Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Protecting Heritage in Scotland

© David Gill
I could not help noticing that ancient monuments in Scotland not in State Guardianship have prominent reminders about their protection.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

Source: MiBACT
A fragmentary relief of Mithras was discovered in 1964 at Tor Cervara on the outskirts of Rome. It was acquired by the Museo Nazionale Romano.

A further fragment of the relief was acquired by the Badisches Landesmueum in Kalrsruhe in 1976. The source was an unstated Swiss dealer. This fragment has been reunited with the rest of the relief [press release].

Today a further fragment of the relief was reunited with the other pieces. This had been recovered during a raid in Sardinia.

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Tiffany Jenkins on Cultural Property: AJA review

I have noted earlier reviews of Jenkins' Keeping their marbles here. Guy D. Middleton (Newcastle University) has reviewed the book for AJA:
"If anything, Jenkins’ book convinces me that the issue of claims for the return of objects is something best approached on a case-by-case basis, that museums do have a role in soft diplomacy with communities that suffered due to past imperialism and that the efforts at building better relationships between museums and other groups are worthy."

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The Perge Weary Herakles in Context

Boston's Museum of Fine Art returned the upper part of the Weary Herakles to Turkey. Indeed it appeared in the Glories of the Past exhibition.

Susan Wood has now placed the sculpture back in its original context with her discussion, "Klaudios Peison Anetheken: a gift of sculpture at the South Baths of Perge", American Journal of Archaeology 121, 3 (2017) 439-66. The Herakles is illustrated (p. 444, fig. 3; noting formerly Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, inv. no. 1981.783.VR), and listed in the appendix (pp. 460-61, cat. no. 4). Wood notes: 'the Weary Herakles ... must have been illegally excavated and exported from Turkey before 1981, when the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, purchased the fragment' (p. 444).

The full collecting history can be found here.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sevso Treasure acquired by Hungary

A further seven pieces of the Sevso Treasure have been acquired by Hungary ("Hungary Buys 2nd Half of Roman-Era Silver Treasure", AP 12 July 2017). It is reported that 28 million euros were paid for the remaining pieces, making 43 million euros for the hoard.

This contextless hoard has been stripped of valuable information. We do not know for certain where it was found. And it is unlikely that the original finder will have received a significant sum of money.

Who are the beneficiaries of these sales?

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Hobby Lobby Cuneiform tablets

The seizure of thousands of antiquities including cuneiform tablets from Hobby Lobby in the US raises several issues.

First, the collector seems to have been unaware of the ethical issues surrounding the acquisition of objects without documented collecting histories. There have been numerous cases in recent years of private collectors returning material to countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Italy. The collector has ignored the UNESCO Convention, the AIA Declaration, and examples from history.

Second, the collector seems to have been guided by a consultant who was seeking to form the collection. How much responsibility was given to those who appear to have been overlooking the ethical issues?

Third, it appears that the material was in effect laundered by importing from countries where there were no legal concerns. Information on the networks that were used could be declared in order to prevent future issues.

Fourth, inaccurate and misleading information appears to have been used in the paperwork used for imports.

Fifth, concerns raised by academics about the way that the collection was formed were at best overlooked and at worst rejected.

Sixth, academics associated with the project should have been voicing their concerns in a more public way.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Getty returns Fleischman Zeus to Italy

Seated Zeus to return to Italy.
Source: MiBACT
The Italian Government has announcted that the Getty Museum has returned a seated Zeus to Italy ("FRANCESCHINI, IL GETTY MUSEUM SIGLA ACCORDO CON L’ITALIA PER LA RESTITUZIONE DELLO ZEUS IN TRONO RIENTRA A NAPOLI STATUA DEL I SECOLO A.C.", press release, 13 June 2017; "The J. Paul Getty Museum and Italian officials announce agreement to return first century B.C. sculpture to Italy", press release, 13 June 2017). The statue is a copy of the great chryselphantine statue of Zeus from Olympia.

The statue was acquired by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman from Robin Symes in 1987. It was sold to the Getty in 1992 (inv. 92.AA.10), although the published statement only recorded that it had been in a New York private collection [JSTOR].

Jessica Gelt ("Getty agrees to return 1st century BC sculpture to Italy", LA Times, 13 June 2017) notes what the press releases omit:
Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts said the Italian government came into possession of a fragment that it believed joined the sculpture at the Getty. Italian officials tested their theory on a visit to the museum in 2014. 
“The fragment gave every indication that it was a part of the sculpture we had,” Potts said in an interview. “It came from the general region of Naples, so it meant this object had come from there.”
The Fleischman collection formed part of earlier research that I had conducted with Christopher Chippindale (Chippindale, Christopher, and David W. J. Gill. “Material Consequences of Contemporary Classical Collecting.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 104, no. 3, 2000, pp. 463–511. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/507226.). The Zeus joins a large number of former Fleischman pieces that have already been returned to Italy (including one piece from the Cleveland Museum of Art).

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Stela anthemion surfaces at Sotheby's

Images:
L, Sotheby's;
R, Becchina archive (courtesy of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis)
Sotheby's will have bad memories of their antiquities department in London. The auction-house has restarted antiquities sales in London and on Monday 12 June they will be offering a marble stela anthemion with the personal name, Hestiaios (lot 8).

The collecting history is provided as follows:
  • John Hewett, Bog Farm, Kent, 1960s 
  • New York art market, acquired from the above on November 3rd, 1980 
  • American private collection American family trust (Sotheby’s New York, December 10th, 2008, no. 28, illus.) Sold for $116,500.
  • acquired by the present owner at the above sale 
  • Christie's, London, King Street, October 24th, 2013, no. 32, illus. Apparently unsold.
A parallel is suggested for Rhamnous in eastern Attica.

Yet Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that the anthemion appears in the Becchina archive. The Becchina paperwork suggests that the piece was in his hands from 1977 until 1990, and then passed to George Ortiz. If this does indeed prove to be the case then the fragment appears to have been provided with a falsified collecting history (that can be traced back to the 2008 sale at Sotheby's). This would indicate that there has been a major failure in the due diligence process by the auction-house.

I am sure that Sotheby's will want to withdraw the lot from its sale and that the present owner would be advised to negotiate with the Greek authorities to arrange its return.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

Source: New York County District Attorney's Office
Source: Google

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

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Paestan lekythos from "an old Swiss collection"

Source: New York County District Attorney's Office
Paestan lekythos. Source: Google

One of the pieces seized from an as yet unnamed Manhattan gallery is a Paestan lekythos attributed to the Asteas-Python workshop. It has a stated collecting history:

  • Swiss private collection
  • Royal-Athena Galleries (1987-1988)
  • John Kluge private collection
  • Patricia Kluge private collection, Charlottesville, Virginia (1990-2010)
  • Royal-Athena Galleries: One Thousand Years of Ancient Greek Vases II ... Featuring the Patricia Kluge Collection (2010) no. 164

It would be interesting to learn the name of the anonymous Swiss private collection in which this lekythos once resided. (And note that this information is derived not from Royal-Athena Galleries but from the present vendor.)

We also note the appearance of the Kluge collection.

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