Sunday, February 5, 2012

American Academic Opposes Italian Repatriation

In the comments section of a Planet Princeton article 'Princeton University Returns Art to Italy', Florida-based US academic Dr Robert Steven Bianchi („Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art and archaeology, modern art” "President at Bianchi Associates, Inc" and a Lecturer in the firm "Archaeological Tours") reacted in the same way as many collectors' lobbyists:
The repatriation of these objects is absurd in the extreme. The Italians boast of their ability to repatriate works of art but simultaneously cannot manage their vast cultural heritage. The deplorable conditions at Pompeii and the condition of the sites in Rome itself, particularly that of the Colosseum are but two examples of the hypocrisy – the Italians cannot take care of their own so they launch witch hunts against those who cherish, protect, preserve, and educate the world about that heritage in order to conceal their own disregard for and indifference toward their own cultural property.
The objects in question were returned to Italy it seems in absence of any evidence that they had left the country by lawful means, so it is not really a question of Italy "boasting" of its "ability to repatriate" unlawfully appropriated items.

It is likening chalk to cheese to compare the preservation of portable antiquities in collections with massive roofless ruins (non-portable antiquities) in the open air. The American mentions the Colosseum, this Flavian building has stood in the centre of the city for coming up to two thousand years. After it went out of use for its original purpose, it has been damaged by stone robbers and earthquakes in Antiquity. By the 1640s the ruins were so overgrown that a botanist found over 3200 species of plants growing on, in and around its walls. Nearly 400 years later then, no wonder that there are problems with slowing down the dynamics of disintegration.

Here's a recent photograph of the Colosseum which illustrates the sort of problems the American's comparison ignores. Instead of sniping, one would have thought the US academic would have made a more useful contribution by coming up with an idea how to protect the fragile ruins already damaged by 2000 years wear and tear from wind, rain, frost, alternate heating and cooling cycles, rising ground water, tourist erosion and all the other effects which threaten these sites. Simply suggesting other countries (scil. his own) hang on to the smaller stolen artefacts does not really seem to me to be very helpful approach to the wider problem.

Phot. Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

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