Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Michael C. Carlos Museum and the Basel Dossier

Minoan larnax.
Left, Basel dossier. Right, Michael C. Carlos Museum
The public display in Rome of the 5000 plus antiquities seized in Basel, Switzerland were a reminder of the scale of archaeological material surfacing on the market. The objects were seized alongside photographs and bundles of receipts. And so there are museums that will need to respond to the identification of material in their collections.

The Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University was the subject of a report in 2007, followed by a request by the Greek authorities to return three items acquired in 2002 and 2004. Will the museum reveal the full collecting histories of the three pieces? Will they explain why the pieces are linked to the Basel archive?

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

The market and looting: a Parliamentarian's view

Robert Jenrick, the Conservative MP for Newark, has decided to write a piece on the looting of antiquities in the Middle East for the Art Newspaper ("‘No one group has done more to put our heritage at risk than Islamic State’", 28 January 2015). He writes emotively about the sites that are being destroyed in Syria and Iraq:
this is a 21st-century crime being conducted purposefully, in full view and on social media.
Those of who attended the meeting at the British Academy on this topic earlier this month were given an informed position, both by those making presentations and through contributions from the audience. It is not made clear how Jenrick conducted his research or obtained the information to assert:
Through systematic looting, these works of art are funding the murderous activities of IS. Indeed, these activities are now believed to be their third largest source of revenue, after oil and robbing banks. A brave network of informants, today’s “Monuments Men”, give us shocking reports from the ground: IS employing contractors with bulldozers to harvest antiquities on an industrial scale; IS deploying militants to ensure their control sites and “supervise” digging; and licensing looting with a formal “tithe” of around 20%. The sums involved are difficult to gauge, but likely run into tens of millions of dollars of income for IS and other terrorist groups
Such statements need to be supported or there is a possibility that they could be misread. Dr Sam Hardy, one of the presenters at the British Academy, addressed many of these concerns last year ("Are ‘unheard of numbers’ of cultural goods from Syria and Iraq making their way into auction houses in the UK?").

So Jenrick asks what he could do as a parliamentarian:
So what can government do? The key to fighting the trade in illicit antiquities lies in co-operation. In the UK and the US we are asking for coordinators to be appointed who can establish forums to bring together law enforcement, museum representatives, government and representatives of the art trade.
He may be unaware that these dialogues are already taking place.

But in the article he does not state his past  and apparently continuing links with Christies (and see also the information provided through his constituency). He writes:
But above all, we need to promote and reward good market behaviour. And to the surprise of critics, there is much of it going on amongst major players in the industry. The decision of a number of auction houses to significantly increase their due diligence, principally by requiring evidence of provenance predating the conflicts of the early 21st century (using the year 2000 as an immovable date) is hugely welcome. If only objects with provenance of this kind can be sold, the market for illicit works will shrink. There is early evidence that this is changing the behaviour of buyers and sellers. If these standards could become common practice they will not only change the market, but ultimately feedback to those on the ground in Iraq, Syria and future conflict zones.
Readers of LM will know that I have touched on "due diligence" many times as a topic, and I am not convinced that all the major auction houses understand the issues when it comes to dealing with archaeological material. Moreover Jenrick's use of the (obsolete) term "provenance" (one held dear by the market) needs to be clarified. Is he wanting to establish the archaeological context from which an object was removed (e.g. a sanctuary area at Dura Europos) or who has handled the piece (i.e. the collecting history)? He then turns to concerns about restrictions on the market:
Those of us who oppose an outright ban on antiquities—believing it would be counter-productive, creating a black market in which both antiquities of licit and illicit origin were traded—or of further restrictive laws and treaties, welcome the voluntary actions of the industry and hope they quickly become common standards that protect the industry from the heavy hand of some law-makers.
Can I suggest that auction-houses could address well-founded concerns by presenting the full and authenticated collecting histories of objects when they are listed in the public catalogues? And transparency is what Jenrick wants to see:
Our transatlantic campaign seeks to recognise and support those in the art business who take a lead, by urging co-operation, sharing of information in relationships of trust and resourcing and prioritising law enforcement—backing good market behaviour; tackling the unethical and the criminal robustly.
I agree with his desire: to 'tackle' 'unethical' behaviour in the market. And that is why it is so important for auction houses to respond constructively to concerns when objects are identified from seized photographic images.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Becchina and Japan

In 2011 Fabio Isman reminded us of the likely impact of the Becchina archive. Palladion Antike Kunst handled material now in collections in Japan. These include:
  • Kamakura, Japanese collection. Attic black-figured amphora. Perhaps attributed to the Antimenes painter. Palladion (1976).
  • Kurashiki Ninagawa Museum (no. 34). Attic red-figured cup attributed to Makron. Palladion (1976).
This excludes material in the Miho Museum.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Becchina and Madrid

Detail of orientalizing amphora in Madrid
Source: Madrid, Museo Arqueologico
One of the museums that has not yet responded to the identifications in its collection is the Museo Arqueologico in Madrid [see earlier links]. The material has been discussed by Fabio Isman in The Art Newspaper and there he notes:
Becchina’s archive contains photographs of both sides of an Oriental-style Italic Amphora with a Wounded Deer from the seventh century BC, height 52cm, whose dimensions are clearly important enough to note down. The Madrid catalogue, showing a similar object, says of its provenance that “the location is unknown, making it difficult to ascribe it to a specific Italic workshop”.
This orientalizing amphora is impressive (inv. 1999/99/159). Its condition suggests that it had been placed in an Italic tomb. So what was the collecting history before the amphora has handled by Becchina?

The curatorial staff need to be reviewing the 22 pieces that were identified by Isman as a matter of urgency. Becchina material could now be considered as "toxic" acquisitions in the light of the 5000 plus objects that were revealed last week.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Basel paperwork will be raising further issues

The 5000 or so antiquities revealed in Rome as a result of "Operation Teseo" were the stock of a Basel gallery. But the photographic dossier from the same source point to a series of major international museums that were buying from the same source. For now we can list the countries:

  • USA
  • Spain
  • Holland
  • England
  • Japan
It is likely that more details will emerge over the next few weeks.


| |
Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bettany Hughes on the Sappho Papyrus


At the end of January 2014 Bettany Hughes commented that she had seen the new Sappho papyrus fragments. This was in preparation for her Sunday Times article that appeared on 2 February. In that piece it was claimed:
The elderly owner of our new Sappho papyrus wishes to remain anonymous, and its provenance is obscure (it was originally owned, it seems, by a high-ranking German officer), but he was determined its secrets should not die with him.
Yet now Dirk Obbink has rejected this in an interview published on 23 January 2015.
Obbink characterized Hughes' story as a "fictionalization" and an "imaginative fantasy."
Who is telling the truth here? Or have Hughes and Obbink both presented (perhaps unwittingly) separate 'fictionalised' accounts? What makes the collecting history presented by Obbink more trustworthy? What is the authenticated and documented collecting history for the papyrus?

Can we believe that the fragments came from the Robinson collection? Has Obbink provided sufficient compelling evidence?

And why did it take from 2 February 2014 to 23 January 2015 for Obbink to reject Hughes' account?

|
Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Friday, January 23, 2015

'Fragments in time': reflecting on the Bothmer collection

Christos Tsirogiannis and I have published "“A Fracture in Time”: A Cup Attributed to the Euaion Painter from the Bothmer Collection" that is now available in the latest number of the International Journal of Cultural Property 21, 4 (2014) [DOI]. IJCP is published by Cambridge University Press.

The paper considers the issue of "orphaned" figure-decorated pottery fragments.

Abstract
In February 2013 Christos Tsirogiannis linked a fragmentary Athenian red-figured cup from the collection formed by Dietrich von Bothmer, former chairman of Greek and Roman Art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, to a tondo in the Villa Giulia, Rome. The Rome fragment was attributed to the Euaion painter. Bothmer had acquired several fragments attributed to this same painter, and some had been donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Other fragments from this hand were acquired by the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Princeton University Art Museum. In January 2012 it was announced that some fragments from the Bothmer collection would be returned to Italy, because they fitted vases that had already been repatriated from North American collections. The Euaion painter fragments are considered against the phenomenon of collecting and donating fractured pots.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

From Switzerland to Italy: further on the returns

Antiquities returned from Swiss-based dealer.
Source: MiBAC
For further details of the return to Italy see "Record €50m hoard of looted Italian antiquities unveiled by police", The Guardian January 22, 2015. LM is mentioned in the piece and I discuss the related documentation: "the documentation will likely point to objects that were now in top museums and would certainly be on the Italians’ list for repatriation".

It is likely that objects in European collections such as Amsterdam and Madrid will be investigated further.

For further details on Gianfranco Becchina see this overview and also this link.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Objects in Rome revealed

The Sicilian press has started to report on the handover of some 5000 objects at the Terme di Diocleziano del Museo Nazionale Romano this morning ("Ricettazione internazionale: Restituiti 5 mila reperti storici", Live Sicilia January 21, 2015). This group appears to be formed by the objects seized from warehouses associated with Gianfranco Becchina in Basel who is named in the article.
In particolare, i carabinieri evidenziarono la figura di un intermediario – Gianfranco Becchina di Castelvetrano – il quale aveva curato la vendita del vaso al museo californiano.
The report discusses Becchina's links with the Asteas krater returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum, as well as the Getty kouros.

These developments should be considered against the letter issued by Becchina on 14 January 2015.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Recovered Antiquities: Rome Press Conference, 21 January 2015

I understand that there will be a press conference tomorrow (21 January 2015) at the Museo Nazionale Romano alle Terme di Diocleziano. It appears that there will be a statement about a major batch of recovered antiquities.

This is likely to be an important development. If it relates to the stock of a dealer, then there are implications for those museums, private collectors, and galleries that purchased from that same source.

Bookmark and Share so Your Real Friends Know that You Know

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails