Iraq’s modern catastrophe obliterates remnants of Babylon’s ancient wonder

Fri, Jul 31, 2009

A Unesco report details the devastating impact the US military had on one of Iraq’s major heritage sites, writes NADA BAKRI in Hilla, Iraq

MAYTHAM HAMZAH cast his eyes toward the remains of King Nebuchadnezzar’s guest palace in Babylon, one of the world’s first great cities. He smiled, bitterly.

“They destroyed the whole country,” Hamzah, the head of the Babylon museum, said of US forces in Iraq. “So what are a few old bricks and mud walls in comparison?”

US forces did not exactly destroy the 4,000-year-old city, home of one of the world’s original seven wonders, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Even before the troops arrived, there was not much left: a mound of broken mud-brick buildings and archaeological fragments in a fertile plain between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.

But they did turn it into Camp Alpha, a military base, shortly after the US-led invasion in 2003. Their 18-month stay there caused “major damage” and represented a “grave encroachment on this internationally known archeological site”, a report released this month in Paris by the United Nations’ cultural agency, Unesco, says.

The ruins stretch over a rectangular area measuring 2,100 acres along the western banks of the Euphrates. The site consists of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, which Saddam Hussein rebuilt in the 1980s, the remains of the Temple of Ninmakh, and a palace for royal guests.

In addition, there is the Lion of Babylon, a 2,600-year-old sculpture, and the remains of the Ishtar Gate, the most beautiful of the eight gates that once ringed the perimeter of the town. It still bears the symbols of Babylonian gods.

According to the report, which comes after five years of investigation by a team of Iraqi and international experts, foreign troops and contractors bulldozed hilltops and then covered them with gravel to serve as parking lots for military vehicles and trailers. They drove heavy vehicles over the fragile paving of once-sacred pathways.

The report also says that forces built barriers and embankments to protect the base, pulverising ancient pottery and bricks that were engraved with cuneiform characters. They dug trenches where they stored fuel tanks for their helicopters, which landed near an ancient theatre.

Among the structures that suffered the most damage, according to the report, were the Ishtar Gate and a processional thoroughfare. Experts also say troops filled their sandbags with soil from a site that was littered with archaeological fragments.

Bricks were looted as well – both those of Babylonian vintage and newer ones that Saddam used to rebuild parts of the ruins. The latter variety was emblazoned with an ode to himself.

“The damage was so great,” said Maryam Mussa, an official from the Iraqi state board of heritage and antiquities, which is in charge of the site. “It would be so difficult to repair it, and nothing can make up for it.”

Spokesmen for the US military in Iraq did not respond to requests for comment. But the military has previously said that looting would have been far worse had it not been for the presence of its troops. The military also said in 2005 that it had discussed setting up the base with Iraqi archaeologists in charge of the site.

The site has been closed to the public since 2003. Facing mounting criticism from archaeologists in Iraq and around the world, troops vacated it in summer 2004. It was reopened this June, despite warnings from experts that the ruins might suffer further damage unless they were first restored and given proper protection.

Many residents of Hilla, a town 60 miles south of Baghdad that sits near the ruins, said they have not been to the site because they can’t bear to see the damage.

“What ruins are you talking about?” said Jawad Kathem, a 55-year-old owner of a small grocery store in the nearby village of Jumjumah. “There is nothing left of it. It was all destroyed and looted.”

“They are occupying forces,” said Sabah Hassan (41), a Hilla resident who owns a cafe near the ruins. “Nobody can tell them what to do.”

On a recent day, wind swept across the deserted ruin as Hamzah gave a museum tour to visitors. He recited the history of ancient Babylon with the enthusiasm of someone who had been waiting for years to share his knowledge. The gates of the museum were locked.

“From this room, King Nebuchadnezzar ruled his kingdom,” he said as he waved his hand across a spacious room where Nebuchadnezzar II is believed to have sat. The king turned Babylon into one of the wonders of the ancient world. Historians say he was prouder of his construction projects than he was of his many military victories.”

Several efforts to restore Babylon have been announced in the past six years, but none has made progress. Now, with security in Iraq improving, officials hope to start work on a $700,000 (€497,000), two-year project funded by the US State Department to restore the site. The United Nations is also trying to name the place a World Heritage site, a designation that would provide support and protection.

“Of course this is not enough, but it is better than nothing,” lamented Mussa, the site director. “We had hoped that work would start this year.”

On her desk were papers detailing the damage, gathering dust. – (LA Times-Washington Post service)

July 31st, 2009

Posted In: looting and illegal art traffickers, Mailing list reports

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It took about 20 years to build the Great Pyramid of Giza, archaeologists believe. It will take about the same amount of time for the Grand Egyptian Museum to be completed.

 Given the scale of the project, it is not entirely surprising. Conceived in 1992, the US$550 million (Dh2.02 billion) museum is an undertaking worthy of the Pharaohs: a vast, stone-roofed structure that will extend from the edge of the Giza plateau across an area the size of 11 football pitches. The museum will house more than 100,000 ancient artefacts, chief among which are the contents of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.

 “Egypt’s heritage is very important for its tourism, and so although we have to protect it, we also have to sell it in some way,” says Professor Alaa al Din Shaheen, the dean of Cairo University’s faculty of archaeology and a member of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

 With a project manager due to be announced this month, tendering due in September and a new opening date set for 2013, the museum project cannot come too soon for Cairo. Tourism is integral to the Egyptian economy, with receipts from visitors growing four-fold over the past decade to reach more than $11bn last year. The industry accounts for 11 per cent of Egypt’s GDP.

 Crucially, for a country of 78 million people where poverty is widespread, tourism also employs about 12 per cent of the Egyptian workforce. The antiquities council has some 30,000 people on its payroll.

 The Grand Egyptian Museum is being built with mass tourism in mind. Henighan Peng, the Dublin-based architects, have designed the terraced building to accommodate up to 15,000 visitors a day. The aim is to attract three million visitors a year, equivalent to about 25 per cent of the tourists who visited Egypt last year.

 Yet tourism and archaeology do not mix easily. Asked what keeps him awake at night, Dr Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the council, does not hesitate. “The single biggest threat to Egypt’s archaeological wealth is tourism,” he says. Just the breath of thousands of visitors is damaging the painted tombs of the Valley of the Kings, for example. “If we do not take serious measures, the tombs will disappear within 100 years.”

 Where once a hired bicycle and a handful of baksheesh was all it took to see the Valley of the Kings, from this summer only a handful of tourists will be able to visit the royal tombs, and then by appointment. Sites will alternately open and close to limit foot traffic. Vehicles have been banned from most sites. Yet these are only a small part of the overhaul of Egypt’s antiquities and tourism sector. Another 20 local museums are now planned besides the grand centrepiece in Giza, drawing the masses but keeping them away from the sites.

 “Our aim now is to balance the needs of tourism with the protection of the monuments,” says Dr Hawass.

 Charismatic and media-savvy, the 62-year-old Dr Hawass has made it his life’s work to track down stolen Egyptian antiquities from abroad. Recent successes include the recovery in April of more than 450 antiquities from Eton College. After failing to establish the provenance of the items, donated in the 1990s, the English private school decided to return the objects to Cairo.

 The frequent appearances in National Geographic and on the Discovery Channel have not always endeared Dr Hawass to colleagues. “He has a knack of rubbing up other archaeologists the wrong way,” says a London-based Egyptologist. “But his showmanship does get results. There wouldn’t be as much awareness about the illicit trade in Egyptian antiquities without him.”

 Regularly seen sporting an Indiana Jones-style fedora, Dr Hawass is clearly conscious of his media persona. “My greatest success with regards to recovering stolen objects is not the 5,500 objects I have managed to return to Egypt, but the awareness that I have raised around the world about the stolen artefacts,” he says.

 Other officials in the Middle East have begun to follow his lead. Thanks to an extensive media campaign, archaeologists and Iraqi officials have successfully undermined the trade in stolen Iraqi antiquities since the US-led invasion in 2003. Gulf states have also realised the tourism potential of their ancient sites, with listings pending from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and new museums planned in the UAE Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

 With more than 5,000 years of civilisation compressed into a narrow strip of fertile land, Egypt is the regional doyenne of heritage tourism and the first to experience its worst effects. Temples in Luxor still bear the graffiti of European visitors from the 18th and 19th centuries. With nearly five years to go until the Grand Egyptian Museum opens, the task is to prevent any further damage.

 Security has been redoubled on Egypt’s network of antiquities warehouses, a common target for thieves. Their contents are now being catalogued, as are the thousands of items gathering dust in the basements of the stately but shabby national museum in downtown Cairo, built in 1902.

 “The museum is very important for the preservation of Egypt’s heritage,” says Dr Hawass. “It will be the first time that objects such as the King Tut collection will be shown in such a beautiful way.”

 Many of the items destined for the Giza museum have not been seen in public since they were excavated more than a century ago.

 “The new museum is one of the best ways of preserving these antiquities and showing them to the people at the same time,” says Prof Shaheen. “Our hope is it will be the greatest museum in the world.”

 Fuente: http://www.thenational.ae/

July 31st, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

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This is going to be a very uncomfortable week for Britain. Greece’s Culture Minister, Antonis Samaras, has stoked up the pressure by rejecting what he claimed was an offer by the British Museum to loan some of the sculptures that were hacked from the Parthenon at the turn of the 19th Century.

The British Museum said it would consider a three or four month long loan, but only if Greece acknowledged that London was the rightful owner. Mr Samaras said Greece could do no such thing as it would legitimise Lord Elgin’s theft and vandalism.

For years, the unsuccessful efforts to secure the return of the long sculpted frieze have been conducted in polite terms by diplomats and academics. Many Greeks have become tired of what one new movement has described as the Athens government’s wishy-washy tactics. Over the past four months 100,000 people have signed up for what promises to be a more dynamic campaign. Some of them will demonstrate outside the new museum the night before the inauguration.

The group’s leader, Alexis Mantheakis, said that if London could hand back India it should be capable of emptying a room at the British Museum.

Malcolm Brabant, BBC News, Athens

July 31st, 2009

Posted In: Parthenon Marbles

July 31, 2009

Washington
Gregg J. Rickman
JTA Wire Service

During the 1990s, the world was seized with stories of Nazi plunder and heirless property from the Holocaust era. Stolen bank accounts, looted artwork, confiscated real estate and payments for slave labor made front-page headlines, were the talk of congressional hearings and became the subject of international diplomacy.

By the end of the decade, billions of dollars had been returned to Holocaust survivors and their heirs. Ten years later, however, the problem remains unresolved.

Survivors received a measure of compensation for their loss and suffering, but some countries—like Russia—could be doing more, particularly by returning the vast collection of books and manuscripts of the late Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn.

At the end of June, experts met in Prague to discuss the continued restitution of Holocaust-era personal assets, cultural and religious objects, Jewish cemeteries and other objects. Delegations from around the world attended, and at the end of the conference a consensus document was issued concerning property.

The Terezin Declaration of June 30 stated, among other things, “We encourage and support efforts to identify and catalogue these items which may be found in archives, libraries, museums and other government and non-government repositories, to return them to their original rightful owners and other appropriate individuals or institutions according to national law, and to consider a voluntary international registration of Torah scrolls and other Judaica objects where appropriate.”

At the same time that delegates were meeting in Prague, representatives of the Russian government appeared in a U.S. court in Washington to argue for Russia’s holding onto some 381 religious transcripts, 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents belonging to Schneersohn, the sixth leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, who was forced by the Soviets to flee in 1927 under threat of death.

Schneersohn took the documents to Latvia and later to Poland, but he was forced to leave them behind when the Nazis invaded and he fled to the United States. The collection was seized and taken to Germany, then recovered by the Red Army in 1945.

Russian representatives argued last month that Russia would not submit to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in the matter and that the United States should use diplomatic channels to resolve the dispute. The United States has already tried this channel.

In 1992, President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Robert Dole pressured the Russian Federation to return the contents of the library. At that time, all 100 members of the Senate wrote to then-President Boris Yeltsin urging the Russian leader to fulfill his promise to return the texts.

At one point, a single book was released to Gore. On a second occasion, seven volumes were given to Clinton during a visit to Moscow. But since then, nothing more has happened.

For what it’s worth, when in Moscow as the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, I asked the curator of the collection for permission to take at least one volume back as a goodwill gesture. My request was denied.

After diplomacy failed, Chabad-Lubavitch sued Russia in U.S. courts in 2004. The case goes on.

In Moscow in May 2007, I saw these books, which are held at the Russian State Library. The Schneersohn collection is part of a larger collection of some 50,000 Hebrew and Yiddish books. The Schneersohn books, for the most part, were kept neatly on shelves behind glass doors in a fire-controlled room. They are part of a closed collection that no one is interested in reading, the curator explained to me.

Interestingly, he commented on how touching it was when he saw Jewish children who had been brought there to see the collection. Apparently they were interested in the collection.

In the middle of the floor were nearly 40 cardboard boxes of books. On top of the open boxes, books were stacked in varying degrees of decomposition. Some lacked a binding; one Yiddish volume was dated Krakow, 1895. Outside the room was a card catalog with more than 100 drawers detailing the collection. I was told the archive used to have someone to help with the collection who spoke Hebrew and Yiddish—a former KGB man—but he was no longer around.

The Schneerson collection must be seen as the Russians see it: war booty.

Russia seems to have incorporated the collection “no one” was interested in reading into their “Jewish collections” and has housed it with many others that now form part of what I was told was the “Russian national heritage.”

If Russia can attend international gatherings like the Prague Conference and agree to its declarations, it should abide by them in deed.

The Schneersohn collection does not belong to Russia. It belongs to the Jews; specifically Chabad-Lubavitch. As the international community agreed in Prague, Russia should return the Schneersohn collection, just as every other country is expect to return their looted property.

Gregg J. Rickman served as the first U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, from 2006 to 2009. He is a senior fellow for the study and combat of anti-Semitism at the Institute on Religion and Policy and a visiting fellow at the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism at Yale University.

http://www.jewishtimes.com/

July 31st, 2009

Posted In: WWII

By Martin Bailey 

Excavation of the Excavation of the “goddess” in 1912

BERLIN. A group of 30 monumental sculptures from Tell Halaf, in Syria, have been reconstructed after being pulverised into 25,000 fragments in a bombing raid in World War II. Dating from soon after 1000 BC, the basalt statues were on display in Berlin until a combination of fire and water caused devastating damage. 

Following the war, there were legal and political problems in even considering restoration. Although the reunification of Germany in 1990 eased the difficulties, conservators initially feared that reconstruction of the sculptures would be impossible. However, the painstaking work eventually began in 2002 and is finally nearing completion.

 Tell Halaf lies in north-east Syria, close to the Turkish border and is now a Kurdish region. The site’s origins date back to 6000 BC, in late Neolithic times, but arguably the most important remains are those of the Aramaean civilisation, in the tenth century BC.

 In 1899 Tell Halaf was discovered by Baron Max von Oppenheim, a German diplomat based in Cairo. He later sought permission from the Ottoman authorities to excavate the site between 1911 and 1913. Work was interrupted by World War I, and his final dig took place in 1927. The greatest finds were the remains of the palace of Prince Kapara, which included a five-metre high ensemble of three gods standing on animals and a twice life-size figure of a seated woman (or goddess, as Oppenheim believed). The excavated finds were divided between the national museum in Aleppo and Oppenheim, who took his share back to Berlin.

 In 1930 Oppenheim opened his own museum in Berlin, in a disused iron foundry in Charlottenburg. Among pre-war visitors were Agatha Christie and her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan. She later recalled being shown around by Oppenheim for a gruelling five-hour visit, during which he “stopped his eager dissertation to say lovingly: ‘Ah, my beautiful Venus’ and stroke the figure affectionately.” This was the enthroned woman.

 War brought disaster. On 22-24 November 1943 the museum was bombed by the British, and fire broke out, with temperatures exceeding 1,000 degrees centigrade. This completely destroyed the wood and limestone artefacts from Tell Halaf, and the basalt sculptures were split by sudden temperature changes resulting from hosed water. Despite logistical difficulties during wartime, the director of Berlin’s Museum of the Ancient Near East managed to get the fragments crated up on behalf of Oppenheim. In August 1944 nine truckloads of rubble were brought to that museum’s deep cellar, which forms part of the Pergamon Museum.

 After the war, the Pergamon Museum was in Soviet-occupied East Berlin, while the burnt-out museum in Charlottenburg was in West Berlin, with the Oppenheim family settled in Cologne, in West Germany. Initially there was nothing that could be done with the Tell Halaf fragments in war-devastated Germany, and even when the economic situation improved there were difficulties: the rubble was owned by a West German foundation, but housed in an East German museum.

 It was only after reunification in 1990 that attention once again focused on the Tell Halaf fragments. Archaeologists recalled what Oppenheim had written in 1944, in the depths of war: “How wonderful it would be if all the fragments into which the sculptures have been shattered could be gathered up and taken to the state museums of Berlin and there, eventually, reassembled. But what a horrendous task that would be, given that this collection has been smashed to smithereens. What I want most of all, of course, is to save the great enthroned goddess.” Oppenheim died in 1946, and it was to be over 60 years later before his dream was realised.

 The reconstruction project began in 2002, in two huge halls in a former materials testing workshop in Friedrichshagen, in the eastern suburbs of Berlin. Eighty cubic metres of rubble were laid out on 200 wooden pallets, and the painstaking work of reassembling the pieces began. Initially, it was thought that computers could be used to scan images of the fragments, and match them, but this did not prove to be practical. “Humans turned out to be superior to computers,” explained project leader Dr Lutz Martin.

 A minute examination of the basalt revealed very minor differences in colour, grain size and crystal intrusions in the stone used for each of the 30 sculptures and relief slabs. When it came to reconstructing the individual statues, carved exterior pieces with surface dirt were identified, and then the interior elements. It was like assembling an exceedingly complex three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Fortunately, however, there were good pre-war photographs to assist.

 In the end, 95% of the material (by volume) has been reused, although a considerable amount of nearly pulverised sand remains.

 Fragments were initially reassembled with temporary glue and later more permanently attached with reversible epoxy resin. No metal framework or pins were used.

 Break marks remain very visible, and no attempt has been made to disguise them. Where large pieces are missing (some since antiquity), roughly shaped inserts have been added, using a mixture of ground basalt, sand and resin, in a slightly lighter shade of grey than the original stone. Some fragments of molten glass and bitumen from the Charlottenburg museum roof have been left on surfaces which will not be visible on display, since they are now part of the history of the sculptures. Conservation work is due to be concluded in October.

 Legally, ownership of the sculptures rests with the Cologne-based Oppenheim foundation, although they are on long-term loan to Berlin Museums. The lengthy conservation process was funded jointly by the Oppenheims and the government’s German Research Foundation.

 An exhibition on “The Tell Halaf Adventure” is being planned for Berlin’s Museum of the Ancient Near East, from July to November 2010. Discussions are underway about other venues, possibly in Oppenheim’s hometown of Cologne, or international museums that hold smaller quantities of Tell Halaf material.

 After this, the Tell Halaf sculptures will be integrated into the displays in the Museum of the Ancient Near East, within the Pergamon Museum. When the Pergamon Museum is fully renovated, the figures of the three gods standing on animals will serve as an impressive entrance to the Ancient Near East collection, but this is not scheduled for completion until 2028.

 Recent finds at Tell Halaf

 Once again, German curators, conservators and archaeologists have been strengthening ties with Syria. A large basalt bull from Tell Halaf belonging to the national museum in Aleppo has been restored in Berlin by the conservators who were working on the reconstruction of the war-damaged fragments.

 German and Syrian archaeologists have, since 2006, been working on further excavations at Tell Halaf. Three campaigns have taken place, leading to the discovery of a tenth century BC grave of a girl, together with jewellery and textile fragments. Rounded buildings from the earliest settlement, in the sixth millennium BC, were also found. A fourth excavation campaign is scheduled for September.

 http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/New-life-for-ancient-Syrian-sculptures/18551 

issue 204, July/August 2009
Published online 29 Jul 09 (Conservation)

July 30th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

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Visions of Babylon—and beyond

A clutch of books and two international exhibitions explore the famous ancient city, its culture and art

By John D.M. Green | From 

 

Small-scale statue of a god, from the Southern Palace, Babylon, seventh century BCSmall-scale statue of a god, from the Southern Palace, Babylon, seventh century BC

The word “Babylon” conjures up highly evocative imagery and symbolism. The traditional western view of Babylon, as inherited from Biblical and Classical sources, evokes the monumental Hanging Gardens and Tower of Babel, the captive longing of the Jewish exile, Nebuchadnezzar’s might and descent into madness, and the Whore of Babylon. It can be argued that the continued allegorical and moralistic reinvention of Babylon throughout history and into modern times has much greater symbolic resonance than the very real ancient city of Babylon in southern Iraq. The latter is known through excavations from the 19th century onward revealing its walls, palaces and temples, colourful glazed brick friezes of lions and dragons, and among other treasures, clay prisms and cuneiform tablets.

 

Babylon in London

 

The exhibition “Babylon” opens at the British Museum this month (13 November-15 March 2009), marking the third and final stage of this year’s highly ambitious and successful collaboration with the Musée du Louvre and the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris (“Babylone” at the former museum, 14 March-2 June), and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (“Babylon: Mythos und Wahrheit” at the Pergamonmuseum, 26 June-5 October). The British Museum exhibition catalogue Babylon: Myth and Reality and its counterpart gift book Babylon: City of Wonders, are co-edited by exhibition curators Irving Finkel and Michael Seymour. The catalogue contains contributions by Julian Reade, Andrew George, Joachim Marzahn, Jonathan Taylor and John Curtis. The books are slickly produced and well-illustrated, and the co-editors should be congratulated on  their work in preparing books both accessible to the general reader, yet not short on fascinating detail and insight into the world of Babylon—its discovery and excavation, mythology, and legacy.

 

The catalogue is divided into four main sections entitled “The City of Babylon”, “Life and Letters”, “History and Legend”, and “The Legacy of Babylon”. Other than the exhibited pieces, the books draw upon art and artefacts from the partner museums, as well as previously unpublished British Museum objects. This gives a sense of the structure and size of the exhibition. The format differs markedly from the chronological approach in Paris, and the division between themes of myth and reality in Berlin. London’s show will be much smaller, more selective and by consequence much clearer in its melding of myth and reality. At its heart is Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 BC), great builder of Babylon and ruler of an empire stretching from the Persian Gulf to Egypt. The book demonstrates how his city and the legacy of the neo-Babylonian era inspired countless historians, travellers, writers and artists over the centuries, from Herodotus to Rembrandt. In the section entitled “Legacy of Babylon”, Dr Finkel and Dr Seymour highlight the core elements of the catalogue and exhibition: “Firstly…what features embedded in our present world may be attributed to ancient Mesopotamian society: ideas, conventions and even scientific discoveries…Secondly, there is the name itself—living, evolving, and ever the substance of image and icon”.

 

“History and Legend” unravels the integrity of stories and myths as illustrated by oil paintings, engravings and illuminated manuscripts. These famous images are compared and contrasted with the archaeological reality of ancient text and image.

 

The catalogue has a significant focus on the process of rediscovery and the development of scholarly interest on Babylon from the Middle Ages to the present. As shown by Julian Reade, explorers, treasure hunters and antiquarians have all been drawn to the site over the ages. In the 19th century, British or British-sponsored investigations at Babylon were limited compared with their activities in North Mesopotamia, which resulted in the acquisition of Assyrian palace sculpture now in the British Museum. Early investigators were unable to make real sense of Babylon because they lacked the technical skills to unravel the city’s mud-brick ruins. It wasn’t until the arrival of German archaeologist Robert Koldewey in 1898 that Babylon’s systematic excavation began. It was also through Koldewey that the Vorderasiatische Museum in Berlin acquired the famous glazed-brick friezes from Babylon’s Ishtar gate and ceremonial way—elements that will be exhibited at the British Museum for the first time.

 

Auf dem Weg nach Babylon celebrates Koldewey’s life and career in detail. It explores the process by which he applied his architectural and engineering skills to archaeology, first at classical sites in Greece and Turkey, and subsequently achieving his crowning glory of two decades of work at Babylon and the reconstruction of the glazed brick friezes in Berlin. The book includes evocative photographs, architectural drawings and watercolours, and is enlivened with pages reproduced from the Babylon dig-house visitors’ book, filled with amusing cartoons, doodles, poems and witticisms of a bygone era.

 

In the British Museum’s Babylon catalogue, Michael Seymour leaves a very creative mark in his selection and discussion of paintings, prints and drawings. Well known works featured include John Martin’s Belshazzar’s Feast, and William Blake’s Madness of Nebuchadnezzar. Contemporary works include Julee Holcombe’s Babylon Revisited; a digital montage of buildings from ancient temples to modern skyscrapers, dragging the Tower of Babel into the modern age.

 

The British Museum has been at the forefront of the condemnation of the looting of museums and damage to archaeological sites in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. John Curtis writes the final chapter of the Babylon catalogue entitled “The Site of Babylon Today”, including details of damage sustained during Babylon’s extensive military occupation by US and Polish forces. Earlier press reports may have given the impression that the Babylon exhibition will have a greater focus on threats to cultural heritage in Iraq. This may turn out to be the case, but this politicised theme is limited to only a small part of the catalogue. After the Babylon of antiquity and the Babylon of myth, the impact of recent images from Babylon under military occupation will certainly jolt the reader back to reality.

 

The publication of a new book by Paul Collins, entitled From Egypt to Babylon: The International Age 1500-500 BC, happily coincides with the recent flurry of “Babylonmania”, but is in fact unrelated to the exhibition. The book provides a broad patchwork of history of the Ancient Near East, Egypt, and the East Mediterranean. Intended for the interested layman, it is punctuated with stunning images from the British Museum’s diverse collections. Despite its didactic and authoritative approach, the breaking down of traditional regional boundaries, using the device of a hypothetical traveller, is its best achievement.

 

Babylon in New York

 

On a related and highly significant note, New York sees the opening, less than a week after the British Museum’s show, of “Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium BC” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (18 November-15 March 2009). Given the general trend this year for all things Babylon-related, the familiar use of “Babylon” in the title does jump on the bandwagon somewhat. As it suggests, this exhibition promises to go well beyond Babylon. In fact, the seriously impressive catalogue lends an almost taunting element: “So you thought ‘Babylon’ was impressive? Wait until you see this!” The exhibition, overseen by curator-in-chief Joan Aruz, features over 350 objects covering an epic geographical scope from the Caucasus to Egypt, and from Iran to Greece.

 

The second millennium BC (2000-1000 BC) was the first great era of international trade and diplomacy, seeing the emergence of a shared language of artistic styles and competitive displays of wealth by the rulers and elites of the time. International gift-exchange took place on an epic scale, leaving its legacy in the rich art treasures of the period. Thankfully, a large proportion of the material featured in the exhibition and catalogue comes from archaeological excavations, many of them recent. This makes their display even more significant due to their rich contextual associations. The collection goes beyond art, by contributing considerably to our understanding of relations across political, cultural, and social boundaries. The catalogue includes contributions by over 80 leading scholars resulting in a very mixed arrangement of sections, which are chronological (eg “The Middle Bronze Age”), thematic (eg “The Art of Exchange”), and site-specific (eg “The Uluburun shipwreck”). Up-to-date summaries of objects are provided, and attempts are made to incorporate them into their wider cultural and geopoltical settings through short informative essays on archaeology, art history, and written sources.

 

Probably the most remarkable feature of Beyond Babylon is material loaned from museums in Syria for the first time, including fabulous gold jewellery, frescoes, statues and other treasures from key sites. These include a unique and stunning assemblage of objects excavated just six years ago from the intact royal tomb at Qatna, Syria. Another notable achievement is the loan of objects from the cargo of the Late Bronze Age shipwreck (around 1300 BC) found at Uluburun off the coast of Turkey, displayed in the US for the first time. Uluburun represents a microcosm of the Late Bronze Age including a wide range of traded goods such as copper and tin ingots, ivory and glass, pottery, a gold scarab-seal of Nefertiti, gold pendants, and weapons belonging to an ethnically diverse crew. The cargo was of such a scale and quality that is considered by many to have been a royal shipment, a uniquely well-preserved example of international gift exchange crossing the East Mediterranean sea.

 

There is much more to say about Beyond Babylon, as it draws upon the Met’s own collection of ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian art and loans from major international museums, including many recently featured in the Paris and Berlin Babylon exhibitions. Judging by the stunning catalogue co-edited by Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel and Jean Evans, this blockbuster is not to be missed. A pattern is clearly emerging at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, especially in the work of Joan Aruz. The exhibition follows the highly successful “Art of the First Cities” exhibition in 2003, which drew upon collections from the third millennium BC. We should presumably anticipate therefore at some point in the near future a third installment in this grand story of art, trade and cultural exchange, this time for the first millennium BC. This will probably bring with it an opportunity to display material from Babylon once again.

 

John D.M. Green, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

 

 

 

I.L. Finkel and M.J. Seymour (eds), Babylon (British Museum Press, 2008), 224 pp, £25 (hb) ISBN 9780714111704

 

I.L. Finkel and M.J. Seymour, Babylon: City of Wonder (British Museum Press, 2008), 96 pp, £9.99 (hb) ISBN 9780714111711

 

Ralf-B. Wartke, Auf dem Weg nach Babylon: Robert Koldewey—ein Archäologenleben (Philipp von Zabern, 2008), 192 pp, €24.90 (hb) ISBN 9783805339186

 

Paul Collins, From Egypt to Babylon: the International Age, 1500-500 BC (British Museum Press, 2008), 208 pp, £25 (hb) ISBN 9780714119830

 

Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel and Jean Evans (eds), Art, Trade and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium BC (Yale University Press with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008), 600 pp, £45 (hb) ISBN 9780300141436

 

http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Visions-of-Babylon-and-beyond/16512

issue 196, November 2008
Published online 12 Nov 08 (Books)

July 30th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

Tags:

By Nick Gier, New West Unfiltered 7-28-09

Once again the Greek government has demanded that the Parthenon Marbles, better known in imperialist circles as the Elgin Marbles, be returned from the British Museum to the Greek people. The stunning new Acropolis Museum has just opened, and there is a gallery where a plaster copy of half the famous frieze waits to be replaced with the original.

Noting that the Greeks had previously been amenable to a generous loan policy, the British journal The Economist states that “the Greek government risks driving museums everywhere into clinging to their possessions for fear of losing them. If the aim is for the greatest number of people to see the greatest number of treasures, a better way must be found.”

In 1801 Lord Elgin did get permission from the Ottoman authorities, but the legality of this transaction has been disputed. Many other famous museum collections, however, do not have even a veneer of lawful justification.

During the excavations at El Armana from 1911-14, Ludwig Borchardt of the Imperial German Institute for Egyptology pulled off one of the most amazing deceptions in the history of archaeology. Borchardt had found the head of Nefertiti, considered to be the one of the most beautiful examples of ancient Egyptian art.

Borchardt was determined to have Nefertiti for the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, where she now resides. He prepared a doctored photo of the bust that put it in the worst possible light, and then described it to Egyptian authorities as a plaster bust rather than the painted limestone that it actually is. The deception worked.

Yale University and Peru’s government remain locked in their long battle over the disposition of 40,000 artifacts removed from Machu Picchu from 1911-1915.

Eliane Karp-Toledo, Peru’s former first lady and archaeology lecturer at Stanford University, is a major critic of Yale’s claim to the items, discovered by amateur archaeologist and later U.S. Senator Hiram Bingham.

At a talk at Yale last month Karp-Toledo presented excerpts from Bingham’s letters in which he admitted that everything belonged to Peru and that the artifacts should be returned. This is the position of the National Geographic Society, which supported Bingham’s three expeditions.

A memorandum of understanding that was signed by both parties in 2007 now appears to be null and void because the Peruvian government has renewed legal action against Yale. Many Peruvians join Karp-Toledo in objecting to a provision that would allow Yale to keep those items “not of museum quality” for 99 years.

Yale claims that their experts need more time for research, but the Peruvians want to make their own evaluation of the objects. They are also angry at Yale’s professors in their presumption that only they can do proper research on others’ cultural treasures.

The Economist’s position that if some artifacts are returned then there will be a world-wide request for objects is alarmist, and it ignores the plain fact that only a few cultural treasures are in dispute.

Some say that the Lord Elgin saved the Parthenon Marbles from the acid rain of 20th Century Athens, but the Greek half of the frieze is actually in much better shape than the British half. British conservationists, seduced by the faux classical ideal of pure white marble, scraped off what remained of the original paint and the honey-colored patina of the Pentelic marble.

British public opinion has long held that the marbles should be returned, and a recent unscientific poll conducted by the Guardian found that 94 percent of its readers supported repatriation. At a February 2008 Cambridge debate on the issue, the Greeks won by a vote of 114 to 46.

It’s high time that Nefertiti’s beautiful head goes back to Egypt, and that the two halves of the greatest symbol of democracy are reunited on the Acropolis.

Nick Gier taught philosophy at the University of Idaho for 31 years. Read or listen to his other columns at www.NickGier.com

http://www.newwest.net/citjo/article/should_nefertiti_and_the_elgin_marbles_go_home/C33/L33/

July 29th, 2009

Posted In: Parthenon Marbles

It seems there is nobody in the whole of Great Britain who can persuade the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, to refrain from making atrocious statements about cultural matters, especially about cultural objects of others which have been looted or removed under dubious circumstance and brought to the British Museum. Apart from his equally offensive theory that the cultures of others can only be properly understood in the British Museum which has many other looted objects, he recently argued that the Benin bronzes were made from materials produced in Europe and that this somehow gives the British Museum legitimacy to hold the looted bronzes. The following insulting statement, made recently, is in line with his usual disrespect for others “The Greek government has simply continued Elgin’s practice and removed the rest [of the Parthenon Marbles] now from the building, because you can’t see them on the building. When those sculptures came to London, for the first time they were at a height where people could see them and they were in a place where tens, hundreds of thousands of people could see these were great objects.” (1)

With all due respect, given the background of the dispute concerning the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles, this is an unacceptable insult not only to the Greeks and their Government but also to the British public which has repeatedly and overwhelmingly spoken in favour of returning the Marbles to Athens. (2) The United Nations, UNESCO and countless international organizations have also called for the return of cultural objects such as the Parthenon Marbles to their countries of origin.(3)

One may take whichever side is deemed reasonable in this debate which has been going on for some several decades but must one insult the opposing side? MacGregor knows very well that the name of Elgin has become synonymous with vandalism following the brutal removal of the Marbles from Athens by Elgin.(4)That a Director of the British Museum can speak in this fashion is a sad commentary on the state of affairs regarding the restitution of cultural objects. Since the British Museum does not have any more valid arguments against the return of the Marbles, it appears the tactic now is to insult the Greeks to such an extent that any civil discussion will soon be impossible. In the meanwhile, the Marbles can remain where they are: in the British Museum. But this is a cheap strategy which can buy the British Museum only some breathing space until the majority of the British decide that their long-term interests are not best served by museums with such an unhelpful approach.

How can a University-educated person declare that the fact that artefacts have been removed from elsewhere and brought to the British Museum must mean that they were legally removed, given the history of long disputes regarding many objects in the British Museum?

“…there’s no question it was legal because you can’t move those things without the approval of the power of the day. It was clearly allowed, or it wouldn’t have happened.”

On MacGregor’s line of reasoning, all artefacts which have been looted or stolen in the colonial period, irrespective of their individual histories and circumstances, must have been legally removed since they were successfully removed. So what have all the debates concerning restitution been about in the last hundred or so years?

The Director of the British Museum gives the impression that the Greeks have not been willing to talk about the various issues surrounding the Marbles:

” We have been disappointed that we have never had that conversation with the Greek government….The trustees [of the British Museum] have made it clear many times that that’s a conversation they would like to have”. The impression conveyed by this statement is, to put it very mildly, very misleading. Those who were not born yesterday may remember that the charismatic Greek Minister of Culture, Melina Mercouri, even came to London to discuss these issues and this gave the then director of the British Museum, David Wilson, the opportunity to describe as cultural fascists all who advocated the return of the Marbles to Athens(5). It seems to becoming a habit of some museum directors to insult all those who seek to retrieve their looted or stolen cultural artefacts from the imperial museum. Would anyone blame the Greeks if they did not want to discuss with those who have taken their cultural objects and insult them whenever they put in a demand for restitution?

After the Greeks have built an ultra-modern museum, New Acropolis Museum, to respond to the long-standing British argument that there was no suitable place in Athens for the Parthenon Marbles, MacGregor, who did not even bother to attend the opening of the New Acropolis Museum, is now saying that the argument on location is now a question of the past and was never an important British contention. (6) He must credit all of us with very short memories and very little intelligence.

We thought for a long time that a notable characteristic of British officials was a certain diplomatic approach but on hearing MacGregor and his associates, we start thinking that this assessment perhaps requires a drastic revision, if not, a total reverse. The recent statements of the British Museum director are not exactly calculated to foster harmonious relations with the Greeks and the Greek government. But who ever said that museums are there, among other things, to foster good relations between nations and cultures?

MacGregor put forward a diversionary argument in the following statement:

“The real question is about how the Greek and British governments can work together so that the sculptures can be seen in China and Africa”.

Who told MacGregor that Africans are dying to see the Parthenon Marbles?

We would be happy if the British Museum could return some of the looted African artefacts like the Benin bronzes. He should not underestimate the intelligence of mankind. Everybody can see how the British Museum Director and his supporters are now lost for argument. Whatever else the British Museum and its officials do in this matter, I plead fervently that they leave the Chinese and the Africans out of this matter. Our peoples have always, through the United Nations and UNESCO supported the Greeks on this issue just as the majority of the British people are in favour of returning the Marbles. The Scottish Parliament has also spoken in favour of the Greeks.

It has become very clear for all those who follow cultural affairs that there is no serious intention on the part of the British Museum to discuss the question of the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles.(7) This is doing an enormous damage to the reputation of the British in the world of culture.

These insulting statements were delivered by MacGregor from the respectable London School of Economics, University of London. The LSE has always had a solid reputation abroad even during the worst periods of British colonialism and imperialism. Could we plead with MacGregor and others not to drag the reputation of the respectable institution into the mud by preaching and expounding unfounded arguments there?

Kwame Opoku.
NOTES
1. Culturegrrl MacGregor Whopper: Greek Government “Simply Continued Elgin’s Practice”

MacGregor’s colleague, James Cuno, Director of the Art Institute of Chicago, shares the disrespect for others. Cuno declared publicly his readiness to consider demands for restitution at the opening of the recent Benin exhibition which his institute had organized with the Benin Royal Family, among others. The Royal Family sent a request in 2008 for the restitution of Benin bronzes to the Art Institute of Chicago but up to now, Cuno has not even bothered to acknowledge receipt of the request. Would he have acted in this fashion if the request came from a European Royalty? The general disrespect of many Western museum directors towards African will surely not go unnoticed.

K. Opoku, “Benin Exhibition in Chicago: Cuno Agrees to Consider Request for Restitution of Benin Bronzes”,

http://www.modernghana.com
K. Opoku, “Formal Demand for the Return of Benin Bronzes: Will Western Museums now Return Some of the Looted/Stolen Benin Bronzes? “

http://www.modernghana.com
2. Recent polls by the Guardian have confirmed this 94.8 5% were in favour of returning the Marbles to Athens and only 5.2% were against. . Aida Edemariam “How G2’s Parthenon marbles poll went global”, http://www.elginism.com

3. See the Conclusions of the Athens International Conference

on the Return of Cultural Objects to their Countries of Origin

Athens, 17-18 March 2008, http://portal.unesco.org

4. “What is elginism?” http://www.elginism.com

Lord Elgin’s name has become synonymous with vandalism. http://www.elginism.com

“The practice of plundering artifacts from their original setting is sometimes referred to as ‘elginism’, while the claim, sometimes used by looters and collectors, that they are trying to rescue the artifacts they recover has become known as the “Elgin Excuse”. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elgin_Marbles

What is elginism? An act of cultural vandalism.
elginism) n. 1801. An act of cultural vandalism
Elginism (ĕl’gĭnĭz’əm) n. 1801. [f. the name of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin (1766-1841); see —ISM. Cf. Fr. elginisme & Sp. elginismo.]

An act of cultural vandalism. A term coined by the destructive actions of Lord Elgin who illegally transported the Parthenon Marbles from Greece to London between 1801 and 1805. Now also applies to other cultural objects. Usually refers to artefacts taken from poorer nations to richer ones.

It has a profound negative effect on the art world because many artefacts are destroyed when they are torn out of their cultural & spatial context. Due to this, scholars are unable to retrieve valuable historical information because they can

only deal with fragmentary remains instead of a complete unified object. Decontextualised artefacts that end up in a museum or gallery are often given the name of the person who perpetrated their removal from their original setting (see Elgin Marbles). The French use the term elginisme to describe the practice of stealing antique fittings from old houses. The act of elginism has been going on for thousands of years, however the Elgin Marbles are now considered to be the classic case of elginism. http://parthenon-sculptures.blogspot.com

Christopher Hitchens, The Parthenon Marbles, Verso, London, 2008, pp. 17-18.:

“The Disdar, who beheld the mischief done to the building, took his pipe out of his mouth, dropped a tear, and in a supplicating tone of voice said to Lusieri, It is finished”.

Mary Beard, The Parthenon, Profile Books, London, 2004, p. 88:

The one clear fact about Elgin, interventions is that he did not ransack an “archaeological site” in any sense that we would recognise. He removed, more systematically-indeed more ruthlessly-than any of his predecessors, surviving sculptures of a precious remnant of classical antiquity that was standing (just about) in the middle of a rough-and-ready military base”

5. Christopher Hitchens, The Parthenon Marbles, pp. 97-99

I found in this useful book, a report on an interview said to have been given by David Wilson, then Director of the British Museum who threw the accusation of “nationalism” and “fascism” at the supporters of restitution. His statements are so remarkable in their violence and lack of logic that I feel everyone should read them:

“In a BBC television discussion on 15 June 1985, Sir David Wilson, Director of the British Museum, was invited to contrast his opinions with those of Melina Mersouri. Sir David had already exhibited a certain lack of gallantry when, on an earlier visit to London, Mrs. Mercouri had expressed a wish to visit the Museum and view the marbles. On that occasion he had said publicly that it was not usual to allow burglars ‘to case the joint’ in advance. But once before the cameras he easily improved on this ill-mannered exaggeration. ‘To rip the Elgin Marbles from the walls of the British Museum’ he said, ‘is a much greater disaster than the threat of blowing up the Parthenon’. This might have been thought hyperbolic, if Sir David had not gone on to say, in response to a mild question about the feasibility of restitution:

Oh, anything can be done. That’s what Hitler said, that’s what Mussolini

said when he got Italian trains to run on time
The interviewer, David Lomax, broke in to say:
You are not seriously suggesting there’s a parallel between…

Sir David was unrepentant:
Yes, I am. I think this is cultural fascism. It’s nationalism and it’s cultural danger. Enormous cultural danger. If you start to destroy great intellectual institutions, you are culturally fascist.

LOMAX: What do you mean by cultural fascist?
WILSON: You are destroying the whole fabric of intellectual achievement. You are starting to erode it. I can’t say you are destroying, you are starting to erode. I think it’s a very, very serious, thing to do. It’s a thing you ought to think of very careful, it’s like burning books. That’s what Hitler did, I think you’ve to be very careful about that.

LOMAX: But are you seriously suggesting that the people who want the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece, who feel there’s an overwhelming moral case that they should go back, are guilty of cultural fascism?

WILSON: I think not the people who are wanting the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece if they are Greek. But I think that the world opinion and the people in this country who want the Elgin Marbles to go back to Greece are actually guilty of something very much approaching it, it is censoring the British Museum. And I think that this is a bad thing to do. It is as bad as burning books”.

This is an extraordinary performance by a Director of the British Museum. One can sympathize with his desperation in face of the mounting pressure to return the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles to Athens and the great presence of the unforgettable Melina Mercouri in London. But can anyone excuse his shameful performance?

6. “UK representatives absent at New Acropolis Museum opening”, http://www.elginism.com

Kerin Hope,” UK Asent from Greece’s Acropolis Celebration” http://www.parthenonuk.com

7. Kwame Opoku, “Will the British Museum ever Modify its Claim to be Unquestionable Legal Owner of the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles and all Other Stolen Items in the Museum?”

http://www.modernghana.com

July 28th, 2009

Posted In: Dr. Kwame Opoku writings about looted cultural objects

CASTEL S. ANGELO 

Sessanta capolavori trafugati da scavi clandestini, rubati da chiese e musei saranno tutti insieme in una mostra eccezionale.

 24/07/2009

 Con un organico di soli 16 militari, il Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio artistico dei carabinieri muoveva i primi passi nel 1969. Nasceva il primo reparto al mondo specializzato nella lotta al traffico illecito di Beni Culturali. Quarant’anni di attività investigativa affidata a militari sempre più specialisti nel campo della tutela dei beni archeologici e culturali, composta oggi da centinaia di carabinieri divisi in 12 nuclei e un Reparto operativo per le indagini su scala nazionale e internazionale e un nuovo nome: Carabinieri Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale.

 Quarant’anni di indagini, di caccie e di successi ma anche di casi ancora aperti, raccontati anche una mostra eccezionale di sessanta capolavori ritrovati, molti storia della Capitale, esposti dal 23 settembre 2009 al 30 gennaio 2010 a Castel Sant’Angelo. Si tratta di opere di epoche diverse, di valore immenso sotto ogni profilo che raccontano storie di strategie di intervento, di recuperi e di indagini. Ieri a Palazzo Valentini la presentazione dell’ «Antologia di Meraviglie» alla presenza dei vertici dell’Arma e delle istituzioni coinvolte nel progetto.

 La mostra è infatti promossa dal Ministero per i Beni Culturali, con patrocinio di Regione Lazio, Comune, e Provincia di Roma. L’evento è sostenuto anche da Arcus e dalla Fondazione Roma Terzo Settore.

L’organizzazione è affidata al Centro Europeo per il Turismo. Tra le 60 “meraviglie” che saranno esposte e che daranno respiro internazionale alla mostra, il «Ritratto di gentildonna», cosiddetta La muta di Raffaello rubata dalla Galleria Nazionale delle Marche di Urbino nel 1975 e recuperata l’anno dopo in Svizzera; la Sacra Famiglia con San Giovannino del Sodoma, la cosiddetta Madonna Salomon di Giovanni Bellini, e La Madonna e i Santi Gerolamo e Francesco in adorazione del Bambino che uno studio recente attribuisce al Ghirlandaio. E poi diverse opere trafugate a Roma e nel Lazio.

 Tra queste, la Triade Capitolina scavata clandestinamente nel Lazio nel ’92 e recuperata nel ’94; alcune pagine miniate trafugate dalla Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli da dove venne sottratto e non ancora ritrovato «il Bambinello»; due Van Goh e un Cézanne rubati dalla Galleria Nazionale d’arte Moderna; due busti presi dalla Basilica di San Sebastiano fuori le Mura; un’ostensorio sottratto a San Crisogono e una Madonna con Bambino portata via da un Monastero Benedettino della Città eterna.

 Cinzia Tralicci

 Link: http://iltempo.ilsole24ore.com/roma/2009/07/24/1051276-mostra_arte.shtml

July 26th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

Tags:

Posted : Fri, 24 Jul 2009 16:01:49 GMT

Author : Looting Matters

SWANSEA, Wales, July 24 /PRNewswire/ — David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the news that Giacomo Medici has lost his appeal in the Italian courts.

The Geneva-based antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici has been the focus of attention since police raids on his Geneva warehouse in the Freeport back in the mid 1990s. Objects seized from the facility shed light on a well-beaten track between looted archaeological sites in Italy and dealers in northern Europe. The paper trail also pointed to London where newly surfaced antiquities frequently entered the public market.

Other documentation including photographs helped investigators to track down specific antiquities that had passed through Medici’s hands. The large number of antiquities that have been returned to Italy from North American museums bear witness to the impact of the Medici dossier.

Medici had appealed against his conviction for his part in the handling of cultural property. This appeal has now failed though his sentence has been reduced to 8 years.

Paperwork has demonstrated that Medici was not acting alone. There was a network of tombaroli who picked over archaeological sites, middlemen who passed the finds upwards, and those who were responsible for removing the objects from Italian territory. Once in Switzerland the objects were conserved, studied, described and presented to potential buyers.

Medici was not the only Italian national who was handling antiquities that were passing through Switzerland. And the on-going trial of Robert Hecht and Marion True in Rome continues to provide information about the way antiquities were acquired by major museums in Europe, North America and the Far East. 

http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2009/07/giacomo-medici-conviction-upheld.html

July 26th, 2009

Posted In: looting and illegal art traffickers

OMA – Oggi, alle ore 12.00, presso la sala “Di Liegro” di Palazzo Valentini, sede della Provincia di Roma, il Sottosegretario di Stato per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, On. Francesco Maria Giro, terrà una conferenza stampa di presentazione della mostra “Antologia di meraviglie”, che rientra in una serie di eventi espositivi programmati per il 40° anniversario dell’istituzione del Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, che hanno avuto inizio nella primavera del 2009 a Napoli con la mostra “Archeologia che ritorna” e che termineranno nel 2010. 

La mostra, che sarà ospitata presso il complesso monumentale di Castel Sant’Angelo dal 23 settembre 2009 al 30 gennaio 2010, presenta alcune tra le opere più importanti recuperate dal Comando T.P.C. nei suoi primi quarant’anni di attività (non solo archeologia, ma anche antiquariato e arte moderna e contemporanea), in cui saranno evidenziate le singole attività che hanno permesso il recupero dei beni esposti. Interverranno il Presidente della Provincia di Roma, On.

Nicola Zingaretti, l’Assessore del Comune di Roma alle Politiche Culturali e Comunicazione, Dott. Umberto Croppi, il Presidente del Comitato Scientifico per il coordinamento degli eventi espositivi, Prof. Antonio Paolucci, il Direttore Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici del Lazio, Ing. Luciano Marchetti, il Soprintendente per il patrimonio storico, artistico ed etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Roma, Prof. Claudio Strinati e il Comandante dei Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, Generale di Brigata Giovanni Nistri.

 Link: http://www.notiziarioitaliano.it/?sezione=lazio&articolo=14482

July 25th, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

Tags:

Newport-Now.com

Author to Look at Rogue’s Gallery: The Secret History of the Metropolitan Museum

by NEWPORT NOW STAFF on JULY 22, 2009

NEWPORT, R.I. – The Redwood Library and Athenæum will host an author lecture by Michael Gross on Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. in the Library’s Harrison Room at 50 Bellevue Avenue, Newport.

Michael Gross’ latest fearless title, ROGUES’ GALLERY: The Secret History Of The Moguls And The Money That Made The Metropolitan Museum (Broadway Books; May 5, 2009; $29.95; 978-0-7679-2488-7) is the first independent look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by a journalist who doesn’t hesitate to speak truth to power.  Just as 740 Park peeled the facade off the extravagant home lives of America’s wealthiest, ROGUES’ GALLERY pulls back the shades of secrecy that have long shrouded cultural and philanthropic ambitions and maneuvers to reveal the product of such impulses.

A fascinating behind-the-scenes study of America’s rich and what is perhaps their greatest creation, ROGUES’ GALLEY gives its readers an unprecedented tour of the inner sanctum of one of the most famous museums in the world. With over 5 million visitors per year, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a repository for more than two million art objects created over the course of five thousand years. Covering over two million square feet, occupying thirteen acres of New York’s Central Park, and encompassing power and fire stations, an infirmary, and an armory with a forge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, and its glitzy history—its art, its acquisition process, its glittering, if agenda-driven, array of supporters—is sexy, fascinating, and very, very enticing.

Covering the entire 138-year history of the Met, ROGUES’ GALLERY focuses on the most colorful characters in the museum’s history, opening in the office of the just-retired director Guy-Philippe Lannes de Montebello, the longest-serving leader in the museum’s history, before flashing back to tell the larger story through commanding figures like Luigi Palma di Cesnola, a Civil War hero and epic phony, the museum’s first director; J. Pierpont Morgan, the greatest capitalist and art collector of his day, who turned the museum from a plaything of a handful of rich amateurs into a professional operation; John D. Rockefeller Jr., who never served the Met in any official capacity, but became its greatest benefactor and behind-the-scenes puppeteer; the controversial Thomas P.F. (Publicity Forever) Hoving, whose ten year term as the museum’s director revolutionized museums around the world but left the Met reeling; and Jane Engelhard and Annette de la Renta, a mother-daughter trustee tag-team whose stories will simply astonish you.

Supporting roles are played by such grandees as George Blumenthal, the former head of Lazard Freres, and the museum’s first Jewish trustee; Roland Livingston Redmond, the anti-Semitic descendent of a colonial land-grant family; Arthur Houghton, the head of Corning Glass, who once ripped apart a priceless illustrated Islamic book in order to auction off its pages piecemeal; C. Douglas Dillon, JFK’s Secretary of the Treasury, who defended Hoving’s worst excesses; Robert Lehman, the retiring head of Lehman Brothers, who insisted the museum build a monument to his ego, and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, whose New York Times went from being the museum’s biggest detractor to its most faithful supporter. The curators are just as fascinating, including James Rorimer, the shy medievalist who created the Cloisters; Greek and Roman curator Dietrich Von Bothmer, a refugee from Nazi Germany with a Bronze Star for heroism in WWII, whose most important acquisitions turned out to be looted, and John Pope-Hennessey, the brilliant paintings expert known as The Pope, who surrounded himself with a court of gay assistants. And of course there is a supporting cast of collectors, donors, string-pullers and fundraisers: Charles Engelhard, the model for the James Bond villain Auric Goldfinger; Irwin Untermyer, whose obsession with collecting drove his wife and children to suicide; Brooke Astor, Henry Kravis, Henry Kissinger, and even Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

about the Author

Provocative cultural journalist and New York Times best-selling author Michael Gross is currently a Contributing Editor at Travel & Leisure.

He has previously held positions at the New York Times, New York Magazine, Radar, George, and Esquire. His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, Interview, Details, Elle, Architectural Digest, American Photo, Town & Country, Cosmopolitan, and he has also written for the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Chicago Tribune. He has profiled subjects from John F. Kennedy, Jr. to Greta Garbo, Richard Gere to Ivana Trump, and he has written on subjects such as divorce, plastic surgery, Greenwich Village, and sex in the 90’s. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling MODEL: THE UGLY BUSINESS OF BEAUTIFUL WOMEN (1995), which was published in 8 countries; MY GENERATION (2000), a biography of the Baby Boom generation, GENUINE AUTHENTIC:

THE REAL LIFE OF RALPH LAUREN (2003), and 740 PARK (2005). He currently lives in New York City. Visit: www.mgross.com.

Advance Praise for Rogues’ Gallery

“The title alone tantalizes but once you pick up this book and start reading about the good and the great and the hijinks of high society, it becomes un-put-downable!” —Kitty Kelley, author of TheFamily

“Michael Gross has proven once again that he is a premier chronicler of the rich. Rogues’ Gallery is an insightful, entertaining look at a great institution—with all its flaws and all its greatness.”—Gay Talese, author of A Writer’s Life

“Gross’s portrait of Met politics is sharp and well-constructed, and readers will marvel at how the institution transcended the bickering and backhanded power plays to become one of the largest and most prestigious museums in the world. A deft rendering of the down -and- dirty politics of the art world.”—KirkusReviews

Reviews of Rogue’s Gallery

“A blockbuster exhibition of human achievement and flaws.” –New York Times Book Review

“Explosive.” –Vanity Fair

“Gross demonstrates he knows his stuff. It’s a terrific tale.gossipy, color-rich, fact-packed .What Gross reveals is stuff that more people should know.”–USA Today

Link: http://tinyurl.com/mttctc

July 25th, 2009

Posted In: Book reviews

“Huub Meyer” spills the beans, or does he?


One Huub Meyer was assured by members of the Yahoo AncientArtifacts discussion list that “most” [Egyptian] antiquities are “sold legally and were excavated legally for example in Egypt as for 200 years the local, Egyptian, government did not care much about its own culture, and no records were made of the hundreds of thousands of objects that were exported”. He remains however sceptical and replies:

I think that 90% of the items that are now in the antique shops are more recently excavated. I think it is not possible that those items are excavated more than 200 years ago. I know a Guy who is collecting items in the Near East, than brings them to Europe and sells them to major antique dealers over here, no questions asked… I know for a fact that he Sold items to Dick Meyer, Mieke Zilverberg, Akanthos (now living and selling in Belgium) and others. And did you see the items sold by Stormbroek, no way that they were excavated more than 200 years ago… correct me if I am wrong. Also In Belgium, France and England he sold items to several major antique dealers (Drees Gallery in Brussels) no provenance asked, in fact they know were the items are coming from. I myself purchased some items from some major dealers in the Netherlands, not once they did give my proper provenance out of themselves, I always hat to ask them. I also remember a few years ago 90 % of the antique sellers in archeology were closed in London (Mews Gallery or something) for selling looted items. In France, England and Germany there are large archeology auctions several times a year, I do not believe that all those items were excavated more than 200 years ago. I think it is simply not possible that there are so many items on the market that were excavated more than 200 years ago.

Me too. Although this message looks like provocation (and one can imagine a number of reasons why it might have been made), let us look at the dealers he mentions.

Dick Meijer was mentioned in a previous post, the photos of the interior of his shop show mostly what seem to be (Dutch and Spanish ?) post-Medieval ceramics, which suggests he is more of a general antiques seller than a specialist antiquities dealer. He has no website I can see, but sells stuff on eBay and from the feedback we can access his old auctions, where we find comments like the object concerned comes from “a private collection of all kind of items, collected in the before 1950-1980”, “private collection from The Netherlands, of Pre Columbian pottery etc. collected in the 1950-1960. in Mexico”. A cuneiform tablet is provenanced “Privat collection Wally Elenbaas, artist the Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Solt by the estate actionhouse Rotterdam”. (This is the deceased artist). A money back guarantee covers authenticity issues, but no mention is made of documenting licit provenance.

Mieke Zilverberg’s website (Kunsthandel Mieke Zilverberg, Rokin 601012 KV Amsterdam) offers Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins and archaeological objects “from Egypt, Western Asia, Greece, Etruria and Rome, ranging from 3000 BC to 500 AD“. We are assured that “Kunsthandel Mieke Zilverberg undertakes not to purchase or sell objects until we have established to the best of our ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property“. No indication is given how this is striven for, apart from a mention of the Arts Loss Register. She gives some objects the vague provenance “ex private collection [+country]” but others have more explicit ones, including a number in which inclusion in two (successive?) collections are cited. Nevertheless there is no hint that the purchaser will get any kind of documentation of the provenance beyond what is stated on the website.

The Drees Gallery website (Nelly Drees, Rue des Minimes 22 B- 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium) claims it has a “fine selection of Ghandaran artefacts, as well as a fine selection of Greek, Sassanian and Roman gold, silver and bronze coins. The art of south-east Asia (Myanmar-former Burma) […] is well represented”. No mention is made anywhere of any acquisition policy or maner of exercising “due diligence”, and sometimes gives the formulaic “private collection”, “[nationalityindividual collector”. In many cases objects have no indication of provenance (“A certificate of authenticity will be delivered to the buyer’s request”. How about a written guarantee of legitimate origins instead?)

Stormbroek Ancient Art Gallery (Stormbroek antiquities/ Ancient Art Gallery Stormbroek BV, Ekkersrijt 4411, Son en Breughel, Netherlands – proprietor seems to be A.C. Wouters):offers “thousands of collectibles and antiques direct from European Private Collections. A touch of history: Ancient artifacts, coins, antiques and collectibles from the Bronze Age, Celtic, Roman and Medieval to the 20th century“. The website seems to be down at the moment. Stormbroek was discussed here earlier as the seller of a Wenneb… shabti. Also just now a Dutch collector of shabtis remarked that Stormbroek has sold these pieces to the major dealers as he also sold large amounts of shabtis to many dealers with uncertain provenance“. Hmmm.

Akanthos might be “Akanthos Ancient art and Antiques” (Oever 7, 2000 Antwerpen, België [other addresses seem also to be listed]) but it seems to be off-line at the moment.

[There have been a number of galleries in England called the “Mews gallery”, it is not clear to which of them Mr Meyer might be referring, anyway, as we all know, no BRITISH dealer would ever offer objects of uncertain or tainted provenence would they?].

While there may be no foundation whatsoever in Mr Meyer’s allegations that these Dutch and Belgian dealers are knowingly buying ancient material of tainted origins, the standards of documentation which each of them seem to be offering does not allow the concerned buyer independently to check how in fact many of the items they sell came to the market. It is not even a matter of accepting a dealer’s word for it (relying on a dealer’s good “reputation”). Stating that a dealer has determned that the collection they bought something from was made between the 1950s and 1980s self-evidently is insufficient (especially as within that 30 year period there were decisive legal watersheds). The “estate sale” sales pitch is a commonly used ploy by dealers to say “I don’t know anything about where this comes from and the guy who does is dead so you cannot touch him or me for it“. Either the object has a documented provenance or it does not and in the latter case a truly reputable dealer would not touch it.

If a hypothetical dodgy dealer was slipping illictly-obtained goods onto the market alongside other items, how on earth – given the current state of the facilities offered by dealers such as the ones mentioned here to would-be ethical collectors to check – would it be possible to determine them? Anybody can say any old object comes from “an old Ruritanian private collection” and refuse to provide any documentation or further information. We all know that such “provenances” are worth nothing without the ability to verify them. They are also meaningless if the fact that they were in a particular collector’s ethically-obtained collection cannot serve to show that the object itself had been legitimately obtained. A collector buying items no-questions-asked from a mixture of due-dilligent and dodgy dealers has a contaminated collection. The mere fact that an object comes from that particular collection is not enough to establish licit origins. Or do we accept that objects become legitimate by passing through such contaminated collections? How on earth can the current laissez faire system operate to exclude the passage of illicit items onto a legal market? Given that the present situation is intolerable, how could collectors and dealers improve on the present system (I use the term loosely), or is the only way to achieve that going to be through strict registration and regulation coupled with an aggressive public relations campaign condemning no-questions-asked collecting?

Photo: Relief from Portus apparently showing the supplying of a Roman antiquities dealer in goods.

Posted by Paul Barford at 23:23

July 21st, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

Tags:

“Huub Meyer” spills the beans, or does he?


One Huub Meyer was assured by members of the Yahoo AncientArtifacts discussion list that “most” [Egyptian] antiquities are “sold legally and were excavated legally for example in Egypt as for 200 years the local, Egyptian, government did not care much about its own culture, and no records were made of the hundreds of thousands of objects that were exported”. He remains however sceptical and replies:

I think that 90% of the items that are now in the antique shops are more recently excavated. I think it is not possible that those items are excavated more than 200 years ago. I know a Guy who is collecting items in the Near East, than brings them to Europe and sells them to major antique dealers over here, no questions asked… I know for a fact that he Sold items to Dick Meyer, Mieke Zilverberg, Akanthos (now living and selling in Belgium) and others. And did you see the items sold by Stormbroek, no way that they were excavated more than 200 years ago… correct me if I am wrong. Also In Belgium, France and England he sold items to several major antique dealers (Drees Gallery in Brussels) no provenance asked, in fact they know were the items are coming from. I myself purchased some items from some major dealers in the Netherlands, not once they did give my proper provenance out of themselves, I always hat to ask them. I also remember a few years ago 90 % of the antique sellers in archeology were closed in London (Mews Gallery or something) for selling looted items. In France, England and Germany there are large archeology auctions several times a year, I do not believe that all those items were excavated more than 200 years ago. I think it is simply not possible that there are so many items on the market that were excavated more than 200 years ago.

Me too. Although this message looks like provocation (and one can imagine a number of reasons why it might have been made), let us look at the dealers he mentions.

Dick Meijer was mentioned in a previous post, the photos of the interior of his shop show mostly what seem to be (Dutch and Spanish ?) post-Medieval ceramics, which suggests he is more of a general antiques seller than a specialist antiquities dealer. He has no website I can see, but sells stuff on eBay and from the feedback we can access his old auctions, where we find comments like the object concerned comes from “a private collection of all kind of items, collected in the before 1950-1980”, “private collection from The Netherlands, of Pre Columbian pottery etc. collected in the 1950-1960. in Mexico”. A cuneiform tablet is provenanced “Privat collection Wally Elenbaas, artist the Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Solt by the estate actionhouse Rotterdam”. (This is the deceased artist). A money back guarantee covers authenticity issues, but no mention is made of documenting licit provenance.

Mieke Zilverberg’s website (Kunsthandel Mieke Zilverberg, Rokin 601012 KV Amsterdam) offers Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins and archaeological objects “from Egypt, Western Asia, Greece, Etruria and Rome, ranging from 3000 BC to 500 AD“. We are assured that “Kunsthandel Mieke Zilverberg undertakes not to purchase or sell objects until we have established to the best of our ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property“. No indication is given how this is striven for, apart from a mention of the Arts Loss Register. She gives some objects the vague provenance “ex private collection [+country]” but others have more explicit ones, including a number in which inclusion in two (successive?) collections are cited. Nevertheless there is no hint that the purchaser will get any kind of documentation of the provenance beyond what is stated on the website.

The Drees Gallery website (Nelly Drees, Rue des Minimes 22 B- 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium) claims it has a “fine selection of Ghandaran artefacts, as well as a fine selection of Greek, Sassanian and Roman gold, silver and bronze coins. The art of south-east Asia (Myanmar-former Burma) […] is well represented”. No mention is made anywhere of any acquisition policy or maner of exercising “due diligence”, and sometimes gives the formulaic “private collection”, “[nationalityindividual collector”. In many cases objects have no indication of provenance (“A certificate of authenticity will be delivered to the buyer’s request”. How about a written guarantee of legitimate origins instead?)

Stormbroek Ancient Art Gallery (Stormbroek antiquities/ Ancient Art Gallery Stormbroek BV, Ekkersrijt 4411, Son en Breughel, Netherlands – proprietor seems to be A.C. Wouters):offers “thousands of collectibles and antiques direct from European Private Collections. A touch of history: Ancient artifacts, coins, antiques and collectibles from the Bronze Age, Celtic, Roman and Medieval to the 20th century“. The website seems to be down at the moment. Stormbroek was discussed here earlier as the seller of a Wenneb… shabti. Also just now a Dutch collector of shabtis remarked that Stormbroek has sold these pieces to the major dealers as he also sold large amounts of shabtis to many dealers with uncertain provenance“. Hmmm.

Akanthos might be “Akanthos Ancient art and Antiques” (Oever 7, 2000 Antwerpen, België [other addresses seem also to be listed]) but it seems to be off-line at the moment.

[There have been a number of galleries in England called the “Mews gallery”, it is not clear to which of them Mr Meyer might be referring, anyway, as we all know, no BRITISH dealer would ever offer objects of uncertain or tainted provenence would they?].

While there may be no foundation whatsoever in Mr Meyer’s allegations that these Dutch and Belgian dealers are knowingly buying ancient material of tainted origins, the standards of documentation which each of them seem to be offering does not allow the concerned buyer independently to check how in fact many of the items they sell came to the market. It is not even a matter of accepting a dealer’s word for it (relying on a dealer’s good “reputation”). Stating that a dealer has determned that the collection they bought something from was made between the 1950s and 1980s self-evidently is insufficient (especially as within that 30 year period there were decisive legal watersheds). The “estate sale” sales pitch is a commonly used ploy by dealers to say “I don’t know anything about where this comes from and the guy who does is dead so you cannot touch him or me for it“. Either the object has a documented provenance or it does not and in the latter case a truly reputable dealer would not touch it.

If a hypothetical dodgy dealer was slipping illictly-obtained goods onto the market alongside other items, how on earth – given the current state of the facilities offered by dealers such as the ones mentioned here to would-be ethical collectors to check – would it be possible to determine them? Anybody can say any old object comes from “an old Ruritanian private collection” and refuse to provide any documentation or further information. We all know that such “provenances” are worth nothing without the ability to verify them. They are also meaningless if the fact that they were in a particular collector’s ethically-obtained collection cannot serve to show that the object itself had been legitimately obtained. A collector buying items no-questions-asked from a mixture of due-dilligent and dodgy dealers has a contaminated collection. The mere fact that an object comes from that particular collection is not enough to establish licit origins. Or do we accept that objects become legitimate by passing through such contaminated collections? How on earth can the current laissez faire system operate to exclude the passage of illicit items onto a legal market? Given that the present situation is intolerable, how could collectors and dealers improve on the present system (I use the term loosely), or is the only way to achieve that going to be through strict registration and regulation coupled with an aggressive public relations campaign condemning no-questions-asked collecting?

Photo: Relief from Portus apparently showing the supplying of a Roman antiquities dealer in goods.

Posted by Paul Barford at 23:23

July 21st, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

Tags:

Dienstag, 21. Juli 2009 04:00

Wegen Diebstahls und Betrugs ist ein 37 Jahre alter Mann gestern vom

Berliner Landgericht zu fünfeinhalb Jahren Haft verurteilt worden.

– Der Angeklagte wurde schuldig gesprochen, von Februar 2008 bis

Februar dieses Jahres aus Wohnungen vorwiegend Antiquitäten gestohlen und diese dann im Internet zum Kauf angeboten zu haben.  Im Prozess hatte er die Taten im Wesentlichen gestanden. So gab der Mann zu, im Februar 2008 bei einem Einbruch in den Keller eines Hauses in Grunewald acht Kisten mit Meissner und KPM-Porzellan im Wert von 30000 Euro entwendet und aus einer anderen Villa Kronleuchter und Krippenfiguren im Wert von mehr als 6000 Euro gestohlen zu haben.

Im Februar dieses Jahres hatte sich der 37-Jährige dann mit einem Nachschlüssel Zutritt zur Wohnung einer 95 Jahre alten bettlägerigen Frau in Nikolassee verschafft. Dort ließ er zwei Gemälde und einen Meissner-Porzellan-Teller mitgehen.

Link: http://tinyurl.com/nwvs6y

July 21st, 2009

Posted In: Mailing list reports

Tags:

MSN’s Video of the Week,
from SwiisInfo.ch

The arms dealer who loved art
The dark shadow on the Bührle paintings.

The German industrialist Emil Georg Bührle became a Swiss citizen in
the 1920s. The founder of the Zurich art gallery – the scene of a
spectacular robbery on February 10, 2008 – started his collection
during the Second World War. The unclear provenance of some paintings
from Jewish owners has led the foundation to return 13 of them. A look
back on the life of the arms dealer who wanted to be remembered as an
arts lover. (SF1)

Link: http://tinyurl.com/nqx9r4

________________________________________________

Related story:
Armed robbers steal art worth SFr180 million from Bührle Collection in
Zurich (2008)

Thieves have made off with works by Cézanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet
in the biggest art robbery of its kind in Switzerland.
The theft happened on Sunday at the Bührle Collection – a private
museum for Impressionist and post-Impressionist art in Zurich.

Three masked men who entered the building with pistols are still at
large, police said on Monday, describing the heist as a “spectacular
art robbery”.

“It’s the biggest ever robbery committed in Switzerland and certainly
even in Europe,” Zurich police spokesman Marco Cortesi told a media
conference.

The four works are Cézanne’s The Boy in the Red Vest – worth SFr100m
on its own – van Gogh’s Blossoming Chestnut Branches, Monet’s Poppies
near Vétheuil and Degas’ Count Lepic and His Daughters.

A SFr100,000 reward has been offered for any information leading to
the recovery of the paintings.

While one of the men used a pistol to force museum personnel to the
floor, the two others went into the exhibition hall and collected the
four paintings. The museum was open at the time with around 15
visitors inside the building during the robbery.

The men were about 175 cm tall and one of them spoke German with a
Slavic accent, the police said. They loaded the paintings into a white
vehicle parked in front of the museum.

“I think they knew exactly what they wanted to steal because it was
over in three minutes. They came in and went directly to the right
room and took the four most highly valued pictures,” Cortesi told
swissinfo.

“It is one possibility that they were stolen to order, but what do you
want to do with these pictures at home? Everybody now knows these
pictures have been stolen.”

Spiritual value
Museum director Lukas Gloor told journalists that he had not ruled out
that a ransom demand would be made, but until now no such
communication has been received.

“There is the financial value, but there is also the spiritual value,
and we are facing the fact that these paintings are some of the most
important in our collection,” Gloor told swissinfo.

“We are devastated. I feel like the father of a family who has lost
four of his children,” he added.

“Regretfully, it has in the past repeatedly been the fact that
collectors’ museums of this type have been the victims of robberies.”

The art collection of Emil Georg Bührle (1890-1956), a Zurich
industrialist, is among the most important private collections amassed
in the 20th century of European art. In 1960 his family placed 200
works in a foundation and opened it to the public.

Picasso thefts
The theft comes three days after two paintings by Spanish artist Pablo
Picasso were stolen from an exhibition of the artist’s works near
Zurich.

The oil paintings, believed to be worth several million Swiss francs,
vanished on Wednesday evening after closing time at the Seedamm
culture centre in Pfäffikon, canton Schwyz. Police are still not sure
how the thieves got into the building, but they set off an alarm as
they left.

Cortesi told swissinfo that it is too early to say if there is a
connection between the two thefts. He added that police are
investigating the possibility of inside help, but that there is no
evidence at this stage.

The FBI estimates the market for stolen art at $6 billion annually,
and Interpol has about 30,000 pieces of stolen art in its database.

While only a fraction of pieces is ever found, the theft of iconic
objects, especially by force, is rarer because of the intense police
work that follows and because the works are so difficult to sell.

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin said he regretted the theft and
hoped the police would quickly find out who committed the crime and
how. Asked whether the museum ought to be better guarded, he said:
“Probably, if something like this can happen.”

Link: http://tinyurl.com/nst45w
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July 20th, 2009

Posted In: WWII

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July 19th, 2009

Posted In: Parthenon Marbles

Ex-curator pleads guilty to theft

Allison White/The Times-Standard 

Posted:07/10/2009 01:21:15 AM PDT 

The former curator of Fortuna Depot Museum pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing antiques and was sentenced to 45 days at Humboldt County jail, including time served. 

Robert Kenneth Newell, 60, told the court he was ashamed of taking items from the museum to sell on eBay and that he wanted to take responsibility for the crime. 

When I did this, I was in an apartment and not making rent, Newell said. I was going in the wrong direction. I was going after money. 

His salary as curator was not enough to pay his rent and he faced rising debt, Newell said to the court. He added that it wasn’t an excuse for what he’s done. 

Newell pleaded guilty to grand theft of personal property and possessing known stolen property, both misdemeanors. Along with the jail sentence, he must also complete 25 hours of community service, pay more than $500 in fines, is banned from using eBay and must publish a letter of apology to the public. 

He will be committed to jail Aug. 9. Restitution will be determined at a later date. 

The city of Fortuna hired Newell in January to be curator of the Depot Museum. He was fired April 24 — the same day he was arrested for theft. The stolen items included antique fishing equipment that Newell sold on eBay for more than $800, according to court documents. 

Newell told the court that the items he took were not of much value to the museum and would probably have never been displayed. 

I’m not trying to say I’m not guilty, but what we’re talking about is junk, he said. 

Deputy District Attorney Ben Mainzer said that Newell had abused the public’s trust and that betrayal should not be looked at lightly. 

It’s positive that he’s taking responsibility today … but it doesn’t diminish the charges or what he’s done, Mainzer said.

The museum is located in an 1893 depot building in Rohner Park. As curator, Newell oversaw the museum’s collections, which include local artifacts of the region’s timber, fishing, railroad and indigenous history.

Prior to taking on the museum curator position, Newell spent 15 years as a golf professional working at the Willow Creek Golf and Country Club.

Allison White can be reached at 441-0506 or awhite@times-standard.com.

Link to story on times-standard.com:http://www.times-standard.com/localnews/ci_12808248

July 14th, 2009

Posted In: insider theft