Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bettany Hughes on the Sappho Papyrus


At the end of January 2014 Bettany Hughes commented that she had seen the new Sappho papyrus fragments. This was in preparation for her Sunday Times article that appeared on 2 February. In that piece it was claimed:
The elderly owner of our new Sappho papyrus wishes to remain anonymous, and its provenance is obscure (it was originally owned, it seems, by a high-ranking German officer), but he was determined its secrets should not die with him.
Yet now Dirk Obbink has rejected this in an interview published on 23 January 2015.
Obbink characterized Hughes' story as a "fictionalization" and an "imaginative fantasy."
Who is telling the truth here? Or have Hughes and Obbink both presented (perhaps unwittingly) separate 'fictionalised' accounts? What makes the collecting history presented by Obbink more trustworthy? What is the authenticated and documented collecting history for the papyrus?

Can we believe that the fragments came from the Robinson collection? Has Obbink provided sufficient compelling evidence?

And why did it take from 2 February 2014 to 23 January 2015 for Obbink to reject Hughes' account?

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Friday, January 23, 2015

'Fragments in time': reflecting on the Bothmer collection

Christos Tsirogiannis and I have published "“A Fracture in Time”: A Cup Attributed to the Euaion Painter from the Bothmer Collection" that is now available in the latest number of the International Journal of Cultural Property 21, 4 (2014) [DOI]. IJCP is published by Cambridge University Press.

The paper considers the issue of "orphaned" figure-decorated pottery fragments.

Abstract
In February 2013 Christos Tsirogiannis linked a fragmentary Athenian red-figured cup from the collection formed by Dietrich von Bothmer, former chairman of Greek and Roman Art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, to a tondo in the Villa Giulia, Rome. The Rome fragment was attributed to the Euaion painter. Bothmer had acquired several fragments attributed to this same painter, and some had been donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Other fragments from this hand were acquired by the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Princeton University Art Museum. In January 2012 it was announced that some fragments from the Bothmer collection would be returned to Italy, because they fitted vases that had already been repatriated from North American collections. The Euaion painter fragments are considered against the phenomenon of collecting and donating fractured pots.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

From Switzerland to Italy: further on the returns

Antiquities returned from Swiss-based dealer.
Source: MiBAC
For further details of the return to Italy see "Record €50m hoard of looted Italian antiquities unveiled by police", The Guardian January 22, 2015. LM is mentioned in the piece and I discuss the related documentation: "the documentation will likely point to objects that were now in top museums and would certainly be on the Italians’ list for repatriation".

It is likely that objects in European collections such as Amsterdam and Madrid will be investigated further.

For further details on Gianfranco Becchina see this overview and also this link.

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Objects in Rome revealed

The Sicilian press has started to report on the handover of some 5000 objects at the Terme di Diocleziano del Museo Nazionale Romano this morning ("Ricettazione internazionale: Restituiti 5 mila reperti storici", Live Sicilia January 21, 2015). This group appears to be formed by the objects seized from warehouses associated with Gianfranco Becchina in Basel who is named in the article.
In particolare, i carabinieri evidenziarono la figura di un intermediario – Gianfranco Becchina di Castelvetrano – il quale aveva curato la vendita del vaso al museo californiano.
The report discusses Becchina's links with the Asteas krater returned from the J. Paul Getty Museum, as well as the Getty kouros.

These developments should be considered against the letter issued by Becchina on 14 January 2015.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Recovered Antiquities: Rome Press Conference, 21 January 2015

I understand that there will be a press conference tomorrow (21 January 2015) at the Museo Nazionale Romano alle Terme di Diocleziano. It appears that there will be a statement about a major batch of recovered antiquities.

This is likely to be an important development. If it relates to the stock of a dealer, then there are implications for those museums, private collectors, and galleries that purchased from that same source.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The (un)authenticated collecting history of the newly surfaced Sappho papyrus fragments



Dirk Obbink has presented a paper on "Provenance, authenticity, and text of the New Sappho Papyri" at New Orleans, January 2015. (Why do academics continue to use the obsolete term "provenance" when they mean "collecting history"?)

I have commented on the previously stated collecting history before. Now it appears that a new account has appeared "It was one of two pieces flat inside a sub-folder (folder 'E3') inside a main folder (labelled 'Papyri Fragments; Gk."), one of 59 packets of papyri fragments sold at auction at Christies in London in November 2011". Obbink thus places the new Sappho fragment in the David M. Robinson collection (and for the text of the discussion of the catalogue see discussion by Roberta Mazza here).

Lot 1 of Christies South Kensington sale on 28 November 2011 contained the following:
59 packets of papyri fragments, approximately 20 x 45mm to 300 x 100mm, the majority in Greek, from various manuscripts containing texts in a variety of hands and including documentary, petitionary and literary excerpts, receipts, contracts and accounts. A number of fragments belonged to the collection of David M. Robinson, a large part of which was subsequently bequeathed to the Library of the University of Mississippi. The collection is briefly described by William H. Willis in 'The New Collections of Papyri at the University of Mississippi', Proceedings of the IX International Congress of Papyrology, 1961, pp.381-82. Two of the packets were part of the collection of P. Deaton.
Not all --- only "a number" --- the fragments came from the Robinson collection. There is, as yet, no photographic evidence that this Sappho fragment was included in this lot.

But let us suppose the fragment was indeed in a 'sub-folder' that had passed through the Christie's sale. When was the fragment placed in the sub-folder? Who placed it there? Is there a catalogue entry, or even better a photograph, conclusively linking the fragment to the Robinson collection?

Is it possible that the Robinson connection has been constructed?

Obbink needs to demonstrate the authenticated and documented collecting history of the fragment as soon as possible.

And why was Bettany Hughes' account of the collecting history apparently so wrong? How can that be explained?

Obbink continues to raise more questions than to provide answers.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Cultural Heritage in Syria and Iraq



There was a helpful series of presentations at the British Academy today, sponsored by the Council for Research in the Levant. This was followed by a constructive discussion.

Dr Sam Hardy's paper reminded us of the basis for the estimates for the value of antiquities coming out of Syria.

One of the lively sections was a discussion relating to the publication of recently surfaced cuneiform tablets especially by UK scholars. There was a call for research ethics committees in UK universities to consider the issue more carefully.

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Syrian Heritage in Crisis

A panel discussion will be taking place this afternoon (Friday 16 January 2015) at the British Academy to discuss the situation in Syria and Iraq.

Join a panel of experts to discuss cultural heritage in Syria, raise awareness of its Syrian dimension, to consider it within a regional and international context, and to look for any measures that might be taken to reduce the damage being wrought.  
Cultural heritage has become a serious casualty of the ongoing civil war in Syria as widely seen in media reports describing damage to archaeological sites for both military and ideological reasons, the looting of antiquities to order to support groups like Daesh, and the rise of the illicit antiquities trade. Although less immediately tragic than the humanitarian disaster unfolding across the country, the destruction and loss of community and cultural property represents catastrophic damage that directly affects people and society, with long-term harm to culture, identity and economy. 
Responses have been limited, but include efforts by the archaeological community to help the Syrians look after their heritage, including appeals made to fund training in curation and conservation, as well as assistance in identifying and monitoring the problems. These address the supply side of the problem of the illicit antiquities trade, but in the context of ongoing civil war such measures can only be limited. Less attention has been paid to the demand side of the antiquities trade, but this is an area where international action may have a far greater long-term impact.
I am particularly looking forward to hearing Dr Sam Hardy articulate his informed position on the situation (and see his "Conflict Archaeology" blog).

The event is sponsored by the Council for Research in the Levant.

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Collecting histories and objects

Readers of LM will know that I dislike the word "provenance". I have discussed the use of the term in an article in the Journal of Art Crime that can be found here.

Chris Chippindale and I suggested that we use the terms "archaeology" and "collecting history". Thus the find-spot is discussed under "archaeology", e.g. this core-formed glass alabastron was found in grave 172 of the Fikellura cemetery at Kameiros, Rhodes; or, this bronze oinochoe has no known find-spot. And collecting history charts the movement of the object from collector to auction house to museum, e.g. the Baron Icklesford collection; London market; the Hortenshaw Art Museum. (For an example of how to describe objects using this method see here.)

Yet I note that some persist in tying themselves in knots trying to explain what they mean by "provenance" or even "unprovenanced". For example, a discussion of a Late Roman treasure could have said, "we do not know where this found" (that is the "archaeology") but we know it passed through the hands of the following individuals and companies (that is the "collecting history").

So we could end up with the garbled statement: 'This "unprovenanced" Roman penknife has a "provenance" in a Soho private collection'. So let me rephrase this for clarity: "This Roman penknife has no recorded archaeological context but it formed part of a Soho private collection".

Academic readers please note: there really is no need to use the term "provenance". Find an alternative term for your publications.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Parthenon sculpture on loan

I popped in to see the empty plinth.

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