Monday, June 8, 2015

Open the Medici Archives

The Art Newspaper reports on pressure to open up the Medici archives to the public to assist collectors and dealers in their due diligence efforts.  The archives have already been disclosed selectively, so its unclear why the archaeological blogoshere is so opposed to their release.  In any event, shouldn't those who claim to act in the public interest and often demand transparency of others, promote rather than oppose transparency here?


Dick Stout said...

To really have transparency you would have to provide your credentials, and we know that's not going to happen...

Cultural Property Observer said...

Hi Dick, I think most academics are happy to provide their CV. Prof. Gill does have a good background. Mr. Barford, who also commented negatively about this effort to make these archives publicly available, has not made his CV available and has been less than transparent about whether his blog is subsidized in some fashion.

kyri said...

i have discussed this many times with david gill and paul barford,they make some valid points but overall i must agree with you peter.i to wish for transparency.these archives should have been published years can anyone be accused of not doing their due diligence when they dont have access to the needed information.some of these pieces have been in circulation for decades.

Dave Welsh said...


You have in my opinion made an important point.

Mr. Barford appears to have nothing to do other than to be a blogger, with occasional translation work. He has not yet reached retirement age. His blogs do not provide advertising revenue or any other visible form of remuneration.

In short, he has no visible means of support.

There is another possible explanation, given that we know almost nothing about his background: He could be living on an inheritance, or on an allowance received from his family. That is an old British tradition when a member of a wealthy family is unsuccessful in pursuing a respectable career, and the cost of living in Poland must be far less than in Britain.

Duncan Finch said...

Frankly, I find it rather difficult to understand the logic of this debate over the confiscated photograph/record archives of Medici, Becchina et al. Perhaps I am being too simplistic but I would assume that if a major archive of stolen material existed, publishing it would proper due diligence searches much more valuable. If a dealer, auctioneer or collector was offered, for example, an Attic Red Figure kylix of c. 490 BC he or she could immediately check to see if it was among the vessels described as looted in those archives. This would, presumably, help everyone. But as it is, an auctioneer who does check all the data bases available (which do not include the huge mass of data on ostensibly stolen material that is available to the police) will find himself in a ridiculously Catch-22 position: he presents the item for auction and is jumped on by the police for having a supposedly stolen item. He is told that he has not done due diligence as he should have; to which he replies that he HAS done all the due diligence he was able to do, since the only evidence to the contrary was unavailable to him as it was kept secret by the police. Huh?

John H said...

"personally im all for some kind of antiquities register like the one david knell suggested were every piece has a kind of log book similar to cars with a photo and unique number,something like that would stop any fresh pieces hitting the would be a hard pill to swallow ,for both sides of this debate but unless something drastic happens nothing will change.

9 June 2015 at 09:22" - writes someone called kyri on the Barford blog.

What utter tosh! What we need is liberation from the 'Red Tape' Brigade and the ludicrous bureaucratic controls the Barfords, Knells, and Gills of this world love to foist on us all; and certainly not the kind of authoritarianism bunkum kyri advocates.

Best regards

John Howland

Cultural Property Observer said...

Hi John, I disagree with Kyri on certain points, but wouldn't describe him as a bumkin. Others have also suggested a registry for more valuable items, but I don't see it working for most portable antiquities And I agree with you that bureaucratic solutions are rarely good solutions at all. Best, Peter

John H said...

Hi Peter:

I wouldn't presume to call kyri a bumpkin, but merely the registry notion he promotes, which to my mind at least, is complete bunkum.

Collectors of all shades, should in my view, rule their own roost from within as opposed to having the likes of Gill, Knell, and Barford, trying to inflict their oddball and telling mindsets on a wholly legitimate and honorable, section of the community. Far better perhaps I would have thought they expend their combined testosterone on the appalling situation that blights the recording and classification of artifacts ripped from the ground by their paid professional colleagues: The term 'professional' should not be interpreted as conferring any level of excellence but payment for wielding a shovel.

Unrecorded artifact reporting and classification is theft of archaeological data and on this score I have no reason to doubt Barford's sincerity; some of his archaeological colleagues are in the vanguard of this data theft. He is to be congratulated for his candor.

Physician, heal thyself, one might say?

Best wishes

John Howland

Paul Barford said...

This is not just an idea of "oddball and telling [sic] mindsets" as your correspondent so charmingly represents it. William G. Pearlstein at the Committee for Cultural Policy symposium last year presented his 'White Paper: A Proposal to Reform U.S. Law and Policy Relating to the International Exchange of Cultural Property' (now published by Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Volume 32, Issue 3 (2014) - There he suggests a register of material above ground now as a way of dealing with future claims on objects. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (which Mr Howland insists he "supports") is the same idea.

I do not follow the meaning of the phrase "unrecorded artifact reporting and classification" in the comment above, but agree all kinds of knowledge theft from the finite archaeological resource need to be dealt with. There should be excavation permits and accountability to stop somebody starting a new project without finishing the old, like we have in Poland. The same goes for artefact hunting.