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Showing posts from August, 2015

Temple of Bel at Palmyra destroyed: confirmation

Satellite imagery supplied by the UN has confirmed the destruction of the Temple of Bel at Palmyra (released via the BBC). There had been suggestions that the destruction had been partial.

"Credible provenance" and the Minoan larnax

Back in September 2008 the Michael C. Carlos Museum spoke about the importance of a "credible provenance" or "history of ownership" in a press statement responding to Greek claims for three items in the museum.

As far as I can see the museum has never presented the authenticated collecting history (sometimes obsoletely termed the "provenance") for the Minoan larnax in its collection.

I have read the documentation on this piece and the photographic evidence from the Becchina archive is compelling.

I am also aware that the positive identification was made by Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

We know that the "credible" collecting history for this larnax places it in the hands of Gianfranco Becchina. Why has it taken the Michael C. Carlos Museum seven years to ignore this "credible" evidence?

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.

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 p…

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 pape…

Temple of Baal Shamin: satellite images of destruction

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.

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 humanityDirector-General Irina Bokova firmly condemns the destruction of Palmyra's ancient temple of Baalshamin, Syria

Palmyra, Temple of Baal Shamin

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.

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 Mari…

Roman altar stolen from Senhouse Roman Museum, Maryport

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.
"Roman altar stolen from Maryport's Senhouse Museum", BBC News 17 August 2015Freya Findlay, "Appeal After Thieves Steal Roman Altar From Museum", News and Star, 17 August 2015

Becchina and a Peucetian clay stamnos

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 scale of the returns to Italy

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.


Heritage Crime Matters

My review article of two edited volumes has now appeared in the latest issue of Antiquity 89 (2015) 991-93 [Contents]:

DUNCAN CHAPPELL & SASKIA HUFNAGEL (ed.). Contemporary perspectives on the detection, investigation and prosecution of art crime: Australasian, European and North American perspectives (Farnham & Burlington (VT): Ashgate, 2014).

LOUISE GROVE & SUZIE THOMAS (ed.). Heritage crime: progress, prospects and prevention (Basingstoke & NewYork: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

There were a number of profitable contributions, perhaps my favourite being the essay by Dr Sam Hardy on 'Threats to cultural heritage in the Cyprus conflict'.
This essay resonates with the early 2015 debates about the looting of archaeological sites in Syria and northern Iraq during the present conflict with IS. A second important contribution was:
In Contemporary perspectives, Duncan Chappell and Damien Huffer bring a helpful perspective on the looting of archaeological sites in South…