August 6, 2013

Restitution: Mosaic of Orpheus Returned to Turkey on Display at Istanbul's Archaeological Museum

The Mosaic of Orpheus on display in a
 room at the Istanbul Arcaeological Museum.
(Photo by C. Sezgin)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The Mosaic of Orpheus, returned to Turkey by the Dallas Museum of Art in 2012, has a room of its own at  the Istanbul Archaeological Museum to celebrate the Roman artwork's return to "the lands where it belongs to".

Information at the Istanbul museum introducing the piece to visitors omits any mention of the collecting history of this object. The mosaic is described as showing the poet Orpheus taming wild beasts with his lyre. To the left of his head, an inscription in Assyrian identifies the artist as Bărsaged, a mosaic master. At the bottom next to his feet, a second inscription in Assyrian is from 'Păpa, the son of Păpa,' who in April 505 (according to the Selevkos calendar used in Edessa in 194 AD) ‘made this resting room for me and for my children and for my successors. Let him be blessed who sees it and preys’, according to the printed sign on display in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The ‘signature’ of the mosaic master Bărsaged is the only example found amongst the group of mosaics found in Edessa (Şanliurfa in southeastern Turkey).

Side view of the Mosaic of Orpheus
The marble mosaic from the Eastern Roman Empire was purchased by the Dallas Museum of Art from Christie's in New York on December 9, 1999. The Dallas Art Museum has a long explanation on its website for the deaccessioning of "Orpheus Taming Wild Animals"
CRITERIA FOR DEACCESSIONING: A request from the Turkish government for restitution, with compelling evidence, including photographs of the mosaic in situ, that the object was looted and/or illegally exported 
A. Two newly recovered in situ photos of the mosaic showing it being removed by the smugglers. The photographs also show the full work with its decorative borders intact, prior to it being removed from the ground. The photographs were printed by a local photo shop in Sanliurfa and are currently evidence in a criminal investigation being carried out by the Sanliurfa Head Prosecutor in order to identify everyone involved in the crime.
B. Expertise reports prepared by various scientists, art historians, and archaeologists offering comparisons to other mosaics from Edessa (modern city of Sanliurfa) and arguing that various stylistic and iconographic similarities prove it was smuggled from the region.
a. Assistant Professor Dr. Baris Salman, Ahi Evran University, Faculty of Art and Science, Department of Archaeology:
Mosaic close-up: Orpheus with his lyre

i. Stylistically and iconographically similar to other Edessa mosaics. Specifically, the inscription is similar both in style and content to other Edessa mosaics. The Syriac script used originated in Edessa. Other features typical of the area include the absence of depth, the light colors, and the expression and facial features. The date indicated in the inscription falls within the period of mosaic construction in Edessa.
b. Hakki Alhan, Archaeologist, and Taner Atalay, Analyst, Gaziantep Museum, Turkey:
i. Concluded that the composition style, animal figures, and especially the Syriac inscription have features of the Assyrian Kingdom, appearing in Sanliurfa precincts in the 3rd century A.D., and was smuggled from the region.
c. Eyüp Bucak, Archaeologist, and Hamza Güllüce, Archaeologist from the Sanliurfa Museum:
i. Was not one of the documented mosaics in the area, but concluded that the composition, the figures, and the tesserae’s dark lines reflect features of Assyrian mosaics appearing in the region during the 3rd century A.D.
d. L. Zoroglu, Selcuk University, Faculty of Science and Art, Department of Archaeology, Konya:
i. Compared it to another Edessa mosaic and concluded it was smuggled from the region because they both include Chaldean inscriptions indicating the date of the artifact, showing that they were created around the same time. It also has a common subject of the region.
e. Müslüm Ercan, Archaeologist, and Bülent Üçdag, Art Historian, Sanliurfa Museum:
i. Cites the Syriac inscription, the figure and his clothing, and the in situ photographs as evidence of being from Edessa. It was made by the same artist as another Edessa mosaic (name is included in the inscription) and have identified it as belonging to a rock tomb located in Kalkan District in Sanliurfa.
f. Assistant Professor Dr. Mehmet TOP, Yusuneu Yil University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Art History:
i. Concluded that the mosaic is an artifact from Sanliurfa based on the early Assyrian inscription and its similarity with the other Orpheus mosaic from Edessa.
Photo from Dallas Museum of Art
Orpheus mosaic in situ. This photograph was provided by the Sanliurfa Prosecutor's Office. It is evidence in a criminal prosecution within Turkey against looters. The mosaic's border is visible in this photograph; it was missing when the DMA purchased the mosaic, presumably removed by looters because it was incomplete. The canister visible in the lower right contains a Turkish brand of glue, which looters--not archaeologists--would have used to make repairs.

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