March 4, 2019

Noah Charney, the founder of ARCA and leading expert on art crime, returns to Amelia to teach at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection


This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 14, 2019 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. This week I sit down with Noah Charney, the founder of ARCA.

Can you tell us something about your background and work? 

I was trying to decide what to study--traditional art history or playwriting believe it or not--when I stumbled into the field of art crime. I originally decided to study art history but did so in London where I could also go see a lot of plays. During that time I thought I wanted to be a playwright and actually got an agent for my plays. But she said that it was far easier to make a living as a novelist than a playwright and did I maybe have a novel in mind? I didn't, but I got started writing.

It was the era of The Thomas Crown Affair and The Da Vinci Code and I thought I'd try something along those lines. As I began my research I realized that there was very little published on true art crimes, especially from an academic angle.  The outcome was I wound up writing The Art Thief, which I was very lucky with.

My interest in studying art crime was piqued at that point and eventually I shifted from art history into criminology, in order to focus on its motivating factors. Turns out I was one of the very few academics drawn to studying this type of crime. While working towards my PhD I organized a conference in Cambridge that brought together art police and academics researching art related crimes. I got lucky again and the conference and this blending of law enforcement and academia were written up in The New York Times. This really kicked things off and was the starting point for my deciding to found ARCA as a research association on art crime, in order to bring together individuals from the various disciplines and specializations that, at the time, seemed so separated from one another. 

What sets the ARCA program apart from others developed later? 

I'm very proud of ARCA's post graduate program, both in terms of what we have created, and what it has supported its graduates to gone on and do professionally.   The program itself was written up in a separate article in the New York Times specifically because of its distinctive subject matter and for it being the first program of its kind in the world, in which one could study art crime but also in a very unique and distinctive format.

The program runs every summer over 11 weeks and we bring in 11-15 world experts in varying disciplines who each teach, or co-teach, one of eleven course modules, each of which are interconnected and make up the foundation of our postgraduate-level professional development program.  Some of our lecturers include Richard Ellis, the founder of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Squad, Marc Masurovsky, who is an expert on Holocaust looted assets, Dorit Straus, who is an art insurance underwriting expert who also sits on the United State's Cultural Property Advisory Committee, and Dick Drent, the former director of security for the Van Gogh Museum who is a risk management consultant for museums around the globe.

We are also lucky to have a judge, three criminologists and two archaeologists as primary course professors and guest lecturers who come in every year and speak on current cases and art crime deterrent initiatives, which add to the diversity of material we cover.   This year we will have guest lecturers working in conflict archaeology and two curators from the British Museum who will be part of our opening course, lecturing on the issues of circulating illicit artefacts and due diligence. 

I myself teach our history of art crime course, which has a heavy emphasis on forgery. In developing our format, students pursuing MAs and PhDs and professionals can take the program over the course of one summer, or split the program up over two summers and still get the time to explore Italy and Europe. Setting up the program in this way also allows us to bring major experts in the fields, who otherwise have full-time jobs elsewhere, to teach with us one week or two weeks each summer, sharing their knowledge.

Since ARCA's first year of programming in 2009, we have now trained more than 260 alumni who come from 35 different countries around the world and from all different professional backgrounds.  Some of our participants go on to work on Masters degrees or their own  PhDs, and others already work in allied art industry fields.  What's interesting is that the profile of our participants cuts across all disciplines and age groups from late twenties to mature senior learners.

We have had graduates invent new careers in the field, some who have moved on to prominent roles at art law firms, consulting with UNESCO and other heritage organizations, or who blaze their own trails, working in the fields of provenance research or within museums in varying capacities. It is always a wonderfully bonded group that falls in love with the town of Amelia in Italy where the program has been held for more than a decade and who stay in touch with one another, networking long after the program concludes.  That chemistry and diversity is something that we are very proud of. 

Another thing we are proud of is our training of scholars working in conflict countries.  This month we are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds so we can offer more scholarships to heritage professionals from countries where cultural heritage is particularly at risk as the result of war and or poverty. Since 2015 we have been able to give scholarships to professionals working in Yemen and Iraq and Syria and we would like to be able to do more in this capacity.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

Our program schedule is very intensive -- 5 hours a day for 5 days a week.  But while there are a lot of lecture hours, 220 over the course of all 11 course modules, the overall feeling during the summer is quite relaxed. Classes begin at 10:30 in the morning so it is not exactly at the crack of dawn. We also have a generous 2-hour break for lunch and classes finish by 5:30 in the evening so participants still have time to adjourn to lovely gardens or cafes and to enjoy some wine and pizza. We also try to balance the quantity of home-based assignments with in classroom assignments.

For me, I love teaching and the 5 hours a day of lectures I give fly by. Teaching the history of art crime with a focus on forgery, my goal is to highlight historical case studies that help participants understand how to analyze criminal cases.   Even when we have incomplete information on the crime committed by delving into these historical examples we shed light on present and future issues.

I also always include a bonus lecture for our participants that focuses on strategies for writing their thesis or any academic journal article. If there is time and enough interest, I also include a second bonus lecture on how to get published and earn money as a freelance writer.  There are lots of lessons that I had to learn through experience that I think can really help people and it's my pleasure to offer anything I can to help our participants who are interested in writing, whatever their age or background might be.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your course, is there anything you learn from them in class?

I am always learning and part of the fun is the fact that art crime is both so understudied and also so multifaceted. As only a limited amount of material has been published in detail on this subject area,  and as so few people in the world have historically focused on art crime in the art world, each person who studies with us has a chance to make a real and meaningful contribution by exploring the nuances of the genre.  By the very reason that this subject area is a rare though important field of study, postgraduate scholars can make real breakthroughs that can really shake things up and contribute to the knowledge base within this sector.

As an emerging area of focus, there are lots of empty spaces and unanswered questions that need to be filled in. For example one of our earliest participants focused on the specific ways certain criminals had passed off forgeries and looted works of art as legitimate.  By fabricated documents to create a plausible collection history of the artwork, what people in the art trade call provenance documentation, this disreputable player had created a wholly fictitious backstory in order to legitimize the sale of objects on the art market.   Knowing that there was no real focus on gathering and confirming or discounting presented documentation in order to determine an object's illegitimacy, the criminals had laundered artworks onto the market with impunity.

When I talked about some of the ways that historically criminals have tricked the art trade and buyers one participant explained that in their country, in many art market situations and sales environments there isn't anyone whose job it is to verify an objects providence, or to determine whether or not the consigned object or its paperwork, were forged. The fact that an industry the size of the art market was so intentionally vulnerable, all in the name of sales, was a real eye opener. 

In anticipation of your course, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

There are so many good writers, many associated with ARCA, who have good and useful books well worth reading. I think it's also actually a good exercise to indulge in art crime entertainment. It is useful because it's fun and it also exemplifies how misleading so many films are.  This is a useful starting point for recognizing which aspects of art criminality presented to the general public are accurate and which are not.

There are many great films that are a lot of fun and that also teach viewers two things. First the films give a sense of what the public thinks, or wants to believe about art crime, and are something criminals themselves learn from about the art world as they have access to the same sources of the general public.  But films and fiction are also generally not very accurate. Second, understanding the criminals' knowledge base is very helpful in stopping them.   Films are useful for our participants because they see just how much they've learned by the end of the program by being able to think back on these pop culture touchstone's and having learned to recognize which aspects of them are plausible and which are truly just Hollywood-esque entertainment and hype.

What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique? 

The program is unique. That phrase is often used as hyperbole but in this case it is very true. ARCA's PG Cert was the very first program in the world where you could study art crime in an interdisciplinary academic way. There have since been other programs developed that have popped up long after ours was initiated but they tend to focus on specific subsections of art crime, such as criminal investigation or law as it relates to specific countries, or to the illicit trade in antiquities. Whereas ours remains the only comprehensive program out there.  So for me, if someone wants to study our crime I believe this is still the only place where one can really do it full justice as we aren't restricted to one subject discipline. 

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

Amelia is a wonderful place to spend a summer and our participants inevitably fall in love with the town and the region and the people in the city and their fellow participants. Many of our alumni come back to our summer art crime conference every year not just for the interesting scholarship but also as an excuse to visit old friends and colleagues. Over the course of a summer it is also easy for participants to explore every nook and cranny of Amelia as it is modest in size but with surprising riches such as a city's spectacular Duomo.

Borrowing a car, or better still, a friend with a car, is a great thing to do because there are wonderful day trips to do near Amelia. There are many wonderful towns worth seeing in Italy, and I'm not just talking about the grand tour cities of Rome and Florence and Venice and Naples. Bomarzo, with its amazing and crazy mannerist sculpture garden, is full of these stone sculptures of giants and monsters that are much larger than life size and which is only a half hour away from where we are based. Orvieto and Viterbo, Civita di Bagnoregio, Narni, Spoleto...are also gems worth visiting. 

Maybe one of the nicest activities to do that is beyond the traditional beaten tourist path is to attend a summer sagra. This village food festivals pop up all over Italy throughout the summer. Each one has a theme focusing on a special food from their area and during these it is like a giant pop-up communal restaurant filled with local townspeople, eating at long tables.  These provide lots of camaraderie and dancing and are a cheap way to enjoy delicious speciality eats with locals.

Can you tell us something about your books outside the field of art and crime? 

While I'm known mostly for my books on art crime I've also enjoyed branching out in recent years. I just finished helping a famous Slovenian chef with his latest cookbook and I had great fun publishing a book about my adventures living in Slovenia called Slovenology.  This book has been very well received and translated into several languages.   I seem to be known for two things: art crime and for being an American expat in Slovenia. I hope I have brought some positive changes and interpretations to both of these subjects!


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


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

March 1, 2019

Found in an attic, oh my.

I found it in an attic...never a basement, never on the wall, never in granny's bedroom.  The number of forgotten masterpieces purportedly found under the rooftops of houses, many of them French for some reason, sometime can seem too good to be true.  Not to mention an almost tritely predictable location.   

I've been in my parents attics lots of times but all I ever find is old Christmas ornaments, not priceless, formally unknown masterpieces. 

Here are some of the fortunes found (and not) in attics recently:


A masterpiece by Giambattista Tiepolo's "The Portrait of a lady as Flora" was reportedly found in the attic of a French château.  This artwork sold in 2008 via Christie's for £2.8 million. 



In 2010 family members found a Chinese 18th Century Qianlong porcelain Fish Vase, clearing out the attic of their uncle/brother's modest home in Pinner, a town in the Borough of Harrow, in northwest London shortly after he recently died.  The 18th century vase later sold at Bainbridges auction for a mind boggling £53.1 million.  


In 2013, after considerable doubt, then Van Gogh museum director Axel Rüger announced that the 1988 "Sunset at Montmajour" which had been “rediscovered” after sitting in a Norwegian attic,  was authentic.


In 2013 a tiny figurine, made by Faberge, depicting a known personal bodyguard to the family of Russian Czar Nicholas II was found in an upstate New York attic when relatives cleaned out the space following the death of a relative.  The jaunty soldier sold for $5.2 million.  



The artwork " Poise (1916), painted by Scottish Colorist John Duncan Fergusson was rediscovered in another French attic, this time in Giverny.  It was sold in November 2014 for £638,500.


In 2015,  a Scotsman, Dominic Currie told the world he was cleaning out old belongings that once belonged to his deceased mother, and purportedly found a work by the Cubist artist Pablo Picasso rolled up in an old suitcase he had stored in his attic in 2000, apparently too distraught to go through her things at the time of his mum's passing.  The artwork later turned out to be a hoax, though Currie claims that his ruse was simply a piece of performance art, done to raise awareness of the plight of struggling artists like himself.


In April of 2016, in still yet another French attic, near Toulouse, apparently produced a rare painting by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.  This artwork depicts the violent biblical scene of "Judith Beheading Holofernes" which, if it is to be believed, dates back to around 1600.  It will go under the hammer in Toulouse on June 27 this year and could fetch as much as $171 million.


In 2018 a second set of siblings cleaning out their parents attic in France found dozens of pieces of Chinoiserie.  One of them was an Imperial 18th-century ‘Yangcai’ Famille-Rose porcelain vase, found in a shoebox, created during the reign of Qianlong, the fourth emperor in the Qing dynasty.  It sold for 16.2 million euros via Sotheby's later that same year. 

Perhaps it's time to tidy up those dusty attic corners.

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 28, 2019

In pursuit of restitution: FBI asks representatives of Native American tribes and foreign authorities and indigenous tribes for assistance in identifying material remains catalogued as part of from the Don Miller forfeiture

Image Credit : FBI
When US law enforcement agents raided the rural Rush county home of Don Miller in Indiana four years ago, the execution of that search warrant resulted in the largest single recovery of cultural property in FBI history. 

Since that time, the Bureau’s Art Crime division has been tasked with identifying just who are the rightful owners of more than 7,000 objects from around the globe that were found in the now-deceased collector's main residence.  The objects once filled the house where Miller resided with his wife, his basement, a second, unoccupied residence on the property; and several outbuildings, accessible via a tunnel which connected the house to the adjoining buildings. 

Prior to the Federal seizure Miller had made no secret that he was an avid collector, even going so far as to have area schoolchildren over for tours of his amateur museum.   Much of his collection was displayed inside carefully labeled glass showcases or spread out on folding tables.   An individual well-known in his community, Miller was also profiled in local papers who wrote articles about his artifacts, about his service during World War II and about his connection to the Manhattan Project where he helped build the world's first atomic bomb. 

Cooperating throughout the investigation, Miller voluntarily waived his title to all of the seized objects prior to his death at 91 in 2015.  As part of that cooperation, he relinquished the artefacts that he had acquired in violation of state and federal law and international treaties. 

Some of the anthropological and archaeological Miller collected over his lifetime included:

Native American arrowheads, points and projectiles from throughout the western United States
fossils
40 pre-Columbian artifacts
hundreds of terracotta vases
two fossilized eggs
an Egyptian sarcophagus
500 sets of human remains looted largely from Native American burial grounds
a life-size Chinese terracotta figurine
an Italian mosaic
a South American dugout canoe
a bear skin rug
carved boomerangs
coins
an 1873 Winchester carbine purportedly fired by a Lakota Indian at the Battle of Little Big Horn;
a Tibetan bell
jade, purportedly form the Ming Dynasty
bullet casings detected by a metal detector at Civil War battlefields
axes;
a chunk of concrete that Miller purportedly claimed was from the bunker in which Adolf Hitler committed suicide.


The task of returning the forfeited objects to their rightful owners is not an easy one.  Nor is it easy to determine which artefacts crossed the line from legal to illegal or were the result of outright looting.  Additionally no single art historian or archaeologist can singularly provide the US government authorities with sufficient expertise about the origins of every object that Miller had in his possession as the collection itself was extremely varied.

Image Credit: FBI
To adjust for this, the FBI has reached out to tribal authorities, academic experts, archaeologists and anthropologists for assistance in identifying the material.  Assisted by museum studies students, the objects were carefully documented, preserved and curated into what would later become an invitation-only digital archive, where the relinquished cultural artefacts can be viewed by experts working towards their restitution. 

Screen Capture:  FBI digital archive, Via FBI.
To help with the identification of human and archaeological remains from North America, the FBI also contacted all of the federally recognised Native American tribes, some 600 in total, for their assistance in determining material of their tribal origin. The authorities also hope to gain further assistance from governments around the world as well as from the indigenous tribes from outside North America.



February 20, 2019

Interview with open source intelligence analyst Sam Hardy


By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 15, 2019 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, I'm speaking with all course professors on the program as well as those who are guest lecturers or researching at ARCA. This week I speak with archaeologist and Open source intelligence analyst Sam Hardy, one of the trainers on the Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq program in the Middle East, in which ARCA worked with UNESCO and other UNESCO partners to train heritage specialists working in the Middle East.


Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I did a BA in Archaeology and Prehistory at the University of Sheffield, where I developed an interest in the relationship between archaeological practice and human rights in general and the past and present of South-Eastern Europe in particular. Then I did an MA in Cultural Heritage Studies at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, where I started to focus on the treatment of cultural property during crisis and conflict.

During my MSc-DPhil at the University of Sussex, a series of accidents led me from attempting to explore peace education at historic sites in first Kosovo then Cyprus, to exploring destruction and propaganda and, since the crimes were interconnected, looting in Cyprus. As open-source research into destruction - like that done by Bellingcat - and particularly into trafficking is still an emerging field, there was no career path to follow, at least not one that was defined.

Still, I developed a specialism in open-source research (that pieces together new understandings from disparate, publicly-accessible sources), focused on conflict antiquities trafficking (trafficking of, and other profiteering from, cultural goods that finance political violence), connected with ARCA - and collaborated with Lynda Albertson in checking claims of damage to sites in Syria and Iraq - then got contracts from the American University of Rome, Global Witness, UNESCO and ICOM followed by fellowships from Koç University in Turkey and UCL Qatar.

I would like to note, it was only thanks to the support of friends from the Institute of Archaeology, and the women who've been my bosses throughout my career, that I managed to stay in the profession. For women who are considering a career in this field, they should know that they would be joining a rich history of "trowelblazers", are the majority in archaeology and heritage and are earning the same as men.

All of this has somehow led me to the dream job that I'm about to start at the Norwegian Institute in Rome, within the Heritage Experience Initiative of the University of Oslo, where I'm going to be the Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Cultural Heritage and Conflicts. Over the next three years, I'm going to explore the relationship between antiquities trafficking and political violence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, from the politics of policing, to the involvement of organised criminals and armed groups (including state forces), to the exploitation of the refugee crisis, and to the deployment of propaganda.

What do you do at ARCA?

I've been fortunate enough to work with ARCA on the Countering Antiquities Trafficking in the Mashreq training through UNESCO for cultural heritage professionals and law enforcement agents from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, which has helped local efforts to combat trafficking across the region. I also co-taught one of the courses in 2018 on open source research methods.  When I'm not indulging my interest in the most bizarre features of the subject, like Russian propaganda, I've also been able to collaborate with others in and through ARCA to find and check evidence in ongoing research.

In anticipation of the ARCA program, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants?

One academic article I'd recommend is "uncovering the illicit traffic of Russian ancient icons from Russia to Germany" by Laure Coupillaud Szustakowski, who took the ARCA programme and whose paper I first heard at the ARCA conference. Some of my work depends on risky journalism. I would recommend Özgen Acar and Melik Kaylan's investigations into organised crime in Turkey and beyond from 1988 and 1990 (in English), which I still use now, but they're only really accessible as difficult-to-read archive copies. More recent investigations include those by Esther Saoub and her colleagues on looting in Syria (in German), by Mike Giglio and Munzer al-Awad on trafficking out of Syria (in English), by Benoit Faucon and his colleagues on dealing in antiquities from Syria (in English) and by Frédéric Loore on the ransoming of stolen works of art by the terrorists who attacked Paris and Brussels (in French).

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

I've had the chance to listen and learn when Dick Drent and Dick Ellis co-taught during the ARCA-UNESCO training with me. Despite focusing on different parts of the trade in different countries and using different methods, Christos Tsirogiannis and I have developed a common interest in certain shady characters, so it'd be great to hear him explain the intricacies of his work.

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

Amelia is a foodie treat for me and I'm not even a foodie. Not eating dairy can really limit your options, especially in Italy, but the Amerini (the name for local town folk) make allergy-friendly food that tastes great - and I once got to be the sous-chef for a Syrian-Iraqi feast. I'd get in trouble with one friend or another for suggesting Spritz, either because it's from Venice or because it dilutes Prosecco, but I can safely and sincerely recommend the local wines.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June. 

There's always interesting research, new contacts and old friends - I look forward to it every year.


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


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

Egypt-Italy Antiquities Smuggling Case: Detention extended for Raouf Boutros Ghali


As reported on February 14, 2019 Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek, previously ordered 15 days of precautionary custody pending an investigation for Raouf Boutros Ghali for his alleged involvement in the trafficking of 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds from Egypt to Italy which were seized by Italian authorities in Salerno in 2017. 

Yesterday, the Egyptian government, via the third chamber of the Cairo Criminal Court, led by Counselor Mohamed Mahmoud El Shorbagy met for a preliminary hearing.  During that judicial session the court decided to extended the defendant's detention for 45 days in order to allow more time for a detailed investigation into the alleged offense.   





February 18, 2019

Arrests made in charges of smuggling Egyptian antiquities in diplomatic bags to Italy


On March 14, 2018 Italy's Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, better known as the Carabinieri T.P.C., informed the Egyptian embassy in Rome that during a routine customs inspection in May 2017, law enforcement officials from the TPC, in collaboration with the officials of the Customs Agency and the local Superintendency, had seized a reported 23,700 archaeological finds, all of which were believed to have come from ancient Egypt. The stash had been discovered inside a diplomatic shipping container, sent through the port of Salerno of the type used to transport household goods.


The Italian authorities shared that information with their Egyptian colleagues, including photos of the seized artefacts and promised to provide further clarification regarding the date and place of shipment, as well as details on the sender and the receiver, as soon as it was possible, when the disclosure wouldn't hamper their ongoing investigation.  To determine the objects' authenticity, the Egyptian authorities formed a specialized committee to examine pictures of the seized objects and to ensure that the artifacts were authentic.  If they were, their next step was to try to understand where they came from.


When the news of the antiquities seizure hit the press wires, little information was released to the public.  It was only stated that the haul came from a shipment of items belonging to an unnamed diplomat.  As tensions grew between the two states, on May 24, 2018, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry made a formal announcement,  denying that the seized container belonged to anyone affiliated with the Egyptian embassy or authorities in Italy.

On May 25, 2018 Shabaan Abdel Gawad, who heads up Egypt's antiquities repatriation department within the Ministry of Antiquities, confirmed that the Egyptian authorities had deemed the artifacts to be authentic but the objects did not appear in any of the country's registries.  This meant that the ancient objects, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic, as well as the Islamic era, had not been stolen from any known museum collection, and likely were the unrecorded finds of clandestine excavations of archaeological sites in Egypt.

The objects were believed to have come from an area on the edge of the western desert in the Minya province, located in central Egypt, 250 km south of Cairo.  This artifact rich area is known to have ancient catacombs that date back to the late pharaonic period, which spans from 664 to 332 BCE.  The area has also been the subject to plunder and looting, which intensified after the country's revolution in 2011.

This confirmation by the Egyptian authorities put to rest early speculation that these objects might have come from the Sinai region, an area where jihadist groups affiliated to ISIS had spread.  After the artefacts' authenticity was confirmed, the General Prosecutor's Office in Cairo sent letters rogatory to Italy requesting formal assistance in early June 2018.


On June 27, 2018 at the headquarters of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Salerno, Dr. Corrado Lembo and the Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, returned  a total of circa 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds, including funerary masks decorated in gold, a sarcophagus, a "Boat of the Dead" with 40 oarsmen, amphorae, pectoral paintings, wooden sculptures, bronzes, and ushabti statuettes.  These items were handed over to Egyptian Ambassador, HE Hesham Badr, Professor Mohamed Ezzat, Senior Coordinator at the International Cooperation Administration of the General Prosecutor's Office, and Professor Moustafa Waziry, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities for the Republic of Egypt.  


On February 14, 2019 Egypt's Prosecutor General, Nabil Sadek, ordered 15 days of precautionary custody pending investigation for Raouf Boutros Ghali for his alleged involvement in the trafficking of the Egyptian artifacts which had been seized in Salerno.  Raouf Boutros Ghali, who holds passports from Italy and San Marino, is the brother of the former Egyptian Minister of Finance, Youssef Botros Ghaly whose served in that role under then President Hosni Mubarak from 2004 to 2011.  He is also the nephew of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 1992 to December 1996 who died in 2016. The Boutros-Ghali family are Coptic Christians with deep roots in Egypt's old aristocracy.


The prosecutor general in Egypt has also ordered the freezing assets attributed to the former honorary consul of Italy in Luxor, Cav. Ladislav Otakar Skakal.  Skakal, who now lives in Rome, is believed to have been the unnamed Italian diplomat whose name was attributed to the seized cargo.  Egyptian authorities have also placed financial constraints on the liquidation of assets on Medhat Michel Girgis Salib, and his wife Sahar Zaki Ragheb. Egyptian news articles state that Salib is the owner of a shipping company.






February 17, 2019

The Metropolitan Museum, Christophe Kunicki and a Luxor dealer names Tawadros: More questions than answers on recent Egyptian acquisitions

In researching details related to the acquisition and current restitution of the 1st century Egyptian B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, I came across two other objects which show Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  

One of those objects is:

A Monumental Stela of Kemes , ca. 1750–1720 BCE



The provenance currently listed on the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes states:


A check of open source records using the names Ewe Schnell, Heinz Herzer and Pierre Bergé & Associés combined only turns up one other antiquity,  a panel painting of a woman in a blue mantle, which is also an acquisition within the Metropolitan Museum's collection. 


Serop Simonian is an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt and a resident in Germany.  He's interesting in that he has stirred up quite a bit of controversy regarding his involvement with the disputed Artemidorus papyrus, which he managed to sell in 2004 for €2.75 million to the Compagnia San Paolo Art Foundation notwithstanding that some experts have ascertained that it is a fake.  As the statute of limitations on that piece ran out, Simonian was never charged. 

On April 25, 2016 the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes stated the provenance as something quite different:


This earlier collection history mentions a "Todrous Collection" of which there is nothing documented in open source records anywhere on the web for any other ancient objects.  A late antique textile fragment of a tunic with the inventory number T 34, from "the Tamerit collection" is on record at the at the Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek at the Austrian National Library though not much else.



Note this Metropolitan Museum record spells the name Todrous, while the recently restituted mummy spells the name Tawadrus, and trade journals spell the name Tawadros.  Later in this post you will also see the name spelled Tadross

Christophe Kunicki's own dealer website listed the provenance as:

Ancient european private collection, 1969.
With Tadross, Luxor, 1960’s

Stepping back even farther, outside of the museum's website, the Monumental Stela of Kemes was published in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology.

This trade magazine listed the provenance as follows:

A rare Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes, superior of musicians (3), from the 13th Dynasty, circa 1770 BC (H. 73cm), in the form of a quadrangular naos resting upon a base carved with façades, was purchased from the Luxor dealer Tawadros during the 1960s. The cover-piece of the sale, it was estimated at €300,000-€400,000, but brought in a hammer price of just €200,00 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The expert for both sales was Christophe Kunicki.

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Notice that the involvement of the French dealer Christophe Kunicki via Pierre Bergé & Associés in furthering this acquisition transaction does not appear in any of the Metropolitan Museum's provenance records for the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes.  It only appears in the bimonthly trade rag for antiquities dealers.  Purchased on 21 May 2014 the Met's record also leaves out the "Luxor dealer Tawadros" connection on this object.  The name of that person is also the name associated on the  now restituted 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.

Note: Kunicki's website lists another egyptian object with the name "Habib Tawadros" giving us a another artefact linked to this mysterious Luxor dealer.

ARCA has notified the Egyptian authorities that this piece too may require closer examination. 

By Lynda Albertson

February 16, 2019

Restitution: Met Museum agrees to return its 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, to Egypt

The Metropolitan Museum has agreed to return its 1st century B.C.E gold-sheathed mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of the high-ranking priest Nedjemankh.  The late Ptolemaic (or Hellenistic) antiquity was purchased via art dealer Christophe Kunicki, who lists himself on his website as a member of the Syndicat Français des Experts Professionnels en Oeuvres d’Art and the Chambre Européenne des Experts d’Art.  

Purchased for €3.5m in 2017, Nedjemankh’s coffin had reportedly been on consignment with the Paris dealer via an unidentified private collector.  Created out of cartonnage in the last century of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, a material used in Ancient Egyptian funerary objects from the First Intermediate Period to the Roman era, the object is made up of layers of linen stiffened with animal glue and layers of gesso. Evidence presented to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and confirmed by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture indicate that the antiquity may have been looted from Egypt in 2011 and exported utilizing fraudulent documents.

Note that the timeframe of the possible plunder, listed by the New York Times, and the Egyptian authorities coincides with the fall of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, Egypt's former military and political leader, who served as president of Egypt from 1981 to 2011.  After the so called Arab Spring, Egyptian authorities reported a significant uptick in heritage looting, exacerbated in part by the country's revolution and subsequent political upheaval.

The spartan collecting history information listed for the artifact on the Metropolitan Museum's website states that the antiquity was "officially exported from Egypt in 1971, the coffin has since resided in a private collection."  A second page on the museum's website, which has since been removed, listed the artifact's provenance as follows:

"The coffin was exported in 1971 from Egypt with an export license granted by the Antiquities Organization / Egyptian Museum, Cairo. It belonged to the stock of Habib Tawadrus, a dealer active since at least 1936, with a shop Habib & Company in Cairo opposite Shepheard’s Hotel, and was exported by the representative of the Tawadrus’ heirs to Switzerland. An official translation of the export license was provided by the German embassy in Cairo in February 1977 for the use of the representative and now owner in Europe. The coffin has remained in the family of that owner until its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum in 2017."

This spartan amount of information, on an ancient object of this significance, drew the attention of blogger Paul Barford in September 2017 shortly after the purchase was announced.


Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York goes back at least as far as September/October 2014, when his involvement in two purchases was highlighted in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology as having advised the museum on two other purchases. 

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Those objects, memorialized in the screenshot above, were a 26th Dynasty granodiorite head of the Pharaoh Apries, purportedly from the collection of Olivier Cacoub and the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes in the form of a quadrangular naos resting on a base carved with façades.  The later of these was purportedly from the same "Luxor dealer Tawadros," in the 1960s, whose name is attached to the golden mummiform coffin that has just been repatriated.  It is not known at present if these objects are being given closer examination.

The Met’s management has formally apologized to Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister of antiquities.

In it's press release the museum added:

 "All of the Museum’s acquisitions of ancient art undergo a rigorous vetting process in recognition of the 1970 UNESCO treaty, in adherence to the Association of Art Museum Director’s Guidelines on the Acquisition of Ancient Art and Archaeological Materials, and in compliance with federal and state laws."

Given that the Met developed a substantial exhibition around this golden-sheathed coffin, one would think that the museum's "rigorous vetting process" would have also included a close analysis of export documentation to check for fabrication and forgery.

A video from the Met Presents series featuring Curator Janice Kamrin and Conservator Anna Serotta talking about the coffin of Nedjemankh can be viewed here.

Upon the artefact's return to Egypt, it has been decided that the repatriated burial coffin will be displayed in the Egyptian Museum of Liberation until the Grand Egyptian Museum opens in 2020.

Notation:  Note this Metropolitan Museum record the name of the Luxor dealer as Tawadrus, while elsewhere in its records it records other objects using the name Todrous.  The trade journal above spelled the name Tawadros.  Another dealer spells the name as Tadross.




By:  Lynda Albertson








February 13, 2019

Looted artworks returned to Italy via voluntary forfeiture via Christie's auction house in London


In a memorable act of rare collaboration, Italian officials have announced “the first case of such close co-operation between Italy and a private auction house” in which a number of illegally obtained and trafficked antiquities, the proceeds of clandestine excavations between the 1960s and the 1980s, were voluntarily restituted to the Italian authorities. 

In a handover event held at Italy's Embassy in London, twelve antiquities and one document were ceremoniously returned, some of which had been placed up for auction in 2014 and 2015 and which were withdrawn from sale after being determined as questionable.  Attended by Alberto Bonisoli, the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities,  Raffaele Trombetta, the Italian ambassador to London, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of Italy's Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the CEO of Christie's Guillaume Cerutti and the auction house's Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Brooks, this event represents a much needed step forward in art market's cooperation with the Italian authorities and a welcomes step towards collaboratively working with one another towards the restitution of looted objects.

The antiquities returned are: 


A marble fragment whose theft from a sarcophagus from the Catacombs of St Callixtus, on the Appian Way in Rome was reported in 1982. 


A 6th -5th century BCE Etruscan terracotta antefix used to capthe terminus of covering tiles on ancient roofs.

Its original provenance when listed in sale 10372 as Lot 102 was "Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner."


Five (5) 4th century BCE Apulian Gnathian-ware plates.


A 350-330 BCE red-figure Apulian hydria believed to be attributed to a follower of the Snub-Nose or Varrese painter.

Its original provenance when listed in sale 10372 as Lot 108 was "Property from a London Collection


A 2nd century CE Roman capitol.


A Roman marble relief depicting a Satyr with Maenad stolen from the gardens of Villa Borghese in 1985.


A 14th century promissory folio from an illuminated manuscript by the Doge Andrea Dandolo and the ducal councilors.


A 4th century BCE red-figure Faliscan stamnos vase used to store liquids.

At the ceremony, attendees underscored that the art market's ethical codes need enhancement and that greater due diligence is needed to ensure the legitimacy of objects before accepting them for sale.  With over 1 million two hundred thousand stolen objects and about 700 thousand images of stolen and looted art, the Carabinieri's Leonardo database, the largest stolen art database in the world, is a good place to start when auction houses such as Christie's consider accepting them on consignment.

During the event Christie's staff indicated that the antiquities had been acquired in the past in good faith.   Three of these however did not pass the smell test in 2014 and 2015 when they originally accepted for consignment and were placed up for auction.   All three were later withdrawn when they were identified as having passed through the hands of well known Italian dealers who have consistently been linked to trafficked antiquities.  Without the required, verifiable title, export documentation or collection history these objects had no place on the legitimate art market. 


Auction houses are not the only parties that need to be diligent when evaluating antiquities, especially when considering objects which appear to have emerged on the open market without substantiated collection histories.

Ancient art collectors should realise that their buying power and unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, serves to incentivise those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone, the looting of archaeological sites, by which illicit material enters the licit market.

If collectors in market buying nations such as the United States and UK refused to purchase undocumented artifacts, then the supply chain incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise, diminish.

By:  Lynda Albertson