A very brief and very remote review of recent damage and destruction of cultural property in south-eastern Turkey
This is a very brief and remote survey of English-language reports. It does not cover “collateral damage” and mass destruction of civilian property in a “scorched earth” policy in Cizre, Diyarbakir (in particular its Sur district), Silvan and elsewhere; it does not cover the lynching campaign against the homes of the Kurdish community and the offices of the “pro-Kurdish” (pro-human rights) People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
As has oft been pointed out (sometimes with magnificent style), even the Big Three auction houses, which are the most visible, most monitored and apparently most diligent actors in the antiquities market, have a problem with provenance – or the lack of it. Judging by their auctions, that problem remains.
This painting of Arhat Angaja was “acquired from Ferri-Drouot” in Paris on the 26th of June 2015, but Ferri Drouot is “une société de ventes aux enchères” (an auction house for fine art and antiques). Who sold it to or through Ferri Drouot? When and where did the anonymous previous owner acquire it?
According to Christie’s, this painting ‘belonged to a set of 23 paintings depicting the Sixteen Great Arhats’. So, presumably, they know more than they are saying. ‘Three other compositions from this particular paintings set have been identified: Arhat Nagasena (HAR item no.36291), Arhat Kanakavatsa (HAR item no.36292), and Arhat Bakula (HAR item no.36293).’
How do they know that there was a set of 23 paintings of 16 aspects of this legendary figure? Since they can apparently account for 4 of the paintings, what has happened to the other 19? When such information is withheld, is it because people in its chain of ownership do not want to be identified? Is it because the information is actually insecure? Is it because its release would highlight how little information is known about other objects?
Diligent sellers should not play hide and seek with their diligent buyers.
Its price had already jumped from an estimate of €20,000-€30,000 to a sale price of €65,000. Why, in less than a year, has its estimate jumped again? Is it because, since the auction in Paris, it has any known collecting history?
Its auction estimate is $120,000-$180,000.
This fifteenth-century gilt bronze figure of Shakyamuni surfaced at Koller Auktionen in Switzerland on the 8th of May 2012 – how did it get there from Nepal?
Its auction estimate is $100,000-$150,000.
This seventeenth or eighteenth-century painting of Kurukulla, from “central Tibet”, is only traced back to a sale through Bonhams’ New York auction house on the 19th of March 2012.
Its auction estimate is $150,000-$200,000.
This gilt bronze figure of an eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara has been in an anonymous “private West Coast collection” since 2010, but it is from Tibet and has existed since the fifteenth or sixteenth century.
Its auction estimate is $300,000-$500,000.
This “rare” bronze figure of (Bodhisattva) Avalokiteshvara was made in the “Swat Valley” (Pakistan) in the eighth century and had surfaced on the London market “by 2000“.
Its auction estimate is $100,000-$120,000.
This eleventh or twelfth-century bronze figure of Buddha, apparently from Kashmir, was “acquired in London” in 1999. I don’t doubt the expert attribution of this statue to Kashmir, seemingly due to its style (as no other evidence has been presented).
As an aside, it is notable that like “Mesopotamian” and other such transborder historical identifiers, if there were no documentation of legal acquisition, this attribution would make it very difficult for any state to question whether the statue had been looted or stolen or illegally exported from its territory.
Its auction estimate is $150,000-$250,000.
This “large and highly important” sandstone panel of Revanta and his entourage, “unique to sculptures of the [eighth-century] Pratihara period in north-central India”, was “acquired from Spink [and] Son, Ltd.” in London “by 1999”.
Its auction estimate is $200,000-$300,000.