December 28, 1998


- Restoration 'has ruined Last Supper'
- A guard, a guard, my kingdom for a guard (Steve Keller)
- Getting to the bottom of split statue (Boston Museum of Fine Arts)
- Paper links Boston museum to looted antiquities
- Chicago Gallery Theft (Jonathan Sazonoff)

(Times of London)

Restoration 'has ruined Last Supper'

Only a fifth of Leonardo's original has survived man's attempts to preserve it, writes Dalya Alberge

LEONARDO da Vinci's celebrated masterpiece, The Last Supper, is a ruined painting with only 20 per cent of the original work surviving, according to the man who commissioned its 20-year restoration. The admission, months before the unveiling of the restored painting, comes from Carlo Bertelli who, as director of the Istituto Centrale del Restauro, had declared the restoration's aim to be the discovery of the "real painting".
Although he believes the work has been freed of dirt and subsequent overpainting, he concedes in a Channel 4 documentary, The Last Supper, to be screened tomorrow, that it is "ruined". As little as a fifth of the original has survived; the rest has been painted by the restorers. The 1498 painting, in the refectory of the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, is due to be unveiled early in 1999, possibly March. Michael Daley, the director of ArtWatch UK, the organisation that campaigns for restraint in the restoration of works of art, expressed amazement at Signor Bertelli's comment: "We are so accustomed to authorities overhyping their activities, claiming everything a miraculous recovery, that for them to be admitting there's not much left is like the headline, 'small earthquake, not many dead'. "They have had teams of people labouring for 20 years on arguably the most important mural painting and they end up announcing there's not much there and it's a wreck."
The painting has undergone a restoration by Pinin Brambilla Barcilon, who blames the mural's deterioration on various factors, including Leonardo's experimentation with new techniques. He painted on a layer of dried gesso, while frescos are normally painted on wet plaster, so that as the plaster dries the paint becomes part of the wall. There was also environmental damage: in the 16th century the refect-ory was flooded, and bombing destroyed the building in 1943. Although this wall survived, it was exposed to rain and snow.
Restorers over the centuries also played their part in hastening the destruction, removing what they perceived as their predecessors' overpainting and then repainting. The art critic Waldemar Januszczak, executive producer of the documentary, expressed despair at the loss of such a great masterpiece: "This is not Leonardo's Last Supper. It began life as a painting by Leonardo, but is now the handiwork of someone responsible for 80 per cent of it. It looks like the postcard because it has been copied from the postcard."
Jacques Franck, consultant restorer to the Louvre and a Leonardo scholar, is among the restorers' sternest critics: "Ninety per cent of the work has disappeared, and the fact that you repaint 90 per cent is to me something that has not much sense." He spoke of the shock of seeing that nothing was left of the head of Christ, for example: any repainting cannot be faithful to Leonardo's intentions as we do not know what those intentions were, he said. "Pinin has done the best she could, but is it the best that could be done?" Instead, they have "transferred it into something else" - a 20th-century Leonardo. "This programme is a victory for anti-restoration," said Mr Daley, who in the latest issue of Art Review magazine concludes that there is a worldwide crisis because no one can agree on a safe picture-cleaning method.
He said: "In this programme, the man who commissioned the Last Supper restoration has finally admitted it's a wreck. What this programme has made so clear is what a dangerous and dubious activity restoration is." He was concerned that the restoration had systematically removed paint by earlier restorers that had kept the design together: "She [Pinin Brambilla Barcilon] has destroyed the historical thread of the painting and reduced it to a bare, confused wall. She produced a blank slate and then set about repainting the whole thing herself. Her own repainting has been particularly unfortunate in her reworking of the face of Christ because it's apparent that she's remade the image according to a drawing in the Brere Museum of a beardless Christ, not a bearded Christ, which may or may not be by Leonardo. The artistic and historical consequences of this restoration are just catastrophic."
Pietro Marani, co-director of the restoration, insisted that their work was absolutely necessary, and Signora Brambilla Barcilon spoke of the positive discoveries, such as finding more of Matthew's hand.

Subject: Re: DECEMBER 21, 1998
In a message dated 12/21/98 11:41:28 AM, writes:

A guard, a guard, my kingdom for a guard.

My thoughts:
"Me thinks the writer doth complain too much". What does he think? That we would inconvenience scholars? "Tis but the rantings of a fool, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing".
Well, not exactly nothing! I was struck by the quote in the story: "Although night security is rigorous, during the day researchers are allowed free access to the library. Security staff do not search visitors and none reported anyone behaving suspiciously as they left." How suspiciously do professional thieves act, anyway? I'd like to see the training manual that defines suspicious behavior for the guard.
I hear this ALL THE TIME!!!! When will museums realize that security is only as strong as its weakest point. Scholars are almost always the weakest point.
I also liked the quote: "There is always a tension between security and use. We have a duty of curation, but at the same time books are for use. People do not normally walk around with a jemmy." So who says that "use" and "security" are mutually exclusive? I'm certain that no one was allowed to realy "use" those books, at least not while in the exhibit cases. So was money appropriated to alarm them? Was there an adequate burglar alarm system in the building? Were there adequate guards? Were the guards well trained? Were there procedures for checking on the books? And why would any of these things interfere with "use" anyway? Why were visitors not searched during the day?
This all gets down to the one thing I see all too often:

Scholars don't want to be inconvenienced. Period.

Steve Keller, CPP
Security Consultant

Subject: Boston Museum of Fine Arts
c Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.

Getting to the bottom of split statue

By Anne E. Kornblut, Globe Staff, 12/27/98
ANTALYA, Turkey - The marble stump stands apart at the entrance of this archeological museum, labeled by the sort of historical plaque people here have come to expect. On a kiosk, visitors have scribbled angry graffiti: ''Boston - Give it back now!'' and ''Stop crime in archeology!'' Tacked up nearby at the Antalya Museum are more signs explaining the plight of this lonesome half-statue, whose upper half is nestled in Boston inside the Museum of Fine Arts, and whose story is one of many in the international catalog of illegally smuggled works. According to Turkish officials and other archeological experts, the two pieces of the ''Weary Herakles'' were not separated in some ancient war or earthquake. Instead, they say, the top half was plundered by a group of thieves near an excavation site in southern Turkey in 1980, smuggled across the border, and, ultimately, sold to the husband-wife team of American collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White, who then donated a half-share to the MFA. In 1990, it went on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in an exhibit called ''Glories of the Past,'' featuring treasures belonging to Levy and White. That was when it drew notoriety. That December, Connoisseur magazine published an article that revealed the startling match of the bottom half several thousand miles away.

Then yet another split occurred.

Because even as experts began comparing remarkable photographs of the two halves - and as Turkish officials were asking a New York law firm to begin inquiries into the matter - the collectors and the MFA were offering a stream of arguments defending their right to own the marble bust. Today, it is still in their possession, despite years of legal wrangling, although the man who was curator of the MFA classical art department at the time it was acquired admits the pieces are part of a whole. ''It's now clearly recognized that the `Weary Herakles' fits together to form a complete statue,'' Cornelius C. Vermeule III, who ran the department for four decades, said in an interview earlier this month. ''Things wander, turn up in different collections all over the world. It's the same with the things from the Parthenon.'' That was a far cry from the position the curator took in 1990, when the link between the two halves was first suspected. Confronted with evidence about the bust's origin, Vermeule said in an interview with The New York Times that year that it was unlikely the two would match. ''There are so many `Weary Herakles','' he said at the time. According to archeology experts, that much is true; around 150 A.D., when the disputed statue was most likely made, many artisans devoted their skills to replicating the Herakles design originated in the 4th century B.C., by the famous sculptor Lyssipos of Sicyon. Such duplicates, which would have been bath or theater decorations in their day, often turn up in excavation sites in southern Turkey, and they are not, at least by comparison, extraordinarily rare. But they do belong to Turkey, according to Turkish officials, who say Turkish laws and the US agreement to comply with the UNESCO treaty require the top half be returned. To that end, Turkish officials spent several years wrangling with the American owners over whether the pieces were truly of the same statue. Vermeule insisted down to every detail that they were different, even claiming he could spot a separate belly button on each. Finally, in 1992, Cultural Minister Enzin Ozgen decided to settle the matter by sending a plaster cast of the Turkish half of the statue to the MFA. Under the close watch of scholars - and attorneys - the plaster cast was fitted. Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan, said it ''fit like a hand to glove.'' ''This is like having a bunch of fingerprints plastered all over the place,'' Hoving said in an interview earlier this month. ''It is so clear. There's no mistaking it.'' Despite that concrete evidence, however, the MFA and White and Levy resisted cooperating, Ozgen said. Now, their argument is that although the pieces do match, the top half was acquired some other way besides illegal smuggling. Malcolm Rogers, the MFA's director, issued a statement that ''the MFA believes that the `Weary Herakles' was legally and properly acquired.'' Rogers has refused repeated Globe requests for interviews. Vermeule also now says the top half, on display at the MFA, could have been excavated ''any time since the Italian Renaissance.'' Turkish law protects only artifacts smuggled out after 1906. Laws aside, Ozgen says he has been rebuffed not only by the MFA but also by Levy and White, despite several offers to reunite the statue and share the whole. In one exchange, an elderly Turkish archeologist, Jale Inan, was so distraught over the statue that she planned a hunger strike on the steps of the MFA, Ozgen said. When White heard about the plan, she called Ozgen at home, furious, he said. ''She said, `If you ever dare to conduct a hunger strike in front of the museum, I will have all the Armenians demonstrate against Turkey in front of the consulate,''' Ozgen said. The hunger strike was canceled. In the years since, Turkey has kept up negotiations with the MFA, Levy, and White, despite Turkey's increasing tendency to file lawsuits against suspected owners of illegal plunder. Even now, according to the attorney for Turkey, Lawrence M. Kaye, ''Hopefully, the matter will be resolved out of court.'' ''But if not,'' he said, ''the Republic will institute appropriate proceedings to recover it.''
This story ran on page A30 of the Boston Globe on 12/27/98.

Paper links Boston museum to looted antiquities

12:41 p.m. Dec 27, 1998 Eastern
BOSTON, Dec 27 (Reuters) - The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, already embroiled in several controversies, apparently acquired scores of Greek and Roman antiquities looted from Italian archaeological sites, the Boston Globe reported on Sunday.
The newspaper said the museum seemed to have acquired the objects in the 14 years since it says it abandoned dealings in the illicit art market. The Globe said the questionable objects included three valuable Greek vases apparently excavated illegally from 2,300-year-old grave sites in the Apulian region of southern Italy and smuggled out of the country. In what the Globe called ``a telltale admission,'' the Museum of Fine Arts described the three vases as among a ``host'' of newly discovered artifacts in a book it published in 1993. The newspaper has been investigating the museum's collections with the help of classical scholars and art experts. It said it found that only 10 of the 71 items in the Greek and Roman collection had any recorded ownership or provenance. The remaining artifacts, including the three vases mentioned in the book, have no pedigree at all -- strong circumstantial evidence that most were recently unearthed by grave-robbers, the Globe said. The accusations added to the museum's woes. Its ``Monet in the 20th Century'' exhibit, which closes this weekend before moving next month to the Royal Academy of Arts in London, was accused of failing to note clearly that one of the artist's works had been looted by the Nazis. And that was not the only Monet to cause problems for the institution. Claude Monet's ``Fields of Poppies at Giverny,'' which hangs in another gallery, has become the subject of a struggle. The painting was loaned to the museum in 1911 by the Right Rev. William Wolcott of Lawrence, Massachusetts, but the city of Lawrence now wants it back, so it can be sold to raise much-needed funds. Museum of Fine Arts Director Malcolm Rogers said in an earlier interview that if that was what Wolcott had had in mind, he could have sold the painting himself and donated the proceeds to Lawrence. A year ago, the Museum of Fine Arts turned aside a public demand from the government of Guatemala that it return scores of pre-Columbian artifacts looted from ancient Mayan grave sites in that country. The museum argued that the artifacts had entered the United States legally between 1974 and 1981. It was only in 1983 that the museum committed itself to international standards designed to curb the widespread plundering of antiquities. The museum declined to comment immediately on the Globe's investigation and suggested that reporters call its press office on Monday.
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

From: Jonathan Sazonoff

Chicago Gallery Theft

CHICAGO... Thieves hit Wicker Park's "Hollis Funk Gallery" Saturday night. They defeated an alarm, removed a door, and made off with 150 selected pieces of poster art, including a signed Picasso. The loot was estimated to be worth $200,000 - $250,000. Chicago police are investigating.

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