Thursday, June 11, 2009

Some Other Thoughts About the Materials from the Sisto Collection Repatriated to Italy

A scholar and expert in the international trade in cultural artifacts provided me with the following thoughts on reviewing the list of materials repatriated from Italy:

As with all reports about the repatriation of apparently stolen items to their country of origin, those on the Sisto collection emphasize its great value and cultural importance. In most cases, however, we never really know what the collection includes. We read about rare coins or precious artefacts, but we seldom get to see photographs of them or have accurate descriptions. With the Sisto material anyone who wishes can get a copy of a list (with what appears to be well over 2000 items on it, not 1600 as given in the reports) with vague details on all the things returned. Looking through this list the observer is going to be rather shocked: some of the material is certainly interesting but as a whole, everything I see here is virtually useless junk. I can not conceive that any Italian governmental functionary would have any use for the vast, vast majority of what the crates that are being delivered to Italy actually contain.

Let's look at some, shall we?

There are (1-30 passim), loads of 'suspected Etruscan or early Roman' items. Suspected?

33 is "partial, suspected metal, cylinder (2"x2.5"), possible part of ax, possibly iron age"

285 Book preface written by Mussolini (3 pages

)286 Territorial map of Cassano 1858

317 Archeological artifacts - four metal pieces, suspected tools

323 Archeological artifacts - six possible iron age pieces (possible spear heads or handles)

345 Archeological artifacts - Four heads from female statues

375 Book Elementi de Geometria di Euclide 1845

382 Book Vocabolario Italiano - Latino 1791

417 Book Studi su Dante 1905

490 Boarded document King Umberto I January 6, 1898

498 Boarded document Victor Emmanuele III June 10 , 1909

585 Box of documents (?)

601 Private correspondences, business receipts (approx. 3000 pieces)

671 Book Ortografia Moderna Italiana

893-921 (some intervening numbers missing) Book, Nouvelle Bibliotheque des Autheurs Ecclesiastiques -Tome Premier - XIII (missing 4)

1573-1578 Book Repertorio Generale Annuale della Giurisprudenza Italiana Anno XV, XVI, XXVII-XXIXand one undated (but obviously all post 1870)

1673 Book Enciclopedia Tascabile Repertorio di cognizione utili per tutti (i.e., a pocket encyclopedia)

1724 Book Gran dizionario Italiano-francese

2066 Book Enologia Teorico-Practica

2206 Routledge's New Pocket Dictionaries...

2952 Book (Greek lettering)

3015 Il Rosario e la nuova pompei Periodico mensuale

3122 Book Il Conte di Monet Cristo

Yes there are tons of manuscripts but they all sound like the kind of decrees that are in every archive and no one looks at. There are massive numbers of ecclesiastical books, lives of saints and the like, many in Latin, which presumably date from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Could all this stuff be stolen from libraries? Yes. Could it also equally have all be thrown out from libraries? Yes. Could it be from a private library the heir of which wanted to clear out? Yes. Could all the manuscripts have come from archives that were being cleared out (people still dump this kind of stuff and sell it to old paper merchants) because no one wanted any of it and it was all duplicate anyway (papal decrees were invariably sent it in multiples to everyone concerned by them)? Yes.

It is truly inconceivable that all but the smallest fraction of this material is of any importance at all. If it is really stolen they really should say from whom. I think the Sisto family is probably lucky to have gotten rid of all this, but the son who did this is going to have to have a lot to answer for. If we ever know more it will be interesting ( and I bet that the Italians will never show more than a tiny number of things that actually look good - if any do - because they will otherwise will be lose face showing totally unimportant stuff like this). If no real expert in America was asked to go through this material, a reputable book or manuscript dealer, and the FBI relied only on the Italians on the question of importance of possible theft; this is a major scandal.

No comments: