Jul 22, 2009

Thoughts on Teaching Antiquities Law in Italy

We have just returned home to New Orleans after a terrific couple of weeks in Amelia Italy where I was teaching a module on antiquities law for the first ARCA MA program this summer, and presenting at the ARCA Conference.  I'll have more to say on the conference and Francesco Rutelli's comments tomorrow.  Today I want to highlight the MA program itself, and what a treat it was to teach antiquities law in Italy. 

It was a terrific experience teaching in that setting, where heritage is often just outside your door.  We had a lot of fun, but I also came away impressed with the ARCA program and what the Director, Noah Charney and all of the students are trying to create.  The students were a great bunch, and will no doubt go on to do some exciting things in the heritage field.  We are at a point now where these laws and policies are increasingly complex and are playing more prominent roles in all fields from collections management, curatorship, archaeology, art history, conservation, and of course purchasing and selling of antiquities.  Consequently, I think it will be increasingly important for all of these field to incorporate some component of heritage education and crime prevention into their body of professional knowledge. 

Heritage issues and art crime are both under-examined I think; and the opportunities to study or even teach these important ideas are sadly far too rare.  That is changing I think, and one of the real treats I had in Italy were some of the exciting ideas and discussions which the ARCA MA students were able to generate.  One of the frustrating things about antiquities policy in particular is it often devolves into a set of entrenched arguments, and partisans on both sides often have difficulty acknowledging the gaps and flaws in their own reasoning.  Teaching a course was terrific for me because it exposed some of my own gaps, but also reaffirmed some things, and helped to crystallize my thinking. 

I think perhaps the best example of that may be this statute of Germanicus, located in Amelia's Archaeological museum, and located right next door to the public library where we had classes.  This statue was found just outside the city walls in 1963, in pieces, where the Roman campus would have been.

One of the questions which we all write and think about when we discuss art and heritage is where do these objects belong, and this beautiful bronze was a great catalyst for that kind of discussion.  Amelia is not a particularly big town with a population of perhaps 15,000, and it doesn't receive all that many tourists, because it doesn't have a railway station and there are other sights to see in Umbria.  As a result, there may be some room to question whether Germanicus belongs in Amelia, as opposed to Peruggia, Rome, or even Paris or London or Malibu.  After all, not as many people can view the statue in Amelia; and the conservation techniques may not be as sophisticated as at the World's leading arts institutions (apparently the conservators may have been a little too liberal with the green paint when they touched up the statue).

However all the ARCA students seemed to agree that there is no better place than Amelia for this Bronze.  And they weren't a bunch of radical archaeologists, their backgrounds were pretty diverse.  The reason they agreed I think is that they had become connected to the daily rhythym of the city, they knew the butcher, the guys who run the wine bar, the bar where the locals hang out on Sundays, the restaurant owners, and they can see I think how important heritage and culture is to this city; and as a result, when we discussed the bronze, we asked a number of questions that I'm not sure you would have asked if you saw this bronze in Rome, or Paris, or London, or even Malibu. 

Germanicus was removed from this living and vibrant culture which clearly respects and values its traditions and heritage.  Where was the statue located?  Why was it located just outside this gate, the Porta Romana?  Why was it cut up and buried?  Why was Germanicus such a beloved figure?  As we learned from the staff at the Archaeological Museum, this Bronze was apparently cut up and buried later when Christianity gained influence in the Roman Empire and these bronzes and statues were being cut up or destroyed to make way for other images.  So you can see this remarkable bronze, just a few steps away from where it would have been on display hundreds of years ago. 

These are a very different set of questions than would have been asked if this statue was on display somewhere else, and I had a very different visceral reaction on seeing Germanicus then when I saw the "Bronze Statue of A Victorious Youth" at the Getty Villa for example.  So antiquities law and policy, which starts with the quesiton of where theese objects belong, and how they should be excavated; probably could not have been taught in a much better setting in my view.  Context was all around us, and it was a terrific open-air classroom. 
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