Quote of the Day

Its breathtaking design, with natural light flooding every corner, is a huge achievement in itself. And with every visitor, I am sure, another voice will be raised to call on London to restore the unity of this astonishing piece of art.

Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian newspaper

November 4, 2014

Ethics of art repatriation and responsibility to protect heritage

Posted at 10:27 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

In this interview, Smithsonian curator Masum Momaya talks (amongst other things) about the patronising way that the British Museum continues to rebuff any claims made by India for the restitution of artefacts taken from the country during the time of the Raj.

The Sultanganj Buddha is one of many artefacts in the UK subject to ownership claims by India

The Sultanganj Buddha is one of many artefacts in the UK subject to ownership claims by India

From:
Financial Chronical (India)

A sense of history
By Gargi Bhattacharya
Nov 03 2014

Smithsonian curator Masum Momaya on the ethics of art repatriation and the moral responsibility of countries to preserve their culture and heritage

A curator at the Smithsonian Institution, Masum Momaya has a 20-year experience working for gender, race and class equality, and her curatorial portfolio includes multimedia, multilingual and themed exhibitions. The Stanford University graduate and Harvard University post-graduate is in India to showcase her exhibition, Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, in collaboration with the American Center. Of Indian-American descent herself, Momaya prides herself on being able to situate her work in the best of both worlds. Excerpts from the interview…

As a curator of some experience, how would you say Indian heritage is represented in western museums?
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Challenging the inalienability of artefacts in French museums

Posted at 10:11 pm in Similar cases

In recent years, France’s museums have been heavily hit with legal challenges – where the original owners have tried to reclaim what they believe is still rightfully theirs.

While the British Museum falls back on the anti-deaccessioning clauses in the British Museum Act as their first line of defence against such claim, France has their own version of this dating back to 1566, when the edict of Moulins proclaimed that the royal domain was inalienable and imprescriptible. Although its origins might be very different, for a long time, the net result was the same – once an item became the property of a French Museum, it was unlikely that its ownership would ever be transferred again to anywhere else.

Gradually though, this notion is being eroded – both by moral obligations & legal challenges. France is finally starting to re-think its past, in the context of today – surely it is time that the British Museum followed this lead.

Baba Merzoug, a 16th-century cannon from Algiers that was taken to Brest in 1834

Baba Merzoug, a 16th-century cannon from Algiers that was taken to Brest in 1834

From:
Guardian

French museums face a cultural change over restitution of colonial objects
Curators confront demands to return artefacts from collections reflecting an evolving attitude to the appropriation of items
Laurent Carpentier
Monday 3 November 2014 10.08 GMT

Ever since explorers, scientists and soldiers started travelling the world and bringing back treasures, France has upheld the principle of the “inalienability” of public heritage. The works that are now in French museums and collections will, supposedly, remain a part of national heritage for ever. This principle was established in 1566, when the edict of Moulins proclaimed that the royal domain was inalienable and imprescriptible. In simpler terms: the sovereign could not give away the assets he or she inherited. Two centuries later, the French revolution based its definition of the public domain on the same principle. It was the only point of reference for explorers sailing round the world in search of possessions and learning.

But in the past few years, changes in the international balance of political and economic power have upset this way of thinking. Demands for restitution have targeted anything from works of art to human remains and archaeological finds. Particularly odd examples include a fossil Mosasaurus (Meuse lizard), which was unearthed at Maastricht in the 18th century and brought back to France by the army, and Baba Merzoug, a 12-tonne cannon that defended the port of Algiers for 200 years, then was shipped to Brest in 1834 where it has braved the drizzle ever since.
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Amal Clooney née Alamuddin & the Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 9:54 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

In the coverage of the visit to Greece by a team of Lawyers, much has been made of the presence of one particular individual on the team. This person is of course Amal Clooney, previously known as Amal Alamudddin. While the amount of additional publicity she created for the issue is amazing, the interpretation of her presence and the level of the questions asked by many of the newspapers is somewhat lacking.

Some stories claim that she is there to rescue the Marbles for Greece (with the implication that it would be done singlehandedly). Other stories take the opposite line & claim that she is only there because of her celebrity status. This claim is a blatant untruth based on nothing more than spurious conjecture, as she was in fact involved with research into this case since well before she became associated with George Clooney.

Still other papers criticise her (& often her husband too) for having opinions – as though when one becomes famous their opinions cease to have any basis. Unsurprisingly to many, these are the same papers that spend the rest of their time focusing on celebrities, speculating on their every move & reflecting on their choice of outfit every time they leave the house.

Amal Alamuddin & Geoffrey Robertson

Amal Alamuddin & Geoffrey Robertson

From:
Independent

Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: ‘Injustice has persisted for too long’
The human rights barrister said Greece has ‘just cause’ to wish for the repatriation of the artifacts
Wednesday 15 October 2014

Amal Alamuddin – who recently changed her name to Amal Clooney following her marriage – today spoke of the “injustice” that the Elgin Marbles have not yet been returned from Britain to Greece.

The human rights barrister has been enlisted to advise the Greek government on the issue.
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November 3, 2014

Different types of artefact dispute

Posted at 10:57 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The list of disputed artefacts from The Guardian is different to many others, in that it has widened its remit, to include any artefact that have some dispute relating to them. as a result, while some are well know restitution cases such as the Bust of Nefertiti or the Parthenon Marbles, in other cases the dispute relates to who the work itself actually depicts, or who originally produced the painting. as a result, it ends up a rather confused list, presenting a mixed message, where well grounded restitution cases such as the Parthenon Sculptures are mixed up with discussions over the authenticity of works by Pollock.

That is not to say that the list is without interest however – if anything, it helps to reinforce the importance of provenance in giving the true value to a work of art. Without it, the matter of where it came from & who created it will always be the subject of debate.

Picasso's Boy leading a horse in the MoMA is subject to claims that it was looted during the holocaust

Picasso’s Boy leading a horse in the MoMA is subject to claims that it was looted during the holocaust

From:
Guardian

The 10 best disputed artworks
Laura Cumming
Friday 31 October 2014 12.00 GMT

As Greek efforts to reclaim the Parthenon Marbles receive a boost from Amal Clooney, Laura Cumming considers other artworks caught up in legal and artistic wrangling

The Parthenon Marbles
The great frieze of figures removed from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century remains the most perennially disputed of all artworks, the arguments as divided as the sculptures themselves – the goddess Iris’s head is in Athens, her body in the British Museum; Poseidon’s torso is split between them. Defenders argue that Elgin bankrupted himself to save the marbles from local destruction, with full Greek authority, and London is their legal home. The opposition (which has included Byron, Christopher Hitchens and of course now the Clooneys) argues that the marbles were literally “ripped off” the Parthenon, and ruinously scoured, and must be returned to Greece.

The Household of Philip IV, ‘Las Meninas’, Kingston Lacy, Dorset
In 1814 an Englishman abroad thought he had come upon Velázquez’s first version of Las Meninas (1656) – not that he, or practically anyone else at that time, had seen the original in the Spanish royal palace. William Bankes MP bought the canvas for Kingston Lacy, his Dorset home, calling it “the pride of England”. It shows the celebrated scene on a much smaller scale and with strange anomalies, not least the fact that the famous mirror at the back is empty. Some believe it to be a preliminary oil sketch, most that it is undoubtedly a copy by his son-in-law Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo. The row still rages: the Prado held a conference only this year.
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Even better than the real thing? – British Museum & 3D prints

Posted at 10:42 pm in British Museum

The British Museum has just announced that it is going to make available 3D models of some of its artefacts, that anyone can use to create 3D prints, or view from different angles on screen.

3D prints are in some ways better than the actual artefacts in the museum, as they can be studied from any angle & handled without worrying about damaging a priceless treasure. On the other hand though, no matter how realistic they might be, they are not the actual object – they do not carry its history & they do not typically contain the depth of information, that might allow later studies using newer technologies, to understand more about the piece (e.g. to more accurately date it, to analyse the chemical makeup of the surface etc).

In the past, the British Museum has provided copies to the original owners of disputed works In this case though, one wonders why it can’t be the other way round – that the British Museum keeps the copy & the actual treasure is returned to its rightful owners.

You can view the artefacts currently available for 3D printing at the Sketchfab website.

The statue of Amenhotep III is among those available to be 3D printed

The statue of Amenhotep III is among those available to be 3D printed

From:
Slash Gear

British Museum now lets you 3D print artifact replicas
Oct 31, 2014

3D printing is slowly but surely becoming more available to the average consumer, and the possibilities for it are vast. While the technology is being used to tackle projects as expansive as home construction and food in space, it is also being utilized at the simpler level for creating things like replacement knobs and personalized action figures. Among those simpler uses is the ability to print your own replica of historical items.

Do you fancy have a replica of Amenemhat III’s granite bust? Now you can, thanks to a new collection of downloadable 3D models the British Museum has made available through Sketchfab, which is the first service to host the collection.
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November 2, 2014

Once again, members of the public take moral lead in restitution

Posted at 11:04 pm in Similar cases

A Canadian tourist has returned fragments they removed from the ancient city of Pompeii. This restitution took place fifty years after the fragment was originally removed. The return was not the result of a demand by the Italian government, or any form of legal action – but happened merely because the person who took it realised that returning it was the right thing to do.

This is not the first time something like this has happened – a fragment of the Colosseum was returned in similar circumstances in 2009. If only some museums could take similar decisions, realising that they need to put right things that they did wrongly in the past.

Policing vast sites like Pompeii is not easy

Policing vast sites like Pompeii is not easy

From:
Daily Telegraph

By Nick Squires, Rome
1:50PM GMT 31 Oct 2014
Pompeii artefact returned fifty years after it went missing by the honeymooning woman who stole it

A Canadian tourist has returned a 2,000-year-old terracotta artefact to Pompeii – half a century after she stole it on a trip to the archaeological site on her honeymoon.

The woman from Montreal, who is in her seventies, said the theft of the first century AD terracotta roof decoration had weighed on her conscience for decades.
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Culture wars – The return of Dr James Cuno

Posted at 10:47 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

James Cuno will be a familiar figure to long time readers of this blog. Representing the anti-restitution side of the museum establishment in the USA, he has been one of the most outspoken critics of the return of artefacts. At times in recent years, it has seemed as though his stance has been mellowing, but his latest article shows that this is clearly not the case.

Following James Cuno’s article, is a critique of it by Dr Kwame Opoku – who is amongst other things a long standing detractor of Cuno’s Encyclopaedic Museum theory.

James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust

James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust

From:
Foreign Affairs

Culture War
The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts

By James Cuno
From our November/December 2014 Issue

In December 2007, the Italian government opened an exhibition in Rome of 69 artifacts that four major U.S. museums had agreed to return to Italy on the grounds that they had been illegally excavated and exported from the country. Leading nearly 200 journalists through the exhibition, Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s then cultural minister, proclaimed, “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.” Rutelli was not just anthropomorphizing ancient artifacts by giving them souls. By insisting that they were the property of Italy and important to its national identity, he was also giving them citizenship.

Rutelli has hardly been the only government official to insist that artifacts belong to the places from which they originally came. In 2011, the German government agreed to return to Turkey a 3,000-year-old sphinx that German archaeologists had excavated from central Anatolia in the early twentieth century. Afterward, the Turkish minister of culture, Ertugrul Gunay, declared that “each and every antiquity in any part of the world should eventually go back to its homeland.”
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October 27, 2014

Expropriation of artefacts as a demonstration of power

Posted at 9:55 pm in Similar cases

This article is prompted by the current state of affairs in Iraq & Syria, where ISIS fighters are systematically destroying heritage from cultures that do not fit entirely into their worldview. This is not a new approach however & has been going on for as long as people can remember. The means & the stated aims might vary, but the end result – denigration of the culture of the local population – is invariably the outcome.

The empty seat once occupied by the Bamiyan Buddhas before they were systematically destroyed by the Taliban

The empty seat once occupied by the Bamiyan Buddhas before they were systematically destroyed by the Taliban

From:
Guardian

If great architecture belongs to humanity, do we have a responsibility to save it in wartimes?
Jeff Sparrow
Tuesday 7 October 2014 03.25 BST

The lands of Syria and Iraq gave rise to some the oldest societies we know: the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Parthians, the Romans and many others. Traces of all of these peoples remain in archeological sites of the utmost significance.

And now they’re being destroyed.

A fortnight ago, satellite imagery revealed the cultural effects of Syria’s civil war. “The buildings of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has suffered extensive damage,” explained Archaeology magazine. “The ancient city of Bosra, the ancient site of Palmyra, the ancient villages of Northern Syria, and the castles Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din have all been damaged by mortar impacts and military activity.”
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Met forced to organise Seljuk exhibition without Turkish loans

Posted at 9:38 pm in Similar cases

For a few years now, Turkey has been trying increasingly hard to make life awkward for countries & institutions holding disputed Turkish artefacts. Undeterred by this (or perhaps brimming with bullish over-confidence that Turkey will capitulate), New York’s Metropolitan Museum is attempting to organise a Seljuk exhibition without any loans from Turkey. No actual loan requests have been refused as such, but preliminary discussions indicated that cooperation from Turkey would not be forthcoming, meaning that the Met decided against asking for any loans.

The Seljuks were the Turkish dynasty that existed prior to the Ottomans. as such, Turkey holds by far the largest collection of artefacts from the period. Organising an exhibition without these is significantly harder than it would otherwise have needed to be.

Greece on the other hand has always made a point of continuing to cooperate with Britain over other matters, while maintaining their stance on the Parthenon Sculptures. This is despite many opportunities to block loans for exhibitions, or to not issue permits for British archaeologists etc. Whilst this spirit of cooperation, of not connecting what are in reality disparate items is admirable, I can’t help feeling sometimes that Britain needs to be made to feel a bit less comfortable about their position. The British museum does not deal with the Parthenon Marbles issue in a serious way, because it doesn’t feel that it has to. It has kept up this approach for many years now & everything else continues to happen as normal.

Socrates in discussion with his pupils, Seljuk manuscript from 13thcentury, Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Library

Socrates in discussion with his pupils, Seljuk manuscript from 13thcentury, Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Library

From:
Art Newspaper

No Turkish loans for big Seljuk Turk show planned by the Met
Thorny early discussions with Ankara deterred the US museum but Turkish attitude now appears more conciliatory
By Tim Cornwell. Museums, Issue 261, October 2014
Published online: 09 October 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is organising a major exhibition on the Seljuks, whose medieval Islamic empire expanded from central Asia into much of modern Anatolia in Turkey, without loans from Turkey, The Art Newspaper has learned. Experts fear that loans from any collections in Iran or Russia will also be missing in the Met’s show.

The Met’s problem securing Turkish loans echoes those surrounding the British Museum’s exhibition on the Hajj, which went ahead in London in 2012 without Turkish artefacts after tangled disputes over an inscribed stele with a relief of Herakles, which have yet to be resolved.
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Peter Hitchens argues for return of Parthenon Sculptures

Posted at 1:45 pm in Elgin Marbles

Bearing in mind many of his other opinions, many would not expect Peter Hitchens to be in favour of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. Those who have followed the issue though will know that it is in fact pretty much the only issue that he & he brother Christopher agreed on.

Here he once again reiterates his view that they should be returned to Greece.

Peter Hitchens

Peter Hitchens

From:
Daily Mail

PETER HITCHENS: So how long will it be before we invite the IS jihadis to a white-tie dinner?
By Peter Hitchens for The Mail on Sunday
Published: 00:01, 19 October 2014 | Updated: 10:33, 19 October 2014

[…]

Mrs Clooney is right: we have to lose our Marbles

I back Amal Clooney in her battle to get the Elgin Marbles sent back to their home in Athens.

We rescued them from the Ottomans. We’ve guarded them well. But now their home is safe again, and we have had them for long enough.
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October 26, 2014

Greece considers Parthenon Marbles strategy

Posted at 10:57 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

More coverage of the recent visit to Athens by a team of three lawyers from the UK to discuss options for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Amal Clooney nee Alamudin is shown around the New Acropolis Museum by Professor Pandermalis

Amal Clooney nee Alamudin is shown around the New Acropolis Museum by Professor Pandermalis

From:
Greek Reporter

Alamuddin-Clooney Concludes Greece Visit on Positive Note
by Philip Chrysopoulos – Oct 16, 2014

This afternoon, Amal Alamuddin-Clooney leaves Greece following a three-day visit to Athens in which she counseled the Greek government on the proper legal route for reclaiming the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum.

The 36-year-old lawyer – along with cultural heritage lawyers Norman Palmer and Geoffrey Robertson, as well as David Hill, chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles – met with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Minister of Culture Kostas Tasoulas to discuss the repatriation of the Marbles, an issue of long-standing discord between the Greek and British governments. According to witnesses, discussions between the legal team and the Greek government ended on an optimistic note.
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Greek government seeks legal guidance on Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 10:41 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

To anyone reading the news over the last couple of weeks, it can not have escaped their attention that a team of lawyers (namely, Professor Norman Palmer, Geoffrey Robertson QC & Amal Clooney nee Alamudin (wife of George) have visited Athens to discuss the Parthenon Sculptures. They were also accompanied by David Hill, the chair of the International Association of the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.

Most of the press attention on the story has been because of the inclusion of Amal Clooney in the team. I can categorically state here though that she has had a long running interest in the case. Documents prepared in early 2011 for discussions with the Greek Government (which I was present at) bear her name at the end.

Much has been made in the press of how she will solve the issue – which I’m sure she would be the first to admit is complete nonsense. It is a long and complex dispute & however it is finally resolved, I don’t think it would be possible to assign all the success to a single individual. That said however, she has had a remarkable effect in lifting the issue from one discussed by academics and the broadsheet press, into one that every newspaper is talking about. The effects from a PR point of view can not be under-estimated & far more people in Britain now know what the Parthenon Marbles are compared to two weeks ago. Furthermore, the media wants to support winners – in the battle of the establishment, versus a famous film star & his highly intelligent, glamorous wife, many tend to take a different view to if it was portrayed as a cause only of real interest to Greeks & left leaning intellectuals.

I will write more about the specifics of legal action later & what was actually said after the meetings, but first of all, here is the key press coverage from their visit.

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

David Hill, Amal Clooney & Geoffrey Robertson in Athens

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition)

Eminent lawyers to advise Greek PM on Parthenon Marbles
Saturday October 11, 2014

Rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney and her eminent colleague Geoffrey Robertson are due in Athens on Monday for talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras which are expected to focus on legal arguments Greece can use in its bid to retrieve the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum.

The British-based, Lebanese-born lawyer, who recently made headlines by marrying American actor George Clooney, and her senior colleague Robertson are due to stay in Athens through Thursday, according to the London-based Doughty Street Chambers legal firm. The barristers, who are also to meet with Culture Minister Costas Tasoulas during their stay, were first asked to provide advice to Athens in 2011.
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