Saturday 27 May 2023

Gianfranco Adornato on Some Objects Repatriated From Dodgy US Market

             Gianfranco Adornato  il Giornale Dell'Arte 

Gianfranco Adornato is Professor of Greek and Roman Art and Archaeology at the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa in Italy. He has recently visited an exhibition of antiquities ("ancient art") repatriated to Italy from America in the so-called 'Museum of Salvaged Art' [Museo dell’Arte salvata] housed in the Baths of Diocletian, part of the National Museum in Rome. He was not impressed (Gianfranco Adornato 'Reperti restituiti dagli Usa: a occhio nudo non tutti sono autentici', il Giornale Dell'Arte 15 May 2023). "Observing some materials, however, it is possible to note that not all the repatriated pieces are of good quality: an impression confirmed by analyzing the list of 60 pieces returned to the Italian state, for a value of over 20 million dollars, presented in Rome on 23 January", the latter was a group of pieces seized over the previous year or so as part of an ongoing collaboration between Italian and United States authorities. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, in particular, has played a key role in the repatriation process. There was a Roman marble bust recovered just before it headed to auction at Christie’s in New York. Another piece was seized from the home of Shelby White, and some others from the collection of Michael Steinhardt. Others had been in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which ultimately returned 21 items. But this is not the subject of Adornato's interest (Google translation): .
"And yet, on closer inspection of these archaeological materials, we realize that a good percentage is made up of easily recognizable fakes. Only by way of example, we can mention the Nicosthenic amphora datable to around 530-500 BC, the black-figure deinos with horsemen from the Archaic age, the cup with big eyes with a mask of Dionysus in the centre (500 BC), the Attic chous (small jug) with red figures with a young man seated on an altar and datable around the middle of the 5th century BC.
Specifically, for example, we can note that the eye cup has a strange pattern of the eyes, devoid of the long lacrinal caruncles, characteristic of the decoration of these vessels; even the Dionysian mask is simplified with cursory and imprecise graffiti, as well as an unconventional foot clumsily attached to the body.
The Attic band-cup type cup with sphinxes on the sides from the second half of the 6th century BC even presents the two side monsters in a totally wrong pose (quadrupedia) and never attested on Greek vases and in Archaic art!
Focusing on the attic deinos, the diagnostic elements in favour of the non-genuineness of the piece are tectonic, technical, and stylistic-iconographic: although it imitates metal prototypes, this vase has a particularly squat support that has no comparison with known vases. Furthermore, from a technical point of view, the forger exaggerates with the graffiti to define the horse's mane, the neck and the belly, the ribs and the muscles; as for the last aspect, there are no representations in the repertoire of Greek ceramics (not only in the Attic one) of the saddle cloth thrown on the rump of the animal on which the naked knight sits. These are elements that testify in favor of a work of a fake and not of a genuine ancient vase".
I have not followed back to attempt to determine from which collections/dealers/museums the cited artefacts came, and what degree there was any information on the objects' documented grounding in a firm archaeological provenance assuring authentiticity. It would be interesting to hear other opinions - including the curators of this display. These objects ended up in Italy by virtue of the fact that they were (the US authorities assert) off the dodgy market. Since we know that one of the main features of this dodgy market is it is full of fakes (and fake /uninformed/ deluded etc. "connoisseurs") so why give any undocumented items from it any credence at all? Adornato concludes:
"While sharing the ethical principles of the repatriation of illegally stolen cultural heritage, the investment of resources and energy in the recovery of fake antiquities purchased on the black market , above all because these supposed works will never be exhibited in Italian museums (hopefully!) and, if kept in museum institutions, they will constitute a real encumbrance within the collections. What will they do?"
Also by being accepted by default into the canons of "ancient art", dodgy artefacts like this are contaminating the body of evidence about the past and having real cognitive effects. For many artefact types, we have more examples known that were first floating around the market with no documentation of origins than we have of items dug up and grounded in real controlled archaeological investigations. 

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