25 Objects Returned to Italy, 0 Arrests

A 6th-century BC Kalpis depicting Dionysos transforming pirates into dolphins

 

 

In a ceremony this week officials from the United States and Italy announced the return of 25 looted objects to Italy. The various press releases from the U.S. and Italian authorities have details on all the returns. But I want to highlight one object which fascinates:this 6th-century BC Kalpis, likely looted from near Vulci, which depicts how Dionysus dispatched some Tyrrhenian pirates. It was acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art in 1982, but was later connected by Italian authorities to Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. The vase was sold in 1982 for a mere $90,000. The history of the object given to the Toledo Museum was that it had been in the collection of a Swiss collector named Karl Haug, and had been in his family since 1935—predating Italy’s 1939 national ownership declaration. In June of 2012 Immigrations and Customes Enforcement agents “consctuctively seized” the vase, allowing it to remain in the possession of the Museum. This week’s ceremony marks the formal return of this and other objects with similar stories.

 

Elisabetta Povoledo reported for the NYT:

Inquiries were begun in the last decade or so in nine Homeland Security field offices, including New York City, Buffalo, Baltimore, Boston, Miami and San Diego, leading to the returns.

Gen. Mariano Mossa, commander of the T.C.P., said at the news conference that the value of the objects was difficult to gauge. But the quality and rarity of many of the artifacts made them irreplaceable, officials said.

Each artifact returned to Italy had its own story.

The three first-century B.C. fresco fragments depicting human figures, for example, were stolen on June 26, 1957, from the Culture Ministry offices at Pompeii. Tracked to a San Diego warehouse, they were taken by agents in September 2012 from the private collection of an unnamed “American magnate” before they could be sold at auction, Italian officials said.

The authorities later identified the frescoes as belonging to the Allen E. Paulson Trust, which forfeited them to the United States government, which then returned them to Italy.

This is very much in keeping with how these ancient works of art are dealt with. It’s almost exclusively an object-centered approach. These objects are returned while officials in both the United States and Italy are able to announce the hard work they are doing, but there are no new prosecutions.

Elisabetta Povoledo, 25 Looted Artifacts Return to Italy, The N.Y. Times, May 26, 2015.

 

The British Museum is loaning a Parthenon sculpture

The Ilissos sculpture, loaned to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
The Ilissos sculpture, loaned to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg

For the first time since the sculptures were removed from the Parthenon under the orders of Lord Elgin some 200 years ago, the British Museum has announced it is loaning a Parthenon sculpture. Specifically the Ilissos statue to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. This very short loan, which will last only until January 18th has caused a great deal of outrage and criticism amongst those who think the sculptures should be ultimately reunited in Athens.

Greeks in particularly have been angered, with the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras calling the loan a provocation: “The Parthenon and its sculptures were pillaged. We greeks identify with our history and culture. They cannot be torn apart, loaned, and ceded.”

And there is I think part of the problem for the Greeks. They have made compromise exceedingly difficult. I have argued before that justice requires the sculptures be reunited in Athens. But ownership and property law has limits that cannot resolve this dispute. So much time has passed between Elgin’s actions, and the actions of Ottoman officials, that definitively litigating those actions is difficult. Rather that criticizing this loan, perhaps Greeks, and those who think the sculptures belong in Athens should see this as a loosening of the British Museums’s grips on these sculptures, and may be a precedent upon which future loans could ultimately achieve the return of these objects to Athens, if not permanently, then at least on a temporary basis.

Prott on Australian museums and illicit art

The 900-year-old bronze Dancing Shiva (Shiva Nataraja)  returned by the National Gallery of Australia to India in 2014
The 900-year-old bronze Dancing Shiva (Shiva Nataraja) returned by the National Gallery of Australia to India in 2014

Lyndel Prott, Honorary Prof. of International Heritage Law at the University of Queensland has authored a timely Op-Ed for the Conversation. In it she argues the 1970 UNESCO Convention has a role to play in impeding the flow of illicit art. But wonders about its impact on the recent spate of illicit material revealed in Australian Museums:

In September the Australian Prime Minister personally returned a 900-year-old bronze Dancing Shiva (Shiva Nataraja) to the Prime Minister of India which had been bought by the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and was subsequently found to have been stolen from a temple in southern India.

In a country which has been a party to the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property – 1970 since 1989, how did the AGSA, the NGA and the AGNSW find themselves in such egregious situations?

Despite the passage of the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 which implements for Australia the provisions of the 1970 Convention, the holding institutions have not undertaken the effort that they should have over the last 25 years.

 

Continue reading “Prott on Australian museums and illicit art”

James Cuno Still Critical of Repatriation

The Getty Villa in Malibu
The Getty Villa in Malibu

James Cuno, President of the Getty Trust, has authored a short essay revisiting his arguments against repatriation. Those familiar with his arguments will see many of the same kinds of arguments he has made in the past. Mainly he criticizes repatriation as an exercise in nationalism:

Such claims on the national identity of antiquities are at the root of many states’ cultural property laws, which in the last few decades have been used by governments to reclaim objects from museums and other collections abroad. Despite UNESCO’s declaration that “no culture is a hermetically sealed entity,” governments are increasingly making claims of ownership of cultural property on the basis of self-proclaimed and fixed state-based identities. Many use ancient cultural objects to affirm continuity with a glorious and powerful past as a way of burnishing their modern political image — Egypt with the Pharaonic era, Iran with ancient Persia, Italy with the Roman Empire. These arguments amount to protectionist claims on culture. Rather than acknowledge that culture is in a state of constant flux, modern governments present it as standing still, in order to use cultural objects to promote their own states’ national identities.

Though he acknowledges the looting and destruction that has taken place and this was the impetus for a number of returns from his current institution, he’s attempting it seems to hold a firm line against calls for repatriation which pre-date 1970. While he does obliquely criticize looting, he offers no other solution to the problem. How can we prevent site destruction and looting without national legislation and domestic initiatives (which he has called nationalistic)? That question is left largely unanswered. He does make calls for more Universal museums in nations of origin.

He ends with a call for exchange and cooperation:

For encyclopedic museums to fulfill their promise of cultural exchange, they should be established everywhere in the world where they do not now exist. And existing encyclopedic museums should aid in their development. Already, there are laudable examples of how great museums in wealthy countries can foster a more comprehensive kind of cosmopolitanism. The British Museum established a program in 2008 to promote partnerships with institutions in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In addition to loaning collections and exhibitions from British museums, it focused on training: in conservation, curating, and archiving. In all, some 29 countries were involved. The program was supported by the British government’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport. But after three years, the British government cut the program’s funding. The partnerships continue on a smaller scale supported by grant funding, including from the Getty Foundation.

This process of exchange and cooperation should build trust among museums and national authorities. It will be a long, slow process, but if successful, it would lay the foundation for a greater understanding of the values represented by the encyclopedic museum: openness, tolerance, and inquiry about the world, along with the recognition that culture exists independent of nationalism.

Cuno, James. “Culture WarForeign Affairs, December 2014.

Updating the forfeiture of the Fano Athlete

Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa
Bronze Statue of a Victorious youth, at the Getty Villa

Mike Boehm of the L.A. Times reports on the current status of the Fano Athlete/Getty Bronze dispute. A division of Italy’s High Court (Corta Suprema di Cassazione) is expected to weigh an appeal of an earlier forfeiture order this week. I’m quoted as the lone dissenting voice arguing the Bronze should be returned to Italy. I think a return is the just thing to do when you consider the violations of Italian patrimony laws which occurred when the Bronze was smuggled ashore, hidden in violation of Italian law, and then allegedly treated very badly before being smuggled to Brazil, then conserved in Europe before the Getty acquisition.

For a full discussion of my understanding of the history of the case and the reasons why I think Italy stands a good chance of having the Bronze returned soon, you can have a look at my forthcoming piece in volume 32 of the Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal.

Both Stephen Urice and Patty Gerstenblith seem to see the case differently:

“I’m baffled by this,” said Stephen Urice, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law who’s an expert on art law and cultural property law. “Even if you apply our ethical norms today, I don’t see a problem.”

Patty Gerstenblith, a leading advocate of protecting archaeological sites and sending looted art back to nations of origin, said that “Victorious Youth” shouldn’t be considered a looted work and needn’t be returned. Italy never had a legally valid ownership claim, she said, because the statue wasn’t found in Italian waters or on Italian soil, and it wasn’t made or owned by modern Italy’s Roman and Etruscan forebears.

Gerstenblith, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago and director of its Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law, said the fishermen who netted the statue did break Italian laws by hiding their find instead of reporting it to authorities. So did the original buyers who shipped “Victorious Youth” out of Italy without a proper export permit.

Although those illegalities raise ethical questions that might make a museum in 2014 steer clear of a purchase, Gerstenblith said, they have no bearing on the fishermen’s right to have owned and sold the bronze statue, or the Getty’s right to keep what it bought.

In any case, the forfeiture effort is persistent, and the Italian authorities seem inclined to use every tool at their disposal to help secure a return, including cultural diplomacy, mutual assistance treaties, and domestic Italian court proceedings.
Mike Boehm, The Getty’s “Victorious Youth” is subject of a custody fight, latimes.com (May 7, 2014), http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-getty-bronze-20140507-story.html.
Derek Fincham, Transnational Forfeiture of the “Getty” Bronze, 32 Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal (2014).

Renfrew on the Sevso hoard

A detail from the hunting plate, which refers to locations in present-day Hungary
A detail from the hunting plate, which refers to locations in present-day Hungary

Lord Colin Renfrew has offered a comment on the Sevso hoard in the Art Newspaper. He revisits the multi-claimant scramble of a lawsuit which saw three nations attempting to wrest control of the hoard from the investment trust; and we learn perhaps why Hungary only purchased a portion of the silver:

Through his lawyer, Peter Mimpriss of Allen and Overy, Wilson was able to interest the Marquess of Northampton in the silver as a proposition for investment, and by 1987, the Marquess of Northampton 1987 Settlement Trust was the sole owner of what by then was a collection of 14 pieces of impressive Roman silverware. The plan for Sotheby’s to sell the silver by auction in Switzerland in 1990 was halted by the seizure of the treasure on a publicity tour to New York, when Lebanon, and then Hungary and Croatia, laid claim to it in the New York State Supreme Court. The court did not find in favour of either Hungary or Croatia, Lebanon having withdrawn its claim, and the treasure was returned to London to the custody of the Marquess of Northampton. 

It is important to note that the judge did not rule that the marquess was the legal owner, simply that neither Hungary nor Croatia had demonstrated good title. Not surprisingly, the Marquess of Northampton was disappointed by the sale fiasco of his investment, and (with a new lawyer) sued Mimpriss and Allen and Overy, winning a settlement—reportedly of £24m—in 2000. 

In November 2006, the 14 pieces of silver (and the copper container in which they were found) were placed on display at Bonhams auction house for an invited audience. Then the scene went quiet, until the announcement in late March by Victor Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, that seven pieces of the treasure had been successfully repatriated (at a cost of €15m) and put on public display.

The vendors, who are €15m better off, did not include the Marquess of Northampton; the silver was instead sold by a trust. Its beneficiaries are the two sons of the late Peter Wilson, who made the initial, ill-fated purchase in 1980. Ludovic de Walden, the current lawyer of the marquess, indicated last week that the marquess is still the owner of the remaining seven pieces. 

  1. Colin Renfrew, Shame still hangs over the Sevso hoard The Art Newspaper (2014), http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Shame-still-hangs-over-the-Sevso-hoard/32545 (last visited Apr 29, 2014).

Checking in on Repatriated works

One of the Lysi frescoes on display in Houston at the Menil's Byzantine Chapel Museum
One of the Lysi frescoes on display in Houston at the Menil’s Byzantine Chapel Museum

Rachel Donadio reports for the New York Times on a number of repatriated antiquities back in their nation of origin. The list includes la dea di Aidone in Sicily, the Weary Heracles in Turkey, the Lysi frescoes on Cyprus, and the Euphronios Krater in the Villa Giulia.

Only the Lysi frescos, returned by the Menil to Cyprus after a 20 year loan agreement were acquired with permission of the creator communities:

In rare cases, a repatriation is arranged so that a collector knowingly buys works identified as stolen to protect them from being further damaged or broken up. That happened in 1985, when the art collector Dominique de Menil bought some 13th-century Byzantine frescoes from a Turkish art dealer after the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and government officials there identified them as having been stolen.

When she was first offered the works, depicting Christ Pantocrator and the Virgin Mary with the Christ child surrounded by the archangels Michael and Gabriel, Mrs. de Menil was skeptical about their provenance. She quietly approached the Church of Cyprus, which said the frescoes had been secreted out of the apse and the dome of the church of St. Euphemianos in Lyssi, in a part of Cyprus that had been annexed by Turkey in 1974.

Mrs. de Menil pledged to buy them — and return them to Cyprus in 20 years. The Menil Collection in Houston paid for the frescoes’ restoration, which took years. It built a bespoke minimalist space for them next to its Rothko Chapel and put them on display there in 1998. Themuseum had been hoping that Cyprus would extend the agreement and allow them to keep the works on view.

But in 2012, Cyprus asked for them back, in a climate in which the new government and leadership of the Church of Cyprus have been increasingly aggressive in their campaign to call attention to the deconsecrated Christian religious sites in the areas of Cyprus that Turkey still controls.

The Menil Collection made good on its promise. “Of course we were sad, but in the end we were very proud because ethically, from a moral point of view, this was exactly what needed to happen,” said Josef Helfenstein, the director of the Menil Collection.

The frescoes are now on view in the Archbishop Makarios III Foundation Byzantine Museum and Gallery in Nicosia, Cyprus’s second-most visited museum, “until the day they will be put back in the chapel,” said John Eliades, the director of the Byzantine Museum. That might not be so easy.

  1. Rachel Donadio, Repatriated Works Back in Their Countries of Origin, N.Y. Times, April 17, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/arts/design/repatriated-works-back-in-their-countries-of-origin.html.

My article on Italian Forfeiture of the Getty Bronze

My article “Transnational forfeiture of the Getty Bronze” examining the Italian efforts to forfeit the Getty Bronze will be appearing in Volume 32 of Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal (forthcoming, 2014) soon. Later in May the Italian Court of Cassation is expected to perhaps give a final ruling.

In the meantime here is my analysis of how Italy could successfully use its Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States to secure repatriation.

From the Introduction:

Italy has been engaged in an ongoing fifty-year struggle to recover an ancient Greek bronze. The “Bronze Statue of a Victorious Youth” has a remarkable story. It was lost at sea in the Adriatic in antiquity; found by chance in international waters; smuggled into the Italian seaside village of Fano; hidden first in a bathtub, then a cabbage field; smuggled and hidden in Brazil; later conserved in Germany and London; and ultimately purchased by the Getty Museum only months after the death of the Trust’s namesake, J. Paul Getty. Getty refused to allow his museum to purchase the statue during his lifetime without a thorough and diligent inquiry into the title history of the Bronze, a step the trustees of the Getty did not take prior to acquisition of the Bronze.

The question is not whether the Bronze was illicit when the Getty trustees made the decision to acquire it. It most certainly was, and still is. The question now is whether the Getty will be able to continue to retain possession. In the press and in cultural property circles, the Bronze is considered nearly un-repatriatable given this convoluted history. But an Italian forfeiture action in Pesaro has quietly set in motion a means by which Italy might repatriate the Bronze through a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. This transnational forfeiture marks the creation of a useful new tool in the struggle to repatriate looted and stolen cultural objects. And perhaps more importantly, the dispute signals a continuing trend reflecting the importance of domestic law in source nations in cultural heritage law.

Victoria Reed on Monuments Woman Ardelia Hall

Ardelia Ripley Hall at a ceremony returning a Rubens to Germany
Ardelia Ripley Hall at a ceremony returning a Rubens to Germany

Victoria Reed (Sadler Curator for Provenance at the MFA Boston) has a republished piece in the International Journal of Cultural Property titled: “Ardelia Hall: From Museum of Fine Arts to Monuments Woman“. From the abstract:

Ardelia Ripley Hall (1899–1979) served from 1946 until 1962 as the Fine Arts and Monuments Adviser to the U.S. Department of State. In this role she oversaw the recovery and restitution of movable cultural property that had been displaced during the Second World War. In spite of her vast accomplishments, almost nothing has been written on Ardelia Hall, and little is known about her life. She began her career at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but personal circumstances led to her resignation in 1941. During the war, she was employed by the Office of Strategic Services. The expertise she established as an art historian working with the Roberts Commission at this time led to her appointment at the State Department in 1946. This essay traces for the first time Hall’s remarkable journey from curatorial researcher to adviser on international art restitution.

 

  1. Victoria Reed, Ardelia Hall: From Museum of Fine Arts to Monuments Woman, FirstView International Journal of Cultural Property 1–15 (2014).

The Getty will Return a 12th C. Manuscript to Greece

An image from the illuminated Manuscript
An image from the illuminated Manuscript

The Getty has announced the return of a 12th-century Byzantine illuminated New Testament. Details are scarce in the piece, other than a record in 1960 from the Monastary indicated the Manuscript was missing. The object was acquired in 1983 as part of a “large, well-documented” collection.

From the Getty’s release:

The manuscript was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1983 as part of a large, well-documented collection. Recent research on the object by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, which was conducted in close collaboration with the Getty, suggested that the New Testament had not been legally transferred from the Monastery of Dionysiou. This was confirmed by a recently obtained 1960 monastery record indicating that the book had been illegally removed. The report of its disappearance had never been made public, nor had information about the theft been made available to the Getty, to law enforcement, or to any databases of stolen art.

The Getty is right to point out in the release that this is a voluntary return which came about as a result of the agreements entered into by the Museum as a result of other returns of illicit material. But one wonders about this other collection, if there are other objects in that collection which may be suspect, and how exactly the facts surrounding this return came to light.

 

Press Release, The J. Paul Getty Museum Announces the Return of A Byzantine Illuminated New Testament to Greece, http://news.getty.edu/press-materials/press-releases/byzantine-manu-to-greece.htm (April 7, 2014).