Digging clay for a tile company isn’t the most glamorous job on the best of days, particularly during a cold Bulgarian winter.
But on December 8, 1949, the three Deikov brothers unearthed an archaeological shocker that certainly must have made their day – and year for that matter. Imagine their surprise when they uncovered a solid gold, 3rd Century BCE, ceremonial wine service which was one of the finest examples of Thracian craftsmanship ever discovered.
Thought to have been used by Seuthes III, the king of Thrace, the gold treasure weighed in at 6.2 kg. For you metrically-challenged types this is 13.5 pounds, or as we say in English $218,000. The trove, named after a nearby and impossible to pronounce town, is known as the Panagyurishte Treasure.
But this post is only tangentially about this marvelous find. It’s really a classic bait and switch scenario. The bling of the treasure is the bait to draw you in. And the switch is the fact that I had to sneak these photos, explicitly violating the no-photo rule at the Plovdiv Historical Museum. So my real question is: Why can’t I take photos in a museum?
In an informed article on artnews.com, Carolina A. Miranda says:
“We’re in an age when people take pictures just about everywhere … The phenomenon has created a unique set of challenges for art museums, many of which have historically had strict limitations on photography—either for the purpose of protecting light-sensitive works or because of copyright issues.”
This rule has bugged me for ages, and I’ve never fully understood its blanket enforcement. First off, in the case of light sensitive works of art, I get that and agree. Also, if someone is taking photos of a piece of art and then selling it, that’s a clear violation of copyright, and I get that as well. And any time I take photos, whether allowed or not, I’m always sensitive to interfering with other museum visitors.
But the Plovdiv Historical Museum is exactly the type of place where no-photo rules seem silly. Take the Panagyurishte Treasure for example. These are 2300 year-old gold wine goblets we’re talking about, and even though I don’t use a flash, they’re gold, and they’ve been buried in mud for two millennia, so I don’t think that a bit of light is going to damage them. And I’m no copyright expert, but I’m pretty certain we’re WAY beyond the infringement point.
In her article, Miranda says that many museums are loosening up their no-photo policy, but in my experience, it isn’t happening fast enough. When I see an exhibit as unique and marvelous as the Panagyurishte Treasure, I want my own photos. In my case, these photos frequently end up in a blog post, and in these days of Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, it astounds me that museum administrators can’t see the value of this free publicity.
Don’t get me wrong, the Plovdiv Historical Museum has a wonderful collection and is definitely worth a visit. And luckily, on the day I visited I was one of three visitors, and the roving guard strolled through only once – so I got the photos I wanted. As ludicrous as it sounds, I sometimes wonder if museum staff think that if photos aren’t allowed, I’ll buy more postcards at the gift shop.
Anyway, I agree with Katherine Hepburn: “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.”
Do you begrudgingly obey the no-photo rule, or like me, play the cat-and-mouse game with roaming guards and hope not to get busted? Tell your tale.
James & Terri
6. Sam Ballard via Wikimedia Commons