Monday, August 31, 2015

Palmyra: Temple of Bel destroyed

The BBC is now reporting that the Temple of Bel at Palmyra has been partially destroyed ("Syria's Palmyra Temple of Bel 'severely damaged' by IS", BBC News August 31, 2015). This is the latest in a sequence of deliberate destruction of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Minoan Larnax in the Michael C. Carlos Museum

I am much enjoying Adam Nicolson's The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters (London: William Collins, 2014). I love the weaving of the literary landscapes and the application of Homer's works to contemporary society. And I am about to move from "Grasping Homer" to "Loving Homer".

The book has a series of "Homeric" (broadly speaking!) colour images: a gold mask from the shaft graves at Mycenae; inlaid Myceanean daggers; representations of the Homeric narratives on Athenian black- and red-figured pottery; a writing tablet from the Ulu Burun shipwreck; the walls of Tiryns; the "Homeric" cup from Ischia; an Egyptian ivory cosmetic container; the Kypselid gold phiale from Olympia.

And I wait to see how this diverse group of objects are woven into Nicolson's narrative.

But I am not writing a review. Readers of LM can always get a copy of the book for themselves. [Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com]

So why am I writing about this book?

One of the colour plates shows "A Cretan bath from the mid-fourteenth century BC, one of the elements of Mediterranean civilisation most greedily adopted by Homeric Greeks".

The credit is "© Carlos Collection of Ancient Art, Emory University".


But wait. Is this the Minoan larnax that was acquired in 2002? Is this the Minoan larnax that appears in the Becchina photographic archive? Is this the Minoan larnax that the Greek authorities asked the Michael C. Carlos Museum to return back in 2007? Is this the larnax that was featured on LM back in 2008? (And see the museum's press release issued back in 2008.)

And we need to remember that part of Becchina's holdings was revealed in a major publicity event in Rome earlier this year. And this has implications for the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

Nicolson's book is a good reminder of why the museum staff at Emory University need to be contacting the Greek authorities as a matter of urgency. This case needs to be resolved not ignored. (See also the professional responsibilities for the museum.)

And of course the fish on the cover of the book (and elsewhere in the volume) rather evoke the fish on the Minoan larnax. So every time that I pick up this book I will be reminded of the larnax. And if readers of LM take up my suggestion, they too will be reminded of the larnax.

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The Becchina case continues

Ursula Kampmann has written about the continuing case of Gianfranco Becchina ("The Becchina case – or: a footnote to practical aspects of the return of cultural property", Coins Weekly August 27, 2015 [note that the article has been translated]). She notes that some 1278 objects were left without certain "provenance" --- what is clearly meant (and this is why I do wish that those writing about the market would differentiate between "collecting history" and "findspot") is that it was not possible to ascertain where those 1278 objects had been found. (And just to clarify, I suspect that the seized paperwork will provide some of the information about the "collecting history".)

Kampmann informs her readership that the 1278 objects could be returned to Palladion Antike Kunst for sale. But who would want to buy these objects? Could Greece, Turkey and who knows which other countries bring a claim once the objects have been matched to the paperwork? Buyers would be wise to be very cautious.

But it appears that 40,000 francs are outstanding as part of a court case and this has led to the confiscation of the 1278 objects. (And one can only think that if these items are unsellable, they are also likely to be valueless.)

Kampmann bewails the "incompetence of the authorities". But actually it highlights the network of deals and dealings surrounding this Swiss-based dealer.

Of course those who were buying directly from Becchina will now be very concerned that their actions will be revealed.


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Friday, August 28, 2015

Temple of Baal Shamin: satellite images of destruction

Palmyra, February 2014
The BBC has circulated images of the destruction of the temple of Baal Shamin at Palmyra (Jonathan Amos, 'Palmyra: Satellite image of IS destruction', BBC News August 28, 2015). The satellite shots were taken on 25 August 2015 - and there is a comparison shot of 22 May.

The Google Earth image was taken in February 2014, and the temple of Baal Shamin can be seen at the top of the picture.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

UNESCO on the Temple of Baal Shamin

UNESCO has issued a statement on the reported destruction of the temple of Baal Shamin at Palmyra.
UNESCO stands by all Syrian people in their efforts to safeguard their heritage, a heritage for all humanity


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Palmyra, Temple of Baal Shamin

Temple of Baal Shamin (Wood 1753)
It is being widely reported that the temple of Baal Shamin at Palmyra has been deliberately destroyed. The temple featured in Robert Wood's Temples of Palmyra, otherwise Tadmor, in the desert (London 1753). The ruins had been observed in 1751 (with James Dawkins).

The temple carries an inscription, dated to AD 130/31, in the wake of the visit of the emperor Hadrian to the city. The temple was initiated by Malé son of Yarhai.

Parts of the sanctuary are dated epigraphically to AD 23.

I was asked to comment for the BBC with live interviews this morning for BBC 24 and BBC World, and prerecorded interviews for BBC World Service and BBC1.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Marion True may put her side of the story

Geoff Edgers ("One of the world’s most respected curators vanished from the art world. Now she wants to tell her story", Washington Post August 20, 2016) reports on Marion True's notes for a memoir.
... today, for the first time, she is talking openly about the way she and her museum-world colleagues operated. Yes, she did recommend the Getty acquire works she knew had to have been looted. That statement, though, comes with a qualifier:
If she found out where a work had been dug up from, she pushed for its return. In contrast, many of her colleagues did little, if anything, to research a work’s source. None of them were put on trial.
She described her position on recently surfaced material:
“The art is on the market,” True said, describing the Getty’s collecting approach. “We don’t know where it comes from. And until we know where it comes from, it’s better off in a museum collection. And when we know where it comes from, we will give it back.”
I have commented on Marion True's position on a new ethical position before and raised issues about some of the material that was acquired during her curatorship.


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Monday, August 17, 2015

Roman altar stolen from Senhouse Roman Museum, Maryport

Source: News and Star
Various news sites are reporting that a red sandstone Roman altar from Maryport in Cumbria has been stolen from the Senhouse Roman Museum. It was found in 1880.

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Becchina and a Peucetian clay stamnos

Source: MiBACT
I have been reflecting on some of the objects returned to Italy in May 2015. One of the objects in the press photograph was a Peucetian clay stamnos that I had noted before, The Italian press release described it as follows:
Qualche tempo fa, la Sezione Elaborazione Dati del Comando CC TPC individuava queste straordinarie opere d’arte, in vendita all’asta Christie’s New York del 7.12.2011, tra quelle presenti nel c.d. Archivio BECCHINA. 
Gli ulteriori accertamenti investigativi condotti dal Reparto Operativo consentivano di accertare che tutti i beni erano riconducibili a scavi clandestini avvenuti negli anni 70-80 in Puglia. Dopo lo scavo, i beni erano giunti nelle disponibilità del BECCHINA. 
Le informazioni investigative, che confermavano le false attestazioni di provenienza ed origine presenti nel catalogo Christie’s così come fornite dal consegnatario e proprietario dei beni, consentiva all’ICE di sequestrare i beni che, in seguito alla confisca, venivano restituiti all’Italia. 
The identification had been made by Glasgow University researcher Dr Christos Tsirogiannis when it surfaced at Christie's New York in December 2011 (lot 154). As I noted at the time, the stamnos surfaced through Sotheby's New York in 1995.

It would be interesting to learn who consigned the piece to Sotheby's. Are there related pieces from the same source?

Note that it has taken 20 years for the partial collecting history to emerge. Will that be the same for material coming out of the present conflicts in the Middle East?

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

The scale of the returns to Italy

Source: MiBAC
I have been reflecting on the scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections. More than 280 items have been returned from major museums (though that does include a series of architectural terracottas from Princeton), just over 50 pieces from private collectors, and another 15 from dealers and auction-houses.

And then there are the other pieces that have been identified from the photographic archives but have not yet been returned.

We should not forget the items that have been returned to Greece and to Turkey.


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