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Showing posts from June, 2009

Parthenon marbles in European context

I have earlier commented on the way that the New Acropolis Museum will display the architectural marbles from the Parthenon within sight of the fifth century BCE temple on the Athenian acropolis. You will be able to wander down the south slope, past the theatre of Dionysos and straight into the museum.

At least to see part of the surviving sculptures. The rest are on the display a little further away.

At least for the moment.

Image derived from Google Earth.

Euphronios: The Lost Chalice by Vernon Silver

Vernon Silver has produced a remarkable book from his Oxford University doctoral research: it is a page turner. (I noted the acknowledgment to lunches with Colin Dexter author of the Inspector Morse novels.) It concentrates on the Euphronios cup that passed into the Bunker Hunt collection. However, the Sarpedon krater also features prominently.

I do not intend to write a full review here, but it would be appropriate to share some of the points. If anybody is in any doubt about the level of destruction caused by the looting process in order to supply the market they need to read The Lost Chalice. The account of the search for antiquities at Greppe Sant'Angelo at Cerveteri in Tuscany is sickening. This does not represent the casual finding of artefacts during agricultural work; it is the deliberate ransacking of ancient tombs in the search for saleable material.

Silver helped me to understand Giacomo Medici and The Lost Chalice provides a different position to that found in The Medic…

Keeping the marbles will now be terrible PR for Britain

Rowan Moore, the architecture critic for London's Evening Standard, has written a piece on his visit to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens ("Now let's return the Elgin Marbles", June 24, 2009). He is not totally enthusiastic about the new building:
You enter, under a vast, clumsy portico, an elephantine proboscis propped on three thumping columns. Throughout the building, architecture gets in the way of the exhibits. There are too many fat columns, and thick joints between panels, and holes cut in walls and ceiling for purposes of acoustics or lighting. The serene sculptures are interrupted with too much visual noise.He also objects to the "pointless vandalism" of demolishing the Art Deco buildings that stand between the museum and the archaeological zone.

But the building has persuaded him of one thing:
Standing there on Sunday, as the first members of the public flooded in, and armed with all the arguments of a London patriot, I felt my objections melting aw…

"Pot hunting" and absentee archaeologists?

I was interested to read the Las Vegas Review-Journaleditorial on the "pot hunting" episode in the Four Corners region (June 21, 2009).
No one is endorsing wanton vandalism of such sites or artifacts. But it would be useful and realistic if a cooperative, rather than an adversarial, approach allowed quick surveys of such sites, with the most archaeologically promising being set aside for near-future professional digs, with residents told "Harvest the rest if you can."

How do all such artifacts -- even those unknown and undiscovered -- automatically become the property of absentee archaeologists who may never even show up?The piece then points to two voices for the collecting lobby: Kate Fitz Gibbon and Peter Tompa (see my comments here).

Praise to "Doug" for leaving his thoughts on the Editorial:
The first false assumption is that the looted items "belong" to long dead peoples. Archaeological objects on federal lands belong to all Americans.

Second, …

Antiquities, ancient coins and changing attitudes in North America

Over the last few years over 100 antiquities have been returned to Italy from major North American museums. The piece that attracted the most publicity was the Sarpedon krater by Euphronios; it was returned by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Other items include a Roman portrait statue of Sabina, and quantities of pottery made in Apulia, southern Italy. These voluntary returns, offered without active legal action, have done much to restore the patinated reputations of museums.

The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) that serves as an umbrella organisation for museums has now changed its policies on the acquisition of undocumented antiquities. The AAMD now advises constituent organisations not to buy objects that are unknown prior to 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. A public object registry has been launched by the AAMD with the object of letting …

Papoulias: Now is the time ...

The President of Greece, Dr Karolos Papoulias, has been quoted in the New York Times ("Greece presses its case", June 22, 2009) in the wake of the opening of The Acropolis Museum. Speaking about the Parthenon he is quoted:
It's time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it.

Congratulations on the Opening of the New Acropolis Museum

I would like to offer my congratulations on the opening of the New Acropolis Museum.

Image © David Gill

"A catalyst for the return of the Parthenon Marbles"

On the eve of the opening of the New Acropolis Museum there have been some more quotes from key figures (Elena Becatoros, "New Acropolis Museum highlights missing marbles", AP June 19, 2009).

Dimitris Pantermalis, the museum's director, is quoted over the Parthenon sculptures:
This was an act of barbarism that can be corrected ... It's not an issue of pointing a finger at the British Museum, but of building bridges ... that can correct the unfortunate historic event of 1800.Antonis Samaris, the Hellenic Minister of Culture, commented on the opening:
In essence it will be a constant, silent denunciation of the Parthenon Marbles' continued absence ... [The new museum] is a catalyst for the return of the Parthenon Marbles.The alternative view is expressed by Hannah Boulton, the press officer of the British Museum, who restates the position of the universal museum:
I think they belong to all of us. We are all global citizens these days ... The Acropolis Museum is obvious…

Displaying the Parthenon Sculptures

From Saturday it will be possible to stand in the upper gallery of the New Acropolis Museum and look across at the Parthenon. Archaeological material from the range of sites within the Acropolis area will be on display as part of a coherent scheme.

Mithraic Relief Recovered in Italy

There is a report that Italian police recovered a second century CE relief of Mithras back in March ("Italy police recover looted relief of Roman god", AP June 16, 2009). The raid took place on a private house near Rome.

It seems that some sort of transaction was about to take place as a Japanese private collector was involved.

The New Acropolis Museum: Archaeological Material in Context

The New Acropolis Museum is due to open in Athens this week. This is a project that captures my imagination. It brings together the sculptures, inscriptions and other archaeological material from the area of the Athenian Acropolis and displays them together in a single location.

There is an ascent through the archaic sculptures dating to the sixth and early fifth centuries BCE. Statues of women, riders and scribes reflect the types of dedications that were being made in this urban sanctuary in the decades leading up to the Persian Wars. The surviving colours on the painted marble are perhaps testimony to the tidying operation that took place after the Persian destruction. Here are the architectural and sculptural remains of the early temple of Athena that was built under the Tyranny.

This display prepares the visitor for the ascent to the level where the sculptures (and casts) from the Parthenon itself are displayed. The frieze looks outwards as it would have done on the original build…

Lord Owen on the Parthenon Marbles

Lord Owen has written a letter to The Times (June 15, 2009) about the Hellenic Ministry of Culture's rejection of the offer of a loan of the Parthenon sculptures presently residing in the British Museum. The letter comments:
The only way that the Elgin Marbles can make periodic visits to the new Acropolis Museum, which is highly desirable, is if there is an EU cultural treaty couched in general terms allowing for the transfer of antiquities between the museums of member states in a way that guarantees, under international law, all aspects of their movement. In this way the EU would be demonstrating that it is a unique international organisation capable of ensuring the cultural heritage of its citizens without establishing precedents that could lead to the return to their country of origin of many objets d’art which enrich the museums of the EU member states.For the full letter click here.

Butrint Return: from Albania to Rome via London

Last month I commented on the return of a head of Asclepius that had been excavated at Butrint in Albania. The head had been seized from the Rome collection of Massimo Rossi back in 2005. It appears that the sculpture had been purchased at Christie's in London at an auction on July 6, 1996, lot 430 (Besar Likmeta, "Stolen Antiquities Face Difficult Journey Home", June 12, 2009). It is not clear who consigned the head to Christie's.

Likmeta also comments on a head of Livia that seems to have disappeared from Butrint at the same time. This is said to have been offered to a museum in Germany by Robert Hecht. Hecht returned the portrait to Albania in 2000.

Hellenic Ministry of Culture responds to the British Museum

Antonis Samaras of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture has responded to a radio interview given by Hannah Boulton, a press officer at the British Museum on Skaï (press release, June 11, 2009; story on Skaï; see also "Greece rejects Parthenon Marbles loan offer: ministry", Agence France Presse, June 11, 2009).

Boulton apparently said that the Trustees of the British Museum would be willing to consider a three month loan on condition that the Hellenic Government accepted British ownership of the sculptures (αν η ελληνική κυβέρνηση αναγνώριζε ότι ανήκουν στο Βρετανικό Μουσείο).

Samaras felt that this indicated that the British Museum was willing to enter a dialogue with the Greek authorities. The British offer was rejected (Η Κυβέρνηση, ωστόσο, όπως θα έκανε και κάθε άλλη ελληνική κυβέρνηση στη θέση της, είναι υποχρεωμένη να απαντήσει αρνητικά στη συγκεκριμένη πρόταση του Βρετανικού Μουσείου). Samaras would consider offering the British Museum material to fill the space (the Duveen …

Replica of the Getty kouros

I noticed a short notice in Il Giorno (April 14, 2009). It looks like the rivalry between Gianfranco Becchina --- apparently a one-time supplier of olive oil to the White House --- and Giacomo Medici has taken another turn. Medici has commissioned a replica of the Getty kouros that has been presented to the museum; the original was purchased from Becchina.

Greece and the return of antiquities

Greece has been stepping up its campaign for the return of recently looted antiquities. One of the most famous cases in recently years involved the Aidonia Treasure that had apparently been found in Mycenaean graves not far from Nemea in the Peloponnese. These gold items surfaced in a New York gallery in 1993.

Other objects include a marble funerary lekythos that was returned in the spring of 2008 from a dealer in Switzerland. A fragmentary marble funerary stele, from a rural cemetery in Attica, was returned to Greece in July 2008; the other part of it had been found during excavations. The repatriated upper section was returned by a North American collector. This same collector also handed over a bronze calyx-krater that is reported to have been found in a rich grave in northern Greece.

A gold funerary wreath is also likely to have been found in grave somewhere in Macedonia. This had been acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1993 after passing through Switzerland. Two other pieces w…

Borsetshire metal-detecting search thwarted

Followers of BBC Radio 4's "The Archers" will know that Eddie and Joe had sneaked onto Oliver's land to investiage a "tump" with their metal-detector.
Concerned that Eddie and Joe are sneaking up to Grange Farm to uncover their supposed hoard with the metal detector, Clarrie tips Ed the wink. So when Joe and Eddie are busy digging, Oliver arrives with Ed. Since they thought he was away at a conference, this is a bit of a shock.

Ed explains that, just as Eddie suggested, he told Oliver all about the tump and the coins they found there. So Oliver has come to see what they find. Cornered, and well aware that he and Ed had no such conversation, Eddie can only agree. Unfortunately, all they find is some old machinery. Clarrie apologises to Oliver, but he’s not angry. In fact, he says they can dig on the farm any time and they’ll split the findings between them.

As Paul Barford has noted, should the PAS Finds Officer have been informed?

Looted Tiles Returned to Iran

At the end of last week it was reported in the Iranian press that "dozens of historic decorative tiles" that had been looted from Iran had been handed to officials at the Iranian Embassy in London ("Smuggled tiles to be returned to Iran", May 30, 2009). The tiles had been removed ("ripped") from the tomb of Sultan Shihab al-Din Sultan Ahmad at Dyla in northern Iran.

Seyyed Ali Mousavi, the legal adviser at the Iranian embassy in London, is quoted:
The tiles are about 600 years old. They were stolen from the tomb of Sultan Shihab al-Din Sultan Ahmad and were smuggled out of the country ... They were taken to London from Dubai to be sold in an auction ... Interpol in London confiscated the tiles after Iran presented the related documents that indicated that they belonged to Iran.There is also a statement from the UK's Metropolitan Police("Tiles from Sultan's tomb returned to Iran", May 29, 2009):
They [sc. the tiles] were sent for auction at …

Roman wall-painting seized from Manhattan gallery

A second antiquity was seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Manhattan on Monday("ICE seizes a cultural artifact reported stolen in Italy almost 12 years ago", press release). The Roman fresco had been been identified by the Art Loss Register. The wall-painting had been found at Boscoreale and had then been kept in a store at Pompeii. It had been noted as stolen in June 1997.

Five other fragments stolen with it have now been recovered.
London, unspecified gallery, press release February 2009
Image Courtesy of ICE

Corinthian krater recovered from Christie's

On Monday this week (June 1 2009) staff of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are reported to have recovered a Corinthian column-krater from Christie's in New York ("Stolen Italian artifact smuggled into the United States found at auction house", press release). The items had apparently been identified through a photographic image.

The press release notes:
The investigation into the Corinthian column krater revealed it may have been illegally introduced into the art market by Giacomo Medici and a third party at Sotheby's Auction house in 1985.
Does this mean that the krater appears in the archive of Polaroids seized in raids on the Geneva Freeport?

An item that had passed through one of Sotheby's London sales in 1985 had to be withdrawn from auction at Bonhams last October, and two other pieces that had surfaced by the same route in the same year have also been returned to Italy.

A second Corinthian column-krater has been returned to Italy from the Cle…

Sotheby's 1984 sale: a re-emergence

In October 2008 Bonhams (London) had to withdraw several pieces. Among them was:
Lot 10: Apulian hydria. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21st, 1984, lot 384. [see list]
(At least three other pieces from this sale had passed through the Graham Geddes collection: lots 222 [Apulian hydria], 372 [Paestan lebes gamikos], and 408 [Apulian volute-krater].)

This incident should alert vendors to potential problems with this specific May 1984 sale given that antiquities that passed through Sotheby's (London) in the 1980s have featured regularly in the returns to Italy (and see also other pieces withdrawn from sale at Bonham's).

The due diligence process will have no doubt been doubly thorough for lot 375 from the same May 1984 auction. The Attic black-figured Band cup is now due to be offered at Christie's on June 3, 2009, lot 104. Who was the original consignor for the cup?

The cup (lot 375) subsequently passed to the Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 1984, and then th…

Reduced sale of antiquities at Sotheby's

I normally give a summary of the two sales of antiquities at Sotheby's New York (see comments on last June's sale). This week antiquities forms part of a sale of "Old Master Paintings, European Sculpture & Antiquities" (Thursday June 4, 2009) --- and there are only 70 lots containing antiquities.

What has happened to the market? Is it a sign of the current worldwide economic crisis or are there fewer antiquities with "good provenance" around?

Is the archaeology of the Balkans under threat?

The archaeology of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is under serious threat. In 2006 it was claimed that some 1 million artefacts had been smuggled out of the country in the fifteen years since its independence in 1991. Pasko Kuzman, head of the National Directorate for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, has called for the return of the Koreschnica krater that is said to have been removed from a sixth century BCE burial mound in the south of the country. It is reported to be in the possession of an unidentified New York collector.

The piece, used for mixing water and wine, is apparently similar to a krater found at Trebinshte in the closing stages of the First World War near the (present) boundary between FYROM and Albania.

The mound at Koreschnica covered an underground burial chamber buried under 3.8 m of rocks and rubble. The burial was looted during the 1990s. Finds are said to have included some 18 Illyrian bronze helmets, and three bronze warriors. The krater ha…

Operation Phoenix: Ali Aboutaam "urges" others to repatriate antiquities

On May 19 it was reported that an unnamed Geneva dealer had returned 251 antiquities worth some €2 million (see earlier comments). My press release, "Looting Matters: Why Is Switzerland Featured so Frequently in the Return of Antiquities?", PR Newswire May 29, 2009 Friday 12:01 PM GMT subsequently noted:
"In May 2009 251 antiquities worth around 2 million Euros (US $2.8 million) were returned to Italy from a Geneva-based gallery."One hour later another release appeared, "Phoenix Ancient Art Voluntarily Repatriates 251 Antiquities to Italy Worth $2.7 Million", PR Newswire May 29, 2009 Friday 1:00 PM GMT.
Phoenix Ancient Art, the world's leading dealer in rare treasures from ancient Western civilizations, announced today that it has voluntarily repatriated 251 antiquities valued at $2.7 Million (EU 2Million) to the State of Italy.Why did it take ten days for Phoenix Ancient Art to make this statement? What prompted this latest move?

Ali Aboutaam was quoted…