Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pointing Fingers the Wrong Way?

A well known scholar who would like to remain anonymous asks if  fingers are being pointed the wrong way after the Cleveland Museum voluntarily repatriated a Roman portrait bust to Italy.

I suppose you have heard the story of this marble head in Cleveland, that either has been, or is in the process of being, returned to Italy because it turns out that it was stolen from the museum in Sessa Aurunca in 1944. The usual suspects are making rude remarks and pointing fingers about it, but, in fact, I think it might be a very good and exemplary story for you to tell on your blog.
The big thing is that it, and another piece, appeared at auction in Paris in 2004 - illustrated - but no one said peep about them. Apparently two Italian scholars wrote about the head around the time Cleveland acquired it, illustrating, FINALLY, record photos of a number of heads from Sessa that were discovered in excavations there in 1926. I want to stress the fact that despite there being record photos, taken in 1926, of some sculpture stolen in 1944, those photos were never publicly shown prior to 2011 or so!!! In any case, we can be sure that Cleveland actually did everything that was normally and humanly possible to do when they acquired the piece in 2012. The story they had: that the head was from a collection in France, brought there from Algeria in 1960 (when A was part of France), and previously in a collection in Algeria (they said since the 19th century), was by no means implausible. In any case, the possibility that the head had been looted in Sessa by French troops from Algeria in 1944 would go far to explain the head's supposed Algerian origins.

That the head should go back to Sessa is clear: it is modern war loot. But when does the story end? The way the usual suspects use the story to attack the "bad" American museum and the "bad" dealer, but say poo about the fact that a clear photograph, that was in existence by 1926 of an object that was stolen in 1944, remained unpublished until 2011/2013 or so is an even greater scandal!  

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