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

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 21, 2016

The Carabinieri TPC Sequester Stash of Archaeological Finds For Sale on the Internet

Italy's Syracuse branch of its specialised art squad, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, has seized a cache of antiquities including rings, fibulas (brooches) earrings, pottery, oil lamps and more than 100 silver and bronze coins dating to the Greek and Roman period. 
Photo Credit - Carabinieri TPC - Ragusa Division

Tracking cCommerce online collector auctions, the Carabinieri's data researching officers notified authorities in Sicily and a search warrant was executed at the home of a 48 year old restaurant worker in Ragusa.  At the residence, in addition to the illegally excavated antiquities, officers found a small amount of hashish and marijuana, a metal detector and tools used for illegal clandestine excavations. Law enforcement authorities are now trying to determine which archaeological sites in Sicily may have been the likely find spots for the objects.

While it is not illegal to purchase a metal detector in Italy, there are strict rules on where and what you can metal detect.  There are also many historical and protected archaeological areas where metal detecting is forbidden altogether.  These include the antiquities rich zones of Calabria, Lazio, Tuscany, Val D'Aosta and not surprisingly, Sicily.  

It should be noted that Italian Law 1939:1089 on the Custody of Artistic and Historic Objects published in the Official Gazette no. 184 on August 8, 1939 affords protection to all objects of historical or archaeological value, including coins. All objects discovered by excavation or fortuitously are the property of the Italian state.  They also must be reported to the heritage superintendency immediately.  Rewards may be offered by the state but only within a certain limited percentage of the finds' combined worth.  

The destruction of archaeological layers and the removal of objects by Nighthawkers, those who illegally search and remove artefacts using a metal detector, affects everyone.  Reckless treasuring hunting,  destroys our archaeological and historic understanding of a site, which in turn destroys the information and knowledge of our shared heritage, which should be available to all.

By.  Lynda Albertson

February 21, 2016

Sentry guards killed at Deir el-Bersha archaeological site identified, Fundraiser established for their families.



In a notice on the university team's webpage the Deir el-Barsha Project has released the following statement.


As the Project's statement might be confusing to blog readers who do not read Arabic, ARCA would like to add some clarifications.  Ghafir (arabic خفير)in this case means site guard or site sentry and is not the guard's first name.

According to Arabic language newspaper Masr al-Arabia, the guard killed in the exchange of gunfire has been:

عسراوي كامل جاد، الشهير بـ "واعر"، المقيم  بقرية دير أبو حنس بملوي

A'srāwy Kāmel Jād, alternatively known as "Wāa'r" who was a resident in the village of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi.

Masr al-Arabia lists the guard wounded in the exchange of gunfire as:

علي خلف شاكر، المقيم  بقرية دير أبو حنس بملوي

Ali Khalaf Shāker who is a resident in the village of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi.

Shāker passed away on Sunday as a result of his injuries.  

The team of the Dayr al-Barsha project, KU Leuven, Belgium has established a Go Fund Me page for A'srāwy's and Ali's family, in order to cover, or partially cover some portion of the loss of his wages. Those who would like to contribute can follow this link.











February 20, 2016

Notice: Two sentry guards killed at the archaeological site at Deir el-Bersha in Egypt

ARTICLE UPDATED - 22 February 2016

Two archaeological site guards on duty at the archaeological site at at Deir el-Bersha in Egypt have been killed after unknown assailants apparently opened fire while at the site to loot archaeological material.

Sentry A'srāwy Kāmel Jād, alternatively known as "Wāa'r" was a resident of the village of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi.  He had been a long standing sentry at the archaeological preserve.  A'srāwy was killed on site.

A second guard, Ali Khalaf Shāker, also a resident of Deir Abu Hanas in Mālwi was transferred in serious condition to Minya University Hospital.   Ali died of his injuries on Sunday, February 21, 2016.

The Coptic village of Deir el-Bersha is located on the east bank of the Nile, south of Hermopolis, what is known today as El-Ashmunein.  It sits on the opposite side of the Nile river from Mallawi. The archaeological site is part of the governorate of Minya. 

The site of Dayr al-Barsha in Middle Egypt has been known since ancient times for its limestone quarries and its renowned Middle Kingdom nomarchal tombs.  The site's necropolis is located at the entrance of Wadi Deir el-Nakhla, in a remote area east of the Nile that is difficult to get to.

Individuals passing through the site do not do so casually. Given the fragility of the site and previous issues of looting, the area is closed to the general public and it is only with  special authorisation, that persons can visit, accompanied by a government official. 

The remoteness of the site is evidenced by the attached Youtube video. 


The site's most important tombs are those of the Nomarchs of the XV Nome, the Nome of the Hare, of Upper Egypt during the XI and XII Dynasty. The tomb of Djehutihotep is the most well studied of the 39 tombs documented at the necropolis. 

Last year, on May 11, 2015, Egyptian Archaeologist Monica Hanna reported looting and extensive destruction to the tomb of Djehutihotep.  According to reports by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) archaeology mission, which has been working at Deir el-Barsha in Middle Egypt under the direction of Harco Willems since 2002, a wall relief fragment had been hacked out from the 3,850 year-old tomb which measured 30 by 50 centimeters (12 by 20 inches.)


Pictured below are two sets of comparison images, on showing relief decoration on the left, including the head of a seated figure which were removed.  The second image shows a small triangular segment removed.  Some news reports also suggested that the dig house had also been looted in 2015. 


Image Credit: Dayr al-Barsha Project

ARCA strongly discourages the purchase of antiquities without a solid collection history; this includes anything made of stone or pottery likely to be more than 100 years old.  We urge collectors to buy the work of contemporary artisans using traditional methods and materials, and to not promote the trade in blood antiquities. 

December 23, 2014

Neil Brodie 'considers the issue of the Sevso Treasure from a new angel' in the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

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

In the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, Neil Brodie publishes "Thinking Some More about the Sevso Treasure". Here's the abstract:
On 26 March 2014, Hungary announced its purchase of seven pieces of Late Roman silverware, part of the so-called Sevso Treasure (Hungary 2014). The Treasure had been the object of conflicting ownership claims since its existence was first made public in 1990, and until the Hungarian purchase had been considered unsalable because of the suspicious circumstances of its discovery and early trading history. In his 2012 paper entitled “Thinking about the Sevso Treasure”, John Merryman had used the example of the Sevso Treasure to explore some of the issues surrounding the museum acquisition of problematical antiquities, and in light of his discussion made a recommendation for its future disposition (Merryman 2012: 51-66). Although this recommendation has been partly overtaken by events, his discussion of the issues involved is still topical, made more so perhaps by the Hungarian purchase which has effectively sundered the Treasure into two parts, with its balance of seven pieces remaining in the private possession of the Marquess of Northampton – an outcome that Merryman was keen to avoid. This article considers the issue of the Sevso Treasure from a new angle, concluding that the parties really to blame for the unfortunate affair of the Sevso Treasure are the various dealers and their expert advisors who worked together intentionally and unintentionally to transform the archaeological assemblage into a valuable and marketable commodity, and, ironically, in so doing, rendered it unsalable.
Neil Brodie is Senior Research Fellow in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow. Neil is an archaeologist by training, and has held positions at the British School at Athens, the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, where he was Research Director of the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre, and Stanford University’s Archaeology Center. He was co-author (with Jennifer Doole and Peter Watson) of the report Stealing History, commissioned by the Museums Association and ICOM-UK to advise upon the illicit trade in cultural material. He also co-edited Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade (with Morag M. Kersel, Christina Luke and Kathryn Walker Tubb, 2006), Illicit Antiquities: The Theft of Culture and the Extinction of Archaeology (with Kathryn Walker Tubb, 2002), and Trade in Illicit Antiquities: The Destruction of the World’s Archaeological Heritage (with Jennifer Doole and Colin Renfrew, 2001). He has worked on archaeological projects in the United Kingdom, Greece and Jordan, and continues to work in Greece.

Subscriptions to The Journal of Art Crime or individual copies of eEditions or printed issues may be obtained through ARCA's website here.

December 5, 2014

Opinion: More Questions Than Solutions from the Auction Houses

By Lynda Albertson

Following the successful identification and the subsequent withdrawal of the Sardinian idol, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist and Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project has forwarded ARCA four additional images of antiquities that match photos from the Symes-Michaelides archive.  

Tsirogiannis and Italian heritage professionals have been working diligently for years to make sense of a lengthy catalog photo and forensic documentation, that paint a vivid picture of the complexity of the network of dealers, middlemen, and tombaroli involved in the looting and smuggling of antiquities.

These four identified objects match auction items that are to be included in two December sales events; one held by Christie's New York scheduled for December 11, 2014 and another with Sotheby's New York to be held the following day.

Christies LOT 51: AN EGYPTIAN ALABASTER FIGURAL JUG, estimated at $150,000 -$250,000


 




The object appears in the same condition in the Symes-Michaelides archive. The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.









Christies LOT 95: AN ATTIC RED-FIGURED COLUMN KRATER, estimated at $60,000 -$90,000





The object is depicted in the same condition in the images that have been confiscated by the American authorities from the antiquities dealer David Swingler, among hundreds of antiquities which were repatriated to Italy after it was found that they were smuggled. Swingler's name is not included in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.


The object appears in the auction catalog with its surface cleaned, unlike its appearance in the Symes-Michaelides archive. The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by auction house.






Sotheby's: LOT 6: An Egyptian Diorite Figure of a Priest of the Temple of Mut, late 25th/early 26th Dynasty, circa 670-610 B.C., estimated at $400,000 - 600,000






The object appears in the same condition in the Symes-Michaelides archive.  The dealers are not mentioned in the collecting history supplied by the auction house.








Note: These suspect objects have been brought to the attention of authorities in the United States, Italy and Egypt.

More than  four decades have passed since the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Despite greater public awareness of the problems posed by looting, suspect antiquities are still finding their way into auction houses through methods embedded within the licit antiquities trade.  By whitening a tainted object's illicit background through legitimate or contrived collection histories, laundered objects, be they from Italy, Egypt, Iraq or Syria, will continue to find their way into the glassy catalogs of licit objects being sold on the art market.

Unless tighter sanctions are imposed by governments or unless the art market itself voluntarily polices itself better, at the behest of culturally aware collectors or the general public, the problem will continue.  Predatory and subsistence looters will continue to supply the demand for materials needed and by proxy encourage the parasitical relationship between them, the middlemen suppliers and the auction houses.

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.  


September 22, 2014

Smithsonian Institution and U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield Meeting at the Hirshhorn Museum: the 60th Anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention Celebrated with a Meeting of Great Minds and Efforts

Harry Ettlinger speaking at the Hirschhorn
by Kirsten Hower, Social Networking Correspondent and List-Serve Manager

Keynote speaker Harry Ettlinger, World War II veteran and former Monuments Men, opened Friday's SI/USCBS meeting with an inspiring keynote speech: “For the first time in the history of human civilization, instead of taking art that did not belong to us, we gave it back to its rightful owners.”

The annual meeting of the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, held at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C, recognized the 60th Anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The timing was equally appropriate as the day before marked the fifth anniversary of the United States' ratification of the 1954 Hague Convention. 

Ettlinger, who made the audience both laugh and cry as he recounted stories of his life and time as a Monuments Man, was joined by many other great men and women who reported on the current state of efforts being made to protect and preserve the world's cultural heritage.

After a much earned standing ovation, Ettlinger yielded the podium to Major Thomas (Tommy) Livoti who spoke on behalf of Brigadier General Hugh Van Roosen about the beginnings of the formation of the 21st century "Monuments Men." Though only in it's infancy, this program will seek to recruit cultural heritage professionals "under the guise of a military initiative" to protect the world's heritage that is threatened by armed conflict.

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding
by Dr. Nancy Wilkie and Dr. Richard Kurin
The first half of the meeting was rounded off by quick speeches by Dr. Patty Gerstenblith and Dr. Laurie Rush, both board members of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield. Gerstenblith, of DePaul University, spoke about what has happened in the 60 years since the 1954 Hague Convention, both the successes and the challenges still to be faced. Rush, who works as an Army civilian for Cultural Resources at Fort Drum, NY, spoke briefly about the annual meeting of the Combatant Command Heritage Action Group who had met the day before. Their report, which Rush quickly summarized, will soon be available at www.cchag.org.

The second half of the meeting was started by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who gave a stirring speech about the horrors of cultural destruction that we are witnessing in the world and the efforts being made to bring them to a halt: “We are trying, ladies and gentlemen, to give a concrete reaction to extremist actions…[that the destruction of people and cultural heritage] are crimes against humanity.... Attacks against culture are attacks against people, their identity, their history, and their future.” Bokova ended on a serious but somewhat optimistic note that while the art market is in dire need of more education on the challenges facing cultural heritage during this time, a new consciousness is emerging that could help in the efforts to stem this wanton destruction.

Following Bokova’s speech was a panel of sobering reports from Dr. Brian Daniels, Dr. Salam Al Kuntar, Dr. Susan Wolfinbarger, Dr. Katharyn Hanson, Corine Wegener, Dr. Sarah Parcak, and Dr. Amr Al Azm. Each presenter spoke about the multiple projects that they are part of that are attempting to document and prevent destruction of cultural heritage.

Wolfinbarger (AAAS) and Hanson (U. Penn Cultural Heritage Center) spoke about the ongoing turmoil in places such as Syria, Iraq, and the Thai/Cambodian border, as well as the documented satellite imagery that follows the turmoil.

Parcak (University of Alabama) spoke about “Protecting the Past from Space,” how cultural heritage experts can better track the motions of looting of archaeological sites using satellite imagery and technology.

Kuntar (U. Penn) and Wegener (Smithsonian) spoke about the amazing efforts of locals in conflict areas that are doing everything in their power to preserve cultural heritage sites and objects. Both Kuntar and Wegener have been involved in efforts to educate and supply locals with the best means to continue their preservation efforts.

Amr Al Azm (Shawnee State University) spoke about the cultural heritage of Syria (a main focus for much of the panel) and how it must be preserved to act as a common ground for the Syrians once the conflict is resolved. He closed his speech with a poignant statement that while he and his colleagues are often called “modern day Monuments Men,” that he does not want to be referred to as such; the real “Monuments Men” are the the locals, the ones putting their lives on the line to protect their heritage.

Daniels (U.Penn Cultural Heritage Center) rounded off the panel discussing his work in educating locals in conflict areas about emergency preservation methods and his studies of heritage in conflict situations, which will be launching it’s new website in October (www.heritageinconflict.org). 

The meeting ended with two joyous events; the first being the awarding of the USCBS Award for Meritorious Military Service in Protection of Cultural Property to Brigadier General Erik C. Peterson, Commanding General, US Army Special Operations Aviation Command. His work at Fort Drum alongside Dr. Laurie Rush have been an example of the actions that can be taken to protect and preserve the world’s cultural heritage.

The final event of the evening was the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by Dr. Richard Kurin (Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, Smithsonian Institution) and Dr. Nancy Wilkie (President, U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield). This memorandum creates a bond between the Smithsonian and the USCBS; that they will endeavor to support each other in the education of cultural heritage professionals as well as locals in conflict areas, and to provide the means with which to do this.

The meeting served as a reminder of the tragedies befalling cultural heritage sites and objects in areas of armed conflict, but also of the hope and initiative that so many are taking to protect these sites and these objects.

August 6, 2014

Wednesday, August 06, 2014 - ,,, No comments

Anadolu Agency: "FBI returns smuggled Lydian artifacts to Turkey"

Kasım İleri reported August 5 for the Anadolu Agency that U.S. investigators returned 10 illegally traded artifacts from the Lydian Iron Age civilization (first and third centuries A.D.) back to Turkey:
... The return to the Turkish Embassy of the items - estimated to have originated in the Western Turkish province of Manisa and to date back to the first and third centuries A.D. - came during a joint presentation between officials from the FBI and Turkish mission in Washington on Tuesday. The artefacts included grave stones and sacrifice stelas - stone or wooden slabs on which Lydians would inscribe the sacrifices of animals or possessions that deceased people had made during their lives - used in funeral or commemorative services. The items were smuggled into the U.S. in 2006 and spotted by the Turkish Culture Ministry as they were being illegally traded, and were later seized in an operation involving Turkish security officials, the FBI and Washington D.C. police officers in May.... 

April 12, 2014

Dr. Daniela Rizzo and Mr Maurizio Pellegrini Win ARCA's 2014 Art Protection & Recovery Award

Dr. Daniela Rizzo and Mr Maurizio Pellegrini, Soprintendenza Beni Archeologici Etruria Meridionale at the Villa Giulia, have won ARCA's 2014 Art Protection & Recovery Award. Past winners have included: Vernon Rapley and Francesco Rutelli (2009), Charlie Hill and Dick Drent (2010), Lord Colin Renfrew and Paolo Giorgio Ferri (2011), Karl von Habsburg, Dr. Joris Kila Ernst Schöller (2012), Sharon Cohen Levin and Christos Tsirogiannis (2013).

Dott.ssa Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini are employees of Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (MiBACT) who work directly for the Soprintendenza for Southern Etruria's Archeological Heritage which covers the archaeological territories of Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci, Veio, Lucas Feroniae, Civitavecchia, Sutri , Tuscania, Pyrgi, Volsinii and San Lorenzo Nuovo. Dr. Rizzo oversees the department of Goods Control and Circulation with the assistance of Massimo Pellegrini. Their offices are located at the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. One of the main commitments of their department and the Soprintendenza overall is the fighting of criminal activities and illegal traffic of archaeological objects from the southern territories.

In 1985 the Soprintendenza set up a special service, "The Office of confiscation and illicit excavations" (ufficio sequestri e scavi clandestini), which constantly monitors the phenomenon of illegal excavations and the finds of illegal trafficking. To achieve this goal, their office began working closely with Italy’s National Judicial Authority and the security forces (Carabinieri TPC and Guardia di Finanza), which work together in this sector. This collaboration aims to recover Italian archaeological materials that have been taken away illegally from the national territory and often have ended up in important foreign collections. Since 1995, their work has achieved very positive results and has resulted in the identification of numerous archaeological objects taken illegally and found in a number of American and European museums or in private collections abroad. Based on the inspection of and matching between confiscated photographs and documents, their investigations have facilitated negotiations between American and European museums which have often concluded in important cultural agreements rather than lengthy judicial prosecutions. Thanks to these agreements, archaeological finds are regularly being returned to Italy from places like New York and Boston. Through their in-depth work, the famous Euphronios crater, now on display in the new rooms of Villa Giulia, has been recognized as property of the Italian state and was returned to Rome in 2008 from the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Similar agreements have been concluded with the Princeton University Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the J.P. Getty Museum of Malibu. In cases where traffickers have been identified their work with the "Procura della Repubblica" (Italian prosecutor's office) and the Court of Rome has made it possible, in some circumstances, to try specific cases associated with illegal trafficking of antiquities within Italy. Cases of note include the exemplary punishment imposed by the Court of Rome on an Italian trafficker, who operated in Switzerland and the 2005 criminal proceedings that were initiated against Marion True, the former curator who purchased trafficked archaeological objects for The Paul Getty Museum, and cases involving Robert Hecht. As a result of their work and the recovery of objects, a room in the Villa Giulia has housed a temporary traveling exhibition to increase the public’s awareness to the impact of trafficking, the significance of the problem and what is being done to combat it. The carefully curated exhibition included numerous objects which have been repatriated from Southern Etruria as well as examples of documents used in their ongoing investigations and prosecutions by the Italian authorities.

January 17, 2014

The Art Newspaper reports rumours that Britain is trying to sell antiquities of 'disgraced dealer Robyn Symes'


In today's article in The Art Newspaper online, "Italy threatens to sue UK firm over ancient 'loot'", Cristina Ruiz and Javier Pes write about the 'Government's liquidator rumoured to be selling disgraced dealer Robin Symes's antiquities'.
Italy is demanding the immediate return of a cache of antiquities stored in London and warning that if it does not receive information about the status of the collection within 30 days, it may sue the firm responsible for the objects. 

Italy’s state legal counsel was planning to send, this month, a final warning to the liquidator responsible for the assets of the disgraced antiquities dealer Robin Symes, who was declared bankrupt in 2003. Italy’s letter includes a detailed list of around 700 ancient objects, including sculptures and jewellery, that Italy is claiming because it believes they were taken from its territory illegally. The action is taking place amid rumours that the liquidator, the British firm BDO, is selling the material in the Middle East on behalf of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which is attempting to recoup tax owed by Symes’s firm, Robin Symes Ltd, which is now in liquidation. If BDO fails to respond to Italy’s warning by the end of the month with detailed information on the status of each item on the list, Maurizio Fiorilli, Italy’s state legal counsel on the Symes case, will notify the public prosecutor at the Criminal Tribunal in Rome.
According to University of Cambridge's Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis (in an email to the ARCAblog) that corrected a quote in the article:
It is a scandal for the British government, IF antiquities from the Symes warehouses are being offered for sale. At the moment I do not have any information that the British government is already selling antiquities from these warehouses. But, the delay to send to Italy the antiquities that have certainly been identified as illicit is already scandalous.
Dr. Tsirogiannis' work in helping the Greek police in cultural ministry in investigating the source of antiquities that passed through the dealership of Symes is documented in the book by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy's Tomb Raiders in the World's Greatest Museums.
  
Here's a 2008 article in Britain's Telegraph by Alastair Smart introducing readers to Maurizio Fiorilli. And here's an earlier post this year about the antiquities lack a legal collecting history that have been subscribed to Symes.

August 25, 2013

ARCA 2013 Conference: James Moore on the stolen Palermo Nativity by Caravaggio; James Bond on the book theft from the Biltmore House; and Judith Harris on the private collecting appetite for looted antiquities

James "Alex" Bond (left), Rene Du Terroil (rear),
 Judith Harris (center), and James Moore (right)
by Laura Fandino, ARCA Intern
In the second panel of ARCA’s  5th conference, presenters James Moore and James "Alex" Bond walked us through two events that made their way into the art crime world: The mysterious theft of Caravaggio’s masterpiece, The Nativity with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence, and  the successful recovery of 90 books from the Biltmore’s House in Ashville, North Carolina. Following their presentations and discussions, journalist Judith Harris spoke on the continuing of private collecting of illicit art and archaeology, despite - and in part consequent to - today's more rigorous policies of provenance in acquisitions at auctions and by museums. The panel was moderated by Rene M. du Terroil who currently directs the internationalization initiative for the Italian and Spanish campuses of the Instituto Europeo di Design (IED).
James Moore opened up the panel with an illustrated discussion in which he narrated the events which led to the second most famous theft in the history of art crime, the theft of The Nativity with Saint Francis and Saint Lawrence in 1969 in Palermo, Sicily. He began his presentation speaking about Caravaggio, the artist who gave life to the stunning painting of the Nativity. Caravaggio is a well-known Italian artist who at very early age managed to achieve artistic success and fame. At the age of twenty Caravaggio began a career as an artist and then went on to produce many now-famous masterpieces.
Caravaggio’s successful artistic career, emphasized Moore, was the product of his refusal to follow the conventional artistic styles of the time, focusing rather on realistic, naturalistic and symbolist detail condensed into the most vivid biblical scenes.  His artistic fame, regrettably, was always accompanied by his “irascibility and an unpredictable and violent temper,” which eventually led to a homicide in Rome for which he was found guilty. Caravaggio escaped gaol, however, and fled to Naples, Malta and Sicily.  In 1609, while he was in Sicily he painted the Saint Lawrence Nativity for the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palermo.

The theft of the Nativity took place in October 1969. On the day of the heist, the thieves entered the oratory through what Moore called a “poorly locked side door” and then cut the painting out of its frame.  After 44 years of waiting for the return of one of Caravaggio’s greatest masterpieces, Moore wondered, “Is there any hope that the painting will be found?” Sadly, none of explanations for the crime have produced any significant information on the whereabouts of the painting that today is valued at more than $20 million, yet Moore remains hopeful as he invites us to recall the recovery of The Taking of Christ, another of Caravaggio’s master works, after 100 years of absence.

In the presentation, "Heritage Collecting: Image, Passion and the Law,"  Journalist Judith Harris described the act of collecting as an “innately human passion” initially performed as a  “sport of kings,” whose prestige later placed it on the agenda of merchants and bankers, among others. Such activity, say sociologists who have analyzed the passion for collecting, is shaped by the surrounding cultural processes, which increase the collectors' desire for the halo prestige which ownership brings.
The theft oft Bellini's 15th C. Madonna with Child  in 1993,  the purchase of important Italian antiquities by an unknown New York collector, and the recent mysterious discovery near Rome of an ancient Egyptian sphinx in an abandoned greenhouse, ready for shipment, exemplify the essential but problematic question of “Who is buying it?” According to Harris, the dark side of collecting is that the passion of the private collector continues to foster looting despite the security measures of museums and auction houses.

According to experts in the field, stated Harris, this continuing illegal traffic in antiquities for private collections reflects in part the lack of a census of minor pieces of art, including in many public collections. In addition, the mediocre and rather incomplete inventories of many libraries and public museum storage areas in Italy have contributed to the disappearance of valuable works. The Bibliotecadei Girolamini, an important library in Naples, was looted of some 4,000 books; its director is blamed for the theft. Altogether, circa 1,500 books - some dating from the Middle Ages - were sold or given to private collectors. Among them was an Italian politician, Marcello Dell’Utri.  

Finally, Harris directed us towards the Art Collecting Legal Handbook, a compendium of comparative legislation on collecting in twenty-eight different countries. Particularly interesting are the Handbook's comparisons of legal norms for “due diligence.” Authors Bruno Boesch and Massimo Sterpi underscore the importance of this today: “Collectors, private and public, need to know where they stand in law... Private collectors need to grapple with the complexity of the eventual transfer of collections of far greater financial value than ever before.”

August 4, 2013

Christos Tsirogiannis on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Greek (Late Hellenistic Period)
(2nd century BC - 1st century AD)
Statue of a Young Boy
Virginia Museum of Fine Art
Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis writes on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Since 2006, about 200 antiquities of exceptional quality, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives, have been identified by the Italian authorities as looted, and have been repatriated from North American museums, private collectors, antiquities dealers, galleries and auction houses (for the latest update of the list see Tsirogiannis 2013). Most of these antiquities have been already published and exhibited, with an acknowledgement of their looted past (e.g. Godart & De Caro 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2007: Godart, De Caro & Gavili 2008; ICE 2012; ICE 2013). While details of the acquisitions regarding these looted antiquities were first being published (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2006 and 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2006, Isman 2009), demonstrating that many of these objects had been sold with fabricated collecting histories (e.g. the famous Euphronios krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, now in Rome), new cases started to emerge. This article attempts to trace the true journey of another antiquity, reveals new evidence regarding its collecting history, researches the implications arising and exposes, once again, the way the international illicit antiquities network has been operating in recent years.
Christos Tsirogiannis
Christos Tsirogiannis 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, Tsirogiannis 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 will shortly receive his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Mr. Tsirogiannis introduces his article with 'Facts and Evidence':
According to the Becchina archive (CD 1, pagina 5, foto 1375), Mario Bruno -- who was known as a "receiver of stolen goods" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:86) and "a major grave-robber" (Isman 2008:30) sold 12 antiquities to Gianfranco Becchina, on 22 August 1987. Among these antiquities was a marble statue of a boy. This is depicted in a cut-in-half Polaroid image, covered with soil, with its head cut and lying on (what appears to be) a white cloth. A bunch of keys and a corkscrew are depicted beside the statue, at the lower left corner of the image, to provide an idea of the statue's scale. A large "X," added later with a blue marker to the image, indicates that the statue was sold by Becchina at some point after 22 August 1987. the image is struck on a notebook page prominently entitled "da Mario 22/8/1987" (from Mario 22/8/1987"). A handwritten entry, referring to this statue, notes:
Statua marmo con testa forse ritratto di figlio di imperatore. pag. cash 45' CH
"Marble statue with head, perhaps portrait of the son of an Emperor. Paid cash 45 [000?] CH [Swiss Francs]." 
At the right side of the image there is a note, in the same blue marker with which the "X" was made: "=V Fried" (but the "V" was written with a thin black pen). The use of the blue marker by Becchina to write "=[V] Fried" suggests that the statue was sold by Becchina a substantial amount of time after it was bought from Bruno (see below). Indeed, all the entries for all 12 antiquities were written with the thin black pen at the time of their acquisition from Bruno; the same blue marker annotates 5 of these objects, indicating that they were sold by Becchina in a later period (there are no further notes on the page regarding a later sale of the remaining 7 antiquities). In the abbreviated code, used by Italian members of the international illicit antiquities network, "V" stands for venduto, "sold" (the same code was used by Medici, see Felch & Frammolino 2011:174). Thus, Becchina's handwritten note means "sold to Frieda."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger was the owner of the antiquities gallery Nefer in Zurich, and maintained strong bonds with Becchina and Symes-Michaelides. Indeed, the same statue of a boy that passed from Bruno to Becchina in August 1987 appeared in the Nefer gallery antiquities catalogue in 1989 (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1989:26, no. 28). As the statue was not included even in the 1988 Nefer antiquities catalogue (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1988), it was probably sold to Becchina to Tchacos about a year later, a gap also suggested by the change of pen to mark the image now in the Becchina archive. In the 1989 Nefer catalogue, the statue is presented clean of soil and with its head attached to its neck. The statue's price (in Swiss Francs) was higher than the highest price mentioned for any other antiquity in the catalogue (no. 38 for 28,000), since it was only available "on request." The entry notes:
"Portrait statue of a young boy. The boy has short hair except for a braid fasted at the back of his head. This hairstyle was considered a good-luck charm for Egyptian youngsters. The boy's youthful features are well-rendered in a round, full face. His head is turned to the right. His childish body is rendered with great skill under the thick himation. The head was broken off in antiquity and reassembled. Marble with yellow brown encrustation on the right side. Flavian, 2nd quarter of the 1st century B.C. [sic]. 86 cm (34 in.)."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger, an Egyptian-born Greek dealer, was involved in several cases of looted antiquities (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195, 227) that have been repatriated to Italy (Gill & Chippindale 2006:312). As part of a deal between Tchacos and the Italian authorities, Frieda Tchacos was given a light sentence: "[...] on September 17, 2002, she was convicted of handling stolen and smuggled goods, and of failing to notify the authorities of the antiquities that came her way. She was given one year and six months' imprisonment, suspended, and fined 1,000 euros" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195). This led to Tchacos' full cooperation. 
The absence of collection history and find-spot, regarding the statue from the Nefer gallery catalogue, combined with the hairstyle and date information, leave unclear whether the statue arrived in Zurich from Egypt, Greece, Italy or anywhere else within the borders of the Roman Empire. However, it is known that Mario Bruno was "a dealer who operated in Etruria and Puglia, where everybody worked, and he would sell the archaeological material abroad" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:154). Moreover, given the condition of the statue as depicted in the Becchina Polaroid image, it seems more likely that the statue was found in Italy, even if it had been transported there in antiquity. 
The same statue of a boy was acquired in 1989 by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, USA and was assigned the accession number 89.24.
This article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA -- available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.