Friday, October 31, 2008

"A stratigraphical relationship could not be established"

I have been reading the report (compiled by Richard Abdy and Richard Hobbs, both of the British Museum) on the Newport Pagnell coin hoard that was discovered on December 1, 2006. It consisted of 1456 coins mostly dating to the 340s and 350s CE. The coins had been placed in a "squat coarseware storage jar".

Apparently the coin hoard had been "deposited on the same spot as a Roman rubbish pit or midden". The report continues: "due to the fact that the find had already been removed prior to investigation a stratigraphical relationship could not be established". In other words the precise archaeological context for the hoard had been lost during its removal in the dark of a December evening.

Other material noted in the report include brick, tile and mortaria fragments suggesting that this hoard has not an isolated find.

The Newport Pagnell Coin Hoard: Update

I have had further feedback about the discovery of the Newport Pagnell coin hoard. Julian Watters of the Verulamium Museum who acted as the Finds Officer for the case has informed me:
Just to clarify, it is a hoard of 1471 mid 4th century nummi. Most of the coins were initially recovered by the two finders; I was then called the next day and came out and did an excavation, recovering some pottery and more coins in the process.
He then adds:
The detectorists dug out the coins and then filled the hole in. The excavation was entirely my work (I think it was 2m by 2m). I'm not sure which photos you are referring to but if they show a man in a square hole, they were taken the following day.

The photographs appear here.

So it seems that the detectorists dug a 1 m deep hole in the dark to recover most of the coins and that Julian Watters investigated the disturbed find-spot the following day.

The hoard is not yet on the PAS database as that will be upgraded in the new year.

The Newport Pagnell Coin Hoard: Further Thoughts

Earlier this week I commented on the decision by the Milton Keynes Coroner relating to the discovery of a fourth century CE Roman coin hoard found in a field near Newport Pagnell. The two finders of the hoard, Dave Phillips and Barrie Plasom, should be commended for reporting their discovery.

My concern is that digging a 1 metre deep hole on a December evening ("it was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing") is not the best way to recover scientific information. Do the fragments of pottery relate to a pot that contained the coins? Why is it "believed [that] the hoard was deposited on a Roman rubbish pit"? More information is needed (and has been requested).

Nathan Elkins has written a response to the news story placing the discovery of Roman coin hoards in context ("The controversial 'excavation' of a coin hoard"). He closes his thoughtful piece with this:
There is a difference from picking up decontextualized surface finds and disturbing contexts deep in the earth.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

"An example of US cultural imperialism at its worst"

Roger Bland of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has published a hard-hitting review article of James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity? ("What's yours is mine"), in the London Review of Books (November 6, 2008). Bland shows that Cuno has missed the point by concentrating on ownership:
Archaeologists' principal complaint is not that objects belong in the countries where they were made but that their uncontrolled trade is a major cause of the destruction of archaeological sites across the world.
Bland's wording could be tightened. The Euphronios krater has been returned to the country (Italy) where it was found rather than to the country (Greece) where it was made. And this is true for the batch of Athenian, Laconian and Corinthian pots that have been returned to Italy.

There is discussion of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, noting, "the real significance of the Unesco convention is that it shows the signatory states are serious about curbing the illicit trade in antiquities". He places this in the context of the UK's legislation including the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003. Bland also notes the growing problem of looting from eastern Europe.

Bland is critical of Cuno's approach:
Cuno makes no attempt to deal with the issue that most concerns archaeologists: the loss of information caused by the unscientific removal of objects from their native contexts. As an art historian, Cuno cannot see beyond the physical beauty of the artefacts that appear for sale, often with no information about their provenance.
Indeed Bland does not mince his words:
Cuno speaks as someone who feels that he should be free to acquire the artefacts of other cultures since his country has no culture of its own.
Given recent discussions of bronzes from Benin in relation to the Art Institute of Chicago, this comment rings true.

There is one correction needed for the review. The Turkish Government has not, as far as I know, been able to retrieve the upper part of the "Weary Herakles" once owned by Leon Levy and Shelby White (and now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston inv. 1981.783). The mention of the Lydian treasure is significant given the recent appearance of an apparent further piece at auction in Bonhams (and subsequently withdrawn).

Bland delivers a knockout final paragraph:
Who Owns Antiquity? is an example of US cultural imperialism at its worst. Cuno's assertion that people's desire to 'present their cultural heritage in their own territory' reflects 'self-interest on the part of "source" nations and those who support their claims' is breathtakingly arrogant in the light of the tremendous damage done in so many countries from Cambodia to Peru by a traffic in antiquities aimed at satisfying the demands of collectors and museums in the West.

Pre-Columbian antiquities: Leonardo Patterson points finger towards Germany

There has been much comment about the return of 45 pre-Columbian antiquities to Peru (AFP). These pieces were handed over by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain during a state visit. At least twelve of the objects derived from illegal digging in the Lords of Sipan cemetery in the 1980s.

It is reported:
The artifacts were among 253 pieces that Spanish police seized in 2007 from a warehouse owned by Costa Rican Leonardo Patterson, a renowned antiquities dealer and former U.N. cultural attache.
(For the original seizure: "Perú reclama a España 241 piezas precolombinas incautadas a un costarricense", AFP, August 26, 2007 [online].)

The latest report added:
Patterson denies any wrongdoing, saying the artifacts were on loan from German businessman and collector Anton Roeckl for the exhibit.

"I wish they would keep my name out of it," Patterson said Monday in Germany. "I gave all that stuff back to Mr. Roeckl. It's his."

Roeckl declined to comment.

The remaining 208 artifacts from the seizure are being packaged in Spain and will be repatriated shortly, National Culture Institute director Cecilia Bakula said.

A profile of Anton Roeckl has appeared: Eberhard Vogt, "Sammler ohne Grenzen", Focus Magazin, no. 14, April 3, 2000. This includes a discussion of the Kunstbeteiligungsfonds der Deutschen Bank, as well as the testimony of Peter Gantz. Gantz notes that his pieces were purchased either at auction or "ordnungsgemaess erworben" (in other words, purchased in "good faith").


Iraqi antiquities seized at the Lebanon frontier

According to a report by AFP, 57 Iraqi antiquities were seized in a car crossing from Syria to Lebanon on Sunday October 26, 2008. Further antiquities were seized when a house was raided.

Images of the seized objects, supplied by Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly, have been posted on the Ancient World Bloggers Group.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Just finding the history": digging for coins on a British archaeological site

A hoard of some 1400 Roman coins dating to the 4th century CE have been recovered from an archaeological site near Newport Pagnell (Laura Hannam, "Treasure hunters set to coin it with Roman haul", MK News). The recovery took place in the dark during a December evening: "It was about 5.30pm at this time of year so it was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing." And this was not a surface find: the hoard was about 1 metre (c. 3 feet) below the surface. The report adds, "it is believed the hoard was deposited on a Roman rubbish pit." Sadly this archaeological context is now disrupted.

Paul Barford has already commented on the story making the point that this find shows that Roman coins can be found in association with an archaeological site. Indeed the hoard contradicts the misinformation generated by Dave Welsh, one of the officers of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) (see also other comments).

One Fifth Avenue: The Hedge Fund Manager and His Collection

I was listening to Front Row on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday evening. Candace Bushnell was talking to Kirsty Lang about her new novel, One Fifth Avenue. Apparently one of the characters is a hedge fund manager who collects antiquities. Bushnell than commented on such a collector who had appeared in the New York Times in the last few months. Is this who I think it is?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Universal Museum

The argument for displaying antiquities outside their country of origin is that these pieces are part of our shared, universal, cosmopolitan culture. Does it matter if archaic Athenian funerary sculptures are displayed in Manhattan? South Italian pottery in Melbourne? Roman imperial portraits in Malibu? Greek architectural sculptures in Munich? Egyptian funerary portraits from the Faiyum in Manchester?

Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities can be enjoyed, appreciated, and discussed, whether they are in Cairo, Athens, Istanbul, Rome, or indeed Paris, Berlin or Boston. Indeed they have the power to inspire new generations of students and scholars who have the enthusiasm to engage with their subject. How many students in Cambridge during the 1920s and 1930s were drawn into the study of the prehistoric Aegean by the Prehistoric displays in the Fitzwilliam Museum designed by Winifred Lamb? The pioneering careers of Robert Carr Bosanquet (Palaikastro), Alan Wace (Mycenae) and John Pendlebury (Crete) started with the study of this major university collection.

Then there are the national “universal” collections. From the hub of the Great Court of the British Museum it is possible to gain access to major masterpieces from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, and mainland Greece. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to see the finds from Ur, the Rosetta stone, or the reliefs from that wonder of the ancient world, the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos. The collections are accessible (and free)—so long as you have a visa to get to the United Kingdom.

How were these collections formed? For the British Museum, the pieces come from a range of sources: from private collectors to expeditions. Grand Tourists acquired Roman copies of Greek sculptures discovered in the remains of Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli from the antiquities dealers of eighteenth century Rome. Sir Charles Newton had the vision to explore the classical sites around the shores of the Aegean as part of the great competition to develop the holdings of “national” collections. (British excavators on the island of Melos in the mid-1890s were able to pinpoint the spot where the Aphrodite [“Venus de Milo”] had been found.) Excavations at Naukratis in the western Delta provided a range of archaic Greek pottery.

Is the concept of the universal museum under threat? Items from the historic collections are on the shopping list of countries: the portrait of Nefertiti in Berlin, the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum. This is not to diminish the cultural claims of Egypt or Greece. There is a strong argument for the display of fifth century BCE Athenian architectural sculptures in a gallery that makes a direct visual link with the Parthenon.

But should the internationally important holdings of archaic funerary sculptures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, many of them acquired by Gisela M.A. Richter, be returned to Athens for display alongside similar pieces in a national archaeological collection? As far as I know there has been no such suggestion and I would not expect there to be.

So why is the concept of the universal museum on the agenda? The successful pursuit of antiquities by the Italian Government has unsettled museum curators. Will cultural property claims remove treasured items from their holdings?

But I do not believe the aim of the Italian Government is to strip all international museums of their holdings of archaeological material that could have been discovered in Italy. We are unlikely to see tens of thousands of Apulian pots, Etruscan mirrors, or Roman sculptures being returned.

The Italian Government is sending out a clear signal that museums need to develop responsible acquisition policies that do not encourage the industrial-scale looting of archaeological sites. Would any curator recommend the acquisition of another “Sarpedon krater” if the museum faced the potential return of the piece (and thereby gaining adverse publicity)? And the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) responded positively to this challenge in June 2008 by reaffirming the importance of checking that antiquities being considered for acquisition had not been looted in recent decades.

Any close observers of the recent return of antiquities to Italy will have noticed that not every piece identified by the Polaroid photographs seized from Giacomo Medici has been requested or returned. Museums have negotiated a short-list of finds to the satisfaction of both sides. There are, of course, high-profile pieces such as the “Sarpedon krater” but there are lesser pieces that emphasise the network of dealers and middlemen that supplied the appetites of the collectors. Patterns are beginning to emerge with the names of particular dealers, galleries and auction houses (from both sides of the Atlantic) appearing time and again. Responsible curators in these universal museums will be checking the histories of “ancient art” acquired since the 1970s.

The concept of the “universal museum” is not dead, but institutions that aspire to that title need to acquire and borrow with a more developed sense of ethical responsibility. Some North American museum directors have been making a case for the development of a “licit market” in antiquities drawing on the reserve collections of museums in Italy, Greece and elsewhere. It is suggested that the revenues raised could help for the display and conservation of the remaining collections. But should tomb-groups held by archaeological museums be broken up merely for the enjoyment of the visiting public? A more creative approach would be to develop a scheme of short- and long-term loans of archaeological material. Museums directors are, perhaps, less keen on this idea, as the antiquities will not in the end be “owned” by their institutions. Yet for the visiting and viewing public, such loans would broaden their enjoyment and understanding of the ancient world.

Universal museums are not dead. But they are seeking a new role in the 21st century. And part of that task is to reaffirm the importance of archaeological context to help with the interpretation of the material culture of the ancient world.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"A great sucking sound of cultural migration": From Berlin to Kansas

Steve Paul has responded to Sharon Waxman's Loot by looking at an Egyptian coffin acquired by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City in 2007 ("Ethical questions haunt museums' acquisition of antiquities", The Kansas City Star, October 26, 2008). Paul writes:
There's no telling what really occurred when the sarcophagus, which once held the remains of a noblewoman named Meretites, left a well-known Egyptian museum collection back in 1972, though Nelson curator Robert Cohon confirmed that heirs of the original private collector had been unloading the family holdings since the 1950s.

And there's no real sense of the character and intentions of the German and Swiss middlemen with whom the coffin resided over most of the next three decades.

That original transaction preceded by a decade Egypt's effort to tighten its laws on the excavation and export of antiquities.

Yet the Nelson's acquisition in 2007 had to wait for a German court to rule against Egypt's petition for the coffin's return. That judgment allowed the sale and export of the Meretites package, including two wooden boxes and a few hundred small funerary statues, to the museum in Kansas City, where the pieces will go on public view in early 2010 after a period of repair and study.
Alice Thorson and Steve Paul had originally covered the acquisition in December 2007 ("Nelson Gallery acquires ancient Egyptian funerary display; Museum acquires ancient (and costly) coffins for study and eventual display," The Kansas City Star December 19, 2007; see also museum press release). They even quoted Marc Wilson, the Nelson's director and CEO, "She's a celebrity, a rock star."

It was noted that the coffin of "Meretites (me-ret-it-es) was last displayed at three German museums in the late 1990s and Taiwan in 2000. It has since been in storage in Berlin."

The reported history was:
Wilson said Meretites came from a private European owner through a dealer in the U.S. Although Wilson declined to disclose the purchase price, he confirmed it was in seven figures. And, according to a European news account, a German court recently valued the pieces at more than $2 million.

The objects spent nearly two years in legal limbo in Germany. In 2004, Egypt filed a claim for the coffins' return.

A German court ruled late last year that Egypt had insufficient evidence to prove the objects had left that country illegally. An Egyptian law in 1983 established that any cultural object taken out of the ground henceforth belonged to the state, making it illegal for anyone to export antiquities without government permission.

Although not much is known about where Meretites was entombed or when her coffin was unearthed, records indicate the objects were exported from Egypt to Switzerland in 1972, according to the Nelson.
The legal case was covered in the German press (Martina Doering,"Die lange Reise der Meretites; Ägypten klagte auf Antikenraub, trotzdem darf der Sarkophag in die USA verkauft werden", Berliner Zeitung November 28, 2006). The German court had valued the coffin at 1.5 million euros.

The court case apparently failed because Germany is not signed up to the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
Doch das Problem für Ägypten und das Glück für die Kunsthändler ist: Deutschland gehört weltweit zu den wenigen Ländern, die bisher weder die Konvention unterzeichneten, noch eine entsprechende nationale Gesetzgebung verabschiedet haben.
Doering even commented on why Germany is a suitable place to sell antiquities:
Der Fall Meretites führt beispielhaft vor, warum Kunsthändler in der ganzen Welt Deutschland so lieben - wer mit legal erworbenen Objekten handelt, schätzt den gesetzlich gewährten großen Spielraum. Wer mit illegalen Objekten dealt, kann sich sicher sein, dass er trotz möglicher Verzögerungen auch der Besitzer bleibt.
The sequence for the piece:
  • It is claimed that the coffin had been in the Egyptian Khashaba collection.
  • 1972: allegedly exported from Egypt to Switzerland.
  • Late 1990s: displayed in three German museums.
  • 2000: Displayed in Taiwan.
  • In storage in Berlin.
  • 2004: Egypt filed a case in Germany for the coffin's return.
  • 2005, October: Coffin reported to have been held by the Jersey-based Millennium Art Holdings Limited.
  • 2006: Legal action failed.
  • Coffin handled by the American art dealers, Noele and Ronald Mele.
  • 2007, December: Coffin sold to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
The coffin is still undergoing conservation and will not be on display until 2010.

Portable Archaeology for Sale

Paul Barford has discussed the issue of portable antiquities (including coins) being sold on eBay. Christopher Chippindale and I discussed this market back in 2001, "On-line auctions: a new venue for the antiquities market".

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Eye of Amenhotep III Returned to Egypt

The eye of a statue of Amenhotep III from his mortuary temple near Luxor was returned from Switzerland on Thursday October 23, 2008. The piece had apparently formed part of the Norbert Schimmel Collection and then passed through various hands before being acquired by the Antikenmuseum in Basel [see earlier posting]. The identities of the Swiss collector and the German dealer have not been revealed. (They may, indeed, be one and the same.)

What is more interesting is the statement from the Egyptian State Information Service ("Amenhotep's eye back to Cairo from Switzerland", October 24, 2008):
The Swiss President had said his country gave back to Egypt one thousand pieces of antiquities.
What about these 1000 pieces? Were they returned from museums, private collectors or dealers?


Friday, October 24, 2008

Karl Meyer on Loot!

Karl E. Meyer has written a review of Sharon Waxman's Loot! (truthdig, October 24, 2008). It gives balance to the unnecessary snippets of sleaze that have emerged in recent days (see sensible comments on CultureGrrl).

Meyer starts his review:
A seasoned reporter with an Oxford degree in Middle East studies, Sharon Waxman has updated and surpassed my explorations, in part because the outcry over the illicit traffic has reached fever pitch, provoking voluble, angry and indiscreet utterances from curators, collectors, dealers and a new breed of watchdogs, viz.: “You end up thinking we’re all a bunch of looters, thieves, exploiters, that we’re some kind of criminals … but who would be interested in Greek sculpture if it were all in Greece? These pieces are great because they’re in the Louvre.” So protests Aggy Leroule, the Louvre’s press attaché ...

He continues:
The first merit of Waxman’s book, the best on its subject, is her verbatim account of conversations with everybody who matters in the antiquities trade. This is especially true of her candid exchanges with the staffs and their overlords at the Louvre, the Met, the British Museum and the mega-endowed (circa $6 billion) J. Paul Getty Museum.

Knidos: Possible Request for the Return of Sculptures

There are reports in the Turkish media that the town of Datça in western Turkey will be making a formal request for the return of sculptures removed from the site of nearby Knidos ("Datça to seek return of ancient sculptures", Today's Zaman October 23, 2008). Among them is a colossal lion and a statue of Demeter both now in the British Museum.

Some of the sculptures were removed by Charles Newton in the spring of 1858 (details in Debbie Challis, From the Harpy Tomb to the Wonders of Ephesus [2008]). As the newspaper report comments, "It was not taken without permission, as unfortunately the Ottoman palace consented to it". In other words, a firman had been granted by the Ottoman authorities for Newton's activities.

The British Museum is a partner in the renewed excavations at Knidos.

Image
Replica of the lion from Knidos.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Basel Ancient Art Fair 2008

Details of the Basel Ancient Art Fair (BAAF) 2008 are available on the web. We are informed:
BAAF’s quota of leading world specialists makes it not only the largest, but also the most important fair of its kind under one roof. All participants are members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) and follow a strict code of ethics concerning the authenticity and provenance of the objects they sell.
Among the objects listed on the press release are:
  • Greek marble head of a veiled goddess. Private Israeli Collection, acquired in the 1970's. Safani, New York.
  • Mycenaean kylix. Private German Collection, acquired in 1985. Safani, New York.
  • Kiliya marble figure of a goddess. Private American Collection since 1985. Safani, New York.
  • Canaanite bronze female fertility goddess. Ex. private collection UK, acquired early 1980s. Rupert Wace, London.
  • Graeco-Roman torso of Dionysos. Professor Bernhard Kommel Collection. Safani Gallery, New York.
  • Torso of the Doryphoros. Paris, private collection. Jean-David Cahn, Basel.

The Frozen Antiquities Market

Alan Safani of Safani Gallery Inc. in New York has been interviewed about the impact of the "credit crunch" on the antiquities market (William Sherman, "It's worst of times for the finer things", Daily News October 19, 2008). Sherman writes that for Alan Safani, "there are some days when it just doesn't pay to go to work in this struggling economy".

Safani is quoted:
I could close up shop for five months and it wouldn't make any difference ... Nobody's buying. Nobody's selling. People are paralyzed by the uncertainty of what's going on in financial markets, not just here but around the world.

Safani anticipates the selling of collections of antiquities that have been purchased as investments:

Wealthy people will have to sell art to raise money because of the stock market losses, or because they lost their jobs, and I think for me and collectors in general, there will be a window of opportunity to buy great works of art at relatively low prices ...

It's the same as the fact there are tremendously undervalued stocks out there ... The question is, when do you jump in and buy?"


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nostoi: Should Britain press for the return of the Icklingham bronzes?

As Italy and Greece celebrate the return of an array of antiquities from North American private and public collections in the "Nostoi" exhibitions (currently in Athens), should the United Kingdom Government press for the immediate return of the Icklingham bronzes? Paul Barford raises this issue on "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues".

The present proprietor of the Icklingham bronzes is Shelby White who has returned part of her collection to Italy and Greece.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Provenience: The Use of the Term

I have been thinking about the use of the words "provenance" and "provenience" in relation to archaeological material. I prefer to use the terms "archaeology" and "history" for understanding how an object appears in an archaeological context ("archaeology") and then passes through the hands of collectors, galleries and museums ("history").

I noticed that the Oxford English Dictionary cites Ellen Herscher's review of Oscar Muscarella's The Lie Became Great (2000) that appeared in Archaeology 54, 1 (Jan/Feb 2001):
Perhaps even more devastating to our knowledge of the past is the widespread practice in the illicit trade of falsifying the alleged findspot of genuine antiquities. Once certain cultures become popular with collectors, other plundered artifacts appear on the market with the same attribution, although they may in fact come from a totally unknown area. A variation of forging provenience is the dealer's claim that individual objects were found together as a "hoard" or "tomb group," thus supposedly increasing their historical significance. In one example, Muscarella describes how ten silver vessels on sale in Munich were used as evidence for an Urartian dynasty and linked (without basis) to a site in Patmos. He ridicules the ignorant notion that looters who destroy sites would scrupulously maintain the integrity of groups as the objects pass from their place of discovery through the complexities of the antiquities market. Since provenience is the essential core of archaeology, the forgery of provenience is particularly insidious, as it uses authentic artifacts to create a false picture of the ancient past.

Artbeat: Antiquities from Afghanistan in London

Special Constables from "Artbeat" will be visiting auction houses, dealers, galleries and museums in London to alert them to the issue of stolen antiquities from Afghanistan ("Police to clamp down on trade in looted Afghan art", Daily Telegraph, October 21, 2008). This is part of the Metropolitan Police's Operation Syenite. The report concluced:
Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley from the Met's Art and Antiques Unit added: "The message is clear, do not purchase any Afghan antiquities without clear title and established provenance."
Indeed it could be well said: do not purchase or handle any antiquities without clear title and established provenance.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Graham Geddes Collection: Previous Loans

The lots withdrawn from the sale of the Graham Geddes collection at Bonhams on October 15, 2008 had previously been on display in four separate locations in Melbourne, Australia. Indeed, other parts of the collection had been on loan to different museums (e.g. Apulian pottery at auction in October 2008; earlier material sold through Christie's).

What were the loan policies of these museums? Do the museums require loans to have a recorded history that can be traced back before the 1970 UNESCO Convention?

Melbourne, the National Gallery of Victoria
  • Lot 6. Attic black-figure column krater, attributed to the Swing painter. Loan: April 2005 - April 2008.
  • Lot 10. A large early Apulian red-figure hydria, attributed to the painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl. Loan: April 2005 - April 2008.
[Website]

The University of Melbourne
  • Lot 6. Attic black-figure column krater, attributed to the Swing painter. Loan: March 1988 - February 1994
  • Lot 26. A small Campanian red-figure bell krater, attributed to the Danaid painter. Loan: March 1995 - July 2003
  • Lot 36. A Campanian red-figure neck amphora, attributed to near the Chequer and Dirce painters. Loan: March 1988 - July 2003.
  • Lot 133. A South Italian terracotta figure of Eros. Loan: March 1988 - July 2003.
[website]

  • See Peter Connor, 'Greek vases from the Geddes' Collection on loan in Melbourne University Gallery', Iris, 1988, pp. 21-42. [Reference]

Melbourne, La Trobe University, the Borchardt Library
  • Lot 9. A large Attic red-figure bell krater, attributed to the Retorted painter. Loan: March 1995 - April 2008.
  • Lot 15. An Apulian red-figure trefoil-lipped oinochoe. Loan: February 1997 - April 2008.
  • Lot 28. A small Apulian red-figure bell krater, attributed to the Perrone - Phryxos group. Loan: March 1988 - April 2008.
[website]

Melbourne, Monash University, Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities
  • Lot 10. A large early Apulian red-figure hydria, attributed to the painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl. Loan: March 1995 - April 2005
  • Lot 26. A small Campanian red-figure bell krater, attributed to the Danaid painter. Loan: November 2005 - April 2008
  • Lot 36. A Campanian red-figure neck amphora, attributed to near the Chequer and Dirce painters. Loan: November 2005 - April 2008.
[website]

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bonhams: Don't Be Miffed With The Italians

The staff at Bonhams are clearly feeling sore ("furious" according to some sources) over the Italian request that several lots in this week's auctions should be withdrawn. Robert Brooks, the chairman of Bonhams, clearly felt cross (according to the press release):
we would welcome a greater openness on the part of the Italian Government, which would allow us far more advance warning and information about concerns they have. Responsible institutions need to work together and not to keep information hidden, for whatever reason, until the very last minute.
Yet the management team would do well to reflect for a moment.

At least seven of the pieces withdrawn from the Geddes collection had "surfaced" through Sotheby's in London. Thanks to Peter Watson's Sotheby's: Inside Story (London: 1997) we have been provided with a glimpse of how material passed from (looted) archaeological sites in Italy, to Switzerland, and thence to the market in London. (The chapter on Apulian pottery is more than informative and certainly relevant in this case.) I would have thought that anybody involved in the business of selling antiquities would have read this book, even if they find the revelations uncomfortable.

Again, anybody involved in selling antiquities should have been following the returns of antiquities from North American collections (public and private) to Italy. Somebody in the world of antiquities would have realised that at least seven items returned to Italy had surfaced through Sotheby's in London. Indeed one of the pieces, a Lucanian (South Italian) nestoris, has a more than significant history:
The second piece had surfaced at Sotheby's in London in December 1982 (lot 298). The nestoris was subsequently placed on loan at the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne from 1988 to 1994; Ian McPhee of La Trobe University informed me in October 2006 that Mr G. Geddes made the loan though he may not have been "the actual owner at the time".
This pot, along with other items from Boston, has been discussed in the International Journal of Cultural Property (2006) [abstract]. I would have thought that this Cambridge University Press publication was required reading for anybody selling cultural property.

All this means that if a collection, derived in part from purchases made at Sotheby's in London in the 1980s (and including significant pieces from Apulia), was offered for sale via an auction house, it does not seem unreasonable for the staff of that auction house to be on the alert.

Did the staff of Bonhams contact the Italian authorities? What form did the due diligence process of Bonhams take?

And then there is the question of selling an Apulian krater from the Robin Symes collection in the general antiquities sale. Again the staff of the antiquities department at Bonhams should have been on the alert because of a piece of Apulian pottery that did not appear to have a recorded history prior to 1970 especially given what we know of looting in southern Italy. I find it unbelievable that "professional" dealers in antiquities were unaware of the controversial nature of pieces associated with Robin Symes given the way that his name has been linked to many of the returns from North American collections.

In summary, the staff at the antiquities department of Bonhams appear to have been less than rigorous in their "due diligence" process. Indeed it begins to look like a common pattern. Just think back over the last year to the cases of the Lydian silver kyathos or the Egyptian tomb relief.

In October last year I wrote:
Bonham's values its integrity. It has done the correct thing in this instance (although at what seems the eleventh hour). Will its senior management team now put in place a more robust process of checking antiquities prior to a sale?
Clearly one year on there does not appear to be a robust process in place. And the chairman of Bonhams could, perhaps, ask why the present system allowed these events to take place?

Perhaps the blame lies not with the Italian authorities but a little closer to home.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Geddes Collection at Bonhams: Forecast and Results

I have been re-reading Belinda Tasker's forecast ("'Elvis' sculpture stars in auction of Aust art collection", AAP, July 22, 2008) about the Graham Geddes auction that took place at Bonhams on October 15.

She highlighted three lots:
  • Lot 10. A large early Apulian red-figure hydria. Attributed to the painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl. Estimate: £80,000 - 120,000 ("expected to attract bids of up to STG110,000 ($A225,600)"). Lot withdrawn.
  • Lot 65. A Roman Marble Acroterion. Estimate ("worth"): £25,000-£35,000. Sold for: £24,000.
  • Lot 56. A large Roman marble sarcophagus fragment; "Diana, the goddess of the hunt standing at the centre". Estimate: £60,000 - 90,000. Unsold.
Tasker also predicted:
Graham Geddes is expected to pick up more than STG1 million ($A2.05 million) by selling off more than 150 Greek vases and Roman marble reliefs at the Bonhams auction in October.
In fact the sale appears to have made just over £470,000; many lots were apparently left unsold. Such an inaccurate forecast gives a balance to the assessment of the sale in today's IHT.

Bonhams: "The session went as well it could ever have"

Souren Melikian has written about the sale of antiquities at Bonhams this week: "Antiquities reveal surprising strength at lower end of market", IHT, October 17, 2008. Melikian notes,
Bonhams is working hard to hold its ground in the middle and lower levels of the market by making itself as attractive as possible.
There is comment on the sale of Graham Geddes collection.
A terse notice in the catalogue, however flattering the tone, revealed that Graham Geddes was an Australian dealer who started in the 1960s. It did not specify that the objects consigned for sale were those that had remained unsold, but this is how any experienced market hand with the slightest inclination to cynicism would have read the said biographical information. In the current climate, disaster seemed bound to strike. Yet, it did not.

True, a number of objects remained unwanted. In the morning, 11 of the first 30 pieces that came up failed to sell, by my count. But most of these would be unsaleable under pretty much any circumstances.
The report continues:
That left a big question mark hovering over the fate of "The Geddes Collection" due to appear in the afternoon. If the market was ever so slightly reticent, objects that had long remained in the dealer's stock despite widespread exposure - several had been included in museum shows in Australia - were in danger of being spurned en masse. This did not happen. The session went as well it could ever have, given what was on offer.
What is interesting about this report, perhaps even breathtaking in the omission, is the lack of any mention that pieces had to be withdrawn from the sales due to action taken by the Italian Government.

Was Melikian unaware of the controversial nature of these sales?

Sharon Waxman on Looted Antiquities

Sharon Waxman's Loot: The Battle Over The Stolen Treasures Of The Ancient World (New York: Times Books, 2008) is about to be published. For further details see the book's website along with preliminary reactions. [WorldCat]

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Elvis and Bonhams: "You'll Be (Going, Going) Gone"

The staff of Bonhams were probably looking for some crumb of good news after yesterday's sale of antiquities. And it comes in the form of a very short piece in The Express: "GBP 24,000 for 'Elvis'" (October 16, 2008). It relates to lot 65 of the Graham Geddes collection that received so much publicity earlier in the summer. The head, deemed to share a profile with the King, once formed part of a Roman sarcophagus.
Antiquities specialist Georgiana Aitken said: "It bears an uncanny likeness to Elvis. It's the quiff that does it. It wasn't a hairstyle of the day as far as I know."

Bonhams Magazine: the Irony

A spokesperson Bonhams has commented on the amount of publicity involved in the marketing of their antiquities: "You can imagine the amount of work that goes into marketing a sale like this around the world.". This is partly through their glossy magazine (available on-line).

The autumn 2008 number has a remarkable cover showing the detail of a battle between the Arimasps and Griffins from an Attic red-figured bell-krater attributed to the Retorted painter. This had been due to be sold at Bonhams yesterday as lot 9: but it was withdrawn. The krater had surfaced through Sotheby's (London) in 1985.

Bonhams Withdraws Further Lots: Press Comment

Nick Squires has written for The Daily Telegraph ("Suspicions that Roman artefacts were illegally traded", October 16, 2008). He recycles the Bonhams press release but adds a little more informal comment. The anger felt at Bonhams is clear:
The auction house was furious that the Italian authorities gave just 24 hours' notice about the objects' suspect provenance.

"We were a bit miffed to say the least," a spokesman said. "You can imagine the amount of work that goes into marketing a sale like this around the world.

"Obviously we are not in the business of selling something that shouldn't be sold, but to have a demand made like this at such short notice is not something we take lightly."

Many of the pieces had due to be sold as part of the (Australian) Graham Geddes collection. The Telegraph added:
Bonhams said it expected Italy to make a formal claim on the antiquities, which were owned by British, Australian and American collectors.

Meanwhile Theo Toebosch writing for the NRC Handelsblad has picked up on the reason why Bonhams should have been suspicious and should have conducted a more rigorous "due diligence" process: the revelations made about antiquities from Italy surfacing through Sotheby's in London during the 1980s and early 1990s (see Peter Watson, Sotheby's: Inside Story [London 1997] [WorldCat] [American edition]). At least seven of the withdrawn pieces were derived from this route. Toebosch also comments on the unrepentant tone of the Bonhams press release.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bonhams and Antiquities from Italy: Press Release

Bonhams issued a press release today.
BONHAMS WITHDRAWS OBJECTS FROM ANTIQUITIES SALE FOLLOWING REQUEST FROM THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT

Bonhams has withdrawn ten objects from its 15 October Antiquities Sale which features nearly 600 items, following a formal request from the Italian Government just 24 hours before the sale.

Despite the last minute nature of the Italian request, Bonhams said it would remove the items in line with normal procedure when an object's provenance is called into question.

Chairman of Bonhams, Robert Brooks, announcing the decision said: "We are always happy to cooperate with any action that limits the chance of items being sold that should not be sold. Having said that we would welcome a greater openness on the part of the Italian Government, which would allow us far more advance warning and information about concerns they have. Responsible institutions need to work together and not to keep information hidden, for whatever reason, until the very last minute."

The ten objects - vases and sculpture - have an estimated value of £200,000. The Italian Government has claimed that the items concerned may have been illegally exported from Italy some 30 years ago.

ANSA has also carried the story: 'Sale of "stolen" antiquities halted', October 14, 2008. This quotes from the Bonhams press release.

Bonhams Withdraws Further Lots: Update

Apart from the material from the Graham Geddes collection, Bonhams has also withdrawn the Apulian krater that had once formed part of the Robin Symes collection (lot 180).

Bonhams: "The most important item in the Geddes collection"

The Bonhams press release for the sale of the Graham Geddes Collection later today quoted Chantelle Waddington (Rountree), the head of the antiquities department:
The most important item in this collection is a vase by the famed painter of the 'Berlin Dancing Girl', a vase of incredible quality and condition, which marks the transition of Greek vase painting from the Attic to the South Italian.
The piece in question is an Apulian red-figured hydria (lot 10). The estimate was £80,000-£120,000.

Why has the most important piece in the collection been withdrawn? Is another press release due?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Apulian Pottery and Sotheby's

I suggest that anybody interested in Apulian pottery would be advised to read chapter 5, "The Apulian Vases", of Peter Watson's, Sotheby's: Inside Story (London, 1997). It is also worth studying the related plates in some detail.

It perhaps makes sense of some of the events of this week.

Bonhams Withdraws Further Lots

This evening it has become clear that Bonhams has withdrawn further lots from tomorrow's sale of the Graham Geddes collection. No explanation has been given.

Attic
  • Lot 6: Attic black-figured column-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 13th-14th, 1987, lot 440.
  • Lot 9: Attic red-figured bell-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 20th, 1985, lot 383.

Apulian
  • Lot 10: Apulian hydria. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21st, 1984, lot 384.
  • Lot 15: Apulian oinochoe. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 185.
  • Lot 28: Apulian bell-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 188.

Campanian
  • Lot 26: Campanian bell-krater. Surfaced: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 22nd, 1989, lot 199.
  • Lot 36: Campanian neck-amphora. "Ex Amati collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s."

South Italian Terracotta
  • Lot 133: Figure of Eros. "Ex Australian private collection, acquired in the 1970s. Previously acquired from Sotheby's London."

The Geddes Collection at Bonham's: Withdrawn Lots

Several lots in tomorrow's sale of the Graham Geddes collection have been withdrawn. No further explanation has been given.
  • Lot 51: A Roman marble torso of a dancing satyr. Ex Foley Collection, 1979. Formerly in the Dean Collection, Melbourne.
  • Lot 53: A Roman marble statue of a Togata. Acquired from David Jones Gallery, Sydney, 1981.
  • Lot 54: Another Roman marble statue of a Togata. Acquired from David Jones Gallery, Sydney, 1981.
  • Lot 72: A Roman marble statue of a Togatus. Acquired in the UK in 1981.
  • Lot 73: A Roman marble statue of a Togatus. Acquired in the UK in 1981.
  • Lot 150: An Apulian red-figure pelike. Acquired in England in 1979.
Two items have been changed and are now 'after the antique':
  • Lot 118: An Etruscan hollow terracotta male torso. Ex Dean Collection, Melbourne, 1990.
  • Lot 129: An Etruscan hollow terracotta bust of a bearded man. Acquired in May 1984.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Brent R. Benjamin: "Mistakes Can Be Made"

The appointment of Brent R. Benjamin, director of the St Louis Art Museum, to the Cultural Property Advisory Commitee (CPAC) is now being described as "outrageous".

The reason is the on-going dispute between Egypt and SLAM over the 1998 acquisition of an Egyptian mask that all would agree was excavated at Saqqara in 1952. Yet although Benjamin was quoted in February 2006 as saying, "Mistakes can be made", there seems to be no resolution. (For subsequent comments by Zahi Hawass, see the interview on Al-Jazeera, July 2007.)

Benjamin is a man of integrity and must now see that his position on CPAC can only undermine its work to address the issue of cultural property.

Image
River Front Times

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Graham Geddes Collection and Apulian Pottery

The sale of the Graham Geddes collection at Bonhams on October 15 will include a number of Apulian pots. (For earlier Apulian pottery at auction see here; for the publicity of the South Italian pottery in this sale see here.)

Lot 10: Hydria. Attributed to the painter of the Berlin Dancing Girl. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21st, 1984, lot 384. On loan: the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (March 1995 - April 2005); the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (April 2005 - April 2008).

Lot 12; Calyx-krater. Attributed to the Judgement Group, by the Painter of Naples 2289. Purchased: Ex Amati Collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. Formerly from Christie's. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - July 2003).

Lot 15: Oinochoe. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 185. On loan: the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne (February 1997 - April 2008).

Lot 16: Oinochoe. Previous history: "Ex Dean Collection, Melbourne, acquired in 1990." On loan: the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (March 1995 - April 2008).

Lot 17: A pair of oinochoai. Attributed the group of the Virginia Exhibition Painter. Previous history: Ex Amati Collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - July 2003).

Lot 18: Hydria. Attributed to the Truro painter. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 9th, 1985, lot 375. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - July 2003); the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (November 2005 - April 2008).

Lot 19: Volute-krater. Attributed to the Tenri painter. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 13th, 1981, lot 354. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - July 2003); the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (November 2005 - April 2008).

Lot 20: Hydria. Attributed to the Patera painter. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21st, 1984, lot 222. On loan: the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne (March 1986 - April 2008).

Lot 21: Spherical pyxis, Attributed to the Painter of Berlin F 3383. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 9th, 1985, lot 371. On loan: the Antiquities Museum, University of Queensland, Brisbane (March 1995 - April 2005).

Lot 22: Volute-krater. Attributed to the Geddes painter. Previous history: "Ex private collection, acquired in 1976. This is the name vase of the Geddes Painter. It was named as such by Dale Trendall as a token of his friendship with Graham Geddes." On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - July 2003); the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (November 2005 - April 2008).

Lot 23: Gnathian volute-krater. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 9th, 1985, lot 378. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1985 - February 1994).

Lot 25: Gnathian Oinochoe. Previous history: Ex Amati collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1995 - July 2003).

Lot 27: Bell-krater. Attributed to near the Late Lampas painter. Previous history: Ex Amati Collection, acquired in the mid-1970s. On loan: the Borchardt library, La Trobe University, Melbourne (March 1988 - April 2008).

Lot 28: Bell-krater. Attributed to the Perrone - Phryxos group. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 188. On loan: the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne (March 1988 - April 2008).

Lot 29: Fishplate. Attributed to the Cuttlefish Painter, the Binningen Group. Previous history: Ex Amati Collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. On loan: the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (December 1989 - April 2008).

Lot 30: Fishplate. Attributed to the Tadpole painter. Previous history: Ex Amati Collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. On loan: the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (November 1996 - October 2006).

Lot 34: Amphora. Attributed to the Baltimore and Stoke-on-Trent Painters. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 12th, 1983, lot 604. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1995 - July 2003); the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (November 2005 - April 2008).

Lot 35: Amphora. Attributed to the Wolfenbüttel Painter. Previous history: Christie's South Kensington, Antiquities - The Axel Guttmann Collection of Ancient Arms and Armour, Pt II, April 28th, 2004, lot 109.

Lot 146: Column-krater. Attributed to the Split Mouth Group, associated with the Amphorae and Armidale Painters. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 14th, 1981, lot 293. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - July 2003).

Lot 147
: Amphora. Attributed to the Amphorae Group. Previous history: Ex Downeys Collection, Melbourne, Australia, acquired in 1982. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - February 1994).

Lot 148: Bell-krater. Attributed to the Wolfenbüttel Painter. Previous history: Ex Amati collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1995 - July 2003).

Lot 149: Skyphos. Attributed to the Liverpool painter. Purchaed: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 14th, 1981, lot 251. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1995 - July 2003).

Lot 151
: Lekanis. Attributed to the Kantharos painter. Previous history: Ex Amati Collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1988 - July 2003).

Lot 152: Oinochoe. Attributed to the Baltimore painter. Purchased: Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 13th, 1981, lot 343. On loan: the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (March 1988 - April 2008).

Lot 156: Plate. Attributed to the Kantharos painter. Previous history: Ex Amati Collection, London, acquired in the mid-1970s. On loan: the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne (December 1989 - April 2008).

Lot 158
: Squat lekythos. On loan: the University of Melbourne (March 1995 - July 2003). Other information: "Accompanied by a label from Christie's London, stating 16 November 1999, lot 451."

Twelve of these Apulian pots had been acquired at Sotheby's in London.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 13th, 1981, lot 343.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 13th, 1981, lot 354.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 14th, 1981, lot 251.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 14th, 1981, lot 293.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, July 12th, 1983, lot 604.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21st, 1984, lot 222.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, May 21st, 1984, lot 384.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 9th, 1985, lot 371.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 9th, 1985, lot 375.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 9th, 1985, lot 378.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 185.
  • Sotheby's London, Antiquities, December 8th, 1986, lot 188.
Most of the Apulian pots have been on loan to public collections in Australia.

Apulian Pottery at Bonhams

The Apulian volute-krater that is due to be auctioned at Bonhams next week (October 15) is one of several Apulian pieces in the same auction. (This is separate from the sale of the Graham Geddes collection.)
  • Lot 179: Squat lekythos. Previous history: "Acquired by the French owner at auction in the UK in 1993. Accompanied by a French passport."
  • Lot 180: Volute-krater. Previous history: "Ex Robin Symes Collection."
  • Lot 182: Knob-handled patera. Previous history: "Ex London private collection."
  • Lot 183: Plate. Previous history: "Property of an English gentleman, acquired in the U.K. between 1977 and 2003."
  • Lot 185: Thymiaterion. Previous history: "Acquired at French auction, accompanied by a French passport."
  • Lot 190: Chous. Previous history: "Property of an English gentleman, acquired in the U.K. between the 1950s and the 1980s."
  • Lot 266a: Oinochoe. Previous history: "Property of an English gentleman, acquired in the U.K. between the 1950s and the 1980s."
  • Lot 268b: Spherical pxis lid. Previous history (for all three pieces in the lot): "Acquired at auction in France and the UK in 1990."
So only two pieces (lots 190 and 266a) may have been acquired before 1970 - but both could equally have surfced in the 1980s. What are the detailed histories of all these pieces?

It is important to ask because we know the scale of the looting in the Apulian cemeteries over recent decades.

Press Exposure and Bonhams

Bonhams experienced some light-hearted publicity when it announced details of its forthcoming sale of antiquities from the collection formed by Graham Geddes. The profile of a fragmentary Roman sarcophagus evoked "the King" and the headline writers went to town.

But now the New York Times has joined the commentary on the sale of antiquities next week: Elisabetta Povoledo, "Italy Questions Items in Antiquities Auction", October 10, 2008. The focus is on a single Apulian krater that had once passed through the collection of Robin Symes.

Yet there is a more important issue at stake. What are the sources for antiquities that have no declared (and secure) histories ("provenance") prior to 1970?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bonhams and the Library of Robin Symes Limited

In the discussion about the assets of Robin Symes, it is worth pointing out that the Reference Library of Robin Symes Limited was sold at Bonhams (New Bond Street) on October 29, 2007 [details].

Bonhams Responds to Rutelli

A spokesperson for Bonhams is quoted in a further report in The Times (Dalya Alberge, "Italy tries to block sale of Bonhams antiquities linked to disgraced dealer", October 10, 2008).
“We have not officially heard anything from the Italian Parliament. We would obviously act the moment we receive anything requiring us legally to respond and do as we always do. If there is any question mark on something like this we either withdraw it or get into discussions ... No one here was aware of the statement in the Italian Parliament.”
It is also reported that the Apulian krater in question is "believed" to have been owned by Symes "prior to 1980" and that it had passed through “many hands over the past 28 years”. So the piece is only "believed" to have been in the Symes collection prior to 1980; the spokesperson does not say that the ownership was documented. And who were the people attached to these many hands? This spokesperson has only served to raise more questions. (And it is so reminiscent of the seafaring collector of Egyptian antiquities ...)

The Times piece has links to earlier stories (e.g. Patrick Barkham, "Dealer lied to judge over $3m statue", May 23, 2003).

Bonhams and Robin Symes

The Times (London) carries a striking headline today (October 10, 2008 [story]) in response to Francesco Rutelli's press conference yesterday:

Bonhams urged to halt sale of Italian antiquities

The dispute is over an Apulian (South Italian) volute-krater from the "Robin Symes Collection" that is due to be auctioned next week. Bonhams will apparently press ahead with the sale.

It is reasonable for Rutelli to be asking questions, whether or not the piece has come from the dispersal of the assets of Robin Symes. How did the krater enter the Symes collection? Who was the previous owner?

It is public knowledge that the cemeteries of ancient Apulia have been devastated by systematic and extensive looting. Can Bonhams demonstrate that the krater was known prior to, say, 1970?

It is also public knowledge that 15 or so antiquities returned from various museums and private collectors in North America to Italy and Greece had passed through the hands of Robin Symes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Francesco Rutelli on Robin Symes

Francesco Rutelli, the one-time Italian Minister for Culture (MiBAC) who can be credited with the success of retrieving so many looted antiquities, has issued a press statement about Robin Symes today. This appears to be in response to yesterday's news that the Symes collection would be dispersed.

Here is Rutelli's original text:
Al Ministro per i Beni e le Attività Culturali

Premesso che

- il Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali ha intrapreso a partire dall'estate 2007 un negoziato extragiudiziale con la Commissione Liquidatrice della Collezione Symes nominata dal Tribunale di Londra al fine di verificare la possibilità di recuperare beni archeologici appartenenti al patrimonio italiano;

- che la collezione Symes rappresenta uno dei più scandalosi fenomeni di accumulo di beni archeologici attraverso operazioni illecite, intermediazioni disinvolte, acquisizioni di patrimoni trafugati illegalmente, in misura molto rilevante provenienti dal nostro Paese;

- che il recupero di capolavori archeologici trafugati dall'Italia nell'arco degli ultimi anni ha permesso di evidenziare numerose, gravissime operazioni commerciali poste in essere da Robin Symes e suoi collaboratori, che hanno coinvolto, tra l'altro, la Venere di Morgantina, la Kylix di Onesimos - Eufronio, il volto d'avorio proveniente da Cesano, 4 importanti reperti restituiti dal Getty Museum nel 2007 a conclusione di un serrato negoziato condotto dal Ministro per i Beni e le Attività Culturali;

- che il negoziato della Commissione preposta nel MIBAC al recupero delle opere italiane con la Commissione liquidatrice è bloccato su un binario morto;

- che non risulta alcune iniziativa del Ministro per sbloccare questa situazione incresciosa;

- che sono stati posti all'asta a Londra, il prossimo 15 ottobre, alcuni importanti reperti provenienti dalla collezione Symes;

per sapere

- quali iniziative il Ministro intenda prendere per recuperare al patrimonio italiano le numerose opere indubbiamente provenienti dal territorio nazionale illecitamente acquisite dal signor Symes e dai suoi collaboratori;

- quali iniziative il governo abbia preso per bloccare la messa all'asta di capolavori che potrebbero essere stati trafugati dall'Italia.


Sen. Francesco Rutelli

Essentially, Rutelli draws attention to way that MiBAC has been negotiating with the liquidators of the Symes collection to recover archaeological material that appears to have been derived from Italy. Rutelli reminds us of the "scandalous phenonmenon" (scandalosi fenomeni) of the way that the material was acquired and draws attention to some of the pieces returned from major North American museums that have been associated with Symes (see my overview). Rutelli calls on Sandro Bondi, the present Italian Minister for Culture, to resolve the issue.

Rutelli feels that time is of the essence. Important pieces from the Symes "collection" are due to be auctioned in London next Wednesday, October 15. (I have already noted that an Apulian volute krater from the Robin Symes collection is due to appear at Bonham's next Wednesday. Is this what Rutelli is talking about? Are other items in the sale derived from the same source but not listed as such?)

Rutelli calls on the Italian Minister to take urgent action. First, he asks that the Minister to identify his plan of action to recover antiquities (now in the Symes "collection") that may have been removed from Italy illegally. Second, he urges the Italian government to block the auction of objects that may have been looted from archaeological sites in Italy.

Further comments have been issued via ANSA and they will be discussed separately.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Robin Symes: The Dispersal Begins

Fabio Isman has updated the Robin Symes story ("Scandalo a Londra: l'arte rubata finisce in vendita", Il Messaggero October 8, 2008). Some 17,000 objects (worth 160 million Euros [= £125 million]) were recovered from 33 warehouses; see also Peter Watson and Celia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, 254 [and my earlier comments]. It is now estimated (as a result of a study by a team from Italy) that 60% of the objects were removed from archaeological sites in Italy; that is to say over 10,000 of the items in storage. (Where were the other 7000 or so pieces found? Greece? Turkey?)

The present proprietors of the Symes' material are now reported to be dispersing the collection to realise his assets: hence the headline in Il Messaggero. I can now reveal that the British Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) informed me in April 2008 that an "arrangement involving the Italian Authorities and other parties ... was facilitated by this Department [sc. DCMS], which is specific to an individual case". The DCMS added: "Unfortunately we are unable to disclose any further details in respect of this arrangement as this information is confidential".

Who is responsible for dispersing the Symes material? Where will it be sold? Will it be in Europe, North America or the Middle East?

It will be interesting to see how this story develops.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

More of the Parthenon Sculptures to Return to Greece

The "Nostoi" exhibition in the New Akropolis Museum already includes a fragment from the Parthenon frieze that has been returned from Palermo. Later this month two further fragments at present in the collections of the Vatican will be handed over (Associated Press).

An Australian Take on the Parthenon Marbles

Keith Austin in the Sydney Morning Herald ("Britain plays keepsies as the Greeks fume", October 7, 2008) has a blunt commentary on what he perceives as British Imperialism and the non-return of the Parthenon marbles for display in the New Akropolis Museum.

"Tommy, did you take Stavros's marbles?"

"Yes, miss. I liked the pretty ladies."

"Well, that's not very nice, is it?"

"No, miss."

"Good boy. Now give them back and we'll say no more about it."

...

There is more ...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Homecomings: Lucanian Pottery

Two pieces of Lucanian pottery have appeared in the "Nostoi" exhibitions. Both pieces are of the same shape, a nestoris (or trozzella). They have been attributed to the Amykos painter and were probably made in the vicinity of Metaponto in southern Italy. Both had been acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston: 1971.49 and 1998.588.

The first was purchased from Dr Leo Mildenberg of Bank Leu AG, Zurich. (It appears to have been supplied with a fabricated history suggesting that the nestoris had passed through a Madrid private collection.) The MFA catalogue (no. 4) notes, "This nestoris may be the earliest known red-figure example".

The second piece had surfaced at Sotheby's in London in December 1982 (lot 298). The nestoris was subsequently placed on loan at the Borchardt Library, La Trobe University, Melbourne from 1988 to 1994; Ian McPhee of La Trobe University informed me in October 2006 that Mr G. Geddes made the loan though he may not have been "the actual owner at the time". The nestoris was then sold at Sotheby's in London (December 1996), purchased by Widgie and Peter Aldrich, and acquired by the MFA in 1998.

Graham Geddes appears to have acquired at least three other items that passed through the December 1982 Sotheby's (London) auction:
  • lot 201: Etruscan black-figured amphora, attributed to the Micali painter. On loan to the Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, March 1995 - April 2008. Due to be auctioned at Bonham's (London) October 15, 2008, lot 11.
  • lot 255: Attic back-figured neck-amphora, attributed to the painter of Vatican 365. Subsequently Sotheby's December 8, 1986, lot 327. [Beazley Archive 7462]
  • lot 291: Apulian red-figured calyx-krater, attributed to the Darius painter. This apparently passed into a private collection (1982-1994) before forming part of the Geddes collection in 1994; it was sold at Christie's New York in 2001.
This December 1982 sale at Sotheby's also included an Attic red-figured amphora attributed to the Berlin painter that has been returned to Italy from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (and also featured in "Nostoi") (lot 220).

Geddes is reported to have formed one of the largest private collections of South Italian pottery in the world. He bought in good faith at auction, and was guided by Professor A.D. Trendall (see earlier comments). In 1996 Geddes himself said "I prefer to buy items with provenance".

What are the histories ("provenance") of these pieces prior to their surfacing at Sotheby's? Who consigned them?

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails