Cyprus Objects to Toledo Museum’s Antiquities Sale

TOLEDO, OH— The government of Cyprus is objecting to an Ohio museum’s sale of antiquities from the east Mediterranean island.

The Toledo Museum of Art also had pieces from Egypt, Greece, and Italy among the 68 artifacts to be sold in a New York auction on October 25 and an online sale closing that day.

A nationally-known archaeologist criticized the sale, and Egyptian officials sought to stop it and have the items from Egypt returned there.

The Blade newspaper reported that Cyprus’ ambassador to the United States also objected on Monday, October 24, asking that the sale be postponed and the museum reconsider keeping the items. Leonidas Pantelides, ambassador of Cyprus to the United States, told The Blade his country “does not insist the pieces be returned to it, but rather that the museum consider keeping the Cypriot antiquities in its collection.”

Of special concern, Pantelides said, is a Cypriot limestone head of a male votary, from 6th century B.C. Valued at between $20,000 and $30,000, the artifact is part of today’s live auction, but the embassy would like to see that piece, at minimum, stay with the museum.

Toledo Museum director Brian Kennedy says the museum respects others’ viewpoints but sometimes sells items to maintain a high-quality collection. He says this sale was expected to generate $500,000 to be put toward acquisitions.

Christy Anagnos, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors, also issued a statement that deaccessioning is a long-standing practice by museums. The funds raised are often invested in an acquisitions endowment supporting the long-term growth of a museum’s collection, she observed. The Toledo Museum is merely continuing a professional practice used by many museums.

Joan Connelly, a renowned art expert, well- known archaeologist, winner of the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award, and professor of classics and art history at New York University, objected to the sale. A Toledo native, she told The Blade that visiting museums and seeing such artifacts during her childhood inspired her to become an archaeologist. Her work in Greek art, myth, and religion led to her 1996 MacArthur Foundation Genius Award. She is an honorary citizen of Peyia Municipality in Cyprus. She said, “The Cypriot limestone head of a bearded votary is especially important as it is a superb example of votive statuary. It must be from a sanctuary of Apollo in the Mesaorea region of Cyprus. In fact, it was this piece that inspired me to write my PhD dissertation and my first book on Cypriot Votive Sculpture.”

Connelly noted, “I would hope that whoever buys this significant piece — the Cypriot limestone head — would give it to a public museum that will treasure it and put it on exhibition for the greater public to see. Alternatively, they could give it to Cyprus where it would be cherished by the people. I would be sad to never see it again ever, which will be the case if it goes underground in a private collection.”

Christie’s Auction House in New York released a statement saying the sale would go on, noting that the proceeds would go to the Toledo Museum’s acquisitions fund and that “The Toledo Museum Art has clear title to all 68 works.”