Greece Sues Gallery for Return of Mycenaean Jewelry


The Government of Greece, seeking the return of rare Mycenaean gold jewelery and ornaments from the 15th century B.C., has filed suit against the Michael Ward Gallery at 9 East 93d Street in Manhattan.

The objects, on sale as a lot at the gallery for $1.5 million, include necklaces with lilies, large cusped rosettes from a belt, huge decorated gold rings, sealstones and other stylized jewelry and ornaments.

This large gold ring showing two female figures in flounced skirts is among the rare Mycenaean gold jewelery and ornaments from the 15th century B.C. that Greece wants returned from a Manhattan gallery. (Schecter Lee/Michael Ward Gallery)

In a suit filed on Monday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, lawyers for Greece contend that the objects were taken in violation of Greek law from one of 18 recently discovered tombs at Aidonia, northeast of Mycenae. They say that the similarity between these objects and others found by Greek Government archeologists at the tombs beginning in 1978 mark them as coming from the same site.

The case is unusual not only because of the extreme rarity of the objects but also because Michael Ward, the owner of the gallery, is one of the most prominent dealers in antiquities and serves as a member of the Presidentially appointed Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which authorizes assistance for foreign countries that are losing cultural treasures to looters and the illegal art market.

Athens Said to Have Been Told

Speaking through his lawyer, Gilbert E. Edelson, Mr. Ward said that more than a year ago he had voluntarily informed the Greek Culture Ministry of the objects and submitted photographs and detailed measurements. He said the ministry had responded that "it had no evidence of the origin of the objects and giving no indication that it had any claim on them."

Neal Johnston, a lawyer for the Greek Government, said: "There is no Mycenaean art legitimately in private hands. If we win this case, we will destroy the market for this modern piracy."

Mr. Johnston submitted to the court several affidavits in which both American and Greek scholars supported the Government's case.

In one affidavit, James Wright, a professor of archeology at Bryn Mawr College and an expert in Mycenaean archeology, stated that he had examined the objects at the Michael Ward Gallery and that in his opinion no such jewelrey had ever been discovered "outside of mainland Greece."

Permission of State Required

The Greek Government made it illegal to export valuable antiquities as early as 1832, and the laws against looting have been tightened ever since. The present law asserts that all antiquities, whether discovered or undiscovered, are the property of the Greek state. The exporting of antiquities is allowed only with permission from the state.

The controversy began on April 6, when Ricardo J. Elia, a professor of archeology at Boston University, read about the Ward Gallery show and wrote to Ambassador Stratos Doukas, the Greek Consul General in New York, stating his belief that the objects in the show had been illegally exported from Greece.

The Ambassador visited the show without identifying himself, bought several catalogues and sent them to Athens for study by the Ministry of Culture. That agency advised the Government to file suit for recovery.