Saturday, November 24, 2012

Online Petition to Rescue the Halicarnassus Mausoleum from the British Museum

Matthew Taylor's "Elginism" blog has a text about an online petition to get the british Museum to hand over the bits of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus from near Bodrum that they've got. It seems some groups in Turkey have  been campaigning for their return for some time. You can add your signature to their petition here (neat video).

On the topic, Matthew Taylor also cites a brief article in English on the topic, 'Campaign started for relic', from Hurriyet Daily News - November 23/2012:
A digital signature campaign has been initiated ahead of a lawsuit that will be opened at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in January for the return to Turkey of the Halicarnassus Mausoleum. According to a written statement, several artists have signed the campaign on the website The signatures will be collected as part of the lawsuit lawyer Remzi Kazmaz will file, with 30 other lawyers, at the ECHR on Jan. 30. A documentary film about the event will also be included in the lawsuit. Directed by Kazmaz, the 32-minute film “Aşkın Mabedi-Maussolleion” is the story of the ancient treasure being taken out of Turkey. The film, which also has an English version, will be viewed by ECHR officials as well as sold in music stores across Turkey. 

Take a look at the heroic reconstruction of the monument in the video and ask yourself how the fragments removed to a room in a london Museum can ever hope to give a proper representation of that?  To what aim are they kept in London, if not mere trophies, like the bit of the Sphinx's beard?

Source: Elginism, 'Online petition to return the Halicarnassus mausoleum from the British Museum', November 24, 2012.

November 24, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Vienna "Penacho" Feather Headdress

The "Penacho", a feather headdress reputedly worn by Aztec emperor Moctezuma II (though it might be a priest's headgear instead), has gone on display again in a specially designed controlled-environment case in the Ethnology Museum in Vienna after a two-year period of study and  restoration. This has once again brought attention to the problem of where it should be kept. This 500-year old vibrant green-and-blue headpiece, one of the few surviving examples of ancient Mexican feather art, remains at the centre of a tug-of-war between Mexico, which wants to bring it home, and Austria, which argues it is too fragile to be transported. The object, the only one of its kind still in existence, is believed to have been brought to Europe by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, and it was first documented in 1596 in the collection of Tyrolean archduke Ferdinand II. The Penacho headdress, 1.5-metres wide consists of some 450 iridescent green tail feathers from the rare quetzal bird which were knotted together embellished with gold adornments and smaller turquoise, red and brown feathers.
This method of assembly means the headdress could easily fall apart during transportation or if exposed to vibrations, according to a new study by Vienna's University of Technology. And this is the "key issue" at the centre of any restitution or loan debate, Austria's foreign ministry says. "Everything depends on the question of whether it is transportable. If the answer is no, there is no second or third question" as to whether Austria would be willing to send the Penacho back to Mexico, ministry spokesman Martin Weiss told AFP.  

Alfonso de Maria y Campos, director of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), who wants to see the exhibition of this piece in Mexico remains undeterred.
"Mexico should be able to share the piece, granted that we find the best way to send it to Mexico fully protected of any harm," he told AFP.  "We don't dispute the property or the possession."But "if we worked together to restore and study it, we can find a way to send it to Mexico to be exhibited."  
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox had appealed informally to his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer to send the Penacho back during the latter's visit to Mexico in 2005, and indigenous Mexicans have repeatedly demanded the return of what they consider the "sacred crown of Moctezuma", though no official request was made for permanent restitution.
Sim Sim Wissgott, 'Moctezuma headdress stirs passions in Mexico, Austria', MSN news Sun, 18 Nov 2012

The Repatriation of the Vienna "Penacho" Feather Headdress?

With reference to the  "Penacho" Feather Headdress currently housed in the Vienna Ethnological Museum, Dr Kwame Opoku asks 'Has Mexico Renounced her Claim to Montezuma's Feather crown at the Vienna Ethnography Museum?' (Modern Ghana 20 November 2012). He points out that recent statements by Dr. Steven Boudewijn Engelsman, the director of that Museum, has thrown doubts on the belief that this Mexican cultural artefact will ever return to its country of origin. "Director Engelsman, said that, as a matter of fact, the Mexicans authorities, have never formally asked for the return of the famous feather crown and that claims for the return for the artefacts came only from persons in Austria". Opoku finds inconsistencies in such statements and suggests that:
Either the Mexicans have officially requested the return of Montezuma's crown or they have not. It seems the director of the Ethnology Museum is resorting to the discredited strategy and bogus arguments of the universal museums as described in our article mentioned above; we have described these tactics, used in the past by the British Museum with regard to the Benin artefacts and by the Berlin Neues Museum with regard to the restitution of Nefertiti... /
Opoku points out that the catalogue of the new exhibition of the piece, the work of a group of Austrians and Mexicans (Sabine Haag, Alfonso de Maria y Campos, Lilia Rivero Weber and Christian Feest - eds 2012 'Der Altmexiksnische Federkopfschmuck', ZKF Publishers, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia, Museum fur Völkerkunde), adopts more balanced view:
The curator of the exhibition, Gerard van Bussel, has stated that whatever may be the truth about the crown, whether it was used by Montezuma or used by some priest, it has become a symbol of Mexican identity and as such, a settled part of the collective memory of Mexicans of Indian and non-Indian origins. It is the importance of this artefact for Mexican culture and identity that should be in the forefront of any considerations on restitution. All considered, Mexico has every reason to expect Austria to treat it well in the matter of the restitution of Montezuma's Feather Crown.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Turkey Wants Talks with France on Antiquities

Turkish Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said Thursday that his country wishes to start a "dialogue" with French authorities for the return of tiles and other antiquities on display at the Louvre museum in Paris which Turkey claims were removed from the country illegally at the end of the 19th century.
The contested pieces include tiles from a historic Ottoman mosque in Istanbul. The tiles are part of a 12-metre- (40-foot-) long mosaic put together by the Louvre and one of the highlights of a new wing of Islamic art which was launched at the end of October. Turkey's Radikal newspaper said they were "stolen" from the Piyale Pasha mosque designed by Ottoman imperial architect Mimar Sinan for the vizier and grand admiral Piyale Mehmed Pasha and built between 1565 and 1573. Louvre authorities have said the pieces used in the mosaic were either donated and bought between 1871 and 1940, "In conditions that were perfectly legal and in line with the rules of the time". Turkey has also long been seeking the return of tiles taken from the 16th-century tomb of Sultan Selim II in Istanbul but former culture minister Frederic Mitterrand rejected the demand.

AFP 'Turkey wants talks with France on 'stolen' antiques', France 24 22nd Nov 2012.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Were Bonham's Thinking?

London auction house Bonhams was all set two days ago to sell 360 items in its scheduled Chinese Fine Art auction n Nov. 8. It was said that one of the two rare lots named "A rare Imperial very pale green jade archaistic hanging vase and cover, you Qianlong" and "Imperial white jade archaistic disc of the Jiaqing years" were looted by a British captain [Arthur Forbes-Robertson (1834-1863), 67th Regiment of Foot] from the Old Summer Palace in 1860. They knew that, that was what they wrote in the catalogue. Not surprisingly, the Chinese press reacted with indignation.

So, it's notable that they retracted the items from sale the moment there was the hint of a fuss:
Bonhams issued an apology as it confirmed the two jade carvings would not be sold after the owner withdrew them from a planned auction on Thursday to “avoid any possible offence”. The planned sale had sparked a furious reaction from Tan Ping, an official at China’s State Administration of Cultural Heritage, who labelled it “against the spirit of international conventions”. “Bonhams is very sorry to read reports in the Chinese press that offence has been caused in China by the proposed sale of two jade carvings,” Bonhams said in a statement received by AFP on Monday. “There was never in any way an intention to cause offence, and Bonhams regrets that this interpretation has been published.” 
Bonhams "never intended"? Or Bomhams knew jolly well what would happen if the pieces were noticed, and put them in their catalogue anyway, hoping either that nobody would notice, or the fuss would lead to some good publicity? What were they thinking?

English People's daily, 'Bonhams to auction two cultural relics stolen from the Old Summer Palace', November 6, 2012

Straits Times, 'Looted' Chinese antiques pulled from UK auction', Nov 05, 2012.