December 28, 2014

Columnist David Gill writes in Context Matters on "Learning from the Herm: The Need for more Rigorous Due Diligence Searches" in the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
   ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

In the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, columnist David Gill writes in Context Matters on "Learning from the Herm: The Need for more Rigorous Due Diligence Searches":
The antiquities department of Bonhams planned to offer a Roman herm for auction on October 2, 2014 (lot 41). The herm was estimated to be sold for £10,000 to £15,000. It seems to be a Roman copy of the Hermes Propylaios set up next to the late 5th century BC monumental gateway, the Propylaia, at the entrance to the Athenian acropolis. The statue was observed there by the second century AD travel-writer Pausanias (I.22.8). The herm is known from a copy found at Pergamon in November 1903 (CS 1904) and now in Istanbul (Boardman 1985: 212, fi g. 189). The inscription on the stela reads in Greek: “You will recognise the fine state statue by Alkamenes, the Hermes before the Gates. Pergamios gave it. Know thyself” (trans. Boardman).
The display of such a statue in this royal city was unsurprising given the deliberate allusions to the city of Athens, and in particular to the Athenian acropolis, by the Attalids in the design. Andrew Stewart has suggested that a second type of herm is represented by an inscribed copy found in the Gymnasium of Vedius at Ephesus (Stewart 2003a; 003b). 
On 2 October 2014, the day of the Bonhams sale, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis was able to identify the Bonhams herm from the photographs and paperwork seized from the Italian dealer Gianfranco Becchina in Basle, Switzerland in May 2002 (Gill 2009, 78-79). The images were found in a fi le relating to Becchina’s associations with a Greek individual by the name of Zenebisis. The envelope containing the images were sent by Georgios Papadakis from Herakleion in Crete; the envelope is franked with the date 29 May 1987. The letter arrived in Basel (and was franked) on 1 June 1987. Someone has written on the envelope the name of Costas Gaitanis. Is Georgios Papadakis a genuine or a cover name? Why should Gaitanis be sending images to Becchina? Did Gaitanis have the herm in Greece? The evidence from the Becchina dossier suggests that the herm was being offered on the market in May 1987. 
Yet there is a problem. The herm offered at Bonhams was given a precise collecting history: “Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva, acquired circa 1965, thence by descent”. This placed the herm in the period prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. But how could the herm apparently be on the Greek market in 1987, but at the same time have already been acquired by Koutoulakis in 1965 and then passed down as part of his collection by descent?
David Gill is Professor of Archaeological Heritage and Head of the Division of Humanities at University Campus Suffolk. He was a Rome Scholar at the British School of rome and a Sir James Knott Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was subsequently part of the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology at Swansea University, Wales, UK. He has published widely on archaeological ethics with Christopher Chippindale. He has recently completed a history of British archaeological work in Greece prior to the First World War.

The complete column is published in the current issue of The Journal of Art Crime.  Subscriptions to The Journal of Art Crime or individual copies of eEditions or printed issues may be obtained through ARCA's website here.

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