In his column "Context Matters" for tenth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Professor David Gill writes on “The Cleveland Apollo Goes Public”:
In September 2013, the classical bronze statue known as the Cleveland Apollo went on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art, as part of a special focus exhibition, “Praxiteles: the Cleveland Apollo” (September 29,￼￼ 2013-January 5, 2014). The statue had been purchased in 2004. The installation is accompanied by a fully illustrated handbook by Cleveland curator, Michael Bennett (Bennett 2013). This statue appears to represent the Apollo Sauroktonos, a work attributed to the classical sculptor Praxiteles. Its addition to the corpus of attributable works post-dates Aileen Ajootian’s study of Praxiteles (Ajootian 1996, esp. 116-22). Bennett makes a number of important art historical observations in his study, not least in the possible association of the statue with Delphi, and the more radical suggestion that Apollo is not skewering a “lizard” but rather the Delphic Python. But such points, though interesting and worth exploring, need not detain us here. (As an aside, the “lizard” is an important play of words in the ownership of a Roman marble copy of the Apollo Sauroktonos by Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, a work bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam Museum: Darracott 1980, 120 [ill.]).
￼Bennett has chosen to go beyond an art historical study of the statue to launch a strong-worded defence for the right of museums to acquire newly-surfaced works. There are two areas worth exploring at this point: first, the collecting history of the history and the supporting scientific analyses; second, the wider debate about collecting and archaeological ethics.
The acquisition of the Apollo is placed by Bennett in the long tradition of collecting antiquities that can be traced back to antiquity; this is an area now explored by Margaret M. Miles (Miles 2008). The removal of cultural property from one location to another can indeed be traced to antiquity. During the second millennium BCE, looted Middle Kingdom Egyptian inscribed funerary sculpture can be found redistributed in the Sudan, Anatolia, and Crete (Gill and Padgham 2005). In modern times, Grand Tourists acquired classical sculptures in Italy and displayed them in their country houses (e.g. Haskell and Penny 1981). Thus the collection formed by Thomas Brand and Thomas Brand Hollis (and displayed at The Hyde in Essex, England) went on to become the core of the Disney bequest to the University of Cambridge (Gill 1990a; Gill 2004). The enlightenment values that placed such emphasis on classical sculptures can be found in the roots of the great encyclopaedic British Museum, the repository for world cultures (Wilson 2002). But should the “plundering” of sites like Tivoli to provide items for visitors to Rome be considered in the same way as the deliberate destruction of a temple to the Roman imperial cult in the late twentieth century, to generate bronze imperial statues for the market (see Kozloff 1987)? Is the “exploration” of tombs in the area round the Bay of Naples to yield items for the Hamilton collection (Jenkins and Sloan 1996) the same as the deliberate destruction of Apulian tombs using mechanical diggers in the late twentieth century (Graepler and Mazzei 1996; Watson 1997)?
Professor David Gill is Head of the Division of Humanities and Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus Suffolk, Ipswich, England. He is a former Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome, and was a Sir James Knott Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was previously a member of the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology at Swansea University (where he also chaired the university's e-learning sub-committee). He is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. he is the holder of the 2012 Archeological Institute of America (AIA) Outstanding Public Service Award, and the 2012 SAFE Beacon Award. He has published widely on archaeological ethics with Christopher Chippindale. He wrote a history of British archaeological work in Greece prior to the First World War in Sifting the Soil of Greece: The Early Years of the British School at Athens (1886 - 1919) (Bulletin of the Institute of Classics Studies, Supplement 111; London: Institute of Classical Studies, 2011), xiv + 474 pp.