jump to navigation

Another Case of Repatriation 1 October 2007

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , 2 comments

Repatriated Macedonian gold wreathA while back I wrote some thoughts about the display of repatriated artefacts in Greek and Egyptian museums. When I visited the Athens National Museum last week to see the Praxiteles exhibition, I noticed another example, this time a Macedonian gold wreath that had recently been returned from the Getty. Interestingly, the day of return was pointed out very precisely as 22 March 2007. It is now displayed in one of the central halls of the museum and only one of a list of 50+ pieces that are being returned to Greece and Italy from the Getty. For more on this, see also David Gill’s new blog Looting matters. A couple of additional photos below the fold. (more…)

Tales of Repatriation 22 July 2007

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

Discussions of the ownership (or ‘stewardship’) of archaeological treasures such as the Parthenon sculptures, the Rosetta Stone or the portrait of Nefertiti in Berlin are well-known topics in archaeological ethics (the entire blog Elginism is devoted to these issues and excellently covers news stories related to them, for the other side of the coin see Dorothy King’s blog). Part of the attraction of these discussions is that they are very difficult and entangled in all sorts of politics and contemporary issues of identity. Thus, there are no easy answers that will satisfy all parties. In the case of the Parthenon, the on-going debate has become part of the monument’s renown and fame (see e.g. Yalouri 2001; Beard 2002). But what happens when artefacts are returned which indeed they sometimes are? I have recently come across a few examples in Egyptian and Greek museums.

Erechtheion fragment in the Acropolis MuseumThe first is a small marble fragment from the famous Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis. This temple was a lot smaller than the Parthenon, but its price of construction was much higher (which we know because of the survival of the building accounts on marble slabs). The high price tag was due the intricate details in the temple’s decoration and the expensive materials used for its construction. The small fragment was returned by Birgit Wiger-Angner of Sweden, whose family had acquired it in 1896. The return ceremony last year was attended by the Greek Minister of Culture. The exhibition of the fragment in the very last room of the Acropolis Museum (see picture on the right) with the Caryatids sends a powerful message to visitors about the stewardship of these monuments so important to Greek identity. Certainly it is meant to cause visiting Brits to (re-)consider their position on the display of the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum – or indeed visiting Danes. There are two heads from the Parthenon metopes exhibited in the Copenhagen National Museum, acquired in a similar manner to the Swedish fragment (although at an earlier date). I expect the fragment to be displayed in a similarly prominent location, when the new Acropolis Museum opens later this year. The text accompanying the small exhibit is, however, rather sober. It is the fragment itself that does the talking. (more…)

The Blame Game Continues… 18 January 2007

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , add a comment

I’ve been following the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek case and the Danish failure to help the Italian investigators in the major Hecht-Medici trial over the smuggling and sale of illegal antiquities. Not much has happened while I’ve been away, except for continued accusations by various opposition politicians that the Danish Ministry of Justice has failed its obligation to co-operate in the Italian trial and that they are now trying to put the blame on the Danish police.

Information, 4 January 2007: “S: Ministerium tørrer fejl af på politiet” (“Socialdemocrats: The Ministry shuffles the responsibility onto Police”) (subscription required).

“Fakes” in Museums 6 January 2007

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , 2 comments

Fakes in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Historie, Brussels. Photo: TMK, July 2006.

It’s not all museums that are courageous enough or even willing to stand by the fakes in their collections. The Brussels archaeological museum is a wonderful exception to the rule. Here, the “fakes” acquired over the years as genuine antiques are exhibited in all their glory in a special glass case!

The Glyptotek and Italy: Latest Developments 14 December 2006

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

The Copenhagen Glyptotek case made the frontpage of Information the other day. The recent developments have been more concerned with the domestic handling of the case rather than talks with Italy.

Over a period of five years, the Danish Ministry of Justice has refused to co-operate with the Italian investigators in the Hecht-Medici trial for the apparent reason that Italy requested the return of several antiques now housed in the Glyptotek. The Ministry has now admitted that they were wrong all along and that, in fact, Italy has never asked for the return of any items from Danish museums. Here’s what Paolo Ferri, principal investigator of the Hecht-Medici case, had to say about the Ministry’s efforts (Information, 13 December, p. 7, my translation):

The Ministry has not been in good faith. They received a number of investigation requests from me, and they received the first of these five years ago….Somebody in the Ministry has acted wrongly and is now trying to save his bacon. I’m happy that they’re correcting their mistakes, but it happens too late for me to accept it happened in good faith.

Of interest to the Italian investigators are a number of antiques that were sold by Hecht and Medici to the Glyptotek in the 1970s. Among these are the lavish grave-goods from an Etruscan grave. Ferri has now asked that the Glyptotek hand over all paperwork related to the acquisition of these items. To be continued, I assume. (more…)

Italy to set its eyes on the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek? 3 December 2006

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

Note anything new and out of the ordinary on this webpage from the Metropolitan Museum of Art presenting the famous krater painted by Euphronios and colloquially known as the Million Dollar Vase? Well, after the recent deal between the museum and the Italian authorities, it now clearly states that the vase is “lent by the Republic of Italy”.

GlyptoteketThe latest ramifications of the Medici/Hecht case have now reached Danish shores. What started as a series of articles in the smaller and intellectual Information newspaper has spread to the more widely read Politiken. Will the Italians begin to set their eyes more firmly on the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen and other museums in Europe with antiquities that have made their way out of Italy since the 1970s?

Here’s a list of and links to recent articles (in Danish – here with my translations of the headlines that somewhat sum up the ordeal as it has unfolded over the last couple of days):
Glyptoteket: Vi har købt alt i god tro” (“The Glyptotek: We have bought everything in good faith”) (2 December)
Minister vil have redegørelse fra Glyptoteket” (“Minister of Culture wants an explanation from the Glyptotek”) (2 December)
Satyren kender hemmeligheden…” (“The Satyr knows the secret”) (1 December)
Glyptoteket udstiller tyvekoster” (“The Glyptotek exhibits stolen goods”) (1 December) (more…)

The ‘Innocent’ Era of Collecting 1 November 2006

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Ethics , 2 comments

Many people are familiar with the widespread availability of antiquities in Rome and Athens as late as the 1960s. Archaeologists and art historians working in the Mediterranean during this time often have private collections. A while ago I found a remarkable article that more than anything is testimony to this ‘innocent’ era of collecting – an era that was not as long ago as some people think.

Here’s David M. Robinson, then Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Mississippi and previously director of the University of Michigan excavations at Pisidian Antioch, writing about the acquisition of a group of Roman portraits, including an Augustus, in Rome in 1954 (p. 3, see full reference below):

My head [of Livia] was acquired in July of 1954, from a dealer in Rome who said it had recently been found near Rome. At the same time I secured a beautiful marble head of Livia’s son, the Emperor Tiberius, which along with a few heads of philosophers and of Aeschines I was not able to include in my article on “Unpublished Sculpture in the Robinson Collection” in the American Journal of Archaeology (59, 1955, 19-29, plates 11-12), where I do have (Plate 21, fig. 46) a unique marble head of Augustus.

Note that the Livia head had been ‘recently found near Rome’! The professor goes on to evaluate the new addition to the ‘Robinson Collection‘ (p. 4):

My head ranks higher than the one which I saw in the summer of 1954 in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen

Later, after a discussion of some other Livia heads, he muses on the artistic and historical value of his own recently aquired portrait of Livia and, more generally, the merits of the Augustan era (p. 4):

I am, then, very sceptical about the Holkham, Carthage, and Naples heads representing the great Roman Queen, and believe that the Copenhagen and my heads portray Livia, the towering personality, whose husband brought the Pax Romana into the world. Would that two such great personalities as Livia and Augustus would arise to-day to bring peace and rule the world as they did, with a golden age of literature and art and culture.

Oh, the nostalgia of a ‘true’ Classicist!


Forensic Archaeology during World War II: Ethics and Politics 16 October 2006

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

First part of an absolutely brilliant programme last night on Danish television (DR2): “Kraniet fra Katyn” (“The Skull from Katyn”). Katyn is the site of the mass graves of thousands of Polish soldiers and civilians that were systematically executed in 1940 by the Soviet occupying forces.

The mass graves were subsequently discovered by the Nazis in 1943 and used as anti-Communist propaganda in an attempt to cause friction among the Allies. An international commission of 12 doctors – all from German occupied territories – visited the site and investigated the bodies exhumed by the Germans. Among the members of this commission was a Danish forensic pathologist, Harald Tramsen.

As a rather morbid souvenir, he brought a skull from one of the bodies he had examined with him back to Copenhagen. Harald Tramsen was also a member of the Danish resistance movement, and just as the 11 other members of the commission, his (unwilling) participation as a tool of Nazi propaganda came to haunt him after the war.

The skull was re-found in 2005 in Copenhagen, and the process of its repatriation was begun. However, the head is being claimed by two different Polish families that have lived with the Soviet attempts to cover up their responsibility for the Katyn massacre right up until 1990.

There are thus two intertwined themes in the programme: the political context of forensic archaeology – both now and then – and the ethics involved in the identification and repatriation of the skull. Both are important issues in contemporary archaeology and have wide implications for the discipline as a whole.

I look forward to the second and final part of the programme on Sunday.

Auschwitz and Birkenau 15 October 2006

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

After the recent EAA meeting in Krakow, I participated in an excursion to the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. Before the visit, I had not really known what to expect, but I was struck by the impact of what I saw.

Auschwitz and Birkenau are two quite different experiences. Auschwitz (“Auschwitz I”) was very intense. The halls with the shoes, suitcases, toothbrushes and other belongings of the victims are extremely powerful and thought provoking. The human hair collected from the gas chambers shows the extremity of the crimes committed here in this otherwise peaceful Polish countryside. These most mundane objects become so much more than physical remains. Will it ever be possible to look at a shoe again without being reminded of the trauma and cruelty inflicted at Auschwitz?

Inside the barracks at Birkenau, Poland. Photo: TMK, September 2006.

Birkenau (“Auschwitz II”) is striking because of its immense size and the lines of chimneys, often all that remain of the camp’s barracks. But a visit here is less personal, less intense.

Opinions of the appropriateness of visiting concentration camps differ. And I did find that some of the influence of musealization was rather regretful but it is, perhaps, a necessary evil in this context. Ultimately, I find that there are no more compelling reminders than sites such as Auschwitz and Birkenau that heritage is not always comforting and glorious. Concentration camps and other sites of war crimes are very much part of the history of all Europeans that we need to confront, even when it is uncomfortable and unsettling.

A Hercules Divided 4 September 2006

Posted by Troels in : Ethics,Making of the Archaeological Record , 2 comments

The purchase of illicit antiquities by North American museums has received a lot of media attention recently, and deservingly so. An internal report by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles concluded that 350 ancient artefacts were purchased from dealers currently suspected of looting. This includes a third of the ‘masterpieces’ that form the core of the museum’s collections.

I’m not aware of similar reviews of other such collections, but the situtation is in many cases probably not radically different. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts followed an extremely aggressive acquisition policy right up to recently. A well-known and somewhat symbolic case is this statue of Hercules, that almost certainly was looted from Perge. One half was taken out of the country and entered the antiquities market. It ended up in Boston, jointly owned by the MFA and notorious collectors Shelby White and Leon Levy. The other half is in the Antalya Museum. Unsurprisingly, the MFA makes no mention of the fact that the statue’s lower half is in Turkey, whereas the Antalya Museum, of course, does everything possible to make visitors aware of the missing half and its whereabouts.

Upper half of statue of Hercules from Perge, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo: TMK, January 2006.

Here’s the lower half, now in the Antalya Museum:

Lower half of statue of Hercules from Perge, Antalya Museum. Photo: TMK, May 2006.