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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

Den of Antiquities: The Illicit Market in Ancient Art

Instructor(s): Leslie Mechem, Classics

What is the difference between collecting and looting antiquities? What constitutes ownership of an art object? What distinguishes individual from museum collections? What are the ethical obligations of collectors? Students will examine the trade in antiquities stretching from the first "collector" - a Roman general who stole art from Sicily after sacking it in 212 BCE - to Lord Elgin's "purchase" of the Parthenon marbles in 1806, to the current scandals in the trading of ancient art which have entangled NYC's Metropolitan Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Our discussions will include the most recent controversies that have embroiled the museum, gallery and auction-house worlds, pitting national interests against private enterprise. Various collections housed in London will serve as a laboratory for the study of these questions: the Victoria & Albert Museum; the British Museum; the Sir John Soames Museum; the Museum of London; and Christie’s and Sotheby’s, London’s two premier auction houses. In addition, we will visit the Ashmolean and the Pitt Rivers Museums in Oxford, two superb examples of the art of collecting in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Course Offered