Jan 24, 2013

About those 45,000 antiquities...

The Getty's amber collection includes this object circa 525-480 B.C.
A problematic Amber piggie?
Jason Felch reported for the LA Times on Saturday on an effort by the Getty to verify the histories of some 45,000 antiquities in its collection, and publish these results in its online database.

The review is likely to reveal that problems in the Getty's collection go far deeper than the nearly 50 looted objects returned since 2007 , according to Getty records and interviews with antiquity dealers and former museum officials. Hundreds of objects still in the collection were acquired with false ownership histories aimed at disguising their origins in the illicit antiquities trade, records and interviews show. The depth of its problem was underscored in November, when the Getty published a catalog of 56 carved ambers, objects that the ancient Greeks and Etruscans used in amulets for the magical properties they were believed to possess. At first look, "Ancient Carved Ambers in the J. Paul Getty Museum" represents the museum at its finest -- decades of scholarship published online in an illustrated catalog that engages the public in a rarely studied artifact of the ancient world. But records -- including internal Getty files -- show that the ambers were almost certainly looted from tombs in northern Italy.

This will be a fascinating effort to track in the coming months. The Getty is conducting this retroactive history search, and is a very good effort. The point to note though is how deep this examination goes into the objects, and whether it will trigger continued returns. Will the nations of origin even want the return of all of this study material? Will these nations have the capacity to store and study these objects in the same way the Getty can? Is this a contradiction the Getty hopes to make? All interesting questions.
  1. Jason Felch, Getty studies its antiquities, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2013, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/19/entertainment/la-et-getty-ambers-20130119.
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