Nov 29, 2007
The Spoliation Advisory Panel has issued a decision on a claim for three works by Rubens, St. Gregory the Great with Ss. Maurus and Papianus and St. Domitilla with Ss. Nereus and Achilleus 1606–1607; The Conversion of St. Paul, c.1610–1612 (pictured here); and
The Bounty of James I Triumphing Over Avarice, for the ceiling in the Banqueting House, Whitehall, c.1632–1633. The panel's full report on the case is here.
The panel is an alternative to legal action, which rules on both the legal claims but also the broader ethical questions implicated in these disputes. The panel issued its ruling Wednesday that art collector Franz Koenigs lost these works due to "business/economic reasons" and not to the Nazis. A translation of the Dutch Wikipedia page on Koenigs is here. Christine Koenigs, the granddaughter of the collector sought the three Rubens from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. The panel ruled these three works had been used as collateral to a bank in Hamburg. The bank then moved to the Netherlands, and in 1940 it liquidated its assets before the Nazi invasion, thereby calling in Koenigs' loan.
Nov 27, 2007
Some of the criminal charges against Marion True have been dropped in Greece. Marion True was accused of illegally acquiring this 4th c. BC gold funerary wreath. The wreath had been returned to Greece back in March.
True still faces charges for illegally possessing a dozen antiquities found at her holiday home in Paros last year.
The Hellenic Society for Law and Archaeology has a good overview of the decision. The criminal act allegedly took place in the US, but according to US law was a misdemeanor. As the prosecution took place over five years ago the charges were dismissed. I'm a bit unclear what the US law in question may have been, perhaps future news reports will update that, and I'll post an update when i learn more. In the end the result isn't surprising. Surely if serious wrongdoing was implied then the federal prosecutors would have been eager to pursue a prosecution under the NSPA, or at the least initiate forfeiture proceedings.
Is it any wonder that 7% of the Italian GDP comes from Mafia crime? The Italian city of Catania on Sicily has announced the disappearance of 51 works of art, after a 1995 document regarding their disappearance was recently "rediscovered" and provided to the carabinieri. The works were taken from the art gallery, housed in the Ursino castle pictured here, and were discovered by a new Catania councillor responsible for culture, Silvana Grasso. This is probably not the kind of news Francesco Rutelli wanted on the heels of the discovery of what may be the Lupercale, under Augustine's palace on the Palatine Hill.
At least one step which should be taken by all museums, and even individuals who own art, is to take a photo of the works. One of the works stolen is a Rembrandt, but there's no photograph of the work, rendering recovery nearly impossible. If there's an image, recovery is possible. Ask Peter Crook, who recovered two works by his grandfather GF Wetherbee from the US via the Art Loss Register.
Nov 25, 2007
There appears to be some rare good news in Baghdad of late. There are indications that attacks in Iraq are way down. Also, John Swain of the Sunday Times reports today on the likely reopening of the Baghdad Museum next month, according to Amira Emiran the acting director.
Visits will be confined to just two galleries on the ground floor containing Assyrian and Islamic treasures that are too large and heavy to be easily removed. The remaining 16 galleries will remain empty and closed and security will be tight. Nevertheless, Iraqi and American officials are keen to portray the opening as a sign that security in Baghdad has improved after the chaos of the past few years...
The Assyrian Hall has monumental sculptures, including stone panels from the royal palace at Khorsabad and two winged bulls. The other large gallery that is opening, the Islamic Hall, has the eighth century mihrab from the Al-Mansur mosque in Baghdad. It is also hoped to display 10 monumental Parthian sculptures from Hatra in the courtyard which links the two galleries and through which visitors will pass.
The decision was welcomed by Matthew Bogdanos, a colonel in the US Marine Corps reserves, who investigated the theft and destruction of thousands of artefacts from the museum and from thousands of Iraq’s poorly protected historic sites where looting has been conducted “on an industrial scale” since the war.
Bogdanos, a New York prosecutor, said: “I don’t know if there is any such thing as a right or wrong moment to open the museum. But great things are won by great risk and the museum should open and it should stay open. If it means doubling security, then double security.”
Estimates of the number of missing objects vary, but about 10,000 objects are probably still missing, out of a total of 15,000 objects taken. One piece still missing is the ivory plaque pictured above, Lioness Attacking a Nubian, 8th c. BC. News of the reopening is welcome news, especially given it was seldom open to the public in the two decades preceding the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The announcement was made last week at the meeting of UNESCO's International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Iraqi Cultural heritage.
The news from Iraq is not all good however. The Bush administration is tempering its goals in Iraq, as military progress has been gained but the US will begin its major drawdown of troops following the "surge", (i.e. escalation). US Officials are lowering their expectations, dropping plans for an oil-sharing plan and regional elections. The increase has yielded some important military successes, reflected in the decrease in attacks, but this military presence is not sustainable. One wonders if the decision to reopen the museum was made by Iraqi's or if it was encouraged by their American counterparts. Even if it were the latter, the fact that Iraqis may now be able to view some objects safely is perhaps cause for cautious optimism.
Nov 20, 2007
The "Arts, Briefly" section in today's New York Times has a couple of interesting points today. First, Marion True went on trial in Greece for conspiring to acquire a gold funerary wreath, alleged to have been removed from Greece. Also, a judge in Pesaro, Italy dismissed a local prosecutor's claim to the "Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth" found by fisherman in the Adriatic and currently on display at the Getty. When a repatriation agreement was reached in August for 40 other objects, Italian authorities said they would consider their case after the case in Pesaro was resolved.
Along those lines Lee Rosenbaum has an interesting series of posts on how to create a "ceasefire in the cultural property wars". She makes a number of excellent suggestions, including a need for full disclosure of acquisition policies, and to create a "consistent handling" of repatriation proposals. I agree with both those suggestions.
I have to raise some issues with her discussion of a consensus for future acquisitions. She gives the three dates normally given as cutoffs for new acquisitions:
- 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention;
- 1983, the date the US implemented the Convention with the CPIA; or
- A 10-year "rolling rule" advocated by the Association of Art Museum Directors.
Those are all plausible dates, but I think Rosenbaum misses the point in discussing the Getty's new acquisition policy, and how it relates to the Getty Bronze. First, here's the Getty's revised acquisition policy:
For the acquisition of any ancient work of art or archaeological material, the revised policy requires:
* Documentation or substantial evidence that an item was in the United States by November 17, 1970 and that there is no reason to suspect it was illegally exported from its country of origin OR
* Documentation or substantial evidence that the item was out of its country of origin before November 17, 1970 and that it has been or will be legally imported into the United States, OR
* Documentation or substantial evidence that the item was legally exported from its country of origin after November 17, 1970 and that it has been or will be legally imported into the United States.
Rosenbaum then argues, "good faith counts. And it seems to me that this is the best argument for returning the Getty Bronze: There was plenty of 'reason to suspect it was illegally exported from its country of origin,' and plenty of people DID suspect it, at the time of the acquisition."
I think Rosenbaum misses the point of the new acquisition policy, because if the Getty were deciding whether to acquire the Bronze today, based on its new acquisition policy it could certainly do so. To be fair, you have to think like a lawyer. The "or" is critical. The Getty could hypothetically acquire the statue if any one of the three clauses are satisfied; it doesn't have to satisfy all three. The statue was found in international waters in 1964. Even assuming Italy was its "country of origin" the statue had left Italy by 1970, and it certainly was legally imported into the United States; as at that time the US did not enforce Italy's export restrictions. It's also worth remembering that absent a treaty agreement the US does not enforce the export restrictions of another nations. The reasons for that policy are complicated, and often don't seem to have a solid policy foundation, but that's the general rule followed in both the US and the UK.
These are difficult issues to be sure, but as I've argued I don't think Italy has a strong ethical or legal claim to the statue. Greece perhaps has an ethical claim, but not Italy. The most likely reason for the statue ending up in the Adriatic is it was taken from Greece, probably by Romans.
Nov 19, 2007
BBC News has an overview of the sentencing of a Family of 3 Art forgers from Bolton, UK. Pictured here is the "Amarna Princess" a fake Egyptian statue which the Bolton Council purchased for more than £440,000. A gallery of a number of the forgeries is here.
Shaun Greenhalgh, 47, has been jailed for four years while his 83-year-old mother, Olive, has been given a 12-month suspended sentence for her part in the con. His father, George, 84, is to be sentenced at a later date.
For successful forgers, the trio had an unremarkable lifestyle. Despite having £500,000 in the bank they lived "in abject poverty", said police. Olive had never even left Bolton.
Much of the reporting of this arrest and sentencing focuses on the criminals themselves. Shaun Greenhalgh, 47, and his 83-year-old Mother and 84-year-old Father. I however agree with David Gill who asked back in October "[W]hat checks were made? Who made them? And who double-checked in the [National Arts Collection Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund]?" From what I can gather, the checks were made, but the letters and other fake provenance was fabricated cleverly to appear genuine. In a market where few checks are made, these probably were far more comprehensive than what usually passes for provenance. Of course there is an eagerness to acquire valuable objects which can sometimes cloud judgment. This story echoes the Getty's purchase of an unprovenanced Greek kouros, which was purchased in 1983. As far as I know it is displayed today as "Greek, 530 B.C. or modern forgery".
Of course provenance research could alleviate some these problems, but the current state of the antiquities trade relies on limiting information rather than providing a full picture. If a man living with his parents in Council Housing can fool authenticators at the British Museum and auction houses, isn't it time for more thorough research when objects are bought and sold? I think so. The sad reality is that these fakes came with far better provenance information than many antiquities which are bought and sold today.
Nov 16, 2007
Newly discovered antiquities are “mixed goods.” They have a physical component (the object itself) and an intangible component (the archeological and historical information associated with the discovery). This dual nature justifies government intervention into the market, not to capture the positive externalities associated with the antiquity, but to minimize the negative externalities associated with the law of finders. When the typical finder excavates an antiquity, its historical and archeological information is severely damaged, if not destroyed. In response to this problem, source countries have enacted state ownership/retention statutes. These laws, however, have their own negative externalities. They create incentives for finders to turn to the black market to secure financial compensation and to destroy the historical and archeological information to make it more difficult to catch them. This raises the issue of which is worse: market failure or government intervention failure?
Source countries need to create a stronger incentive for finders to report their finds. In theory, this is easy: Pay the finders more. In practice, this is difficult because source countries tend to be antiquities-rich but revenue-poor. A possible solution is a “possessory estate and future interest approach” to newly discovered antiquities. If the finder reports the find, he receives a transferable term of years and the source country receives the future interest. A transferable term of years creates an incentive for the finder to go public with the find—the finder can profit from his or her discovery. The source country receives ultimate ownership of all newly discovered antiquities at minimal cost (Western museums will be the likely purchasers; they will pay for the cost of creating the incentive). A possessory estate and future interest approach could help end the current feud between source countries and Western museums, two entities that should work together to secure and protect newly discovered antiquities, not waste resources fighting each other.
It's an interesting approach. Wendel justifies his claim by using a law and economics rationale. What he's advocating is a kind of antiquities leasing, similar in concept to the practice in both England and Wales, and Scotland of rewarding finders. He starts from the position that the strong source regulation of nationalizing antiquities and prohibiting their export does not work. I think most can agree the current legal regime is not working. He then advocates giving finders a kind of limited temporary right, known in the Anglo-American legal system as a "possessory estate" and a "future estate" or ultimate vesting right would go to the source nation. That would allow finders of antiquities to profit off their discoveries, while allowing the source nation to ultimately receive ownership of the object.
In essence he's making an interesting claim for the use of antiquities leasing and a renewal of the idea of partage, the traditional practice whereby foreign archaeologists would get to take a portion of the discovered objects back to their European or N. American institutions. It's a pragmatic compromise, and one that may work well in practice. I envision substantial hesitation on the part of source nations to enacting such a system though.
I would welcome a discussion of the merits of this idea in the comments section.
Nov 15, 2007
Culture minister Francesco Rutelli, as well as actors and opera singers, appeared on the state broadcasting channel RAI to describe the plight of the country's monuments, many left unprotected for lack of funds.Seven monuments were selected to receive the money raised by viewers. These included: Augustus's villa on the Palatine Hill in Rome, where the frescoes and flooring are decaying from exposure to sun and rain; the village and surrounding area of Santa Maria del Cedro in Calabria, an important site associated with the Enotrians, an early Italic tribe; the Racconigi Royal Park in Cuneo, an English-style romantic 18th-century garden in which the first Italian pineapples were grown, where the 19th-century greenhouse needs conserving; a museum for visually impaired people in Ancona that allows visitors to run their hands along reproductions of sculptures and archaeological finds; a Punic necropolis in Sardinia, dating back to the fourth century BC; Cremona's centre for the restoration of antique musical instruments which specialises in antique violins and the 19th-century railway line which connects the Sicilian baroque towns of Syracuse, Modica and Ragusa.
Donations are still possible. The fundraising target was $5 million, while it seems close to $4 million has been raised so far. If more funds are needed, might Italy consider selling or leasing some of its antiquities? That probably wouldn't be a popular decision in Italy, but might help reduce the illicit trade.
BERLIN (AP) — A new office within Germany's Institute for Museum Research is opening in January to help identify and research art stolen by the Nazis, Germany's culture minister said Wednesday.
The office, which comes under the State Museums of Berlin, will help museums, libraries and archives identify items that were taken from their rightful owners during the Nazi period, Culture Minister Bernd Neumann said.
"I expect from this an important push in Germany in the clarifying of restitution questions," he said.
Neumann founded a working group to look into how to deal with restitution issues, after Berlin sparked controversy with a decision last year to return Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's "Berlin Street Scene" to the heirs of a Jewish collector who said the Nazis forced the family to sell it in the 1930s.
Some art experts questioned whether the expressionist work was sold under duress and whether its return was legal.
With the new office, which has a $1.47 million annual budget, Neumann said he hoped the restitution process would be better coordinated and more transparent.
Nov 13, 2007
Prices for Russian art, books, manuscripts and historical memorabilia have risen rapidly since 2000, and this has been accompanied by an increase in thefts from Russian museums and archives. In August 2006, the Hermitage disclosed that 226 Russian works of art had been stolen by staff over the previous decade.
Will any charges ensue? Someone made up a provenance for these objects somewhere between their theft in Moscow and consignment to Christie's. I'd imagine it wasn't the final consignor though, these letters probably passed through a few hands first, and were "laundered". Perhaps not enough to justify their sale, but probably enough to preclude criminal charges or an investigation.
Nov 12, 2007
That's a fundamental question which plagues criminal penalties for the theft of cultural property, and it often plays out in the decision-making of individual law enforcement officers, judges and prosecutors. The latest example is the laudable recovery and return today of two500-year-old maps stolen from Spain's National library earlier this year; one of which is this map which shows the recently discovered new world. Paul Hamilos has an overview from Madrid in today's Guardian. I commented on the recovery of one of these maps back in October, after it was sold on eBay. The FBI press release from Nov. 8 is here.
The thief, Cesar Gomez Rivero is a 60-yar-old Spanish citizen of Uruguayen descent who is a resident of Argentina. He sent his lawyer to negotiate an immunity deal with a judge in Buenos Aires in exchange for handing over 8 of the 19 stolen maps. The judge rejected the deal and was able to keep the maps. Apparently he used a Stanley knife to cut pages from the collections at the national library. Eleven maps have been recovered in total, in the UK, Australia, Argentina, and the US.
Nov 10, 2007
Sacred lands are indeed under attack. Developers are willing to pillage such lands whenever profitable. By way of example, as the Times piece explained, an energy development company threatens to build a $4 billion oil refinery atop lands believed to be the final resting place for Quechan ancestors. And, if state governments are not likewise seeking to excavate Indian burial grounds or sacred lands for highways, sewer systems or other public works projects, state decision-makers are attempting to make it easier for private developers to do so.
In March, the Idaho Legislature unanimously passed a law that will allow state officials to automatically unearth tribal ancestors from their finally resting places when discovered on private lands. An Idaho state spokesman cited digging up ancestral remains as a great solution because it would be done ''at no cost to the landowner and with no delay to the project.'' Currently, the Washington state Legislature is studying ''the legal processes to permit the removal of human remains from property'' so development can also proceed on ceded lands in Washington without cost or delay.
Tribal governments and citizens must stand prepared for battle in this new kind of Indian war. This is the first of a two-part series designed to equip tribes with the legal weaponry that they need to defend their sacred places.
- Declare, in tribal law, the tribe's property and other legal rights in off-reservation sacred sites and in the access routes to them.
- Avoid the legally ambiguous term ''cultural resources,'' and use the term ''cultural property'' whenever possible.
- Create a tribal register of sacred sites, designate specific sites on tribal registers, and decide when and how to share this information with other governments and developers.
- Organize and maintain an ever-growing database of written information that supports the tribe's cultural connection to sacred sites.
- Describe in tribal law the preferred methods for conducting off-reservation inventories and handling accidental discoveries of cultural property.
- Ensure that tribal constitutions extend tribal jurisdiction, including tribal court jurisdiction, over off-reservation cultural properties.
This is a topic which is receiving more scholarly attention of late. An excellent article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Art, Antiquity and Law by Carolyn Shelbourn compares the protection of archaeological resources in the United States and England, Protecting Archaeological Resources in the United States: Some Lessons for Law and Practice in England, 12 Art, Ant. & L. 258 (2007).
Nov 7, 2007
Antiquities dealer Jerome Eisenberg has apparently agreed to return eight antiquities to Italy. Ariel David has an overview for the AP, complete with photos of all the objects.
According to Ariel, "Eisenberg, who runs galleries in New York and London, said he bought most of the antiquities at auctions in the British capital in the 1980s, and decided to return them after Italian authorities recently turned up evidence that they were looted." According to Giovanni Nistri, who leads the art squad of the Carabinieri "This is a dealer who since 1999 has returned of his own initiative other artifacts that came into his possession".
What is the significance of the return? It appears to be one of the only examples of a dealer voluntarily relinquishing allegedly illicitly-excavated antiquities. It seems the Italians had some kind of iron-clad proof that these objects had been wrongfully removed in some way.
David Gill at Looting Matters argues this agreement to return objects is significant because "It is now clear that the Code of Ethics and the due diligence processes conducted by members of the IADAA are not rigorous enough." I think he's exactly right about the lack of effectiveness of Codes of Ethics, but this agreement has little to do with them. These objects were acquired at auctions, sometime in the 1980's. The acquisition of these objects in the 1980's doesn't strike me as an accurate indicator of the current state of the antiquities trade, though it's badly flawed to be sure.
The more relevant point I think is how effectively the Italian Culture Ministry uses the press in painting a picture of a vast Italian repatriation campaign. An agreement seems to have been concluded months ago. Why is the story appearing now? It seems to be a calculated move. Seldom does a week go by that there is not news of an arrest, agreement for repatriation or the like. Italy and cultural property is in just about every news cycle. Believe it or not, public pressure like this is the single best tool a source nation has to secure the return of objects. This fact speaks volumes about the fatally flawed body of law which attempts to regulate the illicit antiquities trade. Italy is not using the law to seek these objects because it cannot; instead it is exerting tremendous public pressure on museums and individuals.
(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Nov 6, 2007
The BBC reported yesterday that four people have been arrested in connection with the theft of five LS Lowry paintings. It seems the recent Crimewatch appeal may have helped lead to the arrests. The theft was particularly disturbing, as 4 men robbed the family, tied up Ivan Aird, and threatened his wife and young daughter before stealing five artworks. The most valuable work taken was this painting, the Viaduct, worth perhaps £700,000.
Nov 2, 2007
I'm just catching up on this story, but I wanted to highlight an excellent article by Michael Balter in Science Magazine ($) on the decision by the University College London to suppress a committee report on the investigation into the provenance of a number of Incantation bowls, like this one. David Gill over at looting matters has more on this story as well.
The article and the report it describes both raise troublesome questions over whether researchers and Universities should conduct research using objects of questionable provenance. If they do, they risk lending credibility and provenance to objects which may have been illicitly excavated.
To give a bit of background, "During the 5th to 8th centuries C.E., many people living in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) buried pottery bowls under the thresholds of their houses to ward off evil demons. The bowls were inscribed with biblical passages and other incantations in Aramaic, an ancient Semitic language."
Martin Schøyen owns the bowls and had temporarily donated them to UCL for study. Though the report has not been made public, Balter reveals the report "concludes that the bowls most likely left Iraq illegally sometime after August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait." Balter indicates the report is careful not to assign any wrongdoing to Schøyen, but does criticize UCL for agreeing to store these bowls without dutifully examining how they were acquired. The investigation concludes Schøyen has solid legal title to the objects, as he has possessed them for the 6-year limitations period under the law of England and Wales, his ethical title to them is far less certain. In the antiquities trade there remains a substantial gap between the state of the law and good ethical practice.
I find it troubling that UCL refuses to release the committee report, though their reticence is perhaps understandable. They are likely wary that the committee report may lead more criticism or potential claims. The reality remains that public laws for the protection of antiquities are not working. The best option a source nation has is often to pursue private claims or a public relations campaign. Both of those are expensive and time-consuming undertakings.
Colin Renfrew, a member of that inquiry, says in the Science article that, "It is shameful that a university should set up an independent inquiry and then connive with the collector whose antiquities are under scrutiny to suppress the report through the vehicle of an out-of-court settlement."
What UCL should certainly do is make public efforts it will be taking to avoid lending credibility to other collections of potentially illicit antiquities. Because if they had erected such a safeguard prospectively, this dispute could have been avoided.
Nov 1, 2007
Lee Rosenbaum at CultureGrrl has more on the Italy/Princeton agreement. At the right is a "Apulian red figure loutrophos from South Italy, ca. 335-325 B.C." This object will remain at Princeton but Italy will gain title.
Importantly, Rosenbaum tells us Princeton's spokesperson, Cass Cliatt maintains the University had acquired the objects in good faith. Also, further details will not be forthcoming because of a "confidentiality agreement" between the two parties. Also, Princeton is "anticipating posting our acquisition policies, but they are still in the revision stage and will be made available at the appropriate time." Rosenbaum rightly expresses some skepticism at this reticence.
It seems to me that Princeton will not be the last museum to deal with Italian claims, as Rutelli has indicated it will pursue similar arrangements with the Cleveland Museum of Art, the New Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, and the Miho Museum in Japan. These restitutions are a welcome sign, but they will mean very little in the long run if these institutions do not erect appropriate safeguards. At present we are relying on institutions to police themselves. I'm beginning to reach the admittedly pessimistic conclusion that a good-faith acquisition of antiquities may not be possible given the way the market currently operates.