September 15, 2014

The European Shoah Legacy Institute and its Mission to Recover Looted Art

By Halyna Senyk, Executive Director

The Holocaust-Era Assets Conference of June 2009 in Prague and the resulting Terezin Declaration endorsed by forty-seven countries reaffirmed the crying need for addressing issues surround the restitution and compensation of looted art. Beginning in the 1930’s, the Nazi regime was responsible for the confiscation, theft, and sale of hundreds of thousands – and potentially millions - of objects of art and other items of cultural property from public and private collections throughout the occupied territories of Europe. The scale and scope of such systematic looting was unprecedented in history. Many of these items were either stolen or otherwise obtained through duress from the private collections of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. A significant number of important objects were also looted from public and private museum collections.

Some of the stolen works eventually entered the personal collections of high-ranking Nazi officials; many others were destined for Hitler’s unrealised Führermuseum complex in Linz; countless more were simply sold for hard currency to be used to support the Nazi war effort. Although Allied policy after the war called for the return of these stolen artworks, an untold number were not returned and instead remained in governments collections. Many were resold or otherwise dispersed; others still have never been found.

Legal claims by the heirs and descendants of Holocaust victims whose art and other cultural objects were looted by the Nazis, along with analogous claims by foreign ‘source’ countries for objects similarly misappropriated, have significantly contributed to the importance of provenance research as it relates to the due diligence and legality involved in acquiring artworks that are known or suspected of having originated out of Nazi Germany or occupied Europe. 

Provenance research has long been a pivotal facet of the private art market with auction houses, major galleries, and private collectors all recognising the need for accurate and reliable provenance on artworks and other cultural objects offered for sale. This is almost exclusively due to the fact that complete and precise provenance is necessary for establishing the authenticity of a piece available for sale, which in turn influences valuation for both vending and insurance purposes. Little regard or interest is paid to the question of whether the current possessor of a piece has the right to pass title in said piece to a third party purchaser. This small but potentially damaging oversight – given the international nature of the private art market – can result in significant financial, legal, and reputational damage to both the inculpable seller and the good faith purchaser. As a multi-billion dollar industry, the art market can no longer afford to neglect its onerous duty to be ethical, accountable, and transparent when it comes to analysing the full and complete provenance of individual objects offered for private sale.

The European Shoah LegacyInstitute (ESLI) strives to actualise the objectives of the Terezin Declaration through a variety of activities (including training workshops, international conferences, and research) relating to looted art, Judaica, and other cultural property illegally misappropriated during the Second World War. To ensure that appropriate international regard is paid to the importance of the ongoing development of provenance, ESLI has been engaged in the following activities:
·      Organizing training programs in Europe and the Americas that develop and refine critical research and analytical skills in the emerging discipline of provenance research (the documentation of the ownership history of an art object from creation to the present day);
·    Organizing national conferences in cooperation with relevant Ministries of Culture on restitution of cultural property and provenance research at the national level;
·    Facilitating the creation of an independent, international association of provenance researchers and allied professionals; and
·      Promoting provenance research as a mandatory component of collection management practices across all forty-seven Terezin Declaration countries.
The Provenance Research TrainingProgram (PRTP) – created by ESLI in 2011 with the support of the Jewish Claims Conference – aims to empower professionals working within provenance research and its related fields to connect and cooperate in the proliferation of relevant skills and knowledge; the development of professional standards and an industry code of conduct; and the furtherance of provenance as an independent, respected, and self-regulating professional industry. Each year the program offers several week-long workshops taught by internationally renowned specialists with expertise in provenance research and related fields, structured around the complementary themes of research, history, and ethics. In addition to facilitating research and providing access to a vast array of information, the program will promote the establishment of international networks of provenance researchers that will bring together experts in all relevant fields and countries.

Through post-workshop analysis and reviews, ESLI discovered that a regrettable lack of appropriate funding for provenance research across state museums, private galleries, and other institutions has resulted in significant difficulties for PRTP alumni in adequately applying their new skills productively and effectively.  For this reason, ESLI intends to address the European Parliament Committee on Culture and Education – along with relevant federal Ministries of Culture – to advocate for the increased availability of funding and the establishment of provenance research as a mandatory aspect of collection management practices at the national level. Furthermore, ESLI is planning to work with legislators to raise awareness about the importance of provenance and the necessity of supporting provenance research across both existing and potential future collections.

Through the PRTP, ESLI is hoping to address the concern that provenance research, as an emerging industry, is a highly unregulated and improvised field with minimal regulatory oversight and no established code of conduct or professional standards. Institutions working within this field operate independently and without inter-organisational coordination resulting in a significant duplication of work, whilst the lack of structured and established professional standards frequently results in the production of work to inconsistent levels of quality and detail. Such extensive incongruence amongst so many professionals within a single field severely hampers any real advancement towards the development of a unified community of experts and the establishment of a recognised and respected professional industry.

These projects are vital to facilitating the continued advancement of full and complete provenance research as an obligatory benchmark of professional progress for museums, auction houses, and private galleries. ESLI is an important facilitator of the establishment of an international, independent professional association capable of creating a framework for self-regulation that will enhance development in this field. As inaccurate provenance may potentially result in a transmutation of title, impartiality and independence are absolutely vital in securing confidence and respectability.

ESLI believes this will be achieved by providing professional staff from these institutions - through the Provenance Research Training Program - with the knowledge and skills necessary to understand the importance and techniques of provenance research, whilst simultaneously encouraging the development of a professional body of provenance researchers by facilitating dialogue and networking amongst professionals working in this field.

Last but not least, ESLI has been monitoring adherence to the principles espoused in the Terezin Declaration by creating a database on relevant legislation and its implementation across all five fields covered by the Declaration in the forty-seven member countries. It is our intention to cooperate with analogous organizations similarly engaged in the collection and collation of pertinent data to ensure a constant stream of up-to-date information.

The European Shoah Legacy Institute believes in synergy, cooperation, mutual understanding, and consensus. Our organization was founded on the consensus of forty-seven governments and will continue cooperating with governments, as well as national and intergovernmental organizations on promoting provenance.

September 8, 2014

Next Provenance Research Training Program workshop to be held December 8-12, 2014 in Rome

The next Provenance Research Training Program workshop will be in Rome from December 8-12, 2014. From the PRTP's website:
The Provenance Research Training Program (PRTP) is a project of the European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI) created by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in furtherance of the Holocaust Era Assets Conference held in Prague in 2009 and the resulting Terezin Declaration endorsed by 47 countries. The program focuses on provenance research and related issues concerning Nazi-looted art, Judaica, and other cultural property. It provides advanced training to serve the international community of current and future experts engaged in dealing with issues concerning cultural plunder during the Third Reich, the Holocaust and World War II. Each year the program offers week-long workshops that provide an intensive historical overview of cultural plunder—its evolution and implementation; methodological training, including specialized research in public and private archives; a presentation and discussion of legal concepts and instrumentalities at national and international levels, including political, moral and ethical issues and restitution policies and principles. In addition to facilitating research and providing access to a vast array of information, the program will promote the establishment of international networks of provenance researchers that will bring together experts in all relevant fields and countries.
The next workshop of the Provenance Research Training Program will take place in Rome, Italy, in December 8-12, 2014, in conjunction with the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Provenance Research Training Program provides advanced training in provenance research and related issues concerning Nazi-looted art, Judaica, and other cultural property. Intensive workshops repeated several times a year in different locations across Europe and the Americas provide advanced training for the international community of current and future experts engaged in dealing with issues concerning cultural plunder during the Third Reich, the Holocaust and World War II. Taught by internationally known specialists who have developed their expertise in provenance research and restitution matters since the late 1980’s, each workshop is articulated around research, history, and ethics. The workshop will focus on: Analytical and methodological tools that can serve to apprehend the complexity of the topics under study, to visualize patterns, and to compare these processes and their international impact; The impact of cultural plunder on collection management practices in museums and other cultural institutions; A core understanding of displacements of cultural objects in pre-war Europe, wartime plunder and its impact on collecting practices and the international art market, and postwar efforts to recover looted cultural assets; The ethical implications of cultural plunder during the Nazi era, current international policies, and art trade practices. To apply please go to the online application. The application deadline is September 22, 2014.

September 4, 2014

Canada's Largest Art Theft: The 42nd anniversary of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Gustave Courbet, French, 1819-77
Landscape with rocks and stream, 1873
Oil on canvas, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 inches
Lady Allan Bequest, 1958
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of Canada's largest art theft, the unsolved 1972 burglary of the prestigious Montreal Museum of Fine Art. 

Readers may find an overview of the theft in last year's post on the ARCA blog. If you would like additional information, here's a blog dedicated to the art crime, including a list of the stolen paintings by Jan Breughel the Elder, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Honoré Daumier, Ferdinand-Victor-Eugène Delacroix, Narcisse-Virgile de la Peña, Thomas Gainsborough, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Jean-François Millet, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, Rembrandt van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens, and François-André Vincent. The thieves had selected twice as many more paintings -- what one witness guessed was an intention to clean out the collection -- but had dropped many when spooked into running away by a secondary alarm.

This theft, first brought to my attention in Ulrich Boser's book "The Gardner Theft" -- about the infamous unsolved 1990 Boston case -- had been widely publicized hours after the theft by Bill Bantey, an experienced journalist who was then serving as the museum's director of public relations. In 2009, when I wrote about the Montreal theft for a paper for ARCA (under the supervision of Anthony Amore), Boser directed me to the retired Bantey who was endlessly patient with my questions, my theories, and my attempts to understand the relevance of the theft. Bill Bantey read my 20,000 word report, leaving his comments in the margins -- either his opinions or corrections on grammar -- and when I was in Montreal cooked a five-course meal for his wife and I. Both Bill and his wife Judy have since passed away so it is on this anniversary that I mourn the death of a generous and fascinating couple as I hope that the paintings will someday become available again to the public -- from wherever they have been hidden -- whether in a nearby Montreal neighborhood or a Central American country.

Retired Montreal police officer Alain Lacoursière investigated the case decades after the theft. Three years ago Lacoursière received a video from his prime suspect, the one depicted in the book (biography) and film, L'Colombe de l'art. Otherwise, no other information has been made public.

September 1, 2014

Miami New Times' Michael E. Miller reports FBI delayed return of Stolen Matisse to Venezuela over 'hole in its history'

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

According to the FBI, the Henri Matisse painting “Odalisque in Red Pants" stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSI)) in Venezuela in December 2002 was recovered in an undercover operation in Miami on July 16, 2012. Two men were arrested and later convicted (see USDOJ here and the ARCA post here). Four days ago, Michael E. Miller reported (Aug. 28) in The Miami New Times that the "FBI Delayed Returning Stolen Matisse Painting to Venezuela Over Concerns It Was Looted by Nazis":
"There was a concern that it may have been subject to Nazi looting," says Special Agent Robert Giczy, a member of the FBI's art crime unit and one of the agents involved in the odalisque investigation. "There was a hole in its history from 1931 to 1959," he said. "The Third Reich was 1933 to 1945. So we had a responsibility to ensure the status of the painting was [kosher]." "It was like trying to find the hole in a donut: something that just wasn't there," Giczy said. With assistance from the Getty Research Institute in California, the Art Loss Register in London, and the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) in New York, the FBI determined in April of 2014 that the painting had not been stolen by Nazis but had been privately owned in London and America during that period. "That freed the painting so that it was available for repatriation," Giczy said.
Miller wrote a longer article on the theft in "Chavez, Matisse, and the Heist that Shook the Americas" (August 27, 2014). 

August 16, 2014

Listen to 'Art Crime with Arthur Tompkins: Portrait of Wally' on Radio New Zealand

Judge Tompkins
ARCA Lecturer Judge Arthur Tompkins, a New Zealand District Court Judge and member of Interpol's DNA Monitoring Expert Group, discusses the theft of Portrait of Wally, the 1912 oil painting by Austrian painter Egon Schiele.



Andrew Shea's documentary film "Portrait of Wally" was reviewed in the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime. More information on this film can be found here, here, and here.

Last month, Judge Tompkins spoke to Kim Hill about the theft of the 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted by Gustav Klimt on Radio New Zealand.

August 11, 2014

The Times Magazine: Alexi Mostrous writes about Julian Radcliffe and the Art Loss Register in "The murky world of the art detective"

In Britain's magazine for The Times, Alexi Mostrous discusses the controversy surrounding Art Loss Register's founder Julian Radcliffe and alleged payments to art thieves in "The murky world of the art detective" (August 9, 2014). Mostrous reports that the Art Loss Register 'claims to have returned more than £150 million worth of paintings, artefacts and sculptures to their rightful owners in the 22 years since business began' and has 'more than 400,000 objects currently listed' in its stolen art database:
Were the ALR a business built solely around this database, then Radcliffe would be a useful, if uncontroversial member of the art world, something like a particularly proactive lost property clerk. But Radcliffe is no clerk, and he and his company enjoy a far more glamorous sideline, earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year tracking down and recovering stolen art on behalf of insurers and victims of theft. It works like this: Radcliffe’s network of sources around the world tip him off about the locations of stolen paintings. For a substantial fee, they may provide “information” which somehow leads to the stolen artwork landing in Radcliffe’s hands. The ALR man has collected paintings left for him in the boot of a car and by a layby. It’s a system shrouded in mystery but then, Radcliffe claims, it gets results.
According to Mostrous, 'Thanks to a series of internal aides-memoire written by Radcliffe between 2004 to 2012, and leaked to The Times, it is possible to reveal for the first time just how far the ALR is willing to go to recover stolen masterpieces.'

Mostrous' article includes comments from two ARCA associates who previously worked for Scotland Yard: Dick Ellis (an ARCA lecturer) and Charley Hill (an ARCA advisor). You can read the article here: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/magazine/article4167385.ece.

Another article in May 2013 highlighted the work of Dick Ellis: Emma Jacobs writing for The Financial Times "Lessons from an old master" which you can read here: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/b27c1392-c2cf-11e2-bbbd-00144feab7de.html#axzz3A5egUa3q.

August 10, 2014

Elmyr de Hory: Mark Forgy, the forger's "personal assistant", speaks to Snap Judgment in "The Grand Illusion"

Snap Judgment's Joe Rosenberg interviews Mark Forgy and his wife Alice outside of Minneapolis in "The Grand Illusion", the story of the man who owns a home with art in the style of Modigliani, Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne -- all works by the forger Elmyr de Hory. Forgy tells Rosenberg how he came about this art collection: he was 20 years old when he visited the Spanish island of Ibiza and met 'a kind hearted and generous person', a Hungarian artist, who invited Mark and a friend to stay with him at his "sumptuous villa" -- then hired Mark as his "personal live-in assistant". You can hear the interview here.

August 8, 2014

Cultural Heritage Protection: The Ġgantija Temples, Xhagra, Malta (Gozo)

Susan Douglas reports on the Ġgantija Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980

Fig. 1: The entrance to the museum at
 the Ġgantija Temples heritage site.
Possibly the oldest surviving freestanding structures in the world, the Ġgantija Temples in XaghraGozo, Malta were inscribed by UNESCO in 1980 with several other Megalithic Temple Sites on the Maltese archipelago. Dating from the Neolithic period onwards, perhaps as early as c.3600-3200 BC (Trump 1980; Renwick 2007), they predate both Stonehenge (c.2000 BC) and the pyramids at Giza (c.2500BC).

Fig. 2 – The clay figurines including
 the snail with the human head
 from the
 Xaghra Circle.
The architecture of temple site of Ġgantija is not a simple trefoil plan like the earliest structures seen at MnajdraSkorbaTarxien and Kordin, or a single cell such as found at Mgarr, but a rather more developed plan consisting of a passage with a pair of transepts branching off it to either side. The temples and related sites (such as the Hal Safleini Hypogeum) all share elements in common such as uprights and lintels and decorative spiral, dot, and line designs. These well-known features are present at Ġgantija, where the designs are carved into the standing stones or megaliths.

Interpretation Center and Museum
When I visited the Ġgantija Temples it was scorching hot. July is the worst time to tramp around the Mediterranean doing cultural tourism, but somehow I didn’t know this before I arrived on the island. Also, I had no car. Which is how, with help from the Hop-on-and-Off bus, Gozo, I spent a leisurely 45 minutes enjoying the heritage park, comprising a museum and the temples.

A short uphill walk took me from the car and coach park opposite to where the bus stops to the entrance of the complex. Happily, the museum area is air-conditioned during the summer months. I found out there is a dress code in effect when the woman ahead of me in line was politely asked to put on a T-shirt. Only after she’d done so was the party (which now include me) allowed to enter the museum. The museum / interpretation center, like the prehistoric site itself, is managed by Heritage Malta, the national agency responsible for the preservation and conservation of archeological sites, historic buildings and all Gozo museums.

As fig. 1 (above) illustrates, from outside the museum somewhat resembles a concrete bunker, but one articulated by perforated metal screens that allow the light in and is designed to protect what’s inside. The design of the museum and the entire architectural project carried out at the Ġgantija Temples heritage site won the 2014 Din l-ArtĦelwa Prix d’Honneur in recognition of its excellence. One of the project’s key features is that the museum is detached, physically and visually, from the temple site itself so that visitors may enjoy the monument in its natural context. [1]

Fig. 3 – Graffiti on the megalithic stones
 at the
 Ġgantija Temples, Gozo.
The interpretation center was inaugurated in 2013. It is given over to promoting conservation and educating the public as to the historical and aesthetic value of the temples as well as making learning about Gozo’s prehistory and our prehistoric ancestors an entertaining experience. The exhibits inside include narratives that relate the archeological remains found at Xaghra to the Maltese nation as well as displays encouraging the public to identify with the cultural past.

Sleeping Lady
I was fascinated to discover figurines similar to the “sleeping lady” on display at the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta, Malta, along with other material found in the Xaghra Circle (fig.2). It turns out that figurines and statues were found at several temple sites and the Hypogeum. They range in size from over-life size to miniature and may confirm that the temples were sites for the worship of deities. Some clay figurines and a clay representation of a snail with a human head caught my eye my along with stylized human heads and animal figurines carved in limestone.

According to Sarah Rich, interest in the sculptures is connected to the Earth mother/ Great goddess cult in New Age religions making them emblematic of the desire for an “imagined” heritage or myths. Some of the figures are evidently female in form while others are androgynous, abstract or anthropomorphic. Rich argues that worship by Neolithic people of the female body or the goddess mother in the Maltese islands has never been conclusively proved. [2]

Fig. 4 – The path leading around Ġgantija allows access to
 two  temples  that stand at the end of the Xagħra plateau.
This is a partial view of the façade.
But can we talk about tactile memory in this context? The little figures movingly symbolize for me an affective connection across time. They obviously communicate on a human level, that is to say intimately and expressively, by virtue of texture, color and shape. And, there are plenty of examples of rounded smooth surfaces inviting touch in art, from the Blarney Stones in Ireland to the right breast of the bronze statute of Juliet in Verona that brings luck in love to those who touch it. [3]

Destruction
Apart from the story of the relics, the museum has other tales to offer. In the modern period interest in archaeology led to a confusing situation. It is a fact that, by circulating illustrations of the temples from various points of view, European aristocrats and others succeeded in stimulating scientific interest in the temples and brought tourists into the area. I sat down to watch a video relating how watercolor paintings give an impression of what tourism looked like in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and to prove that the decorative elements of the temples existed and what they looked like. It is believed that decorative plaster may have once covered the irregular walls at Ġgantija. For a while it may have been accessible to the public. However, in 1827, “rubble” was systematically removed from the site in an effort to control access to the area and this material is now irretrievably lost.

Fig. 5 – Detail of the temple structure (niches) compared
 to earlier artistic renderings through photographs.
Figure 3 shows a different consequence of tourism as an unconsidered process. In the park, the names, initials, dates and emblems inscribed on the surfaces of the megaliths are an indication of the site’s growing popularity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The act of leaving one’s name on the prehistoric monument once confirmed that one had indeed been at the site. Any act of vandalism today would likely be caught by security cameras and dealt with immediately; the security guard I saw patrolling the grounds was alert, as he should be. [4]

The Temples, Gozo
There is plenty to look at in the heritage park: the rugged landscape, the bounded temple complex, architectural details ancient and modern. But today, instead of clambering over the ruins as the visiting public once did, a raised path leads down to the temples, offering panoramic vistas of the countryside in the process. The ground is high and slopes downwards. At one time these temples may have prominently marked territorial division or been the central feature of a settlement -- a place that Christians churches, usually Catholic, have taken up more recently. Here are some pictures:

Fig. 6 – Detail of a chamber in one of the
 clover-leaf shaped temples showing
 the site restored according to evidence
 found  during archeological digs
 in 1827 and subsequently.
The path winds around the outside protective wall until reaches the megalithic monuments where it leads up each of two transepts (fig. 4). 

Text and visual panels relay information as to the efforts being made to preserve the Ġgantija Temples and Gozian culture for future generations (fig. 5).

The overall outline of the ground plan has survived, and the upright megaliths. Walls, blocks of stone, niches, and the original stone paving are notably restored. Sadly, however, most of the stylized ornamentation on the megaliths is today very faded. This makes it difficult to imagine what the temples originally looked like or what they did, and therefore how past societies were integrated into the design, culturally and socially.

Mute Monuments
How did the Ġgantija Temples perform the sacred in their time? How does the museum complex perform cultural heritage today? We speak of architecture as active agent in shaping the world. We see the built environment as acting on the beholder and hence capable of transforming perceived reality. But usually, these rather abstract ideas aren’t grounded in a reality such as this one, grandiose yet mute.

References
[1] For more, see AndSeg, Communications Office at Ggantija Megalithic Temples, response to “horrendously ugly concrete walls surround the site,” published on http://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g190314-d321111-r212534926-Ggantija_Megalithic_Temples-Ggantija_Island_of_Gozo.html. Accessed July 28, 2014.

[2] S. Rich, “Ggantija and ta’MarzienaPreservation and presentation of Gozo’s Neolithic Heritage,” 2007, Omertaa, Journal for Applied Anthropology,

[3] Interestingly, the curators in charge of exhibiting similar objects at the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta have put a replica on display near the sleeping lady so visitors may in fact touch it if they choose to.

[4] For more on world heritage site management in Malta, see Esther Renwick, “World Heritage Site Management: protecting a site in its landscape, a Maltese case-study” (Paper Presented at the Forum UNESCO University and Heritage 10th International Seminar) available at http://conferences.ncl.ac.uk/unescolandscapes/files/RENWICKEsther.pdf. Accessed August 5, 2014

Credits
Photo credits, all images: © Susan Douglas, 2014

Dr. Susan Douglas, professor at the University of Guelph (Canada) and the ARCA Writer-in-Residence in 2013, is a writer and curator in Toronto and the founding editor of the Glossary of Modern Latin American Art (Wordpress). Http://modernlatinamericanart.wordpress.com.

August 6, 2014

FORTE CESARE: perso, dimenticato, e forse ritrovato?

Forte Cesare, 2013
di Luca Antonini, diploma di specializzazione Arca e residente ad Amelia, Italia
Le foto sono di C. Sezgin

L’Italia è famosa nel mondo per il suo ricco e diversificato patrimonio culturale e ambientale, in parte ben conservato nei vari musei di cui è ricco il suo territorio, in parte ancora presente nei siti storici o archeologici di origine; ciò nonostante, una sua fetta consistente giace tristemente dimenticato o trascurato.

L’abbondanza di elementi di interesse storico, artistico e architettonico ha sempre sollevato questioni di  conservazione, spesso in relazione alla limitatezza delle risorse disponibili o alle capacità pubbliche di gestione e di governo. Anche a livello locale, la mancanza di chiarezza, risorse e linee guida ha spesso ingigantito i problemi, e le ambiguità hanno facilitato fenomeni criminali quali saccheggi, atti di vandalismo, oppure dinamiche distruttive avviate da eventi naturali, come inondazioni o terremoti.

Forte Cesare è il nome di un complesso di antichi edifici costruiti sulla cima di una collina in posizione strategica, dominante rispetto ad alcune vallate dell’Umbria centrale, nel cuore dell’Italia. Amministrativamente, ricade nel territorio comunale di Montecastrilli, in provincia di Terni: 30 km a ovest di Orvieto, 20 a sud di Todi, 12 a nord di Amelia e 85 a nord di Roma. Forte Cesare è sempre stato in mani private fino all’inizio del ventesimo secolo, quando entrò a far parte del patrimonio del Comune di Amelia. Recentemente, l’Amministrazione Comunale ha venduto Forte Cesare ad un operatore privato, intenzionato a restaurarlo e riutilizzarlo.

Il sito fu probabilmente abitato al tempo dei Romani, ma le fondamenta degli edifici oggi visibili risalgono al VI – VII secolo d.C., quando un forte era stato edificato lungo la via Amerina, un importante tratto del Corridoio Bizantino. Dopo la caduta dell’Impero Romano del 476, varie vicende e occupazioni si susseguirono nell’Italia centrale, fino al 584, quando Ravenna divenne la città di riferimento dell’Esarcato Bizantino, una sorta di provincia dell’Impero Romano d’Oriente la cui capitale era Costantinopoli. Il resto dell’Italia era stato invaso da varie popolazioni provenienti dal nord Europa. Il solo collegamento sicuro tra Roma e Ravenna era proprio questo corridoio che attraversava l’Italia centrale da poco occupata dai Longobardi, tra l’attuale Toscana a ovest e il Ducato di Spoleto a est: partiva dalla via Cassia, pochi chilometri a nord di Roma, e si riuniva alla via Flaminia pochi chilometri a sud di Ravenna. Il Corridoio Bizantino era una sorta di  passaggio garantito, e al suo interno il tratto indicato come Via Amerina toccava, tra le altre, le città di Orte, Amelia, Todi e Perugia. E Forte Cesare, guarnigione fortificata, aveva il compito di proteggere persone e beni in transito in entrambe le direzioni; probabilmente era anche un luogo di ristoro, di riposo per la notte, oltre che stazione di posta.

Successivamente, il complesso entrò a far parte delle Terre Arnolfe, sotto il controllo dell’Arcivescovo di Spoleto tra il X e l’XI secolo, ma nessun documento ufficiale precedente al XVI secolo sembra sopravvissuto fino ai nostri giorni. La prima testimonianza scritta riporta la cessione di Forte Cesare dalla famiglia Stefanucci agli Atti, una potente famiglia Guelfa originaria di Todi e dominante su Viterbo.

Tra il XVI e il XVII secolo, Forte Cesare fu radicalmente trasformato da sito militare a complesso residenziale. Solo la torre rimase nella sua originaria posizione dominante, mentre tutte le altre costruzioni vennero ricomprese in una nuova villa a tre piani.

Fino ad allora, troviamo il toponimo indicato come “Peroccolo”, in particolare in alcune mappe redatte nel Vaticano nel XIX secolo ma attestanti la situazione sei secoli prima. La prima volta che si incontra ufficialmente il lemma “Cesare” per indicare il sito, risale ad una carta datata 1629; il motivo può essere ricondotto al nome del condottiero che probabilmente sfruttò quel forte nelle sue campagne nel corso del XV secolo: Cesare Borgia, il cui casato sosteneva lo Stato Pontificio nello scontro tra famiglie Guelfe e Ghibelline. Questa è la ipotesi più accreditata, rispetto alla denominazione ancora oggi utilizzata.

Alla fine del XVIII secolo, Forte Cesare fu donato dal Vescovo Francesco Atti alla Propaganda Fide, un’organizzazione creata dallo Stato Pontificio per sostenere attività missionarie e altre iniziative correlate, inclusa la gestione di terreni e altri beni immobili. Propaganda Fide lo affittò immediatamente alla famiglia Verchiani, e pochi anni dopo lo vendette alla famiglia Ciatti, esattamente nel 1808. Angelo Ciatti, ultimo discendente di questo casato, donò l’intera proprietà alla sua morte (1922) al Comune di Amelia.

La gestione comunale risultò problematica fin dagli inizi. Col suo testamento, Angelo Ciatti intendeva indirizzarne le rendite al Collegio Convitto Boccarini di Amelia, sostenendo in tal modo – con un atto di carità - il sistema educativo locale. Il collegio, inizialmente gestito dall’ordine Francescano, passò nel 1932 ai Padri Salesiani; era la più importante scuola non solo in Amelia, ma nell’intero circondario di piccoli e grandi villaggi, nel raggio di parecchi chilometri. In accordo alle volontà di Angelo Ciatti, Amelia divenne il più importante centro scolastico dell’intero territorio rurale; altre istituzioni di pari livello erano localizzate solo a Todi, Orvieto e Terni.

Due problemi emersero dal lascito Ciatti: dapprima una forte opposizione legale da parte di alcuni famigliari, che tentarono di invalidare la volontà di trasferire la proprietà al Comune di Amelia. In secondo luogo, mentre Amelia era il Comune proprietario, terreni ed edifici rientravano nel territorio sotto il governo del Comune di Montecastrilli; i ruoli erano differenti, essendo il primo formale proprietario, mentre all’altro competeva l’indirizzo urbanistico e territoriale. In effetti tale dualismo non sembra abbia inizialmente creato serie questioni tra le parti, ma senza dubbio costituì la ragione di alcune incertezze, di mancanza di collaborazione e di alcuni scarichi di responsabilità che si verificarono nei decenni successivi. Alla fine della seconda guerra mondiale, terreni ed edifici vennero affittati a locali famiglie di agricoltori, e successivamente al Molino Cooperativo, che si occupava di alcune fasi di trasformazione dei raccolti di cereali prodotti nel comprensorio. E’ specialmente dopo il terremoto del 30 luglio 1978 che le condizioni di degrado iniziarono a far sentire i propri effetti su terre ed edifici, e probabilmente in questo stesso periodo iniziarono, o si accentuarono, furti e saccheggi. Ben prima della conclusione del ventesimo secolo, il bene si trasformò per Amelia da risorsa a problema.

Nel 1986, il Comune di Amelia chiese dei contributi pubblici per lo sviluppo economico dell’area, attraverso il programma P.I.M. gestito dal governo regionale dell’Umbria. Forte Cesare era formalmente compreso nel patrimonio oggetto di rilancio, in ben tre misure: la “A”, con 20 ettari di terreni assegnati all’allevamento di daini; la “D”, tra 120 e 150 ettari destinati all’allevamento di ovini; e infine la “E”, la proposta di restauro della villa: una scuola professionale per l’agronomia e l’ospitalità rurale, oltre a un ristorante e a una sezione espositiva per la promozione delle produzioni locali, erano compresi nel progetto, il cui valore (per la sola misura E) ammontava a 1,5 miliardi di Lire. Il programma P.I.M. non fu finanziato, e quindi mai realizzato. Si tratta del solo documento programmatico esistente, nel quale una vaga visione di soluzione integrata era stata delineata ed effettivamente tentata, mettendo insieme terra e immobili. In ogni caso, tali proposte contenevano un grande difetto: la negazione di una qualsiasi consapevolezza e valorizzazione culturale, storica e paesaggistica, sia nell’analisi che nelle conseguenti proposte presentate. Conseguentemente, vent’anni dopo la presentazione delle bozze di progetto in ambito P.I.M., questo susseguirsi di approcci muddling through, o “dell’improvvisazione”, porterà alla vendita di Forte Cesare ad un soggetto privato, in condizioni di ulteriore abbandono, danneggiamento e saccheggio.

Quando il passaggio di proprietà fu perfezionato nel 2005, nessun inventario fu annesso al contratto. Con riferimento al testamento olografo di Angelo Ciatti, originariamente Forte Cesare comprendeva:

BENI IMMOBILI – la villa, circondata da altri 4 edifici minori, le cisterne (elemento molto importante, in quanto quei territori sono generalmente considerati ricchi di risorse idriche, con l’eccezione della collina su cui è costruito proprio Forte Cesare), un grande giardino con vigna, delimitato da un muro perimetrale; la Cappella; le fonti di acqua; i terreni agricoli (per pastorizia e coltivazioni); i boschi e la macchia circostante la villa; il frutteto, che comprendeva ulivi, castagni, viti e altre cultivar

ALTRO – Arredi sacri, non meglio specificati; mobili, suppellettili e accessori domestici; dipinti (non specificati nel numero, nella posizione, nella datazione e nell’attribuzione); altri utensili rurali di uso individuale; bestiame e raccolti.

Questa elencazione sembra essere l’unica forma di inventario mai eseguita su Forte Cesare e sul suo patrimonio mobile e immobile. Una circostanza che lo rende particolarmente prezioso, nonostante la sua genericità. Gli attuali proprietari hanno nel frattempo lavorato ad un progetto che mira al recupero strutturale e funzionale degli edifici, oltre che all’utilizzo economico dell’intera area. Tali progetti non sono ancora stati approvati dalle competenti Autorità pubbliche. L’iter autorizzativo prevede il coinvolgimento del Comune di Montecastrilli, della Provincia di Terni, della Regione Umbria e della Soprintendenza Regionale ai Beni Ambientali, Architettonici, Artistici e Storici.

L’idea punta alla creazione di una struttura ricettiva di segmento superiore con annessi servizi sportivi e ricreativi, tra i quali un campo da golf da 18 buche e una sezione termale. Un progetto ambizioso e lungimirante, ma distante dalle radici di quel pezzo di storia chiamato “Forte Cesare”.

La tesi originale, da cui è stato estratto il testo sopra riportato, venne redatta in inglese da Luca Antonini nel novembre del 2012, con lo stesso titolo, a completamento del suo ciclo di studi con Arca. La professoressa Susan Douglas ha dato un significativo contributo alla revisione del testo al fine dell’adattamento, pubblicato il 24 luglio 2014 nel blog di Arca.

Luca Antonini è laureato in economia all’Università di Torino e ha conseguito il diploma di specializzazione in Criminologia dell’Arte con Arca nell’anno 2012/13. Dalla metà degli anni ’90 lavora in progetti di sviluppo locale e sostenibile co-finanziati dall’Unione Europea. Si è inoltre specializzato nella gestione delle Organizzazioni Non Governative.

For the English version, you may read this earlier post: http://art-crime.blogspot.com/2014/07/forte-cesare-lost-forgotten-and.html.

August 5, 2014

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

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