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Showing posts from December, 2010

Happy New Year!

I am very grateful to readers for their continuing support for Looting Matters. Your suggestions and feedback are a huge encouragement - thank you! I look forward to commenting on some of the key issues for 2011 in due course.

Image
© David Gill, 2010

Academic Debate Misunderstood By Washington Lobbyist

Washington paid lobbyist, Peter Tompa, has revealed his misunderstanding of the academic process in his discussion of the invited forum piece on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) that has appeared in the Papers from the Institute of Archaeology. The Institute of Archaeology is part of University College London (UCL).

Tompa asserted, "Archaeo-blogger David Gill has organized a forum on the PAS". Tompa could have read Brian Hole's editorial where it was stated, "We would like to thank David Gill for accepting our invitation to write the lead article".

Brian Hole, the Journal Manager for PIA, has now commented, "to set the record straight, the forum was indeed organised solely on the initiative of PIA". Indeed Hole notes, "We’re particularly grateful to David Gill for accepting our invitation to write the lead piece". It looks as if Tompa has once again misunderstood the issues; earlier examples can be found in Operation Baklava and Operati…

Ton Cremers

Ton Cremers has announced that he will be stepping down from moderating the Museum Security Network. Ton has provided an important service in collating a range of news stories and Web 2.0 sources for those of us who research in this area.

Thank you, Ton, for all your work.

Looting Matters: Overview of 2010

How did stories unfold? At the beginning of the year I looked ahead and suggested some developments.

Top of the list was the expectation that toxic antiquities would continue to appear. Bonhams offered a number of items that were identified from images in the Medici Dossier and the Schinoussa Archive at two sales this year (AprilOctober). The London press has started to comment on the phenomenon (see also here). Christie's in New York has also pressed ahead with the sale of material identified from the Medici Dossier in spite of a call for their withdrawal by the Italian State Prosecutor. Large numbers of Greek pots in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid have been identified from the Medici Dossier and the Schinoussa Archive (overview). Princeton University Art Museum also seems to be subject to a further investigation apparently unrelated to the Medici Dossier. The issues surrounding the Attic krater in Minneapolis is still unresolved.

Operation Andromeda saw the retur…

Benin Mask Withdrawn from Sale

Last week I drew attention to the sale of a Benin mask at auction in London. It has now been announced that the mask will be withdrawn (Rob Sharp, "Sotheby's cancels sale of 'looted' Benin mask", Independent December 29, 2010).

Protests against the sale emerged on social networking sites last week. An online petition was organised by the Nigeria Liberty Forum, which describes itself as a "UK-based Nigerian pro-democracy group"."They should seek good counsel and refrain from selling the mask," Orobosa Omo-Ojo, an official in the state government of Edo, which contains the modern city of Benin, told the press in Nigeria. "Anything that makes them ignore this call [from] the Edo state government will [make us] use this as a starting point to protect our intellectual properties."
This demonstrates that Sotheby's is responsive to concerns over long-standing cultural property issues. 

Debating the Portable Antiquities Scheme

I am grateful to the editorial team of the Papers from the Institute of Archaeology (UCL) to write a forum piece on the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act. Brian Hole gives the background in his editorial.

This is now available online with responses from:
Trevor Austin, General Secretary, National Council for Metal DetectingPaul BarfordGabriel Moshenska, Institute of Archaeology, UCLLord Renfrew of KaimsthornSally Worrell, Portable Antiquities SchemeThere is a final response from me.


Benin Cultural Property at Auction

I have commented on Benin cultural property before. I do not wish to discuss the matter further here due to the holiday season but I draw the attention of readers to the post by S. Okwunodu Ogbechie.

Christmas Greetings

I would like to extend Christmas Greetings to all readers of Looting Matters from a snow-bound South Wales.

Happy Christmas! Nadolig Llawen!
As a special treat I share a video from the North Point iBand ... I expect all iPad, iPhone and iPod users to be be joining in.



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Singleton Park, Swansea, December 2010 © David Gill


Antiquities seized in Germany

It has been reported that 15 antiquities, some stolen from the Baghdad Museum, have been seized at Krefeld in Germany. It looks as if those handling the material will escape prosecution.

Germany does not have a good record for handling recently-surfaced antiquities (e.g. Apulian helmet). There have also been concerns that antiquities from Iraq are using Germany as a route to the market.

Culture Monster and Minneapolis

In 2005 a reporter from the LA Times showed the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) a photograph that linked an Attic red-figured krater to a wider investigation into recently-surfaced antiquities. Now "Culture Monster" at the LA Times has noted (December 21, 2010) the Lee Rosenbaum's coverage of the story.
Questions are being raised about whether the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is coming sufficiently clean about an ancient Greek vase in its collection, which has been linked to antiquities dealers involved in tainted acquisitions by the Getty.MIA Director, Kaywin Feldman, is probably regretting writing a letter to the New York Times that drew attention to her thinking on cultural property. And her position is important because she is also President of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).

But there is another aspect to this story. The krater is reported to have been acquired by the MIA on the recommendation of Michael Conforti, then head curator at the museum.…

The Medici Dossier and the Minneapolis krater

Lee Rosenbaum has asked the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) a series of key questions about the Attic red-figured krater acquired in 1983 reportedly on the recommendation of Michael Conforti ("Transparency Gap: Minneapolis Institute Refuses to Discuss Greek Hot Pot", Culturegrrl December 20, 2010). Her starting point is a letter to the New York Times by Kaywin Feldman, director of the MIA and president of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), where she noted "the highest principles of collecting and stewardship of their collections".
Rosenbaum rightly shows that this is not a new story. She links to a statement made by MIA in November 2005 (i.e. over five years ago). She also notes that the MIA confirms that the statement as reproduced is accurate. In other words staff at MIA had been shown an image of the krater by a reporter from the Los Angeles Times.

The image, as Rosenbaum reminds us, is derived from the Medici Dossier. It shows the krater still …

German Courts and an Apulian Helmet

Last week a German court rejected an Italian claim on a helmet that is alleged to have been removed from an archaeological context in Apulia (Sabine Deckwerth, "Prozess um einen Paradehelm Italien verlangt einen wertvollen antiken Kopfschutz zurück - und zog deshalb vor das Verwaltungsgericht", Berliner Zeitung December 10, 2010). The Italians claim it came from illicit activity in 1993 ("Der hegte einen Verdacht: Dass der Helm aus einer Raubgrabung in Apulien im Jahre 1993 stammt.") The helmet, dating from between 900 and 700 BCE, then passed to the Axel Guttman collection, and after his death in 2001 was offered on the London market (2002). It was spotted in a catalogue by an Italian academic, and in 2004 Italian authorities submitted a claim; the helmet was seized pending the court case.

The German judge has stated that the Italian authorities were unable to demonstrate that the piece had been looted or been able to show when the helmet entered Germany ("Ma…

Operation Carolina Mosaico: Expoliadores arrested in Spain

In November it was reported that four individuals had been arrested in Spain following looting from a Roman cemetery ("España: descubiertos restos robados de una necrópolis de Córdoba", AFP, November 16, 2010; "Spanish police recover relics from Roman necropolis", AFP November 16, 2010). One of those arrested was a Belgian-Lebanese male who was reported to be linked to the consignment of marble column-base, valued at 150,000 euros, to Christie's in London. The finds recovered included a Roman mosaic, prehistoric axes and 800 Arab and Roman coins. It was said that "police were still searching for the mastermind behind the network".

There seems to have been a development ("Cae una red que expoliaba y subastaba en Internet piezas arqueológicas", EFE Newswire December 10, 2010). It is reported that there have been some 85 arrests in several provinces: Madrid, Sevilla, Córdoba, Jaén, Málaga, Granada and Valencia. This is part of an operation know…

New York market: update

A year ago it looked as if the New York antiquities market was in decline. The results from Sotheby's and Christie's this week show that there has been a massive upturn, bolstered by the Antinous at Sotheby's and the Cycladic marble figure at Christie's. Together they accounted for over $40 million (out of $79 million achieved this week).

Over $133 million worth of antiquities have been sold at the two auction houses this year. (The second highest year, 2007, only reached $55 million.)

Sotheby's seems to be well ahead of Christie's in the period from 1999 to 2010.

Chart
© David Gill, 2010

Cycladic on the New York market

I have commented before on the appearance of a marble Cycladic figure, attributed to the 'Schuster Sculptor', on the New York market. Max Bernheimer is no doubt relieved to find that the figure fetched a record $16,882,500 yesterday [press release]. Bernheimer is quoted:
Christie's Antiquities Department made history once again, achieving $34 million, the highest total for an Antiquities sale at Christie’s and selling the exceptional Cycladic marble reclining female figure for an amazing $16.8 million, a world auction record for a Cycladic marble figure and the highest price achieved for an ancient work of art ever sold at Christie’s.The Christie's sale fetched $34,092,875, a little behind Sotheby's at $45 million. But this means some $79 million worth of antiquities were sold at two New York auction-houses this week.

AAMD President "taken aback" on cultural property debate

I am grateful to Lee Rosenbaum of Culturegrrl for her comment on Kaywin Feldman's letter to the New York Times (December 7, 2010) on the return of material from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to Egypt. Feldman is president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. She was responding to a NYT editorial, "Repatriating Tut" (November 29, 2010), that drew attention to Hawass' attempts to reclaim the mummy mask acquired by the St Louis Art Museum.
Egypt has rightly been demanding that governments and museums return fundamental parts of its patrimony that have disappeared from ancient troves. It has had no success thus far with a 3,200-year-old burial mask at the Saint Louis Art Museum, a bust of Nefertiti in Germany, or the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.Hawass takes the view that the mask was removed from one of the archaeological stores in Saqqara.

Feldman claimed to be "taken aback" by the edi…

Antiquities on the New York market: update

The results of today's sale of antiquities at Sotheby's have been released (see also Clarence Day collection results). Over $45 million worth of antiquities were sold over the last two days, of which $12 million were Egyptian antiquities. It looks as if the market is growing with over $63 million worth of antiquities sold at Sotheby's this year.

Since 1998 some $64 million worth of Egyptian antiquities have been sold at Sotheby's, representing approximately one fifth of sales. Some 65% of Egyptian antiquities surfacing on the market through Sotheby's in the same period do not appear to have a documented collecting history pre-dating 1973 (the date of the AIA declaration). Approximately 95% of the Egyptian antiquities do not have a recorded find-spot.

Chart
© David Gill, 2010

Martin Carver on sums paid to treasure hunters

Professor Martin Carver, editor of Antiquity, discusses recent metal-detecting finds in his December 2010 editorial.
... why should we pay a treasure hunter 1000 times more than an archaeologist to dig up an object? Even to my politician, it seems pretty obvious that new finds like this year’s Crosby Garrett Roman helmet need to be in a museum where people can see them; and equally obvious that the sums of money paid to treasure hunters are as absurd as their public adulation. Two million pounds for the helmet and three for the Staffordshire hoard – these are sums that could keep a small museum going for several years.
There is a huge debate in the United Kingdom about the value of Arts and Humanities. Craver concludes his editorial with this:
Archaeology is in the business of understanding the climate, the soil, society, religion, conflict, commerce, living together: no minor matters. It is as important as every other science, from medicine to space travel, and its findings have a perm…

Clarence Day sale: results

The sale of the Clarence Day collection took place at Sotheby's yesterday (December 7, 2010) with a staggering $36,769,250 achieved [results].

The bust of Antinous, lot 9, fetched $23,826,500 (estimate $2-3 million). The marble was found at Banias (Caesarea Philippi) by M. Pérétié, Chancellor of the French Consulate, Beirut (1879-1882). It then has a well documented collecting history (and even passed through the hands of Robin Symes).

A green porphyry sphinx, lot 25, fetched $5,234,500 (estimate $800,000-$1,200,000). It had surfaced through Hagop Kevorkian, New York, and was "probably acquired before World War II".

A polychrome ushabti, lot 27, achieved $1,314,500 (estimate $200,000-300,000). It was known from a Cairo collection in the 1920s.

The Cycladic figure, attributed to the Rogers sculptor (Lot 6), fetched $332,500 only just within the estimate ($300,000-500,000).


Bernheimer on a Cycladic 'Masterpiece'

I have noted earlier the forthcoming sale of a Cycladic marble figure attributed to the 'Schuster Sculptor'.

Max Bernheimer of Christie's has spoken in a short video about the forthcoming auction of the reclining figurine:
G. Max Bernheimer, International Head of Antiquities showcases a Cycladic marble figure, one of the few sculptures attributed to the Schuster Master. The idol is one of the most iconic sculptural types to have survived from antiquity and is the highlight of Christie's Antiquities sale in New York on 9 December.Bernheimer seems so out of touch with Cycladic scholarship that he still uses the now obsolete nomenclature. I have noted elsewhere:
One change in G-G's approach has been the abandonment of the term 'Master' in favor of 'Sculptor' (though still in upper case). In G-G's earlier work, she explained: 'The term master is used throughout ... to denote a craftsman who was thoroughly competent in his profession although not n…

Princeton: correction

I am grateful to a reader for pointing out that Catherine Duazo's article on acquisitions by the Princeton University Art Museum has been updated. It now states:
In June 2010, the Italian government accused the Princeton University Art Museum’s antiquities curator, J. Michael Padgett, of acquiring nearly two dozen Italian artifacts for the museum that were the property of the Italian government. The University conducted an internal investigation and is now waiting for the Italian government's response.It should be noted that the New York Times disclosed the Italian papers in June 2010.

There is an additional note at the end of the article:
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that J. Michael Padgett was accused of illegally donating artifacts to the Princeton University Art Museum when, in fact, he allegedly assisted in the artifacts' acquisition from an alumnus.This story is about the due diligence process conducted by a curatorial member of staff at the Prin…

Princeton: antiquities with a "period of uncertain whereabouts"

The Princeton University Art Museum has attracted some attention in recent years. In 2007 the museum returned some items to Italy though it has yet to disclose (unlike Boston's Museum of Fine Art, and the J. Paul Getty Museum) the complete collecting histories for the objects. However it appears that some of the items feature in the Medici Dossier.

More recently, in June 2010, it was reported that the museum has been mentioned in papers relating to Edoardo Almagià, a New York dealer. The appearance of Almagià is not without significance as his name has been linked to objects returned to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Almagià has responded to the story with an interview. The Princeton curator mentioned in the Italian report has also given an interview.

Now Catherine Duazo ("Art museum acquisitions face scrutiny over past ownership", Daily Princetonian November 30, 2010) has commented on the Alamagià story.
In June 2010, the Italian government accused the Princeton…