Quote of the Day

Elgin took sculpture from Turkish-occupied Athens by a combination of bribery, duplicity and sheer force majeure.

Nigel Spivey, Cambridge University

November 4, 2013

Dallas Museum of Art returns disputed artefacts to Italy in exchange for loan of other items

Posted at 7:43 pm in Similar cases

Back in 2002, Greek Culture Minister, Evangelos Venizelos made a proposal for how the return of the Parthenon Sculptures could be facilitated.

There were a number of aspects to Venizelos’s proposal, one of them being that Greece would offer various other artefacts to the British Museum on loan, in exchange for the return of the Marbles. This would give the museum new artefacts to display, drawing in more visitors, while Greece would get the Parthenon Sculptures back. A win-win situation.

A number of exchanges similar to what was proposed have now taken place in the years since then, Mainly between institutions in the US & Italy.

Past exchanges with Italy involved the threat of legal action, but this one took place entirely voluntarily.

Treasures from the Spina necropolis

Treasures from the Spina necropolis

From:
NBC Dallas Fort Worth

Italy Loans Dallas Museum of Art Installation After Looted Antiquities Returned
Thursday, Oct 31, 2013 | Updated 12:28 PM CDT

The Dallas Museum of Art has agreed to return six antiquities that were looted illegally from Italy. In return, Italy is loaning the DMA an art installation.

In exchange, Italy is loaning the Dallas museum treasures from the Spina necropolis (pictured, above) housed at the Ferrara archaeological museum.
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The British desire to conquer the world & bring bits of it home with them

Posted at 7:25 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

The British Empire, which once covered a large part of the world, was long since dwindled away. The remnants of this empire & immense power are still self evident however if you visit institutions such as the British Museum, which still house many treasures that are the spoils from past imperial conquests. The story here focuses on some pieces from Ireland, but many other countries have similar tales to tell.

Egyptian mummy at the British Museum

Egyptian mummy at the British Museum

From:
Irish Examiner

Stolen moments in British Museum
Monday, November 04, 2013
THE British are peculiar. Their desire to conquer the world has been matched only by their obsession with bringing bits of it home with them.
By Marc O’ Sullivan, Arts Editor

Nowhere is this more evident than in the British Museum in London. Visiting it last week, my eye was drawn to a large slab of stone, about the height and width of a man, perched upon a formal plinth in the Great Court. It bore an inscription in ogham. On a plaque beneath, the crude translation of these elegant notches — read anti-clockwise — disclosed that the slab was originally raised in honour of ‘Vedac, son of Tob of the Sogain’. It was one of three 5th century ogham stones taken from Roovesmoor Rath — a ring fort outside Coachford, in West Cork — by the delightfully named General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers. He presented the group to the British Museum in 1866.

Pitt Rivers, who fought in the Crimean War, brought a scientific approach to archaeology. He catalogued all items found on digs, and not just those that seemed valuable, and his attention to detail vastly improved 19th century excavations, which had hitherto been conducted as glorified sackings.
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October 30, 2013

China signs agreement with Cyprus to stop illicit trafficking of artefacts

Posted at 3:49 pm in Similar cases

China & Cyprus are very different countries in many ways. They do however both face problems with looting of archaeological sites, with the spoils from these actions often eventually ending up in auctions abroad.

It is great to see them signing an agreement to clamp down on this, although the idea of countries signing numerous bilateral agreements for an issue such as this clearly does not scale well, when you consider the number of countries involved in similar issues.

Cyprus Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos and China’s Culture deputy-minister Li Xiaojie

Cyprus Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos and China’s Culture deputy-minister Li Xiaojie

From:
Cyprus Mail

October 29, 2013
Cyprus and China agree to safeguard artefacts

Cyprus and China have signed a bilateral agreement to safeguard their archaeological objects and prevent their illicit trading.

Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos and China’s Culture deputy-minister Li Xiaojie signed on Tuesday on behalf of their respective countries a memorandum of cooperation to prevent trading of stolen goods and illicit excavations.
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Netherlands Museums Association sees return of Nazi loot as “moral obligation”

Posted at 3:34 pm in Similar cases

Nazi loot in museums has been a hot topic in recent years for many countries. While some countries are still dragging their heels in terms of any attempts at restitution, it appears that the Netherlands has taken a far more proactive approach & is examining museum collections across the board to identify artworks, along with possible rightful owners.

1921 painting 'Odalisque' by Henri Matisse

1921 painting ‘Odalisque’ by Henri Matisse

From:
Haaretz

Dutch museums identify 139 likely Nazi looted artworks
Paintings by Matisse, Klee and Kandinsky are among works thought to have been taken from Jewish owners during Holocaust.
By The Associated Press | Oct. 29, 2013 | 6:40 PM

Dutch museums announced Tuesday they have found 139 artworks that may have been looted during the Nazi era, including paintings from masters such as Matisse, Klee and Kandinsky.

The major review of all museum collections in the country found art that had either dubious or definitely suspect origins.
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Zahi Hawass at the centre of controversy over potential bribes paid by National Geographic

Posted at 3:17 pm in Similar cases

Egypt’s most publicly know archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, has never shied away from controversy. His demands for the restitution of disputed Egyptian artefacts irritated many museums around the world.

At present, I’m struggling to work out whether this particular story is a real story or not. If Hawass was involved in taking bribes to allow National Geographic to film, then it is damaging for both his & their credibility. However, there sees to be a lot in this story that is speculative – and there are many people who have an axe to grind with Hawass.

Time will tell whether there is really a story here or not.

Zahi Hawass

Zahi Hawass

From:
Independent

US investigates National Geographic over ‘corrupt payments’ to Egypt’s keeper of antiquities
David Usborne
Monday 28 October 2013

National Geographic may be facing an unexpected challenge to its reputation as one of the world’s most respected educational and scientific institutions amid reports that it is under investigation in the United States over its ties to a former Egyptian official who for years held the keys to his country’s many popular antiquities.

At issue is whether the Washington-based organisation, which in recent years has rapidly extended its public reach beyond its well-known glossy magazine to a cable television channel and other enterprises, violated strict US laws on payments to officials of foreign governments in contracts starting in 2001 with Dr Zahi Hawass, who, until the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, was the government’s sole gatekeeper to all things ancient Egypt.
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October 29, 2013

Experiments in Nashville to see how the Parthenon’s frieze would have looked from ground level

Posted at 9:25 am in Acropolis, British Museum, Elgin Marbles, Greece Archaeology, New Acropolis Museum

Because of the current start of ruin of the Parthenon in Athens, many theories about how it would originally have looked are somewhat speculative. The fact that Lord Elgin removed many of the sculptures, in no way helps either.

While looking for something else, I came across information on Emory University’s Parthenon Project. They were aiming to try & see how the frieze on the Parthenon might have originally looked from ground level. This fascinated me, as I spent a lot of time creating 3D models to research this same aspect of the building in 2000.

The viewpoint taken by many, is that due to its location & restricted viewing angle, the frieze would have been barely visible to people viewing the Parthenon on the Acropolis, if they did not already know about it. Even then, their views would be limited, because it would be seen from such a steep angle.

With their Parthenon Project, Emory University’s students aimed to use the replica of the Parthenon in Nashville to test out the various theories about the visibility of the frieze.

Although Nashville’s Parthenon is a close replica of the actual Parthenon, it never had the frieze installed due to a lack of funds. This meant that the first task for the students was to recreate the frieze panels. They did this in a variety of ways, creating them flat & in relief, in colour and in black and white. This use of colour is a very interesting step. We know that the panels were originally painted, but when we visualise them, we still tend to see them as they are today in the Acropolis Museum & British Museum, where the detail on them is formed by the shadows cast & therefore becomes more visible when the light is less diffuse. What had not been tested before was how the painting on the surface of the sculptures would have helped to define them more clearly, making the fine detail far more apparent even in the comparative gloom of the location of the frieze (compared to the metopes which were in bright sunlight).

I would be interested to see this experiment re-attempted in Athens – although I’m not sure where it could be done, as the Parthenon now has no roof. The attic sunlight is breathtaking in its sharpness & I wonder whether the sculptures would still be as clear to see on a summers day there as they were in the Nashville experiment.

Visit the website for the project for far more detail about its aims & the issues they encountered in trying to recreate what was originally there.

From:
Emory University

The Problem: the Visibility of the Parthenon Frieze
By Bonna D. Wescoat

The Parthenon is the most famous ancient Greek building, and its celebrated frieze, dispersed between London, Paris, and Athens, is one of the icons of western art. We view the frieze today at eye level within a museum setting, but originally it was placed at the top of the cella wall behind the surrounding colonnade. The location has baffled scholars, who find a serious disjunction between the high level of articulation and meaning, and the low level of visibility. Scholarly opinion on the visibility of the Parthenon frieze is universally negative. The frieze is described as illegible and fragmented, its position dark and cramped. Photographs tend to confirm the awkwardness of the position. In making this assessment, we are of course seriously hindered by the state of the remains. The reliefs are no longer on the building, and the building no longer has its ceiling and roof.

Scholars and the general public have long admired the precise replica of the Parthenon built in the 1920s in Nashville because it allows us to recapture some of the experience of being in an ancient Greek temple. But there is one very important way in which scholars have not yet mined the value of the Nashville Parthenon: it has the capacity to serve as a crucial tool for understanding the visibility of the Parthenon frieze.
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October 28, 2013

Όχι day for Greece means free admission to Acropolis Museum in Athens today

Posted at 3:15 pm in New Acropolis Museum

More coverage of the free admission to the Acropolis Museum today in celebration of Ochi day – the date that the Greek government refusal of the ultimatum given to them by Mussolini.

Acropolis Museum

Acropolis Museum

From:
Kathimerini (English Edition)

Acropolis Museum celebrates ‘Ochi Day’ with free admission and special events
Friday October 25, 2013 (15:18)

In celebration of October 28 – a national holiday in Greece which commemorates the rejection by Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas of the ultimatum made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on October 28, 1940 – admission to the Acropolis Museum (15 Dionysiou Areopagitou), which will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the day, will be free of charge. The museum will also present a talk for adults titled “The Other Gods of the Acropolis” and an interactive workshop for children, titled “Myths in Images.”

Although Athena was the patron goddess of their city, the Athenians also worshipped a host of other deities, among them Zeus, Asclepius, Dionysus and Aphrodite. “The Other Gods of the Acropolis” addresses the cult practices and monuments associated with these other gods. The presentation will be held in English at 1 p.m. and French at 5 p.m.
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Call for an international day for cultural property reparations relating to colonisation

Posted at 12:05 am in Similar cases

Kwame Opoku has forwarded me information about proposals (supported by various organisations in a number of countries) for an International Day for Reparations Related to Colonization.

Regular readers of this website will know that many of the cases discussed here, such as the Benin Bronzes, would fall into this category.

If you would like further information about this, please contact Louis-Georges Tin, the Chairman of the CRAN (Council Representing Black Organisations in France). If you would like to get in touch, please let me know & I can provide you with further contact details.

From:
Kwame Opoku (by email)

Call for the International Day for Reparations Related to Colonization

On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus set foot on the so called “New World”,
ushering in a cycle of occupation, violence, genocide and slavery: this was the beginning
of colonization.

Colonization is a global phenomenon: there is hardly a country in the world that has not
been colonized, a colonizer, or both, such as the United States. Colonization is one of the
phenomena that has most disrupted humanity. It has left a deep and lasting impression on
all continents and the consequences of this are
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October 25, 2013

Lord Elgin, boxing & the art of re-imagining the Parthenon Sculptures as integrally British

Posted at 5:52 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

This article looks at a lot of interesting aspects in a period of the life of the Parthenon Sculptures that is often glossed over. After they first arrived in Britain, some time elapsed before they were finally purchased by the British government. As this article explains, during this time, Elgin did everything he could to try & raise the profile of them & hype them up (after declaring them as of “little or no value” for customs purposes.

I am not sure about some of the conclusions however – I don’t know whether anyone really believed that they were taking the Marbles for their protection. This was more a justification that was post rationalised, because it sounded so much more palatable to the public, than the reality of taking them to decorate a house. Later, the same argument appealed to the British Museum, when in reality, they were most interested in adding a significant work to their collection & thus stopping anyone else from getting it.

View of Parthenon Frieze by Alma Tadema

View of Parthenon Frieze by Alma Tadema

From:
Open Democracy

The Parthenon Marbles and British national identity
Fiona Rose-Greenland 25 October 2013

Today, the British Museum’s Trustees argue that the Parthenon sculptures are “integral to the Museum’s purpose as a world museum telling the story of human cultural achievement.” But what does history tell us?

This article is part of an occasional series on ‘The Political Aesthetics of Power and Protest,’ the subject of a one-day workshop held at the University of Warwick in September, 2012. Democracy, since it does not function through command or coercion, requires instead a constant renewal of sets of symbols – symbols which appeal to people and instill in them a sense of belonging and identification. Increasing disenchantment and disillusion with the state, with political institutions, their practices and performance, makes it more important to explore the place of this aestheticisation of political language, the aesthetics of protest as well as of power.

But most the modern Pict’s ignoble boast,
To rive what Goth, and Turk, and Time hath spared:
Cold as the crags upon his native coast,
His mind as barren and his heart as hard,
Is he whose head conceived, whose hand prepared,
Aught to displace Athena’s poor remains:
Her sons too weak the sacred shrine to guard,
Yet felt some portion of their mother’s pains,
And never knew, till then, the weight of Despot’s chains. (XII)

Cold is the heart, fair Greece! that looks on thee,
Nor feels as lovers o’er the dust they loved;
Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatched thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorr’d! (XV)

Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Second Canto (1812)

What is happening with the Parthenon sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles and widely lauded as the jewel in the crown of the British Museum?

When the new Acropolis Museum opened in Athens in June 2009, the British Museum faced unprecedented pressure to return the sculptures to Greece. Intellectuals, elected officials, and ordinary citizens weighed in, with public opinion apparently in favour of giving them back. It looked as though Museum officials might finally relent. The issue was back on the public agenda in June 2012, in a repatriation debate between Stephen Fry and MP Tristram Hunt, and again this month in a speech by Henry Porter in which he urged that returning the sculptures would be the right thing to do.
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3rd International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property

Posted at 8:22 am in Events, Greece Archaeology, Similar cases

A bit late posting this, as the event has already started.

The Third International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property is currently taking place in Greece, with events at a variety of locations.

If you want further details of the event, have a look at this web page.

3rd International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property

3rd International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property

From:
Greek Ministry of Culture

3rd International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property

4/10/2013

As a follow-up to the Second International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property, held in Seoul, Republic of Korea, 16-17 October 2012, the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports organizes the Third International Conference of Experts on the Return of Cultural Property.
The Conference will be held from Wednesday 23 until Saturday 26 October 2013. The opening ceremony, as well as the procedures of the first day will be accommodated in the auditorium of the Acropolis Museum, while the rest sessions from Thursday 24 to Saturday, October 26, will take place in Ancient Olympia (SPAP Conference Center).

The conference program is divided into two main areas:
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October 22, 2013

Feldmann case redux? New settlement reached between nazi loot heirs & British Museum

Posted at 6:02 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

Back in the relatively early days of this blog, there was a lot of press coverage about the case of the painting belonging to Arthur Feldmann. Dr Feldmann was a Czech Jew whose paintings were seized by the Nazis. Eventually, some of his paintings ended up in the British Museum. The British Museum claimed that they wanted to return them, but couldn’t.

As a result of this, they brought a legal case, seeing if it was possible to over-ride the British Museum act. A lot of papers made out that the story that the case was about the Elgin Marbles, although this was more media spin than anything else. If you are not familiar with the case, I wrote a fairly lengthy analysis of it here. Some of the legal details from the case, which were not published until later are here.

Following the trustees of the British Museum losing the case (I’m not sure that anyone ever expected anything different), there were demands for changes in the law to handle such situations, although in reality, discussions relating to this aspect of Nazi loot restitution had already been going on for some time before that. These discussions were eventually incorporated into the law (after fairly long delays), in the form of the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution bill.

In the end, because the British Museum was not allowed to return the paintings, the heirs settled instead for financial compensation (something that was outside the scope of the British Museum Act).

That should have been the end of things, but it appears that it wasn’t. The paintings that were the subject of the earlier case were not the only ones in the museum, that the Feldmann Heirs claimed were rightfully theirs. Although the original case was dealt with by the Spoliation Advisory Panel. This most recent case was not though & was instead dealt with through direct negotiation with the museum (the reasons behind this are not given in the articles that I have read).

Young Couple in a Landscape, 1535-45, in the style of Georg Pencz

What is interesting, is that as I described above, the law now allows the British Museum to return Nazi loot. The Feldmann heirs were still happy to accept an ex-gratia payment though, in lieu of the actual artwork being returned. Once again, the reasons for this are unclear, but the fact remains, that even when the law allows is, not every restitution case is settled by the actual artefacts being returned.

In some cases, the rightful owners only want it acknowledged that they are the owners. In many instances, people accept that the museums are better placed to look after expensive works of art – often you do not want something like this in your home, due to issues with controlled humidity & temperature, security, insurance costs etc.

From:
Haaretz

British Museum compensates collector’s heirs for art looted by Nazis
Family of Arthur Feldmann proved Gestapo had seized work of art in Czechoslovakia in 1939.
By Eitan Buganim
Oct. 17, 2013 | 2:15 AM

The British Museum agreed to compensate descendants of a Jewish art collector who owned a medieval German drawing in the style of Georg Pencz, which the Gestapo looted from his home with the rest of the family’s art collection in March 1939. The museum accepted a spoliation claim by collector Arthur Feldmann’s grandson, Uri Peled. It made an ex gratia payment that allows the museum to keep the drawing, “Young Couple in a Landscape,” painted around 1535-45.

The drawing had been acquired by the museum in good faith from Mrs. Rosi Schilling, in 1993. Peled, who lives in Tel Aviv, proved after extensive research that the drawing had originally belonged to his grandfather and was seized from him in Brno, Czechoslovakia, in 1939. Neither of the Feldmanns survived the war.
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More reports from the Parthenon Marbles round table event in Brussels last week

Posted at 1:04 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Both Henry Porter & Rodi Kratsa‘s talks from the Parthenon Marbles round table event held in Brussels last week have now been published.

This is in addition to Tom Flynn‘s, which he posted on his website last week.

I also wrote an article about the event, which includes some detail of the talks given by the other speakers who were there.

From:
The Parliament

Return of Parthenon marbles a ‘moral obligation’, says MEP
By Rodi Kratsa – 22nd October 2013

Protecting European cultural heritage, including the Parthenon marbles, is a ‘moral obligation’ and should be at the heart of the EU, writes Rodi Kratsa.

(…) The union shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced”, stresses the Lisbon treaty.

Cultural heritage and its symbols undoubtedly constitute the main capital of European peoples and the soul of the European Union. Respecting and restoring them is a European obligation and concern.
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