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Showing posts from November, 2008

Two Collectors Arrested in Italy

Two Italian collectors are reported to have been arrested on Thursday November 27, 2008 ("Two arrested with antiquities hoard", ANSA November 27, 2008). The summary notes:
Among the objects found at the house near Modena were two rare pre-Medieval weapon tips, one from a javelin and one from a lance, several Roman coins from the pre-imperial era, and Longobard (Lombard) and Goth buckles. A fragment of a votive vase from a Greek colony in southern Italy was dated to the sixth century BC.A little more detail appears in Il Nuovo Giornale di Modena (November 29, 2008).

Il Nuovo Giornale di Modena

Renfrew as Collector

There is a short profile of Lord Renfrew as a collector in the Financial Times (Mary Jane Checkland, "My favourite things", November 29, 2008). He talks about his collection of contemporary art and adds a comment on collectors of antiquities:
I’m much in favour of collecting, so long as it doesn’t involve objects recently taken from the ground. In my opinion all too many collections are scandalous for this very reason. I don’t mind so much people buying antiquities looted a century ago, but not if the items in question entered the market post-1970 when the convention on the illegal trade in antiquities was signed.

War Booty Goes on Display in Berlin

The exhibition, "The Return of the Gods – Berlin’s Hidden Olympus", opened in the Pergamonmuseum (Antikensammlung), Berlin this week (27 November 2008 - 5 July 2009). It celebrates the 50th anniversary of the return of antiquities from the (then) Soviet Union.
To also mark the occasion, the Collection of Classical Antiquities will be placing 170 art works on display, which, for restoration purposes, had had to remain in storage until now. The sculptures, vases and craftwork objects stand as representatives for thousands of art works which came back to Berlin after a period of exile in Moscow and St. Petersburg lasting thirteen years, the most important of which was the frieze of the world famous Pergamon Altar.A short report has been issued (Brittani Sonneburg, "Berlin museum shows off antique gods", AP, November 27, 2008). The pieces were mostly derived from Italy, Turkey and Greece and formed part of the collection Frederick the Great.
In 1945, at the close of Worl…

The Philippe de Montebello Years ... and Robin Symes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is exhibiting "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions". Antiquities feature in the show.

Some of the pieces come from old collections. Take, for example, the Attic red-figured plate with the "signature" of Epiktetos as "painter" (inv. 1981.11.10). Its history is given as:
Found at Vulci, on the property of Lucien Bonaparte, 1828/29; W. W. Hope (Jean de Witte, Description d'une collection de vases peints [Paris, 1837], no. 177); sale, Christie's, London, February 13, 1849 (Archäologische Zeitung 10 [October 1849], col. 100, no. 74); second marquess of Northampton; sale, Christie's, London, July 2, 1980, no. 39; Mr. Fritz Bürki, Zurich.It was then purchased by The Bothmer Purchase Fund, and Norbert Schimmel Foundation Inc. and Christos G. Bastis Gifts, 1981.

Among the other acquisitions was a Roman statue of Pan (inv. 1992.11.71). Its collecting history is given as…

Egypt renews calls for the return of mummy mask

Zahi Hawass has renewed calls for the return of the mummy mask excavated at Saqqara and presently residing in the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) (Marjorie Olster, "Egypt faces obstacles in recovering antiquities", AP, November 23, 2008). The AP report quoted Zahi Hawass:
"This is the No. 1 case ... Egypt has a right to the mask."The history of the piece has been rehearsed elsewhere (also here). My personal view is that SLAM, and its director Brent Benjamin, need to press the gallery where the mask was purchased for authenticated documentation. This would demonstrate the veracity of the alternative account. Benjamin continues to take the position: To date, we have not seen information that we believe is compelling enough to return the object.Apparently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is now investigating the acquisition at the request of Hawass.
Hawass also comments on the new Egyptian law relating to the theft of antiquities.
"Our new law will give us the po…

The Cleveland Museum of Art: why the history of the returned pieces should be released

Steven Litt ("Analysis: Museums often pay the price for looted antiquities", November 23, 2008) has a long comment about the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art. He explores the implications of the September 1995 raid on the Geneva Freeport warehouse of Giacomo Medici. And Litt seems to link the returning antiquities specifically to Medici:
The paper trail linked the activities of Italian tomb robbers, or tombaroli, to networks of art dealers who sold the artworks eventually to some of the greatest museums in the world, including the Cleveland Museum of Art.

On Wednesday, the Cleveland museum agreed to return 13 ancient artworks to Italy, based in part on evidence gleaned from the 1995 raid, according to Maurizio Fiorilli, the Italian state lawyer who negotiated the deal. Litt interviews some of the museum staff. Among them is Timothy Rub the director:
But Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, said that lack of exculpatory eviden…

The Cleveland Museum of Art: "rigorous provenance research"

The Cleveland Museum of Art has issued a press release (November 19 2008) about the return of antiquities. Timothy Rub, the director, is quoted:
This transfer demonstrates our commitment to build and maintain a collection of art from around the world and across time that is acquired in good faith using the highest ethical standards and after rigorous provenance research.
Steven Litt ("Cleveland Museum of Art strikes deal with Italy to return 14 ancient artworks", November 19, 2008) has indicated that Italian sources are suggesting some of the pieces are linked to:
Giacomo MediciFritz BürkiRobin SymesRobert HechtBut which objects are linked to which of these individuals? And what was the extent of Cleveland's "rigorous provenance research"?

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the J. Paul Getty Museum have released the full information about the previous histories of the pieces returned to history. Why is Cleveland reluctant to do the same?

Archaeological Evidence for Looting in Antiquity

What is the archaeological evidence for looting in antiquity? The distribution of inscribed Middle Kingdom statues outside Egypt hint at systematic looting during the Second Intermediate Period. Inscribed silver plate from funerary contexts in Macedonia and the Kuban provide evidence for looted sanctuaries. Booty from sanctuaries in the Greek world appearing in contexts in Persia.

I will be addressing these issues in a conference paper today, "Booty and triumph", at "Rituals of Triumph in the Mediterranean World from Antiquity to the Middle Ages" hosted by the School of Humanities at Swansea University.

Cleveland Museum of Art: More Decisions Ahead?

Yesterday's announcement about the return of antiquities from Cleveland to Italy presented a rather mixed bag. But Elisabetta Povoledo ("Pact Will Relocate Artifacts to Italy From Cleveland", New York Times November 19, 2008) has indicated that two further pieces are under consideration.
Yet not all has been resolved. A committee will be set up to discuss two other objects in Cleveland: a first-century chariot attachment depicting a Winged Victory with a cornucopia, and a renowned fourth-century B.C. bronze statue of Apollo slaying a lizard, which the museum attributes to the classical Greek sculptor Praxiteles.The Roman bronze Victory with Cornucopia, Roman (1984.25) is known to have “traveled through the art market and conceivably found with [63-65]” (Gods Delight, no. 66). The three other pieces, nos. 63-65 in the exhibition catalogue are now in the J. Paul Getty Museum. So discussions with Italy have implications beyond Cleveland.

The Apollo has been the subject of pre…

Cleveland: the List

Further to my earlier posting here is the detailed list.

1. Donkey-Head Rhyton, Greece, 5th Century BC c. 475 BC (1977.92).

2. Column Krater, Greece, Late Early Corinthian-Early Middle Corinthian c. 600-590 BC (1990.81).

3. Apulian Volute-Krater, Darius Painter c. 330 BC (1988.41).
4. Apulian or Campanian Red-Figure Lid with Bowl, South Italy, Apulia, 4th Century BC 4th century BC (1986.200). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
5. Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC 340-320 BC (1986.201). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
6. Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC c. 340-320 BC (1986.202). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
7. Apulian Gnathia Lekythos, Italy, Middle Gnathia, 4th Century BC 340-330 BC (1986.203). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.

8. Campanian Red-Figure Acorn Lekythos, South Italy, Campania, 4th Century BC c. 350-320 BC (1986.204). Gift of Jonathan P. Rosen.
9. Campanian Bird …

Cleveland Museum of Art: Announcement

The announcement about the return of antiquities from the Cleveland Museum of Art has been made this afternoon.

1) Pig-shaped Feeding Vessel/Vaso plastico a porcellino.2) Mule Head Rhyton/Rython a testa di mulo.3) Sardinian Warrior/Bronzetto nuragico.4) Apulian Volute Krater by the Darius Painter; Departure of Anphiaros/Cratere a volute a figure rosse.5) Etruscan Red-figure Duck Askos/Askos ad anatra a figure rosse.6) Bird Askos/Askos campano ad uccello.7) Dog “Lekanis” Bowl with Lid/Coppa e coperchio a figure rosse.8) Apulian Gnathia Flat-Bodied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.9) Apulian Gnathia Round-Bellied Epichysis/Epichysis tipo Gnathia.10) Apulian Gnathia Lekythos/Lekythos tipo Gnathia.11) Acorn Lekythos: An Eros Serving a Lady/Lekythos campana a figure rosse.12) Corinthian Krater/Cratere a colonnette corinzio.13) Pair of Bracelets/Due coppie di armille in argento.14) 14th Century Italian Processional Cross/croce processionale in rame dorato del sec. XIV.Steven Litt, "Clev…

Cleveland Museum of Art: Breaking Story

The Italian Ministry of Culture (MiBac) will be holding a press conference this afternoon, 2.30 pm (local time). The subject will be accord with the Cleveland Museum of Art. This will include the return of objects and the development of a cultural exchange programme.

Sandro Boni (Minister), Giuseppe Proietti (Secretary General) and Timothy Rub (Director, Cleveland Museum of Art) will be present.

Here is the speculative list.

Increase in the Reporting of Portable Antiquities

The annual report (2007) on finds of 'Treasure' in the UK will be published later today; "Treasure hunters boost gold finds", BBC News November 19, 2008. Apparently:
In total, the number of finds containing gold and silver which were reported by the public rose by more than a tenth last year.Does this mean that chance finds went up by 10%? Reporting went up by 10%? Or that metal-detecting activity went up by 10%?

The BBC report:
The Treasure and the Portable Antiquities Scheme said it was partly down to the popularity of metal detectors, but also because more people are reporting what they have found.Portable Antiquities Scheme
From the Snodland, Kent hoard. From the BBC.

Beyond the Medici Conspiracy: a legal dialogue

This afternoon (or morning, depending on your global position) I will be meeting (via videolink) students from the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at the Northern Kentucky University. The students are taking an cultural property law course with Jennifer Kreder, Associate Professor. (For her work on the legal and ethics issues related to antiquities: here.)

We have a full agenda. The universal museum, the proportion of newly-surfaced antiquities on the market, collecting histories, the links with organised crime, and the AAMD guidelines will be under discussion.

But there are two major topics which I hope we can explore together:
the appropriate course of action to prevent further looting.the impact of the returns to Italy on the collecting policies of major museums.I am sure that other topics will arise.

"Antiquities Wars": a misnomer?

Tomorrow's New York debate "Antiquities Wars: A Conversation About Loot and Legitimacy" has brought an extended comment from Dr Kwame Opoku. He suggests:
We are not involved in any war but in a dispute about heritage and ownership rights in an area where most of us agree that there has to be cooperation and understanding if we are to find acceptable solutions.I thought that it would be interesting to trace the history of the term "Antiquities Wars".

One of the earliest uses of the phrase comes from 1984 (Gregory Jensen, "Melina Mercouri's demand for Elgin Marbles opens Pandora's box for world's art museums", UPI January 29, 2984). The context was the call for the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece, though the term was used to describe the 19th century scramble for power over antiquities.
The most blatant plunder came in a nine-year ''antiquities war'' between Britain and France while Napoleon was ransacking Europe and E…

Philippe de Montebello and the Leon Levy Foundation

The Leon Levy Foundation has issued a press release ("Leon Levy Foundation Names Philippe de Montebello Special Advisor for Culture and the Arts", November 11, 2008).
The Leon Levy Foundation today named Philippe de Montebello, outgoing director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as special advisor for culture and the arts. Mr. de Montebello will join the Foundation in January 2009.

Mr. de Montebello said, "This is a natural extension of my life's work to expand and enrich the appreciation of art among all people, regardless of age and geography. I would very much like to see the Foundation's resources devoted to bringing creative approaches to untapped areas that hold special promise for broadening knowledge in the visual arts and other aspects of culture."

Shelby White, founding trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, said, "We are pleased that Philippe will bring to the Leon Levy Foundation his knowledge and experience as an international leader in the ar…

Antiquities Wars: a Conversation

This Wednesday (November 19, 2008) the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU will be hosting an event: "Antiquities Wars: A Conversation About Loot and Legitimacy".

The "conversation" will be between:
Sharon Waxman, former New York Times correspondent, author of the newly released Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World.James Cuno, director of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of Who Owns Antiquity? Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage.Kwame Anthony Appiah, Princeton Philosophy Professor, author Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.Daniel Shapiro, an attorney specializing in art law and the president emeritus of the International Cultural Property Society.
Here are some relevant links to my comments on three of these speakers:
Sharon Waxman on Loot!James CunoKwame Anthony AppiahFor more on the "Antiquities Wars":
Towards a Ceasefire in the Antiquities Wars
Antiquities WarsThere are still outstanding is…

Another recently-surfaced Minoan larnax

Earlier this autumn (fall) I noted the acquisition of a Minoan larnax by the Michael C. Carlos Museum in 2002. So it was interesting to observe the acquisition of another Minoan larnax by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH): The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Annual Report (2006-2007) p. 83 [pdf].

The Houston larnax is listed as "Gift of Shelby White". The only other information provided is the date (1600–1100 B.C.), material ("Terracotta and paint"), and dimensions (17 5/8 x 40 1/8 [45 x 102]). No inventory number is provided and there is no picture. Even the precise date of acquisition is unclear (though it was within the period 2006-2007).

Was this originally a loan? See Patricia C. Johnson, "Borrowing trouble; Long-term loans don't let museums off the hook", Houston Chronicle July 16, 2006: "The 11th loaned piece is a Minoan terracotta "larnax'' (a kind of bathtub/sarcophagus) dated 1600-1000 B.C., on long-term loan from another …

Germany: what is "important" cultural property?

Derek Fincham has responded to my comment on a Germany as a developing "hub" in the antiquities market. My report was based on reported interviews with two German practitioners (one in a museum, the other in the police service) who felt that the German legislation would not be adequate to address the issue of recently surfaced antiquities.

Fincham comments on Article 5 of the UNESCO Convention with its emphasis on the establishment of "a list of important public and private cultural property". The Article also talks about "the formation of draft laws and regulations designed to secure the protection of the cultural heritage and particularly prevention of the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of important cultural property" (emphasis mine).

What is important? Would a single Apulian krater fall into that category? What about a pair of kraters? What about a set of South Italian cavalry armour?

Some could argue that these items are not "imp…

The Universal Museum: another view?

I have written about the Universal Museum and it is the end of another week.

So as an antidote to postings about truckloads of antiquities trundling back to Italy or withdrawn lots at London auctions .... and in the spirit of BBC Radio 4's "I'm sorry I haven't a clue" (the self-styled "antidote to panel games") ... here is the "Encyclopaedic Museum Starter Kit!".

The archive section covers themes addressed on "Looting Matters":
repatriationCoptic sculpturesthe Parthenon marblesthe level of looting in Iraq

Germany: "it's like an antiquities laundry"

Last week's news story that more than 4000 antiquities will be trucked back to Italy from Switzerland ended by noting that Germany is now a major centre of antiquities.

Germany ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property in November 2007. The reason for the action was given in a press release issued after the German Cabinet had made the appropriate decision in February 2006.
Minister of State for Cultural Affairs Bernd Neumann presented the cabinet with a draft bill that will implement in German law the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The cabinet approved the bill at its meeting today. This legislation is among the most important projects on the government's agenda in the framework of a 100-day program of action in the cultural affairs arena.

This concludes an unusua…

"Fully provenanced": overheard in a New York gallery

A key issue in the discussion of recently-surfaced antiquities is the establishment of a documented history, or as some choose to call it "the provenance". Professor Elizabeth Marlowe of Colgate University teaches an interesting-looking module, "Small Classical Bronzes in the Picker Art Gallery: Looting, Faking and Collecting Antiquities in the Post-Colonial World". One of the aims of the course is to "examine the epistemological and ethical problems inherent in the study and collecting of unprovenanced antiquities".

In mid-October the class had a field trip to New York City, and apart from visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the home of a private collector, there was time in a gallery selling antiquities. (I am aware of the name of the gallery but will not disclose it here; for some New York dealers in antiquities click here).

I am grateful to Professor Marlowe for allowing me to summarise (and post) what happened next. The class apparently witness…

Ny Carlsberg: In the Spotlight

Jette Christiansen has written about the requests made by Italy against the Ny Carlsberg in the 2008 Annual Report ("I mediernes søgelys", Ny Carlsbergsfondets Årsskrift (2008) pp. 138-45 [pdf]). Back in January it seemed that the Italian authorities would be turning their attention to Denmark (and Japan). It has been reported that some items had been purchased from Robert Hecht and that at least one had passed through the hands of Giacomo Medici.

Christiansen reviews the recent press coverage of the Ny Carlsberg's acquisitions. The formal request from the Italian authorities was made in 2002 in connection with the Roman trial of certain dealers and museums curators; nobody is mentioned by name. It appears that there is documentation for transactions that were made through Switzerland. Renewed requests were made by the Italian authorities in January 2007.

Christiansen asserts that Italy has no legal claim in the Ny Carlsberg's collection. However there is an admissio…

Icklingham: Continued Looting

The fields of Icklingham in Suffolk were the site of a notorious piece of looting in the 1980s when a series of Romano-British bronzes were extracted, removed from Britain, and sold through a New York gallery to a pair of North American private collectors (complete with apparently fictitious history about having been in a Swiss private collection).

Now Paul Barford has drawn attention to a recent newspaper report about John Browning, the farmer at Icklingham ("Thieves target historic site", East Anglian Daily Times, November 7, 2008). The paper reports:
Last night [John Browning] told how his fields had been targeted three times in the past five days by night-time thieves carrying metal detectors. It is understood they dig up the area looking for valuable Roman artefacts following the discovery there of a number of bronze heads and statuettes.

They are the latest in a string of incidents involving treasure hunters. At least 50 people have been caught and penalised over the year…

Razia Iqbal on the British Museum

The BBC's Arts Correspondent, Razia Iqbal, has written about the British Museum's latest exhibition, Babylon: Myths and Realities, which opens later this week.
And then, what hits you in the final room of the exhibition is the tragedy of what is happening in what is present-day Babylon, southern Iraq. The British Museum does not mince its words. It accuses the coalition troops who are serving there of having caused irreversible damage to what it describes as one of the world's most important archaeological sites.

The extent of this destruction is made public for the first time in the exhibition. After the fall of Saddam, many historic sites were looted by Iraqis, hunting for antiquities; Babylon was spared that fate, only to fall to a worse one, from which the Museum says it will never recover: Occupation by more than 2,000 soldiers.

It was the digging of long trenches for military purposes, levelling areas of the site, driving vehicles around it, establishing a helipad in o…

Wordle on Looting Matters

This is a Wordle image generated by recent postings from Looting Matters.

Iraq and Antiquities: Looking Back to 2003

It seems to be "fashionable" to be looking back to "old" news stories about Iraq ... so I had better warn you now that this comment looks back to 2003.

As the missiles started to fall on Baghdad, The Times (London) reported the fears for archaeological sites and objects in Iraq (Dalya Alberge, "War and its aftermath threaten Iraqi treasures", The Times, March 26, 2003).

Lord Renfrew was said to be "demanding to know whether a coalition of American collectors and curators is seeking to acquire Iraqi antiquities after the fall of President Saddam Hussein." This coalition was described as:

A group of wealthy and influential arts figures calling themselves the American Council for Cultural Policy (ACCP) is arguing that the legitimate dispersal of cultural material is one of the best ways to protect it. The coalition's members wield such influence that they secured a high-level meeting in January with US State and Defence Department officials, to t…

Renfrew on Cuno: Museums as Custodians

Earlier this week Lord Renfrew was in debate with James Cuno on the BBC. Renfrew's view of James Cuno's position is now made crystal clear in his review of Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? for the Burlington Magazine. Renfrew noted the "readable and lucidly argued book James Cuno sets out what might, ten years ago, have been described as the art museum director’s case on the proprieties of ownership and acquisition". Cuno's position is considered to be "traditional" (and by implication rather dated).

Renfrew notes a weakness in Cuno's approach:
But the issues in the two cases – modern, clandestine looting, versus colonial or imperial appropriation, mainly during the nineteenth century and by the leading world powers of the day – are not the same.Such a mix does however come together in the present Nostoi exhibition in Athens where recent returns from Italy and Greece are placed alongside returns of parts of the Parthenon frieze (Palermo and the Vatican)…

Warehouses, Antiquities and Basel

There has been much attention given to the raids on the warehouses belonging to Giacomo Medici in the Geneva Freeport. But these were not the only storage facilities in Switzerland to be raided.

Premises associated with Gianfranco Becchina were raided in May 2002. Some 5000 objects were reportedly recovered from three warehouses. A fourth warehouse in Basel was raided in September 2005. Some 10,000 photographs were recovered as well as some 200 "bundles of receipts" (Kazuki Matsuura, "Records tie Japan to art theft; Italian prosecutors discover link to Japanese antique dealer", The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo) January 16, 2007).

Papers from these raids have been mentioned in the Rome trial of Marion True and Robert Hecht (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Photographs of Getty Griffins in Car Trunk Shown at Rome Trial",
The New York Times June 1, 2006):
In trial testimony Giuseppe Putrino, an officer with the art theft squad, described documents recovered in a raid last summer …

Gianfranco Becchina: some recent links

It is three years since the relentless return of antiquities from museums and collections to Italy started. One of the first items to return was the "Asteas krater" from the J. Paul Getty Museum
("Vase seized by ICE from Getty Museum returned to Italy", States News Service, November 10, 2005; see also the Getty press release October 3, 2005). The piece, made in the region of Paestum in southern Italy, was handed over to the Italian authorities and flown back to Rome.

It was reported that the krater had been discovered in the 1970s; the finder exchanged it, reportedly, for a pig. By 1978 the pot was in a "private collection" in Switzerland where it was seen by a curator from the Getty. The krater was then placed on loan to the Getty and purchased three years later from Gianfranco Becchina for US $275,000. The first official request for the krater's return was made in 1999.

Among the other returns from the Getty to Italy was an Attic red-figured amphora s…

Major Return to Italy from Switzerland

It has been announced that Switzerland will be returning some 4,400 antiquities to Italy (Frank Jordans, "Swiss to return stolen antiquities to Italy", AP November 6, 2008). The antiquities, which will fill three lorry-loads, were seized in 2001 from storage facilities of two Basel-based antiquities dealers. The return is the culmination of an extended legal battle to keep the "stock" in Switzerland.

Apparently half the items had been derived from tombs in Apulia, reminding us of the problem of looting in this area. (Several Apulian pots have been returned from North American collections to Italy; Italy has also been seeking the return of Apulian material from Leiden.)

Guido Lassau, a Swiss archaeologist, made the key point that will strike a chord with colleagues:
They're very well preserved because they spent the last 2,000 years in a virtual time capsule until they were plundered by grave robbers ... But the tragic thing is that a lot of the archaeological info…

Another Parthenon Fragment In Athens

It is reported that the Vatican returned a small fragment of the Parthenon frieze to Athens yesterday, November 5 (Daniel Flynn, "Vatican lends Parthenon Marbles fragment to Greece", Reuters, November 5, 2008; press release). The piece comes from Slab V of the North Frieze and shows the head of one of the tray-bearers who proceed the men carrying hydriai (Slab VI, in Athens). It forms part of the collection of the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco (inv. 1014) in the Vatican. The fragment was presented to the Vatican in 1804 by the wife of R. Fagan, the British consul in Sicily and the Ionian Islands.
The loan of the fragment, one of three in the Vatican Museum's vast collection of antiquities, follows a request for its return by Greece's late Orthodox Archbishop Christopoulos at a meeting with Pope Benedict in 2006.The Hellenic Minister of Culture, Michalis Liapis, commented:
This is a very important event ... It should be an example to follow for the return of the Parthenon Ma…

Plutocracy and Cultural Policy

The dust had hardly settled on the parties to celebrate the historic victory of Senator Barack Obama before a pro-collecting Washington lobbyist had started to grumble.
wealthy collectors have also provided support for Obama. One would also suspect they would act as counterweights to the "archaeology over all" perspective of Professor Gerstenblith, SAFE and others.Peter Tompa - the lobbyist and former president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) - has called for more transparency in matters relating to cultural property. What we need to see is integrity.

The world's archaeological heritage belongs to us all, not just to a plutocratic collecting minority.

Cuno and Renfrew on recently-surfaced antiquities

James Cuno and Lord Renfrew discussed the issue of recently surfaced antiquities on the BBC's flagship Today news programme. They were interviewed by Sarah Montague who brought a crispness to the proceedings.

Cuno stressed the ownership of the world's ancient past and returned to his oft-quoted theme that there was no direct link between antiquity and modern nation states.

Renfrew agreed that antiquity belongs to us all, but reminded the listeners that this shared ownership also brings responsibilities. He then changed the direction of the interview towards the issue of looting: "The great problem at present is the destruction of the record of the past through looting." He suggested that museums and private collectors should not be free to buy recently-surfaced antiquities.

While Cuno accepted the issue of looting, Renfrew criticised Cuno for not using the 1970 UNESCO Convention as a benchmark. Cuno responded that he did not accept 1970 as a "legal" date and p…

Shanks: "if there were no market for looted antiquities, looting would stop"

Hershel Shanks of Biblical Archaeology Review has written a provocative and, in my opinion, wrong-headed piece, "First Person: A Radical Proposal. Why don’t the archaeologists join the looters?", BAR 34:06, Nov/Dec 2008.

Here is Shanks' comment on the archaeological "suggestion" for limiting the looting of sites:
The archaeological establishment’s principal suggestion that will supposedly stop the looting is—well, not to put too fine a point on it—stupid. “Don’t buy looted antiquities” is the strategy. Admittedly, if there were no market for looted antiquities, looting would stop. If the looters could not sell their loot, they would discontinue looting.The antiquities recently returned to Italy and Greece from North American collections have reminded us that objects need to have histories that can be documented prior to 1970. If a tombarolo discovered another Attic red-figured krater attributed to (or "signed" by) Euphronios in an Etruscan tomb, I have …

Congratulations to Barack Obama

Congratulations to Senator Barack Obama on his historic win to be the next President of the United States of America.

This also has implications for those who follow cultural property affairs. The Obama National Arts Policy Committee includes Professor Patty Gerstenblith of De Paul University who will provide an informed voice in any debates relating to these matters.

Coins by Post

The Yemen News Agency has reported on the interception of a parcel of antique gold and silver coins at Sana'a Airport ("Authorities seize postal parcels contain antique coins", November 2, 2008). It appears that the home of the sender was raided and a further 310 bronze coins were seized.

The report concluded with a seizure made in the previous week: "authorities seized three parcels in Sana'a Airport contain golden coins date back to Islamic Era and silver coins date back to different ages."

Collecting Histories and Lack of Transparency

Over the last few months I have requested information about four items from two North American museums that are members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). All four items have been acquired since 2002; three come from one museum, one from the other. Both museums have declined to respond or even to acknowledge the requests.

Yet the “2008 Report of the AAMD Subcommittee on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art” stated in the Principles:
D. AAMD is committed to the exercise of due diligence in the acquisition process, in particular in the research of proposed acquisitions, transparency in the policy applicable to acquisitions generally, and full and prompt disclosure following acquisition.Moreover in the Guidelines the report emphasises:
E. Member museums normally should not acquire a work unless provenance research substantiates that the work was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970 or was legally exported from its probable count…