Under the threat of a boycott from Greece, the Louvre Museum in Paris has withdrawn a request to the Cleveland Museum of Art to borrow and exhibit an ancient bronze statue of Apollo, which Greece believes may have been illegally acquired.
Timothy Rub, director of the Cleveland museum, said Tuesday that he still has not been contacted directly by Greece about its claims regarding the Apollo, which he called "unsubstantiated."
He said he would try to contact Greek authorities to discuss the Apollo.
The rising dispute over the sculpture, which stands 5 feet tall and is attributed to the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles, is the latest chapter in the effort by Italy, Greece and other "source countries" rich in ancient treasure to shut down the black market in looted antiquities.
Italy and Greece have already launched negotiations with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and other museums to have antiquities returned.
Rub agreed recently to meet in Rome with Italian cultural authorities to discuss claims that unspecified antiquities in the Cleveland collection were looted from Italian soil.
He said that "if the museum acquires an object and it is proven after the fact that it was wrongly acquired, the museum would feel duty-bound to return it to its rightful owner."
In the case of the Cleveland Apollo, Agence France-Presse reported in December that Greek officials had asked the Louvre not to exhibit the sculpture, saying that it was probably sold illegally after having been found in the 1990s by an Italian vessel in international waters between Italy and Greece.
The report, which did not name the source of the accusation, said Greece was threatening to withhold loans of artworks to the Louvre exhibition.
As of Tuesday, Maria Pantou, director of the Ministry of Culture in Athens, had not responded to a fax sent to her office in January by The Plain Dealer requesting information about the Greek allegations. Her name and contact information were provided by officials at the Greek Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Petros Tsarouchis, an embassy spokesman, said Tuesday he couldn't comment on the Apollo, because he had no specific information about the issue.
The Cleveland museum, which bought the Apollo in 2004, has said its research shows that corrosion and welds on the surface of the sculpture prove it has been out of the ground at least a century or longer, and thus is not covered by recent laws aimed at preventing the ongoing looting of ancient sites.
The research also shows that the work was not recovered from the sea.
Furthermore, the museum has signed statements from a German lawyer who said the work belonged to his family during the middle years of the 20th century.
Archaeologists and cultural officials in America, England and Italy have nevertheless deplored the purchase of the Apollo by Cleveland, saying that the museum's research did not prove without a doubt that the work was free of taint, and that such purchases only encourage tomb raiders to continue looting.
But Rub said in an e-mail that "the museum has no reason to assume that the acquisition of the statue was not in conformance with all applicable laws."
Al Schlaf remarks:
Wow, this just gets more and more bizarre.
Greece is saying the statue was found in international waters by some unspecified Italian vessel, but can't or won't back up this allegations.
Additionally, unspecified "Archaeologists and cultural officials in America, England and Italy..." claim the Cleveland Museum has not proven "without a doubt" that it is looted. Just what sort of proof would satisfy them? I seriously doubt any would. It is more likely that it is just jealousy that they didn't get their hands on it first.
The Cleveland Museum has, at least in my view, done an excellent job in due diligence and has solid refutation of all the accusations, just on the basis of the testing and conservation of the piece.
Worth noting as well is a (still online) piece from Kathimerini from back in 2004:
What generations of an east German family thought of as a piece of neoclassical garden sculpture was tentatively associated yesterday by a US museum with one of the greatest lost masterpieces of ancient Greek statuary.
For the time being, the Cleveland Museum of Art is fighting shy of a direct claim linking the slender bronze youth it bought from an international antiquities dealer with the Apollo Sauroktonos — the lizard-slayer — fashioned by Praxiteles in the fourth century BC.
Praxiteles, active from 380 to 325 BC, is among the top five ancient Greek sculptors. A marble statue of Hermes discovered in Olympia in 1877 and exhibited at the local museum is considered to be the only surviving piece fashioned by the artist.
“It is very important for us to make claims we can prove,” Museum Director Katharine Lee Reid told the New York Times. “We all feel strongly that it is early and very important.”
The 1.5-meter-high bronze of the youthful god aiming a dart at a lizard on a tree replicates the two surviving marble copies of Praxiteles’ Apollo that were made during Roman times. But Cleveland Museum experts believe it is an earlier work.
“This magnificent sculpture has several stylistic and technical features that we associate with monumental Classical Greek bronzes, and ancient testimony attributing to Praxiteles and Apollo Sauroktonos in bronze greatly adds to the work’s importance,” Michael Bennet, the museum’s curator of Greek and Roman Art, said yesterday.
The museum bought the work from the Geneva gallery of Phoenix Ancient Art Dealers. It had belonged to a family in east Germany (before WWII) which used it as a garden ornament, believing it dated to the 18th or 19th century. After the war, it was cut into pieces.
... this 'found in international waters' thing just surfaced this past December and I have yet to see anything other than passing mention of it.