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.

Hecht Trial Ends With a Whimper as Well

“I am not proud to say that Italian justice is slow. It is mortifying.”

So says Paolo Grigio Ferri, the prosecutor who helped build the case against Marion True and Robert Hecht, and also helped secure the return of many objects looted from Italy in recent decades. He was referencing the trial of antiquities dealer Hecht which has ended in Rome as a panel of three judges ruled the five-year statute of limitations expired. This was the same anticlimactic result which ended the trial of Marion. True and Hecht will not have the courtroom certainty of guilt or innocence attached to their names, though many of the important objects they acquired and exchanged have been returned to Italy.

From Elisabetta Povoledo’s report:

The court ruling, issued Monday, came in response to a request from Mr. Hecht’s lawyer to dismiss the case because the statute of limitations on the charges had elapsed in 2011. The lawyer, Alessandro Vannucci, said he had hoped the trial would fully exonerate his client, who has always maintained his innocence, “but it was cut short.” This decision “does not do Bob justice,” he said, using Mr. Hecht’s nickname. The judges did not express an opinion on culpability or innocence. But they ruled that a series of objects that had been confiscated from Mr. Hecht’s homes should return to their “rightful owner,” which was identified as the Italian state, a decision Mr. Vannucci said he would contest.

  1. Elisabetta Povoledo, Italian Trial of American Antiquities Dealer Comes to an End, ArtsBeat, January 18, 2012, http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/18/italian-trial-of-american-antiquities-dealer-comes-to-an-end/ (last visited Jan 18, 2012).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

The Journey of the Euphronios Krater


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Sylvia Poggioli has more on the looting and eventual return of the Euphronios Krater to Italy.  In sharp contrast to Michael Kimmelman, Poggioli states “In its new home, Rome’s Villa Giulia museum, the Euphronios vase has been given a place of honor in a glass case with special cool lighting.”  Poggioli takes us to the tomb complex where the krater was looted.

Vernon Silver has written a forthcoming work, The Lost Chalice, detailing the illegal journey of the famous “hot pot”: 

“They started coming out and poking the ground with a spillo, a long pole, that could probe into the ground until they found something,” he says.
Silver says the ancient Etruscans bought and collected imported Greek vases. Euphronios was among the artists in Athens who made many of those objects specifically for export. 
Silver says that when the tomb robbers carted off the Euphronios masterpiece, they destroyed many clues that would help archaeologists understand the history and culture of the people buried in the Cerveteri tomb. “It’s like a page being ripped out of a book of Etruscan history and Greek history and world history, when you have the opportunity to see what was buried with what, and who those people were, and who they were friends with, and who they traded with, and you don’t have that anymore,” Silver says. “It’s a finite resource; there aren’t an infinite number of these tombs sitting around.”

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

Medici Conviction Upheld

[medici_sarpedon.jpg]An Italian appeals court this week upheld the conviction of Italian art dealer/smuggler Giacomo Medici according to a report by Steve Scherer for Bloomberg.  Medici had been convicted of conspiracy to traffic in antiquities in 2004 and sentenced to a 10-year term.  It seems to be a very stiff sentence when compared to most art and antiquities crimes.  The Appeals court in Rome upheld the conviction and set the sentence at eight years, while upholding a 10 million-euro fine.  Italian Prosecutor Paolo Ferri told the LA Times that this was a “very hard sentence. This is the first time in Italy that this type of crime has been given such a high punishment.”

This is the most recent culmination of the 1995 raid on the Medici warehouse in Switzerland which uncovered objects, polaroids, and otherevidence which has resulted in a number of repatriations from museums all over the world, but particularly North American museums.  Here of course is Medici, triumphantly posed next to one of his most notorious objects, the Euphronios Krater, when it was on display at the Met in New York.

This now leaves Marion True, former curator of antiquities at the Getty, whose criminal prosecution is currently ongoing.  One question worth asking is, where are the other dealers, tombaroli, and museum staff?  Where were those able to elude prosecution, not just in Italy, but in the United States as well.

I’ll have much more on this, and Italy’s cultural policy next week in light of Francesco Rutelli’s comments at last Saturday’s ARCA conference in Amelia Italy, including his thoughts on what other objects need to be returned, why they were sent back, and his thoughts on objects which had been acquired by Robin Symes.

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

Francesco Rutelli on the Euphronios Krater

File:Villa Giulia cortile 1040216-7.JPGThis Saturday I participated in the ARCA Conference on the study of art crime in Amelia Italy.  I’ll have a lot more to say about my time in Italy, ARCA, and the masters course generally in the coming days, but I wanted to share one of the highlights.

One of the speakers, and the recipient of one of the ARCA awards was Francesco Rutelli, former Culture Minister of Italy.  Following his short discussion there was time for a couple of questions, and I was able to ask about his thoughts on the current disposition and position of the Euphronios Krater, on display here at the Villa Giulia.  Michael Kimmelman had an interesting piece last week in the New York Times, arguing “Italy’s biggest prize in the war against looting antiquities went on view recently at the Villa Giulia in Rome” but that “Italians didn’t seem to care much”.  I found that to be pretty typical, as an American visiting Rome, itis not really easy to see how or it can be quite difficult to find where the Krater, or many of the other returned objects are currently on display, particularly in a city and country with so many beautiful objects and heritage sites, wich  which truly is an enormous open-air museum. 

I asked Rutelli about that, about how Italian’s don’t seem all that interested in the Krater and how not many people are visiting it.  He responded with what I thought was a pretty thoughtful answer.  He stated that the piece is in “the correct place” and that in “scientific terms it is correct”.  It is an Etruscan object, and the Villa Giulia is the Etruscan museum—arguing that if the piece had been properly and legally excavated from Cerveteri, this is where the piece would have been displayed.

He did acknowledge though, that there may have been problems with “publicity and information”, a problem he traces to the current government, which he argued “should do more”, and these repatriated objects should all be displayed together as part of a meaningful message. 

He had a lot of interesting things to say, and the presentation of the award, and the audience of ARCA Masters students, interested observers, and reporters gave him an opportunity to look back on the repatriations of the last few years; and of course he was the public face of much of the negotiations between Italy and many North American museums.  Though he did point out that it was not just North American institutions.  Repatriations were also reached with Japanese and other European institutions—a fact often overlooked.  I’ll have much more to say about his other comments, which included Robin Symes, and a kind of a response to James Cuno, in the next few days.

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