Sunday, 5 November 2017

Faking it: The Antiquities Market in Action

An excellent article on the construction of fake treasure hoards for sale:  Elizabeth Dospěl Williams, "“Into the hands of a well-known antiquary of Cairo”: The Assiut Treasure and the Making of an Archaeological Hoard," West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 21, no. 2 (Fall-Winter 2014): 251-272.[]

The “Assiut Treasure” is a canonical group of early Byzantine jewelry discovered in Upper Egypt, today spread among several European and American collections. The spectacular pieces, generally thought to date from the fourth through seventh centuries, have arguably come to epitomize the courtly luxury of the early Byzantine period. Although most scholarship on the group focuses on the pieces’ technical qualities, this article instead contextualizes the “treasure” within early twentieth-century art market and collecting practices. It concentrates on the interactions of local dealers and collectors through a close study of Maurice Nahman, a dealer based in the Middle East. The paper shows Nahman’s self-conscious positioning as a “scientific” dealer aware of collecting trends in Europe and America. In the larger sense, the story of the Assiut Treasure raises questions about the roles of scholars and dealers in legitimizing and marketing antiquities at a crucial moment in the development of late antique and Byzantine art histories.

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