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Showing posts from August, 2010

A Minoan larnax in New York

In 2002 the Michael J. Carlos Museum acquired a Minoan larnax. Its full collecting history has not been disclosed. Then in 2006 or 2007 Houston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) received a larnax as a gift from Shelby White. Its full collecting history has yet to be revealed.

However these two larnakes were preceded by the anonymous gift of a LMIIIB example "in memory of Nicolas and Mireille Koutoulakis" to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 1996.521a,b). Koutoulakis, it will be remembered, appeared in the infamous "organigram" that featured in the "Medici Conspiracy".

So what is the full collecting history of the New York larnax? Who was the anonymous donor? When was the larnax removed from its (supposed) funerary context on Crete?

A further larnax to note here is the ex-Borowski example in Bible Lands Museums in Jerusalem (inv. 4738; Glories of Ancient Greece no. 20) [noted]. It is close (as the catalogue makes clear) to an east Cretan examp…

Houston's Minoan Larnax

Greece has asked the USA to consider imposing import restrictions on certain categories of archaeological material. It seems that they are concerned that looting continues to feed the market in recently-surfaced antiquities.

Concern has been expressed in the Greek press and by the Greek authorities about the Minoan larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.

But what is the full collecting history of the Minoan larnax acquired by Houston's Museum of Fine Art (MFAH)? It is nearly two years since I sent a request to the MFAH (another AAMD member) for this information. Is the silence significant?

The Houston larnax is likely to have been found on Crete. When did it surface?

Greece and coins: denarius

Greece has made a formal request for the USA to consider imposing import restrictions on archaeological material. Some North American collectors have been raising concerns that this will include coins.

Looking back to 2005 we should remember that the Classical Numismatic Group handed over a Roman denarius to the Greek embassy in London (Dalya Alberge, "Swoop by Customs returns Brutus to scene of the crime", The Times (London) June 15, 2006).
Eric McFadden, the senior director of the Classical Numismatic Group, confirmed that he had bought it from two Greeks -even though one of them had allegedly been linked with Nino Savoca, an Italian dealer in Munich, who died in 1998 after being found to have been dealing in smuggled antiquities.
Mr McFadden, whose company is regarded as one of the world's leading specialists in Greek and Roman coins, told The Times: "He did some work for Nino in the 1980s ... One doesn't refuse to deal with someone because he has a slightly…

Housekeeping and apologies

Looting Matters has changed its colour scheme as some colour blind readers were unable to spot the hyperlinks. I must apologise to them.

The first reaction since the change to a blue scheme seems to be positive, but I would welcome comments about the choice of colours.

Messenia © David Gill.

Antiquities from Greece

Greece has requested that the USA consider imposing import restrictions on antiquities that have their origins in Greece. Such a move is timely. It appears that in 2007 a Greek investigative journalist identified three items in a North American university collection (and AAMD member) that appeared to have been removed from archaeological contexts in recent times. Indeed two of the pieces appear to feature in photographic archives seized in Switzerland. The museum issued a press release in 2008. The acquisitions had been made in the last ten years.

In 2009 I reviewed some of the recent returns to Greece. While the J. Paul Getty Museum and Shelby White have been willing to return objects to Greece, it seems that other museums are reluctant to negotiate.

Is there any surprise that the Greek authorities have made a formal request to restrict the trade in recently surfaced archaeological material when an AAMD museum behaves in this manner?

Source: Enet.

The history of looting

Professor Richard Evans, President-elect of Wolfson College, Cambridge, gave a lecture on 'Looted Art and its Restitution: moral and cultural dilemmas for the twenty-first century' on 7 June 2010 as the Third Lee Seng Tee Distinguished Lecture. A video of the lecture is now available.

There is a quick overview of looting in the ancient world (though nothing on Pergamon and the great display celebrating the defeat of the Gauls) and a mention of the Parthenon marbles and the Rosetta Stone. Much of the lecture addresses the issue of Nazi loot and Soviet seizures after the Second World War. There is even something on dental gold ending up in Swiss bank vaults. Evans has interesting comments about art dealers in the 1950s being more interested in the authenticity than the collecting history (i.e. provenance).

There is a discussion of looting in the Balkans as well as in Iraq following the Second Gulf War (including the Baghdad Museum).

There is consideration of the work by UK Spoli…

Greece, clandestine excavations and import restrictions

Greece has made a formal request to the USA for "import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Greece dating to the Neolithic Period through the mid-eighteenth century" [details]. The request notes:
Unfortunately, despite the strong measures on the legislative, administrative and enforcement levels, Greece, as a source country, remains a target for both organized local and international looters. The majority of illegally exported antiquities, which are channeled to international markets, are products of clandestine excavation, particularly in remote areas.This request seems to have been prompted by the raid on Schinoussa.
The international dimension is demonstrated by the case of two prominent antiquities dealers with a gallery in London. In their storerooms at Schoinousa, a remote island in Greece, thousands of objects of unknown origin were found, according to press releases because the case is still pending. This archaeological and ethnological materi…

North American Museums: the need to act promptly and responsibly

The 2008 revised position of the Association of art Museum Directors (AAMD) made it clear that a museum (presumably its curatorial staff and trustees) should not ignore claims on items in its collection: Report of the AAMD Task Force on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art (revised 2008) [pdf]. (See my original comments.)

(II.G) If a member museum, as a result of its continuing research, gains information that establishes another party’s right to ownership of a work, the museum should bring this information to the attention of the party, and if the case warrants, initiate the return of the work to that party, as has been done in the past. In the event that a third party brings to the attention of a member museum information supporting the party’s claim to a work, the museum should respond promptly and responsibly and take whatever steps are necessary to address this claim, including, if warranted, returning the work, as has been done in the past.
Thus information …

The loan of Castor and Pollux: looking for a full collecting history

In mid-July I wrote to Tom Campbell, Director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, about the loan of a pair of statues, Castor and Pollux, made in 2008. A helpful member of staff pointed me to Art of the Ancient World XII (2001) as providing not only the complete collecting history but even the (possible) find-spot.

I asked the following question, but have not received a response.
I have now asked a further question ("What is the basis for saying that the pieces were in a Lebanese private collection, and that they passed through Asfar & Sarkis in the 1950s?") and await a reply.The composite photograph shows in the bottom the pair on display in New York. The top comes from the (seized) archive of a dealer unlisted in Art of the Ancient World XII (2001). Indeed the top photograph clearly predates 2001.

Is the Met aware of the full collecting history of the statues? How rigorous was its due diligence search prior to accepting the loan? How reliable is the suggestion…

Draft Research and Press Releases

I have commented elsewhere on the draft paper (it is headed "Draft: August 12, 2010") by Stephen K. Urice (University of Miami, School of Law) with Andrew Adler (University of Miami), "Unveiling the Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy", University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-20 [SSRN].

The paper is a working draft and references are incomplete or contain errors. For example, the name of the importer of the Egyptian coffin sold by a Barcelona galerista is incorrect. As far as I can see the paper has yet to go through the scrutiny of external referees. 

The paper contains a discussion of recent activities by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG). Yet instead of waiting for the polished, refined, improved, developed, and completed paper Wayne Sayles has issued a press release ("Academics Cite Extralegal Cultural Property Policies at the State Department", August 23, 2010) to draw attention to the (draft) paper. 


The Baltimore Coin Test Case: The List

I have commented before about the Baltimore Coin Test Case. Readers will remember the way that coins were seized on July 20, 2009 after they had entered the USA via a British Airways flight on April 15, 2009. The importer was unable to supply "additional certification" or relevant evidence.

A little more detail is emerging (Civil Action No. CCB 10-cv-00322; Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [filed June 25, 2010]; original ACCG case here [filed February 11, 2010]; ACCG amended July 15, 2010). It appears that the coins were purchased from a London dealer: to be precise, from Spink, on, or around, April 7, 2009. They are described as follows:
The collectors’ coins consisted of twenty-three (23) ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins valued at $275.00.
They are described as:

3-Knife shaped coins12-Chinese coins7-Cyprus coins

I understand the invoice describes them as follows.


(2) Cyprus, Unattribut…

The Atlanta Pithos and its journey through Switzerland

In 2004 the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University acquired an archaic pithos dating to the late 7th century BCE (inv. 2004.2.1). Later that year the pot was celebrated as only one of two examples in the USA. In 2007 Greek journalist Nikolas Zirganos raised concerns about three pieces in the Michael C. Carlos Museum, among them the pithos. In 2008 the Greek press repeated the claims as it noted the return of two pieces from a New York private collector. The museum issued a press statement at the end of September 2008 in response to the reports.

Photographic and documentary evidence suggests that the Minoan larnax passed through Palladion Antike Kunst in Switzerland. The Emory pithos also appears to be close to a pithos that features in the Becchina archive seized in 2005. Breaks and missing fragments seem to suggest that they are one and the same.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum has a responsibility to release the full collecting histories for the three pieces. Its 2008 press releas…

Miami Law: Correction

Earlier this week I drew attention to a draft paper by Stephen K. Urice and  Andrew Adler where they discuss the Egyptian coffin seized in Miami. The suggested that the collector was Joseph A. Lewis III.

This appears to be incorrect. The case papers (09-23030, signed October 7, 2009) in fact state that the Barcelona galerista sold the coffin to an importer who is named as "Joseph A. Lewis II" (12).

I note that in 1991 a Joseph A. Lewis II from Richmond Va. and an unnamed co-conspirator were "charged in federal court with illegally importing Australian wildlife into the United States" ("Lizard Case in Va. Court", The Washington Post August 3, 1991). The wildlife consisted of "exotic lizards ... including Shingle-Back skinks and Bearded Dragon lizards". The report continued:
As part of the alleged conspiracy, the unnamed co-conspirator would travel to Australia and obtain live reptiles, an act that is illegal in Australia. The co-conspirator then w…

Miami Law: Missing the Ethical Point?

Derek Fincham has drawn attention to a draft paper by Stephen K. Urice (University of Miami, School of Law) with Andrew Adler (University of Miami), "Unveiling the Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy", University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-20 [SSRN].

There is a section on the Third Intermediate Period Egyptian coffin of Imesy seized in October 2008 as it arrived in Miami from Ireland (pp. 10-13). This has been discussed elsewhere: "Looting Matters: Why Has a Coffin Been Returned to Egypt?", PR Newswire March 19, 2010. According to the Spanish press, the coffin was acquired in the 1970s. It had been shipped by a Barcelona galerista, Félix Cervera, of "Arqueología Clásica"; the gallery at the time of seizure was a probationary member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA). This same gallery (and its galerista) has been linked to "Operation Ghelas" [story archived here]. One won…

Looting Matters: Antiquities and the Invasion of Kuwait

Looting Matters: Antiquities and the Invasion of Kuwait

Comments on the removal of antiquities from the Kuwait National Museum.

From Crete to Atlanta

The curatorial staff at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia are under renewed pressure. In 2002 the museum acquired a Minoan larnax that is likely to have been used as a sarcophagus on the island of Crete in the Late Bronze Age. The collecting history for the larnax has not been disclosed.

The decoration is very distinctive with a fish painted on the inside of the larnax. Wavy lines decorate the base. These features helped researchers to link the Atlanta larnax with one that features in the documentation (images and receipts) of a Swiss-based antiquities dealer whose warehouse facilities have been raided. Although the identification was made in 2007 and, according to Greek press reports, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture appears to have asked for the return of the larnax and two other pieces, there is, as yet, no movement.

The same Swiss dealer has already been linked to antiquities returned to Italy from North American museums. It also appears that over …

The Michael C. Carlos Museum: Unresolved issue with Greece?

In 2007 Nikolas Zirganos announced in the Greek press that three items in the Michael C. Carlos Museum (acquired in 2002 and 2004) could be linked to photographic evidence available to the Greek authorities. The three items have been identified in the Greek press. A press statement was issued by the museum in September 2008 in response to a report that the Hellenic Ministry of Culture had made a formal request for their return. As far as I know, this is unresolved more than three years on.

I had another look at the story and in particular the Minoan larnax (an identification made originally, as I understand it, by Cambridge researcher Christos Tsirogiannis). Zirganos had published images of the three pieces (see archived stories). It appears that the larnax features in a photograph linked to a receipt issued by "Antike Kunst Palladion". This suggests the paperwork was obtained as part of the 2005 Basel raid on the premises linked to Gianfranco Becchina.

If you enlarge the im…

Donny George and Kuwait

Professor Donny George, former Director-General of the National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq has asked me to clarify his role in the evacuation of antiquities from Kuwait.

Here is his text:

Dear All,

since the first gulf war of 1991 everybody has been accusing the Iraqis of stealing Kuwait's antiquities, and no one has asked the Iraqis for their opinion about it. I was reserving this to be included in a book I started writing, but let me explain this Kuwaiti mater in some details.

Prior to the first gulf war we had done the preparations to evacuate the antiquities from the Iraq museum, since the war was coming no matter what was said in the daily news inside Iraq, then we got the orders from the ministry of culture, to go and insure the evacuation of the Kuwait museum, exactly as we did for the Iraq museum, we had no orders to check the private collections, that was not our job, and before we did so the director general of Iraqi antiquities informed the UNESCO, that according to Hague c…

George Ortiz as Collector

I recently commented on the pair of statues of Castor and Pollux currently on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the "supplied" collecting history the pair had passed through the collection of George Ortiz; additional reports suggest this was in the 1980s.

Christopher Chippindale and I made a study of the George Ortiz collection (see "Material consequences of contemporary classical collecting," American Journal of Archaeology 104 [2000] 463-511. JSTOR). I thought it would be interesting to see what else had passed through his collection.

Boston's Museum of Fine Arts acquired several ex-Ortiz pieces, two before the 1970 UNESCO Convention (the handle bases of an Etruscan situla, inv. 63.1516a-b [Ortiz 1957-63]; an Etruscan bronze lion, inv. 66.9 [Ortiz c. 1949-c.1965, said to be from Cerveteri]). The two post-1970 pieces are (or possibly are):
Attic Late Classical votive relief to two divinities, inv.  1977.171. Collecting history: &qu…

The loan of Castor and Pollux

In 2006 the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) issued new guidance on loans of archaeological material and ancient art (see earlier comments). I have been interested in the loan of the "Roman marble statuettes of Castor and Pollux" to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (L.2008.18.1, .2). I made a formal enquiry about the collecting history for the pair from Tom Campbell and he kindly asked the Greek and Roman department to let me have the information.

A member of the department sent me details derived from when the pair passed through the Royal-Athena Galleries (Art of the Ancient World XII [2001] no. 12): "The provenance of the two Roman works on loan to the Museum is well known and published". The catalogue informs us that the statues were "probably from the Mithraeum in Sidon, excavated in the 19th century". The collecting history is laid out: "ex private collection, Lebanon; Asfar & Sarkis, Lebanon, 1950s; George Ortiz Collecti…

Looting in Caria

It appears that the tomb of Hecatomnus, satrap of Caria, has been "discovered" by looters near the ancient site of Milasa in western Turkey ("Illegal dig leads to ancient king's tomb", UPI August 5, 2010; "Illegal excavation reveals an important discovery", Hürriyet Daily News August 8, 2010). Hecatomnus is important as he was the father of Mausolus whose monumental tomb was one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Among the 'finds' was a relief sculpture showing a banquet scene.

Apparently the looting team consisted of at least eight individuals. Several arrests have been made.

This is a good reminder that sensitive archaeological sites, even ones of major historical significance, are being looted to provide objects for the international market in recently-surfaced antiquities.

Further links and video available from Paul Barford, "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues".

From Hürriyet Daily News

Frankfurt dealer and the Phrygian phialai: will the "campaign" cease?

German antiquities dealers are hoping that they have silenced what they perceive as a campaign against those who deal in cultural property ("Die deutschen Kunst-, Münz- und Antikenhändler sowie die Sammler hoffen außerdem, dass die irrationalen, von Ressentiments geleiteten Kampagnen des Mainzer Archäologen gegen den Kunsthandel und gegen den Besitz von antiken Kunstwerken nunmehr ein Ende nehmen"). The quote comes from a press release issued by the Arbeitskreis Deutscher Kunsthandelsverbände (ADK) and also placed on the website of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) (German: "Zusammenfassung und Vorgeschichte eines Urteils zum Thema Kulturgutschutz des Verwaltungsgerichtes Frankfurt am Main vom 2. Juni 2010, Geschäftsnummer 5 K 1082/10.F"; English: "Case History and Summary of a verdict concerning protection of cultural property made by the administrative court Frankfurt am Main from June 2nd, 2010, reference number 5 K 1082/10.F&q…

Almagià: "It’s ridiculous Princeton didn’t do anything to fight that"

The Princeton University Art Museum's reputation has been somewhat patinated by its acquisition policy for antiquities. In October 2007 the museum decided to return or transfer title of several antiquities to Italy. But unlike Boston's Museum of Fine Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Princeton has not disclosed the collecting histories ("provenance") of the objects. Even so, it has been possible to identify some of the donors.

In June 2010 there was news of an additional investigation. Some "two dozen" pieces have been linked to Edoardo Almagià, a dealer who has been associated with the return of some Etruscan material from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Almagià has now given a frank interview to Princeton Alumni Weekly (W. Barksdale Maynard, "Italy’s antiquities and U.S. museums: A Q&A with Edoardo Almagià ’73", PAW July 7, 2010). He was asked about Italy's successful request for the return of some 120 antiquities from several public museum…

The Archaeology of Italy and the iPhone

The Italian Ministry of Culture (MiBAC) has now launched (August 3, 2010) an app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. There are a range of features including the ability to buy an online virtual ticket for the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine. Another feature gives the visitor figures for the top 40 most visited sites leading with the Colosseum / Roman Forum / Palatine at 4,655,203 with Pompeii trailing at 2,070,745. The Museo delle Antichità Egizie in Torino is at number 9 with 508,756.

The app includes a map of locations, lists of musems and monuments, mini tours, news stories, as well as audio tracks linked to certain museums. There are (at present) three 'morph' sites including the Baths of Caracalla. Some features can be tagged on Facebook.

This is a stylish, easy to use guide that is likely to expand. At the moment the app is in only available in Italian although the ticketing feature is also provided in English and French.

Loans from Italy: The Chimaera from Arezzo

One of the positive things to emerge from the return of antiquities to Italy from various North American public museums has been the willingness of Italian authorities to loan objects in return. These include museums that have returned objects (e.g. Boston's Museum of Fine Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art) as well as those that have requested items (e.g. Indianapolis Museum of Art).  It also makes Kaywin Feldman'ssubmission to CPAC outdated (and see earlier comments).

Michael Brand had talked about the Chimaera from Arezzo as he was leaving the J. Paul Getty Museum [press kit]. The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has now published an online museum review by Beth Cohen. This shows the bronze in its temporary installation while on loan from the Museum Archeologico Nazionale in Firenze. Cohen makes the point:
Focusing on this venerable masterpiece, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s intriguing boutique exhibition, which occupies a s…

Almagià: "The museum has a right to collect; the dealers have a right to deal"

In June I noted the new Italian investigation into antiquities acquired by Princeton University Art Museum. The antiquities are reported to have been handled by Edoardo Almagià whose name had already been linked to antiquities returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The June report had mentioned that Princeton curator Michael Padgett was the focus of attention. Padgett was interviewed for Princeton Alumni Weekly (W. Barksdale Maynard, "Art museum curator targeted by Italian prosecutors", PAW July 7, 2010). He is quoted:
After working so closely and cooperatively with the Italians in the past, I was very disappointed and surprised that this investigation is now taking place. I am reluctant to comment at length at this early stage, but I do want to clearly state that I am innocent of what the Italian prosecutor is apparently alleging.
It is noted that Maynard now thinks that some "1.5 million items are believed to have been looted from archaeological sites in I…

"Blatant cultural vandalism": book theft

An antiques dealer from the north-east of England has been jailed for handling a first folio of Shakespeare's work that had been removed from the library of Durham University [BBC News].
The 1623 work was taken from a display cabinet at Durham University in 1998.Judge Richard Lowden called the folio "quintessentially English treasure" and said damage to it was "cultural vandalisation".The case related to one of the surviving copies of the 17th Century compendium of Shakespeare's plays.It was handed in by Scott to the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC a decade later.
The report continued:
Vice-chancellor Chris Higgins said it would initially be put on display in its present condition so people could see the damage done to it following its theft."The main book is intact but the title leaf, which showed ownership by Durham's Cosin's Library from Shakespeare's day, was torn out and the binding was cut off with a knife,&qu…

Continuing Silence from Madrid

The press office at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid continues to remain silent on the report by Fabio Isman that 22 pieces in its collection can be identified in the photographic archives seized from Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. Indeed at least one of the pieces has also featured in the Schinoussa Archive. Some of the photographs appear to have been photographed on the premises of a restorer linked to Fritz Bürki.

The curatorial authorities need to resolve these claims as a matter of urgency. Failure to do so will undermine pan-European co-operation and has the potential to damage the reputation of the Spanish Ministry of Culture.

Attic black-figured amphora featured in the Schinoussa Archive.