Showing posts with label antiquities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antiquities. Show all posts

December 23, 2016

Visiting Florence and want to see an exhibition dedicated to art crime? The beauty of art and its appreciation can heal the wounds inflicted.

Visiting Florence between now and February 14, 2017?  

Then you should try and make time to see "La Tutela Tricolore," an exhibition dedicated to the “Custodians of Italy’s cultural identity” at the La Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze.



The exhibition opened December 19, 2016, and is made up of eight themed sections, some of which are highlighted here.  Focusing on art crimes in general and highlighting many of the exceptional recoveries that are a result of Italy's unique investment in cultural heritage protection through its  unique-in-the-world Comando Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale dei Carabinieri, the exhibition demonstrates just how diverse "crimes against art" really are.

The event inaugurates the newly opened Aula Magliabechiana, part of a 18 million euro restoration project to overhaul two floors beneath the Biblioteca Magliabechiana.  These renovations not only provide a connection with Vasari’s original building on Piazza Castellani, but create a permanent exhibition space on the ground floor which will be dedicated to temporary exhibits such as this one.


"La Tutela Tricolore's" first section highlights art crimes by terrorism and pays homage to the city of Florence and the Uffizi's recovery from the May 27, 1993 bombing on the museum and the Accademia dei Georgofili.

Long before there was an ISIS, domestic terrorists affiliated with the Italian organised crime group Cosa Nostra placed 280 kilograms of Pentrite and T4 explosives mixed with a small quantity of TNT in a Fiat and left it parked on Via dei Georgofili, just behind the historic Uffizi Gallery's main entrance.  The resulting early morning explosion, caused when the car bomb detonated, created a ten foot wide and six foot deep crater that claimed the lives of five people, including one small, seven-week old, girl. Thirty-three people were treated in local hospitals for their injuries and the scar on the heart of the Renaissance city remains palpable in Florence's architecture and the city's collections.

Serving as a defiant symbol of "defeat through reconstruction," the opening of this Uffizi exhibition space commemorates this mournful occurrence and Florence's determination to overcome its devastating effects.  It serves as a reminder that through solidarity and hope, the beauty of art, and its appreciation and preservation, has the ability to heal wounds, even those inflicted long ago.

Section two of the exhibition highlights Florentine works of art stolen during World War II.  Some of the highlights on display include Labors of Hercules by Antonio Pollaiolo, the Madonna and Child (also called the Tickling Madonna or the Madonna Casini) by Masaccio, and Galatea by Bronzino.

Another section highlights works of art repatriated to Italy from other countries.

Some of the more recent repatriations on display are:

Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
The Torlonia Peplophoros, a first-century BC sculpture depicting the body of a young goddess.  The statue is one of 15 stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 which was just returned to Italy on December 7, 2016 from the United States.


An ornate parade wagon dating back to the early seventh century B.C.E., looted from the tomb of a Sabine prince laid to rest within the Colle del Forno necropolis. This wagon and other funerary objects were repatriated July 2016 following extremely difficult and protracted multi-year negotiations with the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum in Denmark's capital of Copenhagen.


A second century CE marble head, belonging to a statue of Julia Domna, the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus, the founder of the Severan dynasty.  This bust was stolen from the Museo del Canopo at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli in 2012 and was also returned to Italy earlier this month.


This 510 B.C. E Etruscan black-figure kalpis, attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop, was looted by Tombaroli passed through the now well known trafficking network of Gianfranco Becchina before being sold to the Toledo Museum of Art with only a photocopy of two paragraphs typed in German on hotel stationery by the Swiss hotel's owner, stating he had owned it since 1935 as provenance.  As the result of an incriminating polaroid and a Federal Verified Complaint in Forfeiture, the museum was eventually encouraged to return the antiquity to Italy in 2012.

The sixth section highlights the globalization of criminal networks with pieces recovered from the Castellani Goldsmith collection, stolen during a dramatic 2013 Easter weekend jewelry heist the Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia in Rome. As reported on earlier, this museum theft turned out to be a theft-to-order, involving a shady antiquarian, a drug dealer and a Russian with a penchant for gold.


Some of the last objects in the exhibit are the most poignant, and highlight art crimes in war, and the risk to the countries irreplaceable works of art which have been subject to natural disasters like Italy's recent earthquakes that continuously endanger its historic buildings and collections.  These objects remind us that fighting to protect art, against the elements and against the theft and exportation of works of art is a matter of civilisation and is a battle which warrants our full investment and engagement.

This exhibition is free of charge and runs through 14 February 2017 in Florence at:
La Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze
Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze, Italy
Phone:+39 055 23885
Tues. – Sun. 10 am to 7 pm
(Closed on Mondays)
Entrance from door 2,
guided visits can be requested at: firenzemusei@operalaboratori.com.

December 8, 2016

Repatriation: United States of America v. One Roman Marble Peplophoros Statue Stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome, Italy

Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
Guest Blogger: Prince Giuseppe Grifeo di Partanna, Rome

Another work of ancient Italian art, one of 15 statues stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 is finally returning home to Italy from the United States.  

Known as the Torlonia Peplophoros, this first-century BC sculpture depicts the body of a young goddess wearing a body-length garment called a “peplos”. According to the FBI, it had been sold to a private owner in Manhattan in 2001 for approximately $81,000 after first being smuggled into the United States sometime during the late 1990s.  

In a redelivery ceremony on 7 December 2016, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy's military art crime police, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, accepted the statue formally on behalf of the country of Italy from United States, FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McGarrity of the New York Field Office and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim.  The ceremony took place at the Kingstone Library at the prestigious "New York Historical Society" in Central Park West.

The statue was stolen from Villa Torlonia on the evening of 11 November 1983, when a group of thieves broke into the villa's grounds along the via Nomentana and made off with a haul of fifteen statues plus a variety of other objects. When the city of Rome discovered the theft, its citizens were left both shocked and outraged.  Throughout the passing years, they have never waivered on their resolution to find the missing objects. 

The historic Villa Torlonia and its grounds were purchased by the City of Rome in 1978 and had been left in a state of considerable neglect for at least two decades before a much-needed plan of refurbishment, completed in March 2006, could be agreed upon and funds allocated for the works to be undertaken.   The theft of the objects at the villa occurred during the period of historic site's decay.

From the 17th century until the middle of the 18th century the site of the villa had been a part of the landed patrimony of the Italian noble family Pamphilj who used the semi-rural terrain for agricultural purposes. The land was then purchased by another family of nobility, the Colonna, in 1760 who continued to use the site for the same purpose. 

In 1797 the land was bought by Franco-Italian banker to the Vatican, Prince Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia. In 1806, Torlonia contracted neo-Classic architect Giuseppe Valadier to transform two buildings, the edificio padronale and the casino Abbati into a proper palace. As part of the redevelopment project, he commissioned new stables, outbuildings and formal gardens which he embellished with classical-era statues. 

Much later, in 1919, a Jewish catacomb, dating to the third and fourth century CE, was discovered while reinforcing the foundation of the “scuderie nuove”, or new stables, located on the southwest corner of the Villa Torlonia estate.

Wartime gardening for food at the Villa Torlonia
Image Credit: MiBACT
In 1925 the son of Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia allocated his family's home as the official residence of Benito Mussolini, who was made to pay 1 lire per year in symbolic rent. Mussolini and Prince Alessandro Torlonia then started construction, never completed, of a fortified, airtight bunker underneath the palace residence designed to resist both aerial bombardment and chemical welfare.  Part of the villa's considerable neglect, is due in no small part to the city's attempt, at least apathetically, to ignore the villa's distasteful Fascist legacy. 

But going back to 1983, when the theft occurred. This is not the first repatriation of an object traced to the theft 33 years ago.   

Image Credit: Richard Drew / AP

A first century CE marble head, severed from the body of an ancient statue of Dionysus, was consigned for auction at Christie's in New York for USD $25,000 in September 2002.  Likely removed because it was lighter to carry and easier to sell, the statue was being stored in the former old stables at Villa Torlonia.  

To rub salt in an already overlooked wound, the body that was once attached to this head, also went missing a few weeks after the November 1983 theft.  Both were repatriated to Italy in 2006.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
As  result of these two thefts and in part due to several earlier predations, the city's cultural heritage authorities eventually replaced all of the villa's precious statues on the villa's external grounds, with concrete and plaster replicas. 

Yesterday's restitution was announced officially in Manhattan and via the web by Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,  

The case was handled by the FBI's Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit and followed up by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Wilson.

October 8, 2016

From the Ground, Up: The Looting of Vưườn Chuối within the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian Antiquities Trade

Vưườn Chuối (Hoai Duc, Hanoi) -
Photo: Lâm Thị Mỹ Dung


Authors:

Huffer, Damien
Chappell, Duncan
Dzung, Lâm Thị Mỹ
Nguyễn, Hoàng Long

Abstract

The exact nature of the illicit antiquities trade from ground to market in Southeast Asia remains poorly known outside of Thailand and Cambodia, where most research has been focused. This paper helps to address this imbalance by documenting and contextualizing looting activities at the Bronze and Iron Age site of Vưườn Chuối, located within urban Hanoi. A brief excavation history is provided so as to place recent looting into archaeological context. The methods used to document the recent and on-going looting observed are then discussed, followed by the nature of the current threat to Vưườn Chuối and a summation of what little is known about the Vietnamese antiquities trade in general and its relationship to regional antiquities trafficking. Finally, we discuss the current regulatory landscape in terms of constitutional, ownership, penal and international law, difficulties with enforcement and prosecution, and what course of action is needed not only to protect Vưườn Chuối and similar sites in and around Hanoi, but also to continue to raise public awareness of the archaeological repercussions of the trade itself.

Article available in:

Public Archaeology 
Volume 14 2015 - Issue 4
Pages 224-239 | Published online: 07 Oct 2016

For full journal subscriptions please see the publisher ordering sites here.

September 23, 2016

“Decorative Panels for the Garden” Since when has garden furniture been the code word for antiquities?




The cargo was shipped labeled as “pierres d'ornement pour décoration de jardin” (ornamental stonework for garden decoration) and arrived on March 10, 2016 in transit from Lebanon to Thailand via Paris Charles de Gaulle/Roissy Airport (French: Aéroport de Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle, IATA: CDG, ICAO: LFPG).  Attracting the attention of customs authorities, the crate was inspected based on data originating from the ICS (Import Control System) that came into force in the European Union at the end of 2010.

The ICS is an eSecurity Declaration Management System used for the importation of goods into the European Union customs territory. Designed in part to deal with the massive volume of cargo that passes through the EU annually, the new regulation requires that a certain number of data elements be sent to the EU customs office at the first port of entry, by a specific deadline, in this case, at least 4 hours before the long haul transiting cargo was scheduled to arrive at the first airport in the territory.  

In most cases this type of prearrival information is transmitted by the sender before the shipment has even left the country of export. Upon receipt of the Entry Summary Declaration message, what is known as the cargo's ENS, the customs office at the port of arrival can then elect to order a shipment pulled where it will undergo a security-related risk analysis.  

When the ENS arrived for the innocuously labeled garden decorations, the identifying data supplied, plus the shipping crates weight (108 kilos), and the cargo's shipper and recipient raised questions.   To be thorough, customs authorities earmarked the container for a cross-check.  

While examining its contents, search officers did not find ordinary household decorations mass produced for a garden, instead they found what appeared to be two original bas-reliefs intricately dotted with grape clusters and birds with no export license from any country of origin.  Called in for consultation, the Department of Antiquities at the Musée du Louvre believe that the carved stone reliefs are authentic and likely dating from between the 14th and the 16th century CE, possibly originating from the middle Euphrates valley, (North Western Syria). *NOTE: This assessment still needs further scientific and validating research.  


Some Import-Export information to chew on...

✈ The Charles de Gaulle, Roissy airport, north of Paris, is the first customs border of France. 

✈ Some 65 million passengers transit through CdG annually. 

✈ In terms of air cargo, just over 50 million metric tonnes of freight are shipped around the globe annually.  

✈ In 2015 a whopping 1,890,829 of those tonnes passed through CdG making it the number two European airport for freight, after Frankfurt.

✈ Art and antiquities valued above a certain threshold exported or imported from one country to another require export licenses

✈ More than 31,500 scheduled international flights depart Lebanon annually, destined for 54 airports in 41 countries.

✈ While legal instruments in place vary from country to country, cultural goods that reach or exceed specific age or monetary value threshold require an individual licence for export, whether on a permanent or temporary loan basis.

✈ Both national ownership laws and export controls are put in place as a restraint on the free circulation of artworks through the market and are promulgated in response to the sale of objects or dismemberment of ancient monuments and sites simply to satisfy market demand.

✈ Ancient artifacts, taken in violation of national ownership laws are stolen property in market nations, as well as in the country of origin.

✈ This is not the first time that smugglers have intentionally mislabeled an illicit ancient object as a contemporary outdoor accoutrement to circumvent the legal instruments. In a case involving the now imfamous Subhash Kapoor, a shipper was expecting the arrival of a shipment containing seven crates manifested as a single “Marble Garden Table Set.”  The consulate believed these crates contained stolen Indian antiquities. This merchandise was allegedly imported by Kapoor.

Kind of makes you wonder how many antiquities/garden sets there are floating around the world over our heads smuggled in or out under the radar.


Some examples of French customs seizures involving cultural objects (though by all means not an inclusive list)

🏺 In March 2006, more than 6,000 artefacts looted from archaeological sites in Niger and seized by French customs officials in 2004 and 2005 were given back to their country of origin.

🏺 In January 2007 customs seized nine suspicious-looking packages marked "hand­crafted objects" from Bamako,  the capital of Mali.  Inside they found more than 650 ancient objects, including ax heads, bracelets, flint stones and stone rings, excavated from a Neolithic settlement in Ménaka (Eastern Mali)

🏺 In 2008, French customs officials seized crates arriving from Togo stamped "craftwork" which contained artefacts. ICOM approached a specialist to appraise the objects, one of which was revealed through thermoluminescence testing to be a genuine Nok statuette from Nigeria. 

🏺 In January 2013 France returned five ancient terracotta sculptures to Nigeria smuggled out of the country in 2010.

🏺 In 2014 France returned 250 Egyptian antiquities dating back to the Roman dominion over Egypt (circa 30-641 BCE) and the Coptic Christian era were seized from the luggage of travellers arriving in Paris in March and November of 2010.

If these are the launderers, then who are the buyers?  

Buying and selling ancient art requires a prudent purchaser, one willing to research the provenience (country of origin) and provenance (history of ownership) of an object they intend to own and to evaluate the available information in the context of the current legal framework.  

When details of an object's past are omitted, by the seller, by an antiquities dealer or by an auction house, either intentionally or accidentally, and a buyer knowingly turns a blind eye, they are just as complicit in facilitating the illicit market and the destruction of cultural heritage.  In the 21st century churning trafficked antiquities through the legitimate marketplace, buying and selling intentionally mislabeled pretty things while still conveniently clinging to the negligent “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach is inexcusable. 

By Lynda Albertson

April 2, 2015

Honolulu Museum of Art and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents Collaborate: A model for the Repatriation of Looted Art

By Lynda Albertson

In 2014 Homeland Security Special Agent Brenton Easter, part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, contacted the Honolulu Museum of Art having determined that a 2000-year-old terra cotta rattle may have been looted and tied to the antiquities looting case against New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor.  

Kapoor has long been suspected of being
at the heart of an international antiquities smuggling operation which allegedly has sold illicit artifacts, either directly to or through donors, to major museums around the world.  The effect of this one trafficking network has had long-reaching impact to collections at some of the worlds greatest art museums including the Art Institute of Chicago, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Australia, the Norton Simon Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Toledo Museum of Art, and now the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Proactive in his approach Honolulu Museum of Art Director Stephan Jost and his staff worked to identify seven suspect works of art from within the Hawaiian museum’s collection.  Five objects were purchased directly from Subhash Kapoor, one was given to the museum by the dealer as a gift, and the seventh piece was sold by Kapoor to a private investor who subsequently donated it to the museum's collection. 
In a taped video interview on KITV which can be found here Director Stephan Jost is heard to say They don't belong here. They're stolen,"  "On one hand I hope they find a great home someplace. On the other hand, we've had them on view here almost 25 years. Lots of people loved them. The bottom line is they don't belong here."
This quote from a museum head stands in stark contrast to recent remarks made by James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, which operates the Getty Museum.  Cuno has made strong statements in both the New York Times and the quarterly magazine Foreign Affairs arguing that wholesale repatriation to source countries who cannot adequately protect their heritage is not in the best interest of the public as a whole.   In the FA article Cuno stated that "Cultural property should be recognized for what it is: the legacy of humankind and not of the modern nation-state, subject to the political agenda of its current ruling elite."

In the New York Times article Mr. Cuno was interviewed to have said “Calamity can happen anywhere, but it is unlikely to happen everywhere at the same time,” “I say ‘distribute the risk,’ not ‘concentrate it.’ ” when referring to recent issues in areas impacted by Da'ish and other profiteering looters in countries plagued by civil unrest and war.

Gary Vikan, former director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, told the New York Times journalists that given the extent of the conflicts in places like Syria, Iraq and northern Africa museums should take on a conservative stance on repatriation, stating  “I think this will put an end to the excess piety in favor of the repatriation model.”

While the ultimate repatriation of the objects photographed here, taken by AP photographer and journalist Jennifer Sinco Kelleherbeing packed up for their departure from the Honolulu Museum of Art, are not headed to countries currently embroiled in civil war, the contrast between each of these museum director's stance on their collections is something worth underscoreing.

Should museums ethically stand behind the return of looted antiquities in their collections on a county conflict case by case basis as Mr. Cuno and Mr. Vikan believe?  

In on Op/Ed piece this week Franklin Lamb, author of "Syria's Endangered Heritage, An international Responsibility to Protect and Preserve" has said he has not seen widespread support for the delay of repatriation in cases in Syria.  He has stated that  "Syrian officials and scholars interviewed [by] me overwhelming reject this point of view as does the Syrian public. Some have noted that using the destructive frenzy by Islamic State extremists to lobby against repatriation seeks to justify discredited practices and reeks of neo-colonialism."

March 29, 2015

Indystar Reports Death of Don Miller, 91-year-old man whose private collection of artifacts the FBI seized last year

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Jill Disis reported March 26 for Gannet's Indystar that Indiana resident and electrical engineer Don Miller died at the age of 91, one year after the FBI seized his collection of antiquities and artifacts:
News reports in the aftermath of the government seizure were awash with tales from those who had seen his collection, which reportedly included Aztec figurines, Ming Dynasty jade and an Egyptian sarcophagus. Miller never faced any charges related to his collection. No lawsuits were filed against him in the year since the seizure. In his final months, townsfolk told The Indianapolis Star he had disappeared from public life. And even after his death, progress of the federal investigation remains shrouded in mystery. FBI Special Agent Drew Northern declined to comment about the case Tuesday night. Officials from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis anthropology department, which is assisting the FBI in identifying and preserving the artifacts, also would not comment. But a legal expert told The Star it could take years, if not decades, before experts can sort out the legalities of the thousands of objects seized by the government.
Here's a link to the ARCA Blog's earlier post on the FBI seizure (along with a perspective by retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry and anthropologist Kathleen Whitaker).

December 10, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 - , No comments

Deadline for the Letter of Intent for the 2015 LegacyQuest International Children's Film and Video Festival is this Friday, December 12


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Here's a letter from Shirley K. Gazsi, President, of AntiquityNow, which I received via Linkedin:
I thought I would pass the following information about LegacyQuest along to you as one of my linkedin contacts. This contest is for young teens ages 12–15. I would appreciate it if you could share with any educators and parents who may be interested. 
The deadline for the Letter of Intent for the 2015 LegacyQuest International Children’s Film and Video Festival is Friday, December 12. For those needing an extension, please contact us at info@antiquitynow.org
Co-sponsored by AntiquityNOW and Archaeological Legacy Institute, the film festival is for tweens to explore how ancient history is far from ancient. In fact, there are thousands of ways that the ingenuity of previous generations continues to influence our lives today. We want to encourage children to discover these connections, and in the process, develop a reverence for our global cultural heritage and the importance of its preservation. 
We have another purpose in sponsoring LegacyQuest. Today, wherever we look, we see conflict, whether geographical, political, philosophical, religious or even personal. We seek to instill in children a sense that the world’s people have deep connections, and that understanding and tolerating different ways of thinking enhances our lives and strengthens our global co-existence. 
Please feel free to share the festival information (http://antiquitynow.org/antiquitynow-month/legacy-quest-festival/) with teachers, parents and others who may be interested in submitting a LegacyQuest entry. 
Thank you for your help. 
Very truly yours, 

Shirley K. Gazsi 
President 

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."


February 1, 2014

Introducing Sam Hardy and "Conflict Antiquities" -- the blog that aims to track the use of antiquities to fund war

In Vernon Silver's article "The Apollo of Gaza: Hamas's Ancient Bronze Statue" in Bloomberg Businesweek, Sam Hardy is quoted as to the complications of the discovery:
In the hands of the Hamas government, the bronze is worth more than just money. The most valuable reward would be recognition of any kind by U.S. or European institutions and governments. Even the slightest cooperation, say, over restoration, sale, or loan of the statue, could open the diplomatic door a crack. “This case is fiendishly difficult,” says Sam Hardy, a British archaeologist whose Conflict Antiquities website tracks the use of looted artifacts to fund war. “National and international laws make it difficult to assist the administration in the West Bank, let alone that in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, any sale or leasing of the statue might normalize looting of antiquities as a funding stream for Hamas.”
We've added Hardy's blog "Conflict Antiquities" to ARCA's "Related Blogs" on the right side of our website.

January 25, 2014

Damage to Cairo's Museum of Islamic Art: Why Does Art Always Take in on the Chin?


By Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO

As news of the explosion affecting Cairo’s Museum of Islamic Art has spread and images of the destruction were replicated across social media sites few people or news agencies paused to mention what objects were actually inside one of Egypt’s spectacular museums or talk about the heart of Islam the collection represents. 

Started in 1881, the Museum of Islamic Art initially was housed within the arcades of the mosque of the Fatimid caliph Al-HakimBi-Amr Allah. Commencing with 111 objects, gathered from mausoleums and mosques throughout Egypt, the original collection has grown substantially over the last 130 years. 

Today the objects in the Cairo museum represent one of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the world. With more than 103,000 artifacts housed in 24 halls, its collection celebrates every Islamic period in Egypt covering the Fatimids, the Mamluks, the Abbasids, the Ummayads, the Tulunids, the Ottomans, and the Ayyubids dynasties.

Photo Credit: http://www.discoverislamicart.org
The museum’s glass collection alone counts 5,715 pieces in its inventory.  Some are very rare, others, like this glass vessel fragment, are more commonplace. Notwithstanding, each piece helps visitors and scholars embrace and understand the history of the region and its people.

Some of the glass enameled lamps in the museum come from the mosque of Sultan Hassan who ruled Egypt twice, the first time in 1347 when he was only 13 years old.  One of the most outstanding of these glass pieces is an eight-sided chandelier made up of three layers with a dome-shaped cap and detailed Islamic decorations imprinted on its glass.

Some of the museum’s glass comes from excavations undertaken at Al-Fusṭāṭ, on the east bank of the Nile River, south of modern Cairo.  As the first Muslim capital of Egypt, Al-Fusṭāṭ, was established by general ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ in AD 641 and was the location of the province’s first mosque, Jāmiʿ ʿAmr.

Glass vessels, phials and fragments excavated from the former capital and on display at the museum give the world an understanding of the chronology and origin of the Islamic glass industry as well as the history of Islam during the Umayyad and ʿAbbāsid caliphates and under succeeding dynasties.

Until the 9th century Islamic glass artisans used the Roman technique of making glass mixing calcium-rich sand and Natron, a salt substance used in Egypt to preserve mummies.  At the turn of the millennium, they opted to use plant ash for the soda component in their formula for glass making and experimented with colors, shapes, techniques, and surface decoration. 

From the piles of shattered glass, pieces of bricks and smashed cases seen in the first images released by Monica Hanna after the bombing it seems that the damage to the museum’s collection may be significant, though for now how significant has yet to be established with detailed clarity.  Talking heads on news sites triage the damage from horrifying to optimistic though without any formal inventory of which rooms were damaged and the objects purportedly on display in that room, it’s hard to know if the pulverized glass we see in initial photos comes from broken windows and collection storage cases or damaged artifacts. 

To rectify that gap in knowledge, museum staff and volunteers worked under difficult conditions and despite safety hazards from a partially collapsed roof before sealing the museum as per security directives.  Their goal: provide an initial assessment and to secure the collection to prevent further damage or possible theft.  Until a formal reporting is given, all we can do is hope that things remain calmer so that the Ministry of Antiquities can salvage as many of the museum's artifacts as possible.

January 15, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - ,, No comments

Postcard from Paris: The Rodin Museum highlights the sculptor's antiquities collection and its influence on his work

Hotel Biron remains under renovation
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

PARIS - The Musée Rodin's exhibit "Rodin, the Light of Antiquity" highlights the the relationship the sculptor had with his collection of about 6,000 antiquities -- most of them fragments of Etruscan, Greek and Roman sculptures -- that he collector over a period of 25 years. Rodin's deal to donate his works included his plan to keep his antiquities collection intact and on display at the Hotel Biron and its gardens.

Today the Hotel Biron, which houses the museum's permanent collection, was closed and a big tent dominated the rear garden.

The exhibit (which forbid photographs) points out the influence of August Rodin's trip to Italy in 1875-1876 and his studies (and drawings) of antiquity fragments such as The Belvedere Torso on The Thinker (who sits on a capital), sayiing that Rodin realized 'that the fragment was as powerful and complete as the whole'. When Rodin purchased "Heracles resting", he began to plan to one day open an antiquities museum and constructed a building at his home outside of Paris. Rodin felt influenced by the Greek sculptor Phidias and the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo (the exhibit has two plaster casts of The Dying Slave and The Rebellious Slave which Rodin could visit at the Louvre. Rodin's female figures were inspired by the Venus de Milo (Aphrodite). Rodin collected more than one hundred fragments of Roman Venuses (Rodin opposed the idea of restoring the Venus de Milo, preferring the original Greek sculpture as it was). Rodin read Ovid and Apuleius and created works using casts from ancient objects and fitting in his sculptures.

The exhibit displayed Rodin's Iris-Aphrodite, a 2nd century encrusted bronze; The Rodin Cup, an Etruscan object; and the Canosa vase Rodin admired from the Louvre. [Here's a link to an article, "An Etruscan Imitation of An Attic Cup", on the Rodin Cup in the Journal of Hellenistic Studies.]

BeauxArts éditions published (French only) the exhibit catalogue, "Rodin, La Lumière de l'antique". The bookstore also sells "Rodin, Antiquity Is My Youth" (2002, edited by Bénédicte Garnier). The exhibit closes on February 16.

August 21, 2013

2013 ARCA Art and Cultural Heritage Conference: Senior Police Inspector Toby Bull on “Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong – Buyer Beware”

Toby Bull
ARCA’s Art and Cultural Heritage Conference (June 21-23, 2013), held in the ancient Umbrian town of Amelia, began with cocktails for presenters and students at Palazzo Farrattini on Friday evening. The next morning, The conference opened at the Chiostro Boccarini with an introduction to a panel moderated by Marc Balcells Magrans, a Fulbright scholar and criminal lawyer.

Toby Bull, a Senior Inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force since 1993, presented “Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong – Buyer Beware”. Mr. Bull, a Fine Arts graduate, art historian and a qualified art authentication expert, recently founded TrackArt, an Art Risk Consultancy based in Hong Kong. In 1996, he attained detective status and is currently working within the Marine Police, whose role in the main is in dealing with anti-smuggling. The Hong Kong Police Force has no art crime squad, but has given Mr. Bull permission to lecture and do art consultancy work through his private consulting firm. Mr. Bull has been one of ARCA’s longest supporters and, like many of the lecturers & presenters on the course, was one of the contributors to ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime: Exploring the dark side of the art world edited, by Noah Charney.

Inspector Bull discussed the black-market antiquities trade and the free port of Hong Kong, often used as a ‘way station for much of China’s exported artifacts on their journey to collections abroad:

Looted antiquities are typically smuggled across porous borders, often acquiring fictitious provenance along the way. Documents claiming false authenticity and providing assurances that the items have not been looted, as well as outright fakes of antiquities are also common occurrences.

The worldwide popularity and high prices for Chinese archaeological artifacts have encouraged illegal excavation and smuggling of cultural property. Although Chinese authorities have intensified their efforts to crack down on smuggling and illicit excavation, it continues practically unabated. This huge demand for Chinese cultural artifacts has caused serious damaged to China’s cultural heritage.

Inspector Bull described the extent of the problem of looted artifacts in Hong Kong and the issue of fakes. He also raised the question as to whether or not “greater due diligence or some form of regulation amongst the local dealers could be brought in to help diminish and eventually stop the trade in illicit antiquities.”

According to Inspector Bull, criminal networks know how to move stolen art or illicitly dug-up antiquities because they already have the knowledge of the best ‘routes’ to get the illicit merchandise across the HK border, thanks in large part to their experience from drug trafficking.

"The idea that these are art-loving criminals is risible, as they are only interested in the money that comes from their various nefarious activities," Inspector Bull said. "The trade in antiquities (be they real or fake) is part of highly organized criminal enterprise structures. The people perpetrating these crimes are your commonplace criminals – no more, no less, but businessmen too, as they have realized that there is still a lot of money to be made in this type of trafficking and far less harsh penalties if caught than with drugs, for example. China is a source nation, bleeding its cultural heritage to the rich market nations. Tomb robbing in China involving diggers, equipment, and fences (middleman to sell the objects) and requires a multi-layered network.

High priced art is even used as a tool in bribing officials in China, according to Bull. "In 1997, many art dealers fled Hong Kong fearing the change of sovereignty, believing the harsh and strict export embargo of the Chinese system would be applied to Hong Kong and kill the trade," he said. "Once the announcement was made that Chinese laws on the protection of art relics would not be applied to Hong Kong (the world’s 3rd busiest cargo port), business carried on unabated with the reputation for Hong Kong being the place to buy Chinese artifacts and antiquities solidified.

However, that brings with it the problems of Hong Kong being a Freeport: “If it’s (the artifact) not proven to be stolen, objects can be legally exported, changing from illicit to licit,” Inspector Bull said. “Once entered into auction catalogues, the objects are often shown to be from a private collection in Hong Kong.”

Inspector Bull highlighted the problematical way that the police regard art crime and their lack of proper referencing within databases, making true statistics nigh on impossible to get; a frustrating fact for any criminologist looking to study this subject. Other incidents of art crime involve fake authenticity certificates for objects; smuggling paintings back into China to avoid taxes; and smuggling of fake objects. Inspector Bull also explained the correlation between art crime and money laundering and "the surprising, but sad fact", of how Hong Kong was woefully under prepared and at risk – despite its reputation as a top international finance sector with very tough anti-money laundering measures in place for the financial sector (just not for the totally unregulated art sector).


Inspector Bull conducted some of his own original research: “Out of 25 mainstream galleries in the main antiques area of Hollywood Road in Hong Kong, only four returned a 14-question survey questionnaire about the condition of the art market – and even those four that did answer did so with rather spurious replies,” Inspector Bull said. “There is absolutely no interest from the art trade to self-regulate, nor is there any lead from the Government to clamp down (or even recognize) the problem. There is simply too much money at stake. The Hong Kong Government is now looking to make the city an ‘art hub’ – seen by the recent arrival of the mega Art Basel exhibition in May. There is a real danger that more genuine smuggled pieces will find their way in Hong Kong, as well as more fakes flooding the market”.

With this in mind, one of the aims of TrackArt  is education to the art market & those closely tied to it to highlight the problems that were addressed in Inspector Bull’s insightful and entertaining presentation : he had brought with him from Hong Kong a “1st Class Fake” of a Tang Dynasty ceramic horse bought especially for its inconsistencies by Bull to be used as a lecture prop and which was passed around the audience – showing, indeed, the dangers of buying Chinese antiquities in Hong Kong. "Buyer Beware! Yes, most definitely."

July 15, 2013

Monday, July 15, 2013 - ,, No comments

Rome's Greek bronze statue "Boxer at Rest" visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art through July 15, 2013

Photo from The Met: Boxer at Rest (Greek bronze)
Tomorrow (July 15) is the last day to view the ancient Greek statue, The Boxer, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of 2013 - Year of Italian Culture in the United States, an initiative held under the auspices of the President of the Italian Republic, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy of Italy in Washington, D.C., with the support of the Corporate Ambassadors Eni and Intesa Sanpaolo. From The Met's website:
The bronze statue Boxer at Rest was excavated in Rome in 1885 on the south slope of the Quirinal Hill near the ancient Baths of Constantine, where it is thought to have been displayed. The statue was intentionally buried in late antiquity, possibly to preserve it against the barbarian invasions that ravaged Rome in the fifth century A.D.
Scholars have long debated the date of the statue, which is most likely between the late fourth and the second century B.C. The sculpture is an exceptional work in bronze from the Hellenistic period (323-31 B.C.) and is of outstanding artistic value.
The statue was cast using the indirect lost-wax method. It was made in different sections that were then welded together: head, body, genitals, arms above the gloves, forearms, left leg, and middle toes. The top of the head was restored in antiquity. Although the inset eyes are missing, they would have been convincingly rendered, like a pair in the Metropolitan's collection.
The Greek bronze statue resides at the Museo Nazionale Romano-Palazzo Massimo alle Terme in the vicinity of the Termini Station.

The Boxer at Rest at time of discovery (Courtesy The Met)
Here's a link to the article on The Met's blog, Now at the Met, by Seán Hemingway, Curator, Department of Greek and Roman Art, which describes the discovery of the bronze statue and includes the image above. Hemingway quotes the archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani, an eyewitness present at the statue's excavation:
"I have witnessed, in my long career in the active field of archaeology, many discoveries; I have experienced surprise after surprise; I have sometimes and most unexpectedly met with real masterpieces; but I have never felt such an extraordinary impression as the one created by the sight of this magnificent specimen of a semi-barbaric athlete, coming slowly out of the ground, as if awakening from a long repose after his gallant fights."[1]
Hemingway, Seán. "The Boxer: An Ancient Masterpiece Comes to the Met". New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/now-at-the-met/features/2013/the-boxer 
[1] R. Lanciani, Ancient Rome in light of recent discoveries (Rome 1888), pp. 305–306.

November 30, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: "The Hattusa Sphinx and Turkish Antiquities Repatriation Efforts" by Aaron Haines

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Aaron Haines writes about "The Hattusa Sphinx and Turkish Antiquities Repatriation Efforts":
On March 1 of 2012, Art News journalist Martin Bailey reported that the Turkish government had prohibited the loan of cultural artifacts to the New York Metropolitan Museum of art, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism stated that these museums have artifacts that were illegally removed from Turkey, and that the ban would be removed once the contested objects were returned.  Soon it was discovered that Turkey had given the ultimatum to many other museums, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Dumberton Oaks, the Museum of Art at Bowling State University, the Louvre Museum, and the Berlin Pergamon Museum.  Turkey has prohibited exhibition loans to any of these museums until the requested objects have been returned. 
Turkey has been petitioning for the return of most of these artifacts for many years, but most often these petitions have come in the form of simple requests.  This is the first time that the country has made such a widespread and forceful demand.  This should not come as a surprise, in light of recent events regarding Turkey's repatriation efforts.  Of particular importance was its recovery of the Hattusa Sphinx, returned last year from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.  Turkey was forceful with Germany, and the two countries were able to quickly come to an agreement.  This success emboldened Turkey and gave it the necessary confidence to use forceful tactics with other reluctant countries and institutions that own contested objects.  Exploring the motivations and actions of both parties involved with the Hattusa Sphinx will shed further light on why Turkey recently enforced this ban and what their plans are for the future.
Aaron Haines is a teaching assistant at Brigham Young University where he is pursuing a B. A. in Art History and Curatorial Studies.  He has worked at the Museo civico in Siena, italy as well at the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University.  He recently completed training with the Provenance Research Training Organization in Magdeburg, Germany and is a Foreign Language Area Studies Scholar.

July 9, 2012

"Princeton and Recently Surfaced Antiquities" in David Gill's column "Context Matters" for Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

In the column "Context Matters", David Gill writes on "Princeton and Recently Surfaced Antiquities" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
In 1983 the USA ratified the 1970 Unesco Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Paris, 14 November 1970). Article 7 includes the statement,
To take the necessary measures, consistent with national legislation, to prevent museums and similar institutions within their territories from acquiring cultural property originating in another State Party which has been illegally exported after entry into force of this Convention, in the States concerned.
In 2002 the Princeton University Art Museum agreed to return the fragmentary pediment of a Roman funerary relief that it had acquired in 1985 from New York dealer Peter Sharrer with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Leon Levy (inv. 85-34: Princeton University Art Museum 1986, 38, 39 [ill.]; Padgett 2001b, 47-51, no. 11). It turned out that the fragment had been discovered in 1981-82 at Colle Tasso near Tivoli and had been published by Zaccaria Mari. Michael Padgett, the then curator at Princeton and who was preparing a catalogue of the Roman sculptures, notified the museum’s acting director who in turn contacted the Italian authorities (Anon. 2002). Susan M. Taylor, the museum’s newly appointed director, was quoted in the press release about the return: “We are proud to be an active partner in the ongoing international effort to resolve ownership claims for stolen objects and in discouraging the illegal trade of art and cultural artifacts.” 
This was not to be the end of the museum’s return of antiquities.
Dr. Gill is Head of the Division of Humanities and Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus Suffolk, at Ipswich, Suffolk, England. He is the author of 2011 book, "Sifting the soil of Greece: the early years of the British School at Athens (1886-1919)".

July 4, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Spring/Summer 2012: Aleksandra Sheftel on "Looting History: An Analysis of the Illicit Antiquities Trade in Israel"

Aleksandra Sheftel's article on "Looting History: An Analysis of the Illicit Antiquities Trade in Israel" is published in the Spring/Summer 2012 electronic issue of the Journal of Art Crime.
Abstract: The state of Israel has numerous historically and culturally significant archaeological sites. Some of these date back to as early as 8000-7000 B.C, and are important to three of the world’s great religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Unfortunately, many of these sites are targeted by looters who illegally excavate the sites and, in doing so, erase history. This paper is an overview of the antiquities looting problem in Israel. It discusses Israel’s existing laws regarding the antiquities trade, describes the effects that Israel’s wars have had on the illicit antiquities trade, and the different motivations and attitudes of the looters in Israel. The paper also discusses the market players in this trade, analysing the roles the middlemen, the dealers, and the collectors play. It discusses who the looters are, why they engage in their illicit activities, and how they go about their business. The paper discusses ways in which the Israeli government has tried to stop the trade in illicit antiquities, and the debates that surround these and other proposed solutions. The paper concludes by analysing three alternative solutions that Israel could consider implementing in order to curb the looting.
Aleksandra Sheftel graduated “With Distinction” from the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection in 2011.

October 7, 2011

An online review of Christie’s sale of "Antiquities" in London on October 6

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

This week my attention was drawn to Christie’s sale of “Antiquities” on October 6 when a friend told me that she had seen ‘Germanicus’ at the preview in South Kensington, London. Since I am writing an art crime mystery about the fictional theft of a bronze Germanicus from Amelia, Umbria, Italy, I was curious about which ‘Germancius’ was for sale.

Christie’s online catalogue describes “A Roman Marble Portrait Head of Germanicus”, dated circa 10-19 AD, as:
His head inclined to the right, with strong features, prominent chin and aquiline nose, his narrow lips bowed, his hair spiraling from the crown and falling onto his forehead in thick pincered waves. 12¾ in. (32.4 cm.) high
Under “Provenance” the information is provided as follows:
Marie Ghiringelli collection, Monte Carlo, 1920s-1950s; thence by descent to Mr. G. Huguenin, Switzerland, 1955.
I did a simple Google search for “Marie Ghiringelli, Monte Carolo” and found an “Antonio” who had been involved with opera and “G. Huguenin, Switzerland” appeared to possibly be a gallery of sorts in Switzerland. I am not an expert in this kind of thing and I emailed Christie’s for more information but you can imagine that on the eve of a big auction that they were really busy.

The price for Germanicus, estimated at 200,000 to 300,000 British pounds was out of my budget, but if I had been a prospective buyer, I would look for information that this object was in compliance with the 1970 Convention. Information that it had been in two collections, as long as this information was true, would have given me as a buyer some comfort. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend 300,000 British pounds just to find out I’d supported a network promoting organized crime. You might say, why buy it then? Well, I have spent years studying Germanicus and this object would just be too tempting for me. However, one of the questions that would remain unanswered is, where did this object come from? Did it sit in Nero’s seaside villa in Anzio (Nero was Germanicus’ grandson) or did it belong to Caligula (Germanicus’ son and the ill-fated emperor?)

This is the information that Christie’s did provide to prospective buyers:
Germanicus Julius Caesar, (15 B.C.-A.D. 19) was the son of Drusus Major and Antonia Minor and the brother of Claudius, who later became emperor. Tiberius (reigned A.D. 14-37) was his uncle and adoptive father. Germanicus' military career was distinguished; he commanded the eight Roman legions on the Rhine frontier, recovering two of the legionary standards lost after a military disaster in the Teutoberg forest (A.D. 9). He became immensely popular among the people of Rome, who celebrated his military victories. The Roman biographer Suetonius in hisLife of Caligula, III, describes Germanicus' "... unexampled kindliness, and a remarkable desire and capacity for winning men's regard and inspiring their affection." Following his untimely death through illness at Antioch at the age of thirty-four, he was elevated to god-like status. 
This portrait was probably set up high and near a wall or in a niche because of the low relief carving of the locks of hair at the back of the head. Based on the fringe over the forehead and physiognomy, the present portrait is likely to belong to a group of portraits known as the Beziers type which originate with a head from Beziers, now in Toulouse. Cf. F. Johansen, Roman Portraits I, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 1994, pp. 126-7, no. 51. For the typology, cf. H. Jucker, Die Prinzen auf dem Augustus-relief in Ravenna. Mélanges d'histoire ancienne et d'archéologie offerts à Paul Collart, Lausanne, 1976, p. 254, no. 91.
The ‘collecting history’ of this piece is minimal and the actual information of where this object came from is not mentioned – all we are told is that it ‘was probably set up high and near a wall or in a niche because of the low relief carving … likely to belong to a group of portraits known as the Béziers type which originate with a head from Béziers, now in Toulouse.”

What and where is Béziers? It’s an ancient town in the southeast of France in Languedoc (I stayed there in Vergeze for two weeks in 2006), a former Roman town known as Baeterrae. The Romans apparently, according to Wikipedia my go-to-classical history guide, colonized it in 36/35 BC. I was not able to find information about the heads of Béziers that are now in Toulouse (another city I’ve stayed in). But my guess from exploring this information is that they are first century Roman marbles that were displayed in a small town in the southeast of France. However, just visiting those areas years ago didn’t give me any additional information – I mostly remember vineyards and a great science museum.

Did this marble head of Germanicus sell at Christie’s on Thursday?

Christie’s has a magnificent website that provides ‘Auction Results’ on the items sold. The sale in South Kensington of ‘antiquities’ totaled 3,491,862 British pounds. Christie’s provides a list of the sales price for each item.  In looking through the 251 items offered for sale, 20% of the items did not sell. When I sorted the lots by “estimate (high to low)”, I found that two highly valued items that did not sell.

An Attic red-figured pointed neck-Emphora”, attributed to Skyriskos, circa 475-450, valued at 250,000 to 350,000 British pounds, was not sold according to Christie’s online auction results. The “provenance” on this item was from a private German collection and acquired in Switzerland in the 1960s. It was labeled “Beazley Archive no: 30676”. This information shows ownership prior to 1970, the agreed upon date by UNESCO members desiring to create an international treaty to stop the looting of archaeological sites and the sale of stolen antiquities. That information might provide me with some comfort that it had not been recently dug up.

The second most expensive object in the auction, my Germanicus marbel head, did not sell.


Neither did the 3rd century BC “Greek Parcel Gilt Silver Phiale” estimated at 100,000 to 150,000 British pounds.  Its “Provenance” is identified as from a private London collection in the 1980s; a private collection in Switzerland; and acquired by the current owner on the ‘Swiss art market’ in 1993. 

Are buyers also sensitive to objects that appear not to be in compliance with the 1970 Convention? If items are not selling, will Christie’s auction house provide more detailed information about the ownership or collecting history of these objects in order to facilitate a sale? Are they already thinking that they should do more to reassure their clients that the objects are not looted? After all, a company such as Christie’s which is providing all this information on the Internet for everyone – museum officials, archaeologists, academics and law enforcement to see – and enabling buyers worldwide to purchase the objects online – would be unlikely to engage in selling stolen property, eh?

What did sell at Christie’s London auction of ‘Antiquities'

The most expensive item that did sell at Christie’s London October 6 auction was “A Roman Bronze Portrait Head of a Man”, circa second quarter of the 3rd century AD, for 457,250 British pounds (US$705,080). The stated “Provenance” of this object is from a private collection in Germany in the 1980 and acquired by the current owner in 2001. This information might not satisfy a buyer’s question as to whether or not this item had been smuggled out of Italy or possibly even Bubon in southwestern Turkey.   The “Lot Notes” on this item, which sold for almost $1 million, does not indicate where this object came from, only that it was from the period of the Soldier Emperors (235-284 AD).

A Greek Marble Head of Young Girl” sold for 313,250 British pounds or US$483,032. The “Provenance” states that it was owned by "P. Vérité in Paris in the 1920s" and passed on to "C. Vérité of France". As a buyer, I might feel more comfortable purchasing this antiquity and less concerned that someone would claim that it had been found in the ground in the last four decades.

Looking at the auction results from the Kensington sale at Christie’s, approximately 55 or about 20% of the items didn’t sell. Although the auction results state the “price realized”, the buyers are not named and these items will not be able to be publicly tracked. If you contact Christie’s, you will likely be told that the information of the purchasers is private. Of course, would every Porsche owner want his or her name publicized when a vehicle is purchased? But this gets into the whole debate of who owns cultural property. Where did these objects come from and how did they get to the auction house in London? Where will they be going now? These artifacts are the collective memory of human history; each item commemorates an aspect of being human and provides historical perspective, possibly understanding of current society.

For all UNESCO’s efforts to stop the trafficking of looted antiquities, what are the auction houses doing to reassure buyers that the items were legally obtained? These objects are so beautiful that if I had the money to purchase them, I would like to feel comfortable with the investment. Or will the purchase of antiquities go the way of fur coats?


Christie’s does have another way of communicating with prospective buyers about the auction through an easily accessible e-catalogue. The pages are beautifully displayed and contain much of the same information as the website.  Page 41 introduces the “Property from the Collection of the Late Gabrielle Keiller (1908-1995).  Her third husband, archaeologist Alexander Keiller and ‘sole heir to a Dundee marmalade firm’, opened a museum in Avebury and contributed to ‘one of the most important prehistoric archaeological collections in Britain’ (English Heritage).  Mrs. Keiller collected modern art and bequeathed her 20th century collection to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.  According to the catalogue, Gabrielle Keiller purchased three Cycladic works up for sale at the auction in 1981 from B. C. Holland Inc. in Chicago in 1981.  However, there is no information as to when B. C. Holland came into possession of the objects.

On page 43 of the catalogue is an object, Lot #61 titled “An East Greek Bronze Griffin Protome” whose “Provenance” is described as being “with Robin Symes London; with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 1988; and the Morven Collection of Ancient Art.  I don’t know what that means.  When did Robin Symes have this 6th century BC object? Sometimes “East Greek” means the land known as “Asia Minor” which is now the Republic of Turkey.  I just finished reading a few articles from Turkish journalist Özgen Acar which describes the smuggling ring of antiquities where Robin Symes intersects.  Symes is a former antiquities dealer who went to prison for in 2005 and whose activities are documented in Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini’s 2006 The Medici Conspiracy, the Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums.”  I am willing to believe that Christie’s auction house would not trade in illegal antiquities but I don’t know what I am to understand from this information as it is stated here.

Christie’s does have a paragraph on page 170 at the back of the brochure, which I presume is fairly standard:

(c) Attribution etc Any statements made by Christie’s about any lot, whether orally or in writing, concerning attribution to, for example, an artist, school, or country of origin, or history or provenance, or any date or period, are expressions of our opinion or belief.  Our opinions and beliefs have been formed honestly and in accordance with the standard of care reasonably to be expected of an auction house of Christie’s standing, due regard having been had to the estimated value of the item and the nature of the auction in which it is included.  It must be clearly understood, however, that due to the nature of the auction process, we are unable to carry out exhaustive research of the kind undertaken by professional historians and scholars, and also that, as research develops and scholarship and expertise evolve, opinions on these matters may change.  We therefore recommend that, particularly in the case of any item of significant value, you seek advice on such matters from your own professional advisers.” 
Christie’s catalog also states that it is an agent and that all transactions are between the seller and the buyer, yet the names of sellers are not identified in most cases.  Who is really putting these items up for sale?


While many items require a major investment, other objects are for sale for thousands of US dollars or British pounds. It seems that even though I could conveniently see this auction and view real-time results on my iPhone or iPod Touch (as touted by Christie's), I’ll need a lot more than money before I feel comfortable purchasing an object of antiquity at auction.