Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Friday, December 12, 2008

Who owns Apollo?

The looting of antiquities is an ongoing problem that plagues us today, and it is a issue that I have talked about in this blog before.  The question of "who owns the past" is seemingly impossible to answer, and I certainly don't claim to know how the issue should be resolved.  One thing I do know is that politics and scholarship are not good bedfellows.  Take the Cleveland Museum of Art for example.  In their possession is a bronze sculpture of Apollo possibly made by Praxiteles himself.  For those of you who don't know, Praxiteles is one of the most famous Ancient Greek sculptors, and original large bronze sculpture from Ancient Greece is extremely rare.  The valuable bronze of ancient statues was too easy a target for later smelting.  A good deal of our knowledge of Greek bronzes comes from Roman copies made of marble.  Now, the true identity of the Cleveland Apollo's sculptor is in question, but an important chance to study the work in comparison with Roman copies of Praxiteles' work has been lost due to politics and the international illicit antiquities scandal.  Instead of recapping what happened here, please read the link below for full details.  To make a long story short, the Cleveland Apollo was shunned from a Louvre exhibit on the famous sculptor due to unsubstantiated claims by Greece that the statue was illegally looted.  It is a shame that a wonderful opportunity for scholarly research has been blocked by the ongoing international antiquities scandal.  When a country of origin can make claims with no evidence that an object has been looted, and the repercussions of those allegations lead to stifled research, a sad day has indeed come.

Also, the Cleveland Museum of Art has agreed to return 14 works of art to Italy that were proven to be acquired illegally.  In contrast to the Cleveland Apollo, if artifacts can indeed be proven that they were looted, they should be returned to the country of a point.  I know what a divisive issue that is, and I will dwell on it more in depth at another time.