Friday, 13 January 2017

Where the "Roman Large" Came from

Grammar was never the strong point of collectors and dealers, so we are not surprised by the lapse in the order of adjectives in the title of one sale by a prominent antiquities dealer:

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This is the sale of an object via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery (run by Jerome Eisenberg). Look at what is offered as a collecting history. That's no collecting history at all: 'Ex Swiss art market April 1991' then a gap, then somehow Royal Athena got it and sold it to a 'Dr H.' somewhere in Germany in 'April 2000', and then a gap and now it is being sold again (was bought back?) by Royal Athena and in 1992 and 2000 it featured in the antiquities world vanity press (Jerome Eisenberg's 'Art of the Ancient World' magazines). Thanks to Christos Tsirogiannis we now know that 'Swiss art market' could be a euphemism for Gianfranco Becchina's cubby hole in the Free Port of Basel, and documentary evidence (Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Royal-Athena Galleries, New York ARCA blog, Saturday, January 14, 2017 ) seems to indicate that the object was received from a Greek trafficker Giorgos Zene[...] (a 'trafficker, now deceased, well-known to the Greek police art squad') and that Becchina had paid 60.000 Swiss Francs on 25 May 1988 for it. Becchina had bought a number of lots (over thirty) from 'Zene' between November 1986 and October 1988. After purchase, Becchina had the piece cleaned by the Basle restorer  André Lorenceau (see the Cahn Gallery newsletter here and here for a short bio). While the Becchina documentation is undated, Lorencau's conservation report will provide the details of what was done to the object and when. Lorencau seems to have been responsible for the mounting of the piece that seems (from the polaroids) to have come to him dirty and unmounted. This would presumably have been some time between May 1988 and April 1991 (when reportedly it was 'on the Swiss art market') and 1992 when Mr Eisenberg reportedly featured it in one of his 'Art of the Ancient World' magazines (I've not seen this). Seeing as the object had only arrived in Switzerland less than three years before, and would have been obviously on a fresh mount after recent cleaning (the object description makes no mention of traces of any earlier mounting), any lack of documentation would have been immediately suspicious. The same goes for its resale just (and interestingly, exactly) nine years after that. So who was handling such freshly-surfaced material in the early stages of its collecting history? Becchina (Palladion Antique Kunst)? At what stage did 'Royal Athena' become involved?

1 comment:

kyri said...

to be honest i like DR Eisenberg,he certainly has tried his best over the last 10/15 years to avoid episodes like this to the extent that the italian government made an award to him[the order of the star of italy] for helping in their hunt for looted pieces.with this sarcophagus fragment i really find it hard to defend him.he really should have known better,in december 1993 he presented a paper at the conference "conservation and the antiquities trade"and knew fully well the problems the trade faced with looted antiquities and should not have handled this piece in 2000.there really is no excuse.

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