February 2, 2016

Tuesday, February 02, 2016 - , No comments

"Picasso" Painting Recovered in Turkey is Deemed a Fake

The purported Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) canvas of “Woman Dressing Her Hair” seized by Turkish authorities has been deemed a fake on Monday by the Paris-based Picasso Administration, charged with managing the artist's estate.   Agence France-Presse confirmed with New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) that the original artwork, a portrait of Dora Maar, remains safe and is part of their collection.

Image Credit AFP
The Picasso Administration issued a statement saying "the painting seized in Istanbul is a copy" of the famous 1940 work by the great Spanish artist.

Art forgery is the creating and selling of works of art which are falsely credited to others and often involve famous artists or artists who's work can be easily duplicated. 

Art forgery can be extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques as well as digital and paper catalogue raisonné -- the most comprehensive, authoritative resource for authentication help to make the identification of forged artwork much simpler to identify. 





January 31, 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016 - , 1 comment

Before and After Comparison and Overlay of Stolen "Picasso" Recovered in Istanbul

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973) - “Woman Dressing Her Hair” - 
Royan France, June 1940, Oil on canvas, 51 1/4 x 38 1/4 (130.1 x 97.1 cm)

While it is likely too early to see a large quantity of illicit conflict antiquities transiting through Turkey on their way to backroom collectors, that doesn't mean that the stage hasn't been set for flogging other purportedly stolen artworks.  On Saturday, January 30, 2016 Turkish authorities announced the recovery of what appears to be a badly damaged Pablo Picasso oil painting, "Woman Dressing Her Hair" that was once exhibited in a travelling exhibition from August to November 2012 at London's Tate Britain and the National Galleries of Scotland and on displat for a time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 
On Display in London

While several news reports have stated that the painting was stolen from a residence of an unnamed female New York collector, the painting's provenance, listed by the MOMA website states:

Original Owner: Pablo Picasso, from 1940 until the summer of 1957; 
Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, Inc., New York;
Mrs. Bertram Smith / Louise Reinhardt Smith, New York, 
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Louise Reinhardt Smith bequest, 1995.

Louise Reinhardt Smith, was one of New York’s most discerning and passionate collectors of modern art as well as a prized supporter of the Museum of Modern Art.  She died quietly at 91 on Thursday, July 13, 1995 at her home in Manhattan and it can be assumed that it was in or near 1995 that the painting's ownership shifted to the MOMA though this is not clearly specified in MOMA's collection history.    The MOMA's website merely states that the work is not on view.  

Posing as buyers, Turkish authorities have indicated that they recovered the painting after a month-long investigation involving back and forth negotiations over the price with the prospective sellers. During that time, officers posing as collectors met with the suspects first at a hotel, then at a yacht marina in the Bakırköy district and ultimately at a cafe in Fatih, on the European side of Istanbul, where the purchase of the painting for $7 million dollars was supposed to be arranged.  There officers took two males, identified as A.O. and M.E.O, into custody and the damaged canvas was recovered.
Original and Recovered Painting
Comparison Overlay

Based on Dora Maar, a young and comely photographer who photographed Picasso in her late twenties, "Woman Dressing Her Hair" was completed in Royan, France during the summer of 1940. Some believe the painting was the artist's representation of a person trapped in anguish, made insane by being exposed to the terrors of war.   In the painting, Picasso painted Maar in an enclosed and compressed space with green walls and a purple floor as well as with hoof-like hands. 

As seen by the above before the theft and after the theft images as well as this simple comparison overlay, the recovered painting's brushstroke dimensions, appear to generally match the original artwork, at least with respect to the artwork's proportions. Pigment matches, useful in authentication, have not yet been made, nor have authorities mentioned the similarity of this painting to the one in the MOMA collection.

The recovered canvas reportedly carries the collector’s name and seals showing its collection history on the reverse side and as a result has been sent to Istanbul’s Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University to be examined further. 

By Lynda Albertson



January 27, 2016

J. Paul Getty Museum Returns a Terracotta Head Depicting the Greek God Hades to Sicily


Greek god Hades, Morgantina Italy about 400 - 300 B.C.
Terracotta and polychromy 10 ¾ x 8 1/16 x 7 5/16 in
After nearly three years of back and forth, sometimes heated, oftentimes complicated due to regional Italian politics, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu is finally set to return a terracotta head depicting the Greek god Hades.  The object had been irrefutably determined to have been clandestinely excavated, most likely from the Morgantina sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone in the Province of Enna, Sicily in 1978. 

According to the Getty's website, the statue head was acquired between 1982 - 1985.  By chance or luck, the Hades head matched a small fragment left behind in the Sicilian dirt: a little curly spiral painted with strokes of the same bright Egyptian blue as appears on the head's beard.  Most likely the curl detached from the head's beard while being looted from the sanctuary, were it was found by the archaeological team just after discovering the illicit digging.  

The bust was purchased by the museum for $530,000 from New York collector Maurice Tempelsman who had, in turn, purchased the object from British art dealer Robin Symes. For three decades prior to his death, Symes was once one of London’s most successful antiques dealers. Both Tempelsman and Symes are both known to have been conduits for tainted objects, laundered via local fences and high level antiquities dealers through to wealthy collectors or museums who then seemingly willingly purchased the illicit antiquities with limited or no collection history when building antiquities collections.

In a ceremony held in California at the John Paul Getty Museum, in the presence of Antonio Verde, the Consul General of Italy in Los Angeles,  Francesco Rio, the Chief Prosecutor for the Italian state and Major Luigi Mancuso of the Italian Carabinieri's Art Crimes Squad, the USA museum formally relinquished the ancient object which dates back to 400-300 BCE. 

The sanctuary of Persephone and Demeter
at the ruins of Morgantina, just outside Aidone.
The head will be flown back to Italy on Friday, January 29, 2016 where it will be reabsorbed into the collection at the Museo Archeologico di Aidone Once in Sicily it is to be reunited with another once-looted object, repatriated from the Getty in 2011, the cult statue of a Goddess, also known as the Morgantina Venus.  Like the Hades head being repatriated this week, the 2.3 meter tall limestone and marble statue is thought to have been excavated illegally in Sicily between 1977 or 1978 from, or near the ruins of the fifth- to first-century BCE town of Morgantina. This statue, like the Hades head, found its way to the California museum having passed through the hands of sicilian-based looters working through a network that lead through the London dealer Robin Symes. 

The province of Enna contains more than two hundred registered and surveyed archaeological sites in addition to a high number of places known only to the area's tombaroli (illegal diggers).  Spoken about in the writings of Cicero, Claudianus, Diodorus Siculo, and Livy, the ancient remains of the place give strong testimony to the vibrant life of the ancient populations of the island of Sicily, from the beginnings of the island's habitation through the great migrations of the Paleolithic epoch, up through the Middle Ages.  

Of the ancient artworks recovered by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, nearly two out of three are reported to have come from this one Sicilian province.  Few leave behind curly clues with which to identify objects as being looted. 


References
Gill, D. W. J., and C. Chippindale. 2007. "From Malibu to Rome: further developments on the return of antiquities." International Journal of Cultural Property 14: 205-40.

Raffiotta, S. "Una divinità maschile per Morgantina." CSIG News. Newsletter of the Coroplastic Studies Interest Group, no. 11, Winter 2014, pp. 23-26.

January 24, 2016

A rose may be a rose, but an architectural pillar is not always the same archaeologically significant pillar

After posting a damage notification on Friday regarding the Bar'an Temple, also known as the Moon Temple in Ma'rib, Yemen, عرش بلقيس ARCA and Archaeology in Yemen received word late yesterday evening via text message that the images portrayed via multiple news outlets across Yemen and elsewhere in social media were not of the Bar'an Temple.  With little more to go on besides, "the images are wrong" I and the administrator of Archaeology in Yemen set about reconfirming the details, as even well-meaning heritage professionals, who do our best to double and triple fact check before reporting, make mistakes. 

Pouring through BBC and Youtube videos and hundreds of images and PDFs via the Sana'a Branch of the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute we now know the commenter was correct.  Most importantly, we now know what site was depicted in the January 14, 2016 reports and have more details than we had at the time of the original reporting.   For correction purposes, we will be leaving this re-identification notice up on both this and the original incorrect post pages so as to prevent any further misidentification. 

The site damaged which was incorrectly identified as the Bar'an Temple (Moon Temple), Ma'rib, Yemen, عرش بلقيس  is actually the Almaqah Temple in Ṣirwāḥ, Yemen معبد إلمقه.

One of the great religious centers of ancient Arabia, Sirwah, is located 120 km east of Sanaa and 40 km west of Ma'rib.  The site is situated between the Yemeni highlands to the west and the Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter to the east.  This temple's location is thirty minutes by car away from the Bar'an Temple, or at least it would be, if you were travelling during peace time from one historically pillar-filled site to the other. 

From January 14th through January 16, 2016 Saudi-led coalition warplanes resumed their airstrikes on Yemen.  On Thursday, January 14th as many as 20 sorties were reported by witnesses and various regional news services and social media.   Some of these engagements targeted the Sirwah district in the Ma’rib Province of Yemen and it is following those strikes that the damages to the Almaqah Temple in Ṣirwāḥ started to go public.

Details of the damage to the historic site can be seen in the video clip below and in the comparison photos found in this post.  As has been reported time and time again, the air strikes in this conflict are not differentiating between military, civilian and archaeological targets and the result is both a humanitarian and historic catastrophe.

But even with this much documentation, we still cannot ascertain if this is new damage, or damages sustained earlier in the conflict as intensive airstrikes have been carried out in this region since Saudi-coalition troops pushed into the district in early October 2015. There were also earlier reports of some unidentified level of damage to the site on April 27, 2015 however we have not been able to date what happened to the site during what incident as of yet.


While the recent report of "new" damages came out on January 14, 2014 it was just a few short hours after that when Arabic news services started to get either the impacted site's name wrong or displayed the correctly named site but with incorrectly sourced photo imagery, which brings me back to my original a pillar is not a pillar statement.   This is what makes site identification from the safety of a non conflict country difficult and why news sources closer to the engagement must be checked and rechecked by multiple sets of eyes for accuracy something that isn't always a perfect science when site identifications are being done by volunteers with limited time and resources at their disposal.


For the record, the news sources reporting the sites incorrectly are:

News of Yemen - Reported photos of the damage sustained at the Almaqah Temple but stated the site's name as The Queen of Sheba Temple in Marib. 

Sa'ada News - Identified the Almaqah Temple correctly and stressing that the damages occurred on January 14, 2016, but carried a photo of the Bar'an Temple (Moon Temple), Ma'rib, 

Yalmashhad News - Reported photos of the damage sustained at the throan of the Queen of Sheba in Marib using a photo of the Bar'an Temple (Moon Temple), Ma'rib, 

Sana'a City - Identified the Almaqah Temple correctly, but carried no photo.  

Almaqah Temple pillers in Sirwah, Yemen. NOTE: that large missing piece is already reflected in the upper earlier dated photo. This is not conflict damage.
News sources reporting the site incorrectly are:

The Boulevard - Identified the Almaqah Temple correctly and stressing that the damages occurred on January 14, 2016.  Carries a correct photo, though it is unclear if this if of damages or the excavation.

Almasirah News -  Identified the Almaqah Temple correctly and carries a correct photo of the porticos six pillars. 

The temple in Sirwah is believed to have been dedicated to the Sabaean god Almaqah, whose temple's dedicatory inscription at Sirwah read ‘Ba’al Awa’el’,or "Master of the Ibex" which helps explain the continuous line of ibex heads found on external surfaces at the site.  

Sadly the main tower, appears to be severely damaged by the force of the hit, which cracked an inscription dating back to the seventh century BCE. Damage have also been documented along the row of carved ibexes on the outside of its temple wall.  Lastly, one of the portico's six misidentified pillars which appeared to have been damaged by the conflict is instead historically missing the dramatic chunk publicised across the web. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

Photos used for Identification in this report in order of presentation:

3D model - Abdelhafiz 2009
From Top to Bottom Mabkhot Mohtem, Almasirah.net, Tihamahnews
Left to right - Panaramio and News of Yemen
Top to Bottom - Sarah Rijziger-History Today and News of Yemen 






January 22, 2016

Damages to the of Bar'an Temple (Moon Temple) , Ma'rib, Yemen, عرش بلقيس


UPDATE: After posting a damage notification on Friday regarding the Bar'an Temple, also known as the Moon Temple in Ma'rib, Yemen, عرش بلقيس ARCA and Archaeology in Yemen received word late yesterday evening via text message that the images portrayed via multiple news outlets across Yemen and elsewhere in social media were not of the Bar'an Temple.  With little more to go on besides, "the images are wrong" I and the administrator of Archaeology in Yemen set about reconfirming the details, as even well-meaning heritage professionals, who do our best to double and triple fact check before reporting, make mistakes. 

Pouring through BBC and Youtube videos and hundreds of images and PDFs via the Sana'a Branch of the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute we now know the commenter was correct.  Most importantly, we now know what site was depicted in the January 14, 2016 reports and have more details that we had at the time of the original reporting.   For correction purposes, we will be leaving this re-identification notice up on both this and the original incorrect post pages so as to prevent any further misidentification.

The site damaged which was incorrectly identified as the Bar'an Temple (Moon Temple), Ma'rib, Yemen, عرش بلقيس  is actually the Almaqah Temple in Ṣirwāḥ, Yemen.

Please consider the original posting below as incorrect.  Corrected information can be found in this revision.  




From the capital of Sana'a to Ma'rib, Aden, Dhale, Hajjah, Hodayda, Sa'ada, Shabwa, and Ta'iz: Mohannad al-Sayani, the Director of Yemen's General Organization of Antiquities and Museums has stated that at least 23 sites and monuments have been severely damaged or destroyed since beginning of the conflict in Yemen. 

ARCAArchaeology in Yemen and Archaeology in Syria Network are trying to document all of them.

Bar'an Temple, Ma'rib Governorate, Yemen



Information on social media first reported that Yemen's Bar'an Temple, located next to Ma‘bid ash Shams in Ma'rib Governorate was damaged as a result of the ongoing conflict on or around January 14, 2016.

Yemen journalists and eye witnesses state that Saudi forces damaged parts of the temple's main pillars as well as epigraphic remains that contain writing in the Old Line Sabaean as the result of shelling in Sirwah area of Marib province.

Research on this location produced a lengthy group of names. Known as the Bar'an Temple, the Almaqah Temple, The Moon Temple, the Al-Amaid, and also as Arsh Bilquis, (the Arabic name for the Queen of Sheba) and the Throne of Bilquis the site is located about 85 miles east of the capital, Sana`a and two miles southeast of Ma'rib  at 15.4032200 (latitude in decimal degrees), 45.3430900 (longitude in decimal degrees).

The temple is believed to have been built by Mukarrib Yada`'il Dharih in between the 7th and 5th century BCE and was dedicated to the worship of the moon god Ilmaqah, although the names of two other Sabaean deities, Hawbas and Athtar also appear in some of the site's engravings.

The Sanaa Branch of the Deutches Archaeologisches Institut (DAI), headquartered in Berlin, initiated the excavation of the Bar'an temple in 1988 as part of a larger project centered in the Marib province. Excavation of the temple was completed in 1997, however conservation work continued for another four seasons.  The site was formally opened to the public on November 18, 2000.

The five pillars marking the entrance to this temple and inner cella, are considered to be the tallest in South Arabia. The temple grounds themselves include a ritual well and an altar for sacrifice as well as smaller altars and several alabaster benches arranged around the inner perimeter walls.

Prior to this current attack, the site was also targeted, as a result of unrest.  On Monday July 2, 2007 a suspected al-Qaida suicide bomber detonated his car inside the gates of the ancient temple killing seven Spaniards tourists and two Yemenis.

NOTE:  Archaeology in Yemen has been informed that some of the original photos identified as part of the Bar'an Temple are not part of the site.  If you have any further information or can help with identification please contact ARCA in the comments section below so we can pass your name to the AiY administrators.

For more photos of the purported damage and to follow Archaeology in Yemen on Facebook, please click here. 

January 21, 2016

Three Stolen Paintings Recovered by the Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale in Ancona

© Copyright ANSA
The Carabinieri TPC (Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale) in Ancona have recovered three stolen paintings dating from the seventeenth century.  The investigation, started in early 2014 and coordinated by the Public Prosecutors at the Court of Rome and in Perugia involved two paintings stolen in a private home in the province of Siena in 2007 and a third which had been taken from a house in Rome in 1991.  

This is not the first time Ancona's Carabinieri TPC squad has been successful in recovering stolen art. In September 2015 the unit recovered an oil painting from an unknown artist dating from the XVI / XVII century, depicting a 'Madonna with Child'.  This artwork had been stolen sometime in the evening between the 5th and 6th of June 1990 from the Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo where it had been displayed above the alter.  .The painting had turned up in an an antique store in San Benedetto del Tronto. 

Details on the recent paintings recovered and the conditions of the artworks are expected during a forthcoming Carabinieri TPC press conference. 

January 20, 2016

Confirmation Saint Elijah's Monastery (دير مار إيليا), Iraq, Destroyed


Following a request by the Associated Press earlier this month, Digital Globe, a global provider of high-resolution Earth-imagery products and services, provided the news service with imagery which appears to confirm that the monastery known in English as the Saint Elijah Monastery or the Dair Mar Elia, ((دير مار إيليا) has been obliterated by ISIS/ISIL sometime prior to September 28, 2014.  It was the oldest known Christian monastery in Iraq.  

The oldest monastery in Iraq dated back 1400 ago.
 أقدم دير في العراق يعود تاريحه الى ١٤٠٠ سنة
Nearby cities: Mosul, Erbil / Hewler, Kirkûk
Coordinates:   36°17'33"N   43°7'51"E
Image Credit AP/Digital Globe/Google

Located on a hill south of Mosul, local Chaldean leaders place the monastery's age back to the fourth century after Christ.  Other evidence indicates that the original monastery on this site was built around 571 CE during the reign of the Persian King Hurmizd IV.  Assuming that this date is accurate, the monastery predates the founding of Islam by about one hundred years.  

Imagery obtained for comparison by AP before and after compared with earlier amateur videos shot by US military personnel during cultural awareness site visits seem to suggest that the monastery has either been bulldozed completely or detonated to the ground level.

Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, said “such deliberate destruction is a war crime and it must not stay unpunished. It also reminds us how terrified by history the extremists are, because understanding the past undermines the pretexts they use to justify these crimes and exposes them as expressions of pure hatred and ignorance.”

But this ultimate final insult by ISIL/ISIS is not the only hardship Saint Elijah Monastery has faced. 

During the 2003 Iraqi conflict, Iraqi tank units damaged rooms and reportedly filled the ancient cistern with trash while using it as a latrine. 

In this first video, apparently made during a US forces visit after taking control of the site, viewers can hear a military guide giving touring soldiers from Forward Operating Base Marez a lecture on the significance of the religious site and why it was later fenced off to protect the site against looters and further degradation.  After that, soldiers were only allowed to visit the site when accompanied by military chaplains or designated military guides.


In this first video the speaker talks about not only the Christian iconography but also the damage the site sustained as a result of a US-Iraqi skirmish with the Iraqi Republican Guard during the initial invasion in 2003.  The officer mentions a U.S. Army anti-tank missile fired by the 101st Airborne at an Iraqi tank unit that was stationed in and around the religious site during the military engagement.  

The tow missile, fired by the US modular light infantry division towards a military target, damaged the ancient chapel's wall when the missile blasted the turret off a T-72 Russian tank.  The impact catapulted the turret into the side of the monastery, buckling the historic site's wall and creating many large cracks and fissures.



Other damages however were not directly related to this armed engagement, but instead were opportunistic offences and carelessness when the 101st were themselves garrisoned at the site.

Soldiers attached to the 101st painted their division's 'Screaming Eagle' logo above the chapel's doorway and also white-washed the stone alter and chapel walls, covering what is believed to have been the remnants of 600-year-old murals.  To add insult to injury, 'Chad wuz here' and 'I love Debbie,' were also found scribbled onto other monastery surfaces along with older graffiti in Arabic and bullet holes. 

Some 250 years earlier, the monastery was nearly flattened by a Persian ruler who also ordered the monks living there to be slain.

Prior to its destruction by ISIS/ISIL the site consisted of 27 rooms and included a mihrab, a temple and a cistern.  Experts from the University of Mosul were scheduled to survey the grounds in 2008 but because of the volatility of the political situation at the time, a team of soldiers from current and former U.S. Army Europe engineer units (the 156th) were tasked to carry out the work as part of a mission in July 2008. The data collected was to be used in Army and civilian maps detailing the area of the monastery, as well as archeological excavations and geographic expeditions.

The 156th also created a three-dimensional model of the site based on their survey data to aid scientists studying the possible purpose of crumbling rooms in the monastery.

Perhaps this model will be of use to scholars going forward. 


January 15, 2016

Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Before and After Site was Struck by Air Raids May 21, 2015.

Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Before Airstrikes
Photo date and photographer unknown.
From the capital of Sana'a to Ma'rib, Aden, Dhale, Hajjah, Hodayda, Sa'ada, Shabwa, and Ta'iz: Mohannad al-Sayani, the Director of Yemen's General Organization of Antiquities and Museums has stated that at least 23 sites and monuments have been severely damaged or destroyed since beginning of the conflict in Yemen. 

ARCA, Archaeology in Yemen and Archaeology in Syria Network are trying to document all of them. 

Site 1: Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen  
 قلعة القاهرة, تعز, ال
Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Before Airstrikes
Photo date and photographer unknown.

Al-Qahira Castle(also known as Cairo Castle) is located on the highest mountain in Taiz city. Throughout history it has been a contested site of battles for the rulers who ruled Taiz as the stronghold has both a spectacular vantage point and is a defensive fortress that when occupied by military forces, makes it strategic for the control of the city.

Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Photo
Uploaded June 08 2015 by Yemen Post Newspaper
The book "Taiz City, Green Branch in the Arab History", written by previous Taiz Archeological Office's Director Mohammad al-Mujahed, dates the historical construction of the castle back to the Sulaihi State between 426- 532, after Hijrah. This book states that Sultan Mohammad Assulaihi was the ruler who ordered the building of the castle though the dates of origin differ in many historic documents.

Due to its strategic point in this current conflict, the castle was targeted by airstrikes on May 21, 2015 and sustained substantial damage.

Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen,
Photo Taken May 21, 2014 by Yalwasat News
Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Photo
Uploaded on March 11, 2012 by Al-Awsh.
Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Photo Uploaded
to Flickr May 21, 2014 by Gamal Alkirshi.
Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Photo Uploaded
to Flickr May 21, 2014 by Gamal Alkirshi
Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Photo Uploaded
to Flickr May 21, 2014 by Gamal Alkirshi
Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen, Photo Uploaded
to Flickr May 21, 2014 by Gamal Alkirshi 
Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen,
Photo Uploaded to Flickr May 21, 2014
by Gamal Alkirshi
Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen,
Photo Uploaded to Flickr May 21, 2014
by Gamal Alkirshi 
 
Satelite Comparisons - Al-Qahera Castle, Taiz, Yemen,
Photo Credit - EAMENA team 

January 13, 2016

Should the Looting Legacy Enter the Museum?

By Aubrey Catrone, ARCA 2015 Alumna

MFA Exhibition Visitors: Class Distinctions, Image Credit MFA Website
The Nazi hunt for the work of Johannes Vermeer is not a long buried secret. It has been immortalized within a number of academic works and has found its way to mainstream media. Both Lynn H. Nicholas and Robert M. Edsel intimate an unspoken rivalry between Reichmarshall Hermann Georing and Hitler over the works of the Dutch Master that were uncovered during the pervasive looting of World War II. For, Vermeer was considered a champion of Germanic culture. In a world built upon the legacy of the great Italian masters, Hitler clung to Vermeer as the savior of his vision for cultural purity. For this reason, Vermeer's surviving works, if discovered amongst the loot, were to be considered revered above all else.

It was through this historical lens that I contextualized Vermeer’s The Astronomer, within the Museum of Fine Arts Boston’s (MFA) special exhibit, “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer.” This work was, arguably, one of Hitler’s most prized acquisitions during World War II. Having been seized from the Rothschilds, the German dictator believed The Astronomer epitomized the superiority of the Germanic peoples. 

Discreetly nestled on a temporary wall, painted a calming grey, so as not to detract from the beauty of the piece, the Astronomer, sat engrossed in his studies. The painting seemed to serve as a juxtaposition between the role of scientists in Dutch society during the 17th-century, and their wealthy counterparts who, while amateurs, yearned to immerse themselves in the evolving climate of discovery and advancement of the time period. In this manner, the placement and accompanying description of the painting captured the essence of the exhibit. Yet, there was no mention of the painting’s muddled past. The MFA plaque merely stated the painting was on loan from the Musée de Louvre.

I question whether or not a small mention of The Astronomer’s past should have been included within the exhibit. On one hand, it could be argued that such information could detract from the theme of the exhibit. Yet, wouldn’t it also bring a new dimension to the history of the piece as well as the exhibit itself?

This question is largely based in my observations of the patrons I walked with. One man asked if I had noticed a painting was on loan from Queen Elizabeth II's private collection. I overhead another couple debating not only the aesthetic aspects of a painting, but the historical details as well. Others simply took the time to peruse the gallery, reading each description in its entirety. These art enthusiasts, sacrificing a sunny, Monday afternoon to walk amongst vestiges of the past, were enthralled not only by the theme of the display, but by the lives of the paintings before them.

Informing patrons that an object was looted during World War II brings life to the artwork. For, the life of a painting does not simply end when the paint dries. It changes hands. It travels the world. It inspires emotion. Sharing such information, while somewhat controversial, not only creates the opportunity for people to engage with the art on a new level. It also preserves a significant period in art history. It is both a topic of conversation and an homage to the past. A single line of text is all it would require to preserve what should never be forgotten.

Sources Consulted: 

Edsel, Robert M. The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. New York: Center Street, 2009.

Feigenbaum, Gail. ìManifest Provenance,î in Provenance: An Alternate History of Art, ed. Gail Feigenbaum and Inge Reist, 6-28. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2012.

Feliciano, Hector. The Lost Museum: the Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the Worldís Greatest Works of Art. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. ìAcquisitions and Provenance Policy.î Accessed August 4, 2015. http://www.mfa.org/collections/art-past/acquisitions-and-provenance-policy.

Nicholas, Lynn H. The Rape of Europa: the Fate of Europeís Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Knopf, 1994.

December 24, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015 - No comments

18th Century Artefacts Seized from a Bahamas Flagged Ship

The Odyssey Explorer (midground) in Falmouth Docks, UK.
The salvage vessel belongs to Odyssey Marine Exploration,
and is used in the exploration of underwater wreck sites. 
Authorities in Limassol, Cyprus have confiscated the cargo of a Bahamas-flagged ship which has been moored at Limassol harbour since December 17, after finding evidence of suspected illegal removal of antiquities.  Acting on information provided anonymously to both the Transport and Foreign Ministries of the Cypriot authorities, police on Wednesday secured a seizure warrant for the cargo of the ‘Odyssey Explorer’, a vessel owned by the deep-ocean exploration firm, Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., (NasdaqCM: OMEX).  The Florida-based American private treasure hunting firm was founded in 1994 and is known for its underwater recovery of shipwrecks including the HMS Victory, the S Republic, the SS Gairsoppaand the SS Central America, as well as shipwreck salvage operations involving third-century BC Punic sites and recovery of WWII casualties.  

In 2012 Odyssey Marine Exploration set a record for the deepest and heaviest cargo recovery from a shipwreck to date involving the recovery of the SS Gairsoppa.  During that operation, its team retrieved 48 tons of silver from the vessel which sank in 1941 in waters more than 15,000 feet deep. 

Odyssey Marine Exploration currently has several shipwreck projects in various stages of development around the world, including the jurisdictionally disputed Black Swan Project a recovery operation purported to be the richest haul ever retrieved from a shipwreck to date.  Th e value of that recovery has been estimated to value of $500 million (£314 million).   However the rights to the finds of the wrecked 19th Century Spanish vessel, ‘Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes’, are being contested as the Spanish believe the wreck lays within Spanish territorial waters whereas Odyssey contends the shipwreck was recovered in “international waters” west of the Straits of Gibraltar. 

Assisted by the Cypriot antiquities authority and customs officials, Port and Marine police boarded the ‘Odyssey Explorer’ this week in Cyprus and searched the ship's locked hold finding 57 plastic containers, several which contained artefacts dating to approximately to the 18th century.  Some of the objects clearly appeared to have been recently retrieved from an underwater site.   

Many of the objects seized were found submerged in desalinated water, a technique common in the preservation of objects retrieved from underwater archaeological sites as once a submerged artifact leaves its sea water resting place and is exposed to the air, it must undergo an immediate stabilization process to prevent further deterioration.  

Artifacts found submerged in ocean water pose the greatest challenge to preserve and underwater conservators often utilize specially constructed vats for desalination and conservation, using a series of static water baths to lower the salt levels within the encrustation of the objects.   The fact that this technique was being used by the salvage team on the objects confiscated lends evidence that the material retrieved is quite recent. 

As the ship had been out to sea prior to birthing on December 17th, it is not known if any or all of the antiquities discovered on board were of Cypriot origin.   Reports suggest that the most consistent position of the vessel's recovery work was some 60 km due west of Beirut in the Lebanese Economic Zone.   Some have stated that the investigation was initiated by the Cypriot Government at the request of Lebanon authorities.   Some believe the sailing ship being recovered was the "Napreid", which sank to the bottom of the sea near Beirut and contained gold and silver coins, cylinders and sixty cases of other antiquities shipped on an ill-fated Austrian ship which caught fire and sunk 50 miles off of the coast of Syria.

The Eastern Mediterranean and Levant have long been an established maritime highway where ship wrecks of any period might contain cargoes which could be appealing to recovery operations.

As a result of the seizure Odyssey Marine Exploration has issued the following statement.
“Odyssey Marine Exploration has been conducting a deep -ocean archaeological project in the Eastern Mediterranean under contract. The project has been conducted legally and Odyssey has not conducted any operations in Cypriot waters. Any statements to the contrary are false.  The shipwreck on which the company has been conducting an archaeological operation appears to be a cargo vessel dating to the early to mid-17th century (1600-1650) with a primary cargo of agricultural goods, porcelain, glazed pottery and other trade cargo. The site is not identifiable by name nor country of origin. The project design anticipates full publication of the results of the operation and exhibit of the recovered artifacts. 
We understand the actions taken by the local authorities were based on a false report. Odyssey is fully cooperating and the company is confident the authorities will quickly confirm that Odyssey was neither working in Cypriot waters nor recovering ancient artefacts. 
On this project, Odyssey is subject to a non-disclosure agreement under the contract and cannot provide further details.”