August 4, 2013

Christos Tsirogiannis on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Greek (Late Hellenistic Period)
(2nd century BC - 1st century AD)
Statue of a Young Boy
Virginia Museum of Fine Art
Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis writes on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Since 2006, about 200 antiquities of exceptional quality, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives, have been identified by the Italian authorities as looted, and have been repatriated from North American museums, private collectors, antiquities dealers, galleries and auction houses (for the latest update of the list see Tsirogiannis 2013). Most of these antiquities have been already published and exhibited, with an acknowledgement of their looted past (e.g. Godart & De Caro 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2007: Godart, De Caro & Gavili 2008; ICE 2012; ICE 2013). While details of the acquisitions regarding these looted antiquities were first being published (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2006 and 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2006, Isman 2009), demonstrating that many of these objects had been sold with fabricated collecting histories (e.g. the famous Euphronios krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, now in Rome), new cases started to emerge. This article attempts to trace the true journey of another antiquity, reveals new evidence regarding its collecting history, researches the implications arising and exposes, once again, the way the international illicit antiquities network has been operating in recent years.
Christos Tsirogiannis
Christos Tsirogiannis studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He will shortly receive his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Mr. Tsirogiannis introduces his article with 'Facts and Evidence':
According to the Becchina archive (CD 1, pagina 5, foto 1375), Mario Bruno -- who was known as a "receiver of stolen goods" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:86) and "a major grave-robber" (Isman 2008:30) sold 12 antiquities to Gianfranco Becchina, on 22 August 1987. Among these antiquities was a marble statue of a boy. This is depicted in a cut-in-half Polaroid image, covered with soil, with its head cut and lying on (what appears to be) a white cloth. A bunch of keys and a corkscrew are depicted beside the statue, at the lower left corner of the image, to provide an idea of the statue's scale. A large "X," added later with a blue marker to the image, indicates that the statue was sold by Becchina at some point after 22 August 1987. the image is struck on a notebook page prominently entitled "da Mario 22/8/1987" (from Mario 22/8/1987"). A handwritten entry, referring to this statue, notes:
Statua marmo con testa forse ritratto di figlio di imperatore. pag. cash 45' CH
"Marble statue with head, perhaps portrait of the son of an Emperor. Paid cash 45 [000?] CH [Swiss Francs]." 
At the right side of the image there is a note, in the same blue marker with which the "X" was made: "=V Fried" (but the "V" was written with a thin black pen). The use of the blue marker by Becchina to write "=[V] Fried" suggests that the statue was sold by Becchina a substantial amount of time after it was bought from Bruno (see below). Indeed, all the entries for all 12 antiquities were written with the thin black pen at the time of their acquisition from Bruno; the same blue marker annotates 5 of these objects, indicating that they were sold by Becchina in a later period (there are no further notes on the page regarding a later sale of the remaining 7 antiquities). In the abbreviated code, used by Italian members of the international illicit antiquities network, "V" stands for venduto, "sold" (the same code was used by Medici, see Felch & Frammolino 2011:174). Thus, Becchina's handwritten note means "sold to Frieda."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger was the owner of the antiquities gallery Nefer in Zurich, and maintained strong bonds with Becchina and Symes-Michaelides. Indeed, the same statue of a boy that passed from Bruno to Becchina in August 1987 appeared in the Nefer gallery antiquities catalogue in 1989 (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1989:26, no. 28). As the statue was not included even in the 1988 Nefer antiquities catalogue (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1988), it was probably sold to Becchina to Tchacos about a year later, a gap also suggested by the change of pen to mark the image now in the Becchina archive. In the 1989 Nefer catalogue, the statue is presented clean of soil and with its head attached to its neck. The statue's price (in Swiss Francs) was higher than the highest price mentioned for any other antiquity in the catalogue (no. 38 for 28,000), since it was only available "on request." The entry notes:
"Portrait statue of a young boy. The boy has short hair except for a braid fasted at the back of his head. This hairstyle was considered a good-luck charm for Egyptian youngsters. The boy's youthful features are well-rendered in a round, full face. His head is turned to the right. His childish body is rendered with great skill under the thick himation. The head was broken off in antiquity and reassembled. Marble with yellow brown encrustation on the right side. Flavian, 2nd quarter of the 1st century B.C. [sic]. 86 cm (34 in.)."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger, an Egyptian-born Greek dealer, was involved in several cases of looted antiquities (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195, 227) that have been repatriated to Italy (Gill & Chippindale 2006:312). As part of a deal between Tchacos and the Italian authorities, Frieda Tchacos was given a light sentence: "[...] on September 17, 2002, she was convicted of handling stolen and smuggled goods, and of failing to notify the authorities of the antiquities that came her way. She was given one year and six months' imprisonment, suspended, and fined 1,000 euros" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195). This led to Tchacos' full cooperation. 
The absence of collection history and find-spot, regarding the statue from the Nefer gallery catalogue, combined with the hairstyle and date information, leave unclear whether the statue arrived in Zurich from Egypt, Greece, Italy or anywhere else within the borders of the Roman Empire. However, it is known that Mario Bruno was "a dealer who operated in Etruria and Puglia, where everybody worked, and he would sell the archaeological material abroad" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:154). Moreover, given the condition of the statue as depicted in the Becchina Polaroid image, it seems more likely that the statue was found in Italy, even if it had been transported there in antiquity. 
The same statue of a boy was acquired in 1989 by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, USA and was assigned the accession number 89.24.
This article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA -- available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.

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