Archaeologist Says Sale of Ancient Greek Helmets Often Illicit
Greek archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, a veteran of skirmishes involving auction houses that often sell illicit antiques to the highest bidder, criticizes Christie’s upcoming auction for an ancient Greek helmet.
In the past he declares Greek journalist in an exclusive interview, the same auction house has sold items of questionable provenance in the past, despite its stated recommendations to collectors that they should “buy from a reputable place”.
Tsirogiannis, who has been responsible for a number of art repatriations after his research uncovered their true origins, has often expressed skepticism of the entire antiques market.
“Christie’s condition in their antique helmet website (point # 9, on provenance):” In practice, this means that collectors should buy from a reputable place and learn as much as possible about recent provenance of a helmet and the history of its ownership, and date that
the story as far as possible, ”he says.
However, the Greek archaeologist adds: “When Christie’s refers to a reputable place of sale, it is mostly about themselves. My work over the past 15 years has shown that Christie’s has often sold illicit antiques linked to convicted traffickers, ”he accuses.
“Many of these objects, after my identification, were subsequently repatriated to their countries of origin where they were stolen. Therefore, in reality and despite what Christie’s state and advertise, in some cases they do not “go back as far as possible” because they do not first check these objects with the illicit antiquity databases. held by several state authorities, long before they were offered for auction.
Christie’s upcoming auction in New York features Minoan vases and Cycladic marble figurines dating from 2,600 BC.
“Likewise, ancient Greek helmets and the like are offered by the market
without proper documentation that can verify through and through their former legal ownership and trade.
Christie’s New York will be the scene of a live auction starting at 10 a.m. on October 12 which is simply titled “Antiques,” which also features, in addition to the range of ancient Greek helmets, a two-handled Minoan cup dating back to of about. 2000 BC AD; two female figures in Cycladic marble from ca. 2,600 BC AD; and a Cypriot amphora of ca. 750 BC
As part of a helpful online post regarding the upcoming auction, Christie’s is offering a “Guide to Collecting Ancient Greek Helmets”, enticing potential buyers with the phrase “Helmets give you unique access to the past”.
“The patinas vary and are a matter of taste”
Hannah Fox Solomon, antiques sales manager and specialist at Christie’s New York, reportedly said in the guide “Many buyers seek to understand the ancient world through physical objects.”
Noting later in the Guide that “patinas vary and are a matter of taste”, Christie’s also notes “You can use (helmets) to keep up with the development of society” – for example the progress of bronze work and the design of helmets over the centuries.
“No two patinas are the same,” says Christie’s of ancient Greek helmets. “Different patinas appeal to different tastes: some people really like this crisp, plump textured surface while others prefer a smoother matte finish. The colors range from malachite to azurite through brown and shades of brown, ”explains Solomon. “Sometimes you even get a golden color, called a river patina. It’s up to the buyer to research what interests them.
On her website, Christie’s shows a bronze Corinthian helmet, which she said was “the property of a distinguished private collector”, which dates back to the Archaic period, from 525 to 475 BC.
Christie’s sold an ancient Greek helmet for $ 855,000 in 2020
An incredible $ 855,000 was raised by Christie’s during the online auction for this item, which closed on June 16, 2020. Estimates for the helmet were $ 300,000 to $ 500,000.
“As with many items on the market, condition has a major impact on the value of a helmet,” notes Christie’s in its Guide to Potential Buyers.
“Some helmets are great, but some helmets have evidence of what we call the ‘death blow,’ says Solomon, referring to the damage to the side of the dome. “While I can only speculate whether this is true or not, sometimes you will find helmets with damage that makes you wonder if it was the result of a battle. “
The current battle in the art world is whether or not a person or entity should own objects of enormous historical significance, and in a broader sense, whether a nation has the right to display antiques that are part of another nation’s intrinsic history. or cultural.
Movement to “decolonize” museums around the world
The drive to ‘decolonize’ museum collections has gained ground over the past year, in particular, as some large institutions have made the least public noise about the return movement of a nation’s most iconic objects. cultural to their place of origin.
Dr Amy Lonetree’s seminal book “Decolonizing Museums” led the movement for institutions to take a close look at how they represent the cultures they exhibit – and whether or not they should have these objects at all.
The four guiding principles of its decolonization effort are: truth and responsibility; rethink ownership; a change in the organizational culture of any museum, supported by systems and policies; and indigenous representation.
Elizabeth Marlowe, Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Chair in Liberal Arts Studies, Associate Professor of Art and Art History and Director of Colgate’s Museum Studies Program, says: Stories, especially when the artefacts are still part of the living cultural and heritage traditions of various communities today.
It remains to be seen how this burgeoning movement will play out on the coveted objects of ancient Greece, which collectors and museums covet the world over.
Tsirogiannis, however, offers some hope in the fight against the illegal antiques trade in what has happened recently in Spain. “A good example which confirms my remarks is the recent case of old helmets stolen in Spain, as products of looting in the 1980s, which ended up in the private collection of Christian Levett, before being repatriated to Spain”, says he does. Greek journalist.
And he’s not the only one among Greek archaeologists and other scholars who strive to make a difference.
A diligent Aarhus University student, who recently graduated from his masters degree, fellow Greek Dimitris Klouras, has just “researched such cases of basically non-provenance helmets in the global market,” Tsirogiannis says, offering the hope that more articles of extraordinary historical import will one day be returned to its place of origin.