Friday 10 December 2010

Those "Commie Laws"

In a comment on this blog Roger Pearce says that "The idea espoused in the comments that all treasure belongs to the state is charmingly soviet". This is a common fallacy passed around unthinkingly by the coiney and antiquitist naysayers. Its like saying railways are a Soviet institution because Peoples' Commissars travelled by train. In fact the idea of state ownership of antiquities goes back well beyond Lenin and the 'Совдепия'. Apart from earlier measures, the notion in its modern form actually crystallised under a Medici Pope, Leo X (1475-1521). He was a major patron of architecture and was notable for his interest in Rome's classical past. As any educated coin collector will know, he appointed Raphael commissioner of antiquities (a post that entailed the conservation of antiquities in Rome and its environs and the supervision of new excavations). It was he who claimed antiquities found in the soil of the Papal States as state property. While both Giovanni de' Medici and Ilyich both ruled autocratically it would be difficult to sustain the argument that early sixteenth century Papal States were "Soviet", and that Raphael was an agent of a Soviet government.

Vignette: Pope Leo X
as painted by Raphael Santi (Uffizi)

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