With all the tumult in recent years surrounding the trafficking in antiquities, museums can no longer simply purchase works relying on the dealers for provenance, as The New York Times illustrates with this recent acquisition by the Cleveland Museum:
David Franklin, who took over as director of the Cleveland Museum in 2010 to usher in the era of its expansion, has adopted one of the more staunchly pro-collecting stances among American museums.
And so when two rare opportunities came Cleveland’s way — a stunning marble portrait from around the time of Christ thought to be that of Drusus Minor, son of the Roman emperor Tiberius, one of only about 30 such Drusus portraits known to have survived from antiquity; and a beautifully preserved Mayan cylinder vessel with a painted battle scene from A.D. 600-900 — the museum did not pass them up. […] The marble head, in particular, for which Mr. Franklin said the museum paid a “significant amount” of its yearly acquisition budget, is likely to raise questions. It was sold at auction in 2004 in France and has no publication record before 1970. But the museum said it believed its history could be traced back to the late 19th century as the property of a prominent family in Algiers. […]
Mr. Franklin said he believed that the gallery and the museum knew enough about both the marble head and the cylinder to be confident that they had not been illicitly taken. “We’ve done our due diligence,” Mr. Franklin said, “and we feel that both these objects have a pre-1970 provenance.”
Museum Defends Antiquities Collecting (New York Times)