Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Museums Carelessly Buying Stolen Artefacts - 'No Victims', you say?

No victims?
"Purchase, 2017 Benefit Fund
Lila Acheson Wallace Gift;
Louis V. Bell,
Harris Brisbane Dick, 
Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest;
Leona Sobel  Education and
The Camille M. Lownds Funds;
and 2016 Benefit Fund"

Sunday, 17 February 2019

The 'Golden Brownies' Turkish Fake Manuscripts

There has been a whole series of codices and scrolls turning up in Turkey in police seizures from 'smugglers' that are being proclaimed as Syrian loot. They are characterised by being
1) nonsense texts and garish pictures loosely imitating Muslim and Christian manuscripts
2) Often written using gold ink (or gold leaf?)
3) rough tatty edges
4) crumbly dark brown or brown-orange leather (I bet it's acid-treated). Sometimes written on heavily stained 'papyrus' (or is it banana leaves?)
5) pages - usually 20-30 - roughly bound with thongs of lightish or greyish leather 
They seem all to have turned up in recent years (mostly post 2016). When they first appeared, Sam Hardy and I considered they were fakes, a verdict that many have accepted, though Turkish policemen and eager journalists writing about crime in the Middle East do not seem yet to have got the message, and possibly buyers too, as the more recent ones are getting sloppier.

Where are they from? I pulled out the most accessible information and quickly plotted them, the codices are being seized in south west Anatolia, codices and ('torah' and other) scrolls in Northwest Anatolia while only two have in fact come from nearer Syria (Adana province - here and here). they seem part of the same series as the rest. A group of six came from Usak and another four recently seized at Denizli - is this perhaps near the centre of their production? But the map does tend to suggest that these items are not 'surfacing' on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Blogger: " I fell for a “Swiss Private Collection” lie, dammit"

Blogger: " I fell for a “Swiss Private Collection” lie, dammit" It's about that Nedjemankh coffin:
My only excuse [...] is that the Metropolitan Museum of Art fell for it too. Had they accepted a fraudulent ownership record starring a Swiss private collector a few years back I would have laughed mirthlessly at the very idea of it, but the sensitivity to potentially looted artifacts is so much higher now that museums and auction houses have been dragged kicking and screaming into giving a damn by source countries creating legal and PR nightmares for them. That such a recent, high-profile, much-publicized sale could be a looted artifact with phony papers is an ugly testament to how deep the rot runs in the antiquities market. [...] I don’t know exactly which day, but the coffin was taken off display this week [...] because the Manhattan’s DA Office had found evidence that the Swiss private collection and legal export document from 1971 were nothing but happy horseshit conjured up by traffickers in looted antiquities. Not only was it not legally exported in 1971, it didn’t leave Egypt until 2011 and I don’t need to tell you the circumstances were very, very far from legal. [...] Here’s one revision to any museum or collector’s acquisition policy that needs to be carved in stone from now on: buy nothing purporting to come from Swiss private collections. It’s a scam every damn time.
Interesting thread joining some dots by the indefatigable and well-informed Dorothy King here.

Bogeyman "Marxism" and the Tory Department of Media, Culture and Sport

Metal detectorist comment on the discussion document of the proposed changes to the Treasure Act:
 Thanks to the myopic and compliant Department of Media Culture and Sport, unsurprisingly, this Marxist nightmare is about to come true 
So perhaps we now have a clue as to the identity of the vandals who, the night before last damaged the Grade I-listed  Karl Marx memorial in Highgate Cemetery (Lucy Middleton, 'Karl Marx memorial vandalised for second time in two weeks' Metro Saturday 16 Feb 2019).

Heritage-hating metal detectorists or eastern European immigrants?

PS, it is worth following that 66 million figure back to see where it comes from, and who is using it most frequently and in what context.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

"How do Remains Convey the Destructiveness of Antiquities Collecting?

Lynda Albertson links to a copy of the Met video about the Nedjemankh coffin that has not yet been removed. Curator Janice Kamrin and Conservator Anna Serotta "How do remains convey what's no longer present?" What is striking is the way (eg 03:34) so nonchalantly mention the damage done to the coffin 'portableising' it for the trade - removing and disposing of the human remains by the artefat hunters. At 4:43 they talk of the "individual" still being "present" through the imprint of the discarded body in the resins. The black goo suggests that the body laid horizontally a while and gums and waxes seeped out of the mummy bundle before the coffin was stood on end to allow other family members to be placed in the tomb - which means there will be other items on the trade from the same burial and which also entered in 2011.

Another Probably Looted Thai Antiquity Discovered in SOAS’s Collection

A FOIA request reveals that in 2013, SOAS, University of London, accepted the gift of a 2,000-yr old Thai ceramic from Ban Chiang, Southeast Asia's most important - and famously looted - prehistoric site, without doing any due diligence (SOAS Watch, 'Another Probably Looted Thai Antiquity Discovered in SOAS’s Collection'  15th Feb 2019):
In October 2013, Elizabeth H. Moore, then Professor of South East Asian Art and Archaeology at SOAS, University of London, donated to SOAS a ceramic vessel about 2,000 years old from Ban Chiang, Southeast Asia’s most important prehistoric site. The Ban Chiang archaeological site was rampantly looted, particularly during the early 1970s, which is when Prof. Moore said her former husband bought the vessel in Bangkok or Singapore. The vessel, if indeed a Ban Chiang antiquity as Prof. Moore stated, is very likely grave goods looted and illegally exported from Thailand. SOAS officials accepted the vessel without conducting any due diligence. This is the second example exposed so far of SOAS accepting a Thai antiquity without proper due diligence. [...] The role of SOAS art historians in both cases highlights the engagement of academic staff in the art market – and the lack of SOAS ethical guidelines for such activity.
The first example occurred in March 2018, when SOAS art historians encouraged and facilitated the university’s acceptance of an unprovenanced 13th-century Thai Buddha sculpture valued at 60,000 euros from a pair of Postgraduate Diploma in Asian Art alumni. These cases raise the question of whether SOAS owns more illicit artefacts from other countries around the world. Very little information about SOAS’s collection, mostly held in storage, is publically available.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Surely Some Mistake, Antiquities Trade Figure Named

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought a late Ptolemaic/Hellenistic gilt cartonnage coffin from the 1st century B.C. that was inscribed for Nedjemankh, a high-ranking priest of the ram-headed god Heryshef of Heracleopolis Magna. It went on exhibition in July last year. But this week the Met agreed to return the object to Egypt, after investigators determined it had been recently plundered from that country (Colin Moynihan, 'Met Museum to Return Prize Artifact Because It Was Stolen', New York Times Feb. 15, 2019).
 Museum officials said that they bought the object from an art dealer in Paris in 2017 and were fooled by a phony provenance that made it seem as if the coffin had been legitimately exported decades ago. But prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office presented the museum with evidence that suggested it had been looted from Egypt in 2011. This was the latest of several incidents that have raised questions about the thoroughness of the museum’s vetting procedures when acquiring antiquities [...] Museum officials said that the district attorney’s investigation showed that the Met had received a false ownership history, fraudulent statements and fake documentation, including a forged 1971 Egyptian export license for the coffin. The Met paid 3.5 million euros (about $3.95 million) for the coffin in July 2017, said Kenneth Weine, a spokesman for the museum. He added that it had been purchased from an art dealer in Paris [...] and that the Met planned to consider “all means” for the recovery of the money it had paid.
How awkward, there was a lot of publicity associated with this new acquisition and a whole exhibition was put on to celebrate it. The exhibition 'Nedjemankh and His Gilded Coffin' was supposed to continue to April 21, 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Quite a lot of the web-related material on it seems to have disappeared from the Internet.

Unusually in such cases, the news item names the dealer that sold the item, as 'Christophe Kunicki', giving a link to a website for a fellow operating under that name at a posh Paris address (and the title “Mediterranean Antiquities”). The website says that Mr. Kunicki specializes in the valuation of “Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Near East antiquities.” as Dorothy Lobel King notes. This  makes the naming of the guy in the article as the seller, contrary to normal practice, rather problematic. It is a shame that the man named as seller was not contacted before the article went to press.  There was no response to an email message requesting comment sent to an address listed on the site.

I have discussed this object before on this blog, being one of te first to note issues with the stated collecting history before Cyrus Vance and his folk swung belatedly into action (PACHI 13th Sept 2017: 'Why the Secrecy? No Shame in Collecting Antiquities, Surely?').

UPDATE 16th Feb 2019

There are more details in Lynda Albertson's post on the ARCA blog: 'Restitution: Met Museum agrees to return its 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, to Egypt':
The spartan collecting history information listed for the artifact on the Metropolitan Museum's website states that the antiquity was "officially exported from Egypt in 1971, the coffin has since resided in a private collection." A second page on the museum's website, which has since been removed, listed the artifact's provenance as follows:
"The coffin was exported in 1971 from Egypt with an export license granted by the Antiquities Organization / Egyptian Museum, Cairo. It belonged to the stock of Habib Tawadrus, a dealer active since at least 1936, with a shop Habib and Company in Cairo opposite Shepheard’s Hotel, and was exported by the representative of the Tawadrus’ heirs to Switzerland. An official translation of the export license was provided by the German embassy in Cairo in February 1977 for the use of the representative and now owner in Europe. The coffin has remained in the family of that owner until its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum in 2017."
 Albertson also details two other items where C. Kunicki acted as expert in the acquisition of other items by the Met with 1970s collecting histories, in one of which Tawadrus also figures. It would be interesting to compare the three sets of supplied documentation. One of them is a battered granodiorite head of Apries, the other a 13th dynasty chapel-stele in the form of a naos.

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