Sunday, May 21, 2006

A follow up on the Cordoba's beams

After the initial polemic two months ago: A friend of Islamic art Lucian Harris wrote this in the last issue of The Art Newspaper

Christie’s could face legal action over Cordoba beams
Lawyer representing the Church of Cordoba says he may issue proceedings this month if matter is not resolved “amicably”
By Lucian Harris
Posted 11 May 2006
LONDON. Christie’s may face legal action for having included five beams from the ceiling of the tenth-century Great Mosque in Cordoba in an auction last month. The objects were withdrawn from sale at the last minute. The Art Newspaper has discovered that the Metropolitan Police’s art and antiquities unit is “investigating an assignment of valuable oak beams allegedly stolen from a museum in Cordoba in northern Spain”, according to a police statement. The police have confirmed they are working with investigators from Spain. When asked why it withdrew the beams from an Islamic art sale on 4 April, Christie’s said it is “in dialogue with the Spanish authorities with a view to negotiating a private sale for the five wooden beams from Cordoba… Christie’s has [withdrawn] the beams [from the sale] to continue these discussions.” But Jonathan Wheeler, a lawyer with Irwin Mitchell, which represents the Church of Cordoba, says that he firmly believes that Christie’s withdrew the beams from sale because his firm provided the auction house with evidence supporting a proposed application for an injunction, which would have prevented the sale. He said that if the matter is not resolved amicably soon, he expects to receive instructions to issue proceedings against the auction house this month. He told The Art Newspaper that “there is very strong evidence that [the beams] were [in Cordoba] until at least 1946 which means that they are covered by the 1926 Spanish law” which provided that objects which deserve to be preserved for the Spanish nation for reasons of art or culture could not be sold or exported. He says that it is clear that the beams fall within that definition. He added that he is not aware of negotiations for a private sale of the beams to the Spanish government. The five 20-foot beams, carved with Arabic calligraphy, were to be the highlight of an Islamic art sale. “Rare wooden beams raise the roof” trumpeted Christie’s pre-sale promotion of the objects, which had an estimate of around £1m ($1.78m). Once the catalogue had been published, the Spanish ministry of culture immediately issued a request that the beams be withdrawn from sale until it could be established how and when they left Spain, from the Church of Cordoba, owner of the former mosque—which became a cathedral in 1236 and is a Unesco World Heritage site. According to the Christie’s catalogue, the beams had lain for decades in a barn, although the catalogue does not state in which country, only that “verbal tradition in the family was that they had come originally through a property they had owned years ago in the region of Arles, southern France”. Prior to the sale, Christie’s declared it was satisfied with the provenance given by the consignor, described as “a private European collector who acquired them outside Spain in 1998”.


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