Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return. 
The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael H. Steinhardt, in 2010. Mr. Steinhardt lent the relic to the Met that year, but after learning that Lebanon was disputing its provenance, he asked the Beierwaltes to take it back and compensate him.
The London based dealer has not been named although other legal papers identify one of their sources (discussed by Christos Tsirogiannis, "Mapping the supply: usual suspects and identified antiquities in ‘reputable’ auction-houses in 2013." Cuadernos de Prehistoria y Arqueología 25 [2015] 107-44 [esp. p. 135] ).

William G. Pearlstein, who is acting for Beierwaltes is reported to have said:
“We believe the district attorney’s position is ill-founded, ... The Beierwaltes are bona fide purchasers with clean hands. By contrast, for more than 50 years, Lebanon has failed take any action domestically or internationally to report any theft of the bull’s head.”
As a point of correction, if the head was published 50 years ago, and the civil war was taking place in the 1980s, then the possible removal from the storage facility was only 30 years ago.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is quoted:
“Upon a Met curator’s discovery that this item on loan may have been stolen from government storage during the Lebanese civil war, the museum took immediate action. We contacted the Lebanese government and the lender, we took the item off display, and we have been working with federal and state authorities, which recently involved delivering the head of the bull to the Manhattan D.A. upon its request.”
I am sure that Beierwaltes will disclose the name of the London-based dealer who supplied the bull's head. From there it should be possible to identify the source of the head.

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The Toledo skyphos and a Swiss private collection

Source: Toledo Museum of Art

The Attic red-figured skyphos attributed to the Kleophon painter in the Toledo Museum of Art (inv. 1982.88) is now coming under further scrutiny following the research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis. The skyphos shows Hephaistos returning to Olympos.

Tsirogiannis has identified what appears to be this skyphos in five photographs in the Medici Dossier. The museum acknowledged that the skyphos had resided in a 'private Swiss collection'. Tsirogiannis suggests that this is probably a reference to Medici.

Enquiries to the museum by Tsirogiannis elicited the information that the skyphos had been acquired from Nicholas Koutoulakis (although that information does not appear on the museum's online catalogue).

The curatorial team at the Toledo Museum of Art will, no doubt, be contacting the Italian authorities to discuss the future residence of the skyphos.

For further discussion of the Toledo Museum of Art on LM see here.

Reference
Tsirogiannis, C. 2017. "Nekyia: Museum ethics and the Toledo Museum of Art." Journal of Art Crime 17: 77-87.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Metropolitan Museum of Art hands over Paestan krater

Detail of Paestan krater
Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
In May 2014 I commented on a Paestan krater acquired by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art after it had been identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in photographic images seized from Giacomo Medici. Tsirogiannis published his full concerns in the Journal of Art Crime in 2014, but it has taken a further three years for the museum to respond.

The krater showing Dionysos in a hand-drawn cart was purchased in 1989 from the Bothmer Purchase Fund (details from the Museum's website, inv. 1989.11.4). The krater surfaced through Sotheby's New York in June 1989.

It is unclear who consigned the krater to Sotheby's New York.

It has now been revealed that the krater has been handed over to the US authorities after a warrant had been issued (Tom Mashberg, "Ancient Vase Seized From Met Museum on Suspicion It Was Looted", New York Times July 31, 2018).

It appears that the museum did make an attempt to resolve the case in December 2016. Mashberg notes:
The Met, for its part, disputed the suggestion that it had ignored warnings about the vase. Officials said the museum had noticed Dr. Tsirogiannis’s published research in 2014 and, indeed, had been troubled by the reappearance of Mr. Medici’s name in connection with an artifact. They said they reached out informally to the Italian authorities then, but received no response. The museum said that in December 2016 it sent the Italian Culture Ministry a formal request to resolve the case. The Met said it was awaiting guidance from the Italians when Manhattan prosecutors alerted it in June to their own concerns.
It is to be welcomed that the museum has eventually responded to academic concerns.

It is a reminder to other museums that are holding material identified from the Becchina, Medici and Symes photographic archives that they need to engage with the due diligence process and to act ethically and professionally.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Protecting Heritage in Scotland

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

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Mithras relief from Tor Cervara

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

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

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

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Tiffany Jenkins on Cultural Property: AJA review

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

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The Perge Weary Herakles in Context

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

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

The full collecting history can be found here.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sevso Treasure acquired by Hungary

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

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

Who are the beneficiaries of these sales?

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Hobby Lobby Cuneiform tablets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Getty returns Fleischman Zeus to Italy

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

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

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

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