Showing posts with label Medici Dossier. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Medici Dossier. 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Bonhams has withdrawn the suspect antiquity that was identified by Greek forensic archaeologist and ARCA lecturer Christos Tsirogiannis on November 07, 2016.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The withdrawal of the object comes with a short statement that reads "This lot has been withdrawn".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




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

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



April 11, 2015

Update: Christie's Withdraws Antiquities Lots from April 15, 2015 Sale

Christie's has pulled the following antiquities from its upcoming April 15th sale:



















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.

By clicking on each object's details readers will see under the Saleroom Notice section: "This Lot is Withdrawn" 

November 27, 2014

Christie's Auction House Withdraws Sardinian Marble Female Idol from Upcoming New York City Sale

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor and Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

Last week Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis pointed to a Sardinian marble female idol that Christie's planned to sell in New York City on December 11, 2014 -- an image of the idol had been identified previously in the Medici archive (see ARCA post here).  Further information on the background of this object's less than optimal collection history was later posted on Professor David Gill's blog Looting Matters and on Nord Wennerstrom's website Nord on Art

In protest of this sale Italian Camera Deputy Unidos Mauro Pili from the Regione of Sardinia wrote to Italy's ministro dei Beni culturali Dario Franceschini, Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paolo Esteri Gentiloni and to the US Ambassador of the United States to Italy, John Phillips demanding that immediate action be taken to stop the sale and to return the stolen goods to Sardinia.

Shortly thereafter, archaeologists in and around Italy formed a virtual protest group via social media provider Facebook also demanding the objects return.  This and other local interest action groups attracted more than 1000 followers. 

A few short minutes ago Deputy Unidos Mauro Pili released the following message. 
Poco fa la casa d'aste Christie's ha bloccato la vendita della Dea Madre ritirando dall'asta dell'11 dicembre prossimo il pezzo pregiatissimo della civiltà nuragica della Sardegna. Si tratta di un risultato importantissimo che segna un punto decisivo nella lotta ai furti d'opere archeologiche della Sardegna. Ora occorre andare sino in fondo per far restituire il maltolto alla Sardegna. Questo dimostra che la mobilitazione dell'opinione pubblica, dei media, e delle azioni parlamentari è utile ad accendere i riflettori su queste vergogne e bloccare queste vere proprie rapine al patrimonio della civiltà dei sardi.
The message indicates that Christie's has blocked the sale of the Mother Goddess, withdrawing it from its December 11th auction.  Deputy Pili further added that the blocking of this sale is a major achievement that marks a decisive point in the fight against theft of archaeological works of Sardinia.

A check of the Christie's New York auction side indicates the object has been removed from the online catalog for the upcoming sale proving that pressure at the state and local level can and does apply sufficient pressure to auction houses to lead them to do the right thing.  


November 21, 2014

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis identifies rare Sardinian idol to be auctioned at Christie's December 11 in New York City

Image of the Sardinian idol from the Medici
archive (provided by Dr. Tsirogiannis)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

In the forthcoming December 11 auction of Christie's in New York, lot 85 'A SARDINIAN MARBLE FEMALE IDOL OZIERI CULTURE, CIRCA 2500-2000 B.C.', 'PROPERTY FROM THE MICHAEL AND JUDY STEINHARDT COLLECTION', is estimated at $800,000-1,200,000. Its provenance given by Christie's is: 'with Harmon Fine Arts, New York. with The Merrin Gallery, New York, 1990 (Masterpieces of Cycladic Art, no. 27). Acquired by the current owner, 1997.'

"The object appears in the Medici archive, smashed in 6 pieces, missing the upper left part of its head," according to 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. "The Steinhardt collection has been previously connected with the acquisition of questionable antiquities."

The blog Chasing Aphrodite reported last November in "Steinhardt Redux: Feds Seize Fresco Looted from Italian World Heritage Site, Destined for New York Billionaire" that a second action had been taken against the antiquities collector: "The legal foundation for the case was created by Steinhardt himself twenty years ago with his failed effort -- fought all the way to the US Supreme Court -- to block the seizure of a golden libation bowl that was illegal exported from Sicily."

Dr. Tsirogiannis included an image from the Medici archive with the email announcing his discovery.

The Christie's catalogue can be downloaded here (first, press the button that says 'E-CATALOGUE'. The 150-page e-Catalogue advertises 192 lots (or objects) to be sold at Rockefeller Plaza the second Thursday of December. The objects (or 'properties' as described by Christie's on the page that lists the viewing dates prior to the sale) are from various collections. No further information is included about The Michael and Judy Steinhardt Collection in the e-catalogue. The Steinhardts also collect Judaica (Jewish art).

According to Christie's, this Sardinian marble female idol "comes from the Ozieri Culture of Sardinia, which takes its name from the town in the north of the island where the first excavations took place. Only very few such cruciform female idols survive."


June 1, 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Python bell-krater acquired in 1989 matches object documented in confiscated Medici archive, according to forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis: "The evidence suggests that the vase has most likely been unlawfully removed from Italian soil"

Medici polaroid of Python's bell-krater 
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The Classic Greek mixing-bowl attributed to the artist Python (active ca. 350 – 325 BC) of Poseidonia (Paestan) on display in Gallery 161 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City should be returned to Italy because it has no collecting history before 1989 and has been matched with photographs in the possession of a convicted art dealer, according to the work of University of Cambridge’s Christos Tsirogiannis. (You can see The Met’s description of the object online here ). 

This terracotta bell-krater, described in detail in Dr. Tsirogiannis’ column "Nekyia" in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, appears with soil/salt encrustations in five photographs from the confiscated Medici archive – including one Polaroid image. Then, “The object was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in June 1989 and the same year appeared as part of The Met’s antiquities collection,” Dr. Tsirogiannis reports.

Medici photograph of Python bell-krater
Art dealer Giacomo Medici was convicted in 2005 of participating in the sale of looted antiquities. The story of how illicit antiquities were sold to art galleries and museums in Europe and North America was told in the 2006 book by Peter Watson & Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities, from Italy’s tomb raiders to the world’s greatest museums (Public Affairs). The Medici archives (or “Medici Dossier”)  were described as “thirty albums of Polaroids, fifteen envelopes with photographs, and twelve envelopes with rolls of film … [along with] 100 full rolls of exposed film … [for] a total of 3,600 images” found in Medici’s warehouse of antiquities in Geneva in 1995.

Christos Tsirogiannis and archaeologist David Gill have written in The Journal of Art Crime (and elsewhere) about ancient objects for sale at auction houses with dubious collecting histories, focusing on information from this “Medici Dossier”. In 2009, Gill wrote in his column “Context Matters” that the raid on Medici’s warehouse drew attention to the scale of looting of archaeological sites in Italy.

Medici close up of Python's bell-krater on display at The Met
In this current case of identification, photographs of The Met’s Python bell-krater in the archive of the convicted art dealer Giacomo Medici suggest – as pointed out in The Medici Conspiracy – along with the lack of earlier documented collecting history that this vase was very likely illegally excavated after 1970 (the date of the UNESCO Convention against illicit trade antiquities), Dr. Tsirogiannis writes in “A South Italian Bell-Krater by Python in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” (Spring 2014, The Journal of Art Crime). He explains:
The bell-krater is photographed using Polaroid technology not commercially available until after 1972; the krater is situated not in its archaeological context with a measuring tool, but with soil encrustations, on an armchair; in the regular photographs, the vase appears against a background whose brick-red colour seems clumsily matched with the dark red velvet surface, the same surface on which Medici photographed several other antiquities which later proved to be illicit and were repatriated to Italy (e.g. the 20 red-figure plates attributed to the Bryn Mawr Painter, once offered to the Getty Museum; see Watson & Todeschini 2007:95-98, 205; Silver 2010:138-139, 143). It is profoundly clear that the bell-krater was not in a professional environment or treated in a professional way.
Fourth photo of Medici's bell-krater
Dr. Tsirogiannis, a Greek forensic archaeologist, studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, he has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr. Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

In this case of The Met's Python bell-krater, Dr. Tsirogiannis questions how the ancient mixing bowl reached Sotheby’s in 1989 (Sotheby’s has a policy of not disclosing the name of the consigners or the buyers of objects). Dr. Tsirogiannis writes:
The Met has a long history of acquiring looted and smuggled antiquities after the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The two most prominent cases were the Euphronios krater acquired in 1972 from the notorious dealer Robert Hecht during the directorship of Thomas Hoving, and the Morgantina treasure acquired in 1981, again from Hecht, during the directorship of Philippe de Montebello. On February 21, 2006, de Montebello signed an agreement in Rome to return both krater and treasure to Italy among 21 antiquities in total (Provoledo 2006). In January 2012, Italy announced the repatriation of c. 40 vase fragments from The Met; Fabio Isman revealed that the fragments matched vases already repatriated to Italy from North American museums, and noted that these fragments previously belonged to the private collection, kept in The Met, of the museum’s antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothmer (Italian Ministry of Culture 2012; Isman 2012).
Fifth Medici photo of Python bell-krater
Dietrich van Bothmer, who had a 60-year career at The Met as a curator and an expert in ancient Greek vases, died in 2009 (here’s his obituary in The New York Times).

Dr. Tsirogiannis points out in his column the need for further academic research on the Python bell-krater acquired in 1989:
The identification of the vase in the Medici archive, with the handwritten note below the Polaroid image, not only suggests that the vase has most likely been unlawfully removed from Italian soil, but also highlights discrepancies between published interpretations of the main scene depicted on the vase.
In conclusion, Dr. Tsirogiannis writes in his column:
The Met has several questions to answer. What is the ‘Bothmer Purchase Fund’? It has been proved that Dietrich von Bothmer played a crucial role in the acquisition of archaeological material, looted and smuggled after 1970, both on behalf of The Met and for his personal collection formed during the same period (Gill 2012:64; this obvious conflict of interest was overlooked by the museum; see Felch 2012, Tsirogiannis & Gill forthcoming 2014). My email to The Met (February 7, 2014) querying this point and requesting the full collecting history of the krater, remains unanswered, although it was sent to three different offices. No contact details for the Department of Greek and Roman Art are available on the museum website. In a wider perspective, the Python bell-krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of many similar cases. North American museums, recently found to have acquired illicit antiquities, and forced to return those objects, still have in their possession many more. The very museums which advertise their case for transparency, in practice continue to conceal the full collecting history of tainted objects they own, and wait for them to be discovered. In this regard, the story of the Python bell-krater case is obviously typical.
In an email to the ARCA blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote that American and Italian authorities have been informed about this identification, and added:
It seems that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, after the identification of the Bothmer kylix fragments and their repatriation to Italy last year, has to do much more work to present all the antiquities that lack a pre-1970 collecting history in its collection, rather than waiting to be confronted with more cases in the future. This will be honest due diligence, not just meaningless words in official statements.
You may read Dr. Tsirogiannis’ column in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing via the ARCA website or ordering the issue through Amazon.com.

Included in this post are the five photographs of the Python bell-krater in the Medici archive.

The Met owns another terracotta bell-krater (mixing bowl) attributed to Python that it purchased in 1976 and has on view in Gallery 171.

Here's a link to a video showing the three Greek temples at Paestum in Southern Italy and another link to a video showing how ancient Greek vases were made out of refined baked clay.