A Washington man was inspired by a news story, and has returned 19 artifacts from his personal collection, worth up to £80,000 to their countries of origin. John Gomperts read an article in The Guardian about the repatriation of artifacts, and realized he had several pieces inherited from his grandmother. Upon realizing they had no collection history attached, he became certain they’d come from illicit excavations. Determined to return the artifacts, Gomperts reached out to Professor Christos Tsirogiannis for help.
Amongst Gomperts’ collection, were seventh and eighth-century BC Cypriot vases and fourth-century BC South Italian plates with depictions of acrobats (very rare). As well as a Greek marriage vase called a Lebes Gamikos from fourth-century BC, and a stone relief from the second or third century BC depicting followers of Bhudda. Quite the cultural collection. Gomperts German-Dutch grandmother was a scholar and participated in a number of excavations during her youth. Certainly a likely outlet for how the artifacts came to be in her possession.
A Quest to Right a Wrong
“I have no idea how she actually acquired these objects. She was a prim and proper person. But there were different norms of the day. These objects were her obsession, her entire existence.” Says Gomperts. His communication with Tsirogiannis was an unexpected, but highly appreciated move. Tirogiannis is the head of illicit antiquities trafficking research for the Unesco Chair on Threats to Cultural Heritage at the Ionian University in Corfu, Greece. He sings Gomperts praises for wanting to give back to the countries from which these pieces were stolen.
“It’s a wonderful case of a person who did so because he had read the Guardian articles. It shows how such publications are raising awareness and bringing actual results. He sent me photos of the antiquities, which were clearly authentic.” With Tirogiannis’ guidance, and the okay from his siblings, Gomperts visited each country’s embassy to return the pieces. Since then he’s received letters of gratitude from each, thanking him for returning what was rightfully theirs. Particularly when many have called for the return of artifacts that are still stubbornly kept in European museums.