06 January 2013

Negroponte Hoard, Part Three

 Pavlos Lampros, 1819-1887.
Antiquarian, numismatist, seller of the Halkis Treasure

We should be calling this Negroponte Hoard the 'Halkis Treasure' and I will try to do so.  I have written about it twice before, generally here, and about a specific emblem here.  I am speaking today -- January 6 -- to the American Institute of Archaeology about the treasure, as part of a panel on the relationships of museums to archaeology.  This is some of what I will be telling them, although they will see many more pictures than I have put here.
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The known documentary sources for the treasure are extremely limited and consist of fourteen letters in Italian (with modern English translations) in the archives of the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.  The letters were written by Pavlos Lampros between November 1867 and December 1872.   He was a well-known Athenian antiquarian and numismatist , father of the great historian (and Prime Minister) Spyridon Lampros, and his coin collection is the core of the Numismatic Museum in Athens.

It is possible that there are more documents in the Lampros papers in the Numismatic Museum: no one has yet looked at these, and I would encourage a student looking for a dissertation topic to consider them.  For various reasons, I cannot rely on plans for  further work on this topic, and I would be glad to send my accumulation of material and photographs to a serious scholar. 

The fourteen Lampros letters at the Ashmolean are to Charles Drury Fortnum, a wealthy and deeply knowledgeable antiquarian scholar and collector, who bought for several collectors and collections, including those of the Ashmolean, the Victoria and Albert, and the British museums.  The 417 pieces that collectively make up the Halkis Treasure are now in the Ashmolean -- 21 rings and a spectacular button, and the BM -- 395 items, mostly buttons.  (Every button -- 65 in one group, 40, 36, 42 in other groups -- gets its own catalog entry.)  Most of these pieces are of Western medieval or Byzantine style, a few earrings and other odd pieces are classical and Hellenistic.  Almost all are gold, silver, or gilded silver.  Mr. Fortnum only wanted the best.


Charles Drury Fortnum, 1820-1899.
Antiquarian, writer, collector.

The letters primarily list items Lampros has for sale, negotiates prices, and tells how items are being transmitted, and names agents to receive payment.

 In 1867, when the correspondence began, Fortnum had become an advisor to the British Museum where his good friend Augustus Wollaston Franks was Keeper of British and Medaeival Antiquities and Ethnography. He turned down the position of Principal Librarian (director) in 1878.  Items from the Halkis Treasure in the BM collection can be identified in the letters, as well as items in the Ashmolean.  Franks bought these items personally, with his own funds, and bequeathed them along with 20,000 other items to the BM at his death in 1897.  Nowadays, this blurring of curators, collectors, and collections would be frowned-upon, at a minimum, but I know nothing of museum financing in England in the 19th century, and these men made possible extraordinary collections. 

Augustus Wollaston Franks, 1820-1897.
Collector, curator, philanthropist.

means of collecting would also be seriously questioned now, and would collide with major issues of international law, not just national.  In the second Ashmolean letter, Lampros writes:

I ask you not to let anyone know that I provided you with these objects, as this could compromise my position. I am prohibited from exporting antique objects.
Whatever the Greek law on antiquities in 1867, it covered the rings and buttons in the Ashmolean and BM collections.  The letters also indicate that Lampros used a number of sources to transmit the items to Franks, and several agents to receive and transmit money back to Athens.

The treasures were preserved for posterity, but with the complete loss  -- as far as we know now -- of information as to the circumstances of their find, either as to dates or to locations, or the contexts in which they were found.  In that second letter Lampros also writes:

I can tell you precisely that all the objects that you first bought, and those that I now possess, were found in the foundations of one house alone situated within the fortress of Halkis. I believe that [they] were treasure belonging to some medieval prince.
 This is not likely to be completely true. This statement seems to hark back to the find in 1840 of the Chalkis Armor, a large store of 15th-century armor, divided between the National Museum of Athens and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The armor was allegedly found bricked up in a wall next to the military hospital, but the exact circumstances of the find are not now known.  But the topos of a single-find-in-Halkis was firmly set in the minds of European collectors.

The single-find topos is also firmly set in modern consciousness.  The on-line Ashmolean catalog of rings from the Halkis Treasure states that they were found in Halkis in 1840.  In a variant on the single-find, in January 2009, the Gennadius in Athens gave a presentation on the Halkis Treasure.  All three speakers -- an Ephor, a Library Director, a BM Curator -- chose as their default position the statement that the treasure was a hoard from the fall of Negroponte to the Ottomans in 1470. 

This is extremely unlikely, even impossible, if one has read the original sources pertaining to the defense and siege of Negroponte, and suggests to me something like a whiff of chauvinism. The Curator has wavered since, concluding a 2010 article, "It is clear that the Treasure comprises object from different hoards and different dates, but how and when these came together remains a mystery." Although she and her editor did not seem to notice that she had written on the first page, "it has to be assumed that the deposit of the Chalcis Treasure was made in 1470 when Chalcis was invaded by the Ottoman Turks."

The Lampros letters do not say when various finds were made, although one has a strong impression that they are ongoing during the period of the letters.
  The most reliable information  we can get from the letters is that certain items were being sold between 1867 and 1872.

 To be continued:

Ashmolean Museum Search

Halkis treasure numbers run CDEF.F103, CDEF.F376-F396.

British Museum Search
Search term "Halkida"

Particular thanks to Nicky Tsougarakis who obtained the Lampros letters for me and retranslated sections of them. The Lampros letters are found in: Ashmolean Archives, Fortnum Papers, F/9/i/1-14.  The English translation in the Ashmolean is by Bet McCleod and Nicoletta Norman.

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