June 13, 2016

This blog post is the first in a series that will written by our 2016 interns, which will describe the various weeks of ARCA's academic programming this summer.

Hello! My name is Chris and I’m a 2016 ARCA student and intern. I’m here to update all you art crime followers and fanatics about the goings-on at our summer program in Amelia. It’s been a hectic and explosive week with student arrivals, our first course, and even a field class in Cerveteri. This week we’ve discussed everything from Australian aboriginal skeletons to ancient Etruscan tombs to the trade in human remains. In fact, after dealing so much with bodies and burial grounds I think we, the exhausted students of ARCA, are starting to feel a bit like human remains ourselves. Fortunately, we have the weekend to rest, recoup, and prepare for our upcoming course on art insurance. But before that, let me recap our first week and share some of the excitement that coloured (quite literally) our first week in Amelia. 

Banditaccia, Cerveteri's Etruscan Necropolis
Last Friday was arrival day for most students. The majority of the afternoon was spent settling into student apartments and houses, all of which are scattered across this enchanting, medieval town. Some students will be living in the town’s Palazzo Farrattini, an impressive Renaissance-era building replete with a charming atrium, a picturesque swimming pool, and even a Salon of Sangallo. Other students are perched at the highest point in Amelia, just a stone’s throw away from the town Duomo, with a vista of the Umbrian countryside that can only be partially captured in the many photographs that we have all taken.

On our first night a cocktail party was held at La Locanda, a restaurant whose vaulted ceilings and glass floor displays—which exhibit the town’s ancient Roman streets—take the concept of dining in a “historic” eatery to the next level (or many levels.) This event gave students the opportunity to introduce themselves to one another and meet ARCA’s committed CEO, Lynda Albertson. If this meet-and-greet aperitivo made anything clear I think it’s that the ARCA student body is perhaps one of the most geographically, culturally, professionally, and generationally diverse groups you can get in a single academic program.

This year’s roster boasts participants from Australia, New Zealand, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, India, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States. Some students have served as museum directors while others have worked in journalism, and many are just newly minted college graduates eager to learn more about (and contribute to) the field of cultural heritage protection. The fact that ARCA attracts such a diverse group of participants means that there should be a good deal of cross-pollination in disciplinary knowledge this summer.   

On Sunday Amelia held its annual Corpus Domini festival, an event that summons residents to participate in the decoration of the town’s streets. Amelia locals and ARCA students alike spent the better portion of the morning sketching emblems and insignia with chalk and coloring these designs with flower petals, coffee grounds, and wreaths. By mid-morning it looked as if city’s otherwise greyish-brown cobblestone streets had mutated into rainbow carpets—a truly stunning sight.

A church processional marched through the town’s main corridor, the Via della Repubblica, and a short service was held outside the Chiesa di San Francesco. Following a short bit of prayer and song, a ceremonial sweeping of the streets cleared the town of its colorful costume, though some remnants of chalk dust stuck to the cobblestone and remained even days after the conclusion of the Corpus Domini festa.   

The following morning students made their way to Sala Boccarini for the first day of Duncan Chappell’s Art and Heritage Law course. At the outset of class Chappell reviewed some his experience in the field of law and criminology—a lengthy and quite intimidating list of compelling professorial posts, research projects, field work, and accolades. The shear quantity of academic and professional experience that Chappell holds certainly percolates into his dynamic teaching style.

Throughout the first couple days of class Chappell covered the vast terrain of art law, touching upon major international conventions and smaller-scale cases unique to individual nation-states. Students had the fortunate opportunity of completing a reading assignment authored by the professor himself. In his fascinating (though eerie) article, Chappell charts out and describes the online trade in human remains and identifies the sellers and buyers who constitute this niche market. This article will serve as a prompt for the course’s final assignment, wherein students will carry out investigations into a particular online antiquities market. ARCA students will be looking into all kinds of internet trade: from the sale of murder memorabilia to space artefacts to taxidermy to “faux-bergé” eggs. 

Mid-week the course was interrupted for a field class to Cerveteri's Banditaccia Necropolis. Stefano Alessandrini, a fervent archaeologist who has done much work to repatriate stolen Italian antiquities, guided ARCA students through Cerveteri’s ancient Etruscan burial mounds. This awe-inspiring complex is peppered with grassy tumuli, ancient streets, and cold, tufa stone tombs which bespeak the organized burial practices of the Etruscans.

In addition to recounting the rich history of the Etruscans, Alessandrini discussed the major security glitches that threaten the necropolis and reported on some of the recent looting events to which the site has fallen prey. Chatting with Alessandrini and hearing about these attempted thefts gave much purpose—not to mention “real world” substance—to the readings and classroom work that we’ve been doing at ARCA.

It was a special opportunity entering these tombs and admiring millennia-old architecture. The English novelist D.H. Lawrence, commenting on his visit to the Etruscan necropolis, observed that, “there was a stillness and soothingness in all the air, in that sunken place, and a feeling that it was good for one’s soul to be there.” Our trip to Cerveteri was no doubt a nourishing one, and I think many of us in the ARCA crew would echo Lawrence’s sentiment.

That’s it for this week! I look forward to sharing more after a week with Dorit Straus! 

--Christopher Falcone, ARCA 2016

May 14, 2016

Heritage Destruction in the Mediterranean Region

By Guest Editorial: Joris Kila, PhD
Cultural Adviser, The Hague Senior Researcher
Kompetenzzentrum Kulturelles Erbe und Kulturgüterschutz,
University of Vienna

This article is being released online in advance of publication in the IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2016 print issue. (www.iemed.org/medyearbook)

All over the news we see cultural property, the legal term widely used for cultural heritage, often connected to the cradles of civilisation, being damaged, smuggled and abused. Currently much devastation is taking place in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, more specifically the Mediterranean area, e.g. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt. Within the size limitations of this article I will indicate some problems, causes and possible solutions regarding safeguarding cultural property. These examples will hopefully stimulate discussion, research and a more pro-active approach towards short and long-term solutions.

Problems and Deficiencies

Because of recent conflicts and upheavals, some of which are ongoing, substantial parts of the world’s cultural resources, which are not just artworks but also containers of identity and memory, have been lost or are under threat. In modern asymmetric conflicts, cultural property protection (CPP) is a complex and serious issue due to the variety of stakeholders with unbalanced interests, its multidisciplinary character and the potential sensitivity of heritage issues, which is often connected with local, national or religious identities. 

Since institutionalised CPP emergency activities as mandatory operations under national and international law are virtually absent, a small number of cultural experts, often acting as concerned private individuals without funding, took matters into their own hands to give a good example for official CPP institutions. This resulted in a modest number of relevant and innovative activities like undercover on-site emergency assessments and engagements with military stakeholders resulting, for instance, in cultural no-strike lists, as was used in Libya in 2011 and the development of CPP doctrines for military operational planning (Kila & Zeidler 2013, Kila & Herndon 2014).

Notwithstanding this, CPP should no longer be taken care of solely by the purview of this small group of concerned people. Phenomena like using cultural property to finance conflicts, iconoclasm, military aspects, CPP and global security, strategic communication (parties as protectors or destroyers of culture) and conflicting interests of old and new stakeholders need structural research and organisation. Furthermore, the links with identity, counterinsurgency, transnational organised crime and illicit trafficking, including its related transnational finance flows, heritage as a resource for local development and the overlap between cultural and natural resources need attention. Worldwide cooperation is also dependent on new stakeholders like military organisations, crime experts, tourism organisations and cultural diplomats. 

Although legal frameworks for heritage protection appear in place (e.g. The Hague 1954, the Rome Statute 1998), today’s state of cultural property in conflict areas clearly illustrates that the effectiveness of policies and strategies (to be) implemented by institutions tasked with CPP in the event of conflict are insufficient. Most institutions seem to lack pro-activity and tend towards bureaucratic and risk-avoiding behaviour (Wilson 1989, Kila 2012. Kila, Zeidler 2013). The latter relates to (over) politicising heritage because of sensitivity caused by identity, religion and economic issues. Consequently, essential developments concerning the changing status of heritage, its economic value, heritage protection as an instrument in counter-terrorism denying the enemy financial means to prolong a conflict and legal developments, e.g. the criminalisation of offenses against cultural property in international criminal law, are not studied in a coherent transdisciplinary context.

Organisations themselves claim lack of funding as a major reason for their indolence. In the meantime devastation continues, whereas the international cooperation, coordination and research that should drive transdisciplinary, interagency and emergency endeavours, as well as the necessary funding, is either lacking or misspent. In this context a recurring misconception is that although protection of heritage is important, aid to those in need because of conflicts and natural disasters should have priority. This line of argument does not hold water because one does not exclude the other. CPP and humanitarian aid are substantively and financially separate. No funds are withdrawn from monies allocated to humanitarian disasters when heritage is protected.

Europe and CPP

One could say that CPP including combating illicit trade in artifacts is not the specific capability of the EU. Certainly it is not stated per se in the treaties, but it does fall within several areas of EU competence. Examples of this are the internal market, freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) and culture along with common foreign and security policy (CFSP).

The EU probably has no CPP expertise capability but there are experts that can provide  knowledge on this. Stakeholders like NATO*,  Europol, INTERPOL and the International Criminal Court, all based in Europe, share identical problems (lack of cultural expertise and funding), so potentially this burden can be shared making it less costly and more efficient. An example: a potential step forward was made by creating the EU CULTNET,** in  theory a platform for networking, expertise and knowledge sharing. 

In 2015, the EU Parliament called on Member States to take necessary steps to involve universities, research bodies and cultural institutions in the fight against illicit trade in cultural goods from war areas. Instead of just calling the usual re-active institutions, and in an attempt to really act without delay, a task force including cultural experts with proven track records and strong networks is highly advisable. Such an entity can be created at short notice to provide expert advice for all stakeholders. Simultaneously Europe should start coordination, research and education regarding CPP and the implementation of (legal) instruments to safeguard cultural property.  Currently the  United   States  do more  than  Europe,  and unfortunately there is little cooperation with them on this topic; maybe this will change when Europe follows in taking responsibility for CPP in the context of conflicts.

The Mediterranean Region

Cultural heritage can suffer from multiple types of damage and offences related to conflict. Typical examples include collateral damage, vandalism, encroachment as part of development, iconoclasm and looting. In Libya and Syria all these phenomena occur simultaneously; Syria is already seriously affected and Libyan heritage is, for the most part, still under threat. 

Moreover, we should consider that, according to several sources, substantial numbers of artefacts looted and smuggled out of the Mediterranean region are likely hidden in secret depots. These will enter the market in the future. As the NY Times put it: "Long-established smuggling organizations are practiced in getting the goods to people willing to pay for them, and patient enough to stash ancient artifacts in warehouses until scrutiny dies down. ***

Some Case Examples


Many important sites, libraries, archives, churches and mosques in Syria were destroyed in 2015. All warring parties are guilty of devastation and illicit trade, but  IS  drew  the  most  attention. We all remember images of temples and graves in Palmyra being blown up by IS, not to mention the execution of Palmyrian archaeologist Khaled  al-Asaad in August 2015.

In Syria, we see the return of iconoclasm driven and legitimized as an excuse for eliminating perceptions of  heresy  as well  as the  'recycling' of antique monuments  originally  built  for defense, like Krak de Chevaliers, Palmyra's Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle or the destroyed Temple of Bel. Iconoclasm is not only directed at immovable heritage but also at written heritage making manuscripts and books equally at risk. 

The majority of today's warring parties are guilty of destruction intentionally or by accident while disregarding cultural  property's protected status under (inter)national laws. The increase in looting and illicit traffic of cultural property, the revenues from which are used to finance conflicts, implies that CPP can be a military incentive (force multiplier) denying the enemy the means to prolong a conflict. 

CPP should therefore be part of military operational planning processes (OPP). NATO could play a role in this, helped by cultural experts, by supplying CPP doctrine planning models to Member States. The ICC should investigate possibilities of prosecuting cultural war crimes in Syria through international criminal law and certain treaties that give the ICC jurisdiction in Libya. Cultural expertise is needed for organizations like the ICC and, therefore, funding has to be in place.


Present-day Libya is divided in two parts controlled by two rival 'governments ': in Tripoli and (recognized internationally) Tobruk. Negotiations are taking place under supervision of the United Nations to unite the country again. The latest news is the announcement of a new government of national accord temporarily based in Tunis. The Department  of Antiquities  in Tripoli is still active (January 2016) and has made urgent demands for international help in order to assess the nature  of the  threats  against  Libyan heritage in situ and to find simple and cheap solutions. 

Libya has five UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ancient Greek archaeological sites of Cyrene; the Roman ruins of Leptis Magna; the Phoenician port of Sabratha; the  rock-art  sites  of  the  Acacus Mountains in the Sahara Desert; and old Ghadamès, an oasis city. 

Sites like Leptis Magna are out in the open and exposed to all kinds of threats, especially theft and urban encroachment. The Benghazi area suffers from a lack of security, and Cyrene is not only threatened by looting, but  also by (illegal) commercial developments destroying precious heritage. 

At the end of 2015, pro-ISIL militants took temporary control of part of the town of Sabratha to free members seized by a rival militia. Libya's anti- government Islamic militants have aligned with IS and are active in the surrounding areas of Sabratha, which people fear will fall victim to iconoclasm and looting. 

Iconoclastic attacks have already taken place against Sufi tombs and mosques, amongst others, in Tripoli. Several international structures and organizations exist that could and should deal with CPP in Libya but they are not doing so (effectively) because they are (or feel) restricted often by their own governments, due to possible political implications.


Cultural heritage abuse and destruction are rampant. Old phenomena like iconoclasm are back in strength. Iconoclasm arose in Europe in the iconoclastic rage of 1566 in which the Calvinists destroyed statues in Catholic churches and monasteries. Apart from being driven by religious motives, the destruction of antiquities and cultural objects of heritage in the Mediterranean region seems to be used as a modern form of psychological warfare. Attacks on cultural heritage also show elements of cultural genocide and, as acknowledged by the United Nations, war crimes or even crimes against humanity.

Monuments and cultural objects stand for the identity of groups and individuals. lf you want to hurt a society or a nation at its heart or erase their existence from historical memory, then their cultural heritage is a grateful prey. The main concern is that there is presently no operational protection system being implemented based on international cooperation and coordination. Legal obligations and sanctions are not sufficiently implemented and enforced - for instance, cultural war crimes should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.  

Can we stop the destruction of our shared cultural heritage in the Mediterranean area? 

This is hard to say, but we, especially Europa, should now, more than ever, resist the dismantling of our shared identity and become pro­ active.

--Mr. Kila will be speaking at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Oriental Manuscripts Conference: "Facing the Chaos. Tangible and Intangible Heritage Protection in the XXI century" on May 19, 2016.

* Military organizations especially NATO do not have CPP expertise nor are they hiring experts to educate the military and to bring CPP into operational planning doctrines.
** Council Resolution 14232/12 of 4 October 2012 on the creation of an informal network of law enforcement authorities and expertise competent in the field of cultural goods  (EU CULTNET).
***Source www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/world/europe/iraq-syria-antiquities-ielamic-etate.html?_r=O accessed on 20 January 2016. 



KILA J. and HERNDON C. "Military  involvement  in Cultural Property Protection: An Overview by Joris Kila and Christopher Herndon" in Joint  Forces Quarterly, JFQ 74, 3rd Quarter 2014 July 2014.

KILA J. and ZEIDLER JA "Military Involvement in Cultural Property   Protection   as   part   of   Preventive Conservation'  In   Cultural  Heritage in  the Crosshairs: Protecting Cultural Property during Conflict, Kila, J. and Zeidler, J. (Eds), Leiden­ Boston 2013. Conclusion, Joris D. Kila and James A. Zeidler ibid. Pp. 9-50 and Pp.351-353.

KILA J. Heritage under Siege. Military implementation of  Cultural  Property Protection following the1954 Hague Convention Leiden-Boston 2012.

WILSON J. Bureaucracy. What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do it, New York, 1989.

May 3, 2016

The FBI is not giving up in the Isabella Gardner Museum Heist

FBI agents search the Manchester home of reputed gangster Robert Gentile.
Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com
Despite a $5 million USD reward for information leading to the return of $500 million in artwork by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, Vermeer, and more, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist has been unsolved for 25 years.   

In 2012 the FBI searched the Manchester, Connecticut home of notorious gangster Robert “Bobby the Cook” Gentile who the FBI has accused of being linked to the 13 stolen paintings.

Yesterday, May 2, 2016, the federal law enforcement agency went back in force for a second look.  Using metal detectors, rakes and shovels, the team of twelve agents set up a tent and tarp and scoured the terrain surrounding the residence on Frances Drive.  Gentile's son and wife Patricia were both present at the house throughout the search.  

In May 2013, Gentile, an alleged “made man” connected with the Philadelphia Mafia, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for illegally selling prescription drugs to an FBI informant and for possessing guns, silencers and ammunition. With a criminal history stretching back to the 1950s, he was freed from prison in 2014 on supervised release only to be arrested again in April 2015. 

He is currently being held without bail on federal weapons charges and is scheduled to stand trial in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut in July. 

Despite yesterday’s search, America's biggest-ever art heist remains unsolved. 

The 13 missing artworks are:  

a bronze eagle finial for a for a Napoleonic flagstaff
a Chinese Beaker or Ku
Degas, Cortege aux Environs de Florence
Degas, Three Mounted Jockeys
Degas, Program for an artistic soiree (1)
Degas, Program for an artistic soiree (1)
Degas, La Sortie de Pesage
Flinck, Landscape with Obelisk
Manet, Chez Tortoni
Rembrandt, A Lady and Gentleman in Black
Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait
Vermeer, The Concert

April 28, 2016

Who stole and where are the (still) missing Führerbau paintings

By: Marc Masurovsky
Holocaust Art Restitution Project

On this day, 71 years ago, while the US 3rd Army met light to moderate resistance as it overran Munich, unknown individuals made off with more than 700 paintings, mostly Old Masters, from the Führerbau - translated as "the Führer's building, Adolf Hitler's administrative building on Arcisstraße in Munich.

Photo Clipping, Life Magazine, 

During the period of American military occupation, the Munich Central Collecting Point transformed the Führerbau into a central clearinghouse for assessing the origin of thousands of art objects looted across Europe.
To date, the theft has not been resolved.

The Zentral Institut fur Kunstgeschichte, housed in the old Führerbau building, has been working to reconstruct this historic theft, under the guidance of Prof. Christian Fuhrmeister and Dr. Stephan Klingen, director of the Fototek at the ZI, with Dr. Meike Hopp, a formidable art historian and provenance expert regarding the fate of art looted in Germany.

April 27, 2016

Russian Federal Security Service is investigating several officials and businessmen over missing funds for state-sponsored heritage restoration projects.

On March 15, 2016 Russian state media reported that the country's Deputy Culture Minister Grigory Pirumov had been detained on embezzlement charges.  

Earlier that day, the Federal Security Service - the main KGB successor agency known under its Russian acronym FSB - announced that several high-ranking culture ministry officials and businessmen were under investigation for allegedly “embezzling state funds allocated for restoration work on cultural heritage sites”.  It is alleged that millions of rubles, earmarked for the restoration of famed cultural heritage sites, are missing.

The detained officials, in addition to Deputy Minister Pirumov, include Boris Mazo, the head of the Russian Ministry of Culture's department of property management and investment policy, as well as several heads of construction companies involved in restoration projects commissioned by the ministry. 

The FSB accused Pirumov of organizing a criminal scheme in which the suspects inflated the costs of restoration works to steal public funds.  Pirumov, who was appointed to the post of Deputy Minister of Culture in March 2013, coordinates and controls work of three departments of the ministry: department of property and investment policy, state protection of cultural heritage and the legal department.  He also oversees activity of the State Agency for management and operation of the historical and cultural monuments of the Ministry of Culture of Russia (FGBUK AUIPIK).

Novodevichy Convent, Moscow - Image Credit: Wikipedia
A source at the culture ministry said that the criminal case was linked to a number of cultural heritage sites, including the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow.  The convent, in southwestern Moscow, built in the 16th and 17th centuries in the so-called Moscow Baroque style, was part of a chain of monastic ensembles that were integrated into the defence system of the city. The convent was directly associated with the political, cultural and religious history of Russia, and closely linked to the Moscow Kremlin. Women of the Tsar’s family and the aristocracy used it, and members of the Tsar’s family and entourage were also buried in its cemetery.  The convent provides an example of the highest accomplishments of Russian architecture with rich interiors and an important collection of paintings and artifacts.   Restoration works there began last year, completion expected in 2019. Media reports said 800 million rubles ($11.2 million USD at current exchange rate) were allocated for this aim.

Investigators are also looking into financing of the restoration works carried out at the Ivanovsky Convent in Moscow, a theater in the ancient city of Pskov, in northwest Russia, and the Izborsk Fortress.  Preservationists had raised concerns in the past over work done on the fourteenth-century fortress, located in near the Estonian border and restored in 2012 to mark the 1150th anniversary of Russian statehood.  A 2013 audit by the government’s accounting chamber found that 60 million rubles, or about $2 million USD, in funding for Izborsk went unaccounted for. 

All this happens only two months after President Vladimir Putin publicly reprimanded the culture ministry for failing to preserve state monuments.  In December 2015, at the meeting of presidential Council for Culture and Art in Kremlin, Putin chastised officials about decrepit state of the country’s rich architectural heritage.  Galina Malanicheva, Chair of the central council of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments (VOOPiK), reported at that meeting that the loss of historic sites far exceeded the average annual loss of 10 to 15 officially registered monuments, since due to a complicated listing process just over 10% of Russia’s monuments are officially registered.  The Russian media blamed the subsequent reported resignation of Mikhail Bryzgalov, the culture ministry’s top cultural heritage official, on Putin’s dressing-down. Vladimir Tolstoy, Putin’s chief cultural adviser, denied that Bryzgalov’s departure had anything to do with Putin’s reprimand.  

Aside from the allegation of individuals siphoning off public funds, complaints have been made that the Ministry of Culture is responsible for hiring unqualified companies whose poor quality renovations have irreparably damaged Russia's cultural legacy. 

Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is in contact with the FSB on these issues. He described to the RIA Novosti news service Pirumov’s detainment as “ a real shock for all of us.” The ministry stressed that in recent years restoration initiatives led by Deputy Minister Grigory Pirumov had "achieved significant success." The Culture Ministry’s press service added that the internal audit announced by Minister Vladimir Medinsky has been underway since March 18 and is expected to take several months

Rumors about Medinsky’s possible resignation have been swirling since the March 16th arrest of Pirumov. On March 28, 2016 Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refuted these allegations.  Medinsky chairs Russia’s Military History Society, which has a powerful influence over the interpretation of Russia’s cultural affairs.   He has also reportedly told UNESCO that Russia is ready to participate in both evaluation of Palmyra's condition and its restoration. 

Izborsk fortress immediately after restoration  © Hope Chenin
Palmyra Aftae Da’esh © Joseph Eid/AFP

In early April, Deputy Minister of Culture - theologian Alexander Zhuravsky was appointed to replace Mr. Pirumov.

The FSB said it hasn't been able yet to track down the missing funds.

By: Olla Birman 

US Government sends H.R. 1493 to the US President’s desk for signature.

Late in the day, April 26, 2016 and with final House passage, the US government has approved its final amended version of H.R. 1493, "The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act" agreed to in the Senate by Unanimous Consent. The proposed law will now head to the US President’s desk for signature.

H.R. 1493 was drafted to deny ISIS Funding and to save Syria’s antiquities through the trafficking of its material culture.

The bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on March 19, 2015 during the 114th Congress, First Session by Representative Eliot L. Engel, [D-NY-16] via the House - Armed Services; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary; Ways and Means Committee and also referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The bill calls for the protection and preservation of international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, and for other purposes.  

Since that time the House and Senate have debated the bill separately and offered amendments (ultimately approved as amended by the Senate on April 18, 2016, before the bill went on to all of the US Congress for a full vote. The amended version includes a stronger "safe harbour" measure for Syrian antiquities and deleted a the proposed State Department "Cultural Property Czar."  

As both the Senate and the House have now voted approving the finalized amended version of the bill, it will now go forward to Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, for his signatory approval.

ISIS earns tens of millions annually from looting and trafficking antiquities to fund terror.  A UN Security Council resolution passed in February calls on all nations to help defund ISIS by preventing trade in Syrian antiquities. 
America’s allies have already imposed import restrictions on trafficked Syrian and Iraqi artifacts.  Congress established similar restrictions for Iraqi artifacts in 2004 but has yet to act for Syria, leaving Syrian artifacts open to looting and trafficking by ISIS.
H.R. 1493
  • Imposes import restrictions on illicit Syrian artifacts to undercut looting and trafficking.
  • Provides for antiquities to be temporarily protected by U.S. institutions until they can be safely returned to their rightful owners.
  • Expresses congressional support for establishing an interagency coordinating committee to better protect historical sites and artifacts at risk worldwide. 
  • Improves congressional oversight of efforts to save cultural property.
This bill has been publicly endorsed and supported by the American Alliance of Museums, the American Anthropological Association, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works, the Archaeological Institute of America, Preservation Action, the Society for American Archaeology, the Society for Historical Archaeology, the United States Committee of the Blue Shield, and the U.S. National Committee of the International Council of Museums.

Once signed by President Obama and by imposing import restrictions on Syrian material culture, the U.S. will be joining the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the European Union in taking steps to protect trafficked antiquities from Syria.

A complete copy of the approved amended Bill is located here

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs welcomed the Senate passage of his legislation. 

On the House floor Chairman Royce spoke about combating ISIS’s destruction and looting of artifacts from the birthplace of civilisation.  Below is a video that includes Chairman Royce’s remarks.  A written transcript of his remarks can be found here

April 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

By.  Lynda Albertson

April 20, 2016

Highlights from the US Hearing Entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS”

On April 19, 2016 the US House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Terrorism Financing held a one panel, two hour and fifteen minute long hearing entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS” in the Rayburn House Office Building.

A 16 page introductory memorandum and witness biography can be found on the US House of Representatives Financial Services website here. 

During this hearing, testimony was given by: (in alphabetical, not speaking order)

• Dr. Amr Al-Azm, PhD, Associate Professor, Shawnee State University
• Mr. Robert M. Edsel, Chairman of the Board, Monuments Men Foundation
• Mr. Yaya J. Fanusie, Director of Analysis, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance,
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
• Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, PhD, Distinguished Professor, DePaul University College of
• Mr. Lawrence Shindell, Chairman, ARIS Title Insurance Corporation

A video recording of the entire hearing can be viewed below.

During the hearing witnesses described the unabated and systematic process of cultural heritage destruction in Iraq and Syria and antiquities looting in the region which has grown steadily given the regions' instability.  

Secretary of U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, Patty Gerstenblith, speaking in a personal capacity and for the Blue Shield organisation she represents, testified before the Financial Services Committee’s Task Force saying, in part

“Unfortunately the looting of archaeological sites is big business, often carried out on an organised industrialised scale and in response to market demand.  And many of these sites are unknown before they are looted.  

As cultural objects move from source, transit and destination countries different legal systems create obstacles to interdiction of objects and prosecution of crimes and they allow the laundering of title to these artefacts.  

The United States is the single largest market for art in the world, with forty-three percent of market share.  Because of the availability of the charitable tax deduction, the ability to import works of art and artefacts without payment of tariffs and because of artistic preference, the United States is the largest ultimate market for antiquities, particularly those from the Mediterranean and the Middle East."

A transcript of Dr. Gerstenblith's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

Key imagery from Dr. Amr Al-Azm's testimony can be viewed here.

A transcript of Mr. Robert Edsel's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Mr. Yaya Fanusie's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Dr. Lawrence Shindell's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

While key takeaways from this hearing conversations are distilled here ARCA strongly encourages its blog readership to take the time to listen to the entire hearing and examine the legal instruments evidence Dr. Gerstenblith underscores as being necessary.  

She reminds us that looting of archaeological sites imposes incalculable costs on society by destroying the original contexts of archaeological artifacts thereby impairing our ability to reconstruct and understand the historical record.  Her testimony reminds us that looters loot because they are motivated by profit and that the looting and illicit trafficking phenomenon we are seeing in Iraq, Syria and Libya are responses to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.   

The statements of all of the speakers remind us that while the market in antiquities has existed for centuries, its role in facilitating criminal enterprise on the scale that we are seeing in the Middle East is a terrifying one.  

Maamoun Abdelkarim of Syria’s DGAM inspecting the condition of delivered
artefacts transported from various parts of Syria to Damascus on Sept. 21, 2015.

Antiquities collectors must be educated to understand that the purchase of objects emerging on the open market without legitimate collection histories (i.e. provenance) are the likely product of conflict-based looting of archaeological sites, and contribute significantly to the destruction of the world's cultural heritage.  Buyers need to be made to realise that their buying power and their, until now, unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, incentivises those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone,  the looting that we are observing in countries of conflict.  

If collectors in market nations such as the United States and London refuse to buy undocumented artifacts, then the incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise and terrorism, diminish. 

Armed conflicts have long been called the “perfect storm” within which large-scale looting can take place, but not without collectors willing to look the other way. 

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

April 18, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016 - , No comments

Three Italian Renaissance Paintings Stolen by the Nazis in 1944 Have Been Recovered

By:  Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

Three 15th century Italian Renaissance paintings, seized from a villa of the then Prince of Luxembourg by Nazi forces operating in Camaiore, Italy in 1944, have been recovered by Italy's art crime police, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale.  Presented in an exhibition in Brera announcing their recovery, the paintings had been siezed by German forces after Italy entered World War II, when Luxembourg had been declared an enemy state and allowed for property seizure under wartime law.

In a press conference held today in the Sala della Passione in the paintings gallery of the Academy of Brera, Riccardo Targetti, the public prosecutor of Milan, and Alberto Deregibus, the deputy commander of the Carabinieri TPC unit, presented the three stolen works of art which have been missing since World War II and which had been recovered during a lengthy investigation dating back to December 2014, when the first painting was identified by law enforcement authorities in the Monza home of a Milan-based family.

The paintings recovered are:

a tempera on wood panel painting depicting the Trinity (60x38,5 cm) attributed to Alesso Baldovinetti (1425-1499), an Italian early Renaissance painter

an oil painting on canvas depicting a Madonna and Child (65x51 cm) attributed to Cima da Conegliano, birth name: Giovanni Battista Cima  (1460-1518), a Venetian Renaissance painter

an oil painting on canvas depicting depicting Christ's Circumcision and Presentation at the Temple (83x101 cm)  by Girolamo Dai Libri (1474-1555) a Verona-based an Italian illuminator of manuscripts and painter of altarpieces who worked in the early-Renaissance style.

Archive photo of the family of Prince Felix
and Luxembourg's Grand Duchess Charlotte 
While the press conference did not specify which members of the Luxembourg noble family were heirs to the three missing paintings, a trace of the Records Concerning the Central Collecting Points ("Ardelia Hall Collection"): Selected Microfilm Reproductions and Related Records, 1945-1949, Restitution Files Of MFAA Section - Berlin, 1956 › Claims-Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway give us a clue.

As the attached photos clarify the stolen paintings were most part of the collection owned by Prince Felix of Luxembourg who requested formal assistance from the allied forces in recovering 18 art treasures belonging to the Prince Consort of Luxembourg Royal Household stolen by German troops in 1944 during the allied offensive.  The paintings were removed from the Chateau de Pianore, at Capezzano di Camaiore new Viareggio, Province of Lucca, Italy.

April 16, 2016

Hidden Ownership - the Panama Papers

By;  A.M.C. Knutsson

In recent days numerous articles have been released outlining the role of art in the Panama Papers. (For an outline of the nature of the Panama Papers click here.) Based on these leaked files, journalists have mapped how art has figured within a system of tax avoidance and ownership concealment. Both for the money and for the art, the purpose of these ventures can be described as a superficial repudiation of ownership, in order to fortify the same and to protect the assets from various types of intrusions.  The usage of shell-companies can thus safeguard the real owners from challenges to their ownership as they officially are not the named owners.

One example of this is the case of Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire collector, who according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) used the infamous law firm Mossack Fonseca to protect his ownership of his $2 billion art collection during his divorce proceedings.[1]  The divorce proceedings started in December 2008 and according to Swiss law, which the couple resided under, the two spouses were entitled to equal parts of their wealth. However, Mossack Fonesca had been instrumental in transferring ownership of the collection, which included, among others, paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani and Rothko, to the company Xitrans Finance Ltd in the British Virgin Islands. This meant that they could no longer be found nor considered part of their shared wealth in the divorce proceedings. [2] On April 6 Rybolovlev's family lawyer made a statement claiming that the "description and references to the divorce proceedings of Mr Dmitriy Rybolovlev are misleading", as it "fails to state that the ex-spouses Rybolovlev amicably settled their matrimonial dispute and announced in a joint statement dated 20th October 2015".[3]  He further points to the fact that Xitrans Finance had been established in 2002, several years before the divorce proceedings and that its use "as a holding entity to constitute a remarkable art collection has been publicly disclosed in numerous publications worldwide and is perfectly legitimate.”[4]

Nevertheless, according to the Panama Papers Mossack Fonseca has for decades been helping spouses to shield assets from their better halves. Martin Kenney, an asset recovery specialist based in the British Virgin Islands has been helping wives from numerous countries including the UK, USA and Russia to recover hidden possessions. According to him, “These offshore companies and foundations . . . are instruments in a game of hide and concealment.”[5]

Another type of ownership obscurity can be seen in the case of the Seated Man with a Cane, a Modigliani painting bought in 1996 by the International Art Centre (IAC) and valued at $18-25 million.[6] According to a restitution claim filed by Philippe Maestacci on October 28, 2011, this painting had been looted by the Nazis from his grandfather, the art dealer Oscar Stettiner. Stettiner's inventory had been sold by Marcel Philippon a Nazi-appointed administrator after Stettiner fled from Paris in 1939. The Modigliani had been sold in 1944 and as early as 1946 Stettiner tried to retrieve the work but died two years later without resolving the claim. [7] In 2011 Maestracci picked up the struggle and sued the art dealing Nahmad family, often associated with the IAC, seeking the return of the painting. However, the suit was withdrawn when the Nahmads claimed that the IAC owned the painting and rather than themselves.[8] Indeed the ICIJ has reported that “The Nahmads have insisted in federal and state court in New York that the family does not possess the Modigliani.”[9] The Panama papers have now revealed that the International Art Centre has been owned by the Nahmad family for 20 years and since 2014 the patriarch David Nahmad has been the sole owner.[10] Confronted by the ICIJ David Nahmad's lawyer, Richard Golub, insisted that "Whoever owns the IAC is irrelevant", and the main issue is that Maestracci has no evidence that his grandfather, Stettiner, was the painting's original owner.[11] This standpoint seems not to be commonly shared and on April 8 the Geneva Prosecutor's Office searched the facilities in the Geneva Ports looking for the lost painting.[12] It was later revealed that the painting had been confiscated by the prosecutors during the raid.[13] While the restitution claim remains to be settled the reappearance of the painting and the confirmation of David Nahmad's ownership finally makes it possible for Philippon to proceed with his restitution claim.

According to Anders Rydell who has studied Nazi looted art, this case is not unique but he has found several other cases of Nazi confiscations figuring in the leaked files, which have also been hidden away through shell-companies and thus been beyond the reach of restitution claims. With the release of the Panama Papers he observes that "Maybe the right full owners may get their art back."[14]

In addition to these ownership battles, ample works of art are believed to be hidden away from sight as well as tax through shell-companies in the Free Ports. [15] The story of hidden art has just started to unfold and has still a long way to go. What the new discoveries in the Panama papers reveal is not all that surprising, but rather a sad prediction revealed to be true. The art market has long been known to involve shady deals and international crime syndicates. The revelation that art is hidden away should not be news to any of us, but perhaps the emergence of the Panama Papers actually offers a rare opportunity to resolve some of the long standing mysteries which has troubled the art market. Perhaps this will allow restitution claimants fresh material which can enable them to proceed with their cases. Perhaps long lost paintings will be rediscovered from the bowls of the world's Free Ports. Perhaps not. We will wait and we will see.  


[1]  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, access 15 April 2016
[2] http://theartnewspaper.com/news/news/panama-papers-russian-billionaire-dmitry-rybolovlev-used-offshore-company-to-hide-art-from-wife-leak/, access 15 April 2016
[3]   Ibid
[4]   Ibid
[5] https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160403-divorce-offshore-intrigue.html
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, access 15 April 2016
[7] http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/news/artnetnews/nahmad-gallery-sued-for-allegedly-looted-modigliani.asp, access 15 April 2016
[8]  http://theartnewspaper.com/news/museums/panama-papers-expose-art-world-s-offshore-secrets-/, access 15 April 2016
[9]  Ibid
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, Access 15 April 2016
[11]  Ibid
[12] http://www.artmarketmonitor.com/2016/04/09/swiss-prosecutors-raid-freeport-looking-for-modigliani/, Access 15 April 2016
[13]  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-11/modigliani-painting-sparks-criminal-probe-and-geneva-art-search, Access 15 April 2016
[14]  http://www.jp.se/article/anders-rydell-om-gomd-nazikonst/, Access 15 April 2016
[15] http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/konst-form/konstvarlden-kopplas-till-panama/, Access 15 April 2016