ART HISTORY CASE STUDY: A PORTRAIT OF SEVENTEENTH CENTURY DUTCH ASPIRATION

bosschaert

Picture: Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder: Still Life with Flowers in a Wan Li Vase (1609-1610)

Unsurprisingly, this little known picture is being used by the National Gallery to promote its exhibition “Dutch Flowers”, on until August 2016. This exhibition features examples from over 200 years of Dutch flower painting, quite a few of which are by Bosschaert and other members of his family. But this picture is important in itself, as it features everything a Dutch merchant of the period would aspire to possess – all the status symbols of the well to do. As such, it is a key document in seventeenth century Dutch social history.

A long standing motif of Holland, the tulips Bosschaert has here portrayed would be recognisable to any contemporary as the most desirable of all tulips at that time. It was the striped petals which set the Semper Augustus tulip apart from its plainer cousins, and the desire for them became so great that it created the first speculative financial boom. Known as Tulipomania, at its height life savings were exchanged for a single bulb in the hope that the flowers would feature the distinctive variegation of the Semper Augustus, and fortunes would be made for successful propagation.

Years later it was discovered that the patterning was caused when the bulb was infected by a virus which, in turn, weakened the plant and often rendered propagation unsuccessful, making it commercially unviable. When the tulip bubble did finally burst in the late 1630s, it did untold damage to the Dutch economy and many families lost everything. Sadly, as we have seen with the dotcom boom and the subprime bubble, history has an alarming tendency to repeat itself. I am told that a film is being made about the Tulipomania, which of course I will go and see, partly because I love tulips but also because it’s a cracking story.

What helped to rescue the Dutch economy is also featured in the painting – blue and white porcelain. The Chinese had, centuries earlier, perfected the creation of highly decorated porcelain which they quickly exported once trade links with Europe were opened in the early 1600s. However, after a diplomatic row the Chinese temporarily ended all trade with Europe, leaving the Dutch (and many other countries) with a market thirsty for a commodity that they could not provide. The potteries at Delft quickly developed their own distinctive take on the highly popular blue and white designs, which proved equally popular and soon gained imitators of their own, most notably Spode in England. The Chinese patterns, however, were always the most coveted and remain popular to this day. A genuine Chinese vase was a prize worth having.

Less obvious, perhaps, are the shells sitting in the foreground, representing the growth in Dutch colonialism. The shells are from both the East and West Indies, showing the spread of European colonial influence at that time. Shells were often prominent features of “wunderkammer” (cabinets of wonders) which many wealthy or intellectual people developed to display the variety of their collections. Shells were natural structures, highly coloured and often iridescent, which came in a large variety of shapes and were virtually impossible to reproduce, so became highly collectible. It even had its own little “mania”, nowhere near as large or as damaging as that for tulips, but certainly any collector worth the name had at least one fine specimen in his collection.

So there you have it – a snapshot of social aspirations in seventeenth century Holland in one painting. I’m delighted it’s being seen by more people; it’s one of my favourites.

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The High Cost of Retirement

Had a very enlightening meeting with a financial adviser recently. Usually, when someone starts talking statistics, figures, graphs and charts, my eyes glaze over and I get this funny droning noise in my head. Fortunately, my IFA (independent financial adviser) is well used to this by now, so he draws me pictures and puts it all in terms I can understand. At the end of today’s meeting, I actually felt like I understood something!

What I’m trying to do, without going into too much gruesome detail, is to work out (a) if I’ll be able to afford to retire in twenty years’ time and (b) if not, when I’ll be able to retire. And so far, things are looking rather good. I may actually be able to afford to retire on time if I promise not to live on anything other than bread and water and sell everything apart from my two favourite books and a pair of moth-eaten slippers.

Yeah, retirement is going to be bloody expensive.

You wouldn’t think it’s something I’d be considering when I’m not yet fifty, but in fact, it’s something I started looking at twenty years ago… and I should have done it five years earlier then. It’s really never too early to start thinking about retirement, unless you’re born into such wealth and luxury a day’s work is something someone else does for you (I’m merrily assuming that anyone reading this does not fall into that category). It’s only going to get worse and quite honestly, I fully intend to have a decent retirement – so I need to start making sure I can pay for it now.

The point I’m making is that I thought I was well organised in this sort of thing – and I’m not. It’s still going to be very much touch and go whether I will be able to retire before I’m 70 and still be able to survive slightly better than hand to mouth – and I don’t have particularly expensive tastes. For my daughter and people in their twenties and thirties, I implore you, get it sorted out yourselves as soon as possible as there is no guarantee that the State will provide for you (or if they do, that you’ll be able to survive on it). I feel like I’ve spent my adult life trying to encourage women to be increasingly self-reliant and this is an extension of that. Sort out your pensions now, ladies, so that when the time comes, you can show the young ‘uns how to live it up – without having to worry about getting up in the morning.

Will Somebody Please Sort This Mess Out?

I have tried very hard to avoid getting political on my blog but over the weekend, I caught a snippet of news that changed my mind on this point.

Today, for the first time in the history of the National Health Service, junior doctors will strike without providing any emergency cover. In previous episodes of industrial action, A&E services have been provided, but from now on, they will not. This is absolutely unheard of and is not a matter that the Government can ignore, I’m afraid. Here’s why.

When transport workers strike, it’s a nuisance but alternative arrangements are made and people work around it. When post office workers strike, it’s a nuisance, but alternative arrangements are made and people work around it. When civil servants strike, I doubt very much many people actually notice, because life seems to go on as normal for most people (sorry about that, but it’s true).

However, junior doctors have a very specific skill set and when they strike, people notice. With the best will in the world, a nurse or paramedic simply cannot cover a junior doctor – they have not had the same training and do not have the same skills. I think even they would admit that, and I hope I am not doing them a disservice by saying so. If emergency care is not provided, there is a very high probability that people could die.

So great is this probability that a cross-party group of MPs, together with the Royal College of Surgeons, made proposals to be put to both sides in an attempt to at least avert the possibility of losing emergency medical cover. The Department of Health dismissed these proposals as “ill-informed” and “publicity seeking”. Perhaps they were, but at least someone seems to care enough to ensure that people do not die unnecessarily because either side refuses to get round a table and talk.

I do not want to come down on one side or the other in this argument – I am not a doctor, nor am I a government minister. However, I do feel very strongly that putting people’s lives at risk for political point scoring is a move too far. If the government and junior doctors do not wish to discuss the imposition of contracts, so be it. At least each side should be brave enough to consider proposals by others without dismissing them out of hand before they’ve been explored.

I just hope nobody dies over the next 48 hours. I really wouldn’t want that on my conscience.

Does It Matter Who Appears on a Bank Note?

I have to be honest and admit that I don’t really look at my money very often. It disappears into the Twilight Zone that is my purse and reappears when I least expect it. And except when I’m calculating whether I can justify yet another spree on Amazon, I very rarely think about it. The recent announcement that JMW Turner is going to be the “figurehead” on the new £20 note did get me thinking, however – about the nature of coinage and authority.

Neil MacGregor, in his masterful History of the World in 100 Objects (a book I have read and re-read a number of times since its publication) points out that in ancient times, coinage was a suitably quick and efficient method of stamping a new ruler’s authority upon the populace. Think about it; the people use coins for trade, and on each one is stamped the head of the ruler. If the head changes, they know that the ruler has changed. Deceptively simple and because it’s so pervasive, it’s accepted with little argument. Even today, nothing has changed. Coins, bank notes and stamps all have the head of the reigning monarch on them (which, as Elizabeth II has demonstrated, can change over time as the monarch ages). So in that respect, this is a question of grave importance.

But Turner is sharing a bank note with the monarch, and I suppose the question is whether or not his inclusion says something about his status in the cultural hierarchy. I think it’s absolutely crucial. If someone (for example, Jane Austen – remember all that fuss about her appearing on a £10 note?) is worthy enough to appear on a bank note, then they have reached a position where they are suitable for all, good examples of national personality and role models for the wife and servant (to paraphrase the judge in the Lady Chatterley obscenity trial). Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Fry, Florence Nightingale, Edward Elgar, Charles Darwin and Adam Smith have all appeared, or currently appear, on UK bank notes and all represent ideals that could be considered both British and upright. It’s a strangely British idea, I think, but I get an echo of a colonialist empire that just won’t let go.

I believe that it matters greatly who appears on a bank note, because while they remain predominantly white, middle class and male, they are never going to be a true representation of British society. When I get a Gurkha nurse, a Sikh warrior or Jamaican rasta on my tenner, then I’ll say society’s integrated – but until then, it’s Little England all the way.

Shakespeare 400 – My Favourite Plays

On April 23, William Shakespeare would have been dead 400 years (he would have been 452 years old this year as well, having the (mis)fortune to die on his birthday). Not that I need an excuse or anything, but I thought it was a pretty good opportunity for me to think about which of his plays I like and why. It you know me at all, some of these will be pretty obvious; but hopefully some will be a bit more surprising. I really don’t get on with the idea that I’m predictable!

As I have posted on here previously, Macbeth has always been a favourite play, featuring as it does witches, betrayal, ghosts and a fair bit of quotable text. Strangely, though, I’ve never seen it performed and in retrospect I think that’s just as well. It would never live up to my imaginary version in its full Gothic glory.

I also like King Lear, which I really must re-read again. It’s a surprisingly human play, despite its darkness, insanity and outrageously cruel behaviour – but families are strange things and when looked at in that context, it can often appear terribly believable.

Othello is another startlingly human play dealing with difficult subjects, the most obvious of which is blatant racism. It’s reading works like this where you can see Shakespeare pushing at boundaries which must have existed even then. Othello may be black, but he is never portrayed as anything other than a human, who has succeeded through merit and is brought down by another’s jealousy and hatred. Incredibly ahead of its time and remains worth reading in this day and age.

Of the history plays, I love Henry V; I always have and it was the first Shakespeare I ever saw staged. It really brought home to me the responsibilities of leadership, although it does gloss over a few of Henry V’s less glamorous moments. Besides which, Agincourt was a bloodbath by any description. But the speeches are wonderful and this is the one play I almost always read on April 23, being St George’s Day and all.

I also like Richard II. In the National Gallery is a small hinged wooden cabinet called the Wilton Diptych, which was made for Richard II as he travelled round the country to enable him to continue his devotions in private (bear in mind that at that time, society was much more religious than it is now). I’m fairly convinced that Shakespeare must have seen the Wilton Diptych a number of times, because the imagery is reflected in the text – from “this sceptr’d isle” right through to the White Hart. I just feel that this play resonates with early English history to a degree that the others don’t.

Mind you, looking at the history plays, Shakespeare clearly believed that the Plantagenet monarchs were, as today’s tabloids might put it, a right royal soap opera.

I freely admit I like the comedies least of all, having been made to read The Tempest for A level and coming away with no idea of what was going on. Even watching Forbidden Planet years later, based as it was on that play, didn’t help. I’m assuming the robot was meant to be Ariel… My favourite of these is easily A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it took Neil Gaiman to convert me to that one.

It’s the Roman plays that I find most interesting; Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra all have soft spots in my Bardic heart. But my favourite of all is Coriolanus. Why? Because I noticed how Shakespeare lifted entire chunks of the story from Plutarch; how Volumnia is another of his strong female characters but much less popular than Lady Macbeth or Queen Gertrude; and how the lessons of the Roman empire can still apply to more recent history. The filmed version, starring Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler transferred the story to the Balkans in the 1990s, and it worked brilliantly. I never got round to seeing the Tom Hiddleston version at the Donmar; perhaps he can be persuaded to do it again on film. I’m told it was very good.

How Much Would You Pay For A Mushroom?

Is £2,000 a pound a little too much? How about £7,000 a pound? Have your eyes stopped watering yet?

As you may have guessed, I’m not pricing up any old mushrooms; these are market rates for Alba white truffles, generally considered by those who know to be the best in the world. I’m not a huge fungus fan, to be honest, so I can’t quite work out what makes them so special – but it’s an awful lot of money to pay for a mushroom.

There are a few different varieties of truffle available, some considerably more expensive than others but all pricier than your average shiitake. White truffles are only found in Piedmont and are considered the most valuable and has reached record breaking levels; the highest price for a single white truffle is £165,000 for a 1.5kg specimen (3.3lbs if you’re old fashioned like me) – so that equates to around £50,000 a pound. It’s a lot of money for something that’s barely going to last a fortnight.

There is also the black Perigord truffle which is said to be the next most valuable species and is as aromatic and flavourful as its paler cousin. It has also recently been infused with vodka to create a truffle vodka, used in cocktails and cooking for a distinctive flavour. Unfortunately, I don’t have any prices for black truffles, but I’d say about two thirds of that of a white truffle would be a decent guess.

There are also such things as the Oregon white truffle, a kind of commercial “poor man’s” truffle, grown in the Pacific North West of the United States. It is not the same fungus as that of an Alba white truffle and prices reflect this, with the truffles selling for around £75 a pound. Still a lot, but nowhere near as expensive as the European varieties.

The thing that dazzles me is that such large sums of money are spent on something you can’t keep. Unlike wine, which you could lay down for a few years, or artworks, which never go off, truffles have a very distinct life span. I am told that they can be preserved, but surely that would affect their flavour, and thereby reduce their value? I’m not sure. I just think it is another example of money speaking louder than good sense.

Art Crime Case Study – Who Owns My Banksy?

It is increasingly the case these days that cleverly placed, intelligent, attractive and sometimes politically pertinent street art appears on the side of buildings throughout the world; most of these are anonymous, but some street artists, such as Banksy, have become household names and their works have in turn developed a great deal of cachet. But who owns the artwork – and if it’s on the side of a building, can it be sold at all?

Some people have got round this by arguing that the owner of the building owns the artwork on it, and if they choose to remove the brickwork/plasterwork on which the art is situated in order to transport it, they are entitled to do so. A recent case in the High Court, The Creative Foundation vs. Dreamland Leisure Limited, dealt with a similar point in relation to the Banksy mural called “Art Buff”.

art buff

The question the Court had to consider was a narrow one and related primarily to the ownership of the wall on which the mural was painted; the Court at all times considered that the copyright in the image belonged to Banksy. Dreamland were the tenants of the building on which Art Buff was painted, and the Foundation were the landlords. In order to protect the mural, Dreamland arranged to cover it with Perspex but, having been advised that it could be worth a substantial amount of money if it were sold, arranged to have that section of the wall removed in readiness for the artwork to be sold. The landlords sued, arguing that Dreamland were not entitled to damage the fabric of the building despite it being part of their lease, and further that the painting was technically the property of the landlord and therefore Dreamland were not entitled to sell it. After a considerable amount of deliberation, the Court found in the Foundation’s favour, and the artwork was returned to them; they intend to put it on display in Kent at an early opportunity.

But this case raised the question of who actually OWNED the Banksy. Although it seems at first glance that the question has been answered in favour of the owner of the building on which the artwork is found, there are possible exceptions. For example, Banksy famously left a mural on the contentious wall in Israel; presumably, as the owners of the wall, the artwork would belong to the State of Israel, but as the artwork was on the Palestinian side, as long as it’s not removed, can they protect their asset?

The reason why I ask is this – all walls have two sides and most property agreements allow that one side belongs to the tenant and one side to the landlord. What I mean is this – my landlord owns my house, but I’m allowed to decorate the inside how I like as long as I make good* before I leave.** But as long as I am there and not interfering with the landlord’s structure, basically, I can put what I like on the walls. So if I have a Banksy on the inside, on MY SIDE of the wall, as long as I don’t knock the wall down, the landlord doesn’t have to know. Right?

Almost.

I’d be well advised to declare my Banksy as soon as it appeared, because I wouldn’t be allowed to take it with me when I move – as removing it would cause damage to the landlord’s structure and would then be considered by the Court to be their property. That way, the landlord and I could come to some arrangement whereby I could be compensated for the loss of my asset; perhaps a percentage of the income the landlord would get from exhibiting it.*** But if the mural is on the outside of the wall, open to the elements, I really have no claim to it at all.

So going back to the question of the Banksy on the Israeli border wall – what are the chances of the landlords and tenants ever sorting out that ownership question? Personally I would err on the side of the Israelis; and frankly I’m amazed that they haven’t already removed that panel and stuck it in a museum somewhere for wealthy people to gawp at. So much more convenient doing things that way than having to travel to the middle of Gaza.

* “Making good” usually means cleaning, repairing any minor damage and ensuring that the house is in good order. If you have decorated the inside without telling your landlord first, you may be required to redecorate to the landlord’s tastes when you leave.

** If you own a flat in a building which is owned by a third party, the same principles apply although making good is entirely up to you. Your lease will dictate what parts you own and are responsible for.

*** It’s just a thought, if I ever invite Banksy round for tea and get him to leave a calling card in the bathroom or something.

My Least Favourite Artworks

It’s all too easy for me to list my favourite artworks – I drafted a list earlier and made it to two dozen in less than ten minutes – so I thought it would be more of a challenge if I listed the artworks that, for whatever reason, I really don’t like. It’s not a reflection on the merit of the artist or artwork in question, it’s just an opinion – so if you don’t like what I have to say, that’s absolutely fine. It’s also not in any particular order.

Leonardo da Vinci – Mona Lisa

This, and a few of the others on my list, are a clear case of familiarity breeding contempt. I’ve seen so much of the Mona Lisa over the years, in varying versions, that I’m just sick of it. What’s the wry smile all about? Frankly, I couldn’t care less. It’s a lovely painting, well executed and technically masterful – but then so are a lot of other paintings, and some of them I like a whole lot more.

Vincent van Gogh – Sunflowers

Again, familiarity breeding contempt, which is a great shame here because I love van Gogh’s work as a rule. That said, what I did find interesting was that this isn’t the only version of Sunflowers he painted; a recent exhibition at the National Gallery had them all side by side, which must have been wonderful. It’s still not in my favourites list though.

Any Sculpture by Henry Moore

I used to work in a building that had one of his works in the forecourt. I remember it was large lump of bronze with a circular hole cut into it. I still find myself thinking about it and wondering what the point was. It seems that generally I’m not very good with modern art as this demonstrates. I’m quite sure it’s a superlative technical achievement, but it doesn’t seem to resonate with me.

Francis Bacon – Head I to Head IV

This series of paintings is simply horrible and that’s about the nicest thing I can say about it.

Sandro Botticelli – Birth of Venus

Back to my original theme, but I’ve found over the years that a lot of Renaissance painting which I used to love bores me a bit. I also dislike Venus’s faux coyness. I mean, she’s got her boobs out but trying to wrap her hair around the rest of her isn’t going to look modest, no matter how innocent she looks.

Most of Renoir’s paintings

Now this is slightly unfair because I do find his paintings very interesting to look at, but there is something chocolate boxy about his style that grates; the slightly gauzy finish to the work irritates me. This is why he’s one of my least favourite impressionists.

Gainsborough – The Blue Boy

I think it’s the blue satin that irks, but I find a lot of 18th century portraiture to be fairly tedious. I don’t know who half of the people are and while I’m sure they’ve earned the right to have their portraits painted by the finest artists of their time, I don’t find myself enthralled. Which is odd, because Gainsborough’s portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews – which also features an awful lot of pale blue satin – is one that I rather enjoy, and I’ve no idea who they were either.

This list could go on (for some time) but this is a fairly good idea of how my mind works. I might get round to doing a list of my favourite half dozen or so, if I can get it to stop changing every time I look at it…

The Tragedy of the Library

In the book I’m reading at the moment, the author briefly discusses the great Library of Alexandria and proposes it as a forgotten Great Wonder of the Ancient World. It truly was a wonder of its time. Situated in the most cosmopolitan city of a great Graeco-Roman-Egyptian empire, it housed hundreds of thousands of papyri featuring great works of the ancients. Philosophers and scientists gathered in its halls to read or debate new ideas, and so thirsty were the curators for knowledge that ships docking at the port were boarded and searched for papyri to be copied and stored. For some reason, I get the distinct impression that they turned a blind eye to all the contraband in their search for the latest by Aristotle.

But the Library is no more. Partly destroyed when Julius Caesar set fire to his own ships in 48 BC and allowed the fire to spread, the Library was finally completely destroyed by Emperor Aurelian between AD 270 and AD 275. All that remain of its contents are fragments which offer tantalising glimpses of the possibilities of other books which we will now never know. Unsurprisingly, from this stem the Dark Ages, when knowledge was possessed by an elite few who distorted information to keep the masses ignorant and compliant and themselves in power. Unsurprisingly, the first few to question that status quo were invariably charged with heresy by the Catholic Church and punished accordingly.

With austerity and budget cuts biting ever deeper, local authorities are forced to make savings where they can. Some things really shouldn’t be cut – care budgets, social services and welfare all cost money but are highly necessary. I would argue that libraries ought to fall into a similar category. They offer a free (or cheap, if you borrow CDs and DVDs) service to allow people who would not otherwise have an opportunity to do so to read books and newspapers at their leisure. If they wish, people can educate themselves, simply curl up with a novel, check the news headlines or research their family history. Virtually all libraries now have at least one computer terminal with access to the internet, and many have separate music and junior sections. My local library also now hosts two monthly book groups during the afternoons and evenings, encouraging readers to get together and get to know each other – and the books the library has on offer.

Such a valuable resource of great benefit to the community shouldn’t simply be thrown away because “everyone is online nowadays”. There is MUCH more to a library than simply the dissemination of information. They are places for learning, for debate and for social interaction; they encourage open-mindedness and free-thinking. Perhaps, thinking about it, that’s the real reason for the closures – lest the populace see they are being taken for fools.

Antiquities Case Study: Clive Cussler’s Mayan Pot

I’m reading a rather late Clive Cussler novel, The Mayan Secrets, which is one of his Fargo series of novels and is co-written with Thomas Perry. It’s quite good fun, briskly written and full of adventure. Just the thing I need during a commute, so I can pretend to be somewhere else. Sam and Remi Fargo are, essentially, treasure hunters, but I suppose they could claim to be archaeologists of sorts, given that they work closely with a variety of museums and archaeologists to verify and preserve whatever it is they’ve found.

One of the artefacts of this novel is a large Mayan pot, into which an intact codex has been hidden, which is discovered buried in the side of a volcano after an earthquake reveals its hiding place. Now the bulk of the novel is concerned with the codex and its contents, but I’m more interested in the pot, mainly because it is a beautiful illustration of a point made in my Antiquities and Art Crime Course that I don’t think I grasped completely the first time – the importance of context. Indeed, Dr Donna Yates used a Mayan era pot as her example. So I was delighted to see that I actually had understood something.

mayan pot

In this novel, the pot is found alongside a mummified corpse in a cave system which is highly decorated and may have been a shrine. Cussler does give the reader a considerable amount of information in the prologue about the identity of the mummy and the importance of the pot, but in the interests of this case study, I’m going to ignore that and view the find as if I were seeing it for the first time. I will, however, point out the things that Sam and Remi Fargo really shouldn’t have done if they were genuinely interested in archaeology.

After a major earthquake, the entrance to a shrine in the side of a nearby volcano is revealed, which had been sealed some years previously by a lava flow. Inside the shrine, which is highly decorated, is the mummified body of a young man decorated with jade jewels, and a large decorated clay pot. In order to “protect the contents” having exposed the site to fresh air, Sam and Remi Fargo post guards at the site until the authorities can step in, remove the mummy and pot from the site with the mummy taken to the nearest mortuary and the pot going home to San Diego with them. In their climate controlled laboratory and in the presence of a professor of archaeology, they unseal the pot and discover the codex inside.

Now, if I were that professor of archaeology, I’d have lynched them for looting the site. Having removed the mummy and the pot, any context for the discovery has been lost, regardless of how wonderful the shrine is. It should have been secured, in situ, immediately and explored carefully, with every item mapped and marked clearly before its removal. This was not done; the argument being that the earthquake (and possible volcanic explosion) meant that the authorities would have better things on their mind, but also because having broken the atmospheric seal in gaining access to the shrine, removal of the artefacts would improve their chances of preservation. The occupants of a local village are told to guard the site until the authorities can take over.

This is all very well, but what has been lost is the context of the find. Even if the mummy and the pot were incongruous to the location, substantial amounts of information have been lost by not having the opportunity to properly see all the items in situ. Context provides information that may not ordinarily be ascertained from a close examination of the artefacts themselves. Dr Yates’ example from the course, showing how an apparently incongruous pot found in a burial site revealed historical alliances previously unknown between distant tribes, reinforces how such crucial information is lost when artefacts are removed. The pot itself would not have told us this and, in fact, may well have provided information that was either incomplete or false, depending on circumstances.

The removal of the pot from its finding place robs us from discovering if there is anything significant about that pot; if there is any relationship between the pot and the codex, or the shrine, or the mummy; or even if the pot is in the right place at the right time and it is everything else that is out of place. If it were not for Cussler’s prologue, we would never know how the pot got there and why – but having that prologue does reinforce the importance of context when dealing with antiquities of any kind. The looting of archaeological sites does more than just damage the sites, it damages history and our knowledge of the past. For that reason alone, it is criminal – and in my opinion, Sam and Remi Fargo must rank with the worst offenders.