Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: looking back

This has been an eventful year. Research with Christopher Chippindale (and published in 2000) had presented indicators for the "history" and "archaeology" of antiquities. One of the contemporary collections that we had explored had belonged to Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman: it was subsequently sold (or donated) to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Part of the Fleischman collection was returned to Italy from the Getty in 2007 confirming our earlier hypothesis.

Peter Watson has drawn attention to the role of Giacomo Medici. Watson's exploration of the movement of antiquities has created the climate in which North American museums have agreed to return objects to Italy. The expanded Getty list reflected a willingness to resolve the dispute (and see the discussion of the 2006 list). To these have been added antiquities from the Princeton University Art Museum and the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville. But objects have not just been recovered from public institutions: some have been returned from a North American dealer (Royal Athena Galleries) and a Swiss private collection. A selection of these pieces have just gone on display in Rome this December.

These objects have lost their archaeological contexts, and one of the main reasons for their return will be to deter museums and private collectors from acquiring recently-surfaced objects. Yet the sale of the Guennol lion at Sotheby's has perhaps encouraged some to see antiquities as a "hot" investment. Auctions continue to be an important outlet for antiquities. The decision by Bonham's to withdraw a Lydian silver kyathos from its October sale is a reminder that suspect pieces do still emerge on the market. Bonham's do not so far seem to have offered an explanation of how the piece was offered for sale. A restraining organisation for the market should be the Art Loss Register. Can recently surfaced antiquities be offered certificates with any sense of security?

2007 has seen the closure of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre in Cambridge though I expect Colin Renfrew and Neil Brodie will continue to contribute to the discussion. Culture Without Context has been an important source of comment and record.

One of the solutions to prevent and restrict looting lies in increased legislation and import controls. In 2007 the US government signed a new memorandum with Cyprus. This move, designed to limit the level of looting on the island, has met with fierce opposition from bodies representing coin-dealers and coin-collectors who have taken legal action against the US State Department. The case has served to remind archaeologists that there are strongly-held views on the "right" to collect whatever the material and intellectual consequences.

Into this mix have emerged the complexities of forging Egyptian antiquities, and the long-running disputes over cultural property that left their countries of origin before international agreements.

What will 2008 hold?

Image courtesy of the Princeton University Art Museum.
Red figure psykter (ceramic), attributed to the Kleophrades Painter. Greek, Attic, ca. 510-500 B.C. One of four objects to be transferred in title to the Italian government but to remain on loan to the Princeton University Art Museum.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Marion True: some preliminary thoughts on the New Yorker Interview

Marion True has presented her side of the recent saga of returning antiquities in an extended interview with Hugh Eakin ("Treasure Hunt: The Downfall of the Getty Curator Marion True", New Yorker, December 17, 2007). True became curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1986.

By the second paragraph Eakin had inserted the fact:
In 1995, True had persuaded the Getty to adopt ethical standards requiring objects proposed for acquisition to have been documented and written about by scholars.
The implication is clear. True acted with integrity. And this was a point stressed by Malcolm Bell III in his opinion piece, "The Getty's Italian Job", in The New York Times, November 28, 2005.
Mr. Ferri's outrage at the looting of Italy's heritage is justified. By laying bare the archives and warehouses of major dealers, he has revealed corruption at the core of the market. But in prosecuting Marion True, he has used decades-old evidence against a curator who brought needed reform to the Getty Museum, and I can only hope the Italian courts recognize the good she has done.
But what Bell did not know back in 2005 was the case that was developing for the return of antiquities acquired under True's curatorship.

Objects that have been returned to Italy include:
a. Objects formerly owned by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman and acquired in 1996.

b. Attic black-figured zone cup attributed to the manner of the Lysippides painter. Ex Getty 87.AE.22. Purchased from Fritz Bürki & Son, Switzerland.

c. Fragments of the Douris phiale (first fragments acquired in 1981 as a gift from Werner Nussberger). Ex Getty 88.AE.30 (purchased from Galerie Nefer); also anonymous loan L.92.AE.88.2-3.

d. Attic red-figured calyx-krater, attributed to the the Copenhagen / Aegisthus painters. Ex Getty 88.AE.66. Surfaced in Basel, Münzen und Medaillen; Freiburg, Morat-Institut; purchased from Christoph Leon.

e. Attic red-figured calyx-krater, Syriskos. Ex Getty 92.AE.6 (Robin Symes [1988]; Fleischman collection) and 96.AE.335 (New York, Acanthus Gallery).

f. Apulian red-figured pelike, attributed to the Darius painter. Ex Getty 87.AE.23. Purchased from Fritz Bürki & Son, Switzerland.

g. Apulian pelike, attributed to near the group of Ruvo 423. Ex Getty 86.AE.611. Purchased from Fritz Bürki & Son, Switzerland.

h. Marble statue of Aphrodite. Ex Getty 88.AA.76. Purchased form Robin Symes.
Further objects have been returned to Greece:
i. Marble kore. Ex Getty 93.AA.24. Purchased from Robin Symes.

j. Grave stele of Athanias. Ex Getty 93.AA.47. Purchased from Safani Gallery.

k. Gold funerary wreath. Ex Getty 93.AM.30. Purchased from Christoph Leon.
The wholesale acquisition of the Fleischman collection was clearly a mistake. But as True says in the Eakin interview:
By the time I met Larry Fleischman, he had a big collection, and many things he bought from Symes ... And I bought from Symes.
I wonder if she remembers her quote from the 1996 interview with The Art Newspaper (J.E. Kaufman, "Getty Decides Publishing Equals Provenance"; and quoted by Colin Renfrew in Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership [2000], p. 70):
This [Fleischman] acquisition is in line with exactly what we said we would do ... We went out of our way to be clear that we were not saying we would not buy any more unprovenanced material.
But there were problems with the Fleischman antiquities. Some were recently surfaced as their histories showed all too clearly. Renfrew wisely observed:
The Getty's new position as announced in 1995 is thus not quite the radical change of policy which it seemed at first to many observers.
Indeed one of the observers who has supported the Getty position is John H. Merryman who cited the museum's revised policy as an example of the way for a museum to adopt "elaborate due-diligence procedures" (see "Due-diligence procedures are not enough to satisfy them"). How misguided he was. The revised policy was fatally flawed and has led to the return of antiquities to both Greece and Italy.

Eakin could have explored issues such as these as part of a more penetrating interview. But he chose not to do so.

Image
The Athanias stele on display in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. © David Gill.

Recovered Masterpieces: ex Tempelsman collection

Among the antiquities displayed in the Rome exhibition, "Nostoi: Capolavori ritrovati", are objects formerly residing in well-known North American museums and significant private collections.

These include part of the former Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection that had been sold or donated to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Three further pieces had once formed part of the Maurice Tempelsman collection. These include a pair of griffins attacking a doe that featured in the Rome trial against Robert Hecht (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Photographs of Getty Griffins Shown at Antiquities Trial in Rome", New York Times, June 1, 2006):
According to court documents, the Getty bought the griffins from the New York diamond magnate Maurice Tempelsman in 1985 in a deal totaling $6,486,004. The sale was handled through the London dealer Robin Symes, the documents indicate.
Hecht reported the find-spot for the two polychome pieces was from Orta Nova. Giacomo Medici is quoted as saying that the Apollo came from a nearby villa.

The Tempelsman pieces are (using the numbers from the exhibition handlist):
56. Two griffins attacking a fallen doe. Marble, polychrome. Ex Getty 85.AA.106. Bibl. Gill and Chippindale 2007, Appendix A, no. 3.

57. Lekanis. Marble, polychrome. Ex Getty 85.AA.107. Bibl. Gill and Chippindale 2007, Appendix A, no. 2.

66. Marble statue of Apollo. Ex Getty 85.AA.108. Bibl. Gill and Chippindale 2007, Appendix A, no. 1.

References
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Robert Hecht: some "orphans"

Suzan Mazur has responded to Hugh Eakin's New Yorker interview with Marion True and highlighted some of the unasked questions ("Bob Hecht: Fragments Of An Antiquities Conspiracy?", scoop.co.nz, December 28, 2007). Mazur draws attention to Rita Reif's 1988 New York Times commentary on the Atlantis Antiquities sale (Suzan Mazur, "Add New York Times To Bob Hecht Antiquities Ring "Organigram"?, scoop.co.nz, August 17, 2006).

Image
Fragmentary Attic cup showing Thracian boxer sold by Atlantis Antiquities.
Source: scoop.co.nz.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Recovered Masterpieces: ex Fleischman collection

The Rome exhibition, "Nostoi: Capolavori ritrovati", contains objects from a number of sources. One of the blocks of material formed part of the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection which was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum largely in 1996.

These include (citing the exhibition handlist numbers):
4. Attic black-figured amphora (Type B). Attributed to the painter of Berlin 1686 (by Dietrich von Bothmer). Herakles and Geryon. Reassembled by Fritz Bürki (1988); Atlantis Antiquities (1988). Ex Malibu 96.AE.92. Bibl. Passion no. 34; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Table 6, no. 2.

5. Attic black-figured amphora (Panathenaic shape). Attributed to the Three-line group (by Dietrich von Bothmer). Alkestis and Admetos. Fritz Bürki (1989). Ex Malibu 96.AE.93. Bibl. Passion no. 35; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Table 6, no. 3.

13. Attic red-figured cup (Type B). Attributed to the Nikosthenes painter and to the potter Pamphaios (by J. R. Guy). Robin Symes (1988). Ex Malibu 96.AE.97. Bibl. Passion no. 39; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Table 6, no. 4.

34. Etruscan antefix with maenad and Silenos. "Said to come from Cerveteri". Hunt collection. Ex Malibu 96.AD.33. Bibl. Passion no. 92; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Appendix A, no. 24.

37. Etruscan bronze mirror. Odysseus and Penelope. Ex Malibu 96.AC.132. Bibl. Passion no. 83.

40. South Italian bronze aksos in form of siren. Purchased from Lawrence Fleischman. Ex Malibu 92.AC.5. Bibl. Gill and Chippindale 2007, Appendix A, no. 26.

45. Apulian red-figured bell-krater. Attributed to the Choregos painter (by A.D. Trendall). Fritz Bürki. Ex Malibu 96.AE.29. Bibl. Passion. no. 56; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Table 6, no. 5.

48. Paestan red-figured squat lekythos. Garden of the Hesperides. Attributed to Asteas (by A.D. Trendall). Ex Malibu 96.AE.119. Bibl. Passion no. 65; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Appendix A, no. 22.

58. Roman marble statue of Tyche. Robin Symes. Ex Malibu 96.AA.49. Bibl. Passion no. 120; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Table 6, no. 1.

59. Roman fresco fragment showing mask of Herakles. Associated with a fragment in the Shelby White collection. Fritz Bürki. Ex Malibu 96.AG.171. Bibl. Passion. no. 126; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Table 6, no. 7.

65. Roman marble statue of Dionysos with goat. Ex Malibu 96.AA.211. Bibl. Passion no. 179; Gill and Chippindale 2007, Appendix A, no. 4.
References
Exhibition catalogue. 1994. A passion for antiquities: ancient art from the collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman. Malibu, Calif.: J. Paul Getty Museum in association with the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What not to buy for Christmas

Still wondering what to buy for Christmas?

I was rather surprised to read the rather unbalanced and uncritical article by Maria Baugh, "Antiquities: The Hottest Investment", Time, December 12, 2007. She has clearly been distracted by the sale of the Guennol lion. But Time does seem to have moved into a pro-collecting-and-ignore-the-consequences position reflected in interviews with Philippe de Montebello, as well as reports on the restrictions of coin imports from Cyprus.

Baugh quotes Hicham Aboutaam of Phoenix Ancient Art:
Check the authenticity of the piece. Who is selling it and who has seen it in terms of scholars or experts?
Perhaps the buyer needs to do a little bit more than that. Is the piece known before 1970? Is the documentation secure? Who were the previous collectors? Are they named or anonymous?

And certainly check who is selling it. This is important given the associations between certain North American dealers and the antiquities returned to Italy over the last few years. But Baugh does not even consider this as an issue.

No doubt the advice will be to check the Art Loss Register. But that does not have a good track record for newly surfaced antiquities.

You can be certain that I will not be buying antiquities for Christmas.

Looting Matters wishes all its readers a Happy Christmas.
Nadolig llawen i chi!

eBay and the cuneiform tablet

The BBC has reported that the sale of a cuneiform tablet "thought to have been smuggled from Iraq" has been stopped ("eBay Iraq relic auction stopped", December 18, 2007). Apparently "Police confiscated the tablet at a storage facility in Zurich".

The seller has not been named, but does "a storage facility" hint at more than a private address?

To what extent does eBay continue to serve as a conduit of newly surfaced antiquities?

For further comments - though six years old - on this means of selling see C. Chippindale and D.W.J. Gill, "On-line auctions: a new venue for the antiquities market", Culture Without Context 9 (Autumn 2001).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Recovered Masterpieces: The Objects

A full list of the objects that appear in the Rome exhibition, "Nostoi: Capolavori Ritrovati", has now been issued. (The numbers refer to the official handlist.)

Objects from the following museums are listed:
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts (12): 6, 8, 15, 17, 28, 29, 41, 42, 44, 50, 53, 67.

Malibu, J. Paul Getty Museum (44): 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 37, 39, 40, 43, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 68.

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (5): 3, 9 [Sarpedon krater still in New York on loan], 14, 16, 51.

Princeton, University Art Museums (1): 1.
There are also items from dealers:
The Royal Athena Galleries, New York (5): 21, 33, 35, 38, 64.

Robin Symes (1): 60.
As far as the fabrics and types of object are concerned:
Pottery
Protocorinthian: 1, 2
Laconian: 3
Attic, black-figured: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Attic red-figured: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31
Etruscan: 32, 33, 36
Lucanian: 41, 42
Apulian: 43, 44, 45, 46, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55
Paestan: 47, 48
Terracotta:
Etruscan: 34
Bronzes:
Etruscan: 35, 37, 38
South Italian: 40
Campanian: 64
Inscription:
Selinus: 39
Sculpture and works in marble:
South Italian: 56, 57
Other: 58, 61, 65, 66, 67, 68
Wall-painting: 59, 60, 63

Ivory: 60
It is striking that 15 pieces were represented by South Italian pottery: Apulian (11), Lucanian (2) and Paestan (2). Seven bronzes and pots are Etruscan in style. Twenty-eight of the objects are Attic pots, both black-figured (5) and red-figured (23). Such pots are regularly found in Etruscan tombs as well as the cemeteries of the western Greek colonies.

Image
Attic red-figured column-krater showing Dionysos (no. 20). Attributed to the Geras painter. From the Royal Athena Galleries, New York.

Update: One of the pieces (no. 10) reported to be from the Metropolitan Museum of Art was mis-catalogued and is correctly placed here as ex-J. Paul Getty Museum.

Homecomings: Recovered Masterpieces

An exhibition, "Nostoi. Capolavori ritrovati", is about to open in the Palazzo del Quirinale, Rome (press statement; Elisabetta Povoledo, "After Legal Odyssey, Homecoming Show for Looted Antiquities", New York Times, December 18, 2007; Ariel David, "Looted Art Displayed in Rome", AP). Some 68 antiquities will be displayed. They include material returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Princeton University Art Museums. Among the pieces is the ivory mask handled by Robin Symes and seized in 2003. Some of the objects had passed through private collectors such as Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman. Five pieces were returned from the Royal Athena Galleries.

Missing from the display is the Sarpedon krater on loan to the MMA. It is perhaps the acquisition of this krater by the MMA that generated such intense debate about the collecting of recently surfaced antiquities.

There are still some outstanding questions. Although it has been possible to understand the routes by which some of these antiquities passed to the MFA or the J. Paul Getty Museum, the information on other items has not been made so freely available.

It needs to be remembered that the archaeological contexts for each one of the pieces on display in this exhibition has been lost for ever. Greed and the desire to collect have snatched this information away.

Have museum attitudes in North America changed? Philippe de Montebello's interview with Richard Lacayo in late November 2007 hints that old positions are hard to shift. And what about the disputed items in the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Shelby White collection?

Image
Portrait of Sabina, purchased from Fritz Bürki of Zurich, through Robert E. Hecht to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1979. Returned to Italy in 2006.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Coins and Cyprus: the ACCG responds

The ACCG triumvirate of Peter Tompa, Wayne Sayles and David Welsh have come together in another posting, "ACCG Queries Cypriot Director of Antiquities" (December 15, 2007), about the US restrictions on the import of coins from Cyprus.

Their implication is that the "best repositories" for these coins are the cabinets of ACCG members.

As usual they miss the archaeological point. This discussion is not about ownership. It is about the protection of archaeological sites and cultural information.

Tompa's lack of a grasp on archaeological methodology is made clear in his comments to one of my recent postings:
Suffice to state, only ancient coins from "secure contexts," i.e. under flooring have any real use for dating purposes. Even then, the long periods of circulation of ancient coins makes them of much less use for dating than other artifacts, notably pottery shards.
Are "floors" the only archaeological sites that can be considered to be "secure contexts"? Of course not.

Has he ever thought that "pottery shards" are often dated thanks to contexts in which coins have been found?

And has it struck the trio that the US Restrictions were about preservation?

Bonham's, antiquities and a postive spin?

Bonham's have not been receiving too much positive publicity about the sale and display of antiquities. But now it is being suggested that it was Bonham's that helped to unmask the forgers behind the Bolton Amarna princess.

Ivan Macquisten reports in the Antiques Trade Gazette (archived):
The British Museum were credited with uncovering the fraud that led to the jailing of serial faker Shaun Greenhalgh two weeks ago, while auction houses and the trade were criticised for selling his work.
... it was trade specialists who raised the alarm after the British Museum had enthusiastically endorsed examples of Greenhalgh’s work as genuine, unwittingly giving him and his family the verification they sought to pursue their fraud.
These revelations are made by Richard Falkiner
who chairs the antiquities vetting committees at both the Grosvenor House and Olympia fairs, and is consultant to auction houses, dealers and collectors, first came across one of the Greenhalgh fakes in early 2006 on a visit to Bonhams, where he advises the antiquities department.
Clearly bad publicity over antiquities would damage his interests and activities.

So why the spin at this point? Again it is reported:
Mr Falkiner said that he decided to make the revelations public because he was unhappy that, far from being credited with their contribution to exposing the fraud, Bonhams and the trade in general had been criticised in the press for helping put fakes in circulation.
Perhaps what this case has shown is that "old collections" can be fabricated, a feature seen in the surfacing of genuine antiquities in North American cases.

And if Falkiner is wanting to deflect criticisms of "Bonhams and the [antiquities] trade in general" could he explain how newly surfaced antiquities continued to be sold on the market?

And equally worrying is the way that museum officials seem to have authenticated these Greenhalgh forgeries. Will those institutions explain how their staff made such a serious error of judgement?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

From Switzerland to Italy: Another Etruscan Return

The seizure of Polaroids in Geneva continues to have an impact. ANSA reported last week (December 5, 2007) on "Etruscan Bronze Recovered in Switzerland". The 2nd century BC bronze figure is said to have been taken from an Etruscan tomb at Vulci in modern Tuscany. It was identified, thanks to the evidence provided by the Polaroids, in a Swiss private collection and the owner has agreed to return it to Italy. The name of the collector has not been released.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Coins and Cyprus: a response from the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus

Jessica Dietzler has interviewed Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos, the director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus ("The case for Cyprus", SAFE Interviews). It includes discussion of the US decision to restrict the import of coins from Cyprus. Flourentzos comments:

We deeply appreciate the decision of the Department of State to include ancient Cypriot coins in the MOU [sc. Memorandum of Understanding]. This act shows sensitivity to the importance of preserving world cultural heritage, a principle highly esteemed by the international scientific community.
He makes the point that is understood by archaeologists but not by some in the collecting community that coins form an integral part of the archaeological record and should not be treated as a special case.

You have very rightly pointed out that coins are an essential part of the corpus of the archaeological data. Actually, there is no scientific reason to set coins apart from the rest of archaeological finds. And it is important to understand that there is no way of retrieving coins without destroying the stratigraphy of a site.
He emphasises context, something ridiculed by some in museum (e.g. Philippe de Montebello) and collecting (e.g. Peter Tompa) circles,
In contemporary archaeology the ultimate value is context and not any isolated artifact. Thus, destroying stratigraphy to retrieve a coin is equal to destroying archaeology.
He also emphasises the transformation of the discipline of archaeology from antiquarianism to scientific study.
I am afraid that arguments about “responsible” collecting are based on the nineteenth century—and thus completely out of date—tradition when it was thought that archaeology is a pleasant pastime that anyone could “enjoy”. In the decades that have elapsed, the gradual transformation of archaeology from a pastime to a science has proved the essential difference between looting and scientific excavation.
It is useful to have the archaeological case made in such a clear way. And it contrasts with the voice of some of the more radical collectors who have yet to understand the material and intellectual consequences of collecting coins.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Robert E. Hecht Collection: any buyers?

Nathan Elkins ("A Legitimate Trade in Ancient Coins?", Safecorner, December 10, 2007) has drawn attention to the sale of the Robert E. Hecht collection of Byzantine Seals. These are on offer by the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (Triton Sale XI, lots 1116-1215).

Hecht has been been catching the full glare of the media spotlight for his links with some of the antiquities returned from North American collections to Italy. And his name features prominently in The Medici Conspiracy.

Elkins draws attention to a recent posting on Moneta-L where this question was posed:
With such a reputation I am wondering how people feel about a collection of his [sc. Hecht's] coming to market. Does it make you want to stay away from his material, are people more interested in it because of his colorful past?

It will be interesting to see how the sale of Part 1 of the Hecht collection goes.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

"The cultural heritage of the world is in serious trouble"

I was very struck by this quotation from one of the more extreme voices in the debate surrounding the international movement of cultural objects.

The writer is Wayne Sayles ("Excellence to ACL = Gee-Gaws to archaeologist", Ancient Coin Collecting, November 30, 2007).

Apparently the threat to the cultural heritage of the world comes not from looters but, according to Sayles, from archaeologists. His objection is to the tone of attacks made on the outreach scheme Ancient Coins for Education (ACE).

The cultural heritage of the world is in serious trouble while there continue to be radical advocates of the right to collect irrespective of the irreversible damage to the archaeological record.

Coins and Cyprus: the IAPN breaks silence

At long last the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) has broken its silence in the legal case against the US State Department - and not before time (see Coins and Cyprus: what are the motives of the IAPN?).

Paul Davies, president of the IAPN, has published a response - not on the IAPN website as you might expect - but on the website of the ACCG thoughtfully posted by Wayne Sayles (ACCG, December 8, 2007).

Interestingly Davies makes a statement that the IAPN - like the ACCG - "opposes looting of archaeological sites". But he perhaps forgot to read the discussion "Coins, ethics and scheduled monuments" posted back in September. It would have helped him to think through the issues.

I wonder if Davies would consider adopting the amendment I proposed for the ACCG Code of Ethics:

Coin Collectors and Sellers will not buy coins that they know or reasonably suspect were removed from archaeological sites or stolen from museum or personal collections.

And does Davies address the real motives behind the IAPN's action? Not really.

But did I expect him to do so? Not really.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Sale of Egyptian Antiquities at Sotheby's: a Reflection


The sale of the Guennol Lioness - "said to have been found at a site near Baghdad" and displayed at the Brooklyn Museum since 1948 - at Sotheby's in New York this week for US$57.161 million has captured attention.

But this is the third best year since 1998 for the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's with a total of US$6.586 million in 2007. First place is 2004 with US$9.414 million, and second is 1999 with US$6.811 million.


Egyptian antiquities now represent 16% of the total sales of antiquities for the period 1998-2007 fetching some US$42.826 million. Antiquities in general -
and that includes the Guennol Lioness - have raised some US$216.306 million for Sotheby's.

And what are the sources for these Egyptian antiquities?


Just over 95% lots have no stated find-spot. And some 68% were first known after 1973.

Note
Figures revised in December 2008.

The Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art

Robin Pogrebin ("Fordham Opens Its Gift: An Antiquities Museum ", New York Times, December 6, 2007) has reported on today's opening of the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art. This collection was formed by a former classics student of Fordham. The NYT reports:
For some four decades, William D. Walsh browsed auction catalogs in search of the ancient artifacts that would gratify his passion for classical antiquity.

In other words during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and in this decade, Walsh has been buying antiquities at auction. Pogrebin continues:

Mr. Walsh said he acquired every piece at public auctions — not through a private dealer — and therefore hopes that the provenance of his artifacts is clean and accounted for. “I’ve always focused on keeping the auction house between myself and the seller,” he said.

But it is well documented that antiquities have been surfacing through auction houses. Why did one well-known auction house close down its antiquities department in London? Why had some of the antiquities returned from North American museums to Italy passed through established auction houses?

Pogrebin tries to get some balance in his report and quotes Richard Hodges, the director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology:

It’s a slightly imprudent act on the part of the university [sc. Fordham], because a lot of it is not provenanced ... The message that it sends is there is nothing wrong with looting and buying illegal objects. Fordham needs to be very careful about this.

The collection is described by Jennifer Udell, the curator, as follows:

It spans several periods, Mycenaean, Villanovan, Classical Greece, Geometrical, Archaic Roman, Imperial Roman, Republican, Etruscan, South Italian.”

The press release highlights the following:

  • a bronze bust of Roman emperor Caracalla of the Severan Dynasty, circa 200
    A.D.;
  • several large ceramic vessels from the ancient Etruscans, whose culture flourished in central Italy in the centuries before the rise of the Roman Empire;
  • a nickel-size Athenian silver coin, with an owl insignia, dating from the 5th or 6th century B.C.;
  • an 8-foot high male funerary statue from Rome, circa 10 A.D.;
  • a marble bust of Augustus, adopted son of Julius Caesar and the first emperor of Rome.

It will be interesting to see the sources and histories of the pieces in due course.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

"Always a background of quasi-socialist sentiment"

The coverage of recent rumours of impending US restrictions on antiquities provides some insights into the thinking behind some of those who appear to support or defend the unrestricted collecting of cultural objects (Jeremy Kahn, "Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don't Ask", New York Times, April 8, 2007).

One of the more colourful comments was from
William G. Pearlstein who describes himself as counsel at Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell and Peskoe LLP. He is listed as representing "Private dealers and collectors of fine art and antiquities" as well as the "National Association of Dealers in Ancient, Oriental and Primitive Art, Inc."

Pearlstein came up with this wonderful statement (if we accept the veracity of NYT):

In a lot of anti-collecting bashing or museum bashing that goes on there is always a background of quasi-socialist sentiment.
And what is the evidence for this sweeping statement? Does "always" mean "always"? And what is "quasi-socialist sentiment"? And does speaking out against the looting of archaeological sites equate to "anti-collecting bashing or museum bashing"? In fact such a comment suggests that Pearlstein has rather run out of rational lines of defence.

If Pearlstein took a moment to think about his sound bite he would have been struck by the oddity of describing Lord Renfrew, for example, as a quasi-socialist.

But what made me amused was the next comment:

You always hear archaeologists hissing about money.
Is legal work conducted for dealers pro bono?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Coins and Cyprus: what are the motives of the IAPN?

The International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) are one of three groups taking legal action against the US State Department. Their stated objectives are (and I quote in full):
The IAPN is a non-profit organisation of the leading international numismatic firms founded 1951. The objectives of the Association are the development of a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade conducted according to the highest standards of business ethics and commercial practice.
Peter Tompa has now commented (in response to my posting where I stated, "But there is also an active lobby apparently seeking to liberalise the market"):
I don't understand why you think we stand for "liberalizing" the trade.
Really?

Even when one of the three bodies taking legal action has a stated objective to develop "a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade".

Even when the IAPN states in the legal papers that "the material sought in these FOIA requests will assist the IAPN in reaching these organizational goals", viz. "a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade".

Even when restrictions on the movement of coins (and antiquities) from Cyprus limit the supply. (And the point of the US import restriction is, I am sure we can both agree, to protect the archaeological and cultural heritage of Cyprus.)

Even when the ACCG narrative states:
The State Department recently imposed unprecedented import restrictions on ancient coins from Cyprus—requiring importers of even a single common coin of “Cypriot type” to provide unfair, unworkable and unnecessary documentation.
Even when fellow ACCG members state melodramatically ("Another Watergate?"):
The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild is the only organization actively defending collectors against the steady and insidious encroachment of legislation and regulations aimed at restricting and perhaps eventually banning private collecting.
Is the ACCG the only organisation "actively defending collectors against the steady and insidious encroachment of legislation and regulations"? What about the IAPN, or that matter the PNG, that are both fellow plaintiffs?

In any case, what is the problem if the coins available to collectors come from legitimate sources? After all, the legal papers (item 1) actually specify "other members of the public interested in the legitimate international exchange of cultural artifacts".

Tompa also claims (in response to Safecorner's posting "All the news that's fit to print?"):
All ACCG and the numismatic trade seek here is the "provenance" of the unprecedented decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type and some transparency and accountability from the public servants at the State Department.
Really?

Wayne Sayles perhaps gives a big clue (again as a comment on the same Safecorner posting) when he says:
What is not mentioned is that collector and trade organizations support the Cultural Property Implementation Act. We honor the recommendations of CPAC. We merely asked Department of State whether they honored the recommendation of their own committee when they agreed to impose import restrictions. When they refused to answer that question, we felt that it was our right as citizens to use legal processes to force that answer.
I am note sure how the IAPN based in Brussels (and with that address --- 14, rue de la Bourse, 1000 Brussels, Belgium --- on the legal papers submitted against the US State Department) counts as a US citizen (though I realise that there are US-based dealers within IAPN).

I am also intrigued why the IAPN has still to make any mention of the court action on the press release section of its website. Is the IAPN taking an active role? Or is it just lending its name? Indeed the same appears to be true for the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG).

So what are the motives of the IAPN? What are they hoping to achieve by this court action?

Perhaps Messrs Sayles, Tompa, and Welsh could encourage their (sleeping) partners to make their views heard.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

"We are ushering in a new era"

A conference attended by North American museum directors and Italian cultural authorities was held in Rome held this week (Elisabetta Povoledo, "Progress Seen in Talks on Antiquities", New York Times, December 1, 2007). This is a positive move after the return of antiquities from Boston, Malibu, New York, and Princeton.

Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli not only claimed "We are ushering in a new era" but:
The phase that was tied to illegal activity through unacceptable channels is closed, and we have arrived at a turning point where we have become partners against illegal traffic.
There is a new spirit of collaboration. Does this mean that other North American museums have come to an agreement with the Italian authorities?

It is perhaps a pity that, in this week of constructive dialogue, Philippe de Montebello of the Metropolitan Museum of Art chose to release a defiant message through his interview with Richard Lacayo. Was the timing a coincidence? Or are de Montebello's controversial views now being placed to one side?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"The right to everything that's in the ground"

It was a coincidence that my posting on Philippe de Montebello, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, appeared the week that he was interviewed by Richard Lacayo ("A Talk With: Philippe de Montebello", "More Talk With: Philippe de Montebello", November 27/28, 2007).

I had commented on a 2006, post Euphronios krater return announcement, where de Montebello had attacked archaeologists for their emphasis on context. And he has once again shown his basic misunderstanding of archaeological stratigraphy:

One can question whether one particular discipline can arrogate to itself the right to everything that's in the ground. There are many different contexts, many different ways to look at these objects. So you have a discipline that goes too far in claiming that an object is of no merit, of no value, the moment it's out of the ground and you don't know who buried it. That's one context. It's obviously a very precious one, because once an object is out of that context the information is not retrieveable. But it's not the only context.


My students will be familiar with the different contexts - I would call them the life-cycle - of, say, Greek pottery. An Athenian red-figured pot could be made in Attica, Greece; transported to Italy; buried in an Etruscan tomb; dug up in the nineteenth century; passed into a private collection; dispersed at auction; and end up in some internationally famous collection.

My students will also be aware of the different ways to study and look at Greek pottery - and that includes iconography and "connoisseurship".

But I would still stress the importance of archaeological context because that provides a chronological, social and iconographic framework for understanding this part of Mediterranean material culture.

And that context forms part of the universal human heritage: a heritage that will be cherished by archaeologists who will be puzzled by de Montebello's suggestion that they have "the right to everything that's in the ground". Possession is more the domain of museum curators and private collectors than that of the archaeologist.

De Montebello also comments on the new world where North American museums take ethics more seriously. In particular he draws attention to the acquisition policy formulated by the
Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD). He observes:
Acquisitions of antiquities on the part of American museums have fallen to almost zero. Out of a sense of new ethical standards and a not inconsequential fiduciary responsibility — they don't want to make an acquisition that is likely to be subject to claims — most museums have imposed on themselves standards that, as a matter of praxis, are even more stringent than ten years. And so it's been very effective on one level — if you take pleasure in the fact that antiquities are practically no longer entering American collections.

The suggestion of a ten year deadline is interesting and an idea that I have discussed elsewhere arguing that it is inappropriate. It would have allowed the Met to retain all but two of the pieces - a Laconian cup (1999.527) and and an Attic red-figured psykter (1996.250) - which it agreed to return to Italy last year.

De Montebello also suggests that archaeologists have a "debt" to museums. He claims:
Archeologists presumably became interested in archeology by visiting museums. They forget this very conveniently. They become practicing archeologists and then their only interest is in the "find spot."

I do not know the basis of his claim, though I am sure it is true for some. But that does not mean that archaeologists do not have the right to comment on the destruction of the archaeological record to provide stock for the antiquities market.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"We don't know what the vase painters ate"

The March 2006 discussion about antiquities and provenance (or lack thereof) provided some interesting material (see "Is It All Loot? Tackling The Antiquities Problem", New York Times, March 29, 2006).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art had just (Feb. 2006) signed up to an
agreement with the Italian Government. This had included the (in)famous Attic Euphronios krater.

In spite of this the Met's Director, Philippe De Montebello went on what can only be described, in
Stephen Dyson's words, as an "unrepentant" offensive. He claimed,

I think the reality, since we have been talking about the Euphronios vase, is that the knowledge that we have of Greek vase painting is based 98 percent on vases that were never excavated by licensed archaeologists. Archaeologists talk about the loss of context. We have almost a totality of the possible knowledge we could have, although we don't know what the vase painters ate.

I doubt the accuracy of De Montebello's estimate that 98 per cent of Greek (Athenian?) pots "were never excavated by licensed archaeologists". Is he suggesting that only 2% of Greek pots were properly excavated? If so, this has serious intellectual consequences for the study of figure-decorated pottery. I have elsewhere discussed pots attributed to the Berlin painter and noted:

only some 13 per cent comes a relatively secure archaeological context, and 50 per cent have no archaeological context at all.
De Montebello's words resonate with Sir John Boardman who commented on the Euphronios krater in a 2004 lecture (published in Who Owns Objects? [2006]):
the interest of which is 98 per cent in its sheer existence (we know who made it, when and where) with only a 2 per cent loss in knowledge of what Etruscan grave it came from.
Both De Montebello and Boardman belittle the importance of context. But can either of them answer these questions with certainty?

Can we be sure that the Euphronios krater was found in Etruria? If so, which site? Which cemetery? Which grave? Where was it placed in the tomb? What was the status of the person buried in the tomb? What was the date of the burial? What other objects were placed alongside the Euphronios krater? How does the iconography of "Sleep" and "Death" on the krater link to the iconography of other funerary objects from the same tomb?

De Montebello also presents a "straw man" argument:
the problem with the notion that on a providential zephyr an object will somehow return to its context by being returned to the country it came from.
Who believes that "repatriation" restores context? Archaeologists do not. "Repatriation" merely recognises that an illegal action has taken place. The tragedy is that looting has deprived the Euphronios krater of its archaeological context which can never be restored by scholarship or "connoisseurship".

Image

Terracotta calyx-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water), Calyx-krater, ca. 515 B.C.; Archaic
Signed by Euxitheos, as potter; Signed by Euphronios, as painter
Greek, Attic
Terracotta; H. 18 in. (45.7 cm), Diam. 21 11/16 in. (55.1 cm)
Lent by the Republic of Italy (L.2006.10)

http://www.metmuseum.org/



Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Marion True and Greece: update

The IHT has reported ("Greek court throws out case against former Getty Museum curator", November 27, 2007) that a court in Greece has decided that it will not prosecute Marion True over the J. Paul Getty Museum's acquisition of a Macedonian gold wreath in 1993. (This has now been returned to Greece for display in Thessaloniki.)

However this is not the end of legal cases in Greece. The IHT also notes:
True still faces charges of illegally possessing at least a dozen antiquities found during a police raid on her holiday home on the Aegean island of Paros in April last year. No trial date has been set in that case.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Making a difference starts at home

Am I doing my bit for the planet?

I could grumble that other people are not doing their bit.

I could point to other polluting countries.

I could wring my hands over the destruction of the rain forest.


But I can use 'a bag for life' when I go shopping.

I can switch off the TV instead of leaving it on 'standby'.

I can sort my rubbish so that it can be recycled.

I can do my bit for the planet.


And it is a bit like saving the archaeological record.

I could point the finger at those who do not appear to be protecting sites and monuments.

I could criticise government authorities for restricting the movement of archaeological materials across national frontiers.

I could even assert my right to collect archaeological material that has no previous history.


Or I could do my bit to save part of our universal cultural heritage.

I know which I would rather do.

Do you?

Modern-day Maecenases or robber barons?

Stephen L. Dyson is a leading authority on the history of classical archaeology. His review of The Medici Conspiracy (2006) is thus a significant one (Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 234-35). Perhaps what marks out his review is this extended observation:
a counter-offensive is already under way in centres of museum power, especially in the United States. It is being led by powerful and largely unrepentant museums, supported by compliant journalists and academics, and ultimately financed by wealthy collectors who want to see themselves once again depicted as modern-day Maecenases and not as contemporary robber barons. Their justifications rest on the latest version of cultural imperialism, now bearing labels like 'cosmopolitanism' by which the dominant political, military and economic power claims that it embodies civilization and asserts the right to gather unto itself the looted treasures of the world.

There is more in the review but it is a good reminder of the road that lies ahead.

The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum: some ethical issues

I have recently suggested, "The fascicules of the CVA for museums outside Greece and Italy map the history of the collecting of Greek pottery from the Grand Tourists of the 18th century to the tombaroli of the late 20th and early 21st centuries" (Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 226-27).

The recent returns of Greek pottery from North American museums to Italy has drawn attention to the problem of flawed acquisition policies that have allowed looted material to enter permanent collections. If the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum (CVA) is to be a record of permanent collections two issues need to be addressed.

1. Loans. Loan collections have featured in the fascicules of the CVA from its earliest years. For example, the collection formed by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon was loaned to the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge University) and published by Winifred Lamb in the second fascicule of the CVA (1936). The collection was bequeathed to the museum (by Shannon) in 1937. The Kestner-Museum in Hannover included in CVA 2 (Deutschland 72) a red-figured cup attributed to Douris (and which appeared in Beazley's lists, archive no. 205161), ex-Swiss private collection, which is on "permanent" - whatever that means - loan. Should loan collections form part of the definitive publication record of permanent museum collections?

2. Recently Surfaced Material. The Kestner-Museum included in its CVA recently surfaced material that had been derived from the anonymous art market. Should the CVA encourage transparency and avoid anonymity?

I have suggested this:
The CVA is an ideal place to record the history of each object catalogued, especially given the contemporary concerns about widespread looting and the destruction of archaeological sites. The full record from the moment the pot emerged in an archaeological excavation or surfaced on the antiquities market should be documented.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Loan Exhibitions and Private Collectors

Geoff Edgers raises some important issues about exibitions of material from private collections ("Jade sale creates complications for MFA", Boston Globe, November 24, 2007), He discusses the Alan and Simone Hartman collection of Chinese Jade which was exhibited ("Chinese Jades from the Hartman Collection") at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from August 2003 to November 2004.

The first part of the collection was subsequently sold at Christie's Hong Kong in 2006 and the second part this coming week. Edgers writes:
Some museum ethics experts and officials say it is disturbing to see an entire collection up for auction so soon after being displayed at the MFA. They raise questions about a nonprofit museum giving its imprimatur to works owned by wealthy collectors who are generous donors to the institution. Some say that the Hartmans, who run an antique business in New York, put the MFA in an awkward position with the sale.

Malcolm Rogers, the director of the MFA, has commented on the decision to hold the exhibition:
It's an area of jades that have been little shown in recent decades, an area once thought unfashionable ... We wanted to bring a great collection that was little known to the Boston public.

But do institutional policies need to anticipate such exhibitions and subsequent sales?

Millicent Gaudieri, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors observed:
I would believe that any museum would have some kind of written agreement in terms of the collector's ability to sell works en masse ... The donors moved too rapidly.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Cultural Ceasefire: is 1970 the right date?

Lee Rosenbaum ("My Ceasefire Proposals for the Cultural-Property Wars", Culturegrrl, November 19, 2007) has proposed a cultural ceasefire on the return of "illicit" antiquities. As part of that proposal she has posed the questions:
Should the known provenance have to go back to before the 1970 date of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? Or should the date be in 1983, the year when the U.S. officially became a party to the UNESCO Convention?
I am not sure this takes account of the present situation.

We need to remember that the earliest object returned from Boston to Italy, a Lucanian nestoris, was acquired in 1971. Likewise the Roman fresco fragments were purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1971.

In fact if the 1983 date was used it would have excluded six of the thirteen antiquities from Boston, and at least twelve of the 40 items on the list from the Getty. (Princeton would have been unaffected.) The Euphronios krater (and part of the Hellenistic silver hoard) would not have been returned from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A more interesting question is this: would the 1983 date exclude the Athenian volute-krater in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) acquired from Robin Symes in 1983? And remember that the incoming director of MIA is Kaywin Feldman who also acts as secretary to The Association of Art Museum Directors which "recommends" that an archaeological object can be acquired if it has been out of its "probable" country of origin for ten years.

This idea that awareness of the problem of looted antiquities is a recent one recalls the quote from Shelby White, "It is hard to apply current standards to something that happened thirty years ago" (The New Yorker, April 9, 2007). But there was general awareness of the issue from December 1973 when the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) passed the resolution that included:
The Archaeological Institute of America believes that Museums can henceforth best implement such cooperation by refusing to acquire through purchase, gift, or bequest cultural property exported subsequent to December 30, 1973, in violation of the laws obtaining in the countries of origin.
This strengthened its 1970 resolution that included:
The Archaeological Institute of America calls upon its members, as well as educational institutions (universities and museums) in the United States and Canada, to refrain from purchasing and accepting donations of antiquities exported from their countries of origin in contravention to the terms of the UNESCO Draft Convention.
Christopher Chippindale and I earlier adopted 1973 in our research as a key date for acquisitions. But we had been considering lowering it to 1970 in the light of the successful actions by the Italian Government. A move to 1983 would, in my opinion, be a shift in the wrong direction.

Switzerland and "illicit" cultural property

Simon Bradley has reported on the Swiss concern over the handling of Peruvian antiquities ("Red alert goes out for stolen treasures", Swissinfo.ch, November 23, 2007). ICOM and the Swiss Federal Cultural Office have created a "red list" and acknowledged "irreparable loss" to Peruvian archaeological contexts. The report notes:
Switzerland is among the world's five biggest trade hubs for art objects. It was known as a transit point for stolen artefacts before it introduced legislation in 2005 that brought it into line with a United Nations convention against trafficking in illicit goods.

Yves Fischer, at the Swiss Culture Office, commented on the Swiss role in the movement of "illicit" antiquities:
Switzerland made a clear statement that these kind of activities are no longer accepted here. The new measures have a preventive and repressive impact.

It is not yet clear how effective the Federal Act on the International Transfer of Cultural Property (CPTA) (2005) has been.

Many of the antiquities being returned to Italy from North America had passed through Switzerland (prior to 2005). So the 2006 agreement between Switzerland and Italy was an important move ("Deal signed against traffic of illicit goods", October 21, 2006). But is this Swiss act making a difference to the international trade in antiquities?


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving - and a look back

First, I would like to wish all my North American readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

Second, I thought it would be a good idea to review the last year and to see what has been happening. We have seen significant returns of antiquities from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Princeton, and even a dealer. However it is important to remember that in virtually every case (perhaps excepting the objects stolen from museum collections) the archaeological contexts have been lost and they can nver be recovered. There has been recognition for the destruction of archaeological sites on Cyprus and US import restrictions have been extended to include coins. But there is also an active lobby apparently seeking to liberalise the market and reverse this decision.

There are still issues to address because looted archaeological sites represent a loss of scientific knowledge.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A gold wreath from Macedonia

The New York Times has reported that Marion True went on trial in Athens earlier this week. At the centre of the case is the acquisition by the J. Paul Getty Museum of "an ancient gold funerary wreath that Greek officials say was illegally removed from Greek soil about 15 years ago". It had been reported last year:
The Greek police said they now had evidence that the funerary wreath was dug up by a farmer in 1990 near Serres, in northern Greece, and passed on to the art market through Germany and Switzerland before being sold to the Getty in 1993.

The sum is said to have been in excess of US$1 million (BBC).

The story broke back in 2005 with a story by Ralph Frammolino and Jason Felch in the LA Times ("Greek officials demand the return of Getty antiquities", October 24, 2005)

The Getty's former chief antiquities curator, Marion True, acquired the wreath from a Swiss art dealer, Christoph Leon, for $1.15 million. Leon guaranteed that it came from a private Swiss collection. But a German police investigation later determined that Leon had acted as an intermediary for a Yugoslav and two Greeks, who had shopped the wreath around Europe in a cardboard box.

True first viewed it in a Zurich bank vault but walked away after she realized the men she was dealing with were impostors, according to internal Getty documents obtained by The Times. She went ahead with the deal anyway six months later, Getty records show.

When the Getty paid for the wreath, it forwarded funds to a Swiss bank account controlled by Leon and his partners, records show.


It seems likely that the wreath came from an elite grave in Macedonia though the precise archaeological context (and related finds) is probably now lost. The wreath itself was returned to Greece earlier this year.

Collector Beware!

I was intrigued by the tragic BBC Wales news story this evening:

"Collector killed by his own hoard".


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Fano athlete

I have earlier commented on the Fano athlete (at present in the J. Paul Getty Museum, inv. 77.AB.30, "Victorious Youth") as an example of cultural property which (literally) "surfaced" prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Jason Felch has now reported on the decision by an Italian judge ("Italian group's bid for Getty statue rejected",
LA Times, November 20, 2007). Felch reports:
An Italian judge Monday rejected the request of a local cultural group to seize an ancient bronze from the J. Paul Getty Museum, further increasing the chances that the prized statue will stay in Los Angeles.

Carol Mattusch has provided the information in a J. Paul Getty Museum publication:
The statue of the Victorious Youth was evidently found during the early 1960s at some distance from shore by fishermen from Fano, a resort town on the Adriatic Sea about halfway between Rimini and Ancona .... The statue's history over the next ten years is uncertain, for even though the Italian police apparently knew about the bronze by 1965, they were unable to locate it. Men were tried for but acquitted of harboring the statue, and it was exported, although when and to what country remains a mystery.

She noted that the statue was acquired by a Munich-based dealer Heinz Herzer (with the Artemis Group) in 1971 and the bronze was then conserved.

Bryan Rostron, who published an earlier account of the Youth's "alleged history" in 1979, published an update earlier this year ("Chasing Getty's 'Youth'", The Spectator, March 31, 2007). Rostron places the find in August 1964. He then presents a version of events:
Italian law stipulates that new found antiquities become the property of the state. A crew member called his cousin, a carpet dealer, who in turn contacted a local furniture restorer. ... The statue had been bought by Giacomo Barbetti, a modest antiquarian from the mediaeval Umbrian town of Gubbio. He paid the equivalent of $3,899. It was loaded on to a fruit van at night and driven the 50 miles from Fano to Gubbio.

After further incidents, including being concealed under the stairs in the home of a local priest, it was seen by the Basel-based dealer Elie Borowski. After a tip off to the police in April 1965 the statue left Italy. It was then purchased by the Artemis consortium for US$700,000, and eventually sold to the Getty.

Rostron notes that the assertion that the Victorious Youth was found "in international waters" as "possible, but not proved". He also records the intervention of Elie Borowski in the 1966 trial against the Barbettis.

It is thus interesting to note that Felch reports:
The statue was not excavated from an archaeological site but found by chance in international waters. Experts say it was not even crafted in Italy but was made by Greek artists and lost in the Adriatic after being looted by Roman soldiers.

There is a possibility that the statue had been looted in antiquity from a sanctuary in Greece and was being carried to Italy. However one early report hinted that the wreck (if there was one) could have been medieval.

Felch also reports:
In a statement, Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said he would await more detail about the ruling before commenting. He has insisted in the past that the Getty should return the statue on moral grounds because it was smuggled out of Italy before the museum bought it.
Will the moral take priority over the legal?


Reference
Mattusch, C. C. 1997. The Victorious Youth. Getty Museum Studies on Art. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Coins and Cyprus: the destruction of archaeological heritage

The legal action against the US state department has failed to acknowledge the central issue: the protection of the finite archaeological resource on the island of Cyprus. This has been the reason why individuals, including myself, have expressed an opinion on the restriction of imports of archaeological material from Cyprus.

Some are presenting archaeological concerns as "unprecedented threats to ancient coin collecting" (Wayne Sayles).

Others present the restrictions as the result of "the conservation lobby" (David Welsh). It is perhaps telling that the opposite of "conservation" is "destruction". Is that what the three groups of coin collecting bodies wish to endorse?

Coins lying in a stratified archaeological context are part of the heritage of that island. Is that what the "destructionist lobby" is wanting to annihilate?

Reference
Hadjisavvas, S. 2001. "The destruction of the archaeological heritage of Cyprus." In Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world's archaeological heritage, edited by N. Brodie, J. Doole, and C. Renfrew, pp. 133-39. Cambridge: McDonald Institute.

Coins and Cyprus: a partial picture from the NYT

Jeremy Kahn has reported on the decision by three coin groups to take legal action against the US State Department ("Coin Collectors Sue State Department Over Import Rules", New York Times, November 17, 2007). Kahn identifies the trigger as "a controversial decision by the State Department in July to ban imports of ancient coins from the island of Cyprus". The decision was welcomed by archaeologists who perceived it to be designed to protect the destruction of archaeological sites on Cyprus. It was considered to be "controversial" only by those who opposed it and who are seeking to liberalise the movement of archaeological material (including coins).

Safecorner ("All the news that's fit to print?") has posted a response to Kahn - and makes the interesting economic comparison between the cost of providing somebody to guard an archaeological site and the fees charged by an attorney to bring this case.

Meanwhile ACCG has helpfully published the full text of the complaint. Is it significant that the other two bodies, the IAPN and the PNG, have yet to post anything on the news sections of their websites?

Would Kahn like to present a balanced view in his next report? Why does the archaeological record of Cyprus need protecting?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Bolton and the "Amarna Princess": update

I have commented earlier about the "Amarna Princess" acquired by Bolton Museum. The forger has been convicted today and will go to prison for four years and eight months ("Statue forger jailed for art con", BBC, November 16, 2007).

Judge William Morris is quoted:

This was an ambitious conspiracy of long duration based on your undoubted talent and based on the sophistication of the deceptions underpinning the sales and attempted sales.

Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley, from the Metropolitan Police's Art and Antiques Unit said ("Fraudsters who resented the art market", BBC, November 16, 2007):

I think with all of these things it was the provenances that sold them. Looking at them now I'm not sure the items would fool anyone, it was the credibility of the provenances that went with them. There are far better artists in this world than Shaun Greenhalgh and far better forgers but I've never come across a forger able to do that many disciplines, that's what made him so exceptional and accomplished.


Coins and Cyprus: why is the ACCG filing a suit?

A Freedom of Information Act suit has been filed against the US Department of State in response to the restriction of ancient coins from Cyprus ("Coins and Cyprus: further developments"). The notice on the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) website states:
The State Department recently imposed unprecedented import restrictions on ancient coins from Cyprus—requiring importers of even a single common coin of “Cypriot type” to provide unfair, unworkable and unnecessary documentation.

The suit is reported to be backed by three bodies: the ACCG, the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG).

Who are these other bodies?
Here are the statements from the websites of the IAPN and the PNG.
The IAPN is a non-profit organisation of the leading international numismatic firms founded 1951. The objectives of the Association are the development of a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade conducted according to the highest standards of business ethics and commercial practice. (IAPN website)


The PNG is a nonprofit organization composed of the world's top rare coin and paper money experts. As numismatic professionals, our primary mission is to make the hobby safe for collectors and investors by maintaining rigid standards of excellence for our member dealers. (PNG website)


Of the three organisations only one, the ACCG, had a statement about this legal action against the state department. It suggests that there is a lead group dealing with this action.

What does the ACCG believe?
Their position appears on their website:
The ACCG was formed to provide a voice for ancient coin collectors on issues that threaten the hobby. Given a widespread disinformation campaign about the extent of looting at the Iraq and Afghan national museums, we fear that ideologues within the archaeological establishment have subverted laudable efforts to protect public collections and archaeological sites into a crusade to suppress the public's longstanding right to preserve, study and display antiquities, including ones as common as ancient coins. Unless we provide decision makers in the legislative and administrative branches of government with our own views on the complex issues surrounding preservation of historical sites, we face the prospect that our right to collect ancient coins will be legislated out of existence by ill-informed decision makers who have been told that anything "old" should belong to the government of the country where it is found, and that only academic elites should have a right to study and preserve the artifacts of the past. (ACCG website)


So what views do the officers of the ACCG want to express to the decision makers in government?
I will try to give a flavour of the views of three of the officers of the ACCG.

Wayne Sayles, the Executive Director, has expressed his views on the decision to restrict the import of coins from Cyprus in a forceful way. In a posting, "
Yes, it's a war" (July 13, 2007), he commented:
In response to the U.S. State Department's furtive manipulation of the CPAC hearing on renewal of an agreement with Cyprus, I had made the statement publicly that their action might be considered "the Pearl Harbor of the Cultural Property War". That was apparently offensive to some. Today, the State Department not only affirmed my conclusion, they launched a major offensive against coin collectors. This is not "Pearl Harbor", this is "D-Day" for Cultural Property Nationalists. If that sounds bellicose, it ought to.

He emphasises the right to collect:
Why does this announcement constitute an attack on the American people? Because it codifies the general principle that any country in the world can claim perpetual ownership of objects, including coins, made in that country. ... It is more than a sad commentary that in the "Land of the Free" we are not free to purchase an object that can be purchased legally by millions, indeed billions, of people in other lands. In a world where Globalism is not just a trend but an irreversible fact of life, how can anyone justify turning America into an island of prohibition for something as innocuous as a common coin. Is there no hope at all that the governing of America will rest in the hands of people with common sense?

And the political dimension is explicit:
It is a constant source of frustration to many conservatives that the Republican administration has failed to protect the conservative point of view in an area where a simple word would have been sufficient. Namely, that personal property rights are a mainstay of the American experience; that the government of the United States exists to serve the people of this nation before those of others; and that no other nation shall infringe upon the rights of the American people.

Then we turn to David Welsh, another officer of the ACCG, whose comments on the coin market ("Stealth Unidroit: the State Department’s War Against Collecting") I have discussed elsewhere. Let us remind ourselves of his views:
This development should concern not only coin collectors, but also every American citizen who values his or her personal freedom. Big Brother is watching you, and Big Brother does not like collecting. If this unholy cabal of narrow academic interests, entrenched bureacrats [sic.] and cultural officials in a few foreign nations can secretively and successfully hijack US cultural policy in such a manner, the implications may reach far beyond what happens to coin collecting.

For Welsh the decision to impose restrictions was "a day which will live in infamy" ("Black Day for Numismatics: Import Restrictions on Cypriot Coins").

But what about Peter Tompa, the President of the ACCG? Tompa has criticised the archaeological community for being "obsessed with context" (see my posting,
"The archaeological community's obsession with context"). Tompa has appended public comments to my posting, "Coins and Cyprus: action on the ground", and I repeat some of them them here:
The sad fact is that Cyprus has somewhat of a reputation for corruption. It is on a State Department list for being a major money laundering center. It sheltered companies involved in oil for food scandal before the Iraq War. It's not hard to imagine that such a two-tiered system exists in such a place. (Turkey is probably no better despite some hopeful signs under the new government.)

As such, those in the archaeological community that blindly support the state owns everything approach probably in practice do little more than encourage unfair laws, public corruption and a do nothing approach to preservation of cultural artifacts. One has to assume their timidity on any issue other than "looting" may stem from a fear that their licenses to excavate can easily be pulled by the cultural property bureaucracies of such countries.
Such views of the Republic of Cyprus are deeply disturbing.

What is the real issue?
I hope that nobody will lose sight of the issue of the looting of archaeological sites on the island of Cyprus - for that was the purpose of the US restrictions on coins. I close with the
words of Andreas Kakouris, Cyprus’s ambassador to Washington:
Coins constitute an inseparable part of our own cultural heritage, and the pillage they are subjected to is the same as other archaeological material.

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