Saturday, 12 January 2013

US Museum Belatedly Honours a "Very Basic Principle"

From an ICE press release:
TOLEDO, Ohio — A rare Etruscan black-figure kalpis, which has been traced back to 510 B.C., will be returned to the Italian government following a transfer ceremony Tuesday at the Toledo Museum of Art. A June 2012 agreement between the United States and the Toledo Museum of Art followed by Tuesday's transfer ceremony is the culmination of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to restore the true provenance of the kalpis [...] According to court documents, the kalpis has been valued at more than $665,000.
Hmm. I doubt very much they've actually 'restored" (sic) the provenance, though they might have gone further in establishing the collecting history than the Museum of Art at the time of its acquisition:
It was smuggled out of Italy after an illegal excavation prior to 1981. It was then sold in 1982 to the Toledo Museum of Art by art dealers Gianfranco and Ursula Becchina, who had earlier purchased it from convicted art smuggler Giacomo Medici. The Becchinas misrepresented the true provenance of the vase to the museum by providing falsified documentation.
Which the Museum was too dumb to spot and not bothered enough about where the items really came from to attempt to verify?
Following a January 2010 lead from HSI Rome, Cleveland-based HSI special agents launched an investigation into the true provenance of the artifact. Working closely with law enforcement officials in Italy, HSI special agents were able to definitively establish that the documentation provided to the Toledo Museum of Art was falsified and part of a larger scheme by the Becchinas to sell illegitimately obtained cultural property. Gianfranco Becchina was convicted in February 2011 of illicitly dealing in antiquities by a court in Rome. That conviction was appealed by Becchina and remains in the Italian court system.

The usual feelgood waffle was spouted at the ceremony, but I liked the comment of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven M. Dettelbach:
"I want every museum, every business and every school child here in Toledo to see and understand that today is about living up to a very basic principle. When you find out that something is not rightfully yours – no matter how special, no matter how beautiful or no matter how costly that thing might be – you give it back". 
I think this "very basic principle" extends to attitudes of collectors and dealers, not just in America, to the ripped off, knocked off, hoiked out and carted away heritage of others from right across the ancient world.

ICE Press release:  'Transfer ceremony clears way for looted ancient vessel to be returned to Italy', Toledo, OH January 8, 2013.

Vignette: The table was too small to display the logo on the tablecloth, so - to get it in the self-congratulatory picture- ICE hung it on the wall.

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