Monday 21 October 2013

The University of Jena and the Mysterious "Swiss Foundation"

Curator of Jena collections Dr. Dennis Graen fondles an Etruscan leg of unstated
origin obtained via the mysterious Nereus Foundation (photo: Jan-Peter Kasper/FSU )
In early August, the press department of the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena made a big thing of how the University's Institut für Altertumswissenschaften received 66 new permanent loans to the antiquities collections from the Swiss Foundation Nereus (Claudia Hilbert, 'In den Olymp katapultiert ' 01.08.2013). The museum was obviously terribly grateful for all those bits of Greek and Etruscan art and everyday objects, such as ceramics, sculptures, terracotta figurines, jewelry and dress pins. Included were ceramics painted by the famous Greek vase painters Epictetus and Douris -
und sind damit Objekte von Weltrang. „Sie katapultieren die Jenaer Antikensammlung in den Olymp der deutschen Universitätssammlungen!“, 
proudly boast members of staff of the Institute. The only problem was:
Denn größtenteils sind die Gegenstände unpubliziert und ihr Alter sowie ihre kulturhistorische Herkunft noch nicht bestimmt
and this is where the students would come in, they'd have to work out where the items came from.
That's a bit odd, one would have thought. So what remains in the dark so far is the origin - and thus the legal status - of the pieces.

Where did the Nereus Foundation get these objects
from? (photo Foto: Jan-Peter Kasper/FSU)
This "Swiss Nereus Foundation" is a bit mysterious. Google the name and you come up a blank. The Nereus Foundation has no public postal address, no website and is also unrecorded in the publicly accessible federal Foundation Directory, where all such foundations should be registered since 1st June 2006 (Archeologie online, "Neue Leihgaben werten Jenaer Antikensammlung auf - doch woher stammen die Objekte?" 15.10.2013). The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte (DGUF) has recently started to take an interest in the matter. First of all they asked who the Foundation was and where the stuff came from. They were simply told:
»Bei der Nereus-Stiftung handelt es sich um eine private Stiftung mit Sitz in der Schweiz. Die Objekte stammen aus einer seit den 1970er Jahren zusammengetragenen Privatsammlung«
Well, there seem to be an awful lot of undocumented items suddenly surfacing that are said to be from old 1970s private collections, aren't there? When they asked for more details they first were met with several weeks' silence. Then, reportedly, the Rector of the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Prof. Dr. Klaus Dicke, jumped in, and denied that there was any reason for concern:
 Nach meinen Recherchen ergibt sich keinerlei Anhaltspunkt, an der Rechtmäßigkeit der Eigentümerstellung der Nereus-Stiftung zu zweifeln. Sollten Sie Zweifel begründende Informationen haben, bitte ich Sie um Kontaktaufnahme mit der Stiftung selbst.
Leaving aside what the Rector understands by the term "research" in this situation, surely the University should be able to explain the legal position of the objects which they acquired and continue to retain, and to refer the DGUF to a Foundation with no address seems rather comical. What is going on in Jena?

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