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Showing posts from October, 2010

From Zurich to London and beyond

Earlier this summer Fabio Isman revealed the origins of some of the figure-decorated pottery in Madrid's National Archaeological Museum. Among the pieces illustrated in The Art Newspaper was a Gnathian krater apparently sitting in the workshop of Fritz Bürki in Zurich. (The newspaper on which the objects are resting is indicative.)

Madrid has yet to respond to the revelations.

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First published in The Art Newspaper.

From Saqqara to Barcelona

I am grateful to my postgraduate students for pointing me to another Barcelona story ("Pillaged ancient Egyptian artefacts discovered in Spain", BBC News September 15, 2010). It appears that Josep Cervelló, an Egyptologist, recognised some pieces in the window of a gallery in the city ("La redención de Imephor", El Pais September 16, 2010). Cervelló had worked at Saqqara until the excavation was disrupted by looting in 1999. The name (Imephor) on one of the pieces in the Barcelona gallery "made him suspect" that these newly surfaced pieces came from the site. The Barcelona galerista claimed that the items had been acquired on the London market ("Un saqueo con escala en Londres", El Pais September 16, 2010). A police officer claimed that the galerista had acted in "good faith" ("Actuó de buena fe"). The 8 limestone fragments were on sale for between 2000 and 10000 Euros ("Pieces of ancient Egyptian necropolis found in Spa…

The Portable Antiquities Scheme: Discovering Our Past

I have been putting together some final thoughts on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and The Treasure Act (1996) for an invited forum piece. (I am grateful to key members of PAS who have supplied additional information, as well as to other colleagues for their comments.) I made a point of looking at the PAS display in the British Museum last week (on the way to lecture at the Institute of Archaeology) and found time to consider this important public interface.

The "past" of England and Wales is certainly being discovered and some of it is being recorded. But how much information is being lost? How much material goes unreported?

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© David Gill, 2010

Bonhams: Resurfacing Antiquities

Mark Hughes has written a significant piece on the October sale of antiquities at Bonhams ("Bonhams: Lots of trouble on New Bond Street", The Independent October 27, 2010). The story was broken by Italian journalist Fabio Isman in the Art Newspaper on the eve of the sale. The two lots had reported collecting histories: they are said to have resided in Swiss and European private collections. What is new in the story is that Hughes reveals that Bonhams had been aware of the possible identification of the two pieces well before the sale took place:
"Days before the auction the house received an email from an eminent academic alerting them to the questionable provenance of the lots, but it pressed ahead with the sale."Bonhams has claimed that it had conducted a search with the Art Loss Register. But Chris Marinello, an executive director of the ALR, has clarified the ALR's position:
The controversy is that the Italian government does not want to release the photograp…

The Staffordshire Hoard: fieldwork

A review of the fieldwork conducted after the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard has appeared. The report includes plans showing the location of the discovery and its relationship to the line of Watling Street.

Dean, S., D. Hooke, and A. Jones. 2010. "The 'Staffordshire Hoard': the fieldwork." Antiquaries Journal 90: 139-52

Stolen Statue Recovered in London

The Italian Culture Ministry has announced the recovery of a statue of Zeus in London ("ARCHEOLOGIA: Recuperate in U. K. statua in marmo rubata a Roma nel 2002 dall’ Istituto Culturale Norvegese", October 15, 2010). The Carabinieri identified it in an unspecified London antiquities gallery. The statue had been stolen from the Norwegian Institute in May 2002. The gallery handed over the statue voluntarily without recourse to legal proceedings.

How did the Zeus get to the London gallery? Who was the vendor? What was the pathway from Rome?

PAS Annual Reports

I have been working on an invited discussion of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and have been frustrated by the absence of annual reports on their website.

So here they are:

2003/2004 (from PAS website)2004/2005 (from PAS website)2005/2006 (from PAS website)2007 (full report from the National Council for Metal Detecting) (summary from PAS) (Google Docs from PAS)2008 (statistical release from PAS website)2009
I would be grateful for further links.

Marion True: response

Hugh Eakin has posted a piece on "Marion True on her trial and ordeal" for the New Yorker (October 14, 2010). True comments:
My greatest sadness is that the Italians were able to intimidate the entire American art world, and especially museums, without having to produce any evidence at all. Why didn’t museums band together and say, “How are we going to deal with this?” They ran off instead to make their own deals—deals which may not exactly be very good in the long run. Why did we hand over all this stuff without asking for more documents? The trial was a gigantic threat that everyone reacted to. The message was, “You could be next.”The answer appears to be that no museum wanted to have the evidence that the Italians were known to have presented in court, or given to the media. Museums have been able to get away without disclosing the collecting histories of the pieces: New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum, and the Cleveland Museum of…

Looting Matters and Wordle

Here is the Wordle cloud for recent discussion on Looting Matters.

Greece and CPAC: Statement from James Wright

Professor James Wright of Bryn Mawr gave evidence at this week's meeting of CPAC to consider the proposed MOU with Greece. Wright has excavated at Nemea and is director of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project.

The Aidonia Treasure appears to have been found in the vicinity of Nemea. And Wright notes a recent excavation nearby:
Wright also recounted his own excavation in 2002 of a Late Bronze Age tomb that proved to be empty, having been thoroughly looted by grave robbers. “The destruction of this tomb makes it extremely difficult to understand the history of its use,” he said, “all the more the pity since it certainly belonged with the nearby Mycenaean settlement my team and I excavated.”
Wright made it clear that the proposed MOU with Greece needed to be signed:
Given the high price fetched by Greek antiquities in the United States, Wright said, illicit excavations and trafficking in such items are bound to continue unless our government acts to stop it. The damage trafficking …

Looting Matters: Rome Trial of Marion True Dropped

Looting Matters: Rome Trial of Marion True Dropped

Discussion of the dropping of the Rome case against Marion True.

Egyptian sarcophagi returning to Egypt

There are several reports that several Egyptian sarcophagi will be returning to Egypt from collections in the United States (e.g. "US to return smuggled sarcophagi to Egypt", Daily News Egypt October 14, 2010). The items were removed from Egypt 50 years ago (thus around 1960, long before the 1970 UNESCO Convention) and they have been recovered in North America.

AAMD on the MOU with Greece

The AAMD has made available its two submissions to CPAC relating to the proposed MOU with Greece.
a. Statement of the Association of Art Museum Directors; Presented by Stephen J. Knerly, Jr.
b. Statement of the Association of Art Museum Directors; Presented by Larry Feinberg, Director Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Knerly sums up his paper:
As a result, the Committee should recommend that Greece’s request be tabled for further study. The Committee should thoroughly investigate whether the statutory requirements necessary for the imposition of the import restrictions sought by Greece can be satisfied. In addition, before an MOU can be adopted by the United States, extensive work will need to done in order to create a designated list that does not sweep objects from all over the Mediterranean world into an effective trade embargo that would preclude the entry into the United States of objects from an extensive list of countries. Finally, the Committee should recommend that, in the interim, …

The Marion True Trial in Rome: some lessons

The news that the long-running Rome case against Marion True has been dropped was expected. The Italian authorities have demonstrated that they are unwilling to turn a blind eye to the acquisition of recently-surfaced antiquities that appear to have been removed from archaeological contexts in Italy. The parading of a curator from such a high profile museum must have sent an icy blast through many a museum with displays of antiquities. Torkom Demirjian of Ariadne Galleries in New York is likely to be right to interpret the case: "Don’t deal with Italian cultural patrimony or we’ll create a headache for you". And it is clear that raids on the Geneva Freeport provided the evidence to lay the trail from Italy to North America via Switzerland.

It would be inappropriate to ask how much True knew about such networks of suppliers and dealers. But it is worth considering if she ever considered the source (or collecting histories) of each of the items as they were offered to her. Why…

UK Quango cuts announced

The UK ConDem Coalition government has announced a list of quangos that will be cut (full list).

Here are the cuts relating to heritage bodes.

Museums, Libraries and Archives Council: Abolish body and transfer functionsRailway Heritage Committee: Abolish body and functionsAdvisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites: Abolish body and transfer functions in relation to England to English HeritageAdvisory Committee on National Historic Ships: Declassify and transfer functionsAdvisory Committee on the Government Art Collection: Declassify and reconstitute as a committee of experts
The following bodies are retained:

Museums listed as: Museums and Galleries (British Museum, Horniman Museum, Geffrye Museum, Imperial War Museum, Museum of Science and Industry Manchester, National Gallery, National Maritime Museum, National Museum of Science and Industry, National Museums Liverpool, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Royal Armouries, Sir John Sloane's Museum, Tate Gallery, Vict…

Neil Macgregor ... reaching 100

Neil Macgregor will be revealing object number 100 for his series, "A History of the World", live on BBC Radio 4's flagship Today programme. Listen at 7.45 am.

It is not too late to tweet your suggestion (#objectoftoday). What is the object for today? The iPhone?

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Neil Macgregor holding object 100 acquired at the 2010 Hay Guardian Festival? © David Gill

Marion True: press reactions

I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the reactions to the news that the case against Marion True has been dropped.

Nadja Brandt, "Italy Drops Conspiracy Charges Against Ex-Curator Marion True, Getty Says", Bloomberg.com OCtober 13, 2010.

Brandt quotes Torkom Demirjian of Ariadne Galleries in New York:
“It was a politically motivated trial just to send the message: Don’t deal with Italian cultural patrimony or we’ll create a headache for you ... This whole thing is a bureaucratic and ideological overreach. It’s a political decision to discourage private collecting of antiquities.”The Ariande Galleries, it should be remembered, were reported to be linked to the Icklingham bronzes.

Elisabetta Povoledo writes on the New York Times blog ("Case Involving Former Curator Marion True Ends", October 13, 2010):
Paolo Ferri, the now-retired prosecutor who built the case against Ms. True, said on Wednesday that the trial had served as a signal to museums that buyi…

Marion True: charges dropped

Earlier today formal charges against Marion True, a former curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, were dropped due to the statute of limitations (Jason Felch, "Charges dismissed against ex-Getty curator Marion True by Italian judge", LA Times October 13, 2010). The trial has certainly been long-running.

Felch notes:
True had dealings with Medici and his business partner, Robert Hecht. The acquisition of the private collection of Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman in 1996 of more than 300 antiquities marked the peak of the Getty's collecting period, and would later form the core of the Italian prosecutor's charges.
There is a note about True's position on recently-surfaced antiquities:
She has since become an outspoken critic of the way museums used to acquire antiquities. In her one interview with the press, True told a reporter for the New Yorker that she was innocent and argued that she had done more to further the Italian cause than any other curator in America.The D…

Crosby Garrett, the Treasure Act and Lord Renfrew

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn raised the issue of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet in a letter to The Times (London): 'Treasure Act Must Be Updated Now' (October 9, 2010). Commenting on the helmet's sale for more than £2million, Renfrew added (on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group):
Surely an object of this archaeological importance should go to a public museum, preferably within the region where it was found. There is, however, a deficiency in the legislation intended to secure this. A review of the Treasure Act was due in 2007 and is now clearly overdue. The Act has worked well in many circumstances, for example with the Staffordshire Hoard. We believe, however, that the definition of treasure should be extended without further delay to ensure that the public interest is more reliably safeguarded in the future. This can be done by order and does not require primary legislation.

Beans mean ... Crosby Garrett helmet

Farmer Eric Robinson of Crosby Garrett has confirmed that he would be receiving money from the sale of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet ("Farmer Full Of Beans After £2m Helmet Sold", The Journal (Newcastle upon Tyne) October 11, 2010). He tells how he plans to share the sale money with a metal-detectorist from County Durham: "My legs were like jelly as I followed the auction online. We're not party animals. We ate beans on toast and tried to take it in."

The report adds: "[Robinson] shared the fortune with the metal detector user from County Durham, who came across the 2,000-year-old find."


Crosby Garrett helmet: farmer comments

The Carlisle press has revealed the identity of the farmer associated with the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet (Thom Kennedy, "Fight on to keep Crosby Garrett Roman helmet in Britain", News and Star, October 9, 2010).
The farmer on whose land the helmet said he would have liked it to stay in Cumbria, but Eric Robinson remained tight lipped over whether he will receive any of the money raised from Thursday’s auction.

“It’s quite amazing [that it was worth so much],” he said. “I would have liked it to be kept in Cumbria but I can’t do anything about it.”

Mr Robinson said the man who found it had been coming to his farm for seven years and ‘hit the jackpot’ with this find.

He added: “I saw it when he found it. It looked very special, like it was pretty important.” This raises several questions:
a. When did Eric Robinson see the fragmentary helmet? Does he remember the exact date?
b. Was Eric Robinson shown the fragments in situ? Or in bags? Or in trays? Were the pieces still co…

Bland: "a real gap in the treasure law"

Roger Bland, head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), has now spoken about the sale of the so-called Crosby-Garrett Roman parade helmet: "[The sale] does expose a real gap in the treasure law - a review was promised three years ago, and if it had been carried out, this outcome could have been avoided" (Maev Kennedy, "£2m face-off leaves local museum the loser in auction battle for superb Roman helmet: Stunning bronze artefact found in Cumbrian field sold to anonymous bidder", The Guardian October 8, 2010).

Sally Worrell of PAS expressed her deep frustration with the outcome: "It's so frigging annoying ... I'm gutted, to be honest - it's so frustrating to have worked so long on this and then not see it go to the museum."

This case has raised questions about the effectiveness of the Treasure Act 1996 and its ability to protect the archaeological heritage of England and Wales. Any advocates of extending PAS-style schemes to other countries …

The find-spot of the Crosby Garrett helmet

The find-spot (or "provenance" to use the terminology of Christie's) for the Crosby Garrett helmet is given as: "Discovered by a metal detectorist, Crosby Garrett, Cumbria, May 2010". But what is the accurate and reliable collecting history?

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) suggests that the helmet "was found in 33 fragments, with 34 smaller fragments found in association." The finder was "a young guy" (according to Georgiana Aitken of Christie's) who has chosen to remain anonymous; he is clarified by the Independent as "from the North East of England and in his 20s". Yet there is a suggestion that there was more than one finder. Indeed the print edition of today's Independent ("Museum's £1.7m whip-round fails to save it Roman mask", Friday 8 October 201, 3) states:
"The helmet was unearthed in May by an unnamed father and son, from Peterlee, Co. Durham. They had spent years running their metal dete…

The Crosby Garrett Helmet: "It belongs to Cumbria"

Today's sale of the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet has provided widespread coverage. I was struck by the case made by the Tullie House Museum, the internationally important archaeological collection in Carlisle. 

It seems likely that an export restriction will be placed on the helmet. If so, I hope that the present proprietor will not be tempted to make a profit on this significant "find". But perhaps the new owner would consider putting it on permanent display in the county where it was found: Cumbria.

Crosby Garrett Helmet sold

The so-called Crosby Garrett Roman Helmet, allegedly found by a metal-detectorist at Crosby Garrett, Cumbria in May 2010, and swiftly restored to ready it for auction, was sold at Christie's (London) today for £2,281,250 ($3,631,750) (lot 176).

Comment from the BBC

Medici Dossier and the London Market: Update

Last night the Art Newspaper revealed that two lots due to be auctioned at Bonhams today appeared to feature in the Medici Dossier.

The sale is taking place now but here are the outcomes for the two lots in question:
Lot 94: Attic red-figured pelike, attributed to the Eretria painter (Michael Padgett [1993]). Collecting history:  "European private collection, formed between the 1960s and early 1990s. Acquired by the present owner in 1993. Accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate." Estimate: £3000-5000. Apparently unsold.Lot 95: Head oinochoe. Collecting history: "Swiss private collection formed in 1960s-1970s". Estimate: £2000-3000. Sold: £3600.

Medici Dossier and the London Market

The online version of The Art Newspaper has released details of two further pieces items identified from the Medici Dossier (Fabio Isman and Melanie Gerlis, "Medici “loot” for sale?", The Art Newspaper 217 (October 2010)). The pieces are due to be auctioned at Bonhams on 6 October 2010. The two lots mentioned in the report are lots 94 (an Attic pelike; "European private collection, formed between the 1960s and early 1990s. Acquired by the present owner in 1993. Accompanied by an Art Loss Register certificate") and 95 (an Attic head oinochoe; "Swiss private collection formed in 1960s-1970s").
The two objects are an Attic jar (lot 94, pictured), around 440-415BC (est £3,000-£5,000), and a Greek pottery pitcher (lot 95), around 400-350BC (est £2,000-£3,000).Isman and Gerlis state:
Pictures in the Bonhams catalogue of the two works coming to auction on 6 October appear similar to Polaroids found in Medici’s Geneva store, which were seized in 1995 and presented…

Bronze Statue Seized in Algeria

I have noted before the Roman portrait of Marcus Aurelius stolen from a museum in Algeria. A report notes the seizure of antiquities, including a bronze statue, in Algeria (M. Abi, "Des statuettes antiques récupérées par la gendarmerie", Le Temps d'Algérie October 2, 2010).

It is also noted that in January 2007 some 250 antiquities were seized at Aguenar Airport (in southern Algeria); 3200 were recovered in 2006.

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Source: Le Temps d'Algérie.