Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Parthenon Sculptures: Moving on?

Parthenon frieze © David Gill
The 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum is being marked. The anniversary is explored by Contantine Sandis ("Britain has kept the ‘Elgin Marbles’ for 200 years – now it's time to pass them on", The Conversation June 7, 2016). He suggests:
The time is right for all surviving sculptures to be reunited under this single roof [The New Acropolis Museum]. They should be displayed, for free, in a joint Greek and British international museum. This bicentenary provides the perfect opportunity for the two nations to collaborate instead of bicker over ownership. The British Museum would be praised worldwide for all its actions, culminating in a collaborative partnership that genuinely benefits humanity. It is high time that ownership of the past became a thing of the past and we began to think in terms of joint custody instead.
These are architectural marbles, and they need to be reunited visually in the same city as the extant monument, the Parthenon, that forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The UK Intends to Ratify the Hague Convention

© David Gill
The Queen's Speech today highlighted legislation for the year ahead (BBC May 18, 2016). This highlights:
Cultural Property Bill (UK-wide) 
  • The UK to ratify the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict
  • Dealing in cultural property illegally exported from occupied territory to be made criminal offence 
  • Property protected under the convention and its protocols to be identified by new Blue Shield
The briefing notes for the speech identify this as the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. It identifies the main elements as:
The Bill would introduce a number of measures that would enable the UK to ratify the [Hague] Convention and its two Protocols: 
● Introduction of offences designed to protect cultural property in the event of an armed conflict at home and abroad. These include an offence of making such property the object of attack. 
● Introduction of the Blue Shield as an emblem that signifies cultural property protected under the Convention and its two Protocols. 
● Introduction of an offence of dealing in cultural property that has been illegally exported from occupied territory and a provision for such property to be seized and returned to the occupied territory after the close of hostilities, where appropriate. 
● Introduction of immunity from seizure for cultural property in the UK which is being transported for safekeeping during a conflict between two or more other states.
Clearly some of the driving force behind the proposed legislation relates to the present conflict in Syria and northern Iraq.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Sicily: Culture and Conquest

© David Gill
The British Museum is currently showing a temporary exhibition, 'Sicily: Culture and Conquest'.

The accompanying catalogue by Dirk Booms and Peter Higgs (British Museum Press, 2016) does contain illustration and discussion of some material returned to Sicily. The pieces include:

  • The Morgantina Treasure, returned from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (p. 24, fig. 7; p. 124, fig. 91). This had been acquired through Robert Hecht (and prior 'history'). 'The hoard was found by illicit treasure hunters in the 1970s in two pits beneath the floor of a house' (p. 124).
  • The pair of Acrolithic statues, returned from the University of Virginia Art Museum at Charlottesville where they had been on loan from the Maurice Tempelsman collection (p. p. 68, fig. 49). They had previously been handled by Robin Symes. 'Thought to have been illicitly dug up in Building A in the sanctuary at San Francesco Bisconiti (sic.), the statues are likely to represent Demeter and Persephone' (p. 68).
  • The 'Aphrodite' from Morgantina, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (p. 69, fig. 50)
  • The Hades, returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum (p. 70, fig. 51). This had been acquired through Robin Symes and had formed part of the Tempelsman collection. 'reputedly discovered in the sanctuary at San Francesco Bisconti' (p. 71).
Morgantina Treasure. Source: MMA

Hades. Source: J. Paul Getty Museum

Acrolithic heads. Source: BBC

It is surprising that there is no mention of Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino's Chasing Aphrodite, or Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini's The Medici Conspiracy (or journal literature) that address some of the concerns relating to this Sicilian material. There does not appear to be reference to Dietrich von Bothmer's full publication of the silver hoard.


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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hoards: Hidden History

(2015)
I have noted Eleanor Ghey's important work on the (excavated) Beau Street hoard. Her illustrated British Museum Press volume, Hoards: Hidden History (London, 2015) was published last year.

The double-page spread for the introduction is a reminder of the sources of some of these hoards: 'Detector user found gold on first attempt'; 'Treasure-hunters dig up a fortune'; 'A chance sweep of a farm field unearthed the most important hoard of Roman gold and silver artefacts found in Britain'. Ghey's opening paragraph reminds us of 'a story of treasure hunters striking lucky after years of searching the land ...' (p. 10).

In her section on studying hoards Ghey reminds us: 'Archaeologists have come to realize that the key to understanding a hoard is usually held not in the group of objects itself but in its context, that is, the information held in the soil immediately around it and the evidence for human activity in the wider landscape' (p. 14). Her emphasis is one that should not be overlooked in the discussion over the use of metal-detecting.

There are four main chronological chapters: Prehistoric, Roman Britain, Anglo-Saxon and Viking, and Medieval and Modern. There is a discussion of the notorious Salisbury Hoard (pp. 34-35): 'the hoard was illegally excavated by metal-detectorists and sold to dealers; it had to be pieced together after much detective work by the British Museum and the police'.

There is an appendix in the Treasure Act 1996, asking 'What to do if you find Treasure?'

There is no mention of the Lenborough Hoard and its removal from its context.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

ISIS and The Missing Treasures

Reporter Simon Cox investigates the looting and subsequent sale of antiquities from Syria in this episode of Channel 4's Dispatches (18 April 2016). The programme discusses a lintel known to have come from Syria and on offer in London; a manuscript in Copenhagen; and an intercepted consignment.

The programme can be viewed here for the next 29 days.

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Lintel from Syria for sale in London

Reporter Simon Cox talked about one of the objects from Syria that he identified for sale in London on BBC Radio 4 Today (18 April 2016; 2:53).
Despite their stated aim of destroying ancient cultural heritage, the so-called Islamic State have been looting Syria and Northern Iraq and selling the antiquities they find to raise money for their activities. It has now becoming apparent that some of those artifacts may be ending up on the market in London. Simon Cox is the BBC’s investigative reporter and Dick Ellis is former head of the Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiques squad.
Cox reminds of the satellite images showing the amount of looting taking place in Syria. He talks about the offering of a lintel from Syria in a Mayfair gallery. He talks about the 'invoice' from 2007 but it does not give any details (and need not be associated with the lintel). He acknowledged the difficulty of identifying material that had been looted by IS.

Former police officer Dick Ellis is critical of the law enforcement agencies in the UK: "a perfect example of the laws not working", "not actively policed by the police in the country". He points out the legislation that could be used to enforce interception. He also reminds us that the Art and Antiques Squad only operate 'for London'.

Today quotes the Home Office statement that mentions the way that it consults museum officials.

Cox was the reporter for BBC Radio 4's File on 4 investigation in February 2015.


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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Heritage Crime in England


It will be interesting to read the text and presentations of some of the talks at the Heritage Crime conference held at the British Library. It is clear that there are concerns about the following areas:
a. Thefts from museum collections
b. Church lead theft
c. Damage to and removal of objects from scheduled and previously unrecorded archaeological sites

The topic of nighthawking / metal-detecting on scheduled sites came up at the All Party Committee on Cultural Property at Westminster last month. It is worth noting that the two representatives from a certain national museum were remarkably silent on the subject, while some of us were drawing attention to examples of damage in various counties across East Anglia. 



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Tsirogiannis on Looted Antiquities and the Market

The latest number (May / June 2016) of British Archaeology has an extended interview with Dr Christos Tsirogiannis ('Pots and robbers: how to defeat the tainted antiquities market'). The report includes fresh images from the seized Symes assets in Switzerland.

Tsirogiannis reflects on the use of the Medici dossier and the Becchina archive for identifying recently surfaced antiquities.

James Ede and Julian Ratcliffe (Art Lost Register) are interviewed and speak about their perception of the archives. Ratcliffe suggests that the use of the archives to identify pieces only serves to "embarrass" members of the antiquities trade.

Tsirogiannis responds by pointing out the less than helpful way that certain named auction houses have responded when information has been passed to them.

There is a section in the report stating 'Christie's pledges to defeat trafficking'. The auction house is very defensive over criticisms of its due diligence process (highlighted again this week by failing to spot a very obvious ex-Medici piece with its Sotheby's London former collecting history).

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Roman Mosaic sold

Image from Becchina archive. Source: Christos Tsirogiannis.
A Roman Mosaic with a less than complete collecting history has been sold at Christie's in New York for $545,000, far above the estimate.

It is not clear why Christie's failed to mention that the mosaic had passed through the Ariadne Galleries, or why the leaflet was in the seized Becchina archive.

The new owner of the mosaic may be wise to ask further questions.

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Lots Withdrawn from New York Sale

Image from the Becchina archive. Source: Christos Tsirogiannis.
Two lots have been withdrawn from today's sale at Christie's in New York. They are:

  1. South Italian black-glossed hydria (lot 36). 
  2. Roman marble janiform head (lot 70). 

The hydria had passed through a Sotheby's sale in London and should have alerted informed members of the antiquities trade that it could have been linked to the Medici operation. Were those checks made? And if not, why not?

The full collecting history of the janiform head is unclear.

This leaves the Roman mosaic (lot 9). Why did the Christie's collecting history (so called "provenance") fail to mention the Ariadne Galleries? What is the history of the mosaic prior to its surfacing in the Ariadne Galleries? Why is an image of the mosaic in the Becchina archive? What was the relationship between Becchina and the Ariadne Galleries (and there is evidence of such a link)?

All these identifications have been made by Cambridge-based researcher, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

Once again Christie's has demonstrated that its due diligence process lacks the necessary rigour to prevent such material surfacing on the market. Is it time for the Directors of the auction house to put new guidelines in place?


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