March 19, 2017

One well documented theft = three separate seizures - Egypt's successes in curbing the sale of a stolen ancient objects

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Four years after being stolen and then trafficked illegally out of Egypt, a painted wooden New Kingdom mummy mask has been returned to its country of origin this week, after turning up at a French antiquities auction in December 2016.

The mask is just one of 96 artifacts from the Pharaonic, Greek and Roman periods, discovered during foreign archaeological missions which were stolen in 2013, during a break-in of the Museum of Antiquities storage facilities at Elephantine. An archaeologically rich island, Elephantine is the largest island in the Aswan archipelago in Northern Nubia, Egypt. The island lies opposite central Aswan, just north of the First Cataract on the Nile.  


Given that the professionally excavated objects were formal discoveries by authorized archaeological missions, versus illicitly excavated, the stolen antiquities, were well documented.   This gave the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities the necessary evidentiary documentation to list the ancient objects as possibly in circulation with national and international law enforcement authorities.  

One Well Documented Theft = Numerous Separate Seizures

Monitoring the antiquities market closely, Egypt has succeeded in stopping the sale of several stolen objects from this single theft over the last few years. In this most recent incident, once the mummy mask had been spotted, Shabaan Abdel Gawad, the general supervisor of the Antiquities Repatriation Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, was able to request that the mask's auction be halted, demanding the object's return through formal channels via the Egyptian embassy in Paris.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
Earlier, on January 29, 2017, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced that a deputy from the British Museum had handed over a 16.5 centimeter tall, carved wooden Ushabti statue with gold inscriptions.  This ancient object, stolen during the same break-in, had been relinquished by a British citizen. The funerary object had been excavated by Spanish archaeologists at the site of the Qubbet al-Hawa Necropolis in Aswan, and dates to ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period (circa 1990 BCE – 1775 BCE). 

Ushabti statues, sometimes called simply "Shabtis" by dealers in the antiquities trade, are very popular with ancient art collectors. These small wooden and stone figurines were once placed in Egyptian tombs, intended to function as the servants of the deceased during their afterlife.

Image Credit: Antiquities Repatriation
Sector of the Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt
On June 14, 2015 a 2,300 year old Ancient Egyptian ivory statuette was identified up for sale at the Aton Gallery of Egyptian Art in Oberhausen, Germany. Stolen during the same 2013 robbery, this 11.5 cm tall, statuette of a man carrying a gazelle over his shoulders, was unearthed in 2008 by a Swiss archaeological mission that had been carrying out excavations at the Khnum Temple at Elephantine.  Once identified at the auction house, the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry reported the auction to INTERPOL.

The statuette is believed to date back to Egypt's Late Period, from 664-332 BCE which ended with the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great and the establishment of the Ptolemaic Dynasty.

According to a screenshot grabbed by ARCA on June 14, 2015 (and since removed from the dealer's website), the web page depicted the object's upcoming auction and included a reserve price of $5050.  At the time of the auction, Aton Gallery had listed the provenance for the ivory figurine as being part of a German private collection, formed in the 60s and 70s, before being part of an earlier American Collection formed in the 1930s.  Misleading provenance, in this case either by the auction house or the consignor, underscores how easy stolen and looted antiquities can be made to appear part of older more established collections, when in fact they are not. 
ARCA Screenshot capture: June 14, 2015
Piece by priceless piece, Egypt is taking collectors and dealers to task.  And while 93 of the 96 stolen items are still out there, three recoveries are better than none.  

France Desmarais of ICOM’s International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods has stated 

"Stolen items are not necessarily lost forever because many can be recovered and will inevitably resurface at some point in time, whether in the art market or while crossing borders."

But Egypt’s police force and governmental heritage authorities can only do so much in their protection of the country’s thousands of archaeological sites, museums and historical objects.  This vulnerability is something looters are all too aware of. 

Playing on the limited resources of source countries, especially those suffering from political turmoil, looters, middlemen and traffickers can wait years before floating highly valued pieces onto the licit art market.   In the interim, those dealing in black market sales sustain themselves financially on the proceeds derived from a small but steady trickle of smaller finds, often dribbled out to lesser known dealers and galleries. As the art market is adapting to online sales, some items are not being sold through brick and mortar shops any longer, instead, objects are passing through simple one on one, online or social media transactions. 

But while objects from well documented thefts like the one on the Elephantine storeroom eventually do resurface, the process of identify-seizure-forfeiture, on an object by object basis is a painfully slow, and only moderately successful, road to repatriation.  

To staunch the flow of high demand antiquities for vulnerable source countries collectors must begin to hold themselves more accountable.  Knowing what we know today, collectors should curb their consumerist tendencies of wanting what they want when purchasing ancient art without documentation of legal export. More often than not, antiquities without sound paperwork have a higher probability of having been stolen or looted. 

It's time for collectors to take themselves to task, taking stock in the origins of their past purchases and voluntarily relinquishing items bought in the past without concern for legality, when they have have contributed to the theft and looting of historic sites around the globe.

Doing the Right Thing

If you are a collector and you suspect an antiquity you have purchased may have been looted or stolen, here are some things you can do.


If your object is on one of these lists, consult with your local museum's curatorial staff. 

Lastly, Interpol, National Law Enforcement, UNESCO, ICOM and organizations like ARCA maintain contacts with experts familiar with looted and stolen art.   If you have doubts about a purchase and don't know who to contact or need help with the ancient remains in a specific country, please write to us here

By:  Lynda Albertson

Lecture: Criminals without Borders - The many profiles of the (il)licit antiquities trade.



For those interested interested in the realm of illicit trafficking who will be in Rome, Italy April 21, 2017 Lynda Albertson, ARCA's Chief Executive Officer will be giving a talk on "Criminals without Borders."

This one hour lecture, at 6:00 pm at John Cabot University will provide a brief overview of the profile of actors in the illicit art trade, giving examples of how those in the trade avoid detection and prosecution.

This presentation will discuss the motives of trafficking in art and antiquities, highlighting cases from source and conflict countries emphasizing that the trade thrives on commercial opportunity i.e., a means of dealing in high value commodities that are often poorly protected, difficult to identify and easy to transport across national boundaries.

Her presentation will examine specific case examples and will underscoring response mechanisms that work to proactively counter the illegal trade.

The discussion will highlight

--the interchangeable participants in the illicit antiquities trade
--varying motives/opportunities
--how connections through single interactions can form loosely based networks


Lynda Albertson is the CEO of ARCA — The Association for Research into Crimes against Art, a nongovernmental organisation which works to promote research in the fields of art crime and cultural heritage protection. The Association seeks to identify emerging and under-examined trends related to the study of art crime and to develop strategies to advocate for the responsible stewardship of our collective artistic and archaeological heritage. 

Ms. Albertson, through her role at ARCA seeks to influence policy makers, public opinion and other key stakeholders so that public policies are developed and based on apolitical evidence, and which addresses art crime prevention and the identification of art crimes in heritage preservation initiatives.

In furtherance of that, Ms. Albertson provides technical, scientific and regional expertise to national and international organizations such as UNESCO, CULTNET, ICOM, in furtherance of ARCA's heritage preservation mission.   For the past five years, Lynda has focused part of her work on fighting the pillage of ancient sites and trafficking of artifacts, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, conducting research on the illicit trade in antiquities in MENA countries. 

Ms. Albertson also oversees ARCA's inter NGO - Governmental engagement and capacity building in MENA countries in recognition of UN Security Council Resolution 2199, which among other provisions, bans all trade in looted antiquities from Iraq and Syria and encourages steps to ensure such items are returned to their homelands. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM (CET)
Guarini Campus
Via della Lungara, 233

March 18, 2017

Exhibition - The Past Sold, April 3 - May 13, 2017


Beginning April 3, 2017 and running through May 13, 2017, the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, located on the campus of the University of Chicago, will host an exhibition on movable heritage.  The exhibition will highlight the importance of archaeological context, emphasizing that the movement of objects can be either positive; when removal is properly documented using approved methodology, or negative; such as when sites are plundered or destroyed.  It is that latter which renders them useless to archaeologists and historians seeking to understand and reconstruct the past from the remains of ancient cultures.

The exhibition's title The Past Sold, developed out of the Past for Sale research project undertaken at the Neubauer Collegium.  This initiative brought together experts in the field of heritage looting who shared issues of common concern regarding what is known about the looting of cultural heritage sites by both opportunistic and more systematically organised looters. 

The exhibit is designed to stimulate dialogue on the complexity of this important issue and encourages visitors to engage in the ethical debate of acquiring cultural heritage objects from around the globe.

Asking the important question "Where does the art you enjoy in any given exhibit come from?"  

The exhibit reminds us that sometimes whole sites are destroyed in the hunt for the best "marketable" objects and that individual objects on the less than transparent art market,  are often difficult to trace to the country of origin, never mind to the original site.  

The curators hope the exhibition will foster new conversations about the collection of pilfered objects of questionable origin. 

For information please see the exhibition webpage here. 

Exhibition Dates:
April 3 - May 13, 2017

Location
Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
Exhibition takes place on the 1st floor gallery 
5701 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, Illinois


Hours
11am-5pm, Monday-Friday

Contact
773-795-2329 (Front desk)
collegium@uchicago.edu

March 16, 2017

Repatriation: Attic Red-Figure Nolan Amphora by the Harrow Painter

Image Credit: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
Left - Min. Plen. Francesco Genuardi, Consul General of Italy in New York
Right -  Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
On February 25, 2017 ARCA announced a second antiquities seizure at Royal-Athena Galleries, a well known New York City-based gallery operated by Jerome Eisenberg, following object identifications made by forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis.  The item seized was an Attic Red-Figure Nolan amphora painted by the Harrow Painter, a vase painter known to have decorated column craters, oinochoai, and neck amphorae from approximately 480 until 460 B.C.E. 

A week earlier, Tsirogiannis had informed both ARCA and the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos, that he had matched the ancient object to three images from the archive of disgraced Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina, convicted in 2011 for his role in the illegal antiquities trade. The dealer's accumulation of business records, seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002, consists of some 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents related to antiquities, bought and sold, which at one point or another are known to have passed through Becchina's network of illicit suppliers. 


Presented with irrefutable evidence of the object's illicit past, the neck amphora, valued at $250,000, was quickly forfeited by the New York dealer. 

Today, in New York City, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. formally handed over the amphora to the Italian authorities during a repatriation ceremony attended by Minister Plenipotentiary Francesco Genuardi, the Consul General of Italy in New York, and the Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) New York, Debra Parker.

According to the New York County District Attorney website, the Neck Amphora will be exhibited at the Consulate General of Italy in New York for a few months in celebration of its return before ultimately going back to Italy.  Once home, the object will be placed on permanent display in one of Italy's museums which are part of the regional Polo Museale del Lazio,’ a grouping of museums in the territory near Rome, some of which are in the immediate vicinity of where the object was likely looted. 

The DA's website also mentioned that the amphora will be displayed in Italy with "a special mention of the decisive contribution of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for its repatriation."

Here is hoping there is also room on the museum's brass ID plate for the name "Tsirogiannis." It was through this diligent researcher's identification, and the earlier work of Maurizio Pelligrini from Rome's Villa Giulia, which ultimately tied this Neck Amphora to the specific group of identified traffickers, middlemen and dealers who had working relationships with Becchina.   It is his analysis of the dealer's archival records, which proved to be the critical component of the evidentiary material which ultimately paved the way for the New York DA's office through the request of attorney Matthew Bogdanos, to request that this object be seized.  This request for seizure in turn leading to the eventual "voluntary" forfeiture of the amphora.  

As a general rule, antiquities dealers do not voluntarily give up ancient works of art worth six figures unless they have to.   They do so, only when the evidence presented makes a compelling legal case which persuades them that it would probably be in their best interest to do so. 

By: Lynda Albertson

March 15, 2017

Fighting Art Trafficking and Art Crime in Bosnia: the work of CPKU


By: Helen Walasek

The importance of South East Europe as a major route for the illicit trafficking of looted and stolen art and antiquities, as well as a source region itself is recognised by international art crime researchers and professionals. However, the activities of the Tuzla-based Center Against Trafficking in Works of Art (Centar Protiv Krijumčarenja Umjetninama – CPKU), the only organisation in Bosnia-Herzegovina dedicated to documenting and fighting art crime, is not as well-known as it should be. 

CPKU is also playing a role in focusing attention on one of the great unanswered questions of the 1992–1995 Bosnian War: that of the enormous amount of cultural property looted during the conflict. This has never been adequately addressed, either with regard to the detailed documentation of missing objects, or investigation of the movement, destination and whereabouts of looted cultural property. Nor (so far as the author is aware) have any formal claims for restitution of looted cultural property been made by governmental or institutional authorities. 

Since the centre was established in December 2014, CPKU has worked to establish a national system of coordination and cooperation on art crime between national and international agencies and owners of cultural property (both public and private). Yet despite being the only state-wide organisation working in the field, the centre is often told by international bodies that as an NGO it does not have the authority to deal with these issues. However, as CPKU’s founder-director Dženan Jusufović has pointed out, official bodies which should be dealing with such issues, simply aren’t. Nevertheless, CPKU is having a significant impact in creating a greater awareness of the issue in official bodies and continues to forge a growing number of links with law enforcement and judicial agencies in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In October 2015 CPKU convened its first major event, a roundtable conference on the illicit traffic in art in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which brought together over 40 representatives from key stakeholders engaged in the fight against organised crime and war crimes, including international, national and entity agencies and law enforcement bodies, as well as from cultural institutions such as museums and galleries, alongside private collectors and NGOs.

Growing out of the conference were calls for the creation of a national database of missing works of art and other cultural property, for training in art crime for law enforcement officers, prosecutors and the judiciary, and for the formation of specialised art crimes units. Parallel with this, the holders of cultural goods (whether public or private) were urged to assist in the fight against the illicit traffic in cultural property by regularly updating their documentation of objects (including making good quality photographic documentation). 

Since then CPKU has produced guidelines for documenting works of art and reporting thefts, as well as providing detailed instructions on the best ways of photographing objects for documentation purposes (both downloadable from the CPKU website). Last year it published the first manual (also downloadable ) on the illicit art trade in Bosnia-Herzegovina which incorporates information on the legal international and national legal framework, how art is trafficked across the country and the region, and suggested preventive measures, as well as reproducing the sample documentation instructions.

A public awareness-raising event/performance, Giants of Art (Velikani Likovne Umjetnosti), was held in partnership with the National Gallery of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Association of Artists of Bosnia-Herzegovina at the Sarajevo-based gallery in April 2016 to alert the wider public to the issue of missing works of art – some of which had no photographic documentation.

All these initiatives have been supported by CPKU’s principal partner, the French Embassy in Sarajevo. The embassy was also instrumental in bringing Corinne Chartrelle, Deputy Head of France’s L'Office Central de Lutte Contre le Trafic de Biens Culturels (OCBC), to speak at a recent CPKU seminar on the illicit art market at the headquarters of the Centre for Judicial and Prosecutorial Training of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (CEST).

By May 2017 CPKU hopes to release a database of artworks missing or stolen from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Dženan Jusufović has noted that only thirteen cases of stolen artwork from Bosnia are registered on Interpol’s database of stolen art, despite that thousands of items of cultural property disappeared during or in the aftermath of the 1992–1995 war.

In addition to ongoing support from the French Embassy, CPKU also has partnerships or cooperation with national and international bodies and institutions, including ICOM Observatory, Interpol, UNESCO, ICOM Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Centre for Judicial and Prosecutorial Training of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (CEST), the British Council, the National Gallery of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Historical Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Association of Artists of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Faculty of Law at University of Tuzla, the NGO Akcija, and other museums, galleries, heritage institutions and legal-judicial bodies. 

For further information contact:
Centar Protiv Krijumčarenja Umjetninama (CPKU)
Atelje Ismet Mujezinović
Klosterska 19
75000 Tuzla 
Bosnia-Herzegovina

Email: cpkubih [at] gmail [dot] com
Phone: +387 61 185 733
Website: www.cpku.org
Facebook: Centar-protiv-krijumčarenja-umjetninama

March 9, 2017

Exhibition: When a school transforms itself into a museum: Preserving Italian heritage: recovered artefacts on display from 9 March to 30 April 2017 at the Rome International School



Following the success of the “Pop Icons” exhibition, the Rome International School in collaboration with MiBACT and the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale will host a new cultural event in Rome, Italy highlighting the work of the Italian art crime military squad.

Starting today, and running through April 30th, the Rome International School will host 75 archaeological items, recovered from illegal excavations and thefts 
recovered by this special branch of the Carabinieri.

On hand for today's press conference was Commander of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, General Fabrizio Parrulli, the Director General of LUISS Guido Carli University (the parent school to the RIS), and Giovanni Lo Storto, Director General, MiBACT.

If you ever wanted irrefutable proof that a large, well trained police force can have an impact on art crimes, this exhibition, both visually and emotionally, hands you unrefutable evidence on a plate. 

Want to whet your appetite to what you will see on display?  

Here are a few of the artworks which stand out:

An attic red-figure pelike depicting Hercules in the garden of the Hesperides, and on the reverse side, a scene from the Iliupersis, also known as the sacking of Troy. This IV century BCE ceramic storage jar, similar to an amphora, was illegally excavated from somewhere in Puglia/Sicilia/Sardegna/Calabria.  It was recovered during "Operation Teseo" a multinational police operation which recovered 5,361 antiquities confiscated in Basel, Switzerland.

A 340-320 BCE crater with a representation of Helios on his sun chariot pulled by horses.  This vase was seized during a raid against an antiquities dealer in 2009. 

An illegally excavated III-I century BCE sarcophagus with a full-length portrait of a man reclining on a kline from clandestine excavation conducted in Southern Etruria dear Tuscania.  One of the largest objects in this exhibition, the sarcophagus was recovered from an art storage warehouse in Switzerland in 2016 as part of Operation Antiche Dimore, a law enforcement seizure of 45 shipping crates belonging to Robin Symes which contained ancient works of art worth an estimated € 9 million that the disgraced dealer intended for the English market, Japanese and American antiquities markets.  

A fresco slab looted from a tomb in historic Casertano depicting an armed warrior on horseback along with two heavily armed hoplite (foot-soldiers). The work was recovered from the storage area of an antiquities dealer in Como, Italy in May 2015. 


A specific installation dedicated to ancient armour, which includes ancient suits of armour and weapons that originate from different parts of Italy, between the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. 

The exhibition builds a bridge between the culture of the past, the culture of the future and the culture of legality.  The last ultimately protects the rights of all of us to enjoy the knowledge and beauty that we have inherited from centuries long past. 

The art crime exhibition will be open to the public for free Monday to Friday, between 8:30 am and 6:00 pm and during the weekends from 10:00 am until 8:00pm

For more information about the event please visit the RIS website. 

March 5, 2017

India arrests Udit Jian, business associate and accomplice to accused American businessman Vijay Nanda


One month after India's Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) arrested American businessman Vijay Nanda at his residence in the Girgaum Chowpaty area of Mumbai and charged him with with smuggling historic artifacts to the United States, Europe and Hong Kong, Indian authorities have arrested his business associate and accompliceUdit Jain. 

Not his first brush with the law, Jain was also taken into custody by Chennai authorities in October 2016 for forging Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) certificates for the octogenarian smuggler, Govindaraj Dheenadhayalan (alternatively spelled "Deenadhayalan"). Dheenadhayalan was arrested in June 2016. 

In addition to serving as a middleman for Dheenadhayalan and Nanda, Jain is believed to have been procuring artifacts, stolen from temples, for Nanda and others, many of which were then exported to the Far East. 








February 25, 2017

Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Second seizure at Royal-Athena Galleries, New York


On February 17, 2017 forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis alerted Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos in Manhattan that he had identified another antiquity, likely of illicit origin, apparently being laundered via the US art market.  The object in question had been listed for sale via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery which is operated by Jerome Eisenberg.   Royal-Athena Galleries is the same New York gallery which relinquished an illicitly trafficked sarcophagus fragment to the country of Greece a few weeks ago. 


Attic Red-Figure Nolan Amphora
By the Harrow Painter
Ex C.H. collection, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Exhibited: Yale University Art Museum, 2003-2015.
Price: P.O.R.  (Price on Request)

As per Tsirogiannis, this same vase appears in three images from the Gianfranco Becchina archive pictured below.


The Becchina Archive is an accumulation of records seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during raids conducted on Becchina’s gallery, Palladion Antique Kunst, as well as two storage facilities inside the Basel Freeport, and another elsewhere in Switzerland.  This archive consists of some 140 binders which contain more than 13,000 documents related to the antiquities dealer's business.  

Becchina's records include shipping manifests, dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of the images are not slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, crude point and shoot polaroids taken by looters and middlemen depicting recently looted antiquities. Some of these polaroids show objects immediately after their looting and show objects which often still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade. While he later appealed this conviction, antiquities like this vase, traced to this network of antiquities traffickers, continue to surface years after their original looting.  Objects like this one, have resurfaced in private collections, museums and some of the world's most well know and ostentatious galleries and auction houses specializing in ancient art so it is important for collectors to remain on alert to the history of the objects they consider for purchase. 

When discussing his identifications with ARCA Tsirogiannis andicated that the photograph below, of a handwritten note by Gianfranco Becchina himself, documents that the Italian dealer had knowledge of the looted Neck Amphora's existence at least as far back as 28 February 1994.  Documents in the archive which represent the dealer's own meticulous record-keeping, shows that Becchina acquired the vase on the 15th of March 1994 and paid for the object on the 11th of April of that same year.


It is important to note that this red-figure attic vase is one of the most important styles of figural Greek vase painting.  In the Italian dealer's records, the object appears in photographs together with another object, an amphora.  This second object has been redacted from the image presented for the purposes of this blog post as the object is still in circulation.  Both antiquities seem to have come from a single Italian looter or middleman trafficker identified only as 'Robertino'. Given this information, it is plausible that the second identified piece of Attic pottery was looted at or near the same period of time, and may likely come from the same Etruscan tomb. 

It is Dr. Tsirogiannis' opinion that the two object photo ties the vase definitively to the country of Italy and that therefore, the vase should be repatriated to the Italian authorities.  

Other examples of illicit material which have passed through this New York dealer's art and antiquities firm include:



Eight antiquities stolen from museums and archaeological sites worth US$ 510,000.

And most recently, on February 10, 2017, a sarcophagus fragment depicting a battle between Greeks and Trojans looted from Greece and relinquished to the Greek Authorities.

Speaking with Dr. Tsirogiannis about this most recent identification he stated "As in the recent case of the sarcophagus fragment that has been repatriated to Greece, so in this case the identification and the evidence are sending back to Italy a valuable Greek vase. This result was achieved with the cooperation of assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos in New York who handled the seizure and the archaeologist of the Villa Giulia museum in Rome Mr. Maurizio Pellegrini who provided crucial information about the identity of the looter involved."

Given the fact that it often takes sound identifications, such as those conducted by researchers actively working on the Becchina dossier, forfeiture by art market dealers should not be misconstrued as spontaneous acts of good well. In many of such cases, the antiquities are relinquished either to avoid lengthy litigation or as a gesture by the suspect holder of the object to remove themselves from any negative publicity caused by having their name associated with having handled or purchased trafficked art.

By Lynda Albertson

February 21, 2017

Auction Alert: Timeline Auctions. February 21, 2017, London, UK

On February 20, 2017 ARCA contacted Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Timeline auction scheduled to start the following day in London, UK at 10:00am GMT.

TimeLine Auctions holds regular auction sales of antiquities from around the world.  Bidding can be done in person, or electronically through their own or associated websites. The firm is a prominent middle-range British dealer in portable antiquities.

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

Dr. Tsirogiannis in turn consulted TimeLine Auction's current online sale catalog and reviewed the objects for possible matches.  Contacting us shortly thereafter, he informed us that he had matched not one, but three antiquities traceable to known traffickers of illicit antiquities.

Each of the three ancient objects match conclusively with photos that are found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive (lot 49 and lot 79) and the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive (lot 183).

The items Dr. Tsirogiannis identified as being of possible concern are: 

A Scythian Rhyton with Animal Head: Lot 0049

Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive
NB This photo has been reversed horizontally for matching purposes. 

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has unfortunately been sold for £3,100 including buyer's premium. 

Scythian Moose Inset with Cabochons: Lot 0079


Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive 

Top: Screen Capture
TimelineAuction 02/21/17
Middle and Bottom:
Photos from
Giacomo Medici Archive
The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has also unfortunately been sold for £2,790 including buyer's premium.

Roman Head of a Youth: Lot 0183

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 

"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency with which potentially illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, collectors will be encouraged to do their own due diligence, before acquiring objects for their collections.  In this way new buyers will not be duped into the laundering of objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

While it is likely too late to save the new owners of Lot 0049 and Lot 0079 the headache of having just purchased potentially laundered illicit antiquities, ARCA hopes that Timeline will willingly withdraw the third object, to allow more time for due diligence, now that these identifications have been made.  In this way, the auction firm can avoid passing along another tainted antiquity to an unsuspecting collector.

It also would be nice, if in turn, Timeline shared the consignor/s contact information with the authorities, or encouraged the current owner to contact the authorities so that they could determine if any other suspicious items had been purchased in the past, which may have passed through Symes and Medici's hands.

As always, Tsirogiannis has sent the documentation of his informed suspicions on to law enforcement authorities at INTERPOL.

By Lynda Albertson

Police Seizure: 250 artifacts recovered by police near Rome


250+ archaeological finds, some dating as far back as the late Republican period were recovered by the Finanzieri del Comando Provinciale di Roma as part of the "Lanuvium" initiative which was coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Velletri, in the province of Lazio, near Rome.

Focusing on two women, who reportedly had established an elegant private museum in their upscale home, a variety of objects, many of them epigraphic remains such as brick stamps and marble inscriptions.  The pieces are believed to have come from illicit excavations in and around the Lanuvio archaeological site, a sanctuary dedicated to the worship of "Juno Sospita". 

The Soprintendenza ai Beni Archeologici del Lazio are presently involved in the full documentation of the objects seized. by law enforcement authorities. Unfortunately, artifacts ripped from their context by looters often lose much of their meaning. 

Illicit excavations not only destroy a site’s stratigraphic layers that help define an archaeological site’s chronology alongside unmoveable architectural elements. They also remove ancient objects from the context which gives the object its own cultural meaning.  

As a result of the seizure, three persons are now under investigation and will likely be charged with unlawful possession of archaeological material belonging to the country of Italy. 


February 19, 2017

Eric Spoutz sentenced Thursday to 41 months in prison for selling fake works

Linkedin ScreenCapture: 19 February 201
Charged with a single count of wire fraud and facing 20 years in prison, well-known Michigan art dealer Eric Ian Hornak Spoutz, a/k/a “Robert Chad Smith,” a/k/a “John Goodman,” a/k/a “James Sinclair,” has been sentenced instead to 41 months incarceration.  Once released from prison, he will be required to undergo three years supervised release and has been ordered forfeit $1.45 million in ill-gotten gains and to pay restitution in the amount of $154,100.

Spoutz, who once advised private collectors, businesses, and museums on acquisitions, was convicted for the alleged sale of dozens of forged artworks between 2003 and March 2015, purported to be the works of renowned postwar American painters renown for being at the center of the avant-garde.

Under the guise of one of several false identities, the dealer provided fake provenance, which he then used to convince the purchasers that he had inherited or purchased dozens of authentic works by influential Abstract Expressionism artists like Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell. 

Despite his efforts to create false histories for the forged artworks, investigators working on the case identified multiple inconsistencies and errors in the forged provenance records which eventually proved the evidentiary basis of his conviction.

During the court proceedings Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Adams said “Spoutz falsified a complex series of seemingly original documentation of each piece’s provenance: bills of sale, letters from art dealers, correspondence from prior owner’s estates, etc.,” ...... “His research and care in the preparation of letterhead and stationary from these figures – including falsified letters dated from the 1950s through the 1990s – required an intense commitment to deception.”





February 16, 2017

Recovered: Here's lookin' at you kid. Stolen in Italy and found in Casablanca.

Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist
and Gregory Healer" (1639)
oil on canvas 293x184.5 cm

Stolen in Modena, Italy on August 10-11, 2014 from the Church of San Vincenzo, the painting "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer" by Guercino has been recovered in Morocco.*

At the time of the theft, if was believed that the art thief had hidden himself away inside the church until everyone had departed after the afternoon Sunday mass. The parish priest of San Vincenzo noticed something was afoot when he passed by the church the following morning and came across the primary door of the church open, with no signs of forced entry. This door was not equipped with an external mechanism for opening so either the thief waited inside after the mass had concluded or he had gained entry through a secondary door at the rear of the church.

When the theft was announced to the public Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi criticised the Curia's for its lack of security, especially in light of the numerous petty thefts which had plagued nearby churches in the city recently.  He estimated that the stolen painting, by the an Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, best known as Guercino, or Il Guercino, could be worth as much as five to six million euros, though he stated clearly that there was no market for stolen, easily identifiable religious works of art.  

Replica of "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer"
inside the Church of San Vincenzo

The city of Modena and the church's priest and patrons were heartbroken. Not only had their painting been in the church since it was constructed, but the church itself stood near the city's courthouse, which is guarded round the clock. How was it that no one noticed anyone exiting the church with a painting under their arm?

This no one could say. 

Flash forward to February 2017 where three fences offer the historic painting to a wealthy businessman in Casablanca, Morocco for a cool 10 million dirhams (€940,000). Recognizing Guercino's masterpiece, the man declined and alerted the police judiciaire du Hay Hassani de Casablanca who then arrested the three suspects. One of the three, possibly the original thief, was a Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Italy for a considerable period of time.  

Here's lookin' at you police judiciaire du Hay Hassani. (**) Bogart, 'Casablanca'

------------------------------------

Update: * The procedure for restitution is now under way between the Moroccan authorities and the Italian Embassy in Morocco.

Thursday, February 16, 2017 - , No comments

Recovered: Abraham Lincoln's hand Sculpter

Image Credit: Kankakee Police Dept
A little over one year ago, a 150 year old plaster sculpture of Abraham Lincoln's hand was stolen from its display shelf at the Kankakee County Museum in Illinois, one hour south of Chicago.  Created by a Kankakee native, George Grey-Barnard, it was the museum's custodian who first noticed that the $5000 sculpture had gone missing sometime before December 11, 2015.  

At the time of the theft, the museum had no CCTV cameras and a campaign was started to collect the $8,900 needed for security upgrades to protect the museum from thefts in the future. 

Lamenting the loss to the museum's modest collection authorities hoped that the theft was a prank. 

With no witnesses and no suspects, Kankakee police appealed to the community via social media and on its Facebook Page to be on the lookout, hoping that with the publicity, the thief would simply return the object, described as being: "The size of a 8-10 pound ham." But despite citizen outrage and the cumbersome size of the sculpture, no one stepped forward to return the pilfered sculpture.

Until now. 

When someone left Lincoln's stolen hand at the back of Kankakee's Saint Rose of Lima Parish Church on Sunday, February 12, 2016, where it was discovered by a church usher. 

For most Illinoisans, February 12th is an auspicious day worth remembering for anyone who holds sentimental feelings for America's 16th Republican Party president.   

Was it a pang of personal guilt that caused the thief to return "Honest Abe's" hand, or perhaps a statement on American politics?  

Only the thief will ever know. 

By Lynda Albertson




February 15, 2017

Boston University Students Foil Art Gallery Robbery

Galerie D’Orsay owner Susan Hirshberg (CAS’90) with the Questrom students
who stopped a robbery at her gallery after the Super Bowl: Chris Savino (Questrom’17),
Mackenzie Thompson (Questrom’17), Hirshberg, and Jesse Doe (Questrom’17).

Guest Writer: Rich Barlow barlowr@bu.edu
Originally published in: BU Today

Chris Savino’s hometown of Ridgefield, Conn., was found to be “the safest town in America” last year by an online database of neighborhoods. But college is supposed to expand your horizons, and Boston exposed Savino and two fellow Questrom School of Business seniors face-to-face with a crime in the making last week.

They were the crime-fighters, thwarting an art gallery heist.

Walking back to campus after midnight February 6 from the Boston Common, where thousands of New England Patriots fans had been celebrating the team’s Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons just hours before, Savino (Questrom’17), Jesse Doe (Questrom’17), and Mackenzie Thompson (Questrom’17) came upon a man emerging from the smashed glass door of Galerie d’Orsay on Newbury Street [in Boston, Massachusetts] with five artworks worth $45,000. They chased and held 29-year-old Jordan Russell Leishman until a passing policeman arrested him for breaking and entering.

Arraigned in Boston Municipal Court, Leishman is being held without bail for a previous assault case, according to the Boston Globe. He’s also wanted in New Hampshire on a charge of narcotics possession.

Galerie d’Orsay’s managing partner happens to be a Terrier too. Sallie Hirshberg (CAS’90) met the three students for the first time this past Saturday at the gallery, where she’d arranged an interview with BU Today. (She lives in Florida and was in Boston for business.)

“I’m Sallie—thank you so much!” Hirshberg greeted the three students as they entered, hugging Thompson, who at 6-foot-3 had to bend down for the embrace. His size was crucial in foiling the robbery. The trio had chosen to return to campus via Newbury Street instead of nearby, more boisterous Boylston Street. “We were pretty much the only people there, except for a couple walking down the street,” Thompson says.

And except for Leishman.

The gallery’s surveillance video shows he had smashed the glass in the door, which opens into a small vestibule with an inner door. (The police report about the incident says rocks were found in the vestibule, and that both of Leishman’s hands had cuts.) He broke the glass in that door, too, then waited a good 20 minutes, Hirshberg says (perhaps to see if he’d tripped an alarm, she speculates). Finally, he wandered into the gallery, removing from the walls etchings by Picasso and Rembrandt and lithographs by Joan Miró and Marc Chagall.

“He took from Chagall’s most important body of work,” a lithograph from the Russian-French master’s Daphnis and Chloé series, she says. That piece, worth $18,000, is the most expensive he tried to snatch.

“He had good taste…he pulled a Miró, a Rembrandt, and two Chagalls,” she notes, but he passed up far more expensive works, among them a $90,000 Picasso and a Rembrandt valued at the same amount.

Leishman’s break-in triggered a motion-sensitive alarm, Hirshberg says. He left the largest of the artworks at the front door and proceeded down the steps with the other four, just as the BU students, with Thompson and Doe in the lead, were walking toward the gallery.

“I thought to myself, oh, he might be an employee just working there,” Thompson says. “But once we got right in front of the store, we heard the alarm, we saw the smashed glass, and he comes out with the paintings.” In a matter-of-fact tone, Thompson describes what he said to Doe: “‘I think he just stole those. We should probably do something.’”

They sprinted after Leishman. “He tried to book it,” dropping the paintings, Thompson says. But he wasn’t fast enough for Thompson, who caught him at the corner of Newbury and Berkeley Streets and grabbed him from behind in a bear hug. Acting on adrenaline, none of the pursuers had thought about whether Leishman might be armed, but as Thompson held him, his quarry tried to reach in his pockets. “I thought he might have been reaching for a weapon or something, so I pushed him up against a US mailbox on the corner, trying to pin his arms.” (The police report doesn’t mention Leishman having a weapon.)

Thompson says Leishman protested: “Why are you holding me so tight? You can let me go, I’m not going to run away.” Meanwhile, Savino held the paintings aloft to flag down a passing police car. When the officer approached, Thompson says, Leishman “tried pinning it on us, saying we jumped him.” The officer, obviously, didn’t buy it.

The three students were home by about 1 a.m., although the officer later called Thompson for more information. The police returned the paintings to the gallery, Hirshberg says, and called its operations director, who happened to be returning to Boston on a wee-hours flight. She had the broken doors boarded up to secure the gallery.

According to Hirshberg, the artwork was undamaged save for the gold-leaf frames, which will cost about $5,000 to repair. This was the first attempted robbery in the gallery’s 16 years. It also may be a footnote in Boston history: the officer told Thompson that during all that night’s raucous Super Bowl celebrating, this was the only arrest made in the city.

“I texted my parents later that night,” Savino says. Not wanting to worry them in the safest town in America, he began his text, “Everything’s OK,” before describing the experience. “I got a call five seconds later from my mom—you know, ‘What happened? What happened?’”

While Questrom might seem a little gray-flannel for such heroics—Doe plans to work at an accounting firm after graduation—this was Thompson’s second brush with crime-fighting. As a freshman, he witnessed two guys slashing car tires and yanking hubcaps off an auto at a tire shop on Comm Ave; he called police and drove around in the cop car until they found the suspects and arrested them.

The coincidence of the heroes being from Hirshberg’s alma mater registered less, she says, than the fact that she “was just so grateful. For them to step up and see something that was happening that wasn’t right, and to make it right, was just unbelievable.” In an age not renowned for kindness, she says, the Terrier trio wowed her with “a nice act of humanity.”

To express her gratitude, she’s asked the three students to an upcoming invitation-only opening at the gallery, where she says they can each choose an artwork as a thank-you gift. She’s offered to help them choose, which, given their status as business rather than art appreciation students, was welcome. “I wouldn’t call myself an art aficionado,” Thompson confesses.

Nothing wrong with business students, says Hirshberg: “I probably wouldn’t have the gallery if I hadn’t married the guy in my finance class at BU.”

February 13, 2017

Theft: Antiquarian Booksellers Association's reports dramatic book thief heist of 160 texts, some from the 15th and 16th centuries


The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers and the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard have confirmed a brazen the theft at a storage facility in Feltham, west London near Heathrow during the late evening and early morning hours of January 29-30, 2017. 

In what is being characterised as a well-planned and savvy burglary, thieves somehow avoided detection despite a 24-hour monitored intrusion detection system which included CCTV cameras and infrared motion detectors.  Entering the bonded warehouse by scaling up to the roof, the culprits breached the warehouse’s reinforced glass-fibre skylights, dropping down into the storage facility from above.

Once inside, they cherry picked books, some of which are incunabula, meaning they are editions printed in the first half-century of printing – the second half of the 15th century. Once the books were chosen, they were hoisted back up through the skylight and loaded onto a waiting vehicle. 

The thieves made off with 160 historic texts.  Bypassing other items, they specifically targets books from six sealed trunks belonging to three dealers,whose inventory was being held at the storage facility in advance of California's 50th International Antiquarian Book Fair.  

Some of the more recognizable (but not necessarily the most valuable) texts stolen during the brazen burglary are:


Two rare editions of Dante Alighieri's narrative poem "La Divina Commedia" (Divine Comedy), one published by Giolito in Venice in 1555 and another in Venice by Domenico Farri in 1569

Copernicus' major theory De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published in the year of his death, 1543. 

an early version of Italian polymath Galileo Galilei's famous Opera , (pictured below) who was tried for heresy in 1633 and sentenced to house arrest for his admiration of Copernicus.  This edition, by Carlo Manolessi, contains many unpublished writings, as well as various writings of opponents of Galilei, Capra, Colombe, Grazia, Grassi and others, with their with their refutations. Zeitlinger: "The first collected edition of Galileo's work". Lacking Dialogue of Maximum Systems and the Letter to Christina of Lorraine, then still at the Forbidden Index and which will have to wait until 1744 and respectively 1808 to be reprinted. However, the allegory of Della Bella, disguising the heliocentric system by Medici coat of arms, he succeeded to declare openly in the Frontispiece the Copernican heresy. Galileo is kneeling at the feet of three female figures inpersonificanti Astronomy, Optics and Mathematics; to them with his hand raised, shows the coat of arms from the center of which depart the light rays and the planets are arranged like the six globes of the coat of arms of the Medici. Riccardi: "This year, though less abundant of succeeding, and bran, it is nevertheless highly esteemed, and not easy to be complete, because the various treaties having numbering and frontispiece particular, they were often distracted by the whole body of works." "Questo esemplare corrisponde perfettamente a quello censito in Iccu. Cinti, 132; Gamba, 482; Zeitlinger, I, 1435-6; Riccardi, I, 518-9, n. 17; De Vesme, p. 255, n. 965; IT\ICCU\UFIE\000447.



An impressive copy of Jo(h)annes Myritius' "Opvscvlvm geographicvm rarvm, totivs eivs negotii rationem, mira indvstria et brevitate complectens, iam recens ex diversorvm libris ac chartis, summa cura ac diligentia collectum & publicatum. (Pictured below). Ingolstadt, Wolfgang Eder, 1590. In a contemporary vellum binding made with parts of a 15th-century missal mss., water-stained and wormed, some slight damage to spine, lack epistles & a full-page heraldic woodcut, and pp. 131-136 with the portrait and another full-page heraldic wood-cut, the penultimate leave with colophon and printer‘s device, and the final blank) 


Sir Isaac Newton's "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy." (pictured below) Translated into English, and illustrated with a commentary, by Robert Thorp, M. A. Volume the First [all published]. London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1777. (and) Newton, Isaac. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy translated into English and illustrated with a Commentary by Robert Thorp, D.D., Archdeacon of Northumberland. London: T. Cadell Jun. & W. Davies, 1802. The translator Robert Thorp's copy, with his name on title, extensively annotated by him in the mar-gins with diagrams.




Alessandro Meda Riquier of Meda Riquier Rare Books Ltd., in London lost a total of 51 books in the theft.  He estimates his company's losses at close to £1 million.

Speaking with Sky News Mr Riquier stated that 90% of German colleague Michael Kühn of Antiquariat Michael Kühn's books were taken, while Italian bookseller Renato Bado of Antiquariato Librario Bado E Mart S.A.S., from Padua estimates he has lost 60 percent of his holdings including the precious Copernicus.  Bado's stated losses are approximately £680,000. 

But why were the books at a storage facility in the first place? 

Storage facilities such as these are used for off-site storage of valuable rare books and archives in transit and in storage as they provide owners with condition reporting as well as a climate controlled settings to store objects at a museum-approved humidity. High relative humidity (RH) along with high temperature, can encourage potentially devastating biological damage to older texts.  Lower humidity or more accurately, controlled moisture content in equilibrium with lower RH slows can slow chemical deterioration and helps preserve historic texts. This makes bonded warehouses suitable for archives repositories, as well as for shipment intermediary points for historic books that are fragile.  

That is, of course, if the storage facility's security does what it is intended to do.

Theft to order or insider job?

A book antiquarian ARCA spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that he believes that the theft was ordered by a specific collector, since the stolen texts are quite recognisable and well documented.  Also with the announcement of the theft and the itemization of the texts stolen in the heist, they will be impossible to sell on the open market through legitimate auction houses or through book antiquarians.

Given the thieves went straight for the books, and appeared to know the vulnerabilities of the warehouse's security, it is plausible to consider that the thieves had awareness of what was being stored and how to enter the facility without being detected. 

Why steal rare books? 

Although the bulk of Nicolaus Copernicus’s book, demonstrating that the earth rotated around the sun, instead of the sun around the earth, was already finished in 1535, it was only printed in 1543, the year of the Polish astronomer’s death.

The first edition was printed in Nuremberg in 1543 and a second printing in Basel in 1566.  Around the globe, there are only 560 known copies of these two editions.   Purchased legitimately, like Lot 110 pictured below from a Christie's 2013 auction, first edition texts like this one are not only historically significant, but extremely valuable. 


The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers has published a lists detailing all the texts believed to have been stolen during the burglary.  They can be accessed here.

This listing which contains books and manuscripts from the 15th to the 20th century, covering a variety of topics including mediaeval book art, natural history, science, early renaissance printing, and travel has been logged with The Metropolitan Police's Stolen Art Database and stolen-book.org run by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

Book and manuscript thefts have long been a problem for national libraries and private collectors.  Unfortunately when rare texts go missing, the actual monetary value of these works stands in second place to the incalculable history that is lost.

Since many of these texts may be identified by individual characteristics ARCA urges individuals involved in the rare book trade; collectors, institutions and book merchants to carefully check and verify all provenances, especially on historic texts printed in the second half of the 15th century.

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association asks for the book collecting public to be on alert and if anyone offers any of these titles, please contact the Metropolitan Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

For further details on the theft please contact ABA Secretary Camilla Szymanowska on 020 7421 4681 or at secretary[at]aba.org.uk or ABA Security Chair Brian Lake on 020 7631 4220 brian[at]jarndyce.co.uk.

By: Lynda Albertson