Friday, December 9, 2016

Vibia Sabina and the Kyknos krater

Dr Christos Tsiriogiannis has published a significant study of the routes by which the marble statue of Vibia Sabina and the Kyknos krater passed through the market.

Christos Tsirogiannis, "False Closure? Known Unknowns in Repatriated Antiquities Cases", International Journal of Cultural Property 23 (2016) 407-31. [Cambridge University Press online]

Abstract
Based on research into the confiscated photographic and document archives in the hands of the top antiquities dealers (Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides, Robert Hecht, Giacomo Medici, and Gianfranco Becchina), so far more than 250 looted and smuggled masterpieces have been repatriated from the most reputable North American museums, private collections, and galleries, mainly to the Italian and the Greek states. Most of these repatriations were advertised in the press as voluntary action by the institutions and the individuals who possessed them. However, this is far from true; the repatriations were the results of lengthy negotiations, where the presentation of evidence alternated with diplomatic tactics and legal threats in order for the two parties (in some cases, three) to reach an agreement. Among the much-celebrated repatriated antiquities are at least two cases that require further research regarding their legal owner. This article aims to analyze these two cases and to set out new questions. In the end, there is doubt that the state who finally received these antiquities is necessarily the one from which they have been looted and smuggled. Based on this analysis, the article aims to highlight alternative paths to the discovery of the truth, paths that might have been more effective, if they had been followed.

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

An Apulian Situla, the Becchina Archive, and a Munich Auction

Source: Becchina Archive
The forthcoming auction at Gorny & Mosch is due to include an Apulian situla attributed to the Lycurgus painter (Lot 87). The collecting history is presented:
Aus der James Stirt Collection, Vevey in der Schweiz, erworben 1997 bei Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich.
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has pointed out that an image of the situla appears in the Becchina archive. He notes: "A handwritten note indicates that the images were sent from Raffaele Montichelli, a convicted antiquities trafficker, to Becchina on 18 March 1988". The image shows that the situla is covered in salt encrustations and is presumably relatively fresh out of the ground.

It is known that part of the James Stirt collection was derived from Ellie Borowski (e.g. an Athenian black-figured cup that passed through Christie's London in 2014 [see Beazley Archive]). In this case the source is Heidi Vollmöller of Zurich.

Dale Trendall [not Sir John Boardman as in the catalogue] described the Lycurgus painter as representing "the culmination of the second phase of the 'Ornate'" (Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily, p.80).

The Becchina image suggests that this situla surfaced post-1970. The Munich auction-house needs to be seen to act responsibly, to withdraw the situla from the auction, and to contact the Italian authorities.


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Friday, December 2, 2016

A Gnathian squat lekythos and the Becchina Archive

Source: Becchina archive
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted that a Gnathian squat lekythos that is due to be auctioned by Gorny & Mosch (lot 127). The collecting history is provided:
Ex Christie´s London, 15.04.2015, ex 113; aus der Privatsammlung von Hans Humbel, Schweiz, erworben bei der Galerie Arete, Zürich in den frühen 1990er Jahren.
Tsirogiannis points out that the Becchina photograph is dated to 24 September 1988. The objects appear to have been supplied by Raffaele Montichelli.

The significance of the collecting history is that the object was offered for auction at Christie's (London) on 15 April 2015 (lot 113). This is one of four lots withdrawn from the Christie's sale after Tsirogiannis had raised concerns about their collecting histories. It is perhaps noteworthy that the online Christie's catalogue has removed information about the askos.

This raises a number of questions:

  • Was the askos sold at Christie's in spite of being withdrawn?
  • Was the askos returned to its vendor?
  • Is the vendor at Gorny & Mosch the same as at Christie's?
This raises further issues about the lack of sufficient rigour on the part of the team at Gorny & Mosch. Were they unaware of the controversy surrounding the askos at last year's sale?

Gorny & Mosch need to take responsible action and withdraw the askos from the auction and to contact the Italian authorities.


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Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Etruscan bronze athlete from an old Swiss collection

Source: Schinousa archive
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has drawn attention to four items in the December sale of antiquities at Gorny & Mosch in Munich.

I am particularly interested in the fifth century BC Etruscan bronze figure of a youth. The collecting history is given as follows:
Ex Sammlung R.G., Deutschland. Bei Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, 43. Ex Sotheby´s Catalogue of Antiquities 13. Juli 1981, 341.
If we tidy this up, it could be presented as:
R.G. Collection, Germany; Sotheby's (London) 13 July 1981, lot 341; Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, no. 43.
However if you check the Royal-Athena Galleries catalogue for 2010, the following collecting history is provided:
Athos Moretti collection, Bellinzona, Switzerland; Royal-Athena Galleries, 1985; R.G. Collection, Calodyne, Mauritius, 1985-2008.
From my notes on the piece I can provide a little more information:
Athos Moretti collection, Bellinzona, Switzerland; Sotheby's (London) 13-14 July 1981, lot 341; Royal-Athena Galleries, Catalogue IV, 1985, no. 185; Dr Leo Mildenberg for the R.G. Collection; R.G. Collection, Calodyne, Mauritius, 1985-2008.
I am curious about the information in the Gorny & Mosch catalogue:

  • Why is there no mention of the Athos Moretti collection in Bellinzona? What is the authenticated documentation that it was in this collection?
  • Why is there no mention of the Royal-Athena Galleries catalogue of 1985?
  • Why is there no mention of Dr Leo Mildenberg?
  • Why place the R.G. collection in Germany rather than Mauritius?

The more intriguing question is when was the bronze handled by Robin Symes? And why is there no mention of this?

It would be interesting to learn more about the collection of Dr Athos Moretti, not least because the Dallas Museum of Art is reported to have acquired a large part of his collection of jewellery in 1991.

It does suggest that the due diligence process for Gorny & Mosch needs to be tightened. For previous mentions of this auction house see Operation Ghelas.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Surfacings and Re-surfacings in Germany

Source: Schinoussa archive
Cambridge based archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogannis has made a number of new identifications for items that are due to be auctioned by Gorny & Mosch in Munich on 14 December 2016.

Below is a text based on Tsirogiannis' notes and reproduced with his permission.

1. An Etruscan bronze figure of a youth (lot 19)
Mid 5th century B.C.
Collecting history: 'Ex Sammlung R.G., Deutschland. Bei Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, 43. Ex Sotheby´s Catalogue of Antiquities 13. Juli 1981, 341'.
Tsirogiannis had previously identified the same figure from the Symes archive when it was on offer in the Royal Athena Galleries on October 2010. It was one of several pieces identified from the Medici and the Becchina archives. In January 2011 these identifications were presented in brief through 'Looting Matters' and by the Italian journalist Fabio Isman in Il Giornale dell'Arte (see here). It is unclear why this piece has resurfaced given the earlier discussion.

2. An Apulian red-figure situla attributed to the Lycurgus painter. (Lot 87)  
360 - 350 B.C.
collecting history: 'Provenienz: Aus der James Stirt Collection, Vevey in der Schweiz, erworben 1997 bei Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich'.
This situla is shown covered with soil and salt encrustations from an image in the Becchina archive.
A handwritten note indicates that the images were sent from Raffaele Montichelli to Becchina on 18 March 1988. this predates the collecting history presented by Gorny & Mosch.

3. An Apulian red-figure bell-krater attributed to the Dechter painter (Lot 88)
350 - 340 B.C.
Collecting history: 'Ex Galerie Palladion, Basel; ex Privatsammlung von Frau Borowzova, Binnigen in der Schweiz, erworben 1976 von Elie Borowski, Basel'.
The Gallerie Palladion [Antike Kunst] was associated with Becchina. An image from the Becchina archive shows the krater covered with soil and salt encrustations. The date printed on the image reads 'APR 4 '89' (4 April 1989), making almost impossible the attested involvement of Elie Borowski 13 years earlier in the collecting history of the krater.

4. A Gnathian squat alabastron with the bust of a winged woman with sakkos, attributed to the White Sakkos Painter (Lot 127)  
Apulia, 320 - 310 B.C.
Collecting history: 'Ex Christie´s London, 15.04.2015, ex 113; aus der Privatsammlung von Hans Humbel, Schweiz, erworben bei der Galerie Arete, Zürich in den frühen 1990er Jahren'.
This alabastron is also depicted in the Becchina archive in an image dating 24 September 1988, sent to Becchina again by Raffaele Montichelli. Again the date on the image is pre-dates the collecting history given by Gorny & Mosch.
However, the most significant element of this case is that it is the first example of an object reappearing after it was withdrawn following one of Tsiirgiannis' identifications.This alabastron was one of the two vases comprising lot 113, in Christie's 15/4/2015 antiquities auction in London. At that point the alabastron was among four identifications Tsirogiannis made and all four antiquities were withdrawn before the auction. All four cases and the image of the alabastron were published on the ARCA blog. It seems that the owner of the alabastron is trying to sell the vase in the antiquities market of a different country, thinking that Tsirogiannis would not notice the piece.

Tsirogiannis reports that Interpol as well as German and Italian authorities have been informed.

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Collecting histories and the Chesterman collection

Now that Bonhams has withdrawn an Etruscan antefix from its auction due to what appear to be links with the Medici Dossier it is important that the collecting histories of the Chesterman collection of terracottas are explored and investigated.

Are any of the sources for these terracottas ones that are already known from the hundreds of objects already returned to Greece and Italy?

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Anglo-Saxon jewellery declared treasure

A piece of Anglo-Saxon jewellery discovered by a metal-detectorist in a Norfolk field near Diss has been declared Treasure ("Anglo-Saxon find in Norfolk declared treasure", BBC News November 29, 2016; see also "Anglo-Saxon pendant: Norfolk student makes 'royal' find", BBC News February 27, 2015). A subsequent excavation showed that this came from a female burial.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Bonhams withdraws ex-Chesterman lot

Images courtesy of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis
Bonhams has withdrawn the Etruscan antefix from its sale of antiquities after images of what appeared to be the piece were identified by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis in the Medici Dossier.

The staff of Bonhams now need to reflect on their due diligence process and perhaps the auction house's use of "stolen" art databases. It has been pointed out at the APPG in Westminster that there are clear issues about the over reliance of such databases for identifying recently surfaced archaeological objects.

The decision to withdraw the lot will presumably imply a detailed analysis of the Chesterman collection and the origins of each of the terracottas.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Medici Dossier and the James Chesterman collection

Images from Medici Dossier. Source: Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has made another identification from the Medici Dossier. The piece in question is a 6th century BC Etruscan terracotta antefix that is due to be auctioned in London later this month (Bonhams 30 November 2016, lot 14). The collecting history ("provenance") is given as:
  • James Chesterman Collection (1926-2014), formed in the UK in the 1970s-2000. 
  • With À la Reine Margot, Paris, acquired in December 1986.
The antefix appears in two images, one as a standard Polaroid, the other as a record card for the Hydra Gallery. Hydra Galerie has been associated with Medici and has been discussed before, for example:
It is not clear why Bonham's has not mentioned Hydra Galerie in the collecting history. But note that on the card there is the annotation that the piece was to be assigned "v[ia] Londr[a]" with a value of $1,500.

The association with James Chesterman clearly has implications. I have listed some of his terracottas (and the associated bibliography) in:
  • David W. J. Gill. “Museum Supplement: Recent Acquisitions by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1971-1989.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 110 (1990), pp. 290–294. www.jstor.org/stable/631820.
I note that among the three examples I described was one that was acquired from N. Koutoulakis.

This new identification yet again raises issues about the due diligence process conducted by and on behalf of the auction houses. Staff at Bonhams are, I am sure, aware that the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill is passing through the UK Parliament at the moment and that it is in the interest of those involved with the sale of archaeological material to be seen to be taking action when concerns are raised about objects that surface on the market.

I understand that the relevant authorities in Italy and the UK have been informed.

For further discussion of the antefix see ARCA.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

So-called provenance and collecting histories

The latest number of the International Journal of Cultural Property (IJCP) 23.3 (August 2016) has a cluster of papers that will be of interest. The starting point is Elizabeth Marlowe's, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Provenance: A Response to Chippindale and Gill" [DOI], pp. 217-236.
In an influential article published in 2000, David Gill and Christopher Chippindale devised a scale to assess the quality of the provenance information provided for the antiquities displayed in seven recent high-profile exhibitions or collections. This article critically reviews Chippindale and Gill’s provenance scale, arguing that the values it encodes legitimize some of the more intellectually harmful practices of dealers and curators. The scale also fails to differentiate between more intellectually responsible methods of hypothesizing provenance and those that merely generate houses of cards. An alternative model for assessing how antiquities are discussed in museum scholarship, focusing on epistemological precision and reflexivity, is offered.
This is followed by:

  • Gill, David W.J. (2016) ‘Thinking About Collecting Histories: A Response to Marlowe’, International Journal of Cultural Property, 23(3), pp. 237–244. doi: 10.1017/S0940739116000187. 
  • Lyons, Claire L. (2016) ‘On Provenance and the Long Lives of Antiquities’, International Journal of Cultural Property, 23(3), pp. 245–253. doi: 10.1017/S0940739116000199. 
  • Bell, Malcolm. (2016) ‘Notes on Marlowe’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Provenance”’, International Journal of Cultural Property, 23(3), pp. 254–256. doi: 10.1017/S0940739116000205.

Marlowe concludes with:

  • Marlowe, E. (2016) ‘Response to Responses on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Provenance”’, International Journal of Cultural Property, 23(3), pp. 257–266. doi: 10.1017/S0940739116000217.

Essentially Marlowe concludes that the situation is even more bleak that the one that we had described.

My hope is that those discussing cultural property will stop using the obsolete word "provenance".


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