Vernon Silver reports on the Gaza Apollo

Palestinian MInistry of Tourism and Antiquities via Bloomberg
Palestinian MInistry of Tourism and Antiquities via Bloomberg

Vernon Silver reported on Friday for Businessweek on the Gaza Apollo. The Bronze was found in remarkably good condition in shallow waters off the Gaza strip, just north of the Egyptian border. Silver is an archaeologist who wrote a terrific account of the Euphronios Krater in 2010 called “The Lost Chalice“. He’s done some excellent reporting on this Bronze. We learn a Palestinian fisherman, Jouda Ghurab, found the statue while diving with a net last August. Silver reports that with the help of his brother and other men, they were able with some difficulty to bring the Bronze ashore.

Ghurab dove down with the rope and tied it to the statue’s neck. Using the boat, they managed to right the statue. They tied another line around its base and tried to lift it so they could tow it to shore. Instead, they nearly sank the boat. Finally, Ghurab and another diver were able to turn the statue, sliding it head over foot, and foot over head, spinning it along the sea bottom until it reached the beach. They finished around 4:30 p.m., almost five hours after Ghurab had discovered the prize. It took six of them to lift the bronze onto a donkey cart. They took it to a nearby cluster of buildings Ghurab shares with other family members. Among the structures is a hut with a sand floor, a roof of palm fronds, and a wall made from a plastic banner picturing Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, whom Israel assassinated using Hellfire missiles in 2004. The men placed the statue on the floor of a house in the compound, unaware they had discovered what might be the most valuable archaeological find of the century. Soon, though, things would get very complicated. After all, it is Gaza.

It does not sound like much of the archaeology was recovered or even considered.

Jawdat Khoudary, “an antiquities collector who makes his money in construction” was asked to find a buyer for the Bronze. Yet conservation is essential.  A Bronze which has been preserved by the ocean for so long needs expert care, and time is extremely precious during the early moments of discovery.

Bauzou at the Université d’Orléans was one of the experts Khoudary called. The French archaeologist corresponded with the Gaza Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, using photographs to assess the bronze. “This statue is a major discovery,” he wrote in a Sept. 23 letter in which he expressed alarm over the work’s conservation. “I do not like the light green spots visible on the pictures … it is an emergency!” He said specialists in metal preservation and restoration needed to be called in at once to decide how to proceed. The transition from the dark color seen by the fisherman to the new green hue might be a sign of a type of corrosion akin to a grave dermatological condition.

. . .

Bauzou concluded from his research that the statue dated from between the 5th century B.C. and 2nd century A.D. “The Apollo of Gaza is exceptional because it is the only classical Greek bronze life-size statue found in the whole Middle East,” he wrote in another report, dated Oct. 4.

Silver notes of course that one of the difficulties plaguing the Bronze is the uneasy position that the Hamas government finds itself in. It is not an independent state yet, and has yet to be recognized by many foreign governments. Given that our current system of cultural heritage laws are predicated on state ownership and regulation, the Gaza Apollo is an uneasy case which stands in a gap in heritage law. A fact that some have speculated is quite convenient for the current possessors of the Bronze, and has led to speculation that the Bronze may have been discovered elsewhere and taken to Gaza.

David Gill speculates:

The surprising thing, as Silver points out, is that the statue shows little evidence that it was submerged in the sea for centuries. Is the reported find-spot a blind to distract the authorities from a ‘productive’ site?

Yet Silver’s reporting would seem to preclude that possibility.

Silver, Vernon. “The Apollo of Gaza: Hamas’s Ancient Bronze Statue.” BusinessWeek: Global_economics, January 30, 2014. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-30/hamass-ancient-bronze-statue-the-apollo-of-gaza.

 

Another theft of a Henry Moore bronze

Henry Moore's Sundial sculpture

This sundial sculpture by Henry Moore was stolen earlier this week. All scrap metal shops should be on notice to look out for the piece, and I’m sure police are in contact with scrap metal buyers in the region:

 The 22-inch (56cm) high “Sundial” sculpture had been placed in the garden of The Henry Moore Foundation in Much Hadham, Herts, to be enjoyed by visitors. The structure, in the shape of two interlinked crescents, is believed to have been stolen between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, when members of staff spotted it missing. Police have now launched an investigation into the theft, amid fears it could have been stolen to be melted down.

Let’s hope this half a million pound work of art won’t be sold for only a few hundred pounds and is recovered quickly. 

  1. Hannah Furness, Henry Moore sculpture worth £500,000 stolen from grounds of his former home, Telegraph.co.uk, July 12, 2012.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Theft of Public Statues

Sad story via Bloomberg on the probable fate of this Henry Moore statue, valued at as much as 3 million pounds which may have been stolen and melted for scrap for a mere 2,500 pounds. 

U.K. detectives had first worked on the theory that the piece, “Reclining Figure,” was stolen three years ago at the request of an art collector. It has never been found. Hertfordshire officers said they now believe the 2.1-ton work was sold for its metal, highlighting the security risks facing high-value sculptures shown in public.


“There was a wave of thefts of statues around the time the Moore was stolen,” Dick Ellis, director of the Art Management Group, a U.K.-based company that advises art collectors on security issues, said in an interview. “There is an increase in the theft of statues at the moment,” said Ellis, a former head of Scotland Yard’s art and antiques squad.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Art Theft and Recovery Blotter

There’s a slew of news about art theft, recovery and sentencing this morning:

First, thieves broke into a museum near Stockholm and stole five works by Andy Warhol (Mickey Mouse, and Superman) and Roy Lichtenstein (Crak, Sweet Dreams, Baby!, and Dagwood).

Second, authorities in Brazil have recovered a Picasso print, The Painter and the Model, which was stolen along with four other works back in June from the Pinacoteca do Estado in São Paulo, Brazil. Police had the men under surveillance for a planned ATM robbery, and overheard mention of the Picasso.

Third, a Vermont man has been ordered to serve a five-to-20 year prison sentence for stealing bronze sculptures to sell as scrap metal. He and two other men had stolen a number of sculptures from Joel Fisher’s studio while the artist was out of the country.

Finally, Artinfo is reporting that the Art Loss Register has recovered a Mario Carro work stolen from a New York law firm in 1993.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Getty Trust’s Position on the Statue of a Victorious Youth

This bronze statue, known as “the Statue of a Victorious Youth” was purchased by the Getty in 1977 for close to $4 million. It has been attributed to the Greek sculptor Lysippos, the 4th century BC sculptor for Alexander the Great. However, it may be a work by a later Greek sculptor in the same style. Today, the nearly life-size statue is one of the excellent pieces of the Getty’s Greek and Roman collection. It was found in 1964 by fisherman from Fano, somewhere in the Adriatic Sea.

Last Friday, I received an email from Ron Hartwig, of the Getty, complete with a copy of the memo sent last November to the Italian Government regarding this bronze statue. The memo, prepared by the law firm representing the Getty is a detailed account of the legal and factual history surrounding the statue. As he stated to me, “[The Getty] are committed to reaching an agreement with Italy, but doing so based on a scholarly approach, and mindful of relevant law.” That seems quite a reasonable proposition to me, and paints a much different picture than the one many Italian authorities are portraying. Certainly, the Italian Cultural Ministry is laying strong claims to the bronze in the media. Just last week, Francesco Rutelli said of the bronze,

“the bronze Athlete that was hauled up in a fishing net from the waters of the Adriatic sea and later secretly smuggled out of Italy in total violation of its laws. Paradoxically, museum founder John Paul Getty declared before his death that he did not want to acquire that work without its official certification and clear title. This is not a legal question, but a question of ethics. It is a matter of transparency in relations with the public and correct behavior in the antiquities market.”

There are a lot of problems with the antiquities market, but I’m not sure how they are linked to this statue. I’d like to lay out the Getty’s position on the statue, and then evaluate Italy’s claims. It seems clear to me, based on the memo provided, that Italy has a very weak legal and ethical argument to make for the return of the work. The bronze statue was pulled up by Italian fishermen in 1964. The Getty claims it was 30-40 miles off the coast of Italy. The Italian territorial waters extend only 6 nautical out to sea. Italy claims that the statue was found in Italian territorial waters, which would have vested title to the work in the Italian state. However, it seems there was a prosecution in 1966 of the Italians who had purchased the statue. The men were acquitted, and after an appeal, the Court of Appeals of Rome upheld the acquittal because there was no sufficient evidence introduced at the trial that the statue was found in Italian territorial waters. According to the memo, the capatin of the Ferrucio Ferri, Romeo Pirani, has stated unequivocally that the statue was found over 30 miles offshore. Another fisherman on the boat, Igli Rosato, has said the statue was found 32 nautical miles from the shore. It’s surprising to me that this fact has not been given more attention. An Italian court has essentially ruled that there is not enough evidence to support returning the statue.

After the statue was found, it was probably taken ashore to Italy. When it left Italy, it would have probably violated Italian export restrictions. However, courts of one nation do not generally enforce the export restriction of a foreign state. Though American courts recognize foreign patrimony laws, they most certainly do not recognize foreign export restrictions. Thus, in terms of legal claims for the return of the bronze, Italy has no tenable claim, and would almost certainly fail if they chose to bring suit.

What then of the ethical arguments? Certainly, Italy can argue that the statue was illegally exported, and thus should be returned. However, that claim may have been more persuasive when the Getty was considering purchasing the statue. As it stands now, the statue has been displayed by the Getty since 1978, and has been one of their signature pieces, such that the statue is now often referred to as “the Getty Bronze”. Further, the statue was created in Greece, not Italy. If any nation has a claim to it based on the idea that it is a part of their cultural patrimony, it is Greece. Also, the reason the trade in illicit antiquities is so damaging, is that it often causes the loss of the archaeological context surrounding an object. However, those concerns are not present in this case, as the statue was most assuredly a chance find.

In the end, it seems clear to me that the legal and ethical arguments supporting the removal of the statue to Italy are quite tenuous. The question then becomes, why has Italy argued so stringently for the return of the statue? Perhaps they do feel strongly that this statue belongs in an Italian institution, or perhaps they are using it to leverage the Getty into returning other works. In any case, though the Getty could have certainly been more cautious in many of its purchases in the past, it seems to me, based on the evidence I have seen, they are on solid legal and ethical grounds in choosing to proudly display this bronze statue.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Theft of a bust of Rodin’s "The Thinker" (UPDATED)


A number of bronze sculptures, including one of the casts of Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” has been stolen from a Dutch museum. Though it is not particularly rare (there exist 74 other casts of the work), it may be worth hundreds of thousands of Euros. This is another in a string of recent bronze thefts. Some bronze busts have recently gone missing from the Pere Lachaise cemetery as well. Tragically, the works may be melted down, as bronze can be quite valuable. There is also speculation that the bronze may be used to make counterfeit ancient coins.

UPDATE:

Two men have been arrested in connection with the thefts. As I suspected, it appears the thieves were only after the bronze to melt it down. They were apparently quite surprised at the level of media attention. Sadly, it appears that one of the legs was sawed off in preparation for melting it down. On the bright side though, perhaps they can use one of the other thinker busts to reconstitute this one.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com