Showing posts with label Gianfranco Becchina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gianfranco Becchina. Show all posts

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. 

April 11, 2015

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part III

Antiquities trafficking continues to make headlines in multiple countries in 2015.  In this last of a three part series, ARCA explores one final art trafficking network that underscores that the ownership and commodification of the past continues long after the traffickers have been identified.

August 31, 1995
Europa Paestan red-figure Asteas signed calyx-krater
In a fluke summer accident, Pasquale Camera, a former captain of the Guardia di Finanza turned middle-man art dealer, lost control of his car on Italy’s Autostrada del Sole, Italy's north-south motorway, as he approached the exit for Cassino, a small town an hour and a half south of Rome.  Smashing into a guardrail and flipping his Renault on its roof, Camera’s automobile accident not only ended his life but set into motion a chain reaction that resulted in a major law enforcement breakthrough that disrupted one of Italy’s largest antiquities trafficking networks.

While the fatal traffic accident fell under the jurisdiction of Italy’s Polizia Stradale, the Commander of the Carabinieri in Cassino was also called to the scene.  The investigating officers had found numerous photographs in Camera's vehicle which substantiated what investigators had already suspected, that the objects depicted in the photos had been illegally-excavated and that Camera had been actively dealing in looted antiquities.
Tombarolo holding Asteas signed calyx-krater

The images in the car were of a hodgepodge of ancient art.  Two that stood out in particular were of a statue in the image of Artemis against the backdrop of home furnishings and a Paestan red-figure calyx-krater, signed by Asteas in what looked to be someone's garage.  

Having been previously assigned to the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the  Commander from Cassino called the TPC’s Division General, Roberto Conforti, who requested a warrant be issued to search the premises of Camera’s apartment in Rome, near Piazza Bologna.

Investigators who carried out the search of Pasquale Camera's personal possessions discovered hundreds of photographs, fake and genuine antiquities,  reams of documentation and the now famous Medici organagram.  This org chart revealed Giacomo Medici’s central position in the organization of the antiquities trade out of Italy.  Interestingly, the wallpaper in Cameria's apartment also matched the background of the photo of the Artemide Marciante found in Camera's vehicle. 

Subsistance Looter to Middle Man

Another photo, of Antimo Cacciapuoti, showed the tombarolo holding the freshly-looted Asteas-signed Europa krater.  A copy of this photo was provided by journalist Fabio Isman for the purpose of this article.  Isman confirmed that this image was one of the Polaroids found in Camera's Renault and went on to add that during later negotiations Cacciapuoti would confess to having been paid 1 million lire plus "a suckling pig" for his work in supplying the krater.

One of the links in Italy's largest known trafficking chain had begun to crack.

Medici Organagram
As the investigation progressed authorities went on to raid Giacomo Medici’s warehouse at the Geneva Freeport in September 1995 and recovered 3,800 objects and another 4,000 photographs of ancient art that had, at one time or another, passed through Medici’s network.

1998  Identifications

Matching seized photos to looted works of art is a laborious process.  Three years after the start of the investigation Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini from the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria meridionale at the Villa Giulia, working with the Procura della Repubblica (the state prosecutor's office) and the Court of Rome on this case, identified the Artemide Marciante from the photo found at the scene of Camera's fatal auto accident.  The photo of the statue matched another found in a June 1998 issue of House and Garden Magazine and another photo seized from Giacomo Medici which showed the object unrestored and with dirt still on it.  This statue was ultimately recovered from Frieda Tchacos.

Rizzo and Pellegrini also identified the location of the Paestan red-figure calyx krater, painted and signed by Asteas.  It had been sold by the dealer Gianfranco Becchina to the John Paul Getty Museum in 1981.
2001-2005 More Seizures

In the early years of the new century law enforcement authorities investigating this trafficking cell widened their attention on Gianfranco Becchina, whose name was listed on  the organagram, placing him as head of a cordata and as a primary supplier to Robert Hecht.  This important lead convinced investigators to explore Becchina's suspected involvement in this trafficking cell. 

As the investigation continued authorities seized 140 binders containing 13,000 more documents, 8,000 additional photographs of suspect objects and 6,315 artworks from Becchina's storage facilities and gallery.

But the purpose of this article is not to rehash a 19-year old story already detailed in “The Medici Conspiracy” by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini.    It is now fairly common knowledge that an estimated 1.5 million items have been looted from Italy's myriad archaeological sites during the past four decades and a surprising number of these illicit objects have ended up in some of the world's most prestigious museums via ancient art dealers passing through the hands of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Emanuel Hecht Jr., and Robin Symes.

Instead, this article focuses on what is happening in the present and serves to demonstrate that despite the nearly two decades that have past since Pasquale Camera's car veered off Italy's A-1 autostrada, suspect illicit antiquities, traceable to this network, continue to be sold, often openly, on the lucrative licit art market.

To underscore the conundrum of looted to legitimate Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis a Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project, housed in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow has highlighted four objects for sale at Christie’s upcoming antiquities auction in London, on Wednesday, 15 April 2015.  For the last eight years (2007-present), Tsirogiannis has been identifying looted and ‘toxic’ antiquities as they come up for sale from photographic evidence he was given by authorities from the three primary dossiers of photographs derived from the property seizures in these cases.

Each of these four objects listed below have been identified by Tsirogiannis as having corresponding photos in these archives, something potential purchasers may want to consider when bidding on antiquities that, at face value, are reported to have legitimate collection histories.

SALE 10372 Lot 83 Property of a Gentlemen
Provenance: Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s.
Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16.
Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
Beazley archive no. 26090. 

SALE 10372 Lot 102 Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner.  

SALE 10372 Lot 108 Property from a London Collection
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 December 1986, lot 183, when acquired by the present owner.

SALE 10372 Lot 113: Property from a Private Collection, Canada
Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998.

At first blush, review of Christie's sales notes on these objects seems to demonstrate a modicum of collecting history pedigree which normally would serve to comfort potential buyers.  None of the auction lot however go on to reveal where these objects were found, or whether their excavation and exportation from their country of origin were legal.  

This should be the first alarm bell to any informed collector considering a purchase on the licit antiquities market.  ARCA reminds its readers and buyers of art works that lack of this information in an object's collection history should be a strong signal that the object may be suspect and that it is better to walk away from a beautiful antiquity than purchase an object that quite possibly may have been looted or illegally exported.

Extracts from Notes by Dr. Tsirogiannis on the Christie's Auction Lots

Regarding Lot 83
Christie's catalogue does not include any collecting history of this Greek amphora before its appearance in Japan in the 1980's. Documentation in the Becchina archive links Becchina to three German professors regarding the examination of the amphora in the 1970's.

Regarding Lot 102 
From Watson's and Todeschini's book, we know that in the 1980's Medici used to consign antiquities to Sotheby's in London, through various companies and individuals.  Why does the Christies auction not include any collecting history before the 1985 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 108

Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue does not include any collecting history of this antiquity before the 1986 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 113
Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue is not precise about the collecting history of this antiquity prior to 1998.

Are these Notifications Helpful?

In the past, when Dr. Tsirogiannis or Dr. David Gill have pointed out objects with tainted collection histories, dealer association members and private collectors have countered by screaming foul. They have asked,
Others have criticized this practice saying that by outing sellers and auction houses on their tainted inventory, the objects simply get pulled from auction and proceed underground.  Detractors believe that this leaves dealers to trade illicit objects in more discreet circles, where screenshots and image capture are less accessible to investigators and researchers and where the change of hands from one collector to another adds a future layer of authenticity, especially where private collections in remote location buyers are less likely to be questioned.

I would counter these concerns by saying that researchers working on this case diligently work to not impede ongoing investigations by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and Italy's Procura della Repubblica and to notify the appropriate legal authorities in the countries where these auctions take place.   In the case of these four antiquities INTERPOL, the Metropolitan Police and the Italian Carabinieri have been notified.

But police officers and dedicated researchers only have so many sets of eyes and the prosecution of art crime requires dedicated investigators and court hours not often available to the degree to which this complex problem warrants.   To mitigate that, it is time that we dedicate more time educating the opposite end of the looting food chain; the buyer.

The academic community needs to learn to apply persuasive, not adversarial, pressure on the end customer; the buyers and custodians of objects from our collective past.  By helping buyers become better-informed and conscientious collectors we can encourage them to demand that the pieces they collect have thorough collection histories or will not be purchased.  As discerning buyers become more selective, dealers will need to change their intentionally blind-eye practice of passing off suspect antiquities with one or two lines of legitimate buyers attached to them.  

Buyers would also be wise to apply the same pressure to auction houses that they apply to dealers, persuading them to adopt more stringent policies on accepting consignments.  Auction houses in turn should inform consignors that before accepting items for consignment that have limited collection histories they will be voluntarily checking with authorities to see if these objects appear in these suspect photo dossiers.  In this way the legitimate art market would avoid the circular drama of having their auctions blemished with reports of trafficked items going up for sale to unsuspecting buyers or to having gaps in their auction schedule when auction houses are forced to withdraw items on the eve of an upcoming sale.

In April 2014 James Ede, owner of a leading London-based gallery in the field of Ancient Art and board member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art wrote an article in defense of the antiquities trade in Apollo Magazine where he stated:

The IADAA's Code of Ethics states: "The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property."

In the past Mr. Ede has stated that small dealers couldn't afford to use private stolen art databases such as those at the Art Loss Register.  I would ask Mr. Ede in the alternative how many London dealers registered with the IADAA have ever picked up the phone and asked Scotland Yard's art squad to check with INTERPOL or their Italian law enforcement colleagues when accepting a consignment where the collecting histories of an object deserved a little more scrutiny? 

Or better still, should the more than 14,000 photos of objects from these dossiers ever be released, to private stolen art databases or to a wider public audience, how would the IADAA ensure that its membership actually cross-examine the entire archival record before signing off that the object is not tainted? Mr. Ede has also indicated previously that the IADAA only requires its members to do checks on objects worth more than £2000.  Items of lessor value would take too much time or prove too costly to the dealers.

In 2015 is it correct for dealers to remain this passive and wait for law enforcement to tell them something is afoot?  Would the general public accept such an attitude from used car sellers regarding stolen cars?

Given that Mr. Ede is the former chairman and board member since the founding of the IADAA, an adviser of the British Government, a valuer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and a member of the council of the British Art Market Federation his thoughts on this matter carry considerable weight in the UK.  As such he is scheduled to speak on April 14, 2015 at the Victoria and Albert Museum on "The Plunder: Getting a global audience involved in the story of stolen antiquities from Iraq and Syria."

I am curious how Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General Art and Museums, Syria  who is also speaking at this event would feel about low valued items being excluded from the IADAA's "clean or tainted" cross checks or if Mr. Ede has any workable suggestions that would actually begin to address this problem in an active, rather than passive way among the art dealing community.  

Will blood antiquities be held to a higher standard of evaluation given the public's interest while it remains business as usual for objects looted from source countries not involved in civil war or conflict?

By Lynda Albertson


References Used in This Article

Antoniutti, A., and C. Spada. "Fabio Isman, I predatori dell'arte perduta. Il saccheggio dell'archeologia in Italia." Economia della Cultura 19.2 (2009): 301-301.
Gill, David,   "Almagià: "It’s ridiculous Princeton didn’t do anything to fight that" Looting Matters (August 2010)

Felch, Jason, and Ralph Frammolino. "Chasing Aphrodite. The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum." (2001).

Isman, Fabio "Un milione di oggetti clandestini" Il Giornale di Arte, (May 2011)

Marconi, Clemente, ed. Greek Vases: Images, Contexts and Controversies; Proceedings of the Conference Sponsored by The Center for the Ancient Mediterranean at Columbia University, 23-24 March 2002. Vol. 25. Brill, 2004.
Watson, Peter, and Cecilia Todeschini. "The Medici Conspiracy: Organized Crime, Looted Antiquities, Rogue Museums." (2006).







January 21, 2015

Once Upon a Time in Five Secure Vaults in Switzerland

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

ARCA’s blog readers have followed the cases of Italian antiquities trafficking for practically as long as there has been an ARCA blog.  Antiquities dealers, suspected of art crimes with names like Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, Robert Hecht, Christo Michaelides, and Gianfranco Becchina are names you can search on and who each have pages of blog posts dedicated to them.

For those that want to delve further, books like The Medici Conspiracy and Chasing Aphrodite give English language accounts of the cases and investigations surrounding these dealers and for those who read Italian, Fabio Isman’s multi-year investigation I predatori dell’arte perduta explains why Italy has fought so hard to have its stolen antiquities returned home.

But in the background of all this, were the artworks themselves; artwork large and small, artworks looted and sold, and artworks looted and almost sold, had it not been for the quick thinking of investigators who diligently worked, in some cases for years, to put the pieces of this one puzzle together.

Those who have worked on these cases know how hard it is to identify suspect antiquities, especially when snapped on crumpled Polaroids.  Matching smashed pot fragments in photos taken in a darkened basement or the boot of a car with professional-quality photos of finally restored masterpieces on sale in auction catalogs takes a sharp eye.  More than that, it takes a considerable amount of patience, cooperation and collaboration with legal and law enforcement authorities to bring these articles home.

How did these objects get from an unknown archaeological site to a middleman? Who were the individual tombaroli?  Who were the intermediaries who physically transported these objects to dealer warehouses in Switzerland?  Why were museums and art collectors so quick to turn a blind eye to these objects' lack of collection history?  All of these are questions we may never be able to fully answer, but which have been speculated on in minute detail.

What maybe hasn’t been examined, or at least not in such a visually dramatic way is the amount of work behind this laborious investigation.  The work of the Carabinieri TPC, the work of Italy’s state prosecutors and expert consultants, and the work of Italy’s Ministry of Culture.   But instead of trying to tell their story in this blog post, perhaps its best to let photos of what they have recovered speak for themselves.

The imagery you see here comes from one singular organized crime investigation presented  today at the National Roman Museum at The Baths of Diocletian (Museo Nazionale Romano alle Terme di Diocleziano). 

5,361 archaeological objects, each ripped from their context, giving us no known site of origin to tell us about the place where they were taken from.  The objects date from the eighth century BC to the third century AD., all looted, all displayed together in one place.

Each piece represents an artwork stolen from  Campania, Lazio, Calabria, Puglia, Sicily or Sardinia.

One trafficking enterprise.  How many more are there?  
 

 























Note:  The accompanying photographs and video in this blog post represent approximately half of the 5,361 antiquities confiscated in Basel, Switzerland in 2001 as part of Operation Teseo.  Italy’s court reached its final and lasting verdict of confiscation via the Italian Supreme Court in 2013, which was then validated and confirmed by Switzerland.  These objects have been in Italy since 2004 and do not represent a “new” seizure as has been indicated by some journalists not familiar with the cases history.  The antiquities on display during the press conference are objects well known to researchers in the field of Italian antiquities looting and have been held as part of the ongoing investigation in Rome so that researchers and investigators had access to them as part of the investigation and for cataloging purposes.

The collection may gone on temporary display in Italy as a group but will then be disbursed to museums in the regional areas where the objects were likely looted.