Monday, 16 March 2009

Dimmi quando, quando, quando

Art dealer Robert Hecht in correspondence cited at his trial with Copenhagen’s Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek about some objects he had “acquired” in Switzerland and was selling to the Danish Museum, is reported to have said that he supposes “everything came from Etruria but” — and here he teasingly broke into song — “dimmi quando, quando, quando” (“tell me when, when, when”). It seems to me that this is a question an ethical dealer would be answering rather than requiring a potential client to find an answer. What kind of a museum would not walk away from such a deal? Well, not the Glyptotek, they bought the stuff without it seems finding the answer to the sing-song riddle, and are now having problems it seems admitting to the significance of their oversight (Elisabetta Povoledo Danish Museum Resists Return of Disputed Artifacts, New York Times, March 16th 2009).

Daniela Rizzo, an archaeologist and witness for the prosecution at the trial pointed out that a group of objects from an Etruscan tomb in a Colle del Forno necropolis that were part of the deal should never have been bought in the first place. “They were visibly the result of a traumatic action [...] It would have been impossible not to know that it had been illegally excavated".

[I must say I like the term "traumatic action". I think we will need to look at that cover-all term "looting" archaeological resource protection advocates and the media alike tend to use for everything - including theft from existing museum collections down to metal detecting, pot hunting and grave-robbing. The fuzziness of the concept only allows scope for confusion and weasel-wording on the part of the pro-collecting lobby. We need to thrash out and agree some new terms and definitions of what it is we are talking about to make the issues clearer].

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