Archive for the ‘Modern(ish)’ Category

Stolen Revolutionary War-era rifle recovered

Sunday, November 3rd, 2019

A rare 1775 rifle made that was stolen from a museum display in 1971 has been returned to its rightful owners. Manufactured by master gunsmith Johann Christian Oerter near what is now Nazareth, Pennsylvania, the firearm was on display at the Valley Forge Museum of American History in Valley Forge State Park when someone crowbarred open the supposedly theft-proof case and made off with the five-foot-long rifle on the morning of October 2nd, 1971. A visiting Boy Scout was the first to notice the empty case a few hours later and alert the staff.

The number of signed and dated rifles from the Revolutionary War era known to exist today is vanishingly small. Born in Fredericksburg a member of the German-speaking Moravian community, Oerter was one of the premiere gunsmiths of the period. He engraved his name, the date and “Christian’s Spring,” the town where the weapon was made,  on top of the rifle’s long iron barrel. Someone else who was probably the first owner carved “W. Goodwin” on the rifle’s wooden stock. The museum is researching the name to find out more about who W. Goodwin was.

The guns proved instrumental in the American war effort, allowing colonial soldiers to shoot more accurately and from farther away than their British counterparts, who carried smooth-bore muskets. Some scholars credit the colonists’ ultimate victory to the more advanced firearms carried by their troops. […]

Known for their elaborate silver and brass wire inlays and carved decorations, Oerter’s firearms are recognized by arms scholars as some of the finest and most important of the period.

The rifle the FBI returned Friday is only one of two signed and dated examples of Oerter’s work known to still exist. The other, housed in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, was given in the early 1800s to the future King George IV, then the Prince of Wales, by a British cavalry officer who served in the war.

The flintlock rifle disappeared for 50 years until it came into the hands antiques dealer Kelly Kinzle last year. He got the rifle at a barn sale and assumed it was a fake. Upon closer examination, however, he realized it was the real deal. His lawyer made the connection between this Oerter rifle and the one stolen at Valley Forge in 1971. They alerted the FBI’s Art Crime Team who, together with city and county police, investigated the reemergence of the artifact seeking to trace its path and identify the perpetrator of the original crime.

The owners, the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution (PSSR), acquired the rifle in 1963. They loaned it to the Valley Forge Historical Society to exhibit at their museum, whose collection forms the core of the new Museum of the American Revolution. When the rifle was restored to the PSSR, they arranged to put it back on display (albeit in an facility with a tad more rigorous security). It will make its public debut in the special exhibition Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier on Wednesday, November 6th, and will remain on display through March 17th, 2020.

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24-foot bicentennial mural of George Washington restored

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

Triumph of Washington, a monumental painting by Gardner Hale that hasn’t seen the light of day in 87 years, has been restored and will go on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. The mural is a unique perspective on George Washington, depicting him looking up towards the skies, mounted on his noble all-white destrier (perhaps the famous Nelson?) at the peak of compositional triangle, flanked on both sides by officers carrying the flags of all 13 colonies. Behind them is a skyline of abstract skyscrapers, two of which are topped with pyramids in a nod to the Washington Monument.

Gardner Hale studied in Europe before returning to his native New York in 1917 where he made a name for himself as a painter of murals and frescoes on large surfaces, interior and exterior. The trend for concrete and cement construction at that time dovetailed neatly with his interests as they provided a neutral background for his colorful, vivid, active designs. By the early 1920s his work was in demand all over the United States and Europe.

Painted in 1931 just a few months before the artist died at age 37 when he accidentally drove 500 feet off a cliff on a stormy night, the 24 feet wide and 14 feet high mural was only exhibited once, at the Smithsonian’s George Washington Bicentennial exhibition in 1932. The Triumph of Washington was commissioned specifically for the celebration of George Washington’s 200th birthday. After that exhibition in D.C., the mural was bought by a New Jersey man. He rolled it up and stored it. Its history after that is a mystery. At some point it was acquired by Deedee Wigmore of D. Wigmore Fine Art in New York City. She donated it to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art in 2017.

When conservators examined the mural, they found it in better condition than you might expect from a monumental canvas that had been burritoed for decades. There were some scratches on one end — likely the one that was sticking out from the roll — and a few thin vertical creases. There were also some stains and tears and evidence of water damage. The canvas itself was still pliable and healthy, and because Hale used a thin layer of paint on his murals, there was not a lot of cracking, lifting or bubbling. The top edge had to be reinforced for hanging and the areas of loss filled in without attempting to make it look like they were never there. The museum received a Bank of America Art Conservation Project grant to help fund the treatments necessary to return it to public view.

The mural is now the centerpiece of Renewing the American Spirit: The Art of the Great Depression which opened Saturday in the museum’s special exhibitions gallery. There it takes up an entire wall in the space. The exhibition runs through April 26th, 2020.

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Buy a piece of Amsterdam’s architectural history

Friday, November 1st, 2019

The city of Amsterdam is giving away historic pieces of itself. Ornamental architectural fragments salvaged from historical properties lost to urban development are being offered to Amsterdam residents free of charge. Everything from whole gable tops of canal houses to carved reliefs to columns to simple blocks of stone with mounting holes and attachment points (categorized as debris) from buildings dating as far back as the 17th century are up for grabs. hundreds of pallets of stone architectural features, some with their matching architectural drawings.

They were removed in the reconstruction after World War II and the 1960s, but remarkably for the times, they were carefully documented — their original locations recorded — and kept safe in a warehouse at an undisclosed location. The fragments have been inventoried carefully so that any existing documentation of their original sites (photographs, architectural drawings) are still associated with the pieces.

The city’s department of monuments and archeology has decided to take advantage of the treasure trove of architectural debris in an attempt to give Amsterdam’s golden age a second life.

“It is time to reuse these parts so that we can all enjoy them again”, the municipality has announced. In its attempt to “breathe new life” into old Amsterdam, a 190-page on-line catalogue of the old stonework has been put online to allow every Amsterdammer to own a piece of their heritage.

The catalogue can be seen here (pdf), and the conditions for obtaining on the pieces here (also pdf). Interested parties must submit an application to the Monuments and Archeology department of the municipality describing their planned use for the fragments, the name of the contractor and as full as possible project information for the reuse of the fragment.

If they apply for one of the higher category pieces (larger, better preserved, more thoroughly documented), the city will assess applications more strictly. Criteria include whether the application evinces a full understanding of the piece’s historical value, whether the integration of the fragment into construction runs the risk of damaging it, if it will be installed a listed/protected building how will affect it, how visible it will be in its new location, if will it be reused in the city Amsterdam and how practical is the plan. Applications must be emailed by December 31. All applicants will be notified if they’ve been awarded their desired fragment by the end of February 2020.

There is so payment required to acquire the fragment, but all costs for transport and installation must be paid by the applicant. The fragments must be claimed and removed from the secret warehouse by May 31st.

“Maybe you happen to be a fan and self-builder?” the municipality asks. “Then consider a historic element in your modern Amsterdam facade! But a construction fragment can also be suitable for public spaces or as an application in an art project. And there are even more possibilities, for example, a museum can exhibit it or it can be used as educational material. [The department of] monuments and archeology is open to creative applications!”

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Fire destroys historic castle in Okinawa

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Shuri castle in Okinawa, Japan, suffered devastating damage in a fire this morning. The castle is of great significance to Okinawa’s cultural heritage in three ways: it was built in the  Sanzan Period (14th century) as a castle, was expanded and used as the palace of the king during the Ryukyu Kingdom, and it was rebuilt with meticulous care to historic preservation after it was shelled by US forces during World War II.

“The cause of the fire has not been determined yet but a security company alarm went off at around 2.30 in the morning,” Ryo Kochi, a spokesman with the Okinawa prefectural police said.

“It started at the main temple and looks to be spreading fast to all the main structures … firefighters are still battling the fire,” he added.

The fire continued to burn for hours even as firefighters from nearly a dozen engines worked tirelessly to extinguish it. The loss is immense. The Seiden, the main hall, and the Hokuden, the building to the north, the Nanden south of the main hall,and the Bandokoro, the former reception area that is now a museum, were entirely destroyed.

From 1429 until the end of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879, it was the royal court, center of government and foreign trade as well as the king’s residence. The wood structures are susceptible to fire and burned three times over the centuries, in 1453, 1660 and 1709. They were rebuilt.

When Okinawa was taken over by Japan and the kingdom fell in 1879, the castle was used as an army barracks. It was designated a national treasure in 1925, but the Japanese Army used its underground tunnels as a headquarters, so it was deliberately targeted for shelling during the Battle of Okinawa at the end of May 1945. Again the castle caught fire and most of the buildings were lost.

Enough of it was standing by 1950 to house the University of the Ryukyus. Reconstruction of the second main gate was completed in 1958, and a major reconstruction project began in 1992 to restore the main buildings and walls. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

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Seneca Village finally gets its due in Central Park

Monday, October 28th, 2019

Permanent Seneca Village marker installed in 2013. Photo courtesy Hyperallergic.One hundred and sixty-two years after the predominately African-American residents of Seneca Village were literally beaten out of their homes by New York police, the great urban park that was built over the once-thriving community has finally given it long-overdue attention. Plaques marking significant locations of the site have been installed inside Central Park as part of a new Discover Seneca Village exhibition.

Seneca Village was founded in 1825 by free African-Americans in what was the farmland miles away from downtown Manhattan. Slavery was still legal in New York state. Full emancipation was two years away, but even then systems were in place to deprive black people of the rights of citizenship. For an African-American man to be allowed to vote, he had to own at least $250 worth of property and have resided in the state for three years.  When Seneca Village was formed out of farmland lots stretching from W82nd to 88th Streets between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, therefore, those lots meant much more than simple home ownership. In 1855, only 100 black men qualified for the vote in New York. Ten percent of them lived in Seneca Village.

The community became ethnically mixed with influx of Irish and German immigrants in the 1840s. Seneca Village had a population of less than 300 when the New York legislature decided to build a city park and authorized taking the land by eminent domain. More than 1,600 people were forced to sell their property and moved out to make way for Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux landscaped urban paradise. The Senecans went to court to keep their homes, fighting for two years until they were violently removed in 1857.

The construction of Central Park and New York’s short memory quickly erased the existence Seneca Village. It has only been revived in recent decades thanks to the 1992 publication of a book about the history of Central Park and the sustained efforts of historians, researchers and archaeologists culminating in the first excavation of the site of the village in 2011.

“The Institute for the Study of Seneca Village History has been studying Seneca Village for decades, through archeological excavations as well as research about the community and its descendants. This exhibit of signage will be a valuable way for the public to begin to explore the history of this extraordinary community, which is still not widely known, and to inspire discussion about its meaning today,” founders of the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History said in a statement.

Sites highlighted by the new plaques include Seneca Village’s significant gardens, churches, homes and infrastructure. Several plaques also detail what life was like for Seneca Village residents, including the significant Irish-American community that made up about one third of the village’s residents. The conservancy plans to keep the signage on exhibit through October 2020.

The new signs are not permanent; they are part of an outdoor exhibit dedicated to Seneca Village, its critical importance in the history of slavery, emancipation, African-American and immigrant life in New York city in the first half of the 19th century. To take a walk through the Seneca Village exhibition in Central Park, start at the West 85th Street entrance. A map marking the significant sites will lead you through 16 key locations explained by the signs at every stop. (A pdf of the map can be downloaded here.)

Edit: I cannot believe I didn’t post this yesterday. Two calendar gaps in one month!1 I can’t even blame the scheduling system this time. I just plum neglected to mash the button like an idiot.

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Head of Pan repatriated to Italy

Friday, October 25th, 2019

A marble head of Pan stolen 51 years ago has been returned to Italy. The statue head, which dates to the 1st-2nd century A.D., was looted in February 1968 from the Farnese Gardens on the Palatine hill. US Ambassador to Italy Lewis Eisenberg formally handed over the looted object to Culture Minister Dario Franceschini in a ceremony on Rome on Thursday.

Carabinieri special investigators spotted the marble head in a California auction catalog in 2016 and notified their U.S. counterparts.

U.S. attache Armando Astorga said the piece entered the United States in the mid-2000s, after spending many years in private hands in Europe.

So far, the investigation has not determined the original thief.

The Farnese Gardens were built over the in-filled ruins of Tiberius’ palace by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, grandson of Pope Paul III, in 1550. They were the first private botanical gardens in Europe, filled with rare plants imported from Africa and the Americas, grottos, aviaries, monumental gates, terraced balconies and staircases scaling the Palatine from the Campo Vaccino below. Alessandro Farnese’s collection of ancient statuary, assembled from finds on his own property and the acquisition of entire collections from other noble families, was installed in the botanical gardens.

The view from the garden included the Arch of Titus, the iconic three columns of the Temple of Castor of Pollux and the Basilica of Maxentius. In the 17th century the water supply to the Palatine was restored and the Farnese family expanded the garden to include fountains. Between the exotic plants, picturesque fountains, dramatic views and the Vatican museum-quality ancient sculptures, the Farnese Gardens became a popular stop for Grand Tourists of the moneyed classes.

The remains of the Roman and Imperial fora would be excavated in the 19th century, but by then the Farnese Gardens were almost as ruined as the great civic structures of the ancient city. When Antonio, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, the last Farnese of the patrilineal line died in 1731, Alessandro’s Palatine summer villa, botanical gardens and the greatest collection of ancient statuary assembled since antiquity passed into the hands of Antonio’s niece Elizabetta Farnese, Queen consort of King Philip V of Spain, and thence to her son Charles of Bourbon, soon to be king of Naples and the Two Sicilies. As absentee landowners, the Bourbon-Parmas neglected their Roman properties and by the mid-18th century the Farnese Gardens were already in decay. A century later, the villa and garden were largely in ruins.

The last King of the Two Sicilies, Francis II, sold the Farnese Gardens to Napoleon III of France. After the full Unification of Italy with Rome as its capital in 1870, the state bought the property and began to excavate it, seeking the remains of the ancient imperial palaces like the one Alessandro Farnese had so blithely filled in to make his garden. The archaeological site has been excavated off and on since then.

Just over a year after the head of Pan was stolen from the site, the Carabinieri Art Squad was founded on May 3rd, 1969. It was the first national police force division dedicated specifically to the protection of cultural heritage, anticipating by a year the UNESCO Convention combatting the illegal export and traffic in cultural artifacts. To mark the 50th anniversary of this important milestone in the fight against the illicit traffic in archaeological and artistic treasures, the Carabinieri are currently hosting an international conference on heritage protection. The head of Pan was repatriated on the opening day of the conference, a fitting celebration of the anniversary.

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House of the Bicentenary reopens after 36 years

Thursday, October 24th, 2019

One of Herculaneum’s greatest architectural and artistic gems has reopened to the public in grand style 36 years after it was closed in dismal condition.

Bicentenary House was home to Gaius Petronius Stephanus and his wife Calantonia Themis. It was one of the city’s finest private houses, with well-preserved mosaic floors and frescoes depicting mythological scenes and architectural and animal motifs.

The house gave onto Herculaneum’s main street and the entrance had a sliding wooden grill, which survived the volcanic inferno. “It is 2,000 years old. It is one-of-a-kind with its delicate decorations,” said Domenico Camardo, chief archaeologist at the Herculaneum Conservation Project.

Three stories high and 6,500 square feet in area, the House of the Bicentenary is considered Herculaneum’s most sumptuous noble villa (most of the ancient city remains buried under 60 feet of volcanic rock and the modern city on top of that). Its tablinium (reception room) is particularly splendid, with frescoes of the highest quality depicting scenes from mythology on the walls and an exceptional mosaic floor that combines opus sectile (prized stone materials like colored marbles custom cut and inlaid) and opus tessellatum (cube tiles at least 4mm long and wide).

The domus got its modern name because it was discovered in 1938, the bicentenary of the beginning of excavations at Herculaneum in 1738. Led by archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri, the open-air excavations during this period took place side-by-side with stabilization, restoration and exhibition of the sites. Artifacts found inside the domus were exhibited in the hall to the left of the atrium, which had been stabilized by crews of on-site masons and carpenters, as excavation continued in the rest of the villa. In the hall to the right of the atrium a sliding wood screen with a carved lintel, preserved by the eruption, was conserved and then displayed in situ for visitors. The tablinium frescoes and pavement were restored and that space was also opened to the public.

By 1983, the House of the Bicentenary was in dire straits from its exposure to the elements and its popularity with tourists. It was structurally unsound and the wall paintings were deteriorating at an alarming rate. The tuffa wall was breaking apart, the plaster layers separating off the walls, the paint layers flaking and turning to dust. Biological organisms, pollution particles, dirt and a coating from a previous restoration that was supposed to help preserve it but has instead accelerated the flaking were degrading the integrity and colors of the paint. The mosaic was lifting off the floor and had suffered significant tile loss.

In 2011, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) embarked on a comprehensive new conservation project of the House of the Bicentenary in collaboration with the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum and the Herculaneum Conservation Project. The team focused on the tablinium, starting with extensive research, study and documentation of the site’s condition and using that data to tailor a conservation plan that would stabilize and treat the wall paintings, mosaic pavement and architectural surfaces.

For example, researchers were able to identify the materials and methods used by the ancient artists to create the frescoes and each those used in later restorations. This was a complex multi-layers problem that required thorough archival research of Maiuri’s photographs and written records, close visual examination, imaging technology, scientific tests in situ and in the laboratory. Environmental monitoring of different parts of the room and analysis of the salts and biogrowths revealed how temperature, water and salt in the air and ground contributed to organism growth and the damage to the plaster and paint.

The project has been so successful in stabilizing the grand domus that not only can the site itself be reopened to the public, but the passive environmental approaches, materials and technologies used by the conservation team will now be deployed on other structures in the ancient city.

“It was an occasion to develop new, innovative materials and methods for conservation that can be used in the site and elsewhere,” said Rainer, explaining that other frescoes at the site had been covered by the same, damaging coating [that caused flaking in the triclinium wall paintings].

Indeed, the wealth of information from the conservation project and ongoing monitoring of conditions at the House of the Bicentenary will be of invaluable aid to the other sites struck by Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that are experiencing the same kinds of deterioration issues.

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Herculaneum and its papyri live on video

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

During the first excavation of the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum, the team unearthed the villa’s entire library, more than 1,800 scrolls still tightly rolled and neatly stacked in shelves. That was in 1754, 1,675 years after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius instantly carbonized organized material in clouds of superheated gases and ash and then buried the city in 60 feet of hard volcanic rock. The volcano destroyed the city, and at the same time preserved the only complete ancient library in the world.

Naturally scholars were desperate to read those scrolls which could contain a wealth of long-lost texts. Early attempts at unrolling the scrolls did identify a few Epicurean texts, but unrolling carbonized papyrus almost certainly results in its destruction, and the vast majority of the villa’s scrolls were left to the hopefully more tender mercies of the future. Non-invasive technology like X-rays and CT scans were deployed, but with little success.

Ultrabright synchroton X-rays has been successful where other imaging techniques have failed, reading erased works by Galen, virtually opening a 17th century mystery box and recovering the image of a hopelessly tarnished daguerreotype. In 2015, the power of the synchroton particle collider was first deployed on Herculaneum papyri. It was a test of the possibilities and the results were very encouraging, albeit limited. The work proceeds apace, however, and two scrolls from the L’Institut de France are now being scanned by the Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchroton science facility.

The use of carbon ink is one of the main reasons these scrolls have evaded deciphering, according to [University of Kentucky’s Professor Brent Seales]. Unlike metal-based inks, such as the iron gall used to write medieval documents, carbon ink has a density similar to that of the carbonized papyrus on which it sits. Therefore, it appears invisible in X-ray scans.

“We do not expect to immediately see the text from the upcoming scans, but they will provide the crucial building blocks for enabling that visualization. First, we will immediately see the internal structure of the scrolls in more definition than has ever been possible, and we need that level of detail to ferret out the highly compressed layers on which the text sits. In addition, we believe strongly—and contrary to conventional wisdom–that tomography does indeed capture subtle, non-density-based evidence of ink, even when it is invisible to the naked eye in the scan data. The machine learning tool we are developing will amplify that ink signal by training a computer algorithm to recognize it–pixel by pixel–from photographs of opened fragments that show exactly where the ink is—voxel by voxel—in the corresponding tomographic data of the fragments. The tool can then be deployed on data from the still-rolled scrolls, identify the hidden ink, and make it more prominently visible to any reader.”

You can learn more about the study of the carbonized scrolls, past, present and future, in a live-streamed discussion from the Getty Villa. It will be shown on the Getty’s YouTube channel from 4-6PM PST (7-9 PM EST).

Speaking of Herculaneum and the Getty, Buried by Vesuvius: Treasures from the Villa dei Papiri, the seminal exhibition at the Getty Villa, ends a week from Monday. For those of us who haven’t been able to make it to Malibu to visit this extraordinary assemblage of statuary, frescoes, mosaic floors and more than a thousand of those famed carbonized papyrus scrolls, the Getty will be broadcasting a special curatorial tour of the exhibition live on its Facebook page on Thursday, October 24th, at 9:15 AM PST (12:15 PM EST).

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Gold jewelry recovered from Elgin’s shipwreck

Thursday, October 17th, 2019

When Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, tore half the sculpted marbles off the Parthenon starting in 1801, he also helped himself to tons of sculptures from other temples and a vast array of antiquities around Athens.

(He did not have permission of Ottoman authorities for this brutal act of pillage, just for the record. The so-called Ottoman firman he claimed had granted him permission does not exist even though all imperial firmans BY LAW were meticulously archived and can be accessed to this day, and the almost-certainly fictional “translation” that does exist does not authorize the removal of pediments, metopes, friezes, caryatids or anything else attached to the Parthenon, only to inscriptions and loose marbles from the area around it. In fact, a local Ottoman official went to stop him when word got out that Elgin was prizing marbles off the structure. Elgin simply bribed him to let him get away with it, just like looters do today.)

His loot was packed into 17 crates and loaded on to his ship, the Mentor, which set sail from Piraeus on September 15th, 1802. Two days later, the ship began to take on water and headed for the nearby Ionian island of Kythera. While attempting to drop anchor off the coast, the ship collided onto the rocks of Cape Avlemonas and sank.

The 12 people on board were rescued by a passing vessel. The 17 crates of priceless ancient treasures  took a little more effort to rescue. Elgin spent large sums organizing a salvage mission performed by local sponge divers that eventually succeeded in raising the Parthenon marbles. They weren’t able to recover all of Elgin’s loot, however, and Greek archaeologists have returned to the Mentor several times over the years to look for lost artifacts. Maritime archaeologists have found amphorae, stone vessels, Egyptian statuary, coins and a number of British objects including bullets, pistols, watches and a compass.

This year’s excavation of the site focused primarily on cleaning, documenting and conservation of the wreck itself. The team cleaned the surviving section of the ship’s hull and took high-resolution photographs of the entire wreck site that were then stitched together digitally to create a photomosaic that will aid in the long-term preservation of the ship’s remains.

The moveable objects recovered from the wreck include small parts of the ship — wooden pulleys complete with surviving sections of rope — and artifacts it carried like remarkably intact glazed kitchenware and a section of a wooden leg. The two stand-out artifacts are exquisitely crafted jewels: a gold granulation ring and a pair of gold filigree earrings.

Gold granulation ring. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture. Gold filigree earrings. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture.

Section of wooden leg. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture. Wooden pulley with mooring rope remains. Photo by P. Vezyrtzis, courtesy the Greek Ministry of Culture.

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Nazi hoard given to Argentina’s Holocaust Museum

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

The Nazi objects seized from a shady dealer/collector in Buenos Aires in 2017 have been officially deposited at the Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires. The 83 objects — 71 unique pieces and some duplicates — were found during a raid seeking trafficked Chinese antiquities. Secreted  in full Nancy Drew style behind a bookcase, Argentine Federal Police agents found a hidden room filled with Nazi artifacts including an eagle statue on a swastika base, an SS hourglass, a large bust of Hitler, a bunch of small busts of Hitler, a cranial measurement device used to determine ostensible racial purity, a sphinx figurine that’s serving heavy Raiders of the Lost Arc vibes, and a Ouija board inscribed with Nazi symbols, an example of Nazism’s obsession with the occult.

At the time of the bust, the name of the collector was not released. We now know it was Carlos Alberto Oliveras. He was charged with violating cultural heritage protection laws regarding other objects found in the raid. In Argentina it’s not a crime to have a bunch of tacky gross Nazi junk in your house. It’s only a crime to sell it, and only original material, so the first step to determining whether Oliveras’ creepy secret Nazi stash was in violation of the law was to determine its authenticity.

Experts from Argentina and Germany have now thoroughly examined and researched the collection. Most of the objects are indeed authentic produced during the Nazi period in Germany and German-occupied countries.  Some were modified to make them more colorful and appealing to buyers, others are later replicas. Oliveras will be tried for keeping Nazi artifacts for commercial purposes (he denies the charge) and the collection has been deposited at the museum by judicial order.

As many as 5,000 Nazi officials are believed to have fled to Argentina after the war, including monsters in human form like Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. The quality and rarity of some of the objects suggests they may have belonged to high-ranking Nazis.

Museum President Marcelo Mindlin said at a press conference on Wednesday that with the judicial deposit:

“they ceased to be objects of a clandestine Nazi cult market to be at the service of education and memory. These despicable objects come from an ideology that produced torture and death. They are the sign of a regime of hate and discrimination that ended the lives of eleven million people (including 1.5 million children), and dragged the world into the worst moment in its history. These objects, which were used in the past to foster hatred, death and destruction, will now be at the service of the transmission of democratic values, education and the struggle for memory, so that tragedies, such as that of the Holocaust, do not happen again.”

The Holocaust Museum of Buenos Aires, the only Holocaust museum in Latin America, opened in 2001. It has been closed for two years of remodeling and conservation work and is scheduled to reopen on December 1st. The objects will be exhibited in its collection of Nazi propaganda and paraphernalia.

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