• "Orphan" Antiquities Study

    The Cultural Policy Research Institute, a think tank formed last year “to build a viable legal framework for the protection of world historical remains”, has issued its first research study. It focuses on “orphan” artifacts: archaeological material or ancient art in private hands that the AAMD’s recently-adopted guidelines exclude from being acquired by Member museums because these artifacts lack clear provenance showing they were outside their country of probable modern discovery before 1970 (or were exported legally after 1970). This first pilot study limited itself to Greek, Roman, and associated material, coins excluded, with a value of $1000 or more. CPRI researchers — unnamed in the report — interviewed museum staffers, major US dealers, private collectors, and scholars. The interviewing methodology is not described, and sources remain anonymous, so there is no way to evaluate the accuracy of the results. We have no way of knowing how those interviewed determined that provenances were inadequate, but it ...

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  • Blanding sentencing: a missed opportunity?

    It’s hard to say whether the guilty pleas in two looting cases in the Four Corners region represented a victory or a loss for cultural heritage. The United States has strong laws designed to protect and preserve its archaeological patrimony, and it is fortunate to have prosecutors and law-enforcement agents capable of doing the research necessary to bring a meaningful case. But the sentencing of Jeanne and Jericca Redd of Blanding, Utah, was so lenient, the case may have an effect quite the opposite of the one legislators hoped for when they wrote those laws, encouraging rather than deterring future thieves.

    It’s surprisingly difficult to convince people that looting is wrong, and we fear that despite reading the same, extremely persuasive evidence the grand jury did in charging the Redds, the sentence cemented the mistaken opinion of many, which is that antiquities should be freely bought and sold with no regard for ...

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  • Italy’s Art Squad Celebrates 40 Years of Success

    On 3 May 1969, the Carabinieri (Italian National Police) instituted a 16-member unit within the Ministry of Public Education with the purpose of protecting cultural heritage. Predating the UNESCO 1970 treaty by a year, Italy became an early leader in the protection of cultural heritage and has since dedicated unprecedented effort to keeping Italy’s myriad artistic treasures safe.

    40 years later, Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo is host to the exhibition “L’Arma per l’Arte – Antologia di Meraviglie,” or “Armed Forces for Art: Anthology of Wonders,” which highlights the growth and success of the now-called Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela Patrimonio Culturale – or division for the protection of cultural patrimony – by telling ...

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  • "Wonderful objects with clear provenance continue to perform exceedingly well at auction"

    In June this year G. Max Bernheimer, Christie’s International Department Head of Antiquities, commented on the June 3 sale of antiquities that raised $3.4 million. He spoke positively about the sale:

    “Today’s strong results show that wonderful objects with clear provenance continue to perform exceedingly well at auction.”

    It now appears that two of the lots have been seized by agents of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). [For initial story with pictures see here.] The Public Relations section of Christie’s has confirmed the “identification” of “two stolen artifacts”.

    The seizures appear to point back to the Summa Gallery, the source for the Kyknos calyx-krater that is due to be handed back to Italy from a New York private collector.

    The seizures additionally raise a major issue of what can be termed “clear provenance” (or in some circles “good provenance” and even occasionally “fully provenanced“).

    Provenance is a much misunderstood word. What I suspect is meant by the term is “collecting history”.

    So what gives an archaeological object a “clear” or “good” collecting history? One answer is that it can be traced back to the period before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

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