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January 9, 2014

Thursday, January 09, 2014 - , No comments

Destruction of Art in War: Fire and Water -- The revenge tragedy that caused the destruction of the Library at Nineveh

Clay tablet from the Library of Nineveh,
 excavated by A.H. Layard.
 Courtesy of the British Museum

by A.M.C. Knutsson, ARCA Graduate 2013

“I destroyed it more completely than a devastating flood. So that in future days the site of that city and (its) temples would not be recognized, I totally dissolved it with water and made it like inundated land.” [1]
Sennacherib on the annihilation of Babylon 689 BC.

“On the Nth day of the month Âbu they inflicted a major defeat upon a great people. At that time Sin-šar-iškun, king of Assyria, died. They carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple and turned the city into a ruin heap.”[2]
The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle 612 BC

In 612 BC, an army of Medes and Babylonians attacked Nineveh, the capitol of the Assyrian empire and home of the ancient world’s largest library.[3] The city fell 2.5 months later shortly after the death of the Assyrian king, Sin-šar-iškun.[4] The destruction of Nineveh was part of “the revenge tragedy”, the practice of revenge attacks between Assyria and Babylonia.[5] According to a declaration of war commissioned by ruler Nabopolassar, the Babylonians took revenge for the plundered lands and looting of the Esaglia temple and treasury in Babylon.[6] The habitual looting seems to have been commonplace in the ancient Near East, with the movement of cultural objects between different regions, creating an increasingly complex historical record.

The creation of the Royal Library of Nineveh has often been attributed to Ashurbanipal and whilst a large part of the collections were formed by him, the collecting had started earlier. Esarhaddon, Ashurbanipal’s father and predecessor is known to have collected books on protection against curses and illness.[7] He does not seem to have been as scholarly inclined as his son however, and it was not until the reign of Ashurbanipal that the ambitions for a world library emerged.[8]

Ashurbanipal’s great learning and interest in knowledge collecting has been linked to the idea that he was raised into the priesthood, but this remains a speculation.[9] However, there is no doubt that when he came to the throne in 668 BC he had already been immersed in extensive scholarship. In one of his own inscriptions Ashurbanipal states: “I have read cunningly written text(s) in obscure Sumerian (and) Akkadian that are difficult to unravel. I have examined confused kakku sakku inscriptions on stone (dating) from before the Flood.”[10] “Moreover, I, Ashurbanipal, acquired there the craft of Nabû, all scribal learning. I have studied the lore of every single one of the master scholars.”[11] Once in control of Assyria, Ashurbanipal found himself in a position to amass knowledge from all corners of his empire.

Ashurbanipal almost immediately authorised massive acquisitions of books. He commissioned ‘shopping lists’ to be sent out to all parts of the known world, from Egypt to Anatolia, to acquire all the knowledge in the world.[12] Assyria has been compared to Rome in the sense that it had little culture of its own and was therefore inclined to import that of a neighbour. In the case of Assyria this neighbour was Babylonia, which had rich cultural and scholarly traditions as well as a rebellious spirit. [13] Hence, from the very beginning of his reign Ashurbanipal encouraged Babylonian scholars to copy books from the great temple libraries in Babylon and Borsippa for his collections.[14]

However, in 652 BC Ashurbanipal’s brother, the ruler of Babylonia, Šamaš-šum-ukīn rebelled against his brother and relations broke down.[15] It is possible that it was after this betrayal that Ashurbanipal started to be more forceful in his acquisition of books. In 648 BC when Šamaš-šum-ukīn’s uprising finally failed, a great influx of Babylonian writing boards reached Ashurbanipal’s library. These were probably taken as loot or were produced by forced labour.[16] Stories of Babylonian scholars chained up in Assyrian libraries and forced to write down all they knew might have originated from this era.[17]

Image from Hutchinson’s
‘Story of the Nations’
At Ashurbanipal’s death the library seems to have been moved and parts might still be buried under the sand. Twenty-five years later when the Medes reached Nineveh no mercy was shown to the library and it was burnt along with the rest of the city.

Following the burning of Nineveh, the King’s palace and the library were buried under layers of sand and dust. It would not re-emerge until 1849 when Sir Austen Henry Layard rediscovered it. Following extensive excavations of the site the library buildings along with over 20,000 tablets and fragments were revealed,[18] This number represents only a small part of the original library holdings. Most of the stock of the library, containing wax tablets, papyrus and leather scrolls, was destroyed in the destruction of Nineveh and only the clay tablets survived, which were baked in the fire.[19] It is difficult to calculate the extent of the original library and what might have been lost, but a conservative number indicates that a third has survived. However, it is possible that the clay tablets currently known make up a mere 10% of the original library stock.[20] The calculations have been made based on Ashurbanipal’s shopping lists and remain tentative.[21] Even if relying on the more conservative numbers the Royal Library was not of inconsiderable size. The library may have been twice as big as its more famous sister, the Library of Alexandria. [22]

The destruction of the library at Nineveh was by no means an unavoidable occurrence. It seems likely that had the Medes allies, the Babylonians, reached the library before the Medes, matters could have ended very differently. Karen Radner has argued that had the Babylonians reached the library first, it would probably have been looted as they would have been eager to bring the Babylonian texts back to their country of origin.[23] This seems to be supported by a statement made by Nabopolassar in his declaration of war. He exclaimed that in order to avenge the destruction of Babylon he would reclaim the looted temple treasures taken by the Assyrians.[24] Might this also refer to the books which Ashurbanipal acquired from Babylon following the collapse of his brother’s revolt? It is by no means unlikely that the knowledge cherishing Babylonians would have included the writing tablets in this since many had originally come from Babylon or at least been produced by Babylonian scholars.

The fated Library of Nineveh creates an interesting dilemma. Whilst the destruction of the library might at first seem like the worst possible outcome, this is not necessarily the case. If the library had been looted by the Babylonians, it is likely that very little of the material would had survived until today. If texts had survived they would most likely be highly fragmentary, such as the surviving copies of The Epic of Gilgamesh. However, due to the nature of clay tablets, the fire that destroyed the rest of the city baked and preserved these texts, making them stable enough to survive under the desert sand for almost 2,500 years. This ‘destruction’ has left us with the largest ‘intact’ collection of ancient literature in the Near East and an unparalleled tool to interpret the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian worlds.[25]

Furthermore, it has provided modern scholars with the most complete copy of the first known story on earth The Epic of Gilgamesh.[26] Whilst the annihilation of Assyria and destruction of its memory might have been the intended end when the Medes and Babylonians approached the walls of Nineveh, their actions have in fact left us with an unparalleled insight into their previously forgotten world.


Frame, Grant  & George, A.R.,  “The Royal Libraries of Nineveh: New Evidence for King Ashurbanipal’s Tablet Collecting”, Iraq, Vol 67, No 1, (Spring, 2005), p.277

Jastow, Morris, “Did the Babylonian Temples have Libraries?”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol 27 (1906), p.147

MacGinnis, J.D.A., ‘Ctesias and the Fall of Nineveh’, Illinois Classical Studies, Vol 13, No1, pp. 37-8

Menant, Joachim, La Bibliothèque du Palais de Nineve, (1880)

Paulus, Michael J. , “Review: The Buried Book”, The American Archivist, Vol 71, No. 1 (Spring – Summer, 2008), p. 293

Van De Mieroop, Marc, ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Nineveh and Babylon”, Iraq, Vol 66. (2004), p. 3


“The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio

George, Andrew,  “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio

Radner, Karen, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio

Robson, Eleanor, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio

[1] Marc Van De Mieroop, ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Nineveh and Babylon”, Iraq, Vol 66. (2004), p.1
[3] Karen Radner, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio
[4] J.D.A. MacGinnis, ‘Ctesias and the Fall of Nineveh’, Illinois Classical Studies, Vol 13, No1, (1988), pp. 37-8
[5] Marc Van De Mieroop, ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Nineveh and Babylon”, Iraq, Vol 66. (2004), p.1
[6] Ibid, p.3
[7] Grant Frame  & A.R. George, “The Royal Libraries of Nineveh: New Evidence for King Ashurbanipal’s Tablet Collecting”, Iraq, Vol 67, No 1, (Spring, 2005), p.282
[8] Ibid, p.279
[9] “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio
[10] Grant Frame  & A.R. George, “The Royal Libraries of Nineveh: New Evidence for King Ashurbanipal’s Tablet Collecting”, Iraq, Vol 67, No 1, (Spring, 2005), pp.279-80
[11] Ibid, p.280
[12] Karen Radner, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio
[13] Andrew George, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio
[14] Grant Frame  & A.R. George, “The Royal Libraries of Nineveh: New Evidence for King Ashurbanipal’s Tablet Collecting”, Iraq, Vol 67, No 1, (Spring, 2005), p.282
[15] Ibid, p.282
[16] Ibid, p.277
[17] Eleanor Robson, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio
[18] Morris Jastow, Jr., “Did the Babylonian Temples have Libraries?”, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol 27 (1906), p.147
[19] Karen Radner, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio
[20] Ibid
[21] Ibid
[22] Eleanor Robson, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio
[23] Karen Radner, “The Library at Nineveh”, In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, 15 May 2008, Radio
[24] Marc Van De Mieroop, ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Nineveh and Babylon”, Iraq, Vol 66. (2004), p. 3
[26] Michael J. Paulus, Jr., “Review: The Buried Book”, The American Archivist, Vol 71, No. 1 (Spring – Summer, 2008), p. 293

January 8, 2014

Wednesday, January 08, 2014 - No comments

Postcard from Cambridge: Judge Arthur Tompkins revisits Cambridge and its ancient history

This post is the last in a four-part series of Judge Arthur Tompkin's trip last November to Europe -- museums and retail in Paris, presenting at INTERPOL on DNA, and finally revisiting to Cambridge.

by Judge Tompkins

This morning, before dawn, I walked (fortified, it must be said, by a Starbucks coffee from the Market Square … Trust an American multi-national to be up and doing early!) from our room in Caius College through the sleeping and cold town, and up to the top of Castle Hill.  As the name suggests, this is a small, steep-sided hill. It lies just to the west of the Cam, along past Magdelen College. Given its dominating height in an otherwise relentlessly flat landscape, and its position overlooking the uppermost navigable limit of the Cam River, it has been the site of more or less continuous settlement in the local area since the Iron Age. 

Tough Iron-agers built a fort on the hilltop, and surrounded it with small circular stone cottages.  Later on, the Romans came and, as was their wont, crafted a stone-built town surrounded by a wall, to keep the weird-looking local Celts at bay. They hung around, as was also their wont, for a few centuries, but when the legions withdrew back to Rome (only to fall about in seemingly endless and self-destructive civil wars … but that’s a whole other story), the remaining Celts, first without and then with the triumphant Angles and the Saxons, fortified the town further. I’m not sure if the Vikings ever got to Cambridge, but in light of their habit of sailing up the rivers in search of prey, they probably did.

The settlement, along with much of Roman-built Britain, was abandoned in the 6th century, in advance of the long dark years of the Dark Ages.  But then William, passing by after his Conquest in 1066, spotted the strategic importance of the place and built first a wooden keep and motte castle, and later a stone one.  There it stood, brooding in all its Norman staunchness, overlooking the river for a few centuries. Various Tudor kings started to strip some of the stone for use in the building of King’s College Chapel, a process that accelerated under later monarchs. Henry VIII, taking time out from his soap-opera-like matrimonial-centric lifestyle, took more stone to add to his Trinity College, and then his daughter Elizabeth I, the Gloriana, completed the destruction of the Norman castle by selling off the remaining stone (probably to fund her ongoing wars with the Catholic anti-Christ, Phillip of Spain) to various Colleges, who were busily building down in the town, along the riverside. 

But then Cromwell, fresh from relieving Charles I of the troublesome burden of his head, based his Eastern forces at Castle Hill during the Commonwealth, and built a massive, cannon-proof castle atop and around the hill.  By then the centre of the town was very definitely down on the river flats, and after the Restoration, the castle gradually fell into ruin.

So it was to the top of a now bare but still steep grassy knoll that I arrived just as the sun was rising. Stone steps led to the small and bare hilltop. The view was fine, the sky was clear, and a slight frost crackled ever so crunchily underfoot. It was magnificent.

Cambridge was, and remains, a surreal place.  Since I first came here over 30 yeas ago, in substance little has changed.  There have been alterations around the margins – wi-fi in College, no cars in the centre of the city (a Very Good Thing), many more cafes and upmarket boutiques - but step through the porter’s lodge of pretty much any college, and it really has not changed a bit.  There is still the very odd tripartite and tense dynamic of the students (young and feckless), the college staff and fellows (older and less feckless, and the former probably serially unimpressed by, and I would guess sometimes understandably resentful of, the antics of the students) and the townsfolk (living a parallel life alongside to, but very definitely not part of, the Colleges).  

And through it all pass multitudes of tourists, looking and photographing the public face of the colleges, and searching in vain for “the University”. For the most part, they won’t find it. The University, apart from a couple of ceremonial-type buildings right in the very heart of the city – the Senate House and the Old Schools, and even then you have to know what you are looking at – remains relentlessly hidden. Its role is to confer degrees, and to provide formal teaching and laboratories etc. The Colleges, meanwhile, provide accommodation for students and fellows, pastoral care, and informal teaching – the famed Cambridge small-group tutorials known here as supervisions.  

Because of this odd arrangement – found pretty much nowhere else in the world except at Oxford – and their very long and often royal histories, the Colleges, or at least some of them, have become very rich indeed, whilst the University tends to be largely dependent on the whims of central government for its funding.  So it is the colleges who have built the great buildings, King’s Chapel, the Great Court and the Wren Library at Trinity, and the like, whilst the University itself remains an ethereal and elusive non-presence.

So, I bid another farewell to Cambridge and head to London and then, on Friday, back to New Zealand, secure in the knowledge that when I next return, Cambridge will still be here, and it will still be the same…

January 7, 2014

indiegogo campaign to raise funds for Elmyr de Hory documentary includes appearances by 2009 ARCA students

Elmyr de Hory (indiegogo campaign)
Yesterday's email newsletter for the Art Fix Daily ("curated art world news and exclusives") highlighted  the "Documentary Planned on the Life, Art & Lies of Elmyr de Hory" in production with filmmaker Jeff Oppenheim ("Funny Valentine" and "A Passion for Giving") who created an indiegogo campaign last month.

Artfix.Daily reports that the film is expected to be released this summer:
Following the lead of a professional art crime investigator, the producers examine Elmyr’s past, cut through a myriad of aliases, searching for never-before-revealed archival records, police files, and the circumstances contributing to his illicit career.  The team works to unravel the mystery of Elmyr’s true identity, extent of his criminal activity, personal motivations, and unusual and extraordinary talent.  The film also relies in part on the recollections of people who knew Elmyr, including the man who lived with Elmyr for the last ten years of his life and up until the artist’s suicide in 1976.  Footage also includes an interview with Elmyr’s lawyer and long-time friend who stands firm in his conviction that Elmyr would never have gone to jail for his crimes.  Ultimately the film raises the bar with new research that suggests that the number of Elmyr’s fakes might substantially exceed the number previously estimated. 
The documentary also weaves a grander contemporary moralistic narrative. “In part, Real Fake examines the issues of art forgery and the current run-away art market,” says Oppenheim. “However, it also offers us the opportunity to explore the grander themes of what is art, what is the value of art and for that matter how these perceptions enter our own lives outside of the art world on a daily basis.”
The 3-minute Vimeo video part of the fundraising campaign to raise $25,000 by February 3 at "Real Fake -- The Life, Art & Crimes of Elmyr de Hory" includes appearances by Allen Olsen Urtecho, art crime investigator, and Colette (Loll) Marvin, curator -- both of whom attended ARCA's program in art crime studies and cultural heritage preservation in Amelia in 2009.

Colette Loll Marvin spoke in Budapest in 2010 on "Curating Art Crime".

Jonathan Keats wrote about de Hory in his book Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Elmyr de Hory's executor, Mark Forgy, successfully funded a play on the forger on Kickstarter last year (see an earlier ARCA blog post here).

UPDATE: Both Colette Loll and Mark Forgy contacted the ARCA blog after publication of this post and the Artfix.daily. Both Colette Loll and Mark Forgy informed ARCA that they are no longer associated with this documentary film project.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 - , No comments

Postcard from Paris: ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins visits INTERPOL and swabs for DNA analysis

by Judge Arthur Tompkins

INTERPOL is, in popular culture, a near-mythical organisation, one that tends to conjure up an aura of omnipotence and omnipresence, exercising extensive powers and influence, not to mention deploying an army of emblazoned officers to patrol the world’s trouble spots. Every now and then a shadowy black-ops Interpol force supposedly swings into well-oiled action, to keep the world safe from nefarious villains bent on world domination, and then fades back into the shadows from whence it came.

For example, a few years back, in the Hollywood blockbuster, ‘The International’, Clive Owen played an intrepid Interpol officer who single-handedly pursued and destroyed a vast international criminal bank across an ever-changing backdrop of a variety of exotic international locations, enduring but never succumbing to repeated and seemingly never-ending hailstorms of bullets.

The reality is a little more prosaic. INTERPOL’s core business is as an information clearing house, global communications network, database repository, and point of contact between national police forces. It has a staff of about 700, split between permanent and contracted staff, and police officers and other personnel seconded to INTERPOL from member states’ national police forces.  INTERPOL does not itself arrest criminals, nor does it operate any incarceration facilities, - those activities it leaves up to ordinary run of the mill police forces.  It does provide specialist teams to assist in the event of things like mass disasters, very high-profile security assistance, and situations requiring very specialist skill-sets, like dealing with Somali pirates off the coast of West Africa.  It is these folk who you might see wearing and carrying the INTERPOL branding.

It is to the glass and marble headquarters building on the banks of the Rhone River in Lyon, France, that I return every couple of years or so for a regular Forensic DNA Users conference.   Approaching the building, as I usually do atop my Velib bike along a long path lined by tall Plane trees running parallel to the Rhone River, the security arrangements are immediately obvious – a high and spiky-topped green steel fence surrounds the whole building, topped by several parallel strands of what look like (and doubtless are) high voltage wires.  The only way in is through a stylishly designed gatehouse, where one’s passport is scrutinised and checked against a list of names of those expected to pay a visit that day. Bags are X-rayed, bodies are scanned in airlock type thingies with curved glass sliding doors, and then you emerge on the other side to cross a paved open courtyard (this week, usually swept by persistent rain …) to the main front entrance of the building itself. 

Inside things are quite striking. The central core of the building is an airy and light-filled hexagonal central atrium that rises five floors to the glass roof. The floor of the atrium has a large, tiled mosaic of the Interpol crest centred around a world map.  Arrayed around this atrium are several floors of offices, served by glass-sided elevators running up and down the corners of the atrium.   On the ground floor are a large auditorium, where the conference is held, meeting rooms, a substantial dining room and, importantly, a large bar/café presided over by the smoothly balletic Christian – he has been presiding over the Interpol bar for all of the ten years I have been coming here, and he does so with a mesmerisingly smooth grace and economy of movement – never flustered, always elegant and measured and efficient.  An artiste of a barista …

The other notable, and perhaps unexpected, feature is the INTERPOL gift shop. There one can select from a wide range of INTERPOL-crested items, including silk ties and scarves, vases, letter openers, mousepads, children’s wear and other attire.  It also stocks a range of wine – this is France, after all.  Given its location, this shop probably has the lowest rate of stock losses to light-fingered larcenists of any boutique, anywhere.

The other highlight of this year’s conference has been that I now have had done my very own forensic DNA profile. During the conference a number of companies have been displaying the very latest in high-speed DNA analytical engines.  What once took weeks in a specialised lab, using an array of delicate scientific instruments and robotically controlled analytical wizardry operated by a series of highly trained scientists and analysts, can now be done in about 90 minutes in a box roughly the size of a large photocopier (Should you wish to buy one, it will however set you back about US $250,000,000).  I duly scrapped the inside of my cheek with a cotton bud, popped it into the required receptacle, and 90 minutes later my DNA profile popped out. What immediately lept off the page describing my genetic make-up is a glaringly obvious, genetically-based but regionally-variable, vulnerability to sweet treats. In Italy this manifests itself in an irresistible attraction to gelato; here in France it is a similar weakness for  Fauchon-style macaroons. Also discernible is my repetitive tendency to indolence…

I’m thinking of having this printed onto a convenient wallet-sized plastic card. Teamed up with my Vatican library card, the matching pair would provide unique ID cover for both ends of the spectrum – in the spiritual realm with the Vatican card, and in the Darwinian world, my DNA ID …

Au revoir, Lyon.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 - , No comments

Postcard from Paris: Judge Arthur Tompkins writes on 'two extremes of Parisian retail history' and creating art

Painting of Shakespeare & Company, Paris
From the collection of Judge Arthur Tompkins
This post is the second of a four-part series written last autumn during New Zealander's Judge Tompkins sojourn to present papers at an Interpol DNA conference in Lyon. Consider it a warm-up to the ARCA blog traveling to Paris next week.

By Judge Arthur Tompkins

Today [November 2, 2013] I experienced two extremes of Parisian retail history.

First up, Fauchon. Since 1886, from two neighbouring bright pink stores opposite the north-western corner of the Madeleine, Fauchon has catered for the luxury end of the Paris gourmet, gastronome and epicurean market, with a bewildering and hugely tempting array of comestibles – caviar, coffees and teas, and a mouth-watering array of chocolates and biscuits, among very much else – and also served the occasional antipodean interloper.   I ventured in today after a selection of gifts for the family back home, as well as a coffee – having opened the first 'salon de thé' in Paris in 1898, Fauchon’s teas are famous, but coffee is more my legally addictive stimulant of choice.

Having (considerably) lightened my wallet and consumed a fine, although not necessarily fantastic coffee, I bundled my carefully gift-wrapped purchases into the front basket of a Velib bike, and bumped my way across Paris to Shakespeare & Co.

For all sorts of reasons this venerable bookstore across the river is at the other end of the retail spectrum from Fauchon. Ramshackle, crowded, dishevelled, the haunt of aspiring and penurious writers and lovers of literature, and on very many people’s guidebook list of “things-to-see-and-photograph-on-your-iPhone-when-in-Paris”, it sits in a small square with fine views of the front of Notre Dame. Attentive readers may remember that in 2011 I visited the store, with an interesting pictorial result. Here’s my email from that visit:
Dear All,
I spent yesterday, for a couple of hours in the early evening, being photographed by literally dozens of people, and painted by a young woman from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As you do.
As is my wont when in Paris, I visited the Shakespeare & Co bookshop, after a nostalgic visit to the Bibliotheque Mazarin.  After buying a book, the sun was shining, Notre-Dame was gleaming in the afternoon light, the trees were shady, and all was good in the world.  So I took advantage of Shakespeare & Co's hospitality, and sat myself down in a chair by the front door to read.  It turned out that my position was such that every second person who happened along, and who took a picture of the famous storefront, necessarily included me in the picture.  After a while I began to assume a proprietary air, hoping that when they showed their Paris pics to friends and family back home, then would indulge in a little poetic license and describe me as the owner of the legendary bookshop. I lost count after about 35 or so people had taken my picture...
Then a young woman set up an easel right in front of the store, and began to paint.  I stayed in situ long enough to ensure that she painted me in, and had a couple of chats with her as she did so.  She hailed from Tulsa Oklahoma, and was spending the last three weeks of (I think) a summer college vacation in Paris, and wanted to be a painter.  She has promised to email me a photograph of the finished picture.
In fact, I ended up buying the picture from her, and a copy of it is shown above. The original hangs in my library at home – from which it has not, to the best of my knowledge, been stolen by a passing art crime enthusiast. (Although if that  happened, and the felon in question was prepared to swap it for a purloined Vermeer, I saw a nice one in the Louvre yesterday …).

I pursued a similar pastime - sitting and reading  for an hour or so yesterday out the front of the store.  Sadly no itinerant artist happened along to paint my picture. But I am happy to report that I will again appear in a large number of Paris holiday pictures taken by lots of people of a wide variety of digital devices, including several iPads – which do look faintly ridiculous when held up and used as a camera.

George Whitman, the eccentric founder of the store, died at age 98, in his apartment above the store two years ago, as it happens three months after I visited the store in September 2011. Although I don’t think the two events are connected. Here’s his New York Times obituary:

Off to Lyon, and Interpol, tomorrow…

January 5, 2014

Postcard from Paris: ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins on artworks on display with history of theft

Robert-Fluery's 'Last Days of Corinth', Musée d'Orsay
This post begins a four-part series written last autumn during New Zealander's Judge Tompkins sojourn to present papers at an Interpol DNA conference in Lyon. Consider it a warm-up to the ARCA blog traveling to Paris next week.

By Judge Arthur Tompkins

Friday morning the 1st of November, my first day in Paris on this trip, dawned under leaden skies drizzly rain and a cold-ish breeze. Undaunted, and drawing inspiration from the Woody Allen movie, Midnight in Paris, in which the character Gil, played by Owen Wilson, enthuses, “Can you picture how drop dead gorgeous this city is in the rain?”, I set out on a carefully chosen Velib bike from the stand up the street, for an early morning ride around central Paris, in search both of nostalgic sights, and coffee.

My route took me across to and up the middle of Il St Louis, over to Il de la Cite (where there is a huge temporary grandstand in front of Notre Dame, apparently part of the 850 year anniversary commemorations of the cathedral – but it does somewhat spoil one of the great views in Paris, that of a deserted front of Notre Dame as the sun rises), and then across to the Left Bank and along the riverside.

My progress was punctuated by a horn being sounded and an admonitory gallic finger being waved at me by the uniformed driver of a police van, full of what looked liked dishevelled revellers who had crossed paths with the police that night and were being driven into the Conciergerie – although not to the same ultimate fate as an earlier sometime resident of that forbidding police station, Marie-Antoinette, I hoped – as I thought about, but did not, cross a pedestrian crossing on my bike against a red light right in front of his van.

I also managed two very satisfactory coffee stops, in corner cafes that were sleepily opening up in advance of the morning’s onslaught of workers and tourists.

Vincent van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet"
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
I had decided to visit the Musée d'Orsay and then in the afternoon I planned to head to the Louvre. The former was achieved after a 30 minute wait in line, in the drizzly rain, and was as rewarding as ever. An unexpected highlight was turning a corner and coming face to face with Robert-Fluery’s ‘Last Days of Corinth’ – which my students from this year will undoubtedly remember that I used in my Art Crime course when discussing Rome’s sack of Corinth in 149BC, and also two in particular of the many Van Goghs. The first was a self-portrait sold by the Nazis in 1939 at the notorious degenerate art auction held at the Fischer Gallery in Switzerland; the second a version of the infamous Portrait of Dr Gachet, acquired by Goering and traded by him to a dealer in Amsterdam, from where it eventually ended up being purchased by a Japanese industrialist [the Musée d'Orsay's Portrait of Dr. Gachet entered the state collection in 1949].

After lunch, a drizzly walk across the Tuileries Gardens, with a small detour to pay homage to Rose Valland’s memorial plaque on the corner of the Jeu de Paume, took me to the Louvre. The vast queue at the main entrance was avoided by buying my ticket in the hidden-away Tabac store in the nearby underground shopping centre, and then using the priority entry lane, and a lovely three hours followed.  Huge crowds were, as always, overlooking the largest stolen painting on public display anywhere in the world – Veronese’s "The Wedding at Cana" – by concentrating on the Mona Lisa on the opposite wall, and also largely ignoring the other da Vinci paintings in the Grand Gallery nearby, including his John the Baptist, supposedly da Vinci’s last painting, which was acquired by King Charles I but then sold to the French by Cromwell’s Commonwealth after Charles was executed.

My time in the Louvre was also marked by an entertaining vignette, which took place in front of Uccello’s Battle of Romano – one of three paintings that make up the series, the other two being in the Uffizi and London’s National Gallery. Seated on the bench in front of the painting, an American man was talking loudly and long on his cellphone, discussing for all to hear, and in some detail, the structuring of an investment “opportunity”, whilst his wife sat next to him, a look of increasing annoyance on her face, her body language speaking volumes of the way in which her husband was ruining the much-anticipated (by her) and expensive (to him, no doubt) visit to the Louvre.  My guess is they had words later …

I also hunted out the Louvre’s two Vermeers, the Lacemaker and the Astronomer. The latter, reputedly Hitler’s favourite painting, was looted by the Nazis after the occupation of Paris from the Rothschilds and hung in the Jeu de Paume for inspected there by Herman Goering, but ultimately sent to Germany and intended as the centrepiece of Hitler’s Linz Museum. In the latter part of the war, after the Normandy landings, it was stored in the Aut Ausee saltmine, and rescued from there by American troops, as a result of the work done by the Monuments Men.

January 4, 2014

Saturday, January 04, 2014 - ,, No comments

East African vigangos: Difficulties American Museums Encounter in returning these sacred items (Tom Mashberg for The New York Times)

From the Denver Museum of Nature
& Science via The New York Times:
three totem poles (vigangos)
Tom Mashberg for The New York Times in "Sending Artworks Home but to Whom? Denver Museum to Return Totems to Kenyan Museum" (January 3, 2014) points out the difficulty American museums have in returning the East African memorial totems known as vigango:
Now, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science says it has devised a way to return the 30 vigango it received as donations in 1990 from two Hollywood collectors, the actor Gene Hackman and the film producer Art Linson. The approach, museum officials say, balances the institution’s need to safeguard its collection and meet its fiduciary duties to benefactors and the public with the growing imperative to give sanctified objects back to tribal people. 
“The process is often complicated, expensive and never straightforward,” said Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, the museum’s curator of anthropology. “But just because a museum is not legally required to return cultural property does not mean it lacks an ethical obligation to do so.” 
The museum this month will deliver its 30 vigango (pronounced vee-GON-go; the singular form is kigango) to the National Museums of Kenya. Officials there will choose whether to display the objects, hunt through the nation’s hinterlands for their true owners and original sites, or allow them to decay slowly and ceremoniously, as was intended by their consecrators. Whatever they opt to do, Kenyan officials say, sovereignty over the objects should be theirs and not in the hands of foreign museums. (The details of the transfer are still being negotiated.) 
Some 20 institutions in the United States own about 400 of the totems, according to Monica L. Udvardy, a professor of anthropology at the University of Kentucky and an expert on Kenyan culture who has studied and tracked vigango for 30 years. She said that Kenyans believe that vigango are invested with divine powers and should never have been removed from their sites and treated as global art commodities. Kenyan officials have made constant pleas to have the objects sent back.
But repatriating them takes far more than addressing a parcel. No federal or international laws prevent Americans from owning the totems, while Kenyan law does not forbid their sale. And the Kenyan government says that finding which village or family consecrated a specific kigango is arduous, given that many were taken more than 30 years ago and that agricultural smallholders in Kenya are often nomadic. 
A result is that museum trustees seeking legally to relinquish, or deaccession, their vigango have no rightful owners to hand them to.

January 3, 2014

Friday, January 03, 2014 - , No comments

Resistance fighter and Paris art dealer René Gimpel died on this day in a concentration camp in 1945

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

On this date, January 3, in 1945, Paris art dealer René Gimpel (born 1881), brother-in-law of the art dealer Joseph Duveen, died in Neungamme concentration camp.

In The Rape of Europa, Lynn Nicholas recounts that René Gimpel, had traveled the year before his death to Geneva to see an exhibit of paintings from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Barcelona after General Franco paused 'bombing operations so that the paintings could be removed' to safety during the Spanish Civil War:
In an extraordinary international effort, a Committee for the Salvage of Spanish Art Treasures, cooperating with the League of Nations, as well as French and British cultural agencies, backed by private money raised in a little more than twenty-four hours from collectors in Europe and America, organized a truck convoy to move the collection to France. There the precious cases were loaded on a special twenty-two-car train and taken to a Geneva, where they were exhibited in a show not likely to be equalled, for these are things which never normally travel, and certainly not en mass: all the great Velázquezes, Bruegel's Triumph of Death, 26 El Grecos, 38 Goyas, Dürer's Self-Portrait: 174 paintings in all.
Anyone who could, from Kenneth Clark and Bernard Berenson to Matisse and Picasso, travelled the long road to see it. Late in August one of the last visitors, the Paris dealer René Gimpel, wrote in his diary [on August 24 from Geneva, in the second to last entry of his journal]:
The conflagaration is not far from bursting in upon us. We have been here for forty-eight hours to see the Prado Exhibition... Death hangs over our heads, and if it must take us, this last vision of Velázquez, Greco, Goya, Roger van der Weyden, will have made a fine curtain.
Gimpel's book, Journal d'un Collectionneur (Diary of an art dealer, 1966, English translation by Joseph Rosenberg), recounted the art world between the wars 1918-1939, citing sales and prices of art, giving his opinions in brief posts like this one on 'March 12, 1918/Fake painting':
A fake Gainsborough, a Blue Boy, has just been knocked down at the Hearn sale in New York for more than $32,000. It's harder to sell a genuine painting.
Gimpel wrote on March 25, 1924, under the heading "Vandals":
A specialist in Egyptian art has told me that he is waiting for a large Egyptian statue. To get it out of Egypt, it was cut into forty-six pieces, and the work of reconstitution is being done in Paris. This happens every day.
His last entry: "September 3/Paris, We're at war."

Sir Herbert Read writes in the introduction of the 1966 translated journal that René Gimpel's father, who established the family gallery in Paris in 1889, had been an Alsatian 'who had come to the French capital because as a French citizen he could not tolerate the terms of the Treaty of 1871':
René Gimpel was imbued with the same spirit of revolt, and during the Second World War he and his sons were to participate actively in the Resistance. René was eventually interned by the Vichy authorities for his underground activities, released in 1942 but then re-arrested by the Germans. In prison he taught English to his fellow prisoners, to prepare them, as he said, for the liberation. He was sent with a convoy to Germany and suffered great hardships under which his healthy finally broke down. 
Louis Martin-Chauffier, fellow-prisoner in Neuengamme concentration camp toward the end of 1944, described his end in a letter written some years later to Jean Guehenno (quoted in M. Guehenno's Preface to the original French edition of the journal): "Physically he was no more than a shadow of his former self, as was usually the case with all of them, but morally he had not changed, and that is infinitely rarer. Knowing that he was soon to die, he continued as if nothing was happening, to speak of life and to give to his companions, overwhelmed by exhaustion, despair, and disgust, the example of the serenity of a man who, having nothing more to lose and having done what he can, is left with only one duty, which is not to flinch and to help others."
René Gimpel's papers are archived at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.

Postcard from Turkey: Archaeological museums in Ankara and Istanbul

by Aaron Haines

Ankara, the capital of Turkey, is slated to host a massive archaeology museum that the Turkish government hopes to complete by 2023, the centennial of the founding of the Republic of Turkey. The current archaeology museum is a sizeable building and when I visited in August, only two of the galleries were open due to extensive renovations that were taking place in the museum’s other galleries. The interior of the main gallery was dark with dramatic lighting illuminating the artifacts on display. There was a large amount of Hittite artifacts with detailed text panels in Turkish and English explaining the history and significance of the Hittite civilization and their archaeological remains.

The crowning piece of the main gallery was the “Troy Gold”, a collection of jewelry recently sent to Turkey on indefinite loan by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The museum in Ankara had hung a large banner at the entrance proudly advertising the return of the artifacts. The collection of jewelry was on display at the back of the gallery where a matching banner had been hung. The jewelry was well displayed and the necklace and earrings had been placed on a stylized head to give the viewer an idea of how they would have looked when worn. The only other part of the museum that was open was a small gallery displaying various Roman artifacts. The side yard was littered with massive half buried amphoras as well as various capitals and partial columns. In the spacious courtyard were copies of various statues from the Hittites, Romans, and other civilizations.

The Istanbul Archaeological Museum is an older building that was also undergoing extensive renovations when I visited it in August. The permanent collection in the main building was open as well as the galleries containing the Greek and Roman sarcophagi. It was clear that the main building was intended as a space for a permanent collection as many of the artifacts were built into the wall or had special pavement around them. The amount of cameras seemed adequate, but there were very few guards in relation to the amount of patrons in the museum. However, the museum was experiencing an unusually high amount of attendance that day since the Topkapi Palace was closed. The display cases appeared to only have simple locks and no seals. The lighting was sufficient, but only a few of the display cases had individual lights.

Due to the renovations, patrons had to use the restrooms in the administration building. This required them to walk down a narrow hallway and turn a couple of corners before reaching the restroom. This would have be insignificant had it not been for the archaeological artifacts haphazardly lining the walls and the open storage room stacked with crates containing other artifacts. There were no cameras in this area of the building, but the security guards’ break room was in the same hallway. The guards frequently came in and out of the hall providing the artifacts with a reasonable amount of security.

The gallery containing the Greek and Roman sarcophagi and architectural remains were similar to the gallery in the Ankara museum with its completely dark rooms and the dramatic lighting of the artifacts. All the artifacts were well displayed and there were many more guards in this area of the museum, especially in those rooms containing the large sarcophagi. The small gallery containing the Classical statuary was particularly well displayed with lots of camera surveillance. At the end of this small gallery was a large room occupied by only the Orpheus Mosaic returned by the Dallas Museum of Art. Next to it, the text panels describe the history and significance of the piece as well as its recent repatriation from the Dallas Museum of Art.

Aaron Haines is a senior majoring in art history at Brigham Young University and traveled to Turkey this summer using grant moneys from the BYU Office of Research and Creative Activities to observe the security of four archaeology museums. He visited the archaeology museums in Uşak, Boğazkale, Ankara, and Istanbul each of which houses artifacts that have been recently repatriated by Turkey from other countries. Aaron has a special interest in cultural property law and preservation as it applies to Italy and Turkey and speaks Italian and some Turkish. He recently returned from an internship at the American Embassy in Rome and is currently interning with the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center.

January 1, 2014

Celebrate the new year revisiting the 1996 art heist movie "How to Steal a Million": stolen art, forgery, Paris, and Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn

ARCAblog subscriber Susan Rosenberg wrote in to recommend the 1966 comedy movie "How to Steal a Million" starring Peter O'Toole (1932 - 2013) and Audrey Hepburn (1929 - 1993). Ms. Hepburn portrays the daughter of a forger (played by Hugh Griffith) who tries to steal her father's work back from a museum in Paris. This movie was filmed on location in Paris.

In the movie, the two thieves rendezvous in the bar at the Ritz Hotel in Paris the day after committing the robbery: "We did it! Did you see the paper and the television? Did you hear the radio? It's the crime of the century, practically, and we did it!"

Here's a link to a preview of the movie.

Happy New Year!