IFAR Expanded Provenance Research Guide

The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) officially announced in May 2017 via the IFAR webpage that they have updated and expanded their online Provenance Research Guide and database. The official announcement can be found at

This resource has proven to be, and will continue to be, an invaluable guide to scholars, curators, collectors, and heirs wishing to pursue provenance and art historical research in any number of categories. The updates include links to newly available digital material, particularly relating to WWII-era provenance, and an expansion of it’s Catalogue Raisonnés Database to incorporate new features.


The Provenance Research Guide even includes a “how-to” for completing this very specific type of research! This is an outstanding tool for those who are new to the field or are potential claimants who don’t know where to begin. You can get a PDF of the 22 page guide at

The IFAR has started compiling a multi-database resource for records pertaining to provenance research in all capacities. It is collaborative projects such as this that put a significant dent in provenance research, whether pertaining to WWII-era gaps, dubious pieces, or recent acquisitions of potentially looted cultural material. I hope one day to see more multi-institutional collaborative projects such as a master collections database to ease the process in which claimants and researchers may find works in question (although this is just one of the many benefits of a large, multi-institution, searchable database).

If you haven’t already, check out the IFAR’s webpage and resources! I highly recommended it for anyone wanting to learn more about provenance research. It is full of links to different archives, databases, and publications.

From the website: “IFAR acknowledges the contributions of: Sharon Flescher, Ph.D. and Lisa Duffy-Zeballos, Ph.D. (Project Co-Directors); Victoria Sears Goldman, Ph.D. and Julia May Boddewyn.”

The Return of a Roman Portrait Stolen During WWII: The Cleveland Museum’s planned repatriation

In 2012 the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, purchased a Roman portrait bust of Drusus Minor (Image I), the son of Emperor Tiberius, for its gallery dedicated to the height of the Roman Empire.

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Image I: Marble portrait bust of Drusus Minor to be returned to Italy (photo from Angeleti 2017; The Art Newspaper)

The Details

When the museum acquired the piece it was believed to have resided in the private collection of the Bacri family from the 19th century. Fernand Sintes and his wife, while living in Algier, inherited the portrait. The couple brought the piece to France with them in 1960 where it remained until 2004 when it was sold at a Hotel Drouot Paris auction to an unnamed buyer. A “certificate of origin” was provided by their advisor and Parisian art dealer, Jean-Philippe Mariaud de Serres. Between the certificate and the personal assurances of Fernand Sintes, the museum was confident in the acquisition and purchased the work from Phoenix Ancient Art (Litt 2017). However, there were still concerns about gaps in the portrait’s provenance.

Firstly, the museum did not know who owned the work between 2004 and 2012, as the 2004 purchaser and 2012 seller to (or through) Phoenix Ancient Art are anonymous. Secondly, in 1960, when the Sintes family moved to France from Algier, Algeria was a French possession, and no export documentation was necessary for the move (Litt 2017). Therefore, the transfer from Algier to France could not be verified. The work was registered by the museum on the Association of Art Museum Directors’ “Object Registry” (, to aid future research into the piece’s provenance (Litt 2017).

It has been revealed that the piece was illicitly removed from a museum in Italy during WWII. It is believed that the object was excavated between 1925 and 1926 in Sessa Aurunca (Province of Campania, Italy), where it was photographed and placed in the Sessa Aurunca archaeological museum (Litt 2017). Here it resided until 1944 when it is believed to have been removed by French occupation troops. It is possible that the portrait ended up in Algeria through North African troops, and it is believed to have been in Algeria through the 1950’s, but this information is not verifiable. In 2011 and 2013 scholars Guiseppe Scarpati and Sergio Cascella reproduced previously unpublished photographs from 1926, which include the Drusus head upon its excavation (Angeleti 2017: Litt 2017).

Scarpati advocated for the return of the portrait to Italy as early as 2014, but Italy’s Ministry of Fine Arts was not contacted by the Cleveland Museum until 2016.

Why is this exciting?

This constitutes an excellent example of instances when ancient artifacts were subjected to the trafficking that is so often associated with art of later periods in discourse of WWII-era asset looting. The complicated gap of provenance and documentation presents not only the difficulties of verifying export information from certain occupations within this era, but also the realization that ancient artifacts were included in pillaged assets (whether by Nazi’s, Allies, etc.). The Nazi-era removals of ancient artifacts from both museums and private collections and subsequent restitutions have been largely ignored in academic circles and the media, respectively.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that ancient artworks were subjected to the criminality of Nazi looting, such the Mosse Art Restitution Project’s ( 2015 and 2016 repatriations to Felicia Lauchmann-Mosse of two first or second century A.D. Roman-era mummy portraits (Zion 2016) and a second-century A.D. Roman Sarcophagus (Press Release Berlin 12 February 2015), which have been identified in the Rudolph Lepke-Kunst-Auctions-Haus, Berlin, auction catalogues. For anyone who is interested in viewing a Roman mummy portrait, there are some very similar examples on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow (Image II) from the collection of the British Museum (that is not to suggest any provenance issues with the works in Glasgow).

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Image II: Roman Portrait Panel of Man (Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, on loan from the British Museum; 36.b.1912) (personal photo)

The trafficking of antiquities throughout the Nazi occupation is an under-explored area of WWII history to which the media and scholars should increase attention. I hope to see more institutions and private collectors pay attention to WWII-era provenance gaps in the acquisition of antiquities, as it can often be tempting to stop at the 1970’s line suggested by the 1970 UNESCO convention for preventing the purchase of recently illicitly excavated ancient artifacts ( Only through future consideration and comprehensive research into the treatment of archaeological material from this period can we fully comprehend the extent of Nazi-era crimes against art.

Provenance at the Cleveland Museum

It should also be noted that the Cleveland Museum of Art has an on-going Provenance Research Project for Nazi/World War II era collections. As of this post there is no information posted about the restitution of the Drusus portrait, but an excellent description of the projects aims, methodologies, and successes can be found at

Works Consulted
Angeleti, G. (2017). The Cleveland Museum of Art returns bust of emperor’s ‘bloodthirsty’ son to Italy. The Art Newspaper. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].
Litt, S. (2017). Cleveland Museum of Art returns ancient Roman portrait of Drusus after learning it was stolen from Italy in WWII (photos). [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017]. (2017). The Mosse Art Restitution Project. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].
Press Release (2015). Roman Sarcophagus with cupids illustration, last quarter / End of the 2nd Century AD (Inventory-No. SJ 1881); Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz restitutes art objects from the collection of Rudolf Mosse. 12 February.
Zion, I. (2016). Mummy portraits stolen by Nazis returned to Jewish family. The Times of Israel. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Morality, Accuracy, and the Future of Restitution: Thoughts on the “From Refugees to Restitution” Conference (March 2017)

In March 2017 I attended the From Refugees to Restitution: The History of Nazi-Looted Art in the UK in Transnational Perspective conference in Cambridge, UK. The topics covered by the conference addressed several interesting areas such as the economics of war with regards to safehaven (‘Operation Safehaven’ (1944-49): Framing the postwar discussion on restitution of Nazi-looted art through British lenses’- paper by Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project ( as well as considerations of whether restitution efforts are currently more reliant on moral regulation than legislation, and whether or not this reliance is problematic (Panel I. A Paradigm Shift? From Legal to Moral Solutions in Restitution Practice; papers by Debbie De Girolamo, Tabitha I. Oost, and Evelien Campfens). The full program for the conference can be accessed via

I would like to point out a few instances where I thought the discussion was really thought provoking, and would love to hear some thoughts on how we can address these topics in the future.

Firstly, I was intrigued by the issue of whether a victim’s claim should trump the greater interest of preserving historical knowledge of Holocaust-era events (Debbie De Girolamo, Queen Mary, University of London; Panel I). For example, should an individual’s personal possessions (a suitcase, book, or handkerchief) or artworks created at a concentration camp be returned to that individual or their family, or preserved in a museum where they are currently on display? The discussions of Panel II (Losing Art/Losing Identity: The Emotions of Material Culture) included mention of efforts to educate claimants on the benefits of keeping Nazi-confiscated art and artifacts in museums to provide a comprehensive basis for future research and public education programs. It was also discussed that museums often offer better means of preserving these items than claimants are able to provide. Lastly, the emotional power of objects is astounding, and the strong spiritual relationships with objects that an individual can develop should be taken into consideration when pursing restitution or advocating for an item to remain within a museum setting. I hope that increases in proactive provenance research in museums and other institutions will continue to lead to positive relationships with claimants, and lead to the return of these items to museums for use in public educational programs (a solution that has been effective in the Israel Museum as discussed by Shlomit Steinberg, Roundtable I).

Secondly, is a valid legal claim reliant on morality? Should it be? Or is morality too subjective? As Marc Masurovsky commented, claimants rely on moral policing because they have nothing else… they have been failed by the complications of the legal system (paraphrased by me; comments during Panel I discussion). Advisory boards (such as the UK Spoliation Advisory Panel that are tasked with assessing restitution claims can issue recommendations (for state collections) or legally binding expert opinions for objects not in state care. Some countries established these panels to compensate for the statute of limitations outlined in most post-war legislation. Other examples of compensation include the U.S. Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016, through which statutes of limitations now extend to six years after the discovery of the location or possessory interest of an artwork ( Tabitha Oost and Evelien Campfens (Lieden University) discussed a primary issue in moral policing as the un-clarity of what is considered ‘Nazi-looted art’ and ‘confiscation’.

Overall, access to justice by claimants is limited and the legal process can take decades, which prompted a further discussion of whether the digitization of provenance records as they are, without verification, can cause as much damage to research efforts as it can benefits to claimants searching for their collections. One problem with moral policing included the dependence on the moral perceptions of the people currently sitting on the panel, or in the court, on a particular day. Does moral reliance mean that claimants don’t have to prove ownership as thoroughly? And is this fair given that the information to which they have access is extremely limited?

How do we resolve these questions and concerns? Is a new conceptual framework that moves away from distinct moral and legal reliance, but is adaptable to issues within each dispute and the diversity of values sufficient (solution as proposed by De Girolamo)? While it is important to be consistent and objective in the standards of restitution, my questions reside in the reasonable expectation of the development of such a framework. Just how adaptable IS the legislation? Is it too early to determine the long-term success of added legislation including the U.S. Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act? Since the moral decisions of panels are dependent on the opinions of the current panel members at a particular time, is there a risk that these decisions will be refuted later, as often happens in the case of connoisseurs evaluating authenticity? Clear definitions of a ‘fair and just’ assessment of a restitution claim are absolutely necessary. The only way to determine the realities of developing such a model is to start the discussion of what this model should incorporate.

This conference was extremely productive and stimulating. I was inspired by the attendance of claimants and the willingness of persons in all fields to share their personal experiences to contribute to the discussions. I believe these events will prompt a lengthy discussion in the art world of how we can effectively and efficiently aid future restitution efforts and address the concerns of both claimants and researchers in the field of Nazi-era restitution. I would like to thank Dr. Bianca Gaudenzi, Dr. Lisa Niemeyer, Julia Rickmeyer, and Victoria Louise Steinwachs for such an inspiring and educational event and I truly look forward to the outcome of these discussions!

Particularly, I would love to hear additional discourse on the issues and benefits of publicizing provenance information for museum collections without first verifying each documented ownership history. Please post any thoughts below or feel free to email me and communicate further!

Provenance, Provenience, Perspectives

Cover Photo via:; Funerary Sculpture of Winged Lion, 6th Century BCE, Archaic Period; Italy, Etruria, Volcanic Stone (nenfro), 28 x 34 1/4 x 17 in (71.1 x 87.43.2 cm), 1969-01 DJ, Menil Collection, Houston, TX; Photo by Hickey-Robertson, Houston.
screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-3-13-20-pmArts of the Ancient World, Menil Collection, Houston. Via:

In October 2016 I was fortunate enough to attend the Collections Analysis Collaborative: Collaborative Futures for Museum Collections: Antiquities, Provenance and Cultural Heritage event at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. Previously, my perception was that art historians and museum professionals who are not sympathetic to the threat of cultural heritage and archaeological research caused by illicit excavations (which has been directly linked to the demand for, and willingness to acquire, unprovenanced antiquities (Kersel 2006; Brodie et al. 2001, Brodie and Renfrew 2005) were the few, unethical, exceptions to the general consensus. I realized through the discourse at this event, however, that those progressive art historians and archaeologists willing to collaborate and discuss solutions to cultural heritage destruction caused by demand are a much smaller, yet very vocal faction.

Because I believe collaboration between archaeologists and art historians is vital to both the preservation of cultural heritage and the quality of academic research in both fields, I would like to share some general thoughts for anyone who is unfamiliar with the disconnect often associated between these fields.

I would first like to note, however, that this post is not intended to victimize one discipline over the other, as in many ways, both are guilty of insensitivity to the priorities and efforts of the other.

The study of ‘object itineraries’ incorporates two very distinct, yet related terms. The terms, Provenance and Provenience, do not necessarily mean different things to archaeologists and art historians, as is suggested by some due to inconsistencies and lack of specificity in defining the two terms. They are, however, prioritized in different ways within each discipline.

Provenience, as it is used by archaeologists, is most accurately described as a very specific find-spot (i.e. within a certain quarter of a meter within a specific cutting of an archaeological site) (Bankoff in Joyce 2012: 59). Provenance is the detailed ownership history of a work of art or artifact, ideally starting at the time of the object’s creation, but usually beginning with the time of recovery from an archaeological site, or earliest known existence (possession) of the item. While the provenance of archaeological material should incorporate the provenience as the term is utilized by archaeologists, many art historians do not require this information to consider an object valuable as the aesthetic qualities are not necessarily lost without this information. This is the nature of disciplinary divide, but a problem arises in the lack of respect for each discipline’s priorities, often leading to an unwillingness to collaborate in problem-solving discourse.

 It seems obvious to me than any logical, and ethical, art historian would acknowledge and appreciate the contribution that find-spot information provides to our understanding of aesthetics, taste, and artistic practice within specific historic cultures, as well as to our ability to affiliate artifacts with a culture or place by comparative analysis with collections of known provenience. However, an artifact without a documented find-spot still has aesthetic value and can be researched for its other qualities.

This mind-set is not necessarily bad, and as mentioned above, this difference is the nature of divided disciplines. For example, it must be accepted that there are certainly antiquities floating around museum collections (that were acquired legally), for which provenience information will only ever be speculated. Removing these artifacts from research pools and displays could eliminate research resources for other (non-excavation related) qualities.

Furthermore, for many artifacts, such as materials recovered from Latin American Mayan populations, the exploitation of archaeological heritage was once celebrated and comparative analysis can be a valid means of determining a (although often general and regional rather than country-specific) culture of origin. This comes with the territory of collecting and acquisition behaviors in the early 20th century, and will never be completely rectified. That being said, this does not need to be the primary mindset of acquisitions going forward.

 A key issue with the commercialization of archaeologically excavated materials is that even when legal, this drives the demand for excavating materials that otherwise would have been preserved in situ (the method preferred by archaeologists) in favor of free enterprise (Elia 1992: 110; Adams 2007: 49; Varmer 1999: 287). Art historians don’t blatantly not care about provenience. They just don’t prioritize it in the same way that archaeologists do because they have other avenues for accomplishing a meaningful research program. The damage caused to archaeological sites by undocumented excavations, which is fed by the willingness of curators, dealers, and individuals to pay top dollar for antiquities based almost entirely on speculated archaeological data, and aesthetics is undeniable.

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-3-19-41-pmPhoto of looting at El Hiba via: Andy B at

But curators are becoming increasingly vocal about provenance issues in antiquities collections! And thanks to the progressive group, funding opportunities such as those afforded by the Kress Foundation have led to an increased provenance research and restitution opportunities.

Where archaeologists should respect that art historians are able to accomplish great things based solely on research of aesthetic qualities AND are working to improve the codes of ethics for antiquities acquisitions, art historians need to recognize the value in collaborating with archaeologists in their research and respect the need to preserve contextual information. I believe that collaboration is the only means by which issues in preserving provenance from the demand end of the market for illicit antiquities can be resolved.

Efforts to bridge the gap between art historical and archaeological discourse are on-going, and I hope that programs such as the Collections Analysis Collaborative will expand to encourage a mutually-beneficial discourse and discourage accusations of ignorance and disrespect for the foci of each discipline.

For anyone who is interested in details about the problems with defining provenance and provenience, or in the consistent misinterpretation of both terms, I highly recommend Rosemary A. Joyce’s essay “From Place to Place: Provenience, Provenance, and Archaeology” in “Provenance: An Alternate History of Art”. I recommend the entire book, but this essay is a good place to start for anyone curious about the disconnect between art historical and archaeological disciplines. Check it out here!

P.S. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post about possible museum/institutional- archaeological collaborations to prevent undocumented excavations in subsistence digging economies!

P.S.S. On March 2 there will be a conference on “Ethics of Acquiring Cultural Heritage Objects” at Washington and Lee University. For more info, visit

Works Consulted:
Adams, J. (2007). Alchemy or Science? Compromising Archaeology in the Deep Sea. Journal of Maritime Archaeology, 2(1), pp. 48-56.
Bankoff, Arthur. “Context”, online source consulted 13 August 2007 at (no longer available) in Joyce, R. (2012). From Place to Place: Provenience, Provenance, and Archaeology. In: G. Feigenbaum and I. Reist, ed., Provenance: An Alternate History of Art, 1st ed. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, pp.48-60.
Brodie, N., Doole, J. and Renfrew, C. (2001). Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage. 1st ed. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Brodie, N. and Renfrew, C. (2005). Looting and the World’s Archaeological Heritage: The Inadequate Response. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34(1), pp. 343-361.
Collections Analysis Collaborative- Collaborative Futures for Museum Collections: Antiquities, Provenance and Cultural Heritage, October 17-19, 2016.
Elia, R. (1992). The Ethics of Collaboration: Archaeologists and the Whydah project. Historical Archaeology, 26(4), pp. 105-117.
Joyce, R. (2012). From Place to Place: Provenience, Provenance, and Archaeology. In: G. Feigenbaum and I. Reist, ed., Provenance: An Alternate History of Art, 1st ed. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, pp.48-60.
Kersel, M, (2006). From the Ground to the Buyer: A Market Analysis of the Trade in Illegal Antiquities. In: N. Brodie, M. Kersel, C. Luke and K. Tubb, ed., Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade, 1st ed. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, pp. 188-205.
Varmer, O. (1999). The Case Against the “Salvage” of the Cultural Heritage. Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce, 30(2), pp. 279-302.