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“The Italians Have No Legal Title to Repatriation”: Another Glyptotek Update 18 October 2009

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Reconstructed context: “Etruscan tomb” in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. Photo: TMK, August 2006.

I have neglected to report on the on-going series of articles in the Danish newspaper Information on the negotiations between Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen and the Italian Cultural Ministry (previously discussed here, here, here, here, here, and here). The series resurfaced back in June but has since gone quiet, awaiting further developments in the case.

Here are links and some translations of the headlines:

16 June “Glyptotekets kunstskatte skaber kulturkamp” (“The treasures of the Glyptotek trigger a struggle for culture”) – with no comments from the Glyptotek, but including opposing views from Kjeld von Folsach, director of the David Collection, and Peter Watson, author of The Medici Conspiracy.

2 June “Glyptotekets forhandlinger med Italien om kunstskatte gået i stå” (“Glyptotek’s negotiations on art treasures with Italy have stalled”) – with comments from Erland Kolding Nielsen of the Royal Library who is chairing the negotiations with the Italians. He notes inter alia (my translation):

The Glyptotek should not accept the deal [the return of artefacts to Italy, such as an Etruscan chariot purchased from Robert Hecht in 1971, with no specified quid pro quo, TMK]. The demands of the Italians rest on the premise that the Glyptotek has acted illegally. But this is not the case – the Italians have no legal title to repatriation of the artefacts, neither from an international, EU nor Danish legal viewpoint.

It seems that the Glyptotek has a long way to go.

Contrasting Archaeological Narratives in Jerusalem 13 August 2009

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , 2 comments

Palestinian neighbourhood
Silwan, Jerusalem, to the right, the City of David Archaeological Park, to the left, the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan/Wadi Hilwa. Photo: TMK, June 2009.

As archaeological sites go, few are as contested as Jerusalem. The website “From Shiloah to Silwan: An Alternative Archaeological Tour of Ancient Jerusalem” presents an important contrasting narrative to that promoted by the City of David Archaeological Park, the archaeological site-cum-theme park south of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount that is operated by a Jewish NGO with its own political agenda. When I visited, the site was packed with Israeli school children changing into swimming trunks to walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. An immersive journey into nationhood indeed.

See also “Elad seeks approval for new construction project in City of David” (Haaretz, 23 July 2009) and the website of the Wadi Hilwah Information Centre.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Back in the News 18 May 2009

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The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen was back in the news yesterday. Politiken reported on the recent negotiations between the museum and Italian authorities (“Glyptoteket tilbyder at udlevere etruskisk skat“, the Glyptotek offers to return Etruscan treasure; also reported in Jyllands-Posten with a slightly more smashing headline: “Glyptoteket afleverer plyndret skat“, the Glyptotek returns looted treasure). Only a few details from the negotiations have been made public. Apparently, the Glyptotek offered to return its Etruscan chariot, which was acquired through Hecht. Meanwhile, the Italians suggested a Getty-style deal that would allow the Glyptotek to exhibit artefacts (“much richer than those to be returned”) from Italian collections on a loan basis. Nonetheless, the negotiations seem to have come to a dead end. I expect the case will develop further over the coming months.

Previous coverage: here, here, here, here, and here. See also David Gill’s Looting Matters blog for the Glyptotek’s involvement with Hecht.

Byzantium and Babylon 6 February 2009

Posted by Troels in : Classical Reception,Ethics , 5 comments

Ceiling mosaic in the Chora church, Istanbul: Theodore Metochites presenting church to enthroned Christ. Photo: TMK, May 2006.

I saw two exhibitions in London this last Saturday. One was the Royal Academy’s much-hyped Byzantium show (ever-present Caffe Nero is apparerently the show’s official coffeeshop partner). There were some nice bits on display, sure, but I wasn’t overly impressed by the exhibition as a whole. It had more the feel of an introductory textbook on Byzantine art (albeit with shiny and three-dimensional originals) than a show that actually had something new to say about Byzantine contributions to the contemporary world (which the sponsors – three foundations supporting Hellenic heritage – clearly had hoped for). It also rehearsed one of those links between Classical Antiquity and Byzantium that I find quite tendentious, i.e. the supposed link between Fayoum mummy portraits and Byzantine icons. A prominent display case juxtaposed the two artforms. Yet clearly this ‘link’ only makes sense from an art historical viewpoint. If we want to take into account the varied use (functionally, spatially, and chronologically) of these objects, the link seems completely superficial and perhaps even irrelevant (at least to me). True, the Fayoum portraits are pretty much the only thing that we have left from the Classical tradition of panel painting, a much revered artform in Antiquity, but I don’t think that the juxtapostion helps us much further in trying to understand the use of icons or indeed mummy portraits.

The other show was the smaller but much more focused Babylon exhibition at the British Museum. This aimed to provide a cultural history of the image of Babylon in later cultures. One room was dedicated to different reconstructions of the Tower of Babel, demonstrating the power of the past to be a mirage for contemporary society. The show’s last room was dedicated to the use and abuse of Babylonian history and screened a powerful video of the current state of archaeology in Iraq. This gave the exhibition an extremely relevant and contemporary angle. The visitor is then led into one of those museum shops that we have come to expect as intricate parts of those big and flashy travelling exhibitions. There, I couldn’t help to feel that the show came down just a tiny notch. Isn’t this kind of commercialisation of the past (‘heritage = consumption’) part of the cultural baggage that has fueled much of the destruction of archaeological sites in Iraq?

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and Italian Repatriation: Latest Developments 23 December 2008

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , 1 comment so far

Danish newspapers report that Italy has formally demanded the return of 100 artefacts currently in the possession of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (Politiken Sunday 21 December, online here, here and here). I have not seen the list, but apparently it includes artefacts purchased since 1970 as well as a number of earlier acquisitions.

Also of interest is a lengthy interview with curator Jette Christiansen on her experience of the antiquities trade since joining the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in 1971 (online here). She discusses the museum’s relationship with Robert Hecht, who she calls a ‘charming demon’. Hecht was a personal friend of Mogens Gjødesen, director of the Glyptotek until 1978.

Further posts on the Glyptotek here, here, here, and here. See now also the Glyptotek’s own blog (in Danish only).

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Speaks Out on Hecht-Medici Case 9 November 2008

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Glyptotek Victoria
A relief of Victoria in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (acquired in the 19th century and thus not under investigation by Italian authorities…). Photo: TMK, August 2006.

I’ve reported intermittently on the connections between the Hecht-Medici case in Rome and a number of archaeological artefacts now in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (here, here, and here). These connections were investigated in a number of Danish newspapers during 2007, especially Information. In the 2008 Annual Report of the New Carlsberg Foundation, curator of Greek and Roman antiquities Jette Christiansen now gives the Glyptotek’s version of the events as they unfolded since the Italian authorities first made contact in the summer of 2002 (PDF available here, in Danish only).

Christiansen remarks on the general acquisition policy of the museum:

..the museum has not, since a change of directors in 1978, made acquisitions on the international art market. The ethics and moral standards of a new generation have since then characterized the museum’s acquisition policy. (Christiansen 2008: 141, my translation)

This statement is laudable but does not go well with the acquisition of a portrait of an Amarna princess in 2005 from a German “private collection” (ÆIN 1814; fig. 6 in this PDF). The Glyptotek has on several occasions refused to give the name of the collection and to provide details of the provenance of this particular artefact. The spurious nature of such “private collections” has been intensively documented in Peter Watson’s The Medici Conspiracy and continuously on David Gill’s Looting Matters blog.

In her conclusion, Christiansen reports on the current position of the Glyptotek in the Hecht-Medici case:

At the Glyptotek we are currently awaiting the final verdict of the case in Rome and contemplating the possibilities of exchange that the Italians have so far offered us as compensation, as they acknowledge that they have no legal claims of repatriation. We are working on formulating and realizing new cooperative projects with Italian colleagues in an effort to keep the museum as a living organism and at the same time to contribute to the conservation of our common cultural heritage. (Christiansen 2008: 145, my translation).

I wonder what “living organism” refers to in this context? “Living” as in a continuously expanding collection? Perhaps future developments in the case will enlighten us.

The Destruction of Pre-Christian Monuments in Mexico 20 July 2008

Posted by Troels in : Ethics,Juxtapositions,Travel , add a comment

The destruction and mutilation of pre-Christian monuments played an important and very tragic role in the Spanish conquest of the cultures of modern Mexico. Notoriously, the monuments and temples of Tenochtitlan were demolished in such a thorough fashion that very little of the once glorious city remained visible until the discovery of the Templo Mayor in the 1970s. Insight into the mindset of those behind this destructive process of Christianisation can be found in the writings of the bishop Zumárraga, who wrote the following in a letter dated 12 June 1531 to the Chapter of the Franciscan Order:

Know ye that we are much busied with great and constant labour to convert the infidel…five hundred temples razed to the ground, and above twenty thousand idols of the devils they worshipped smashed and burned… (Quoted from Bernal 1980: 36).

We may doubt the enormous figure of ‘twenty thousand idols’, but here is an archaeological example of some mutilated relief sculptures in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City:

Mutilated ‘idols’ in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. Photo: TMK, December 2007.

Similar to many other outbreaks of iconoclasm in history, the Spanish response to Aztec images was not entirely uniform or immune to pragmatism. In the case above, the reliefs were re-used in an altar. In the case below, a round, relief-decorated object was transformed into a baptismal font. Yet another example comes from Mexico City’s first cathedral, where Aztec relief carvings were reused as capitals (Bernal 1980: 39, fig. 15). The purpose of these Aztec spoliae clearly ranges from ideological (triumphal even, in the case of the altar) to more pragmatic and opportunistic (in the case of the cathedral).

Baptismal font in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. Photo: TMK, December 2007.

Geopolitics of Archaeology 2 July 2008

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics,Quick Notes , 1 comment so far

Here’s a very interesting series of radio programmes on the “Geopolitics of Archaeology” from Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview. They are downloadable for iPod or teaching use. I found the following particularly interesting:
Global Market for Stolen Antiquities with Neil Brodie and Richard Leventhal
The Origins of Western Civilization (2 parts) with Martin Bernal
Archaeological Tourism’s Effect on People and Heritage with Lynn Meskell
Creating a New Paradigm for Archaeology with Phil Duke and Yannis Hamilakis

9/11 and Archaeology 23 June 2008

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‘Archaeological’ remains of American Airlines flight 11 on display at the Intrepid Museum, New York City. Photo: TMK, January 2006.

Going through old files, I came across this photo from the Intrepid Museum in NYC. An odd combination indeed: the scattered remains of one of Manhattan’s most important landmarks and parts of the airliner that brought it down, exhibited in a museum that celebrates American supremacy of sea, air and space. But more importantly, why do we need to see these remains of an aircraft-cum-killing machine altogether?

There is now a growing amount of archaeological literature on 9/11, focusing on the interstices between memory, materiality and the ‘archaeological imagination’ (see e.g. work by Michael Shanks, Lynn Meskell, and Jennifer Wallace). This display in the Intrepid Museum demonstrates at least two aspects of this debate: the musealization of social memory, and the monumentalization of the debris of the past (note the glass casing). Let me quote Meskell (pp. 599-600):

We are witnessing the desire for grounded materiality at a staggering rapidity, to apprehend the objects and physical signs of a newfound heritage in real and tangible ways. This familiar desire for material commemoration and the physical marking of the event, is juxtaposed against the realization that the attacks (and the subsequent war on Afghanistan) have been experienced through virtual means. The events of September 11 have inaugurated a resurgence of the real, and of the violence of the real, supplanted within a supposedly virtual universe (Baudillard 2001). The moments of impact when the hijacked planes hit the towers were televised repeatedly, a fantasmatic screen apparition turned reality. It was the ultimate fantasy, albeit nightmare fantasy, foretold in H. G. Wells novel War in the Air (1908), Lorca’s New York poetry, penned in 1929, and in innumerable Hollywood disaster movies (Zizek 2001: 17)…

As a consequence of the virtual material tension, Ground Zero has been mythologized in what Blake has referred to as the “seismic shift of the spatiality of American patriotism” (Soja and Blake 2002:157). As part of a patriotic resurgence we have witnessed an increasing desire for materiality, for historical marking and heritage creation and consumption. We can be sure that another landmark will be added to the list, a yet untitled museum dedicated to the disaster, for which the selection of objects is already underway.

“How Do Museums Obtain the Antiquities They Exhibit?” 31 January 2008

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As a follow-up to David Gill and Lee Rosenbaum’s recent posts on the Brooklyn Museum, here’s a perhaps slightly clearer photo of a prominently placed information panel in the galleries that explains to visitors the museum’s acquistion policy and its development over the course of the 20th century. This sort of transparency in museum practice came quite unexpected….Would it have troubled the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek so much to put one in as part of their very recent renovation?

Brooklyn Museum

Educating the public on responsible museum practice in the Brooklyn Museum. Photo: TMK, January 2008.