Many twentieth and twenty-first century artists, including Oscar Howe (Yanktonai Sioux), Alex Janvier (Chipewyan [Dene]) and Robert Davidson (Haida), don’t consider themselves to work outside of so-called “traditional arts.” In 1958, Howe even wrote a famous letter commenting on his methods when his work was denounced by Philbrook Indian Art Annual Jurors as not being “authentic” Native art:
The agreement between the Boston museum and Turkey acknowledged that the museum had acquired the object “in good faith and without knowledge of any ownership or title issues,” according to a statement from the museum. (In 1981 the museum had acquired a half-interest in the torso, with the other half owned by the American antiquities collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White.)
Archaeological sites Ancient Greek pottery Automobiles Bone, horn, and antler objects Books, manuscripts, documents and ephemera Ceramic objects Clocks Copper-based objects Feathers Film Flags and banners Frescos Fur objects Glass objects Herbaria Historic gardens Human remains Illuminated manuscripts Insect specimens Iron and steel objects Ivory objects Judaica Lacquerware Leather objects Lighthouses Metals Musical instruments Neon objects New media art Outdoor artworks Outdoor bronze objects Outdoor murals Paintings Painting frames Panel paintings Papyrus Parchment Performance art Photographs Photographic plates Plastic objects Pompeian frescoes Shipwreck artifacts Silver objects South Asian household shrines Stained glass Taxidermy Textiles Tibetan thangkas Time-based media art Totem poles Vehicles Vinyl discs Woodblock prints Wooden artifacts Wooden furniture
According to Italian authorities, however, the vase is stolen property. Two years ago, facing evidence that the object had been looted from an Etruscan archaeological site near Rome, the Metropolitan agreed to return it to Italy. In January of this year, Euphronios’s masterpiece received a hero’s welcome in Rome, where it was proudly displayed on the RAI television network and featured in an exhibition called “Nostoi”—homecoming.
In the past, the term “primitive” has been used to describe the art of Native tribes and First Nations. This term is deeply problematic—and reveals the distorted lens of colonialism through which these groups have been seen and misunderstood. After contact, Europeans and Euro-Americans often conceived of the Amerindian peoples of North America as noble savages (a primitive, uncivilized, and romanticized “Other”). This legacy has affected the reception and appreciation of Native arts, which is why much of it was initially collected by anthropological (rather than art) museums. Many people viewed Native objects as curiosities or as specimens of “dying” cultures—which in part explains why many objects were stolen or otherwise acquired without approval of Native peoples. Many sacred objects, for example, were removed and put on display for non-Native audiences. While much has changed, this legacy lives on, and it is important to be aware of and overcome the many stereotypes and biases that persist from prior centuries.
Aging (artwork) Anastylosis Arrested decay Architecture Cradling (paintings) Detachment of wall paintings Desmet method Historic paint analysis Imaging of cultural heritage Inpainting Kintsugi Leafcasting Lining of paintings Mass deacidification Mold control and prevention in libraries Overpainting Paper splitting Radiography of cultural objects Reconstruction (architecture) Rissverklebung Textile stabilization Transfer of panel paintings UVC-based preservation
Today the Euphronios krater sits rather forlornly in a glass case in the National Etruscan Museum in Rome’s Villa Borghese park. Wall labels, written in Italian and poorly translated English, explain where it was found. One example: “The tomb of Greek Vases (Tomba dei Vasi Greci) is the latest within the great tumulus II of the Banditaccia necropolis and contained so many grave goods that only part of them could be displayed.”
In 1612, the personal library of Sultan Zaydan An-Nasser of Morocco was trusted to French consul Jean Phillipe de Castellane for transportation. After Castellane waited for six days not receiving his pay, he sailed away. A flotilla commanded by Spanish privateer Luis Fajardo de Córdoba captured the ship and took it to Lisbon (then part of the Spanish Empire). In 1614, the Zaydani Library was transmitted to El Escorial. Moroccan diplomats have since asked for the manuscripts to be returned. Some other Arabic manuscripts have been delivered by Spain, but not the Zaydani collection. In 2013, the Spanish Cultural Heritage Institute presented microfilm copies of the manuscripts to Moroccan authorities.
In 2004 the US passed the Bill HR1047 for the Emergency Protection for Iraq Cultural Antiquities Act, which allows the President authority to impose emergency import restrictions by Section 204 of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCIPA). In 2003, Britain and Switzerland put into effect statutory prohibitions against illegally exported Iraqi artifacts. In the UK, the Dealing in Cultural Objects Bill was established in 2003 that prohibited the handling of illegal cultural objects.
Museums furnished by colonial looting have largely shaped the way a nation imagines its dominion, the nature of the human beings under its power, the geography of the land, and the legitimacy of its ancestors, working to suggest a process of political inheriting. It is necessary to understand the paradoxical way in which the objects on display at museums are tangible reminders of the power held by those who gaze at them. Eliot Colla describes the structure of the Egyptian sculpture room in the British Museum as an assemblage that "form[s] an abstract image of the globe with London at the center". The British Museum, as Colla describes, presents a lesson of human development and progress: "the forward march of human civilization from its classical origins in Greece and Rome, through Renaissance Italy, to modern-day London".
Second, this movement shows an absolute disregard for the right of regional governments, such as the Catalan one, to have views and policies that oppose those of the central government. The Spanish government sees Catalonia not as a nation, but as a property, and therefore it is acceptable, if not imperative, to correct the mismanagements of the local rulers as soon as the opportunity arises.
In some cases, this may mean parting with objects we have known for decades. When I was growing up, a reproduction of the Euphronios Krater, flattened onto a small varnished panel, hung on a wall of my family home. I used to wonder at the scene and its coded urgency: who were the strange winged and masked figures, and why were they grappling with the muscular body of the young man? When I finally saw the original, it seemed to be a flashback to a death I had actually witnessed, so visceral were the outlines. Encountering more of the vase’s history, I wasn’t happy to discover that my education in art had been facilitated by looting and smuggling. Neither am I happy that the Krater is no longer in New York, where other schoolchildren might have profited from it. But I’ve also learned that a productive approach to this controversy requires seeing the good side of the bad and the bad side of the good. Perhaps the Euphronios Krater has finally come home; but “homecoming” is a concept as many-faceted as the people who wish to shelter and treasure such an extraordinary object.
The great public interest in art repatriation helped fuel the expansion of public museums in Europe and launched museum-funded archaeological explorations. The concept of art and cultural repatriation gained momentum through the latter decades of the twentieth century and began to show fruition by the end of the century when key works were ceded back to claimants.