April 20, 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017 - , No comments

Repatriation: The Cleveland Museum of Art returns WWII looted bust of Drusus Minor to Italy

Sometimes the repatriation of a looted object is a long time coming. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 the Cleveland Museum of Art and Italy's Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo - MiBACT announced with great public fanfare and press releases that an agreement had finally been reached for the transfer of a marble portrait head representing Drusus Minor (Drusus Julius Caesar, 13 B.C.E.-C.E. 23) back to its country of origin.

The object was part of a group of sculptures excavated in the 1920s that had been displayed in the Civic Museum of Sessa Aurunca from 1926 until it went missing some 70+ years ago at the end of the Second World War.  It is speculated that the object was taken by military personnel, perhaps in search of war mementos.

When the museum first announced the object's acquisition in 2012 they made no mention of who the marble head was purchased from, nor what the purchase price was.  

Seeking to establish an exception to the AAMD's Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art the cached version of the now removed AAMD website object information page listed the object's details and collection history as follows:

Object Title:  Head of Drusus Minor (13 B.C. – A.D. 23)
Measurements:  H. 35 cm
Creation Date:  probably after A.D. 23 and likely before A.D. 37
Credit Line:  Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund
Museum Name:  The Cleveland Museum of Art
Culture:  Roman
Country of Origin:  Algeria
Object Type:  Sculptures
Materials / Techniques: Marble
Provenance Information: Fernand Sintes before 1960; sold at auction at Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu Paris on September 29, 2004, lot. no. 340, unknown purchaser; Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A.(2004); sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art by Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012.
Exhibition Information:  No Data
Publication Information:  Piasa, Paris, Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu, Archéologie, 28–29 Septembre (Paris 2004) 74, lot. no. 340. Phoenix Ancient Art, Imago, Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture, (New York 2007) cover, III.

Section of the AAMD Guidelines relied upon for the exception to 1970: 

Cumulative facts and circumstances - Explain why the object fits the exception set forth above: The Cleveland Museum of Art has provenance information for this work back to the 1960’s, but has been unable to obtain documentary confirmation of portions of the provenance as described below. The work was sold at public auction in 2004 when it first appeared on the art market. The work was initially identified and published as Tiberius, but was later (after 2007) recognized as a likeness of his son, Drusus Minor. A certificate of origin was issued dated the day after the auction by Jean-Philippe Mariaud de Serres (deceased 2007), who assisted the prior owner and consigner, Fernand Sintes. The certificate stated the sculpture came from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Sintes of Marseilles; that the sculpture had been in Mr. Sintes’s family for many generations; that the family’s name was Bacri; and that they had lived in Algeria since 1860. The museum contacted Mrs. Sintes who confirmed on behalf of herself and Mr. Sintes that Mr. Sintes’ grandfather, Mr. Bacri, had owned the sculpture; that Mr. Sintes inherited the sculpture from his grandfather; that Mr. Sintes brought it from Algeria to Marseilles in 1960; that he had inherited it from his grandfather prior to bringing it to Marseilles; that the sculpture was sold at the Hôtel Drouot in 2004; and that they had worked with Mr. de Serres. The portrait, monumental in scale and of great historical importance, belongs to a major category of Roman imperial portraiture not otherwise represented in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Drafted by the the Association of Art Museum Directors and adopted by the AAMD member institutions in the US, Canada and Mexico, the AAMD guidelines, set standards by which member museums should conduct due diligence when acquiring archaeological material and ancient art.  These guidelines serve to discourage member museums from purchasing antiquities unless solid collection histories prove that the object was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970, or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.

Filling in the gaps on one repatriated object's collection history 

Through the dedicated work of multiple researchers, archaeologists, and lawyers in Italy, France, the UK, the US and Poland, we know the following:

The French auction house's website recorded that the sculpture was sold as lot. 340 to an anonymous buyer at a Hôtel Drouot auction in Paris on September 29, 2004 for €324,000. 

The Cleveland Museum of Art acquired the ancient Roman portrait of the son of Emperor Tiberius 8 years later, from Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealer with galleries in Geneva and New York, whose has been discussed with recurring frequency on the Association's blog.

An image of the Drusus Minor bust graces the cover of the 2007 edition of the Phoenix Ancient Art catalog Imago, dedicated to four hundred years of Roman portraiture.  This cover photo can be seen in the screenshot taken from the dealer's eTiquities website below. 


It is unclear if the bust remained in the Aboutaam brothers' inventory from its 2004 purchase until its eventual purchase by the museum in 2012.

The museum's 2012 purchase was made possible from a credit line tapping the Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund.  Iron, coal, and shipping magnate Leonard C. Hanna Jr. was an avid art collector, theatergoer, and patron of the arts. At his death, Hanna left a bequest of of $34 million USD to the Cleveland Museum of Art making it the best-endowed art museum in the United States.  Income from the Hanna endowment fund is restricted to the purchase of art.

Sessa Aurunca, Remains of the theatre (scavi 1925–1926)
Image Credit: Soprintendenza Archeologia della Campania
In the October-December 2014 Bollettino D’Arte, produced by Italy’s Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, author Giuseppe Scarpati deduced that documentation stored in the Neapolitan archives of the Superintendence Archeologia della Campania, included previously unpublished photos which catagorically confirm that the object was originally discovered between 1925-1926 in Italy when Amedeo Maiuri was excavating the Gagliardella district of Sessa Aurunca, near the site's theater.

The black and white photos found in the Naples archives were taken in 1926. Contact find records of the documented measurements for the ancient marble head, also match records from the Cleveland museum's ancient art collection. 

Image Credit Top Left and Bottom, Soprintendenza Archeologia della Campania, 1926
Image Credit Top Right: ARCA
In a still earlier Italian article, published before the museum's purchase, by the Italian Societá Nazionale di Scienze Lettere ed Arti Napoli, Volume LXXV 2008-2011,  Scarpati had already documented the find images, as well as site diagrams by Sergio Cascella whose documentation reconstructs the zone of the the excavation find spot, the theatre at Sessa Aurunca.

With all this documentation, transfer of the object by the Cleveland Museum of Art back to Italy was clearly the only appropriate resolution.

But will the museum will be reimbursed by Phoenix Ancient Art?

At the time of this article, William Griswold, the museum's director at the Cleveland Museum of Art declined to comment on whether his museum would be reimbursed by the Aboutaams. 

And if the museum is not reimbursed? 

According to a 2014 US government, there are upwards of 35,000 museums in America.  But how many museums employ dedicated provenance researchers to conduct research, to trace an object's history of ownership, and to clarify the circumstances surrounding the potential costly acquisition of an artwork or an antiquity with illicit or looted origins?

In 2016 Cleveland Museum of Art was named the second best museum in the U.S. by Business Insider magazine, just one step behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Perhaps given the diplomatically touchy nature of repatriating looted objects, which necessitates both parties drafting tedious carefully-agreed upon press releases about how wonderful one another is, museums might be wiser to invest in more personnel with solid provenance researching backgrounds to vet objects before their purchase.

In the long run, provenance researchers are cheaper than having to forfeit a pricey accessioned treasure, not to mention,  museum directors aren't subjected to those cheesy photo opportunities with cultural attachés wearing diplomatically-pasted-on grins.

Food for future purchasing thought

A statement from the ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods states: 

Might be worthwhile to re-read this suggestion before signing a check for that new must-have acquisition.  Failure to engage in due diligence causes institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art  to suffer at their own hands.

By:  Lynda Albertson


References accessed and interviews used for this article


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ARCA internal research data

Avvocatura dello Stato and the Procuratore Aggiunto dello Stato, Italy

Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo

Stefano Alessandrini, consultant to Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo and the L'Avvocatura dello Stato - Italy. 

Paul Barford, http://paul-barford.blogspot.it/search?q=drusus+cleveland&max-results=20&by-date=true

Sergio Cascella - https://www.academia.edu/2199517/Un_ritratto_di_Tiberio_da_Sessa_Aurunca_ritrovato_RAAN_LXXV_2008-2011_pp._345-368

David Gill, http://lootingmatters.blogspot.it/search?q=drusus+cleveland&max-results=20&by-date=true

Giuseppe Scarpati - https://www.academia.edu/24236780/IL_RITRATTO_DI_DRUSO_MINORE_DAL_CICLO_STATUARIO_GIULIO_CLAUDIO_DI_SESSA_AURUNCA


Rick St. Hilaire - http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.it/2017/04/drusus-head-revisited.html

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