Footnotes 5.10.2010

  • Fritz Lang’s famous film Metropolis has been recovered, due in large part to Argentine film archivist Fernando Pena.
  • A misappropriation of a da Vinci by Christie’s could have cost one woman millions.
  • Zahi Hawass of Egypt calls for a unified approach on stolen antiquities.
  • Is American architecture coming to an end?
  • Indonesia is auctioning off over 250,000 antiquities from a recently discovered 10th century shipwreck near Java.
  • Pieces of silver were recently stolen from the National Trust’s Kedleston Hall.
  • Turkish forgeries were found hanging on the walls of the State Painting and Sculpture Museum in Ankara.
  • Organized crime networks in Iraq show no intention of halting the valuable business of looting ancient artifacts.
  • An English man is on trial for stealing valuable horticultural books from a famous library in London.
  • This is old news, but the Getty Trust elected Ronald Spogli, former U.S. ambassador to Italy, to its board, possibly in an attempt to strength its ties with Italy.
  • Click here to read in depth on the recently held ABA Section of International Law Panel on the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
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Kimmelman on Drawing the Borders of Culture

Michael Kimmelman has a piece discussing the Parthenon sculptures and how it has influenced other repatriation debates.  He seems to favor a cosmopolitan approach, and borrows a good deal from James Cuno without mentioning him by name.  After all the mention of Cuno in some circles often shuts off any reasoned discourse.  And though he seems to be frustrated with his conclusion—that the Parthenon sculptures taken by Elgin should remain in London—he manages to make some thoughtful observations.  His best argument may be comparing the Euphronios Krater to the Parthenon sculptures:

And in the end patrimony is about ownership, often of objects that as in the marbles’ case, come from bygone civilizations. What, in this context, does it really mean to own culture?

Italy recently celebrated the return of a national treasure after the Metropolitan Museum gave back a sixth-century B.C. Greek krater by the painter Euphronius that tomb robbers dug up outside Rome during the 1970s. Stolen property is stolen property. But how curious that an ancient Greek vase, which centuries after it was made came into the possession of an Etruscan collector (a kind of ancient Elgin) living on what is now the outskirts of Rome, and then ended up buried for thousands of years below what became modern Italy, is today Italian cultural patrimony. By that definition, Elgin’s loot is arguably British patrimony.

Thought-provoking stuff, well worth a read. 

  1. Michael Kimmelman, Who Draws the Borders of Culture?, The New York Times, May 4, 2010, (last visited May 6, 2010).
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Heritage Neglect in Moscow

The Moscow Times has the story of a 17th-century merchant’s home in central Moscow which has been damaged by fire, neglect, water and ice:

Cracks can be seen in the facade of the four-story historic building in the center of Moscow, but it is only when you look at the side that you can see the calamitous state it is in. Part of the roof has fallen in after a fire hit the building last December.

Since then the building has been at the center of a struggle between preservationists and the city department that is supposed to protect the building.

Fyodor Bogatyryov from preservation organization Arkhnadzor brought a suit against the city property department and the city cultural heritage committee for their failure to act to save or even attempt to repair the building since the fire. The suit was rejected by the Zamoskvoretsky District Court last week.

The court will explain its reasoning Wednesday, and Arkhnadzor will almost certainly appeal the decision.

When activists from Arkhnadzor went inside the building after the fire, they discovered a hidden gem.

“The cellar is 17th century, the first floor is 18th century, and the second floor is 19th century,” Bogatyryov said. Nineteenth-century interiors are preserved on the first and second floors, including intricate oak balusters and stucco ceilings. All of it would have been destroyed if the building’s investor’s original plans went ahead.

Before they thought of bringing the case, Arkhnadzor appealed to the cultural heritage committee, held meetings, picketed, but nothing was done, Bogatyryov said. “We decided on more radical methods,” he said.

It was not just the fire that had damaged the building, one of a series of blazes that have hit old Moscow buildings in the last year. The water used to put out the fire turned to ice and, with no repairs done since, has melted causing serious damage to the building. With part of the roof falling in, the building has been exposed to the elements for more than four months.

  1. Kevin O’Flynn, Arkhnadzor Sues City Over Heritage Neglect | Arts & Ideas | The Moscow Times The Moscow Times, (last visited May 6, 2010).
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Using Injunctions to Stop Fossil Hunters in England

The Jurassic Coast in Devon

Carolyn Shelbourn, a Senior Lecturer at the Sheffield University School of Law has forwarded on a couple of interesting stories on the use of injunctions to prevent the taking of fossils in England.  In England, fossils have very little legal protection, and authorities have had to resort to injunctions, because the criminal provisions which apply to certain classes of antiquities do not apply to fossils. 

Recently the National Trust and the Charmouth council won an order banning a Somerset man from extracting fossils out of cliffs on the coast.  The National Trust has said:

The man has been involved in extracting large numbers of fossils by digging expressly against the wishes of the landowners and the guidance of the West Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct. His actions have also placed the public, including walkers and families, at risk from falling rocks.

Another injunction was made against “unknown persons” from digging in the area.  Fossils may still be collected from the beach, but not the cliffs.  The wholesale, perhaps even commercial taking was causing damage, and these injunctions were perhaps the only way to prevent these takings.  Shelbourn notes that this “persons unknown” injunction is a recent development in the law, first used perhaps to prevent a pre-publication of one of the Harry Potter books.  She notes also that “[t]hey have also been used here to try to prevent planned environmental protests . . .  The [National Trust] appear to have had to use civil law because of the lack of legal protection via criminal law.”   

  1. Jurassic ban for fossil diggers, BBC, March 25, 2010.
  2. Diarmuid MacDonagh, Rogue fossil hunters banned from Jurassic Coast section (From Dorset Echo) (2010) (last visited May 4, 2010).
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