Long sought by the Louvre, now acquired by the Louvre Abou Dhabi

San Marino, c. 500 after J.C.
Fibula from Damagnano
Pair of the one acquired by the
Louvre- Abou Dhabi
Gold and garnets - 12 x 6.5 cm
Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum
Photo : Germanisches Nationalmuseum

15/6/09 – Acquisition – Abou Dhabi, Louvre-Abou Dhabi – In the list of acquired works announced by the agency France-Muséums for Abou Dhabi, we published those corresponding only to the historical time limits covered the The Art Tribune (see news item of 3/6/09). But included among those works is a fibula from the Damagnano treasure, found in San Marino at the end of the 19th century and for which a pair (ill.) is held at the Nuremberg museum. At the time of publication we did not know the story behind this object.

Daniel Alcouffe, the previous curator general in charge of the Département des Objets d’Art at the Louvre told us :

“I am distressed and shocked that this object was bought by Abou Dhabi, and ashamed that we allowed this to happen. This is an Ostrogothic fibula dating from around 500 A.D., in the shape of an eagle. This a masterpiece of goldsmith cloisonné. Both from a historical perspective as well as the quality of production, this object belonged in the Louvre, especially since we tried to pre-empt it at the Béhague-Ganay auction on 5 December 1987, at Sotheby’s Monaco, and failed as it was the end of the year and the funds were unavailable. It was acquired by the Lauder family and we never lost sight of it ; we still hoped to be able to buy it eventually. In my mind, this was always an acquisition meant for the Louvre.”

Laurence des Cars, Scientific director of France-Muséums, defends this purchase by saying :

“There is no use creating problems where they don’t exist. We respected every step of the procedure and we do so every time. Information is provided on a permanent basis to patrimonial departments, the Management of the Musées de France and its collections department in order to avoid any conflict of interest. There is no problem with the Louvre and the departments at the Louvre. When a French museum wishes to purchase a work which might interest the Louvre-Abou Dhabi, we step out of the way.”

We do not in any way doubt that this acquisition does not create a problem for the management at the Louvre, nor do we contest the procedure followed by France-Muséums [1]. This is, in fact, the heart of the problem. It simply reflects what we have always said : the position of the French curators in charge of acquiring works for a foreign museum is untenable and conflicts of interest are inevitable. Furthermore, how can one believe that this is a coincidence, when we know that the Louvre long sought to acquire this object and it has now gone to the Louvre-Abou Dhabi ?

Version française

Didier Rykner, lundi 15 juin 2009


[1] Nonetheless, let us recall that the President of the Louvre and France-Muséums regretted the “blunders” during the first acquisitions committee for the Louvre-Abou Dhabi (see news item of 16/5/09). We asked the Louvre to respond, but to no avail.

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