Thursday, July 31, 2014

St Louis Art Museum and the Mummy Mask

Did the US Authorities handle the case of the mummy mask in the St Louis Art Museum in the most appropriate way? I am sure that readers of LM will have views on this.

but there is a more important issue. do we believe the collecting history, the so-called provenance, of the mask supplied by the vendor and presented by the museum? The answer has to be no. The documentation from Cairo seems to be clear that the mask was in Egypt at the time that it is claimed that it was also passing through the hands of dealers and private collectors in Europe.

And if the collecting history is flawed, how comfortable is the museum with the acquisition? Are the officers willing to say that they have full confidence in the collecting history? Or do they have reservations? and if they have reservations, will they consider taking the appropriate professional and ethical action by opening up positive negotiations with the Egyptian authorities?

does the SLAM mask remind us that some museum curators in North America are still operating with the acquisition standards of the pre-Medici period?

Museums Association and Northampton

It seems that the Museums Association has reviewed the decision of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery to sell its Egyptian statue to fund future developments. It looks as if the the MA do not consider that Northampton followed the due process to deaccession the statue as outlined in the MA code of ethics, This is probably the first step in the process for the Northampton museum service to lose its accreditation.

Local councillors and officers in Northampton will now have to explain why they took the course of action that they followed.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Forfeiture and Becchina: another link to Canada

Ric St Hilaire has written about a new forfeiture of two items that seem to be identified from the Becchina archive. The two items are an Attic red-figured skyphos and an Apulian bell-krater, valued at $55,000. They are reported to have been consigned to Christie's in New York. It is reported that they were seized in 2011 from from Walter M. Banko Enterprises, Ltd. of Montreal.

It appears that the paperwork for the objects may have been fabricated as the skyphos passed through the hands of Becchina in 1982 even though there had been a link with Borowski. The krater appears to have been in Becchina's possession in 1992 even though the paperwork suggested an alternative collecting history.

St Hilaire notes the quoted collecting history for the krater that was later moved from France to Canada:
Documents recovered from the search of Becchina’s gallery and warehouse reveal the occurrence of the following events: in February of 1992, Becchina purchased the Krater, in fragments, from Raffaele Monticelli. On or about October 24, 1992, Becchina delivered the Krater to Ettore Bruno who was to restore the Krater. On or about July 15, 1993, Ettore Bruno sent a photograph of the restored Krater to Becchina. On or about August 10, 1993, Robert Guy answered Becchina regarding the Krater’s attribution and the scientific study of the Krater. Ettore Bruno returned the Krater to Becchina in March of 1994. Becchina paid 8,490 Swiss francs for the restoration of the Krater. On May 1, 1994, Bechina noted that the Krater was then located in his warehouse at Porto Franco di Basilea (Switzerland).
I have raised the issue of Walter Banko before in the case of the janiform head also identified from the Becchina archive. This head had passed through Christie's in 2009.

Will Christie's have to explain the rigour of their due diligence process?

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'Provenance' at SBL

I note that papyri are coming under the spotlight at SBL in San Diego this November. The session on 'Archaeology of Religion in the Roman World' includes a section on 'Issues of Provenance'. I have argued that the word provenance is now obsolete, and I would encourage participants to start thinking in terms of the collecting history of particular papyri and objects.
This session will consist of a panel of speakers addressing the ethical and scholarly issues concerning the presentation and publication of unprovenanced artifacts.
The line-up appears to be:
Organized by Christine Thomas (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Daniel Schowalter (Carthage College).
The speakers are: 
  • Timothy Potts (Getty Museum)
  • Roberta Mazza (University of Manchester)
  • Michael Peppard (Fordham University)
Responses from: 
  • Douglas Boin (St. Louis University)
  • David Trobisch (Green Collection)
  • Cary Summers (Museum of the Bible).
I presume that somebody will ask Michael Peppard about the documentation over the Late Antique mosaics acquired by Fordham. Will there be some searching comments about recently surfaced papyri. And will Tim Potts elaborate on the 'Sumerian' statue acquired by the Kimbell?


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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Arts Council England and Northampton

Arts Council England (ACE) is due to make a decision today about Northampton Borough Council's decision to sell an Egyptian statue from the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery (see Gareth Harris, "Northampton awaits Arts Council's response after controversial sale", Art Newspaper 24 July 2014). The decision will be announced on 1 August.

If ACE removes accreditation from Northampton, it will mean that the borough will be unable to apply for funding for the proposed development of the museum.
Scott Furlong, the director of ACE’s Acquisitions Exports Loans Collections Unit, says: “Those who choose to approach the sale of collections cynically or with little regard for the sectoral standards or their long-term responsibilities will only further alienate both key funders and the public who put their trust in them to care for our shared inheritance.”

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Metal Detectorists raid English Heritage site in Kent



The grounds of Eynsford Castle in Kent (not far from Lullingstone Roman Villa) have been pockmarked by what appear to be the telltale signs of metal-detecting. This is a protected site and there can be no excuse for this activity.

Such infringements bring us back to the core issues raised in the forum debate in the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology [link].

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Personal Styles and Cycladic Figures

My review of the (slightly) revised edition of Pat Getz-Gentle's Personal Styles in Early Cycladic Sculpture. Wisconsin Studies in Classics (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2013) has now appeared on BMCR. I consider some of the intellectual issues surrounding this category of material and discuss some of the figures appearing on the market. I remake the case for using the term "Keros Haul" (rather than "hoard") for the fragmentary Cycladic figures.
It is unnecessary to revisit some of the concerns about reconstructing artistic personalities in the third millennium BC. The progression of style is unsupported by any evidence, and relies more on the art historian's perception of how the corpus should be ordered.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Greece pursuing war-loot through INTERPOL

The Greek press is reporting that INTERPOL will be working with Greek authorities to recover some 100 objects removed during the occupation of Greece in WW2 ("Ministry to work with Interpol to trace artifacts", Ekathimerini.com July 12, 2014).

This news comes in the wake of the news that over 10,000 objects have been returned to Greece from Germany. They had been excavated in Thessaly in 1941.

One of the first posts on LM was on this very topic and the Greek authorities may like to start in Hannover.

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Sekhemka: Museums Association comment

The Museums Association has updated its comment on the sale of Sekhemka by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. This statement includes the very telling section:
... the MA said that Northampton Borough Council has not demonstrated that the sale of Sekhemka is funding of last resort in relation to the development plans for the museum site. In addition, its plans to share the proceeds from the sale indicate that legal title of the object is not resolved.
It will be interesting to see how this is resolved.

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Proceeds from the sale of Sekhemka


Councillor David Mackintosh has announced that Lord Northampton will be donating £1 million from the sale of the Egyptian statue of Sekhemka to community projects.

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Sekhemka: The Art Fund issues a statement

The sale of the the Egyptian statue of Sekhemka at Christie's earlier this week has prompted a statement from the Art Fund (press release, 11 July 2014). The determination by the officers and councillors of Northampton Borough Council to ignore the ethical guidance offered by the Museums Association seems to have prompted the response that any museum professional would have expected.

The satement says:
in line with the Museum Association’s Code of Ethics for museums, we [the Art Fund] remain strongly opposed to deaccessioning any item for financial reasons except in exceptional circumstances, where the funds will directly benefit the museum collection and only after all other options have been explored. 
This is not the case with the sale of Sekhemka and as such, having gone against the sector's ethical guidance, it risks being stripped of its accredited status. This is therefore a financially as well as morally harmful decision for Northampton Borough Council to take. Not only will they receive only 55% of the final hammer price of £15.8m, but Northampton Museum and Art Gallery will no longer be eligible to apply to us and other major funders for funding for acquisitions, capital projects (including the planned £14m extension), and artistic or educational programming.
The statement reminds Northampton, and any local authority planning to follow in that authorty's footsteps:
Selling items from collections, as Northampton and Croydon have both done in recent months, does not just impact on one particular museum and its visitors; it reduces public trust and risks lessening donors’ desire to give items to museums for their long-term safe-keeping.
Democratically elected local councillors seem to have forgotten the public-interest issue.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Northampton Borough Council issue a statement over the sale of Sekhemka

Northampton Borough Council (NBC) has issued a statement over the sale of the statue of Sekhemka for over £15 million (Thursday 10 July 2014, press release). NBC hopes to retain c. £8 million for the museum development project that they expect to cost £14 million (see here).

This means that NBC will be needing to attract some £6 million worth of funding. The press release tells us:
"The Borough Council is in the process of developing a funding package to take the extension forward, including putting together a bid for support from the Heritage Lottery Fund."
In other words, NBC are expecting to look to the Heritage Lottery Fund to provide a large portion of the additional funding. But there is a great demand for these funds, and the HLF panel have the potential of not looking too kindly on what has happened in Northampton (and especially against the advice of the Museums Association).

The press release also suggests that the Borough Council has realised that the accreditation of the museum service has been jeopardised by the sale:
The Council is also continuing to talk to the Arts Council about museum accreditation.
If accreditation is suspended it probably means that the museum development project will have to be halted and the sale of Sekhemka will have been for nothing.

And the residents of Northampton will have missed out twice over.

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Implications of the Sekhemka Sale

ICOM has raised the issue that the sale of Sekhemka may have implications for the rise of looting in Egypt.
ICOM is ... concerned that the sale of the statue, estimated between 5 and 7.5 million euros [$27 million], according to the same press release, may result in an increase of illicit excavation and trafficking of antiquities in Egypt, an area already exposed to such risks.
This is not a straightforward issue.

First, the Sekhemka statue has been known (and documented) since the mid-nineteenth century (1849/50) when it was acquired by the Second Marquess of Northampton and left Egypt. In other words, Sekhemka came to England well before the formulation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property [details]. And in a market where so much of the material on offer has surfaced after (or has no authenticated documentation prior to) 1970, the Sekhemka statue offered a well documented collecting history (or, to use an obsolete and misleading term, "provenance"). Collecting histories can add to the value of an object.

Second, the Sekhemka statue does not come in the category of recently looted objects. However, the unarticulated concern of ICOM is that potential looters (or raiders of archaeological storage facilities) in Egypt will see the sorts of sums that could be raised by a single Egyptian sculpture and will try to benefit by grabbing some material that they will endeavour to get onto the European, Middle Eastern, or North American art markets. I doubt that looter would achieve $27 million for a single object: consider the cut for the trail of people need to move the object out of Egypt, the transport costs, an agent in Europe, fees, etc. But looters could think that they will be able to find another piece. But even if they did, it would not have the documented collecting history of Sekhemka, and would therefore fall under immediate suspicion (thereby lowering its value). And such searching by looters damages previously unknown and unexcavated archaeological contexts, and this leads to a loss of knowledge that can never be replaced.

Separate to these two issues is the one that has given most concern to the residents of Northampton, as well as to museum professionals. Should the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery have deaccessioned this major sculpture in order to obtain funds to do something else with its collections? Have the local politicians of Northampton contravened the ethical framework for the UK museum community? These are issues explored elsewhere on Looting Matters.

And will this lead to the future isolation of the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery? And what will be the implications for potential donations and bequests not just to Northampton, but to every single museum in the UK?

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Reflecting on the price received by Sekhemka

The news that the sale of the Egyptian statue of Sekhemka for £15,762,500 (c. $27 million) needs to be put in perspective.

Looting Matters has been monitoring the sale of Egyptian antiquities at Sotheby's New York since 1998. The total for all Egyptian lots from 1998 to 2013 is just over $77 million (with over $383 million) for antiquities. The highest year for Egyptian lots was in 2010 with a total value of over $12 million.

So a single statue selling for the equivalent of $27 million is a third of the total sales of Egyptian antiquities during a 16 year period.

Christie's New York has sold $225 million worth of antiquities (not just Egyptian) over a 15 year period (from 1999 to 2013). There were only two years when the total sales were worth more than $27 million: 2010 worth over $42 million, and 2011 worth over $38 million.

So this is an exceptional price for a well documented sculpture.

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Sekhemka sold

The Egyptian statue of Sekhemka has just realised £15,762,500 at Christie's this evening. That is the equivalent of just under $27 million.

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"Our history is not for sale": protest over Egyptian statue



It is clear from Twitter that there is a protest over the decision of Northampton BC to sell part of its collection to fund its museum development.

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SLAM Mummy Mask and its collecting history



I remain puzzled how the Egyptian mummy mask excavated at Saqqara and acquired by the St Louis Art Museum could be in two places at once. And I am intrigued how the documentation and reported collecting histories were authenticated ("due diligence"). An exchange with SLAM suggests that we are expected to believe in the flawed collecting history.

Please could SLAM release the original documents?

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The Northampton statue: likely outcome

The Northampton Egyptian statue has been consigned for auction at Christie's today and I expect that it will be sold. The debate is not about whether or not it should have left Egypt in the mid nineteenth century, but whether or not it should have been deaccessioned by Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in order to fund museum developments. The Museums Association is not happy and has indicated the likely implications for the museums.

it is unlikely that any UK museum will make a bid, not least because they would rely on funding for the acquisition and this would probably not be forthcoming given the concerns of the MA.

But if the buyer is from abroad, will they be able to export it? Given the associations with Castle Ashby this is unlikely. Remember the Northampton amphora that resided in storage after the Castle Ashby Vase auction in the mid 1980s.

And as the MA has concerns, there is unlikely to be Matched funding from a UK museum.

So the outcome could be that the new buyer will have spent a substantial sum for an object that may not be able to leave the UK in the immediate future.

and Northampton Museum and Art Gallery could find itself unable to apply for national funding for the development that was the reason why they deaccessioned the statue.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery could lose accreditation over sale of Egyptian statue

The sale of the Egyptian statue deaccessioned by the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is set to proceed at Christie's tomorrow, 10 July 2014 (see details). The estimate is £4-£6 million ($7-$10 million). The collecting history of the statue is well documented but the issue is about the way that the museum has decided to sell this asset to pay for other activities.

The UK Museums Association has issued a statement.

David Fleming of the MA has noted that the MA Code of Ethics "provides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored".

He added:
“At a time when public finances are pressured it is all the more important that museum authorities behave in an ethical fashion in order to safeguard the long-term public interest.  
“We would urge the council to seek alternative sources of capital funding before undertaking the sale of such an important item with a long history of association with the borough. Without this, the MA cannot endorse the sale.” 
More importantly for the museum this could affect its ability to operate as a museum. The MA statement noted that "if the council went ahead with the sale the MA could review the museum service’s membership".

The statement also noted:
Arts Council England (ACE) has said that the sale could jeopardise Northampton Museum’s Accreditation status. The MA also warned that the council may face difficulties should it seek grant funding to support the extension project if it loses Accreditation.
In the short term the museum and art gallery could benefit from the sale. But loss of accreditation would mean that it would be denied access to central funding for development projects and any further acquisitions. It also needs to remember that the proposed museum development is estimated to cost £14 million.

For further details about the bid to stop the sale of the statue see here.

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Boursaud Consignments

I have been reviewing the consignments (some 104 items) made by Christian Boursaud to the Sotheby's London sale of July 1985. (Readers of LM will no doubt recall that this included a piece once handled by Luigi Perticerari.)

So, did Boursaud consign the following lots:

  • Lot 246: Attic black-figured horse-head amphora
  • Lot 257: Attic black-figured neck-amphora
  • Lot 312: Attic white-ground alabastron
  • Lot 313: Attic black-figured neck-amphora of Panathenaic shape
  • Lot 572: Attic Droop cup

Could there be more identifications from the Medici Dossier? Will another North American museum be making contact with the Italian authorities to return material?

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Could SLAM learn from Boston?

The MFA in Boston has been researching the collecting histories of some of the pieces in its collection ... and has decided to return them to Nigeria (Geoff Edgers, "After tracing history, MFA returns 8 artworks to Nigeria", Boston Globe June 26, 2014. There was no legal case. There was no request from Nigeria.

In fact what we appear to be seeing is an internationally significant museum acting in a professional and ethical way.

Could the Director of SLAM be persuaded to do the right thing and return the Egyptian mummy mask to Egypt? Please?

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Monday, July 7, 2014

The SLAM Mask in Two Places?

I have been reviewing some of the views on the Egyptian mummy mask acquired by the St Louis Art Museum. There is a useful piece in The International Lawyer (Spring 2013) --- based on the forfeiture statement --- that reminds us that the mummy mask was moved from Saqqara to Cairo in 1966 in box 54. And then in 1973 it was found that the mask was missing from box 54.

Thus we can reconstruct the collecting history as follows:

a. The mask is excavated at Saqqara in 1952.
b. Charly Mathez recalls (in 1997) that he had seen the mask in an antiquities dealer's shop in Brussels in 1952.
c. In 1962 the mask was purchased for the Kaloterna collection.
d. The mask was acquired for the collection of Zuzi Jelinek who possessed it for "40 years" (sic.).
e. Sometime between 1962 to 1966, the mask was returned to the archaeological store in Saqqara.
f. In 1966 the mask was moved to Cairo in box 54.
g. In 1973 the mask was found to be missing from box 54.
h. The mask was back in the Jelinek collection.
i. In 1997 the mask was sold to Phoenix Ancient Art.
j. The mask was displayed in Geneva.
k. In 1998 the mask was sold to SLAM.

I have a strong hunch that this reconstruction is flawed.

Perhaps the Director, Trustees and Curatorial Team of SLAM could explain how the timeline for the mummy mask can be presented.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Kaloterna Collection: fact or fiction?

Around 1962 the Egyptian mummy mask excavated at Saqqara, and now in the St Louis Art Museum, is reported to have entered the Kaloterna collection. What is this collection? What else formed part of the collection? Where was the collection located?

When did the owner of the Kaloterna collection sell the mask to a Croatian private collector? And how did the mask move?

Do readers of LM know of other documented items from the Kaloterna collection?

The Director, curators, and Trustees of SLAM need to explain the Kaloterna collection, not least because it coincides with a period when the mask is recorded as being in Cairo.

What if the Kaloterna collection is a fictional collection?


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Thursday, July 3, 2014

SLAM and Collecting Histories

The time has come for the curatorial staff of the St Louis Art Museum to demonstrate that they have authenticated the documentation relating to the acquisition of the Egyptian mummy mask. The museum authorities need to explain how the Egyptian object formed part of the Kaloterna collection at exactly the same time that it was also in Egypt.

One of the lawyers acting for SLAM indicated that the museum did not wish to own a "stolen" object. So, putting aside the legal decision, how confident is the curatorial team that the mask was not stolen? And if, on balance, they decided that it was "stolen" from an archaeological store in Egypt, then there is an ethical obligation on the museum to return it.

Is it time for the Director and Trustees of SLAM to make a public statement?

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

St Louis Art Museum: The Egyptian Mummy Mask

The legal decision (conveniently discussed by Rik St Hilare here) that the Egyptian mummy mask acquired by the St Louis Art Museum will not be returning to Egypt leaves some questions unanswered.

I have discussed this mask elsewhere. But if we summarise, we can state that we know that it was excavated at Saqqara.

But what about these issues?

What is the authenticated documented collecting history of the mask between 1952 and 1995?

What is the Kaloterna collection?

Can Zuzi Jalinek's testimony be considered trustworthy?

How could the mask be in Cairo and form part of the Kaloterna collection at the same point in time?

Have SLAM curators checked the Cairo register and explained the anomaly in the "received" collecting history?

The officials at SLAM may feel that the legal case is closed.

But if the testimony by Jalinek is flawed, as it clearly appears to be, then the Director and Trustees of SLAM have an ethical obligation to return the mask to Egypt.


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