The Evidence: Provenance

UNESCO 1970

UNESCO 1970

      The question of the kouros's authenticity could be solved easily with adequate provenance, which, unfortunately, the statue lacks. The statue supposedly resided in the collection of Dr. Jean Lauffenberger of Geneva for years. According to records, the doctor had inherited the statue from his father, who had bought it from a Greek art dealer in the 1930s. This is where the provided provenance ends. If a more complete record existed, it would be easier to determine the authenticity of the piece. Any such information was lacking when the statue was purchased in 1984.

       Unfortunately, what little provenance was provided with the statue upon its purchase was recently discovered to be false. Letters supposedly sent from Erntz Langlotz, a well-respected classical art historian, to Jean Lauffenberger authenticating the kouros in 1952 actually had a postal code on them from twenty years after they were supposedly sent. Furthermore, Lauffenberger's family members have no memory of the kouros ever being in his collection.[1] It is surprising that even through all of its legality tests, no one noticed the incorrect postmark that determined the papers false until well after the statue's purchase. The faked documents do not necessarily mean that the statue is forged, but this information probably means that the statue is either fake or stolen. If the kouros is a fake, then provenance had to be invented in order to pass it for a genuine piece, and the Getty simply made a costly mistake. Yet their willingness to accept this as a possibility has led to an open dialogue and beneficial discussions about modern forgeries and ancient kouroi.

       However, if the kouros is real, much more is at stake. If the provenance was invented in order to cover an stolen piece, this means that the Getty was unknowingly involved in the illicit trade of antiquities. Article 3 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property established that any trafficking of antiquities contrary to its provisions would be considered illicit for those who signed the document.[2] The United States ratified the convention in 1983, a year before the Getty purchased the kouros.[3] Though not all museums yet adhered to the later 1970 rule, the fact remains that the Getty could have been considered in violation of the 1970 convention if the kouros is real. In that case, another country could petition to have the piece repatriated.

      According to Robert Steven Bianchi, the letter was an attempt by the looters to establish the piece in a collection to hide its illicit nature. Again, the false provenance on its own does not necessarily mean that the piece is stolen or forged, but it does suggest that "if the kouros is not guilty, the Getty is."[4] There would be no other need for a false provenance to be invented. So far,  no country has claimed the statue, and if doubts about its authenticity continue, maybe none ever will. More recently, the Getty updated their acquisitions policy to adhere to the articles of the UNESCO 1970 Convention.[5]


 [1] Lapatin, "Proof?: The Case of the Getty Kouros," 44.

[2] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970," accessed May 25, 2015, http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=13039&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

[3] Neil Brodie and Colin Renfrew, "Looting and the World's Archaeological Heritage: The Inadequate Response," Annual Review of Anthropology 34 (2005): 343-361.

[4] Lapatin, "Proof?: The Case of the Getty Kouros," 44.

[5] J. Paul Getty Museum, "Acquisitions Policy," Last modified October, 2006. http://www.getty.edu/about/governance/pdfs/acquisitions_policy.pdf

 

The Evidence: Provenance