Showing posts with label Auction Alert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Auction Alert. Show all posts

November 8, 2016

Bonhams Withdraws Suspect Antiquity from Auction

Bonhams has withdrawn the suspect antiquity that was identified by Greek forensic archaeologist and ARCA lecturer Christos Tsirogiannis on November 07, 2016. This (il)licit object had originally been set for auction on November 30, 2016 via the auction house's London division.  


As mentioned in ARCA's earlier report this morning, the antefix is traceable to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive, a twenty year old repository of dealer records and polaroids that document the trove of antiquities that at one point or another passed through the hands of Giacomo Medici, convicted in 2004 for selling thousands of stolen pieces of Greco-Roman art from Italy and the Mediterranean.

The withdrawal of the object comes with a short statement that reads "This lot has been withdrawn".


For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of this antefix, please see ARCA's earlier report of his finding here


Auction Alert - Bonhams Auction House - An il(licit) Etruscan Terracotta Antefix

On November 7, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified a new potentially tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Bonhams auction house in London on November 30, 2016 traceable to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive.



A screenshot of the provenance/collection history details are added here:


Etruscan buildings were often decorated with polychrome terracotta elements. Antefixes, such as this one on auction, were placed at the end of the rows of roofing tiles located along the eaves of the roof. Usually made in molds, many took the form of male or female mythological characters. 

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a UK-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has sought to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archives and the related Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Each of these dealer's archives provide insight inside a network of illicit trade in antiquities and, when combined, include thousands of ancient objects from all over the world which have passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” illicit objects through the licit market.

Two images from image from the confiscated
Medici archive alongside the Bonham Auction Object Lot.


An expert on terracotta figurines, James Chesterman collected avidly and was the author of Classical Terracotta Figures published by Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1974.  In 1984 the Fitzwilliam Museum purchased more than 100 Greek and Roman terracotta figurines from Chesterman's collection, in what is likely to be, in the museum's own words, the last major private collection to enter the Museum.

Who were some of James Chesterman's sources for antiquities?

Conducting a quick search (meaning far from comprehensive) of objects from the Chesterman's collection that have come up on auction tells us a little about some of his sources. 






Medici Archive image provided by
Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis
After the closing of his Rome Gallery, Giacomo Medici entered into partnership with Geneva resident Christian Boursaud and opened Hydra Gallery in Geneva in 1983 (Silver 2009: 139). 

This Swiss gallery then began consigning material supplied by Medici for sale on the London market, predominantly through Sotheby's.  (Silver 2009: 121-2, 139; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 27). Watson and Todeschini estimated that during the period of the 1980's Medici was the source of more consignments to Sotheby’s London than any other vendor (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 27).

If the collection history on the Bonhams Lot is accurate, then Medici's pieces were also appearing on the Paris antiquities market during that same period. If it isn't, then this object is missing a passage from its London history.

Dr. David Gill also has analyzed this new sighting, adding his own research in this Looting Matters blog post. 
Many have argued that Dr. Tsirogiannis tactics of naming potentially looted objects from the archives via ARCA's blog, David Gill's Looting Matters and on occasion Neil Brodie's Market of Mass Destruction, places auction houses at a disadvantage and should be construed as unfair given the market does not have direct access to the photos in these archives.  A valid point, but given the frequency illicit antiquities continue to penetrate the legitimate art market, we hope this will lead auction houses to consider more stringent reporting requirements of their consignors to insure that they do not inadvertently support the illicit antiquities trade. 

In closing,  given the proven lucrative nature of unprovenanced antiquities on the open market, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol who in turn will notify the Italian authorities of his new identifications. Here's hoping that his continued spotlight, however awkward it is for everyone, will serve as a recurring reminder that we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By: Lynda Albertson
----------------------
Bibliography: 

Lindros Wohl Birgitta, Three female Head antefixes from Etruria,
in The Getty Museum Journal, 12, 1984, pp. 114-116.

Pallottino Massimo, Giuseppe Foti, Antonio Frova, Franco Panvini Rosati (sous la dir. de) Art et civilisation des Étrusques, octobre-décembre 1955, cat. adapté et traduit par Jean Charbonneaux et Marie-Françoise Briguet, Paris

Silver Vernon The lost chalice: the real-life chase for one of the world's rarest masterpieces: a priceless 2,500-year-old artifact depicting the fall of Troy
Harper - 2010

Watson Peter and Todeschini Cecilia The Medici conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums
PublicAffairs - 2007




November 1, 2016

Recovery - Medieval Manuscript: "Matricula et Statuta paratici fabrorum ferrariorum"


Italian authorities announced last week that they have recovered a stolen Medieval manuscript, titled Pallastrelli 43 or Matricula et Statuta paratici fabrorum ferrariorum, a historical document related to the economic exchange and work of blacksmiths from the city of Piacenza. 

The calf-skin parchment, which dates from the fifteenth century and is made up of 34 finely-detailed vellum pages inscribed in neatly-written red and black ink, was carefully bound between two wooden manuscript boards that serve to form the front and back covers of the book. Spotted on an online auction website for €600, an honorary inspector in Lazio reported his identifications to the the city of Piacenza's archive authorities, who in turn contacted the Carabinieri that one of the library's manuscripts had been spotted.  

The stolen manuscript was one of 145 texts, dating from the 14th to the 17th century, that were stolen in 1985 from the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi in Piacenza during a period when the library had to be shuttered for restoration and renovation work.  The theft is believed to have occurred sometime during repair works on the roof of Palazzo San Pietro which had been damaged due to heavy snows over the winter. 

When the theft was discovered, each of the well-inventoried books were reconciled and a list compiled was given to the the Carabinieri where they were listed in the unit's stolen art Leonardo database system. Between 1986 and 2013 a total of 72 volumes were recovered due to the watchful eyes of investigators and those familiar with the collection. Some volumes were recovered in Germany, some in Switzerland and some in Italy.  A portion of the stolen manuscripts were traced to auction house catalogues in Europe which is why these are heavily monitored by the Italian authorities. 

Then alas, the trail apparently went cold, that is until October 2016.

The Biblioteca Passerini-Landi was created in 1791 to house the merger of the Royal Library, established by Ferdinand of Bourbon with books donated by the Jesuits, along with the collection of the Library Passerini. The Library contains a distinguished collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, any of which, still circulating in the illicit market would be highly prized by antiquarian collectors.  
Note:  Library identifiers have been removed
In addition to the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi, other important libraries, such as the Girolamini Library in Naples, the Library of the Abbey of Montecassino, the Biblioteca dei Servi di Milano, the National Library of Sweden, the Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris have each suffered thefts that serve to sustain the illicit market in stolen books and manuscripts.

During the city's press conference Captain Francesco Provenza of the Comando dei Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) of Monza reminded the audience that "the market for archival literary heritage might be a niche market but it is a flourishing one." He further stated that "some collectors are willing to pay huge sums for these works. Even the supply chain is well-established: the thief, if he doesn't list the work for sale on his own, already knows what channels are out there for finding potential customers." 

Italian authorities have charged three individuals living outside Milan for complicity, for helping or encouraging another individual to commit a crime in collection with this theft. It is hoped that their identification will open the door a bit wider on where the other half of the stolen Passerini-Landi books and manuscripts are. 

Since 1996, thousands of specialist antiquarian bookdealers worldwide have used the internet to offer rare art books online. Some antiquarian bookdealers are part of larger trade associations, like the Italian Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ILAI), the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) or the International Online Booksellers Association (IOBA). But there are also numerous independent booksellers who sell their books independently or who offer similar association services.

To combat the sale of illicit material, the ILAB maintains a stolen book database that contains a listing of stolen books, manuscripts and maps beginning with thefts that have occurred from June 15, 2010 onward.  With this database buyers can check (for free) to see if a book they have been offered has been reported as stolen.  Some data in their database is available for older thefts, but this data tends to be limited and less comprehensive. 

But even with these safeguards, dealing with members of bookseller-organizations or professional booksellers - rather than private individuals selling secondhand art books on eBay or elsewhere - does not guarantee quality of descriptions, fair trade, or clean provenance, despite the official wrappings of membership.  It merely means that there is an organizational structure where book dealers can be found, oftentimes honest, but sometimes dishonest.  

Rare book connoisseurs need to exercise caution when purchasing ancient manuscripts from dealers and individual sellers, especially when they see an appealing centuries-old book or manuscript that doesn't come with a clear collection history.  They should also raise their eyebrows to books and documents with strategic tears or missing portions of the book's pages as libraries often place stamps at the beginning or the end of a book or manuscript and these tell-tale signs of theft are often torn away so as to allow the seller the opportunity to plead ignorance as to the book's illicit origin. 

Speaking in relation to the Girolamini Library theft, Giovanni Melillo, the then Deputy Prosecutor of the Naples Tribunal, who lead the library theft's prosecution, said at a 2013 presentation I attended at the ISPAC meeting in Courmayeur “The rule ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is what governs the rare-book market.”

Buyer beware.

By Lynda Albertson   





October 21, 2016

Christie's Withdraws Suspect Antiquity from Auction

Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquity identified by Greek forensic archaeologist and ARCA lecturer Christos Tsirogiannis on October 11, 2016. This object had been set for auction on October 25, 2016 via Christie’s in New York.


The object is traceable to the confiscated Robin Symes archive, an antiquities dealer long accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe.

The withdrawal of the object comes simply with a statement that reads "Please note that this lot is withdrawn". A Financial Times article mentions “further research may indicate that [the torso] was purchased through legitimate sources”.

For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of this objects, please see ARCA's earlier report of his finding here. 

October 20, 2016

European Association of Archaeologists issues statement of concern on illicit objects in the licit market

The European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) has issued a forceful statement of concern regarding an October 25, 2016 auction at Christie's New York previously reported on ARCA's blog on October 11, 2016 which includes an object traceable to the confiscated Robin Symes archive.

This statement is officially posted on the EAA website here and reprinted below.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

Statement of the Committee on Illicit Trade in Cultural Materials to an Ongoing Auction at Christie’s

Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides formed a duo of dealers who dominated the international antiquities market in the 1980s and 1990s. During that period they became the best suppliers of illicit antiquities to the most 'reputable' museums, private collections and auction houses. Many of their antiquities came from lower-level dealers such as Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, both now convicted for their involvement in numerous cases of antiquities looted from Italy, Greece and other countries, after the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Since the discovery and confiscation of the archives belonging to these three dealers (that of Medici in 1995, Becchina in 2001 and Symes-Michaelides in 2006), over 300 masterpieces depicted in the archives have been repatriated, mainly to Italy and Greece, from museums, private collections and individuals who consigned them in auctions. Dozens of cases are still undergoing negotiation, and the forensic archaeologists Daniela Rizzo, Maurizio Pellegrini and Christos Tsirogiannis, who were appointed as experts by the Italian and Greek governments to assess the confiscated archives, have identified a few hundred more. The Polaroid and regular-print images in the archives (over 10,000 images in total) usually depict antiquities in a poor condition, newly excavated; covered with soil, with fresh marks of impact and bearing soil and salt encrustations. Professional images in the same archives often depict the same antiquities in various stages of conservation/restoration, while tens of thousands of documents alongside the images in those archives leave no doubt about the true nature of the international antiquities market.

Since 2007 Christos Tsirogiannis has been researching the antiquities auctions of Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams. Every single year he identifies antiquities that are depicted in the confiscated archives, offered for sale by one, two or all three leading auction houses. Especially in the case of Christie's, in nearly every auction antiquities handled by Medici, Becchina and/or Symes-Michaelides are offered. Several of the antiquities identified in auctions have been repatriated to Greece and Italy; over the years Tsirogiannis has notified other countries as well (such as Egypt, Israel and Syria). Since 2010, all his identifications in auction houses, together with images from the confiscated archives have immediately been made publicly available online via pages such as 'Looting Matters' (maintained by Professor David Gill), 'ARCA blog' (maintained by Dr Lynda Albertson) and most recently 'Market of Mass Destruction' (maintained by Dr Neil Brodie), and the blog of the Committee on Illicit Trade in Cultural Material. It is therefore possible for both experts and non-experts to have a complete, constant and unobstructed view of the on-going situation; Christos Tsirogiannis has also made available online his academic analysis of the identified cases, published in various journals.

However, even after all these revelations, auction houses continue to present the bulk of their stock without a complete provenance that extends the collecting history before 1970; moreover, they always exclude the names of Medici, Becchina and other illicit antiquities dealers from their catalogue entries. As for Symes, he is usually excluded too, although sometimes his name is mentioned, if the auction house feels that the object is safe. Indeed, according to the PhD research of Christos Tsirogiannis at the University of Cambridge on the international illicit antiquities network through the Symes-Michaelides archive, there are a few exceptions: about 6% of the antiquities depicted in the Symes-Michaelides archive indeed had a pre-1970 collecting history. However, over 93% appears to be of illicit origin, looted and/or smuggled or stolen from archaeological sites, often depicted in pieces in the Medici and Becchina archives, and a few are now recognized as fakes. To date, he has identified 733 objects from the Symes-Michaelides archive in auctions, museums, galleries and private collections.

The most recent of these identifications in the Symes-Michaelides archive involves a professional photograph depicting a Roman marble figurine of a draped goddess, on offer at the forthcoming antiquities auction of Christie's on October 25th 2016 in New York (lot 92). Christie's (again) fail to include Symes in the collecting history of this antiquity; the catalogue entry reads: ‘Property from a distinguished Private Collection’. ‘Provenance: With Perpitch Gallery, Paris. Acquired by the current owner from the above, prior to 1991’. The figurine is estimated at $100,000 – 150,000. Since over 93% of the antiquities that Symes sold were illicit, it would be useful to research the full collecting history and true origin of this antiquity (especially before 1991).

Christie's and the antiquities market, in general, claim that they are exercising 'due diligence' on the collecting history of every antiquity they offer. The continuous matches with objects in the confiscated archives, the withdrawal of antiquities before the auctions and their repatriations demonstrate that the much-advertised 'due diligence' procedure is problematic, at the very least. The true picture of auction and gallery sales is one of incomplete collecting histories, unnamed sources and illicit antiquities dealers, disguised as the legitimate previous owners or consigners of antiquities on offer. In addition, the members of the market are constantly complaining that the confiscated archives are not made publicly available by the authorities, in order for the antiquities there depicted to be identified before the auctions. However, there are obvious answers to that complaint, all known to the market representatives.

First, the archives are confiscated evidence of multiple on-going investigations. Second, the market, given its negative reaction and luck of cooperation in each of the identified cases so far, is likely to continue the same non-cooperative policy if the archives were made available to everyone, while the authorities would be losing their only chance to identify the depicted antiquities once they surface for sale and the academics their chance to analyse the true nature of the market. In fact, the members of the market do not take every opportunity to have their stock checked; they refuse to send to the Italian authorities the list of the antiquities to be sold in forthcoming auctions (before compiling the printed catalogue) for fear of letting down their clients/consigners, whose identity is – nearly always – kept concealed with the protestation of 'confidentiality'.

The Roman marble figurine of a draped goddess, lot 92 in the forthcoming Christie's auction, is a typical example of an antiquity on offer: true commercial sources are hidden or not identified; we have an incomplete collecting history employing a chronological generalization ('prior to 1991') and the true country of origin - that is, the place from which the antiquity originally came/was discovered - is not identified. This analysis of the way in which this figurine is presented by the antiquities market encapsulates the state of the market and is a revelation of its deficient practices; this is the true value of this identification.

The Committee on the Illicit Trade on Cultural Material highly deplores such sales and urges every auction house to accurately verify the origin of the objects on sale, and refuse objects with doubtful provenance. In accordance with our statutes, we report any illegal activity, or trade of potentially illegally-acquired material culture. Furthermore, we aim to contribute in any form to discourage commercialisation of archaeological material.

October 11, 2016

Auction Alert - Christie's Auction House - A il(licit) Roman Marble Draped Goddess?

On October 10, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified a new potentially tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Christie's auction house in New York on October 25, 2016 traceable to the confiscated Robin Symes archive.



A screenshot of the provenance/collection history details are added here:


Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a UK-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has sought to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the confiscated Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides archives and the related Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Each of these dealer's archives provide insight inside the illicit trade in antiquities and, when combined, include thousands of ancient objects from all over the world which have passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” illicit objects through the licit market.

Christies Auction Object alongside image from
the confiscated Symes archive.
Many have argued that Dr. Tsirogiannis tactics of naming potentially looted objects from the archives via ARCA's blog, David Gill's Looting Matters and on occasion Neil Brodie's Market of Mass Destruction, places auction houses at a disadvantage and should be construed as unfair given the market does not have direct access to the archives.  A valid point, but this is not the first time that an item up for auction at Christie's has been listed for auction exhibiting only a limited version of the objects actual collection history.

How Many? 

This is the third time ARCA has helped to publicise tainted antiquities that Tsirogiannis has identified on auction with the firm Christie's in 2016.  In 2015, objects were identified at the auction house in April, in September, in October and in December.  In 2014 Tsirogiannis identified objects in March, November and in December.  In 2013, ARCA published only one. Each of these auctions excluded key passages through the hands of disgraced antiquities dealers well-known for having dealt in tainted antiquities.

But is the fact that trafficked antiquities continue to make it to licit market the fault solely of the auction house in failing to do sufficient due diligence or are their "distinguished" private consignors, like the one in this month's auction, just as culpable?

It would be interesting to know from the auction house's perspective how many times they are approached by collectors who have purchased illicit objects in the past, but who fail to disclose an object's full collection history, knowing that should they reveal a less than pristine pedigree, the pieces would then become worthless on the licit art market and also potentially be subject to seizure.

Do the big-three auction houses keep records of consignors who falsify or omit collection histories?  Do they in turn share these lists with researchers? And if not, do they share them voluntarily with authorities?

Given the frequency illicit antiquities continue to penetrate the legitimate art market, embroiling firms like Christie's in the repetitive drama of appearing complacent when handling stolen and illegally-exported (illicit) antiquities shouldn't auction houses consider more stringent reporting requirements of their consignors to insure that they do not support the illicit antiquities trade. 

In closing,  given the proven lucrative nature of unprovenanced antiquities on the open market, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol and the American authorities of his new identifications. Here's hoping that his continued spotlight, however awkward it is for everyone, will serve as a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By: Lynda Albertson

July 4, 2016

Christie's withdraws Lot 52 an Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora, attributed to the Bucci painter, suspected of being looted

Ahead of Christie’s London July 6th sale, an Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora, attributed to the Bucci painter, has been withdrawn from the firm's antiquities auction after forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis notified ARCA, trafficking scholars and the requisite police authorities (DS Hutcheon, Head of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit, the Greek police Art Squad, and INTERPOL) of a positive match.

Lot 52 pictured here is believed to date to Circa 540-530 B.C.E. and was apparently being sold  by a private unnamed collector, according to the auction house’s publication. While the auction house’s records list the provenance as having been acquired Los Angeles art market, prior to 1996 and to having come from a private collection in the UK, Tsirogiannis uncovered a potentially problematic past reported Saturday in an earlier blog post on the association's pages. 


Since 2003, it has been a criminal offence to deal in "tainted cultural objects", punishable by up to seven years in prison.  This is the fourth object in Christie's portfolio that Dr. Tsirogiannis has identified as likely being plundered in 2016. Two items identified in the April 12, 2016 sale were withdrawn.  A fourth item, a Roman stone mosaic panel with an estimated sale price of $200,000 - $300,000 was not withdrawn and sold for $545,000. 


July 2, 2016

Once Upon a Time, a (possibly looted) bearded warrior wearing a short white tunic

Forensic Image I
On January 31, 2007 Christos Tsirogiannis participated as a forensic archaeologist in a raid by the Greek police's Art Squad on a house in Karavomylos, a picturesque beach village in the Fthiotida region, between Boiotia and Thessaly. The house was registered in the names of two brothers, both of whom were the nephews of the former Zürich-based Greek antiquities dealer Frieda Tchakos.  Tchakos, who also goes by the name Frédérique Marie Nussberger-Tchacos, as well as by Frida Tchacos Nussberger, once oversaw the now liquidated Galerie Nefer AG and was once a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA).

Earlier, in 2002, Italian prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri had put out an international arrest warrant for Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger  in connection with antiquities laundering.  She was later arrested in Cyprus in connection with a seperate unrelated antiquities theft.

An overview of several of the cases of looted antiquities that have been repatriated to Italy involving the Tchakos network have been discussed in the Medici Conspiracy (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195, 227) and in “From Boston to Rome: Reflections on Returning Antiquities”, International Journal of Cultural Property 13. As part of a deal between Tchacos and the Italian authorities, Frieda Tchacos was given a light sentence.

Looking closer at what was siezed.

During the Greek 2007 raid not only were numerous ancient Greek and Egyptian objects found and confiscated in accordance with Greek Law 3028/2002 on the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in General but also photographic images, some of which depicted antiquities not found in the local raid and likely of similar, dubious origin.

Given the brother's familial ties to the former operator of Galerie Nefer, known to have handled tainted illicit antiquities from Greece and Italy and for its having been associated with names like Robert Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina, Robin Symes, Christo Michaelidis and Raffaele Monticelli, the photographs provided investigators with evidentiary support that there were additional, potentially-laundered ancient artifacts already in circulation elsewhere within the world's thriving antiquities art market. 

Forensic Image II
Two of the images seized during the raid and provided to ARCA by Dr. Tsirogiannis depict an Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora, a lidded vessel used for the storing wine and other commodities.  Forensic Image I, pictured in the blog post above, is likely a professional dealer's inventory photo.  It has been shot on an aesthetically pleasing neutral background in order to clearly emphsaize the side of the amphora which depicts a bearded warrior and his facing attendant.

The second photograph, Forensic Image II, has been cropped for confidentiality, but shows the forehead of one of the two brother's who owned the property connected to the Karavomylos raid.  In the background, the same Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora, is pictured sitting high on a white display shelf behind the man's head.

Fast Forward to 2016

Tsirogiannis has notified ARCA and the requisite police authorities (DS Hutcheon, Head of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit, the Greek police Art Squad, and Interpol) that he has made a positive match of the photographed amphora to Lot 52 in the forthcoming antiquities auction by Christie's London office.  The amphora is scheduled to come up for bidding on July 6, 2016. 


The Auction houses website describes the object as being an "Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora attributed to the Bucci painter, Circa 540-530 B.C." and gives a detailed description of the vase's imagery and dimensions along with an extremely modest suggested sale price for a vase of this age. 

Under provenance, the auction house lists the following information:
  • Los Angeles art market, prior to 1996. 
  • Private collection, UK.

It is interesting to note that there is no mention of the object being connected to any of the members of the Tchakos family, neither Zürich-based Greek antiquities dealer Frieda Tchakos or either of her two nephews who at the time of the 2007 seizure in their Greek home, were reportedly living in London.

Shouldn't the galleries and collectors which likely held the work on consignment be listed?

Does the current vase's owner have potential liability if the provenance provided to the auction house or to the future buyer turns out to show that key passages in the vase's history were omitted by someone connected to the sales process?

The collection history (sometimes referred to as provenance) of an object is an important factor in determining its authenticity, but equally important, as is the case with antiquities, it is an important indicator of the licit or illicit nature of the object's discovery and acquisition.  

Conscientious and ethical antiquities collectors should be able to rely on the information provided by sellers.  But as this auction clearly demonstrates, an object's reported collection history doesn't always accurately reflect whose hands an antiquity has past through. 

When details of an objects past are omitted, by an owner, by an antiquities dealer or by an auction house, either intentionally or accidentally, we continue to churn trafficked antiquities through the legitimate marketplace allowing collectors to buy and sell pretty things, conveniently claiming ignorance and clinging to the negligent “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach of the past. 

By Lynda Albertson


April 12, 2016

Christie's Withdraws Suspect Lots 36 and 70 from April 12 Antiquities Auction. Lot 9 sold.

ARCA has been informed that Christie's New York has withdrawn Lot 36: a Greek black-glazed hydria, with an estimate of $8,000 - $12,000 


as well as Lot 70: a Roman marble janiform Herm head, with an estimate of $40,000 - $60,000  from today's antiquities auction in New York.  


The two potentially looted pieces had previously been identified by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis and was elaborated upon in ARCA's blog here. 

Photographs of the specific objects were found among the confiscated archival records of two antiquities dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina both of whom have been implicated for illicitly trafficking in Italian antiquities. 

A third identified item, Lot 9: A Roman stone mosaic panel, with an estimate of $200,000 - $300,000  remained up for auction bidding and sold today for $545,000. 

Given its less than complete collection history, it proves yet again that antiquities buyers are not yet prepared to ask auction houses tough questions prior to purchasing, forcing the art market to treat sourced antiquities like diamond buyers do blood diamonds.  Questions like does the auction house guarantee that this object was sourced ethically and does the auction house know every step of the object's journey from initial discovery through to final auction.




April 11, 2016

Suspect Auction Items in Christie's Upcoming Antiquities Auction in New York

On March 30, 2016 in Paris, France UNESCO held a large multidisciplinary symposium examining the movement of cultural property in 2016.  As listed on the UNESCO website this event was facilitated to

bring together for the first time market stakeholders, including representatives of auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialized intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations as well as Member States, to take stock on the situation of the illicit trade in cultural heritage and identify areas to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation to successfully overcome this worldwide issue.

Present were a long list of heritage trafficking experts, members of national delegations and law enforcement divisions concerned about illicit trafficking as well as professionals representing the licit antiquities art market. 

Catherine Chadelat, the president of the Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (CVV), the regulatory authority for voluntary sales operators of chattels by public auction in France, stressed the importance of cooperation and communication between those working for the art market and allied professionals dealing with illicit trafficking issues.  During her opening address, she stated that the CVV  "strongly encourages market actors to not only comply with applicable regulations but to go further and take on a personal ethical responsibility."

Cecilia Fletcher, Senior Director, Compliance and Business Integrity Counsel for Sotheby’s European operations underscored her auction house's ethical standards and due diligence obligations to conduct its business with the highest level of integrity and transparency.  She expressed Sotheby's willingness to work closely with law enforcement agencies and ministries of culture to resolve issues when suspect antiquities come up for auction.  Martin Wilson, co-head of legal for Christie’s International, echoed his colleague, Ms. Fletcher's, words underscoring Christie's own efforts in ensure due diligence where antiquities are concerned.

Vincent Geerling, chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) told the audience, as he had previously in Berlin in 2014, that many art dealers and sellers have good knowledge of where their stock originates from, but acknowledged that consignors haven't always kept good paperwork to prove it.  Asking for a show of hands from the audience, Greeling asked if any of the UNESCO invitees had ever inherited an antique from a relative that came without its original collecting documentation.

When discussing collection histories as they relate to the current situation in the Middle East, Geerling added, complete with an accompanying powerpoint slide, that "during the past two years, IADAA has checked with every member to ask if anything from the troubled areas had been offered and they reported back not a single dodgy Syrian or Iraqi object had been offered to any of our members"  While this is encouraging, IADAA only accounts for 34 art market dealers so his sampling is restricted to a limited number of high profile dealers. 

Throughout the day these and other art market's panelists contended that their respective organisations are doing their best, and that no-one, as yet, has seen illicit material coming through their firms or associations as a result of the current conflicts in the Middle East.  Absent from their presentations were what procedures, if any, the art market leaders had in place to notify law enforcement authorities should they be approached by a dealer or collector with a suspect antiquity originating from any source country. This despite the fact that unprovenanced, looted, illicitly trafficked antiquities regularly turn up in legitimate auctions, having passed through the hands of well known suspect dealers and galleries.


Despite that, Christos Tsirogiannis and others working with Italy's state prosecutors routinely identify objects looted from Italy decades ago,  matching the pieces through law enforcement archive photos and documentation held by the Italian authorities in relation to cases involving known tombaroli and corrupt dealers.

Three of these identified suspect pieces are currently scheduled to go on the auction block tomorrow through Christie's New York City division.

The suspect objects in the April 12, 2016 auction are: 



Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Private Collection, U.S.
An American Private Collector; Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1998, lot 182.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 2000.

Pre-Lot Text
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION'

From all the previous owners, only the Royal Athena Galleries has been publicly listed in the lot's details.  Royal Athena Galleries has previously acquired stolen antiquities from the Corinth Museum in Greece and antiquities stolen from Italian excavation warehouses.  These details and the fact that these earlier objects, identified as stolen, were later repatriated to Greece and Italy should have triggered some sort of increased diligence as to this current mosaic's journey from discovery to the art market. 

In the Gianfranco Becchina archive Tsirogiannis identified a matching image of the mosaic via a leaflet created by Ariadne Galleries in New York.  The photocopied document presents the front window of the antiquities gallery, through which the same mosaic can be seen displayed on a wall. 

If Christie's has a commitment to transparency and due diligence in its antiquities auctions, as indicated in the UNESCO symposium, then why is it that they omitted the Ariadne Galleries connection in the offered lot's 'provenance' section?  

And why, if Royal Athena and Ariadne Galleries both have already been identified by Tsirogiannis in the past as having had tainted stock that at one time or another had passed through Becchina's network, weren't these two galleries a red flag to perhaps conduct a closer examination of the offered mosaic's origins?  

Tsirogiannis believes that this mosaic is likely from a country in northern Africa or the Near East. Christie's themselves mentions in their lot notes that there is a similar mosaic from Tunisia with the same subject in the permanent collection of the Bardo Museum.



Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 10 December 1987, lot 243.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1988.

Pre-Lot Text
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF CHARLES BRICKBAUER, BALTIMORE

Royal Athena Galleries in New York are again mentioned in this lot's details. From the research of Watson and Todeschini, Tsirogiannis reminds us that Giacomo Medici was consigning and laundering illicit antiquities via Sotheby's auctions in London during the 1980s. Tsirogiannis has identified the same hydria in a print photograph from the Medici photo archive.  Curiously though, the dealer Medici is also excluded from the 'provenance' section of this lot's details.    


Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Private Collection, New York, Boston & Texas, acquired prior to 1995; thence by descent to the current owner.

Pre-Lot Text
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY'

Tsirogiannis has identified the same Roman janiform marble head from two images in the archive of the dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  Becchina, like Giacomo Medici, has not been included in the lot's 'provenance' section for tomorrow's auction.

Given that this is not the first suspect Roman janiform head smuggled out of Italy into the United States via Switzerland and identified from images in the Becchina archive, one would think that the auction house would consider this object in need of closer consideration before accepting it for consignment.

Which brings me back to UNESCO's meeting statement again and a lot of unanswered questions.

To bring together for the first time market stakeholders, including representatives of auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialized intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations as well as Member States, to take stock on the situation of the illicit trade in cultural heritage and identify areas to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation to successfully overcome this worldwide issue.

Did Christie's contact/cooperate with the Carabinieri TPC on any of these objects in order to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation?

What is Christie's criteria for accepting or rejecting an antiquity for consignment and do they have a policy in place for notifying authorities when illicit material is suspected?

And what is the auction house's operational policy and criteria for green-lighting an antiquity for auction when said object has previously passed through known dealer/gallery sources already identified as having handled illicit antiquities in the past?

and

Where is the cooperation and communication Catherine Chadelat spoke of between illicit antiquities researchers and the art market?

Where is the commitment to transparency mentioned by Cecilia Fletcher when only a partial listing of the collection history of an object is mentioned?

Who are the academic experts working with Christie’s that Martin Wilson mentioned in January? What recommendation do these researchers have for ensuring that illegally excavated objects,  i.e. those without a "findable" trace in any art crime database, are truly clean and not simply laundered through several buyers in a ruse to create a plausible collection history.

In closing, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri, and the American authorities of his identifications. Here's hoping that the continued spotlight, however painful, will serve as a reminder that despite the presentations in Paris and the lack of suspect Syrian and Iraqi antiquities showing up in top-tier auctions, we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By:  Lynda Albertson



December 9, 2015

Christie's Withdraws Suspect Lot 45 from December 9th Antiquities Auction


ARCA has been informed that Christie's has withdrawn Lot 45: A Celtic bronze dagger and scabbard, 8th C. B.C. from its December 9, 2015 antiquities auction in New York later today.  The potentially looted piece had previously been identified by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis and was elaborated upon in ARCA's blog here.   Photographs of the specific object, along with lined cards describing the piece as being from the 'Italic, Villanovan period', were found among the confiscated archival records of antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina. 

Lot 101, a Canaanite bronze enthroned deity dating between 1550 - 1200 B.C. remains on offer despite Dr. Tsirogiannis' having located 6 professionally taken images from the Symes-Michaelides archive, and despite the fact that neither Symes and Michaelides are not mentioned in the Christie's collecting history. 

Given its less than up to date collection history, it will be interesting to see if potential buyers will bid on the piece or if news notifications will render the piece publicly unsellable. 

December 7, 2015

New Auction House Identifications With Opaque Collection Histories and Image Matches in Known Trafficker Archives

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has identified three antiquities related to the upcoming December 9, 2015 Christie's antiquities auction in New York which match with images originating within either the Gianfranco Becchina or Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives.

1. Lot 36: A Canosan terracotta Zeus and Ganymede, from Apulia, 3rd-2nd C. B.C.

Image of 'A Canosan terracotta Zeus and Ganymede
from the Becchina archive (provided by Dr. Tsirogiannis)
This antiquity is depicted in the records of the Becchina archive. Although its collecting history - according to Christie's - starts before 1981 and Becchina is not mentioned, there is a document, in the archival record dated January 17, 1995, from a designer to Becchina, mentioning the object specifically.

The designer, Raoul Allaman, seems to have added the figure's current plexiglass base. This object has subsequently been withdrawn as of November 28, 2016 and the Carabinieri TPC in Italy have  been made aware of the identifying match.
Image of 'A Celtic Bronze Dagger and Scabbard'
from the Becchina archive 

(provided by Dr. Tsirogiannis)






2. Lot 45: A Celtic bronze dagger and scabbard, 8th C. B.C. 

This antiquity is also depicted in the Becchina archive, in two professional images. The Becchina file containing the images and the lined cards on which the images are stuck, state that the object is 'Italic, Villanovan period'. This object has not been previously detected by the Italian authorities and is presently still on offer.





A Canaanite bronze enthroned deity
from the Becchina archive
(provided by Dr. Tsirogiannis)




This object appears in 6 professionally taken images from the Symes-Michaelides archive, without its current base, placed on a white plasteline/clay ball, standing in front of a stone wall, which serves as a background.  This antiquity, too, is still on offer. Symes and Michaelides are not mentioned in the Christie's collecting history. Interpol, the Carabinieri, 2 ICE agents and the Embassy of Israel to the United States have been notified concerning lot nr. 101.

The theft and trafficking of cultural items deliberately stolen from archaeological sites is a practice that is older than history and remains the greatest threat to the global archaeological record. Investigating the looting of antiquities and returning pieces to their countries of origin is a long and often difficult process.   Few of the objects looted and illicitly trafficked from source countries are ever repatriated and those that are, often are a direct the result of the work of a limited number of art crime researchers and law enforcement officers who work with various cultural ministries and law enforcement authorities tracking leads when and where they find them.

Yet the ultimate culpability rests not solely with the auction houses but equally importantly with the illicitly trafficked object's purchaser.  If collectors were unwilling to acquire unprovenanced artefacts, the supply chain would have no demand client buying and the market for illicit antiquities would disintegrate.

But what is the auction house’s own internal investigation of an object’s provenance?  Should auction houses be required to inform the legal authorities when consignors present objects with questionable collection histories? In much the same way nurses and doctors are required by law to report suspect child abuse? And if so, what would the ramifications be if the auction houses started to work WITH law enforcement towards cleaning up the art market?




October 1, 2015

Christie's Withdraws Suspect Antiquities from Auction.

Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities identified by Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, on September 29, 2015 that had previously been set for auction today at Christie’s in London.  

Each of the objects had been tied to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. 

For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of these objects, please see ARCA's earlier report of his findings here. 

September 29, 2015

While the West Seeks Tighter Curbs on the Trade in Antiquities Looted by ISIS, Italian Suspect Antiquities Continue to Appear at Major Auction Houses

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another grouping of suspect antiquities set for auction October 1, 2015 at Christie’s in London.  Each of the objects appears to have ties to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. Becchina was convicted of antiquities trafficking in 2011.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying the relevant government authorities when matches are discovered.  An expert on the illicit antiquities trade, Dr. Tsirogiannis teaches ARCA's illicit antiquities course.  He also serves as Research Assistant to the Trafficking Culture Project at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research located at the University of Glasgow.

Despite having apparently “clean” collection histories, each of the antiquities listed below (Lots 6, 8 and 16) — or strikingly similar ones — appear in photographic evidence confiscated by the Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during their investigation into the network of traffickers affiliated with Gianfranco Becchina.


The three antiquities on offer at the upcoming sale at Christie’s are said to come from Professor Heissmeyer’s antiquities collection; A fourth antiquity (lot 93) was temporarily confiscated by the Swiss authorities in 2008 from the Japanese illicit antiquities dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi and has now been put back into circulation within the antiquities market. 

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri Art Squad and Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit with the evidence for these new identifications.  

In detail, the suspect antiquities are:
Left - The oinochoe depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same oinochoe on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015


The oinochoe’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Germany, acquired prior to 1990.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from the above in 2005 (inv. no. 32).
Beazley Archive no. 9024860.

The same oenochoe seems to be depicted in a Polaroid image from the Becchina archive. In the archival photo the vase is covered with encrustations, lying on what appears to be a plastic tray, while a handwritten note, also in the archives, states that this antiquity was sent for restoration, among other antiquities, on 1 December 1989 to Sandro Cimicchi, Gianfranco Becchina’s usual restorer.

Left - The cup depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - The same cup on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The cup’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1995 (inv. no. 17).
Beazley Archive no. 9024849.

In the Becchina archive, what appears to be the same cup is depicted in a Polaroid image, upside down and partially covered with encrustations, among three other cups. The similarities can be identified from the position of the panthers painted on the lower portion of the cup's body. A handwritten note states that the cups were bought by the middleman Raffaele Monticelli on 4 March 1993. Another handwritten note on the Polaroid states: ‘V/ Hae CH’ [sold to Hae Swiss Francs]. In 2002 Monticelli was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities. (Isman 2011b: 50; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 292) and as recently as today had 22 million euros worth of his real estate assets confiscated by the state for his alleged involvement as an international antiquities trafficker.    

Left - The lekythos depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, United Kingdom, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1992 (inv. no. 23).
Beazley Archive no. 21590.

An object that appears to be the same lekythos is depicted in two professional images from the Becchina archive. A handwritten note states: ‘E Nov 78’.
Left - The lekythos depicted during its confiscation
in a photograph taken by the Italian authorities
 during the raid at Horiuchi’s warehouse in Geneva in 2008.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Anonymous sale; Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, 14 November 1986, lot 213.
Formerly private collection, Japan, acquired privately in 1997.


This lekythos was found and confiscated during the raid of the Swiss and Italian authorities at the warehouse of the Japanese dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi in the Geneva Freeport in 2008. The Italian authorities could not prove the illicit origin of this particular lekythos and
although Horiuchi did not supply any documentation to prove the licit origin of the lekythos, the vase was returned to Horiuchi. 

In total the Italian authorities confiscated 337 antiquities from Horiuchi depicted in the Becchina, Medici and Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives. Horiuchi's name also comes up in a 2014 repatriation case involving another Becchina linked antiquity, a 1,800-year-old sarcophagus lid depicting a sleeping Ariadne.  

It should also be noted that this same lekythos also appeared at one time on offer at ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery, owned by the Aboutaam brothers, one of whom was convicted in Egypt for antiquities smuggling and the other of whom pleaded guilty to the falsification of at least one customs document. 

In relationship to that listing  the lekythos appeared as ‘SOLD’ on the ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery website. In the October sale listing Christie’s fails to state the name of the consigner, although they do so in the case of the other three lots (Professor Heissmeyer).

In the three first cases, Christie’s ‘due diligence’ seems to have stopped short of tracing the collecting history back one step further, which would have opened the window on the Becchina transactions.  In the fourth case (lot 93), Christie’s record lists the 1986 and 1997 transaction dates in the lekythos’ collecting history, but completely avoids mentioning the authorities’ raid of Horiuchi’s warehouse in Switzerland or the subsequent passage or ownership of the vase by the convicted Aboutaam brothers, through their ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery in New York and Geneva.

In total, these are just four objects in a string of tainted auctions with fairly good documentation proving their likelihood that these objects were looted.  If the art market cannot hold itself to task on objects where there is a known and extensive photographic record of illicit activity how will the art market perform its due diligence on antiquities coming from conflict countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen where no confiscated smuggler dossiers exist?

Due diligence of looted antiquities, be they Italian or conflict-based, has to be meaningful and not merely plausible, in the furtherance of a sale's commission.  Partially-documented histories in an object's collection background, do not necessarily always point to fresh looting or illegal export but when the objects background looks murky, as is the case with these objects, the art market needs to step up its game and voluntarily refuse to participate in the laundering.

UPDATE - October 01, 2015 Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities prior to the auction scheduled today in London.  

Lynda Albertson