May 26, 2019

Interview with Monica di Stefano, ARCA’s Social Director

By Edgar Tijhuis


Since the beginning of ARCA’s program in Amelia, Monica di Stefano has been involved in ARCA’s activities to organize many local affairs for ARCA. 

We asked her to tell us more about her work for ARCA and life in this unique, more than 3200 years old, town in Umbria.

Can you tell us something about your background?

I was born in Amelia where I have basically spent my life among lots of travels. After obtaining my first degree in Foreign Languages and Literature, I started working in different fields, all related to the use of foreign languages. Currently I teach Spanishand English in Umbrian high schools.

And your work for ARCA? 

I started working for ARCA in 2009…. so I can say I am the oldest person in ARCA’s history together with Noah Charney and Edgar Tijhuis. In the first edition of the program I was involved by chance teaching some participants of the postgraduate program. I have worked as a teacher of Italian for ARCA participants until few years ago. In that same year Professor Charney asked me to help in the organization of some trips and extra academic activities so I started working as the ‘Social Director’ who takes care of events, field trips and logistics.

What is it like in Amelia? 

Amelia is a small medieval town, far from the crazy, busy, polluted world that maybe people are used to. Life is slow, technology can be slow, but this makes Amelia and its surroundings very special and unique. I recommend to be ready for a very quite place. A homebase where ARCA participants can discover the real Italy and make lifelong friendships, in a summer without air conditioning, but with experiences to be remembered forever...

What is so special about this program? 

Our program is exceptional because participants and professors live close to each other everyday, in a town where it is hard not to meet even after class and it becomes a pleasure to share a pizza and a glass of wine with people from many countries, all together after a long day. Our participants and professors live almost 3 months together under the common interest of cultural heritage, in a town which offers the basic services that are necessary for a serious academic program and which permits those studying with us ample time and space to concentrate on studies while having fun at the same time immersed in a history of more than 3 millenniums…

And what do you enjoy at ARCA? 

I feel that I am really lucky to be part of ARCA world because in these past 10 years hundreds of people from all over the world have come to Amelia and I have been blessed to know them, to be in contact with people of different nationalities, to explore different cultures and languages from which I have learned a lot. It is the entire world that comes to our small lovely town and the entire town benefits from this culturally diverse exchange.

Which course would you like to follow yourself? 

After 11 years working for ARCA I realize I would love to be on the side of the particpants and follow the eleven courses myself!!! If only I could….if I was not so busy…I believe every subject has its own peculiarities and every professor has his/her charm….so nothing has to be missed!

Any advice for the participants that come to Amelia? 

Enjoy every single day of this experience, try to travel around with trains, local buses, and take the time to get to know the local people…

Keep in mind that you came here to study but….doing it in Amelia has a definitely special touch!


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Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program



May 25, 2019

The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage wants the Getty Museum to verify the origins of four more works of art which they have identified as being stolen or exported from Italy without an export license.

On Monday, December 3, 2018 Italy’s Court of Cassation rejected the J. Paul Getty Museum's appeal against the lower court ruling in Pesaro, issued by Magistrate Giacomo Gasparini.  That earlier ruling, issued on June 08, 2018, was in favour of the prosecution’s request for seizure of the bronze statue, commonly known as the Statue of a Victorious Youth or colloquially as the Getty Bronze, il Lisippo or l'Atleta di Fano.  

This week, on May 22, 2019 the Comitato per il recupero e la restituzione dei beni culturali, the Italian Committee for the Recovery and Return of Cultural Assets, chaired by the Minister Alberto Bonisoli, met at the Collegio Romano and requested a meeting, as soon as possible, with the administration of the J. Paul Getty museum for a discussion on the return of the bronze statue to Italy, as sanctioned by a sentence of the Italian Court of Cassation as well as to discuss the status of an additional four works of art which the Italian authorities have identified as being stolen or exported from the territory of Italy without an export license.

Those four objects are:

An 1880 oil on canvas painting by Italian artist Camillo Miola known as the Oracle.


Miola was a scholar of classical antiquity and as a result almost all of his paintings represent subjects of Greek or Roman history known for his art criticism as much as his painting, writing under the pseudonym of Biacca. Miola was also an honorary professor of the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples. The artwork in question, depicts the Pythia sitting upon the sacred tripod in representation of the Delphic oracle. To the left is the Omphalos of Delphi, an ancient marble monument found at the archaeological site of Delphi which the ancient Greeks believed marked the city as the navel of the world.

The Oracle of Delphi was exhibited at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts: Turin in 1880 and later purchased by the Province of Naples in 1879.  In 1943, due to persistent bombing in the area of Naples during World War II, the Provincial Administration of Naples issued orders to remove works of art it owned from the city offices and to have 186 paintings sequestered at the Istituto San Lorenzo in Aversa, just north of Naples in a zone heavily contested by opposing military forces. Shortly after this mandate, sometime between 1943 and 1946 the artwork was documented as stolen.

Two 1st Century BCE - 1 Century CE Roman-era funerary lions

Photo Credit: Bottom - Instituto Germanico - Roma
Top Left & Top Right- Roman Funerary Sculpture Catalogue of the Collections by Guntram Koch, 1988
According to the Bulletin of the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art (Malibu: 1959), pp. 20 and 22, these pieces represent grave lions executed in the second century CE in Asia Minor.  The provenance listed from the museum's website indicates that they were acquired from Nicolas Koutoulakis for $9,000 in 1958.

Photographic evidence from February 5, 1912, recorded in the archive of the Germanic Archaeological Institute of Rome, documents that these two lions once stood in front of Palazzo Spaventa di Casale di Scoppito in a small village six kilometers from L'Aquila, which was once part of the ancient Sabine city of Amiternum.

The now dead collector/dealer Koutoulakis is a name already mentioned in this blog as someone who raises suspicions to those who research antiquities trafficking as his name is well documented in connection with the purchase and sale of other works of ancient art which have been determined to have illicit origins.   In an alternate spelling, as Nicholas Goutoulakis, this individual was implicated on the handwritten organigram seized by the Italian Carabinieri in September 1995.  This document outlines key players in the illicit antiquities trade in Italy during the 1990s.

The Italian authorities contend these objects were exported from Italy without permission.

A Roman floor mosaic depicting the head of Medusa, 115 CE - 150 CE


Getty records show that this mosaic floor was purchased from Jerome Eisenberg via Royal-Athena Galleries) for $15,000 in 1978, though the Italians state now identifies it as stolen from Italy.  Royal Athena Galleries has also previously acquired stolen antiquities, both from the Corinth Museum in Greece and antiquities stolen from Italian excavation warehouses.  These details and the fact that these earlier identified objects were later repatriated to Greece and Italy should have triggered some sort of increased diligence as to this mosaic's journey from discovery to the dealer's showroom.

Replying to an email inquiry on these objects initiated by Jason Felch, Lisa Lapin, Vice President of Communications for the J. Paul Getty Trust responded as follows:

"I understand you are inquiring about the latest activity related to the Getty bronze. Italy has asked for information and discussions about four objects acquired by J. Paul Getty in the 1950s and early 1970s.  We are thoroughly researching these objects and will discuss our findings in good faith with the Culture Ministry.  As always, we take these claims seriously.  As we have in the past, if any of these objects were stolen or illegally excavated, they will be returned to Italy.  

The Getty has deep, strong ties with individuals and institutions throughout Italy that have produced many mutual benefits, and the Getty is determined not to allow a difference of opinion about ownership of the Bronze impede our warm and productive relationships. 

In accordance with our 2007 agreement with the Culture Ministry, and consistent with our fiduciary obligations as stewards of the Getty collections, we are defending our ownership of the Bronze through the legal process, which is still ongoing.  We will take all available steps to assert our legal right to the statue, including potentially through the European Court of Human Rights. 

Regards, 
Lisa"

The J. Paul Getty Museum has six months from the date of the final decision at the domestic level (generally speaking, the judgment of the highest court) to lodge its application regarding the Getty Bronze with the European Court of Human Rights should it decide to do so. After that period their application cannot be accepted by the Court.  To file they will have to allege that the court authority of Italy, which is bound by the Convention, in their opinion, has/have, through one or more acts or omissions directly affecting them, violated specific articles related to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Given that the Italian Court of Cassation issued its ruling on December 3, 2018, the museum would need to file its application on or by June 3, 2019.   In 2018 the ECHR ruled inadmissible or struck out 2256 applications involving Italy. It ruled on 27 applications alleging violations by Article/by State.

By:  Lynda Albertson
 




May 19, 2019

Soft diplomacy, righting past wrongs and the Toledo Museum of Art


Over the past 12 years, in a differing tactic from the "Getty Bronze" protracted court battle for restitution, Italy's Avvocatura dello Stato has sometimes negotiated for the return of its stolen archaeological past utilizing soft diplomacy as an alternative to the more time consuming pressure of courtroom trials and appeals.  Geared toward stimulating mutual cooperation and in the vein of resolving cultural patrimony conflicts when illicit antiquities traceable to the country are identified in museum collections, Italian authorities have opened dialog with museum management at involved institutions in the effort to find mutually acceptable resolutions that sidestep the need for oppositional court battles.   

In a tradition finessed by Francesco Rutelli, Italy's former Ministro dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali, the country's Avvocatura dello Stato, which represents and protects all economic and non economic interests of the State, works with museums to develop mutually-attractive accords which seek to remedy claims for looted antiquities.  These negotiations diplomatically address the sensitive issue of stolen, looted, and illegally exported acquisitions without subjecting museums to reputation damaging litigation and allow the State to achieve the return of cultural property while avoiding the uncertain outcome of a litigation on their ownership before a foreign court.

These collaborative negotiations are designed, not to strip a museum bare of its contested objects, but to undertake a careful collaborative approach to restitution in furtherance of “goodwill relationships” between source countries and foreign museums found to be holding illicit material. Equitable solutions, when agreed upon, have served to mediate past acquisition errors and have been carried out with important US museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, the Princeton University Art Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art and serve to strengthen the relationship between Italy and foreign museums in relation to future cooperative activities.

When consensus can be achieved, as was the case in 2006 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art signed an agreement in Rome to formalize the transfer of title to six important antiquities to Italy, long term loans can then be negotiated in the spirit of just collaboration.   Sometimes these agreements allow a contested object or objects to remain on display at the identified museum for a given period of time or provide for the loan of alternative objects "of equivalent beauty and importance to the objects being returned" so as not to decimate the museum's collection in return for an agreement of voluntary forfeiture and restitution of the looted antiquity in question.

This week, the thanks to just such an accord, the Toledo Museum of Art has announced that it has reached an agreement with the Italian authorities regarding a graceful 30 centimeter slip-decorated earthenware object, called a skyphos, or drinking vessel, which has been on view at the museum almost continuously since its purchase in 1982.  Etched in red against the a black background, this sophisticated antiquity was purchased for $90,000 with funds from the Edward Drummond Libbey Endowment and is decorated with the mythological story of the return of Hephaestus to Olympus riding a donkey and led by Dionysus.  The object dates to ca. 420 BCE  and is attributed to the Kleophon Painter.

Per the recent agreement with the Italian authorities, signed by Lorenzo D'Ascia, head of the legislative office of Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, and state lawyer in service with the State Attorney General, who presides over Italy's Committee for the Return of Cultural Assets, this skyphos will remain on loan with the Toledo Museum of Art for a period of four yearsAfter four years the museum's management may request a renewal of the loan or request the loan of an alternative object from the Italian authorities as part of a rotational cultural exchange which is spelled out in the terms of their mutual agreement.

In its published announcement the museum acknowledged that the provenance of the object was called into question publically in 2017 by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist affiliated with ARCA, on suspicion that the object had been looted and at some point illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909) "after which the Museum began an internal investigation and contacted the Italian authorities".

As mentioned in Tsirogiannis' academic article in ARCA's Journal of Art Crime "Nekyia: Museum ethics and the Toledo Museum of Art" the researcher recognized the Kleophon Painter skyphos from five images found within the dossier of photographs seized from Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.  At the time of Tsirogiannis' identification, the museum's published provenance history indicated only that the object had once been part of a "private Swiss collection". 

Two images of the skyphos from the confiscated Medici archive.
Courtesy of the Journal Of Art Crime
Following several enquiries to the museum made by Tsirogiannis between March and April 2017, Dr. Adam Levine, Associate Director and Associate Curator for Ancient Art directed the researcher to the following limited collection history information for the skyphos:

Private Swiss Collection, n.d;
(Nicholas Koutoilakis, n.d.-1982);
Toledo Museum of Art (purchased from the above), 1982- 

The now dead collector/dealer Koutoulakis is a name that immediately raises suspicions to those who research antiquities trafficking as his name is well documented in connection with the purchase and sale of other works of ancient art which have been determined to have illicit origins.   In an alternate spelling, as Nicholas Goutoulakis, this individual was implicated on the handwritten organigram seized by the Italian Carabinieri in September 1995.  This document outlined key players in the illicit antiquities trade in Italy during the 1990s.

Koutoulakis activities have also been mentioned on this blog in connected with the provenance history of another illegally-traded antiquity and is referred to 15 times throughout “The Medici Conspiracy,” a 2007 book by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini which explores the roles of some of the most notorious bad actors in the world of ancient art.  One striking passage states that disgraced antiquities dealer Robin Symes confirmed that Koutoulakis was supplied by Giacomo Medici “since at Koutoulakis’ he had seen objects he’d previously seen at Medici’s.” (Page 198 : The Medici Conspiracy)

In this weeks announcement for the accord, the Toledo Museum of Art emphasized:


While this, two years in the making, cultural agreement should (rightly) be applauded as a positive step in the right direction in resolving Italy's ownership claim and in generating a positive stream of collaboration in a situation originating in controversy, it is just the first of many needed steps.  It is my hope that the administration at the Toledo Museum of Art will fully embrace and exercise its institutional responsibility to responsible acquisition, past and present, in the spirit of this cultural cooperation whether their acquisitions be by purchase, gift, bequest, or exchange.  

Doing the right thing starts with museums acknowledging the need to return contested objects directly identified by researchers which match irrefutable photographic evidence of looting. But this is just a small part of establishing and/or enforcing an ethical collection management policy.  Not all suspect antiquities found within this or other museums come with disparaging confiscated photographic evidence in the form of archival records of former traffickers.  Some objects, equally attributable to some of the same trafficking networks come simply with a list of unprovable claims of provenance and scant documentation substantiating prior ownership or licit exportation.  

It is these objects, the ones that do not pass the smell test, that must be rigorously and openly examined, to ensure their acquisition and accessioning is merit worthy, informed and defensible.  By addressing these "tween" objects, Toledo can truly earn international recognition by acting humanely, honourably and courageously in righting the wrongs of their past, and in doing so demonstrate a genuine commitment to their intention to preserve and safeguard material culture and addressing how museums have contributed to the phenomenon of the plunder. 

By Lynda Albertson

May 5, 2019

Highlights from "The Art of Saving Art: Fragments of Italian History"


In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Carabinieri Command for Cultural Heritage on May 3, 1969, the Palazzo del Quirinale will play host to a unique exhibition, "The Art of Saving Art: Fragments of Italian History" from today through July 14, 2019.   

This exhibition serves to highlight the work of the Carabinieri Corps in protecting and restituting works of art, as well as to emphasize the foresight of Italian authorities in their establishment of the world's first cultural heritage crime-fighting unit, one year prior to the establishment of the famous 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property.  


As the most active cultural heritage law enforcement division in the world, the Carabinieri TPC unit has grown from an initial team of 16 officers to approximately 270 officers today, working in fifteen field offices located in Ancona, Bari, Bologna, Cagliari, Cosenza , Florence, Genoa, Monza, Naples, Palermo, Perugia, Rome, Turin, Udine, Venice, plus a subsection in Siracusa.  Divided into three working units the “Archaeological Section”, the “Antiquities Section”, and the “Contemporary Art and Anti-Counterfeiting Section” each of the triad are tasked with preventing criminal actions involving works of art.  

The exhibit, curated by Francesco Buranelli, is open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 until 16:00.  On display are some of the most important and story-worthy recoveries made by the squad during the last half century including: 

The Madonna of Senigallia, a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca which was stolen in February 1975 from the Ducal Palace in Urbino when thieves scaled the Palazzo's walls with the help of scaffolding and broke in through a window.   This artwork was later recovered after a year-long multi-country investigation which eventually lead the Carabinieri officers from Urbino to Rome and lastly to a hotel in Locarno, Switzerland.  As a result of their investigation four individuals from Italy, Germany and Switzerland were arrested and ultimately charged.

The Euphronios krater - This attic pottery masterpiece was trafficked out of Cerveteri and sold by Giacomo Medici and Robert Hecht Jr. to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for one million dollars in 1972.  Once defined by Thomas Hoving as “one of the ten greatest creations of the Western civilizations.” This  Greek vessel, which dates back to 515 B.C.E, was repatriated to Italy following a landmark agreement in February 2006 between the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Two years after the agreement was penned, the krater finally came home to Italy on January 15, 2008.

A Fourth-century BC sculptural group of two griffins attacking a fallen doe Pictured at left in a seized Polaroid photograph recovered by law enforcement authorities in a Geneva raid, this photograph depicts the now disgraced antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici standing alongside this important antiquity.   Plundered from a tomb near Ascoli Satriano, in Foggia, and photographed, freshly plundered, in the boot of a tomborolo's car, the sculpture was purchased by Giacomo Medici.  He in turn sold the griffins on to fellow antiquities dealers known to launder illicit art Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.  Symes and Michaelides then sold the artwork on to one of their many US clients, Maurice Tempelsman, who eventually negotiated a sale with the John P. Getty Museum.

Le Jardinier by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen on May 19, 1998 from Rome's prestigious Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna during an armed robbery just after the 10 pm closing time. This painting was recovered several months later, on July 5, 1998 at an apartment in the periphery of Rome.   Eight individuals were eventually charged and sentenced for their involvement in the museum's theft.

The Capitoline Triad, pictured at the top of this article, is a group of three deities who were worshipped in ancient Roman religion.  This famous triad was found by a well known tombarolo from Anguillara Sabazia named Pietro Casasanta who heavily worked, along with a squad of paid subordinates, (paying off locals to keep quiet) in the area of L'Inviolata from 1970 onward. 

Through informants, who were involved in the clandestine excavation, it was later determined that the Capitoline Triad was excavated in 1992 by Casasanta and two other accomplices, Moreno De Angelis and Carlo Alberto Chiozzi.  The trio had been digging in a pit near L'Inviolata alongside an ancient Roman wall belonging to either a temple or a patrician villa.  Casasanta then tried to shop the object to Edoardo Almagià, who passed on its purchase. 

Casasanta then brokered a deal via the now deceased Lugano dealer Mario Bruno who was to then act as the intermediary dealer to a then unnamed buyer who would eventually sell the object onward.  The piece was subsequently shipped to Switzerland in an anonymous van transported by two smugglers on Casasanta's payroll, Ermenegildo Foroni and Sergio Rossi.  Prior to that it had been hidden away in a warehouse for a furniture moving company called "Speedy International Transport".

Moreno De Angelis, unhappy with his cut, went to the Carabinieri of Castel di Guido and told the Station Commander about the find which is where Carabinieri Officer Roberto Lai's investigation got its starting point.  Moreno was later stopped near L'Inviolata with fragments in his car, that were matched the triad.  The carabinieri kept these details hidden during their investigation as they were concerned that the intermediaries might try and file down the sections of the triad if they knew there were known matching pieces of the triad which could tie them into the criminal conspiracy.

This video records a series of self serving interviews given by Casasanta where he actually points out the location of the find spot.


This exhibition includes many other other works of art not highlighted in this blog post for sake of brevity, each with their own fabulous story to tell.  They include works of art stolen from churches, museums, archaeological areas, libraries and archives.  So if you are in Rome this summer be sure to make some time to stop in.

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 24, 2019

4 of 6 individuals, believed to be tied to a Pink Panther operating cell, head to trail in the jewel heist at the Doge's Palace in Venice.


Following up on the museum jewel heist which occurred during the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition at the Doge's Palace in Venice in January 2018.   

On January 3, 2018 jewelry worth an estimated €2m (£1.7m) was stolen from a display case at the museum palace of the Doge of Venice during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery which occurred shortly after ten in the morning on the last day of the exhibition. Taken during the theft were a pair of pear-shaped 30.2-carat diamond earrings in a platinum setting along with an equally weighty 10 carat, grade D diamond and ruby pendant brooch.  Both items belonged to His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, who is the first cousin of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.  

According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, the Italian authorities had long suspected that the thieves behind the museum theft might have had inside help and were likely part of a criminal network made up of associates from the former Yugoslavia, sometimes referred to as "the Pink Panthers".  This network, working in small yet coordinated cells, are believed to be responsible for some 200+ robberies spanning 35 countries over the last two decades.  Some thefts, like that at the Doge's palace, have been discreet, 60-second affairs.  Others have been armed robberies or have involved automobiles being rammed into glass storefronts.  In total the thieves are believed to have made off with an estimated €500 million in jewels and gemstones, much of which has never been recovered.

But everyone knows that good police work sometimes requires patience. 

Following months of investigations by the mobile squad of the Venice Police Headquarters and the  Central Operational Service of the Central Anti-crime Directorate of the State Police, working alongside prosecutor Raffaele Incardona, six suspects were ultimately identified by the Italian authorities. Between November 7 and November 8, 2018 five of these men, including four Croatians and one Serb, were taken into custody in Croatia in a coordinated action involving Police Directorates in Zagreb and Istra based upon European arrest warrants issued for the suspect's related to their alleged involvement in the Venice museum theft. 

Five of those named by Italian authorities are believed to have visited the Doge's Palace in Venice on two test-run occasions prior to the actual theft.  Their first visit occurred on December 30, 2018 and their second on the day before the robbery.   Each time the team apparently tried to steal jewelry from the exhibition without success or were practicing in advance of the final event. 

Vinko Tomic
The brains behind the heist is purported to be 60-year-old Vinko Tomic, who goes by several other names, including Vinko Osmakčić and Juro Markelic.  No stranger to crime Tomic has already been connected with other million dollar hits.  Tomic has been implicated in the thefts of $1m worth of diamond watches in Honolulu, the heist of the $1m Millennium Necklace in Las Vegas, the filching of three rings, collectively worth £2m in London, and other high value jewel heists in Hong Kong, Monaco and Switzerland.  

When appearing in court in connection with one prior offense, Tomic made a statement to the presiding judge that he was a war veteran originally from the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina who was wounded in battle in 1995 and who fled, first to Croatia and later to Germany.  There,  unable to find work, he stated he eventually turned to a life of crime, though he managed to provide for his family and put his brother through school. 

For Italian law enforcement their biggest break in the case came as a result of a slip up on the part of the gang's leader.  According to chief prosecutor Bruno Cherchi, the Venice police chief Danilo Gagliardi, and Alessandro Giuliano, director of the Central Operational Service of the Central Anti-crime Directorate of the State Police, who spoke at a press conference on the investigation, officers identified a Facebook photo of Tomic wearing an identical ring to the one he was wearing when captured on CCTV footage at the Doge's Palace in Venice. 

Tomic's alleged accomplices to the Venice jewel theft are listed here:

Zvonko Grgić
Zvonko Grgić (age 43) whose now static Facebook profile lists him as an armed security contractor available for global security around the world. 

Želimir Grbavac
Želimir Grbavac, (age 48), who, according to Croatian news sources appears to have lived a discreet existence, operating an electrician business. 

Vladimir Đurkin (age 48), also Croatian.

and two Serbs, Dragan Mladenović (age 54) and Goran Perović (age 48).

Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac were arrested on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 in Zagreb, while Đurkin was brought in for questioning in Istria. Mladenović was initially apprehended near the Serb-Croatian border and detained in Croatian police custody, only to escape while in police custody via a bathroom window on November 8, 2018.  How this happened while he was in police custody has been subject to controversy. 

On the basis of their European arrest warrants, three of the Croatians, Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac were quickly transferred to Italy to stand trial. 

A month and a half after their arrest in Croatia, on December 23, 2019 Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac made their initial appearance in Italian court before preliminary investigations judge David Calabria and maintained their right to remain silent.  Vinko Tomic was represented by lawyers Guido Simonetti and Simone Zancani.  Zvonko Grgić was represented by lawyer Marina Ottaviani and Želimir Grbavac was represented by lawyer Mariarosa Cozza.  

Fighting his extradition, Vladimir Đurkin was finally transferred to the Italian authorities on February 8, 2019.  The presiding judge has ruled that all four defendants will remain in custody at the prison of Santa Maria Maggiore in Venice pending the outcome of their upcoming trial. 

Serbian Dragan Mladenović and the final identified accomplice, Goran Perović, are believed to be in Serbia where they are untouchable by a European Arrest Warrant, a Convention which governs extradition requests between the 28 member states that make up the European Union (EU).  With no agreement between Italy and Serbia on judicial cooperation, there seems little chance that these two remaining accomplices will be extradited to Italy to stand trial.

And His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani's jewels? 

International insurers Lloyd's of London has indemnified the Al Thani Foundation, as the owner of the stolen brooch and earrings and has payed out a claim of 8 million and 250 thousand dollars making the firm the owners of the jewellery, should they be recovered.  As a result the insurers will likely become a civil party in the future trial of the alleged perpetrators.

Unfortunately the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" have never been found. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 16, 2019

A film about the king of counterfeiters, Forger Eric Hebborn

Photo of Eric Hebborn from his Facebook Page. 
By Lynda Albertson. 

Those who study art crime already know about the mysterious death, on a rainy morning in Rome, of the king of counterfeiters, art fraudster Eric Hebborn.   But was his death at the hands of the Mafia, poor drunken coordination, or, a lack of follow-up care at the hospital?  How the famous forger died has long been debated, despite evidence pointing clearly to the latter.  Splashed across art newspapers and major news outlets this weeks, articles are popping up about an upcoming ambitious TV drama that is set to highlight the famous con man and the suspicion of mafia involvement in his 1996 death in Trastevere. 

But just who is Eric Hebborn and how did he die?

Eric Hebborn was a wiley and talented artist, who got his first taste for paintings fraud creating pencil drawings of Augustus John based on a drawing of a child by Andrea Schiavone.  Plying his trade at important London galleries, once exposed he admitted to having created numerous fake works of art, some of which he passed off as Rubens, Breughel, Castiglione, Corot, Mantegna, Piranesi, Schiavone, and even van Dyck.  

Many of the works Hebborn created came from the study of known, extant paintings from famous artists which he then recreated, passing his own art off as preparatory drawings for already known and renowned paintings and artists.  Making a healthy living with his artful deception, Hebborn was ultimately undone when the London art firm Colnaghi realized that the Pierpont Morgan “Cossa” they had purchased from him turned out to be identical to the National Gallery’s “Sperandio”.   With a little more digging it turned out that the “Sperandio” too was obtained from Hebborn. 

At the time of his death in 1996, the by-then-retired con man was considered to be one of the world's most prolific, as well as mouthy, art forgers in history.  Bold even in self-admitted guilt, he expressed no regret for his actions.  

As if to poke the art world in its pompous eye, Hebborn celebrated his prowess by penning Il Manuale del Falsario, an amusing memoir written in Italian shortly before his death.  The book, later translated into English, spelled out for readers, in minute detail, the ways in which he had created works of art forensically indistinguishable from the masterworks of previous centuries.

In describing the motivation for writing the book Hebborn wrote: 

"I wrote this practical manual to satisfy many people eager to learn an art that, apparently, arouses considerable interest: that of forging paintings and drawings. Not a week goes by without a letter or a phone call from someone asking advice on how to create "new ancient works" and it is natural that I cannot answer them all personally. If these pages satisfy the requests of those enthusiasts, I can say that I have achieved my goal". 

Posthumously Hebborn is seen by art crime experts as an artist who failed to gain their own notoriety and who faked art works to ridicule the art world's self-inflated connoisseurship. When first unmasked in 1978 Hebborn was sarcastically quoted as saying “how expert can these experts be if they can’t tell one of my drawings.” And throughout his brief lifetime he seemed to draw unadulterated pleasure at exposing art experts as wishful dunces.  


ARCA Founder Noah Charney, in his book The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of the Master Forgers elaborates that Hebborn delved increasingly into forgery, possibly in revenge specifically against the storied Colnaghi Gallery, believing that the firm had intentionally cheated him by buying his artworks on the cheap only to turn around and sell them for substantially higher figures.  Failing to gain recognition as an artist in his own right, despite winning prizes as a student at the Royal Academy Schools, Hebborn went on to successfully falsify works of art for decades.  By the time his handiwork was finally noticed, he had reportedly created upwards of 1000 artworks in a range of styles and periods from Giovanni Castiglione to David Hockney and sold his fabrications on through world-ranking galleries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 

The Forger's Death

Image capture of Eric Hebborn from the documentary
Eric Hebborn - Portrait of a Master Forger
Hebborn lived in Italy for more than 30 years, first in the bucolic medieval hilltop village of Anticoli Corrado, to the east of Rome, and toward the end of his life in a loft apartment in Trastevere.  His love life was stormy and his latent alcoholism well known among those who loved and or befriended him. 

Prior to his death, acquaintances acknowledged that his excessive drinking had already lead to at least one blackout, where he is known to have fallen, striking his head hard on an iron table.  With all the tell-tale signs of a high-bottom drunk, Hebborn paid little heed to well-meaning doctors and friends who were worried about his health and his burgeoning alcoholism and who acknowledged with increasing concern, the red patches blotching his face, his poor hygiene and his unkempt beard and attire.

On the night of January 9, 1996 Hebborn reportedly visited a local enoteca near his home, one that he frequented regularly.  The painter sat for a while and is said to have drunk a few glasses of red wine as was often his practice as a regular patron at the establishment.  As he departed, reportedly between 8:30 and 9 pm, he told the proprietor "I'm going to dinner" before walking out into the cool winter's night.   Some say he was with someone that evening though no one has ever come forward to admit who this individual might have been or if this recollection was accurate or not. 

On that January night, the evening was enveloped with rain and in the semi-darkness and downpour, law enforcement hypothesize that the forger may have stumbled on the street or perhaps passed out, overcome by alcohol he had consumed.  Hebborn struck his head hard on the pavement not far from the bronze statue dedicated to the Roman poet Trilussa, which gives his name to the small piazza near where Hebborn was found, along the Tiber river. 

The forger was discovered lying in the rain just after midnight the following morning.  Scruffily dressed in clothing soaked with rainwater and smelling of alcohol and old sweat, he did not appear to have been assaulted in an attempted robbery as his wallet and credit cards were found on his person.  Suspecting him to be a simple drunken street tramp, he was hoisted up with only a cursory look and transported eventually to San Giacomo Hospital to sober up.  

There Hebborn died from internal bleeding without waking up and without a medical examination or treatment as medical staff appeared to have overlooked his fractured skull as his hair was wet from the puddles of rain he was found laying in. 

Eric Hebborn with one of the greatest loves of his life,
the pup Emma. 
Twenty plus years after his post-mortem examination, the forger's life, and the events surrounding his squalid death, which likely occurred simply due to the general indifference of a hospital in Rome, still creates serve as the cinematic backdrop to a sad, but infinitely intriguing, story. 

April 11, 2019

The "Portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti," stolen 32 years ago from Palazzo Chigi, is finally home

Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo with Arch. Francesco Petrucci at Palazzo Chigi
On Wednesday, April 10th, in a formal restitution celebration, Lieutenant Angelo Giovanni Busciglio, Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo, and Deputy Brigadier Filippo Vassallo, of the Carabinieri Nucleus for the Protection of Cultural Heritage - Palermo, were honoured for their recovery efforts during a ceremony held at Palazzo Chigi, in the historic center of Ariccia.

Recovered Portrait if Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti, Palazzo Chigi - 10 April 2019
The unit was directly responsible for the discovery and return of an oil-on-canvas portrait depicting Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti (1649-1718), the wife of marchese Cesare Baldinotti, which once hung in the palace's stanza delle belle and had been stolen from the historic palazzo 32 years ago, along with 20 other works of art.  Portraiture of well bred ladies, those that made up the so-called galleria delle belle or cabinets des dames, were leitmotiv in the furnishing of noble residences during the seventeenth century.

Federico Fellini, immortalized next to
the portrait in Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle".
The painting is attributed to Jacob Ferdinand Voet, a Flemish portrait painter from the Baroque period who is known for his portraits. The artist had an international career, which brought him to both Italy and France where he made portraits for members of elite families and appears to be strikingly similar to another portrait of the Marchioness which likely helped with the unsigned artwork's attribution and identification.  After training in Paris, Voet spent time in Rome, then Florence, and lastly Turin before returning, first to Antwerp in 1684 and later in 1686, to Paris where he was called as a painter of the French court. The Marchioness was the daughter of Felice Angelo Ghezzi, the Duke of Carpignano and Baron Zullino. On April 17, 1667, she married the Marquis Cesare Baldinotti di Pistoia (1636-1728) who was the Duke of Pescorocchiano.

Matching portraits of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti
The painting was located on the art market by Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo of the Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) in Palermo in the sales inventory of an antiques dealer in Palermo.  During a series of investigative procedures, as well as a crosscheck of records within the Carabinieri Leonardo Stolen Art database, and with architect Francesco Petrucci, who is the conservator of works of art at Palazzo Chigi, the law enforcement officer's match was validated and the antiquarian questioned by the Carabinieri.   Giving an implausible answer as to how and where he had acquired the stolen painting and unable to substantiate a legitimate claim to the portrait, the painting was seized in the Autumn of 2018.

Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle" then

During their investigations the Carabinieri squad in Sicily also identified a second individual from Marsala, who along with the antiquarian was referred to the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Court of Palermo where both have been denounced for receiving stolen goods.

Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle" now

As a painter Voet was highly sought after and had numerous followers and imitators, many who copied his style of portraiture of well bred ladies.

April 6, 2019

Interview with Aubrey Catrone, ARCA's 2018 Program Assistant

By Edgar Tijhuis

In 2019, the ARCA program will be held from May 31 through August 15, 2019 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months up to the start of the program, a number of this years professors is as well as other staff of ARCA will interviewed. This time I speak with Aubrey Catrone, who served as ARCA's program assistant for the 2018 program.

Can you tell us something about your background?

Can you tell us something about your background? Growing up in Boston, in the shadow of the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist, I have always had a strong passion for the intersection of art, history, and crime. It is this enduring multidisciplinary approach to the art world that has helped shape my career and development as a provenance researcher. From an academic standpoint, I predominantly focused on the history of the Second World War, the French language, art crime, and art history. When I first attended the ARCA Postgraduate Program, it helped broaden my knowledge of the art market. It also further piqued my interest regarding the restitution of art looted in France during the Second World War. My MA in History of Art from University College London enabled me to explore my relationship with the history of art objects. In between what has undoubtedly been thousands of trips to the library, I have worked in art galleries and with art advisories, private collectors, non-profits, and academics. 

You have been ARCA's program assistant in the 2018. Can you tell us about your experiences in this role in Amelia?

Having stayed in Amelia as a participant and an alumna prior to this summer, working as the Program Assistant was definitely quite a shift in my experience with ARCA and Amelia in general. Serving as a critical point of contact for visitors, professors and students meant that I became far more acquainted with the city than I had been before. I can tell you the perfect route to take to get to where you need to go on festival days. I know which bar has the best WiFi. And, I’ve learned enough Italian to confidently travel throughout the countryside on my own. 

In anticipation of a summer in Italy, what do you recommend for participants to prepare for a summer of study in a small town? 

Patience. Amelia is an old city that enchants with its many charms but also infuriates you. Don’t panic when the internet cuts out and a project is due. In the fast-paced, electronically dominated society that we live in, remember to take a breath, smell the sunflowers, and enjoy the opportunity to unplug for a bit. Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO, also reminds participants that their largest retrievable databases are their professors as well as their fellow program participants. These sources can be accessed without the need for gigabyte data plans or modern technological accoutrements.

What makes the yearly ARCA PG Cert program unique? 

It is one of the only places in the world where postgraduate students of all ages can come to learn from and interact with world-renowned experts in the field of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Unlike programs in larger cities such as Rome, where teachers and students alike leave the classroom and go their separate ways, Amelia is small enough to bring everyone together on daily basis. Unlike large university settings, it’s a truly intimate environment where the experts are always accessible to share their knowledge and advice beyond the classroom, whether it's over coffee, dinner, or wine. It’s an enriching experience that endures beyond the summer months. 

Is it also possible to audit just one or two of the classes of the program? 

While each course can stand alone, the organisation of the summer program crescendos. For those looking for the full immersion experience, each course builds upon the next to create an in-depth understanding of art crime and cultural heritage protection. But, if someone has singular interests or goals, or less liberty to spend a full summer abroad, the opportunity to audit a single course can also provide unique benefits. 

While the participants always learn a lot in Amelia, what do you learn from them? 

With so many backgrounds and ages represented each year, everyone comes to Amelia with their own academic interests and cultural backgrounds. Over the summer months, Amelia becomes a melting pot for the sharing of ideas. I have heard stories ranging from archaeological digs in Syria, to the ofttimes unbelievable anecdotes of art detectives, to the way New Zealand smells in the summertime.

Which course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

I’m always torn by this question. Marc Masurovsky’s work with provenance and Holocaust-era assets is something I am continually fascinated by and constantly starved to absorb. However, my summer schedule has yet to align with Christos Tsirogiannis’s course on illicit antiquities, a fascinating subject, and one I would be incredibly interested to incorporate into my research capabilities. 

What is your experience with the ARCA conference in June? 

The breadth of subject-matter covered over a single weekend by an international group of academics and experts is unprecedented. Speakers hail from the world’s most prestigious cultural heritage institutions while also including accomplished independent researchers. But, there is also time to enjoy the Italian countryside with organised dinners and cocktails, offering the opportunity to converse with colleagues in a relaxed social environment set against an Umbrian vista. 

Is there anything you can recommend for future students to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

I would always suggest that participants take advantage of the immersive experience. Become an Amerini (the name for the locals of Amelia). Hike through blooming sunflowers. Decorate the streets during Corpus Domini. Try as many local delicacies as your palette allows (affordable truffles and freshly made cheese are not easily attainable luxuries outside of Italy). Go on excursions. And, above all, be curious while you have the chance.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org

Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana (Slovenia). He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

April 2, 2019

Beautiful April Fools Day pranks and still no sign of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi


Yesterday, it appears that the art and museum world ran amok with April Fools Day fake news on the whereabouts of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.

Tongue-in-cheek April 1st reports claimed that the "missing" $450m painting is hanging in US President Trump's private quarters at the White House.   Another  reported that Abu Dhabi planned to trade the painting to neighboring emirate Qatar in exchange for Paris Saint Germain soccer player, footballer Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, the Brazilian forward.   Neither of course are true.   While its location remains a mystery, the tale of the Salvator Mundi is a complicated one of power, intrigue, betrayal and seemingly immeasurable sums of money ARCA is continuing to follow the controversy surrounding the world's most expensive painting.


April 1, 2019

Two years later and no sign of the Lindauers?


Two years ago, on the morning of Saturday, 1 April 2017, a stolen Ford Courier utility vehicle drove up Parnell Road close to the city centre in Auckland, New Zealand between 3:30 and 4:00 am.  As it neared the International Art Centre, it then turned and reversed twice into a large plate glass window, at the front of the gallery.  Having smashed in the window, the driver of the Ford and a second suspect, who appeared on the scene at the same time driving a white 2016 Holden Commodore, entered the gallery through the broken window.

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
Wearing bandanas, black gloves and dark sweatshirts, the pair climbed through the broken window and snatched two iconic Māori portraits: one of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure and another of Chief Ngatai-Raure loading them into the back of the Holden Commodore.  The artworks, by 19th century Bohemian-born and Viennese-educated émigré artist Gottfried Lindauer, were meant to be the centerpieces of an upcoming auction.  Stolen in less than a minute, the paintings were valued at around NZ $350,000 - $450,000 each.

CCTV footage of thieves
Image Credit: Auckland City Police
The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chief Ngatai-Raure was painted in 1884 and shows the Māori chief adorned with two Huia feathers and a pounamu earring holding a greenstone mere. The portrait of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure, also painted in 1884 shows the Māori chieftainess wearing a cloak.  Her hair is adorned with two Huia feathers and wearing a hei-tiki necklace with one visible pounamu earring.

At the time of the brazen theft, art world figures expressed dismay at the loss, and characterised Lindauer’s works as “mesmerising and … a significant and critically important record of Maori culture.”  And while immediate and extensive publicity both in New Zealand and elsewhere ensured that a legitimate mainstream sale or disposal of the artworks was unlikely, two years one the two works of art remain missing. 

Any information on the thieves or the white 2016 Holden Commodore should be reported to Auckland City Police or anonymously via the New zealand Crimestoppers tip line: 0800 555 111.