In a move that had long been suspected, Shelby White has agreed to return ten antiquities from her private collection to Italy. Elisabetta Povoledo has a summary in today’s New York Times. David Gill, who has long been asking about this collection has a summary and helpful links at looting matters as well. Nine of the objects, including this fresco, were given to Italian authorities earlier this week, while a 5th Century BC Greek vessel will be returned in 2010.
The reason these objects were returned is, of course, that photographs show these objects in highly suspicious circumstances. They were discovered in the massive investigation of Giacomo Medici broken and in some cases still encrusted with dirt. They were almost certainly looted. The broader question again is, have future philanthropists been discouraged from acquiring illicit antiquities? Will Shelby White acquire antiquities differently in the future? As a private individual, it’s difficult of us to expect her to adopt an acquisition policy, but to guarantee more acquisitions like this don’t take place there needs to be a continued push for market reform.
Given the impression given by news reports, I find it highly unlikely that White intended to acquire looted objects; however the market fails to effectively distinguish illicit or looted objects. A better system would take the interest and capital of a collector like Shelby White and ensure a substantial portion of those proceeds go towards future excavations and protection of sites. However the current state of the antiquities trade makes that nearly impossible.
White, and her late husband Leon Levy have long collected antiquities, and supported research and other causes. White gave $20 million to the Met to construct a new Greek and Roman Gallery which opened last year. They have also supported antiquities digs in “Israel, the Aegean, Iran, turkey, the Balkans and elsewhere” according to the NYT piece. White won’t be receiving anything in return for her agreement to relinquish these ten objects, save an agreement that Italy will not seek other objects in her collection. However, that may not be such a bad thing, as Lee Rosenbaum pointed out yesterday by showing what the Met got in return for the Euphronios Krater, where it displayed the three loaned objects, and why perhaps it didn’t make much of an announcement about them.