An article in the NY Tines art section last Sunday carried on in near hysterics for a full page, starting with this:
“The news has become astonishingly routine: a major American museum announces it is relinquishing extraordinary antiquities because a foreign government claims they were looted and has threatened legal action or other sanctions if it doesn’t get them back.”
Sounds dire, doesn’t it? From reading that you’d think that our museums are victims of extortion, wouldn’t you?
Wait, there’s more.
“They (museums) are supposed to be in the business of collecting and preserving art from every era, not giving it away…in zealously responding to trophy hunting from abroad, museums are doing little to protect ancient heritage while making great art ever less available to their own patrons.”
But here’s the thing. Buried in the story – literally at the end of the rant, was this acknowledgment:
“Looting is a terrible scourge, and museums must be held to the highest ethical standards so they don’t unwittingly abet it…. By failing to deal with the looting problem a decade ago, museums brought a crisis upon themselves.”
Also missing in the Times diatribe was the fact that even when museums agree to return stolen goods, the agreement is hard to come by without exacting some reward.
When, for instance, Princeton University Museum agreed to return eight antiquities, it got a bonus: possession of seven other works, plus four-year loans of four additional works!
Such a deal.
When the Boston museum, which holds more than thirteen archeological artifacts proven to be swiped from Italian soil, acknowledged that the objects belonged to Italy, it got a long-term loan of them.
It goes without saying that robbing another country's art is a long story that would end badly if every museum from France to Florida returned what wasn’theirs.The Louvre, for instance, would have to return its numerous old masters that Napoleon's armies looted from Italy and neighboring lands. And Florida’s state art museum - the Ringling - would have to return to the island of Cyprus its Cypriot collection, which archaeologist Luigi Palma de Cesnola dug up and carried off.
Helping oneself to art belonging to another www.examiner.com/article/stealing-from-art-historyhas been such a commonplace event that German poet Friedrich von Schiller lauded it in verse:
What the art of Greece created/Let the Frank by dint of battle carry to his vaunted Seine./Let him in superb museums/Show the trophies of his valor/To the marveling citizen.
Seeming to concede the possibility of wrongdoing, the Louvre's former chief curator, Germain Bazin, wrote in 1967, “Perhaps some future age will find immoral that what we think entirely natural.“
The time has come, don’t you think?