Thursday, June 10, 2010

Miles on Art as Plunder

One of my summer jobs in law school was helping a professor edit a case book on art law. Ever since, I've kept an eye out for interesting historical work on the topic. I recently came across Art as Plunder: The Ancient Origins of Debate about Cultural Property (2008), by Margaret Miles (University of California, Irvine). Miles focuses on art theft in Sicily under the governorship of Gaius Verres, and, more specifically, on the Verrines, the speeches that Cicero penned in connection with his prosecution of the rogue appointee. Miles also considers Britain's decision to repatriate art that Napoleon captured during his invasion of Italy. Overarching questions, according to the publisher, are: "What happens to art in time of war? Who should own art, and what is its appropriate context? Should the victorious ever allow the defeated to keep their art?"

Here's a paragraph from a review:
Miles has no serious doubts that Verres was more or less guilty as charged. But in her new study of his plundering of works of art (which includes a lengthy retrospective on the origins of art collecting in the Graeco-Roman world, and a fascinating discussion of the impact of the case on later issues of cultural property) she does tease out some of the complexities that underlie Cicero’s invective. In broad terms, we can detect a development in the ancient world from the idea of art as essentially a public or religious medium to the idea of art as the object of private collecting and connoisseurship. The late second and early first century BC in Italy was a particularly loaded moment in that transition, as the Romans came increasingly in contact with the artistic traditions of the Greek world, and works of art flowed to Rome from the eastern Mediterranean as the prize of conquest. Intensely debated were the role of Greek art within the “native” traditions of Roman culture, the legitimacy of the private ownership of luxury arts, and how far it was appropriate for an elite Roman to fashion himself as a “lover of art”.
You can find the rest of the review here. A review with a more legal bent is here.