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The headless sculpture, in the British Museum, of the river god Ilissos from the Parthenon frieze
In the November/December issue of Cultural Affairs, James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, writes persuadingly against repatriating museum artefacts –
In December 2007, the Italian government opened an exhibition in Rome of 69 artifacts that four major U.S. museums had agreed to return to Italy on the grounds that they had been illegally excavated and exported from the country. Leading nearly 200 journalists through the exhibition, Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s then cultural minister, proclaimed, “The odyssey of these objects, which started with their brutal removal from the bowels of the earth, didn’t end on the shelf of some American museum. With nostalgia, they have returned. These beautiful pieces have reconquered their souls.” Rutelli was not just anthropomorphizing ancient artifacts by giving them souls. By insisting that they were the property of Italy and important to its national identity, he was also giving them citizenship.
Rutelli has hardly been the only government official to insist that artifacts belong to the places from which they originally came. In 2011, the German government agreed to return to Turkey a 3,000-year-old sphinx that German archaeologists had excavated from central Anatolia in the early twentieth century. Afterward, the Turkish minister of culture, Ertugrul Gunay, declared that “each and every antiquity in any part of the world should eventually go back to its homeland.”
Such claims on the national identity of antiquities are at the root of many states’ cultural property laws, which in the last few decades have been used by governments to reclaim objects from museums and other collections abroad. Despite UNESCO’s declaration that “no culture is a hermetically sealed entity,” governments are increasingly making claims of ownership of cultural property on the basis of self-proclaimed and fixed state-based identities. Many use ancient cultural objects to affirm continuity with a glorious and powerful past as a way of burnishing their modern political image — Egypt with the Pharaonic era, Iran with ancient Persia, Italy with the Roman Empire. These arguments amount to protectionist claims on culture. Rather than acknowledge that culture is in a state of constant flux, modern governments present it as standing still, in order to use cultural objects to promote their own states’ national identities.
In the battle over cultural heritage, repatriation claims based strictly on national origin are more than just denials of cultural exchange: they are also arguments against the promise of encyclopedic museums — a category that includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York; the British Museum, in London; and the Louvre, in Paris. By presenting the artifacts of one time and one culture next to those of other times and cultures, encyclopedic museums encourage curiosity about the world and its many peoples. They also promote a cosmopolitan worldview, as opposed to a nationalist concept of cultural identity. In an era of globalization that is nonetheless marked by resurgent nationalism and sectarianism, antiquities and their history should not be used to stoke such narrow identities. Instead, they should express the guiding principles of the world’s great museums: pluralism, diversity, and the idea that culture shouldn’t stop at borders — and nor, for that matter, should the cosmopolitan ideals represented by encyclopedic museums. Rather than acquiesce to frivolous, if stubborn, calls for repatriation, often accompanied by threats of cultural embargoes, encyclopedic museums should encourage the development of mutually beneficial relationships with museums everywhere in the world that share their cosmopolitan vision. Cultural property should be recognized for what it is: the legacy of humankind and not of the modern nation-state, subject to the political agenda of its current ruling elite.
The rest of James Cuno’s article in Cultural Affairs, Culture War: The Case Against Repatriating Museum Artifacts, is here.
Marconi’s wireless factory in Chelmsford, Essex, England
The world’s first wireless factory in Chelmsford, Essex, England may be turned into apartments if developers get their way. The Old Silk Mill building in Hall Street, in the centre of the city, was the world’s first factory for wireless production. “Originally built by John Hall as a silk warehouse in 1861, it was bought by Courtaulds to be used as a silk weaving mill between 1865 and 1894.” The building was opened in 1898 by one of radio’s pioneers, Guglielmo Marconi. It has been empty since 2010 but there are now plans to convert it into apartments (four on the first floor and two on the ground floor) together with some commercial facilities which would entail internal alterations including partitions and two new staircases. Alterations to windows and doors, addition of windows, bin storage area and railings would also be introduced.
Chris Neale, from the Marconi Heritage Group, is reported as saying that he would rather the building be used as a community space, to display information about the city’s Marconi history and for educational activities. “Our concern is that this is the only industrial building left in Chelmsford which hasn’t been converted into something other than what it was used for,” said Mr Neal.
Marconi’s wireless factory with men in the ground floor machine shop
Chelmsford City Council will meet to discuss the proposed plans this week. A Planning Application Summary, with comments on the proposal, can be found here. See also our earlier feature on Chelmsford here.
Mongol invaders (left) fire on Takezaki Suenaga (on horseback) while a tetsuhau or ceramic projectile bomb explodes overhead
From the 13th century Mōko Shūrai Ekotoba (蒙古襲来絵詞) Japanese handscroll of the Mongol Invasion of Japan
Museum of the Imperial Collections, Tokyo Imperial Palace
Source Wikimedia Commons
Tasuku Ueda, Staff Writer, for the Asahi Shimbun, reports on the possible discovery of Kublai Khan’s invading fleet to Japan –
Matsuura, Nagasaki Prefecture: A wreck found off Takashima Island here is likely part of a Mongol invasion fleet that came to grief in a typhoon more than 700 years ago. The discovery was announced Oct. 2 by archaeologists with the University of the Ryukyus and the Matsuura City board of education who are researching the Takashima Kozaki underwater historic site.
Numerous artefacts have been recovered from the seabed from wrecks of fleets dispatched in 1274 and 1281 to invade Japan. In both invasion attempts, battles were fought in northern Kyushu. The fleet of 4,400 vessels sent by Kublai Khan in 1281 was wrecked near Takashima Island in a storm the Japanese dubbed ‘Kamikaze’ (divine wind) for ultimately saving their homeland from the Mongols.
An earlier report in Archaeology by James P. Delgado describes the discovery by Kenzo Hayashida of the Kyushu Okinawa Society for Underwater Archaeology (KOSUWA) of a, “…tetsuhau or ceramic projectile bomb. KOSUWA has recovered six of these from the wreck. They are the world’s earliest known exploding projectiles and the earliest direct archaeological evidence of seagoing ordnance.” Delado writes –
Chinese alchemists invented gunpowder around A.D. 300, and by 1100 huge paper bombs much like giant firecrackers were being used in battle. Chinese sources refer to catapult-launched exploding projectiles in 1221, but some historians have argued that the references date to later rewritings of the sources. In his recent book In Little Need of Divine Intervention, which analyses two Japanese scrolls that depict the Mongol invasion, Bowdoin College historian Thomas Conlan suggests that a scene showing a samurai falling from his horse as a bomb explodes over him was a later addition. Conlan’s research masterfully refutes many of the traditional myths and commonly held perceptions of the invasion, downplaying the number of ships and troops involved and arguing that it was not the storms but the Japanese defenders ashore, as well as confusion and a lack of coordination, that thwarted the khan’s two invasions. But his suggestion that the exploding bomb is an anachronism has now been demolished by solid archaeological evidence. Moreover, when the Japanese x-rayed two intact bombs, they found that one was filled just with gunpowder while the other was packed with gunpowder and more than a dozen square pieces of iron shrapnel intended to cut down the enemy.
David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent for The Independent, reports on the discovery in Southern England of –
…what may be one of the largest medieval royal palaces ever found – buried under the ground inside a vast prehistoric fortress.
The probable 12th century palace was discovered by archaeologists, using geophysical ground-penetrating ‘x-ray’ technology to map a long-vanished medieval city which has lain under grass on the site for more than 700 years. Located inside the massive earthwork defences of an Iron Age hill fort at Old Sarum in Wiltshire, the medieval city was largely founded by William the Conqueror who made it the venue for one of Norman England’s most important political events – a gathering of the country’s nobility at which all England’s mainly Norman barons and lords swore loyalty to William.
Section of the ditch at Old Sarum
The Heritage Trust
“The Parthenon sculptures raises the bar for all of us… and it includes everybody all over the world… and is for all of us, all over the world.”
Playwright, author and British Museum trustee, Bonnie Greer celebrates the enduring beauty and humanity of the Parthenon Sculptures
The Parthenon was built as a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. It was the centrepiece of an ambitious building programme on the Acropolis of Athens. The temple’s great size and lavish use of white marble was intended to show off the city’s power and wealth at the height of its empire.
The Making of a Roman Silver Cup. Getty Museum
Ancient Roman silversmiths developed their craft to the highest levels of refinement and beauty. Applying fire and basic tools to the shaping of precious metals, many of their sophisticated techniques are still used today. This video illustrates the making of a stunning silver cup that has survived from the first century, A.D.
This cup is on view at the Getty Villa from November 19, 2014 to August 17, 2015 in the exhibition Ancient Luxury and the Roman Silver Treasure from Berthouville.
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