Thursday, June 3, 2010

Christie's Called on to Return Three Objects

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Italy and archaeologists are calling on Christie's International to return three objects that are slated to be sold at a June 10 auction. The antiquities are believed to have been illegally excavated in Italy.

The disputed objects include a Roman marble torso from 2nd century CE, an Apulian cup from the 4th century BCE, and a Greek figure of a goddess from the 3rd century BCE. Those advocating the objects' return to Italy argue that the artifacts have murky provenances and appear in thousands of Polaroids from Giacomo Medici's collection of stolen antiquities. They have cited the 1970 UNESCO Convention when calling for repatriation.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Christie's plans to continue with the June 10 auction. A New York City spokesperson stated,

With respect to these particular lots, Christie's has not been notified of a title claim by any government authority, nor are these lots identified as problematic by the Art Loss Register or Interpol," she said. "As an added measure, Christie's has undertaken its own research into this matter and has found no evidence to support the need to withdraw these lots. Unless and until Christie's receives a title claim, we plan to proceed with the sale of these lots.
It will be interesting to see if the sale is halted before June 10. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Diamond Duel

UK's Telegraph reports that India is calling for the return of the Koh i Noor diamond, a jewel that has been in British possession since 1849 when the East India Company defeated the Maharaja of Punjab. The jewel was turned over as tribute to Queen Victoria following the Indian defeat.

India argues that the jewel was illegally obtained by the British and was worn by Mughal emperors and Maharajas for centuries before the British seizure. The British government has rejected the call for relinquisment, arguing that the diamond was "legitimately acquired."

In light of this, we may expect more Indian efforts that seek the return of artifacts obtained by Britain during colonial rule.

Update: Paris Museum Theft

The ever informative New York Times reports that Paris's Museum of Modern Art will reopen on June 10, in the aftermath of the theft on May 19-20. According to the NYT, "the thief was able to take advantage of a flaw in the museum’s alarm system, which had been malfunctioning for several weeks, leading to speculation that the thief may have had inside assistance."

Please see Loot!'s May 23 post about the Paris theft.

Italy vs. Princeton

The New York Times reports today that Italy is carrying out an investigation into J. Michael Padget, Princeton University Museum of Art antiquities curator. Padget is being investigated for "illegal export and laundering” of Italian archaeological objects. Also included in the investigation are Edoardo Almagià, former New York antiquities dealer, and two co-defendants that the NYT has not named at this time.

A 14-page legal document from Rome identifies nearly two dozen archeological objects that the Italians argue were looted from Italy. The document reports that the pieces were transferred from Almagià to Padget and the Princeton Museum. Padget has responded to the charges, stating that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. Almagià, a Princeton alum, has called the case "absolutely ridiculous."

The news has come as a surprise to some in light of recent agreements between a number of US museums and the Italian governments, which were aimed at resolving antiquities disputes. In October 2007, Princeton agreed to turn over eight antiquities in exchange for loans of significant cultural importance. This agreement also allowed for "Princeton students will be granted unprecedented access to excavation sites managed by the Italian ministry for the purposes of archaeological study and research," according to the 2007 Princeton news story.

Hugh Eakin of the NYT explains that the Princeton-Italy agreement was signed during the trial of former Getty curator Marion True, who was charged in an Italian court of having ties to two antiquities dealers who trafficked in illicit antiquities. Eakin writes, Though the agreements by Princeton and other museums did not explicitly rule out future Italian investigations of museum dealings, they were widely seen as ending the threat of further legal action against American museum staff members."

We will follow this case as it develops.