Saturday 27 February 2010

Britain's Art of losing Treasures

Andrew Johnson "Britain's art of losing treasures" Independent, 28 February 2010. "A lack of funding is going to deprive the British public of several more outstanding works". Forking out thousands to treasure hunters to dig up archaeological finds under no immediate threat (except from treasure hunting) really is a huge drain on the resources Britain can muster these days for protecting the national heritage. Glittery geegaws are nice, and do their bit in drawing crowds to museums - but is this archaeology? Is this furthering the scholarly aims of archaeology? Or is British archaeology losing its taste for talking about potsherds and seeds and becoming one big treasure hunt now?
Titian's "Diana and Actaeon" was saved after a campaign persuaded the public, the Scottish government and the Heritage Lottery Fund to part with £50m to buy the Old Master's work from the Duke of Sutherland last year. Part of the problem with art works is when they are in private hands and the owner decides to sell to the highest bidder. While there is nothing wrong with that in the case of inherited works of art, does it make sense to have nineteenth century legislation in parts of the UK which entrusts the majority of the dug-up archaeological heritage to private collectors as de facto curators? Where will all this stuff be in twenty, fifty, eighty years time?

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