October 3, 2014

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis provides three images from Becchina archive of Roman marble head of Hermes Propylaios recently pulled from Bonhams auction in London


Hermes Image #1
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

As pointed out in David Gill’s blog “LootingMatters”, journalist Euthimis Tsiliopoulos reported that a Roman marble head of Hermes Propylaios listed on an electronic Bonhams London auction catalogue was withdrawn from the sale at the request of Greece’s Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property of the Ministry of Culture and Sport (“Hermes head withdrawn from auction”, Times of Change, October 1, 2014):

"Since the head is displayed in seized photographs, which show a possible origin and illegal export from Greece, the Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property immediately proceeded in contacting the auction house asking for more details on the origin of object. After further investigation and documentation, the Directorate called for the immediate withdrawal of the object subject to any statutory right of the Greek government. Finally, the auction house had to remove the head from the auction for the first time and referred the Greek government to get in direct contact with the alleged owner."

Hermes Image #2
Bonham’s published in its catalogue that the marble Hermes had been in the "Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva” five years prior to the 1970 UNESCOConvention designed to stop the profitable trade of recently looted antiquities. As documented in the 2007 book “The Medici Conspiracy” by Watson andTodeschini, Nikola Koutoulakis was an illicit antiquities dealer who has been involved in the trade of several antiquities looted from Greece, Italy and Egypt after the 1970 Convention, some of which were recently repatriated to the countries of their origin.

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a Research Assistant with Trafficking Culture Project,University of Glasgow, provided three images of this object to the ARCA blog as it appeared in the “Becchina archives”, the set of Polaroids and business documents confiscated by Italian and Swiss authorities in 2002 and 2005 from the Basel premises of Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina (convicted in Italy in 2011 of illegally dealing in antiquities, http://traffickingculture.org/encyclopedia/case-studies/gianfranco-becchina/). For more information, here's an interview Dr. Tsirogiannis gave last summer.

As Tsirogiannis wrote to Gill:

I also identified the object in the Becchina archive. The origin of the head is Greece, because it is a Greek looter named Costas Gaitanis (from Herakleion, Krete) who sent to Becchina on May 29th, 1987 the Polaroids depicting the head. The envelope containing the Polaroids arrived in Switzerland (Basel, at Becchina's gallery) on June 1st, 1987. The envelope is included in a larger file that Becchina kept regarding dealings he had with a Greek middleman named Zenebisis. The same file includes the image of the gold wreath that the Greek state repatriated from the Getty Museum.

Hermes Image #3
Dr. Tsirogiannis identified the images published here as:

Hermes #1: Five Polaroid images depicting the marble head (photographed from different angles) on a brown blanket and on a cement floor with a cigarette butt nearby. The page, where the Polaroids are attached, is bearing the name of the Greek middleman ‘Zene[bisis]’. An image of a vase, not related to the marble head, is attached (upper right corner of the page).

Hermes #2: Two more Polaroid images of the marble head and the back of the envelope that contained them. The stamp reads: ‘BASEL 1-6-87’.

Hermes #3:  The same two Polaroid images of the marble head and the front of the envelope that contained them. The stamp reads: ‘ATHENS 29-V-87’.

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