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

Italy-Cleveland Museum of Art Agreement?

On Friday, the AP reported that Italy and the Cleveland Museum of Art had reached an oral agreement to return some antiquities to Italy. Lee Rosenbaum rightly points out that this may be an example of Italy (specifically its departing minister Francesco Rutelli) jumping the gun before an agreement has in fact been concluded.

Though Rutelli has certainly achieved a number of notable successes during his term as Italy’s Culture Minister, his actions have also seemingly been motivated in many cases by the desire to gain political and media attention. This present announcement seems to be a case of Rutelli attempting to take credit for one last repatriation as he is soon to be replaced by Sandro Bondi in Berlusconi’s new Italian government. Though an agreement may have been reached in principle with the Cleveland Museum of Art, nothing is set in stone nor reduced to writing, and negotiations appear to be ongoing. The principal issue in these cases often isn’t necessarily what will go back to Italy, but what kinds of loans and agreements Cleveland can hope to receive in return.

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

Shelby White Returns 10 Antiquities


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.

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

Nostoi (UPDATE)


The Nostoi (“Returns”) epic is mostly lost, but the bits and pieces which have survived indicate it tells the story of the return home of the Greek heroes after the Trojan War.

It is perhaps apt then that Italian authorities on Monday called the display “Nostoi: Returned Masterpieces” when they unveiled 68 antiquities which have recently been returned to Italy. Soon to join the list is the Euphronios Krater, which is slated for return from the Met in January.

Livia Borghese and Jason Felch have the story in the LA Times. Elisabetta Povoledo has a similar story in the NY Times, including a slide show by the AP and Italian Culture ministry. This image may be my favorite of the bunch, the Griffins attacking the doe. Objects were returned from the Getty, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Princeton, and the Met. Also, some objects from the Royal Athena Galleries in New York were returned as well.

As might be expected, Francesco Rutelli the Italian culture minister and vice prime minister was quick to point out the significance of these returns saying, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum… With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.”

Ultimately, the display shows the results of the Italian campaign which by necessity eschewed international law, and American law and instead went right to the heart of the matter using public pressure and the media along with the high-profile and ongoing trials of Marion True and Robert Hecht. At the press conference, Rutelli claimed that this strategy has “[brought] about radical changes in the trade of looted antiquities”. That may be true in a limited sense I suppose, but only I think when the antiquities are backed by strong political will in source nations. What about the trade in antiquities from South America or Iran and elsewhere? I’m not sure this strategy will impact those objects. I’m not sure either that this new strategy will alter the idea of the Universal Museum, which seems largely at odds with the policy of many source nations. Ideally the Italian accords will continue to allow the US and Italy to work together to continue to share objects but also to prevent the acquisition of illicit antiquities in the future.

UPDATE:

Sarah Delaney has more in yesterday’s Washington Post, with more pontificating by Rutelli including this: “if we dry up the waters of illegal art trafficking it will be much more difficult for tombaroli and others to operate.” He praised as well the “new standards of ethics that American museums have adopted”. First among these is the Getty’s stringent new acquisition policy. Also, museums who cooperate will earn continued loans.

David Gill has more on the official handlist of objects in the display, including where objects came from, and a breakdown of the type and composition of objects. As he points out, “15 pieces were represented by South Italian pottery.”

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

Good Faith Acquisition of Antiquities?


Lee Rosenbaum at CultureGrrl has more on the Italy/Princeton agreement. At the right is a “Apulian red figure loutrophos from South Italy, ca. 335-325 B.C.” This object will remain at Princeton but Italy will gain title.

Importantly, Rosenbaum tells us Princeton’s spokesperson, Cass Cliatt maintains the University had acquired the objects in good faith. Also, further details will not be forthcoming because of a “confidentiality agreement” between the two parties. Also, Princeton is “anticipating posting our acquisition policies, but they are still in the revision stage and will be made available at the appropriate time.” Rosenbaum rightly expresses some skepticism at this reticence.

It seems to me that Princeton will not be the last museum to deal with Italian claims, as Rutelli has indicated it will pursue similar arrangements with the Cleveland Museum of Art, the New Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, and the Miho Museum in Japan. These restitutions are a welcome sign, but they will mean very little in the long run if these institutions do not erect appropriate safeguards. At present we are relying on institutions to police themselves. I’m beginning to reach the admittedly pessimistic conclusion that a good-faith acquisition of antiquities may not be possible given the way the market currently operates.

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

Antiquities Telethon

Even in Italy, where cultural policy plays a bigger role in politics than perhaps any other nation, funds for preserving and protecting objects and sites are hard to come by. As such Italy and Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli have resorted to a 3-day telethon to publicize the return of works from the Getty and to raise much-needed funds. One wonders how much of this is needed to raise funds and how much is political posturing. From Tom Kington’s report in today’s Guardian:

To soaring music by Ennio Morricone, seven sites featured in rotating TV spots, including Augustus’s villa where the frescos and flooring are decaying, the Sulky Punic necropolis in Sardinia, dating back to the fourth century BC, and an abandoned Norman fort near Cosenza.

Organisers also made room for more recent sites such as the Racconigi Royal Park in Cuneo, where a restoration project is needed for the 19th-century greenhouse in which the first Italian pineapples were grown. Also to benefit is Cremona’s centre for the restoration of antique musical instruments, as well as a rusty 19th-century railway line which connects the Sicilian baroque towns of Syracuse, Modica and Ragusa. If viewers cough up, the train will be turned into a museum on wheels for visitors.

The most modern candidate was championed by opera singer Andrea Bocelli: a museum for visually impaired people in Ancona lets visitors run their hands along reproductions of sculptures and archaeological finds.

Italy’s culture ministry pointed out that Italians only donated €42m in 2006 to protect their cultural heritage, compared with the €350m handed over by the French.

As the weekend drew to a close, donations were nearing the target, albeit with €300,000 of that coming from a US foundation.

The telethon comes amid rising resentment in Italy at the perceived free-spending habits of privileged politicians.

In an attempt to give an example of honest toil by politicians, Mr Rutelli displayed some of the artworks Italy claims were stolen and smuggled from its shores and has won back through the courts from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Mr Rutelli said the works would go on free display at the Quirinale in Rome, the sprawling presidential palace which has taken centre stage in the row over politicians’ spending after it was revealed that the cost of maintaining the president and his army of guardsmen, gardeners and silver polishers was higher than that of Buckingham Palace.

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

Evaluating the Italy/Getty Accord


Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino–nominated for a pulitzer in 2005 for their reporting on the Getty–have a can’t miss article in Friday’s edition of the LA Times. The subject is the agreement to return 40 antiquities to Italy.

Here’s an excerpt:

The museum’s youth and wealth made it an ideal target. Unlike its East Coast peers, which built the bulk of their collections in the decades before tough new laws governing antiquity purchases, the Getty came late to the collecting game. The museum didn’t receive its enormous endowment until the early 1980s, just as the United States was ratifying an international agreement that, among other things, banned traffic in artifacts that had left Italy without permission after 1939.

Fine antiquities, a passion of the museum’s benefactor and namesake, could still be found on the market. But museum officials often turned a blind eye to whether the artifacts had been illegally excavated and exported from their country of origin.

It’s an excellent overview of this dispute, and the problem with the antiquities trade generally. It also gives the context for how the Getty got itself into this mess and how it has responded in the past months. There’s a photo gallery of some of the important works which will be returned to Italy here; a helpful .pdf shows where in the Getty Villa the works are currently displayed; there’s also a nice gallery of photos from Italy by Luis Sinco here (including this image of a looted grave in Castelvetrano, Sicily).

NPR’s All Things Considered also covered the agreement this week. You can hear Michael Brand, the museum director, give his opinion. Patty Gerstenblith, a legal commentator on antiquities issues, also comments that this agreement rights past wrongs. Perhaps more relevant though is the Getty’s decision to no longer acquire antiquities without clean title dating to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. As she says, working to stem the illicit antiquities trade “is the most important thing that museums can and should be doing at this point.”

I also think the comments of Francesco Rutelli on Thursday were dead-on, and indicated a pragmatic view of the trade that many passionate advocates miss. He said efforts to stem the illicit antiquities trade “make looting more attractive.” He continues “Such a decisive fight against art trafficking makes looting more attractive, in the sense that (the items) have a higher value because there are fewer… An object that a few years ago could be bought for US$400,000 (€290,250), today is worth US$4 million (€2.9 million).” He’s exactly right, and its something legal commentators have been arguing since Paul Bator’s seminal work An Essay on the International Trade in Art.

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