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Not all of the accusations have come from the Globe. In the spring and summer of 1996, the Sackler staged an exhibition called The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections (see "The Fire of Hephaistos, Harvard Magazine, May-June 1996, page 54). Boardman professor of fine arts Irene J. Winter, then chair of the fine arts department, lodged a formal protest with Cuno about the dubious pedigrees of several of the objects borrowed for the exhibition, including one bronze owned by husband and wife Leon Levy and Shelby White, benefactors of the Art Museums and supporters of the Ashkelon excavation managed by the Semitic Museum. This piece, Winter wrote in a letter to Cuno, had been "purchased in clear contravention of international convention, for which its purchasers have shown consistent disregard over the years."
Levy and White insist that their acquisitions have been proper. The bronze that appeared particularly problematic to Winter was, says Cuno, an Anglo-Roman head dug up in a British field with a cache of other antiquities by a farmer and shipped out of the country before the government successfully asserted that the farmer's find belonged to the nation. Cuno had resolved the question of whether to include the head in the exhibition to his satisfaction, if not to Winter's, by getting the blessing of the British Museum, where the rest of the farmer's cache resides, a blessing obtained because Levy and White said they would bequeath the head to the British Museum.
"Every time we exhibit" a suspect piece, Winter told the Harvard Crimson, "we buy into the desire for such objects that encourages the destruction of archaeological sites and their contents, and thereby human history."
A 1970 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization convention set standards to thwart the plundering of cultural property, and the U.S. government soon passed legislation making it illegal to import into this country illegally acquired archaeological artifacts. Harvard was quick to sign on to these rules. In 1971 the Corporation adopted a strict policy forbidding the acquisition or exhibition of any object looted or illegally exported from its country of origin and specifying that museum staff must seek reasonable assurance that an object is not so tainted before it is acquired or borrowed. Cuno says that the curator of the exhibition of classical bronzes could find no evidence that any of the loaned items, apart from the head, had an inappropriate pedigree.
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