Looting Matters: The Miho Museum and Italy
SWANSEA, Wales, April 2 /PRNewswire/ — David Gill, archaeologist, reflects on the antiquities acquired by the Miho Museum in Japan.
The Miho Museum opened in November 1997. It was decided to incorporate archaeological objects from western Europe and Mesopotamia in the displays. Thus, from about 1990, dealers acting for the museum were on the watch for significant pieces. Some of the acquisitions were well known. They included the relief excavated at Nimrud by Sir Austen Henry Layard, and then rediscovered at Canford School in Dorset, England; it sold at Christie’s for a record-breaking £7.7 million (approximately $11.9 million equivalent at the time).
Not all the objects in the Miho Museum seem to have come from such old and well-documented collections. It appears that Noriyoshi Horiuchi was buying from some of the main antiquities dealers in Switzerland. This time coincided with the period when there was substantial looting of archaeological sites in Italy.
Gianfranco Becchina is reported to have been one of the dealers who supplied the Miho Museum. His warehouses were raided in May 2002 and three truckloads of antiquities have recently returned to Italy. Becchina’s wife, “Rosie,” ran Palladion Antike Kunst. This Basel gallery has been linked to a number of antiquities that have been returned to Italy: a Paestan krater and an Attic red-figured amphora from the J. Paul Getty Museum, and three pots, including an Apulian bell-krater, from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Becchina is also said to be the person who sold the controversial statue of a naked youth or kouros to the Getty in 1983 for $10 million.
The Miho Museum has been mentioned during the current Rome trial of the dealer Robert Hecht and the former Getty curator Marion True. Reports suggest that some 50 objects in the Miho Museum are under investigation by the Italian authorities.
In a recently released statement, Cambridge University archaeology professor Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn drew attention to the unresolved case of the Miho Museum. He suggested that the museum did not appear to maintain internationally accepted standards for the acquisition of antiquities.
The Italian authorities have reclaimed over 120 objects from North American public and private collections without resorting to legal action. Has the time come for the Miho Museum to resolve the dispute with Italy and come to a workable agreement that would allow all or some of the objects claimed by Italy to return to the country where they appear to have been found?
SOURCE Looting Matters