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Anna Somers Cocks thinks so:

 

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An Assyrian lamassu being removed under the direction of Austen Henry Layard

An Assyrian lamassu being removed under the direction of Austen Henry Layard

Daniel Silas Adamson has an outstanding longread which lays out the 19th century history of the three figures who were largely responsible for rediscovering Assyrian civiliztion: George Smith, Hormuzd Rassam, and Austen Henry Layard. He also puts the current destruction of art by the so-called Islamic State in context. Here’s a terrific account of the emergence of the epic of Gilgamesh:

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Bardo_Museum_-_Carthage_room

“Bardo Museum – Carthage room” taken by Bernard Gagnon in 2005 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The BBC is reporting that 19 people, including 17 museum visitors have been killed in an attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Many other visitors were trapped in the museum. No group has claimed responsibility yet, but two gunmen were killed, and there may be some involved in the attack still on the run.

The New York Times reports this afternoon that:

The attack began at a time when hundreds of visitors were on their way into the museum. Interior ministry officials said the gunmen were armed with grenades and assault rifles. Gunfire was first heard around 12:30 p.m.

Helicopters buzzed over the area in the afternoon, and Tunisian state television said they were evacuating people from the area, possibly including those injured in the attack.

The site of the attack, the National Bardo Museum, is in central Tunis near the national Parliament, which was evacuated as police officers responded to the attack and surrounded the area.

The identity and motivation of the attackers were not immediately clear. No group had claimed responsibility for the attack by early evening. An Interior Ministry spokesman said that the gunmen had probably been Tunisians, but their nationality had not been confirmed.

This museum is one of the major cultural institutions in Tunisia. It contains roman mosaics, antiquities from ancient Greek civilizations, and Islamic art.

The empty frame which once held "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

The empty frame which once held Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

25 years ago tonight, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum suffered a devastating loss to its collection. 13 works of art led to a FBI investigation, and a new Federal Criminal provision. But the works themselves are still lost. Today brings a slew of examinations of the theft and the subsequent investigation.

Stephen Kurkjian, an investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, and author of a new work on the theft, has an extended portion of the book at the Boston Globe. He recounts many details of the efforts in 2013 that many speculated would lead to a break in the case: Continue Reading…

MoreThanWords_web

Letter writing has gone out of fashion. It’s a rare thing to receive physical notes anymore. One of my least favorite tasks every morning is responding to the emails I get from students and others. If only we could add drawings and doodles to our emails. It would add a bit of whimsy and flair perhaps.

That’s one of the main takeaways I have from Liza Kirwin’s terrific collection More than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. Kirwin serves as the curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. The text offers these illustrated letters along with a short summary. The letters are grouped thematically with headings like “Bon Voyage”, Graphic Instructions, and “Thank-you”. Continue Reading…

Morag Kersel, an assistant Professor in the Anthropology department at DePaul has published an article in the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology & Heritage Studies titled “Storage Wars: Solving the Archaeological Curation Crisis?“. She has posted the piece online at academia.edu. From the abstract:

Whether sponsored by academic institutions, governments, international agencies, or private landowners,the results of archaeological investigations are the same: the production of knowledge and an accumulation of things. The material manifestations (artifacts and sam-ples) and the accompanying daily notes, digital records,maps, photographs, and plans together comprise a comprehensive record of the past. Once these items havebeen amassed, they are deposited in dig houses, maga-zines, museums, repositories, storage containers, andsometimes in personal basements and garages to be heldin perpetuity. Across the globe, storage (here implyingcuration and permanent care) is one of the most pressing issues facing archaeology today. Te following examines the curation crisis and some of the traditional and inno-vative solutions to the storage wars, arguing that rather than something that is viewed as a time-consuming,costly afterthought; curation should be an integral part of archaeological praxis. 
In a 2 April 2014 image, looting on a massive scale is visible at Dura-Europos, with high-density looting (red) visible in the vast majority of the site enclosed by the ancient city wall. In the archaeological areas beyond the wall, highlighted in yellow, the pits are less dense, but similarly extensive. Coordinates: 34.74 N, 40.73 E. Image ©DigitalGlobe | U.S. Department of State, NextView License | Analysis AAAS.

In a 2 April 2014 image, looting on a massive scale is visible at Dura-Europos, with high-density looting (red) visible in the vast majority of the site enclosed by the ancient city wall. In the archaeological areas beyond the wall, highlighted in yellow, the pits are less dense, but similarly extensive. Coordinates: 34.74 N, 40.73 E. Image ©DigitalGlobe | U.S. Department of State, NextView License | Analysis AAAS.

Dr. Marina Lostal, a Lecturer at Xi’an Jiaotong University, School of Law has written an article examining the potential use of individual criminal responsibility in Syria for damage to cultural heritage. Her paper, presented at Qatar University in 2014 looks at the role cultural heritage plays in this armed conflict, and looks to whether prosecution of individuals responsible is a viable option. Here is the abstract

Recent reports have confirmed damage to five of the six Syrian world heritage sites during the current armed conflict as well as extensive looting of several of its archaeological sites on the Syrian Tentative List of world heritage. This article examines the role and fate of Syrian world cultural heritage from the beginning of the conflict, maps out the different cultural property obligations applicable to Syria while illustrating, where possible, how they may have been violated. Then, it assesses if and how those responsible for these acts can be prosecuted and punished. The analysis reveals an accountability gap concerning crimes against Syrian world cultural heritage. As such, the article proposes to reinstate the debate over crimes against common cultural heritage which once arose in the context of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

Marina Lostal. (2015). Syria’s world cultural heritage and individual criminal responsibility. International Review of Law: Vol. 2015 1, 3.
Destruction of an unidentified king of Hatra by militants in 2015

Destruction of an unidentified king of Hatra by militants in 2015

There has been a series of reports which shows self-declared Islamic State militants causing severe damage to antiquities and heritage sites in Iraq and Syria: at the museum in Mosul, perhaps causing destruction at sites such as the Nergal gate in Ninevah, perhaps destruction at Hatra, and maybe even damage to the ancient city of Ninevah as well. The volume of reporting is hard to digest fully, but the news is almost all very very bad.

Reporting on these events is exceedingly difficult as these areas are controlled by the so-called Islamic State. When we consider that foreign reporters and aid workers have been kidnapped and killed in public executions when their ransoms are not paid, we can see how precarious and difficult it will be, and how patient we all must be in waiting for confirmation of destruction.

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Alexander Calder's 'Flamingo'

Alexander Calder’s ‘Flamingo’

Good luck to all the teams fighting over the Blue Pineapple in Chicago at the National Cultural Heritage Law Moot Court competition this weekend! This competition is put together by DePaul College of Law with the help of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation. It’s a great showcase for these soon-to-be-lawyers and this field. A bit about this year’s problem:

The 2015 Competition will focus on constitutional challenges to the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), 17 U.S.C. § 106A, which protects visual artists’ moral rights of attribution and integrity. The problem will address both a First Amendment and a Fifth Amendment challenge to VARA.

Cultural heritage law deals with our most prized possessions and often spans beyond national borders, and, inevitably, has become the subject of often contentious legal debates and policies. This dynamic and growing legal field deals with the issues that arise as our society comes to appreciate the important symbolic, historical and emotional role that cultural heritage plays in our lives. It encompasses several disparate areas: protection of archaeological sites; preservation of historic structures and the built environment; preservation of and respect for both tangible and intangible indigenous cultural heritage; the international market in art works and antiquities; and recovery of stolen art works.

And Chicago must be the place to be for art and cultural heritage law this weekend, as the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium will also be hosting a two-day conference titled: ‘Archaeological Looting: Realities and Possibilities for New Policy Approaches’.

The 13th-century Dome Reliquary, part of the Welfenschatz or Guelph Treasure, is displayed at the Bode Museum in Berlin

The 13th-century Dome Reliquary, part of the Welfenschatz or Guelph Treasure, is displayed at the Bode Museum in Berlin

“Any transaction in 1935, where the sellers on the one side were Jews and the buyer on the other side was the Nazi state itself is by definition a void transaction”.

So argues Nicholas O’Donnell, an attorney representing descendants of the Jewish art dealers who sold a collection of medieval artworks known as the “Guelph” or “Welfenschatz” Treasure, allegedly under duress and threat of persecution. The complaint for the two heirs was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. to recover yesterday afternoon. The objects were part of the treasury of the Braunschweig cathedral and were used to store and display relics. The claimants allege that a group of Jewish art dealers were forced to sell the objects in 1935 to the German state of Prussia.

One unfortuante aspect here is that the German commission charged with resolving the claims of Nazi-era claimants was unable to achieve a satisfactory result for the claimants and the German government. One of the likely issues in this dispute will be one the timelinesss of this suit, whether a court will examine the circumstances surrounding an alleged forced sale nearly 80 years after it took place. The complaint alleges that the objects were sold under persecution for 4.15 million Reichsmarks (RM). If we do some rough back-of-the-envelope calculations, the exchange rate was 2.45 RM for $1. So that means the objects were sold for just shy of $1.7 million in 1935 dollars, which be nearly $28 million today. Considering the treasure may be worth as much as $226m, the German State seems to have received a pretty good bargain. The legal question will be whether that sale was under duress.

O’Donnell argues in his blog this morning:

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