Repatriation of the Krater

Pictured here is the Euphronios krater, one of the finest known antiquities. Created in 515 BC, it is the only known complete example of a work painted by Euphronios. The krater was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a then-record $1 million from Robert Hecht. Suspicion was aroused as soon as the work was purchased about the provenance of the piece, where it was discovered, had it been in an existing collection etc. The most likely explanation now indicates the krater was purchased from Giacomo Medici, an Italian who was convicted of selling illicit antiquities on 2004. A 2004 article on artnet by the Met director at the time, Thomas Hoving, details his account of the acquisition of the krater. The krater was almost certainly illegally excavated. As a result we know nothing of its archaeological context.

As a result these questions, Italy and the Met agreed to arrange the return of the krater in exchange for other long term loans. Sunday will be the final day to see the krater at the Met before it is returned to Italy’s “Nostoi” exhibition championing the recent repatriation efforts.

In exchange, the Met will be receiving a terracotta cup depicting gods on Mt. Olympus signed by Euxitheos, a jug shaped like a woman’s head, and another krater made in southern Italy. I’ll leave to the art historians and others the question of whether this is a fair bargain, and how much the Met’s antiquities collection has been diminished.

Does this exchange remedy the earlier illegal excavation? The answer is no, it seems to me. It does not punish the illegal excavators. We still do not know anything about the krater’s context. More than anything, this seems to indicate that the Met and other institutions will think long and hard before making another similarly dubious acquisition in the future. That I think is the real relevance, and its one I think has not been discussed amid the retirement of Philippe de Montebello and the stories about these returns. The salient question remains, are there ways to ensure antiquities are licit? The answer it seems to me is still no. Sites are still vulnerable, and the antiquities trade does not promote the careful scientific study of sites. Amid all of this controversy after returns by the Met, the MFA Boston, the Getty, and the University of Virginia, a fundamental conundrum remains. Should the antiquities trade exist in some form? The discussion should, I think, focus now on the next Euprhonios Krater. Is it being protected? Are there new acquisition policies which are sufficient? Will more institutions abroad adopt the standards of the Getty or the Indianapolis Museum of Art? Are source nations effectively regulating their sites? Are they promoting compliance with these regulations?

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More on the Acroliths at UVA

The University of Virginia’s student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily has an editorial today on the two acroliths in the University Museum. Contrary to some speculation, there has been no confirmation the objects will return to Italy, and neither the University nor the Italian Culture Ministry have made any announcements yet. The Cavalier has another story by Laura Hoffman and Thomas Madrecki, which reveals some interesting details:

University Associate General Counsel Richard Kast said the artifacts were also given to the University by an anonymous donor.
Kast added that the University entered into an agreement with the donor to neither publicize the acroliths nor reveal the identity of the donor.
“Under the agreement that is in place, the University is not supposed to openly publicize the fact that they have the acroliths,” Kast said.
Kast also said, however, that the University is “obviously” in the possession of the marbles.
“There is an agreement, and the agreement has been in place for a while,” Kast said.
Several Italian news outlets have reported that the acroliths will be returned to the Aidone region in 2008. The New York Times article quoted Beatrice Basile, the art superintendent for the Italian province of Enna, as saying “We’re happy they’re coming back.”
According to Malcolm Bell, III, University professor of art history and director of ongoing University excavations in Morgantina, the museum will display the artifacts until the end of this calendar year.
Bell added that he is “eager to see them returned” and “optimistic” about the possibility of their return to Italy. Bell also said the Times article was accurate.
Kast declined to comment on the possibility of ongoing inquiries from the Italian government to the University in reference to the acroliths.

That seems odd. They have these objects but are not allowed to publish the fact. It seems there is an agreement, but no announcement has been made. As the editorial asks:

Too many questions remain unanswered. Even more, it seems, haven’t been asked. Who owns the masks? To whom do they rightly belong? Does the University Art Museum plan to return the masks? And if not, why? Until the public learns the truth, the circumstances surrounding the masks will continue to arouse suspicion.

I think that is exactly right. It seems like the University of Virginia has a good relationship with Italian authorities certainly, and perhaps is acting as a go-between for the anonymous donor, most likely Tempelman, and Italy.

On an unrelated note, unlike student papers here in the UK, (especially the atrocious one run by the students here at the University of Aberdeen) student papers back in the States take their jobs seriously and do some real reporting.

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Another Repatriation to Italy

Elisabetta Povoledo reports in today’s New York Times that the University of Virginia Art Museum will likely be returning these two acroliths to Sicily in 2008. An acrolith is a statue in which the body and torso are made of wood while the extremities are carved in marble.

The reports are coming from Italian news outlets, but neither the University of Virginia nor the Italian Culture Ministry are commenting. Of course the University of Virginia has been conducting work at Morgantina for decades, and Malcolm Bell III has written on the antiquities problem in Italy.

Povoledo’s speculation of the chain of title of these acroliths is quite interesting:

Silvio Raffiotta, the Italian prosecutor who for more than a decade investigated the two acroliths, has said they were illegally excavated by tomb robbers in Morgantina in the late 1970s. They are believed to represent the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, whose cult was deeply rooted in Morgantina, which fell to the Romans in 211 B.C.

In all, two heads, three feet and three hands were found; the body, most likely made of wood, might not have survived the centuries underground.

In a 1988 deposition, Giuseppe Mascara, a former tomb robber and antiquities dealer, told Mr. Raffiotta that in the spring of 1979 a young man had offered to sell him the two marble heads, which he said had been excavated in Morgantina.

“They were in the trunk of a car,” Mr. Mascara said in the deposition, and of “exceptional make.” But he did not buy them “because I didn’t know the man offering them to me and because of the asking price, which was enormous.”

Vincenzo Cammarata, another antiquities dealer who has been investigated for handling looted objects, also testified that he had been shown the acroliths, in the summer of 1979.

Mr. Raffiotta’s investigations began some years later and tracked the acroliths to the London showroom of the antiquities dealer Robin Symes, who is being investigated in Italy for dealing in looted art. Before arriving in London, the objects moved through Switzerland, a typical route used to disguise provenance.

In 1980 Mr. Symes sold the pair to Mr. Tempelsman, reportedly for $1 million. No evidence suggests that Mr. Tempelsman was aware that the statues might have been illegally excavated.

Mr. Raffiotta first made a claim to the statues in 1988, while they were on exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The museum immediately returned them to their anonymous lender.

In news reports Mr. Tempelsman later emerged as their owner. In 1994, upon the death of his companion Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, schoolchildren in Aidone sent Mr. Tempelsman a condolence note that also asked him to return the acroliths to their hometown.

Italian officials began quietly negotiating with Mr. Tempelsman, and Forbes magazine has reported that a deal was reached in which Mr. Tempelsman would give the acroliths to an institution, which would then return them to Italy after a specific period.

Mario Bondioli Osio, who was involved in those negotiations, said this week that he could not comment on the details until next year. “But I am convinced they will return home,” he said.

It would be helpful to know how this repatriation came about. The Forbes article does not appear to be published online yet. These acroliths have been displayed at UVA’s Art Museum for five years. Was there some kind of arrangement where Tempelsman could donate the works to UVA, receive the substantial income tax deduction, and then the work would be returned to Italy? If so American taxpayers are subsidizing this repatriation of illicit antiquities, and that strikes me as very troubling.

Another related question: Tempelsman is a diamond dealer, who has been a vocal supporter of the Kimberley process; perhaps there needs to be a kind of Kimberley process for antiquities acquisitions?

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