Monday, April 24, 2017

The Tiberius and the Drusus heads

Tiberius and Drusus. Source: PIASA
Documented collecting histories are important. The portrait heads of Drusus Minor and Tiberius excavated at Sessa Aurunca have parallel histories.

Both passed through the sale of PIASA in Paris on 17-18 March 2003, lot  569, and 29 September 2004, lot 340. Both came from the same source ("Cette tête de même provenance que la tête vendue le 18 Mars 2003 ").

The Drusus was reported to have been purchased by Phoenix Ancient Art, who then sold it to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2012. It was displayed in the New York exhibition, "IMAGO: Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture", with the information that it had formed part of a 19th century Algerian collection ["Phoenix Ancient Art to Exhibit Collection of Roman Portraits, Unveil Its Newly Renovated New York Gallery", 29 November 2007].

The Drusus appeared in Randy Kennedy's article, "Museum Defends Antiquities Collecting" (originally from the New York Times, 12 August 2012). The article specifically states, "The Cleveland Museum’s new portrait of Drusus Minor has no ironclad record pre-1970". It is noted, "But the museum said it believed its history could be traced back to the late 19th century as the property of a prominent family in Algiers." The source for this collecting history is unstated though was in circulation in 2007. David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, was quoted, “We’ve done our due diligence and we feel that both these objects have a pre-1970 provenance” [the other piece was Mayan].

The Tiberius was purchased by the Royal-Athena Galleries and then sold to the US Private Collector. I am told that the private collector returned the head to Italy in January 2017.

It is unclear when the pieces were removed from the Antiquarium in Italy.

I am grateful to Dr Jerome Eisenberg for the additional information and clarification.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Drusus and Tiberius portraits from Sessa Aurunca

Drusus Minor. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
The return of the head of Drusus Minor to Italy from the Cleveland Museum of Art has been in part thanks to the diligent research of Giuseppe Scarpati. He has discovered the photographic records of sculptures discovered during the mid-1920s during the excavations of Sessa Aurunca.

The head of Drusus Minor is clearly recognisable from the archive photographs (Scarpati 2008-11: 357, fig. 7, 358 fig. 10). The head passed through PIASA in Paris in 2004, a source that is not without some interest. It was acquired from Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012. (See Gill 2013: 72 for oral histories and objects linked to this dealer, and with a specific mention to the portrait of Drusus.)

David Franklin, the then director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, defended the acquisition of the head at the time. (He resigned from the museum in 2013.) The museum is probably wishing that it had not claimed that the collecting history had been traced back to the 19th century.

The trail of the Drusus portrait had been identified by a companion piece. The head of Tiberius appears to be the one in a North American private collection ("The Magdalene Tiberius")  and published by John Pollini (Pollini 2005; Scarpati 2008-11: 361 figs. 11-14). It was reported to have formed an old French collection in Marseilles dating to the 1960s. It was said to have been found in North Africa (a good reminded of the intellectual consequences of collecting recently surfaced archaeological material). It was acquired by its present proprietors in 2004. The source appears to have been the Royal-Athena Galleries (Art of the Ancient World 15 [2004] no. 24; Scarpati 2014: 33 fig. 9). Will those owners be contacting the Italian authorities in the light of the return of the Drusus portrait?

It is interesting that the (recent) collecting histories of both portraits now do not seem to go back beyond 2004 (i.e. 34 years after the UNESCO Convention). What were their collecting histories immediately prior to 2004?

The Drusus Minor return is merely serving to open up the discussion. Was the Cleveland Museum of Art aware of Scarpati's research prior to the portrait's acquisition?

Now is probably also a good time for the museum staff to revisit the documented collecting history of the Leutwitz Apollo.

Bibliography

Gill, D. W. J. 2013. "Context matters: The Cleveland Apollo goes public." Journal of Art Crime 10: 69-75. [academia.edu]
Pollini, J. 2005. "A new marble head of Tiberius. Portrait typology and ideology." Antike Kunst 48: 55-72. [JSTOR]
Scarpati, G. 2008-11. "Un ritratto di Tiberio da Sessa Aurunca ritrovato note su un probabile ciclo Suessano di statue onorarie Giulio-Claudie." Rendiconti della Accademia di Archeologia Lettere e Belle Arti 75: 345-68. [Academia.edu]
Scarpati, G. 2014. "Il ritratto di Druso minore dal ciclo statuario Giulio-Claudio di Sessa Aurunca." Bollettino d’Arte 24: 29-38. [Academia.edu]

Press Release
"Cleveland Museum of Art to Transfer Roman Sculpture of Drusus Minor to the Republic of Italy", Cleveland Museum of Art April 18, 2017. [press release]
"Il Cleveland Museum of Art restituisce all’Italia una scultura romana di Druso Minore", MiBACT April 18, 2017. [press release]

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Cleveland Museum of Art to return portrait of Drusus

Drusus. Source: Cleveland Museum of Art
In 2012 the Cleveland Museum of Art purchased a portrait head of Drusus that was reported to be from "an old Algerian collection" (see earlier report). The head had been purchased from Phoenix Ancient Art.

It has been announced that the head will be returned to Italy (Steven Litt, "Cleveland Museum of Art returns ancient Roman portrait of Drusus after learning it was stolen from Italy in WWII", cleveland.com April 18, 2017). It is now understood that the portrait was excavated at Sessa Aurunca, Campania in the mid-1920s. It appears that the head was stolen from the museum there around 1944.

This now raises questions about the due diligence process surrounding the acquisition as well as other material handled by the same dealer. The curatorial team will no doubt be releasing the basis of their pre-acquisition enquiries.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

Image from Becchina Archive
The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities”
More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Seizures and a New York Gallery

Source: Becchina Archive
A New York Gallery seems to have been linked to a number of seized or returning objects:

The two pieces seized in 2017 were identified from the Becchina archive. 

The Rimini Venus was also reported to have been seized at the same gallery (Jan 2012). Other material from this source featured in an exhibition of returned antiquities in Rome (and see the earlier Nostoi). 

The unresolved case of identified pieces in Madrid includes material from the same source


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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Attic amphora from 'old Swiss collection' seized in New York

Source: Becchina archive
I understand that an Attic red-figured Nolan amphora attributed to the Harrow painter was seized from a New York Gallery on Friday. It shows a satyr with thyrsos.

The amphora features in Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xxvii (2016) no. 100.

The collecting history is as follows:

  • Swiss private collection
  • Royal-Athena Galleries 2000, sold in 2002; Art of the Ancient World xi (2000) no. 90.
  • C. H. collection, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • 2003-2015: exhibited, Yale University Art Museum

The Becchina archive suggests that it was acquired on 15 March 1993.

I am grateful to Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for the information about the seizure.

Beazley archive: 23408

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

More surfacings from Symes and Medici in London

Source: Schinousa Archive.
Dr Christos Tsirogiannis spotted three items that were auctioned in Westminster, London today.

It is a good reminder of the apparently poor due diligence process conducted by some sectors of the antiquities market.

a. Lot 49 Scythian rhyton. Sold: £3100. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.' As this seems to appear in the Schinousa archive it should be associated with the London dealer Robin Symes.

b. Lot 79 Silver Sycthian moose.
Sold: £2790. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.' This also seems to appear in the Schinousa archive indicating an association with Symes.
Source: Schinousa Archive.
Source: Medici Dossier

c. Lot 183. Roman head of a youth. Opening bid: £900. Collecting history: 'Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000.'  This head appears to be the one that features in the Medici Dossier seized in the Geneva Freeport.

These three examples suggest that owners of material that passed through the hands of Symes and Medici are now looking for less high profile ways of disposing of their collections. Notice that in all three cases the date of surfacing is said to be 'before 2000' yet clearly well after the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

I understand that the relevant UK and European police authorities have been informed of the auction.




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Is PAS transforming our knowledge of the past in England and Wales?

There is a new online book, Key Concepts in Public Archaeology, edited by Gabriel Moshenska (UCL Press, 2017) [Introduction]. Among the essays (and not all have been published on the site: I am told that there will be second batch) is one by Roger Bland, Michael Lewis, Daniel Pett, Ian Richardson, Katherine Robbins and Rob Webley on "The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales". It includes a section on the Staffordshire Hoard (though the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the Lenborough Hoard do not feature). The authors note that the hoard "appeals to a wide and diverse audience".

There is a discussion of the recording of finds, though no indication of the percentage of finds that are left unrecorded. The report touches on heritage crime:
It has sometimes been said as a criticism of PAS that it has not stopped illegal metal detecting in England and Wales, but this is for the simple fact that it was not intended to. This is an enduring problem and PAS staff are working closely with English Heritage’s Heritage Crime Initiative, which is run by a police inspector on secondment.
This is presumably an unsourced reference to the Forum piece for the Papers of the Institute of Archaeology entitled: "The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales?" (available online). (I am informed that senior members of PAS were invited to respond but declined.) Or the allusion could be to other discussions and debates. Who knows? It is telling that the authors continue:
This has had considerable success in targeting illegal detector users, known as ‘nighthawks’. However, it is important to put nighthawking in perspective: a survey commissioned by English Heritage in 2008 found that on two measures (the numbers of scheduled sites attacked by illegal detector users and the number of archaeological units that reported nighthawking incidences on their excavations), the number of cases has declined since 1995, when a previous survey was carried out (Dobinson and Denison 1995; Oxford Archaeology 2009).
Note that the most recent reference is for 2009 to the "Nighthawking" report (and see comments here). A review article I prepared for Antiquity (2015) raised this very issue and highlighted contemporary examples of unauthorised digging on scheduled sites (online). Are the authors of the article unwilling to draw attention to such activities?

The ineffectiveness of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act is noted.

The article makes mention of the 8,000-10,000 metal-detectorists who contribute to the reporting of finds ("contributor base"). This figures relates to a number Roger Bland produced in 2010. Does it need to be updated?

The article ends with a plea: "the PAS could benefit from more funding". But there needs to be a desire for the PAS to be seen to be protecting and preserving the rich archaeological heritage of England and Wales. And is this a realistic plea in an age of austerity?

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

The value of looting in Syria

Rick Noack has written a piece on the funding of IS ("The Islamic State’s ‘business model’ is failing, study says", Washington Post 17 February 2017) based on a report by London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King's College London and Ernst & Young.

The report states that the amount of money derived from IS from Antiquities is 'unknown' though it suggests that some $110-190 million was derived from looting, confiscations and fines (in 2016).

For my work in this area: "Context Matters: From Palmyra to Mayfair: the Movement of Antiquities from Syria and Northern Iraq", Journal of Art Crime 13 (2015) 73-80.


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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sarcophagus fragment: Greece, Basel, and New York

Source: Becchina archive
One month ago I was informed that a sarcophagus fragment had been seized from a New York gallery. The identification of the piece with an image in the Becchina archive had been made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It is worth reviewing the collecting history for the piece:

  • piece handled by Greek trafficker, Giorgos Ze[ne...]
  • 25 May 1988: Gianfranco Becchina paid SF 60,000 to Zene[]
  • Object placed in the Basel Freeport
  • Andre Lorenceau cleaned and then drilled the fragment to create holes for mount
  • April 1991: Swiss art market
  • Attributed by Dr Guntram Koch [date of attribution not provided]
  • 1992: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World vii, no. 57
  • 2000: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xi, no. 30
  • April 2000: Dr H collection, Germany
  • 2016: Royal-Athena Galleries, Art of the Ancient World xxviii, no. 6 [online] Price on Request
  • 2017, 14 January: fragment seized
  • 2017, 10 February: sarcophagus returned to Greece
The identity of the vendor on the Swiss art market in April 1991 is not made clear in the history. Who sold the sarcophagus fragment to the Royal-Athena Galleries? What other pieces have been derived from the same source? When did those transactions take place?

Will there be further clues in the Becchina archive showing how material passed from Switzerland to North America?

For further information and images see ARCA.

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