Thursday, 16 August 2012

"That World" Getting Closer, That "Due Diligence" Looking Still More Skimpy

The "Magdalene Tiberius" 
Source: Antike Kunst after St Hilaire
I think we can be grateful that the tenacious Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St Hilaire is on our side and has not gone to work for the dodgy dealers. His latest post ('"Unable to Obtain Documentary Confirmation" - Due Diligence and Questions Posed by the Collecting History of The Cleveland Museum of Art's Drusus Minor Head' 15 Aug 2012) is a real cracker. It starts off slowly and seemingly labours the obvious, but stay with it to the end. The questions and unknowns start piling up. First there are unanwered questions about the  Drouot sale and the part played by the issue of a "certificate of origin" on behalf of the Sintes couple by collector and dealer Mariaud de Serres. St Hilaire goes much further, he draws attention to something I overlooked in the 2007 Phoenix Ancient Art catalog titled Imago. He astutely notes that the bibliography has a reference to a journal article by John Pollini professor of art at the University of Southern California ("A New Marble Head of Tiberius", Antike Kunst 48, 2005, pp. 55–72 pls. 7–13). This describes the so-called Magdalene Tiberius (just 2,5cm smaller than the Cleveland Drusus and apparently of similar quality and general appearance). In Pollini's publication, 2005 it is described thus:
 "[...] in the 1960s had been in a private French collection assembled in Marseilles, is to be found today in a private American collection [...]. Although this portrait is said to have been found in North Africa, its provenance cannot be established with any certainty."
Ho, ho. A second marble head of Tiberius, acquired in 2004, reportedly in an 'old private collection' in the 1960's, and "said to have been found in North Africa". It does indeed, as St Hilaire notes, sound similar to the description of the Cleveland Museum head. In Pollini's article he notes that "although, as noted at the outset, the Magdalene Tiberius is said to come from North Africa, this provenance cannot be established with certainty" and suggests that the carving is possibly of a workshop in Asia Minor, and noting that it is made from Phrygian marble (by lab analysis coming from quarries at  Usak or more likely Afyon).  St Hilaire asks:
Were these two marble heads owned by the same collector(s)?  Were they unearthed from the same location? Did they come from Turkey? From Africa? Were they exported to the United States at the same time?  Why did a sales catalog editor determine that Pollini's "A New Marble Head of Tiberius" in Antike Kunst article should be included in the bibliography featuring the Cleveland head?  Answers to these questions can aid a due diligence analysis.
I think three things come out of this.First of all Museum Director Franklin is a bit dismissive (Steven Litt, 'Cleveland Museum of Art buys important ancient Roman and Mayan antiquities', 12.08.12) about "people from that world from suggesting whatever they want”. When questioned about "what he meant by the phrase, “that world,” Franklin said, “journalists who want to look for a story, or perhaps archaeologists”. Now archaeologically it's a pretty big deal whether it is one or a pair of (or more) near-contemporary and well-datable sculpted heads come from the same place, and whether that place was in North Africa or Asia Minor (2400 kilometres across the Ancient World).  I imagine even art history is at some level of its enquiry not indifferent to the distinction. The fact that we have such poor documentation for these items compounds the problem, and raises the point that if we really want to use these objects as something other than trophies or decoration, we really need to know more about where they came from and the relationship between them. Without that information these are just geegaws illustrating the history and nothing else. Their value as research material is severely reduced, leaving us nothing but loose inference. Is it Tiberius, Drusus, or a villa owner or local official flattered by a sculptor making him look more magisterial? Did they come from two socking big blocks of marble dragged down from the Phrygian mountains to the shore, loaded on big boats, sailed across half the ancient world to be carved by migrant sculptors well versed in imperial portraiture styles from Asia Minor who just happened to be in North Africa, or were the statues loaded on ships and sailed across? Or were the heads of the statues found in Asia Minor? Who knows, and frankly, who cares to speculate?  It may be OK for art history (is it?), but that is not archaeology. Portableising these bits of monumental sculptures has made from archaeological evidence mere fodder for airey-fairey art-historical speculation.

The second point is Pollini's article. The much-discussed AIA guidelines would have him not publishing such an article about the 'orphan' (recte: 'orphanised)' "said to have been" object. There is much discussion of this policy in both collecting and archaeological circles. Pollini is an art-historian, however. The question is what we have "learnt" from this article being published, OK, so we have a newly-recognised picture of Tiberius to go with the thousands on coins - but it is hardly proof of anything, not his historical existence (we know that) or even the way he wore his hair (which is the basis for the identification of these Julio-Claudian portraits anyway). Furthermore it raises a whole load of questions to which it seems that - although we could have had them in other circumstances - will forever be unanswered, and introduce more and more uncertainty into any discussion of related issues.  

Thirdly it is worth noting the Cleveland Museum announced it had bought TWO items at the same time. One was a classical marble bust, the other just an "injun" pot. Look which one has got all the discussion and why. Both are dugup antiquities, both bought as 'art', but one is considered more "arty" than the rest and is getting all the attention.  After all its from the Classical world and not a product of those native "injuns". This discussion reveals something perhaps of our prejudices. Is the origin of the Mayan pot somehow less important than the Phrygian marble, that we are all (myself included) hammering on about one and not the other? Mind you, last time I looked, the CMA had not yet put the details of the collecting history on the AAMD website.

Photo: Head of 'Tiberius' in a private US collection. Did Tiberius have an infection in that left eye? Probably from looking at all those dirty books.  


LizMarlowe said...

Mystery solved:

Drusus and Tiberius portraits both stolen from Sessa Aurunca in 1944.

Cleveland sending its head back. Maybe Pollini will now reveal who the owner of the stolen property is?

Paul Barford said...

Yes, I wrote about it on Tuesday...

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