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Showing posts from April, 2010

Looting Matters: Toxic Antiquities and Photographic Evidence

Looting Matters: Toxic Antiquities and Photographic Evidence

Thoughts on the use of photographic evidence to identify recently-surfaced antiquities.

Photographic Archives and Antiquities

The September 1995 raid on the Geneva Freeport premises of Giacomo Medici brought to light a major archive of some 4000 photographs. These images, some Polaroids, have been used by the Italian authorities to identify objects that have passed into public and private collections. By my estimate less than 1% of the items identified in the photographs have been returned to Italy.

The objects featured in the Geneva Polaroids are reported to include:

The marble statue of a Roman youth withdrawn from a London auction in April 2010A Corinthian krater seized in New York in 2009Several objects from a New York private collection (and here)Several pieces from a New York private collection acquired by the J. Paul Getty MuseumAn Attic amphora once in New YorkAn Attic krater in MinneapolisSome Apulian pottery in Berlin
Other major sets of photographs have been seized from a Basel warehouse (approximately 10,000 images) and on the Greek island of Schinoussa. Research on this material will undoubtedly …

Looting Matters for Classical Antiquities

Present Pasts, the Journal of the Heritage Studies Research Group at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, has published a revised version of the lecture given in London in October 2009.

Gill, David W.J. "Looting Matters for Classical Antiquities: Contemporary Issues in Archaeological Ethics." Present Pasts 1 (2009): 77-104. [pdf]

Forty years have passed since the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. In spite of this there have been major scandals relating to the acquisition of recently-surfaced antiquities by public museums and private individuals. The Italian government has obtained the return of over 100 antiquities from North American collections and these have been displayed in a series of high profile exhibitions. Greece and Egypt have made successful claims on other material. Some dealers appear to be willing to handle material that surfaced along similar routes…

Bonhams: More News Coverage

There is more coverage of the pieces withdrawn from this week's sale: Bija Knowle, "Bonhams withdraw Roman sculptures with 'Medici link' from auction", The Independent April 29, 2010.

The report is based on the article in The Guardian.

Bonhams: Gold Wreath and Comment from Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has commented about the appearance of a Hellenistic gold wreath at auction on London yesterday ("Ελληνικές αρχαιότητες σε πλειστηριασμό…", April 28, 2010).

It is reported that the Greek Government had no proof that the wreath had left the country illegally.
Δεν μπορούμε να πιστοποιήσουμε ότι έχουν φύγει παράνομα από τη χώρα και ως αποτέλεσμα δεν μπορούμε να μπλοκάρουμε τη δημοπρασία.Assuming that the wreath is ancient, where was it found? What were the associated objects?

It is a good reminder how there are intellectual consequences from the destruction of archaeological sites.

Clip from Bonhams press release.

Bonhams: Anglo-Saxon Stone Development

Mike Pitts ("Has the stone been saved?", The Guardian April 29, 2010) has updated the story on the decision by Bonhams to withdrawn the Anglo-Saxon stone from its sale ("It was the Guardian wot won it. Perhaps.")

Pits writes:
At the moment it isn't exactly clear what's happened to it, either, although archaeologists are hopeful that the cross will eventually find its way to Peterborough Museum. A Bonhams spokesman suggested that a private treaty deal may have occurred, in which the seller comes to a direct arrangement with a buyer; very likely someone who would donate it to the museum. The seller, Nick Evered, would not comment yesterday, although he hardly sounded like a man who had just won the lottery.Watch this space.

Bonhams: Gold Wreath Unsold

I have already commented on the  Hellenistic Gold Wreath that was the motif for yesterday's sale of antiquities at Bonhams.

The wreath was the 'motif' for the sale and featured in the press release: "Glory that was Greece Seen in Golden Wreath and Greek Vases at Bonhams".
A delicate wreath made of fine gold oak leaves with acorns, of the type worn by Alexander the Great's father, Philip II of Macedon, is one of the highlights of Bonhams sale of Antiquities on April 28 in New Bond Street.This stunning artefact, estimate £100,000-120,000, may once have graced the head of a ruler or dignitary over 2,000 years ago. "The fact that this delicate collection of fine gold leaves and acorns formed into a wreath has survived the centuries is almost miraculous," says Madeleine Perridge, Antiquities Specialist at Bonhams. Previously in a private collection since the 1930s, "it is a beautiful example of a type that is rare to the market."
The collecting …

Bonhams and Wordle

I thought that it would be interesting to generate a Wordle image of the recent discussions relating to the sale of antiquities at Bonhams.

Bonhams: Italian Press Release

A short press statement has appeared ("Bonham's ritira sculture Romane, forse origine illegale", ANSA April 28, 2010) following up the article in The Guardian:

(ANSA) - 28 APR - Quattro sculture romane che avrebbero dovuto essere messe all'asta in Gran Bretagna, sono state ritirate dalla vendita poiché potrebbero essere il frutto di scavi illegali. Il Guardian riferisce che tre busti funerari e una statua di marmo risalenti a circa il II secolo d.C. potrebbero essere stati rinvenuti in scavi non autorizzati in Siria o nel nord della Grecia, e in Italia. A batterli sarebbe stata la casa d'aste di Londra Bonham's, che aveva stimato il loro valore attorno alle 40.000 sterline e che ora ha avviato un'indagine interna, parallela a quella della polizia, per scoprire la reale provenienza delle opere. Secondo l'archeologo David Gill, dell'Università di Swansea in Gran Bretagna, non ci sarebbero dubbi: le opere presentavano tracce di terreno che fanno pensa…

Robin Symes and the Home Office

Earlier this month (April 12) I contacted the Home Office about the sale of the assets from Robin Symes. I received this statement: "The matters you have raised are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Justice".

I spoke to the Home Office yesterday and it appears that this information was incorrect. The Ministry of Justice is not dealing with the assets ... it is the Home Office.

Bonhams: Anglo-Saxon Stone Update

The Council for British Archaeology (CBA) has been in touch today. It appears that they wrote to Bonhams yesterday (April 27, 2010) and asked that the Anglo-Saxon stone be withdrawn from sale 'and to allow the owner to receive it back without financial penalty'. The Church of England had also asked for the withdrawal of the stone from the sale.

From The Guardian.

Bonhams: Anglo-Saxon Stone Withdrawn

Earlier this week The Guardian carried a story drawing attention to an Anglo-Saxon stone that was due to be auctioned at Bonhams today (lot 286). Now the following statement has appeared.
Lot No: 286W
This lot has been withdrawn
A late Anglo-Saxon stone section of a cross-shaft
Circa 11th Century A.D.Image
From The Guardian.

"London's reputation as a clearing house for looted antiquities"

Lord Renfrew has now commented on the appearance of recently-surfaced antiquities at Bonhams. In an interview for The Guardian (Dalya Alberge, "Roman sculptures withdrawn from auction amid fears they are stolen", April 27, 2010) Renfrew commented "such sales are maintaining London's reputation as a clearing house for looted antiquities". (See his earlier speech in the House of Lords: "It is scandalous that this practice continues".)

Cambridge researcher Christos Tsirogiannis is interviewed:
"The destruction leaves objects out of context. Even if [an object] is a masterpiece, our duty is to give people history."Renfrew calls for dealers to reveal the identity of vendors: "That would be a step towards clarifying the problem".

The article also reflects on the role of the Art Loss Register and its place in the identification of "stolen" antiquities.

Bonhams and Recently Surfaced Antiquities

An illustrated report on the recently-surfaced antiquities and Bonhams made it onto the front page of today's NRC Handelsblad: Theo Toebosch, "Illegale oudheden teruggetrokken: Veilinghuis Bonhams in London biedt veel beelden aan 'met een vage herkomst'" (April 27, 2010). It gives full credit to Christos Tsirogiannis of Cambridge University. The interview contains a  comment from Madeleine Perridge of Bonhams.

Bonhams and the Medici Statue: Additional Information

Chris Martin, Chairman of the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA), has been commenting to the press on the Roman Marble Statue that was withdrawn from tomorrow's sale at Bonhams (lot 137). It appears that the Italian authorities had tried to retrieve the statue through the Spanish courts ("some five or so years ago").

If this is the case, it raises a number of issues.

Had the vendor disclosed to Bonhams that the statue had been the subject of a court case in Spain? Were the staff at Bonhams aware as a result of this case that the statue had once been handled by Giacomo Medici?

If so, had the staff at Bonhams informed their management that the statue was ex-Medici?

If the staff at Bonhams were comfortable that the present vendor had title, why did they withdraw the piece from the auction once its collecting history was made public?

Bonhams now need to disclose the name of the vendor of the Roman statue.

The Medici Polaroid is one significant part of the collecting histo…

Due Diligence at Bonhams

Bonhams is a member of the Antiquities Dealers Association (ADA). The ADA's code of conduct states:
I undertake not to purchase or sell objects until I have established, to the best of my ability, that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.Could staff at Bonhams have detected that they were about to offer material handled by Giacomo Medici?

I suspect that a check was made with the Art Loss Register (ALR). But as I pointed out - in connection with a piece of Lydian silver on offer from Bonhams in October 2007 - "the ALR will indicate if the object has been stolen from, say, a private collection in Knightsbridge, but not if the item comes from a previously unknown and unrecorded archaeological site". If the Medici Roman Youth had come from a pillaged archaeological site, it would not appear in the ALR register.

So any responsible dealer would then want to make sure that they were not likely to handle…

Bonhams: Attic Lekythos Withdrawn

An Attic white-ground lekythos due to be sold at Bonhams tomorrow has been withdrawn from the sale (lot 368). No explanation has been given.

The collecting history was given as: "UK private collection, acquired from the Dorotheum, Vienna, approximately seven years ago."

Save the Anglo-Saxon Stone! Vote now.

Looting Matters invites its readers to vote on the sale of the Anglo-Saxon stone at Bonhams this Wednesday. Click here to cast a vote if you are reading this via email, RSS, reader or some other syndicated method.

For the story click here.

Save the Anglo-Saxon Stone! "So what is it doing in a saleroom?"

I have been following the forthcoming sale of antiquities at Bonhams with more than a passing interest. I drew attention to the way that Bonhams had reminded us that some of the archaeological objects would have "interesting" collecting histories.

I see that Mike Pitts of the Guardian has an important report ("Antiquities: an ancient cross to bear" / "Save our Anglo-Saxon Stone!", April 26, 2010) on lot 286, "late Anglo-Saxon stone section of a cross-shaft". It comes from "St Pega's Hermitage in Peakirk, Northamptonshire".

Pitts writes:
Professor Rosemary Cramp, from Durham University, is leading a project to catalogue all surviving Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture. As it happens, she and Joanna Story, a lecturer at the University of Leicester, are in the process of recording Northamptonshire - hence a visit the Evereds recently received from a geologist in Cramp's team. St Pega's cross, says Story, is a typical piece from the i…

General Election 2010: The Parthenon Marbles and the LibDems

The Parthenon Marbles appeared in the review of the papers on Radio 4. The Sunday Express picked up on the fact that Nick Clgg, leader of the LibDems, has backed the campaign to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece ("General Election 2010: EU zealot Nick Clegg's bid to return Elgin marbles", Sunday Express April 25, 2010). The issue has been raised because Clegg is seen as a threat by Labour and the conservatives.
The issue highlights his [sc. Clegg's] strident pro-European views and helps shatter his attempt in Thursday’s leaders’ debate to portray his party as moderate on EU affairs.The BBC archive has the origin of the story ("Euro call for Marbles return", BBC News May 29, 2002).
Nick Clegg, a Liberal Democrat MEP, was chairing the conference and said: "It is high time the Marbles were restored to their proper setting."
"The current situation is a bit like displaying the clock from Big Ben in the Louvre in Paris - Brits wouldn't tole…

Looting Matters on PR Newswire 3

Here is a summary of more recent PR Newswire Press Releases (nos. 26-30):
Why are antiquities from Iraq continuing to appear on the market? (March 5)Why has a coffin been returned to Egypt? (March 19)Returning Sicilian antiquities (March 26)The Miho Museum and Italy (April 2)Protecting the cultural heritage of Italy (April 16)For a list of the first 20 releases click here, and 21-25 here.

Ministry of Justice and Robin Symes

The UK Ministry of Justice has taken over responsibility for handling the assets seized from the stores of Robin Symes (at least that is the position according to the UK Home Office). The decision by Bonhams to act honourably by withdrawing three ex-Symes Roman funerary busts from its sale next week draws attention to the inexplicable position adopted by the (out-going?) UK Government to sell off objects that are being claimed by Italy.

Are officials in the Ministry of Justice trying to avoid comment?

Roman Limestone Funerary Busts at Bonhams: Withdrawn

The three Roman funerary busts that were due to be auctioned at Bonhams next week have been withdrawn: lots 399-401 ("This lot has been withdrawn"). All three had the same collecting history:
"Acquired on the London art market in 1998. Accompanied by a French export licence."The three had been identified by Cambridge researcher, Christos Tsirogiannis, who drew them to my attention in May 2009; they had failed to sell last year and were back on the market.

It can now be revealed that the three pieces featured in the Robin Symes archive seized on Schinoussa. The images clearly show traces of dirt indicating that they were fresh out of the ground.

This latest news brings into question the value (if any) of "a French export licence". The indication of such a licence was perhaps meant to reassure potential buyers. What is more interesting is who purchased the other three pieces last summer?

Had the staff at Bonhams conducted a due diligence search on the thre…

Looting Matters: Bonhams Withdraws Roman Statue From Auction

Looting Matters: Bonhams Withdraws Roman Statue From Auction -- SWANSEA, Wales, April 23 /PRNewswire/ --

Discussion of the decision by Bonhams to withdraw a Roman statue from its April 2010 sale of antiquities.

Hawass calls on St Louis Art Museum to return mummy mask

Zahi Hawass has called on the St Louis Art Museum (SLAM) to return the mummy mask that appears to have been removed from one of the archaeological stores at Saqqara (Ula Ilnytzky, "Egyptian official chides museums over antiquities", AP April 22, 2010).

Last week, he said, he turned over to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security "all the evidence that I have to prove that this mask was stolen, and we have to bring it back."On Wednesday, St. Louis Art Museum spokeswoman Jennifer Stoffel, said the institution "had correspondence with Hawass in 2006 and 2007 and has not heard anything on the matter since."At the time, she said the museum shared information with Hawass on the mask's provenance and said "we would do the right thing ... if there was something that refuted the legitimacy of the provenance."The St. Louis museum has said it bought the mask from an art dealer in the United States in 1998 after checking with authorities and with the i…

Bonhams and the Accuracy of Collecting Histories

The press release for the sale of antiquities at Bonhams in April 2010 reminded us of some "interesting" provenances. One that caught my eye was linked to lot 139, "A Roman marble figure of a barbarian water carrier". The provenance is given as "Ex European private collection. Subsequently part of an Australian collection acquired in the 1960s." It was then "On loan to La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia 1981-86."

La Trobe University has featured as a venue for previous antiquities offered by Bonhams. For example, an Attic bell-krater offered in April 2009. It had, in fact, been part of the Graham Geddes collection and had been left unsold in the October 2008 sale at Bonhams. Indeed several pieces from the Geddes collection are known to have been on loan to La Trobe (including a Lucanian nestoris subsequently acquired by Boston's Museum of Fine Art and returned to Italy).

At the end of March I contacted a senior academic at La Trobe Un…

Bonhams and the Medici Statue: Lot Withdrawn

During the afternoon this statement has appeared against Lot 137:
Lot No: 137WThis lot has been withdrawnA Roman marble figure of a youth  Circa 1st-2nd Century A.D.This is the statue that features in the Medici dossier.

Will the statue be handed over to the Italian authorities? Why did the staff at Bonhams fail to spot that this was likely to have been handled by Medici?

Smash and grab

There is something very disheartening when you see the results of looting. Objects ripped out of context. Pots broken into fragments. Sculptures smashed. So much damage to supply the market and the appetites of museums and private collectors.

Some collectors will claim that they are preserving the past, but really their desire is to own the past (and to ignore the consequences of the "owning" process).

Do auction-houses and dealers care how recently surfaced antiquities arrived on the market?

Dirt encrusted Roman limestone funerary bust that passed through the stock of a European dealer.

Bonhams and the Medici Statue

When the catalogue for the April 2010 sale of antiquities at Bonhams appeared my eye was drawn to a Roman marble statue (lot 137). I was particularly struck by the fact the piece had surfaced on the market via Sotheby's in London in December 1986. The sale was one that contained a number of pieces directly linked to Giacomo Medici. Within an hour a colleague had responded to my hunch and sent me an image of the statue that had featured in the Medici dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport.

Bonhams can hardly have been unaware of the significance of the toxicity of antiquities that had surfaced at this particular sale. It should be remembered that two of the lots that were withdrawn from what can only be described as a disastrous sale of the Geddes collection had also come to light in exactly the same way.

It remains a puzzle why the antiquities staff at Bonhams were not suspicious of this particular collecting history (or "provenance"). What measures did they take to check…