has recently been handed over to Egyptian officials in New York (Bradley Hope, "Stolen Egyptian Artifact Handed Over to Consulate", The New York Sun, August 10, 2007).

Why the interest?
It turns out that the piece had been excavated "at the pyramid of Amenemhat III" [reigned 1831-1786 BCE] in 1979, and then stolen from the store at Saqqara where the finds were kept. It had surfaced at auction at Christie's in New York (but was withdrawn when concerns were raised).

Old news?
In one sense it is old news (see short statement from Zahi Hawass). This was one of two pieces to surface last year (Brian Handwerk, "Egypt's Antiquities Chief Combines Passion, Clout to Protect Artifacts", National Geographic News, October 24, 2006).

What about the second duck?
The second piece had bobbed up in the gallery of Rupert Wace Ancient Art (London).

Is this the object presented as one of the "Rare and ancient works of art dating fro…

Intellectual consequences for Biblical Archaeology?

Are some scholars ignoring the intellectual consequences of looting and forgeries for their discipline?

The Biblical Archaeology Society has posted a 'Statement of Concern' on 'The Publication of Unprovenanced Artifacts'. It has a list of distinguished signatories.

The first point states, 'We are strongly opposed to looting'. Good: we have some common ground. This is what Gill and Chippindale have described as 'Material Consequences'. We can discuss the role of governments - and widen it to include the professional responsibilities of archaeologists, museum curators, dealers, magazine editors, etc. In other words, the solution to looting is not just the area of concern for national governments, we have our part to play as well.

Let me for now dwell on point two of the 'Statement of Concern':
"We also recognize that artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. On the other hand, this is not always true, and ev…

The 'Value' of the Getty Return

A few days ago I suggested that the purchase value of the recently announced antiquities from the Getty would be in excess of US$20 million.

I see that the LA Times (Jason Felch and Ari Bloomekatz, 'Getty's accord removes shadow', August 3, 2007) has reported :
"The 40 antiquities were purchased for nearly $40 million over 30 years. No compensation will be given for their return."Given that the vendors include Robin Symes - who is reported to have sold the 'Morgantina' Aphrodite for US$18 million - it seems unlikely that the Getty will get much back. Perhaps it is worth asking the Getty's former trustee, Barbara Fleischman, for a donation from the reported US$20 million that was paid for 33 items from the Fleischman collection (some of the pieces either have been or will be returned to Italy); the rest of the Fleischman collection was donated for US$40 million.

The same article LA Times also notes "the Getty's grant of more than $450,000 for th…

Where does this leave Marion True?

Steve Scherer reported on on August 2, 2007,
'Italy to Drop Getty Ex-Curator's Civil Charges, Pursue More Art'.

Scherer reported:

"Italy will drop civil suits against former J. Paul Getty Museum antiquities curator Marion True after the Los Angeles museum agreed yesterday to return 40 works Italy says were looted, Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said today. True still faces criminal charges."

Apparently the next hearing does not take place until September 26.

Has the return of the 40 antiquities relieved some of the pressure?

Animal rights and archaeologists: a strange comparison?

There is clearly a link being made between animal rights and the discussion over the looting of archaeological sites.

In July 1990 the 'Cycladic and Classical Antiquities from the Erlenmeyer Collection: the Property of The Erlenmeyer Stiftung (A Foundation for Animal Welfare)' were auctioned at Sotheby's in London. The sale catalogue gave details of the projects assisted by the Foundation. They included helping to 'finance the "Save the Elephant" campaign of WWF'. It is perhaps ironic that money raised from antiquities looted from archaeological sites in the Greek islands, including the infamous Keros haul, should help to preserve African elephants from being blasted away by poachers seeking to provide the market with ivory tusks.

Talking of shotguns, take a thought for the wildlife of Texas. Carlos Pícon (now of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) recently described his relationship with the collector Gilbert Denman during his time at the San Anton…

Glories of Ancient Greece: hype and links?

In June 2001 an exhibition was held at the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem: Glories of Ancient Greece: Vases and Ancient Jewelry from the Borowski Collection. This fell exactly one year after the June 2000 sale at Christie's New York of Ancient Greek Vases Formerly in the Private Collection of Dr. Elie Borowski.

The objects in the 2000 sale 'were sold about 10 years ago in order to pave the way for the building of the Bible Lands Museum' (G. Max Bernheimer, Vice President, Antiquities Department, Christie's).

Nineteen of the lots at Christie's (over 10% of the total number of lots) reappear in Glories of Ancient Greece whose catalogue was authored by G. Max Bernheimer. In other words, the Bible Lands Museum spent over US$340,000 buying ex-Borowski pots which had been sold to raise money for the building in which they are now displayed.

Two had apparently failed to sell at auction.
An Italo-Corinthian black-figured olpe (Gl. 43) had only reached US$2800 (with an estimate …

'Illicit antiquities': what are the issues?

Sir John Boardman makes a useful point when he notes, 'objects cannot be "tainted" or "illicit", and could only be so described by scholars who do not understand them, or legislators' (in Who Owns Objects? [2006], 44 [for details of review]). I would insert 'genuine' before 'objects' as forgeries can corrupt the corpus of knowledge.

Objects are removed from their archaeological contexts by scientific means (excavation), chance, erosion or illicit means. Some involved in the debate tend to place all antiquities emerging on the market in the same group. Our research has stressed the date of surfacing. Has the object been known since excavation? When is the first recorded mention or (even better) publication? These are not irrelevant issues. The Getty return has shown that 'histories' were being assigned to objects which appear to be fresh out of the ground.

So what are the contentious groups of archaeological objects?

1. High profile obj…

Lessons from the Getty return

There are several lessons that can be drawn from yesterday's announcement that the J. Paul Getty Museum will be returning 40 antiquities to Italy.

1. The myth of the 'safe' private collection
The Getty's 1996 acquisition of the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection was undoubtedly a major mistake or at best a serious error of judgment. Research by Gill and Chippindale (and published in The American Journal of Archaeology for 2000 demonstrated that 92% of the objects in the exhibition catalogue of the Fleischman collection has no indication of find-spot. In addition 91% of the objects (and perhaps another 3% for objects where information was lacking) surfaced after 1973 when the issue of looting became public knowledge thanks to the resolution passed by the Archaeological Institute of America.

Six of the items announced in November 2006 for return to Italy came from the Fleischman collection; seven more pieces were added yesterday (August 1, 2007). That is 7% of the F…

The Getty will be returning

So the Getty will be returning 40 antiquities to Italy. (See report by Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch in the LA Times, August 1, 2007.)

The decision was made at the eleventh hour (so to speak) but it is welcomed. The list of the 40 objects has been released by the Getty.

Essentially the items are the same as the ones in the November 2006 list of 26 objects. However there are 14 new additions. As expected there were several items from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection.

1. Attic Black-Figured Amphora (Painter of Berlin 1686) (96.AE.92). Reassembled by Fritz Bürki (1988); Atlantis Antiquities (1988). Fleischman, Passion, no. 34.

2. Attic Black-Figured Amphora (96.AE.93). Purchased from Fritz Bürki (1989). Said to have been found with two other pots (in the possession of Robert Hecht and Robin Symes). Fleischman, Passion, no. 35.

3. Attic Red-Figured Cup (96.AE.97). Purchased from Symes (1988). Fleischman, Passion, no. 39.

4. Apulian Red-Figured Bell Krater (96.AE.29). Acqu…

Dr Elie Borowski: sources for his collection

The 2000 Christie's sale in New York presented 'Ancient Greek Vases Formerly in the Private Collection of Dr. Elie Borowski'. He is described by G. Max Bernheimer in the catalogue as 'renowned scholar, collector and connoisseur of ancient art'.

Borowski is not without interest. His name appears in the famous 'organigram' found in the appartment of Danilo Zicchi (and presented in The Medici Conspiracy). And the sale itself receives a paragraph there.

But what are the sources for these pots? What did Christie's feel able to disclose? (My research has shown that sometimes 'known' information can be left out of the catalogue entry perhaps for commercial reasons.) Only 21 pieces can be provided with a history. Several were purchased from German (2 pieces), North American (3 pieces), Swiss (4 pieces), or UK (9 pieces) galleries or auction-houses. Three other pieces came from either German or Swiss private collections. Interestingly the Attic black-fig…

The generosity of Giacomo Medici

The hand of Giacomo Medici is sometimes hard to discern. The Medici Conspiracy (see the review article by Gill & Chippindale) has demonstrated the way that the route from the Etruscan grave to a display case in some North American museum has been obscured.

But a browse through the 'vase' catalogue of the San Antonio Museum of Art presents two fragmentary Greek pots as gifts of Giacomo Medici.

The first is a Rhodian oinochoe fragment in the Middle 'Wild Goat Style' (inv. 88.18.2; cat. no. 177) and the second is the fragment from an Athenian black-figured cup showing a charioteer (inv. 88.18.1; cat. no. 179).

It is important to stress that there is nothing suspect about their histories. Both came from the distinguished collection of the Comtesse de Behague. And both were auctioned at Sotheby's in Monaco on 5 December 1987 (lot 142, a and b).

I understand (from the present curator in San Antonio) that both pieces were handed over to Carlos Pícon, the then curator, in …