I’ve been alerted by Alex Herman of the Institute of Art & Law that the Sevso Treasure looks finally to be going back to Hungary after over 25 years of negotiations and suits. The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced today that Hungary had “reacquired” seven pieces of the Sevso Treasure for €15 million. The objects will be put on public display in Budapest from March 29th.
This remarkable collection of Roman-era silver was perhaps discovered near Lake Balaton on the outskirts of a town named Polgárdi. The collection made it to the art markets in 1980 and the Marquess of Northampton purchased 14 of the pieces. These objects have gone on display irregularly, in efforts to gauge their marketability. In 1983 a portion of the objects was offered for sale to the Getty, but because of the concerns of Arthur Houghton over the export permits offered with the objects, the sale fell through.
One of the difficulties with using the courts to resolve the dispute over this Silver has been the fact that their origin remains uncertain. Though perhaps Roman in origin, Lebanon, Croatia, and Hungary have all made claims. There was a lengthy series of legal proceedings some years ago—after a 7 week trial in 1993 in the New York Supreme Court (the court of general jurisdiction in New York) a jury found that neither Croatia nor Hungary had established a valid claim over the treasure, and the Marquess of Northampton retained ownership.
These objects are what can be classified as “Orphan objects” in that they have been so removed from their context that their findspot and origins are difficult to determine. One thing the look out for as more details of this reacquisition emerge will the answer to the question of why Hungary only purchased 7 of the objects. Will Croatia buy the remainder? Will Lord Northampton have Hungary’s blessing that legal claims will not be brought against the other objects should they go up for sale? Will Hungary move to acquire the other objects?
- Republic of Croatia et al. v. Tr. of the Marquess of Northampton 1987 settlement, 203 A.D. 2d 167 (N.Y. App. Div. 1994).
- Anne Laure Bandle, Raphael Contel, Marc-André Renold, “Case Sevso Treasure – Republic of Lebanon et al. v. Marquess of Northampton,” Art-Law Centre – University of Geneva.