Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Italian Authorities Disclose Pictures of Artifacts Subject to Seizure

Archaeo-Blogger David Gill notes that the Carabinieri have provided a DVD to certain antiquities dealers of artifacts recovered from a Swiss warehouse in 2001 that are apparently subject (again) to seizure:

In so doing, he posted but did not directly answer the following question:

David- Could the release of this material be a response to Bill Pearlstein's complaints during the interim review of the Italian MOU that the Carabinieri and US Customs were playing "gotcha" with American auction houses and collectors? See

Instead, Gill reiterates the AIA line that auction houses (and collectors) should only collect artifacts with a solid pre-1970 provenance. But, of course, this does not account for what to do about "orphan artifacts," and, in any event, a 1970 provenance is no "safe harbor" for the likes of Zahi Hawass and friends.

A knowledgeable collector of Greek vases has proposed something more modest. Why can't the Carabineri post images of this material on-line and make it easy for collectors, auction houses, dealers and museums to check whether they have inadvertently purchased artifacts with a questionable provenance?

"Cultural Property Observer" supports that idea, and also asks, "Why does it always seem that that ideology must trump common sense?"


Ed Snible said...

I would also like to see a database of stolen coins and artifacts.

One problem is that we don't want to disclose that a particular artifact is being looked for to the bad guys. We don't want the bad guys just tossing stolen and unsalable objects. We want them to try to sell them legitimately and get caught. Thus places like "the Art Loss Register" don't reveal their database of stolen objects.

I would be happy to learn more about this subject please blog about it more.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Ed- Your concern certainly may have application in some cases, but I would suggest not this one. As David Gill has noted, "They [the DVD's] contain images of objects originally seized in Zurich in 2001; they were later released by a judge. In another legal ruling the Carabinieri have been granted permission to reseize the objects - but key pieces have been dispersed."

Under the circumstances, the current holders of the artifacts are likely innocent purchasers who purchased the artifacts in the years since 2001. Isn't it better then to give them information about their potentially faulty title rather than do what Bill Pearslstein complained about-- keeping it all secret and then if one appears swoop in with maximum publicity and embarrassment to the holders?

Best wishes,

Peter Tompa