|Looting Matters: Hermes-Thoth |
Image: Schinousa Archive
Today Sotheby's auction house in New York sold an ancient marble head for more than $4.6 million even after Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis pointed out that the piece, owned by Robin Symes, matched an image in the Schinousa archives.
On December 5, Professor David Gills wrote on his blog "Looting Matters" under the post Symes and Hermes-Thoth about a 2,000 year old marble head for sale at a New York auction house today:
I am grateful to my Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for pointing out that the head of Hermes-Thoth due to be auctioned at Sotheby's New York next week had once passed through the hands of Robin Symes (December 12, 2013, lot 39). The estimate is $2.5-3.5 million.... Colour images of the head feature in the Schinousa archive where they were identified by Tsirogiannis.
In 2006, Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini published The Medici Conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities, from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums, an expose about the network of tombaroli and art dealers who funneled looted antiquities into private and public collections from the 1960s through the 1990s. Peter Watson wrote Mr. Symes legal problems in "The fall of Robin Symes" in 2005. On Trafficking Culture, archaeologist Neil Brodie summarizes the illegal activities of Giacomo Medici, convicted in 2005 of receiving stolen goods, illegal export of goods, and conspiracy to traffic. Here's how Symes is believed to have been involved:
By the late 1980s, Medici had developed commercial relations with other major antiquities dealers including Robin Symes, Frieda Tchacos, Nikolas Koutoulakis, Robert Hecht, and the brothers Ali and Hischam Aboutaam (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 73-4). He was the ultimate source of artefacts that would subsequently be sold through dealers or auction houses to private collectors, including Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman, Maurice Tempelsman, Shelby White and Leon Levy, the Hunt brothers, George Ortiz, and José Luis Várez Fisa (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 112-34; Isman 2010), and to museums including the J. Paul Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Investigative reporter Nikolas Zirganos took a special interest in the activities of British antiquities dealer Robin Symes, and was present in April 2006 when Greek police raided a villa on the island of Schinoussa belonging to Symes and his deceased partner Christos Michaelides. Zirganos described how the villa on Schinoussa was used for what he described as the ‘preparation and closing of deals’ (Zirganos 2007: 318). The villa was in effect a social and commercial hub, where Symes and Michaelides would entertain archaeologists, museum curators, conservators and wealthy collectors to gossip about the market and what was available for purchase, and to arrange sales. Thus, it was possible for a customer to purchase an illicit artefact on Schinoussa without actually coming into contact with it. The artefact would be smuggled separately to Switzerland, where the customer could take possession of it.Jason Felch, author of Chasing Aphrodite and an investigative journalist for The Los Angeles Times, wrote of Symes in January 2013:
Last year, the Getty quietly returned 150 marble fragments in the collection (88.AA.140 - 88.AA.144) to Italy after evidence emerged that they joined objects found in the same looted tombs of Ascoli Satriano that produced the Getty's Griffins and statue of Apollo, which were returned to Italy in 2007. The objects and fragments were acquired in the 1980s from London dealer Robin Symes.Dr. Gill described the Schinousa archive last June on "Looting Matters":
This photographic archive records the material that passed through the hands of a London-based dealer. If material from this archive resurfaces on the market, it would be reasonable to see the full collecting history indicated. But such information would no doubt be provided by rigorous due diligence searches.December 12, 20013, Sotheby's sold the late Hellenistic marble head of Hermes-Toth for $4,645,000 (Hammer's Price with Buyer's Premium)."
The Medici Pan withdrawn from sale at Sotheby's New York
Professor Gill also noted in "Looting Matters" that Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis identified "The Medici Pan" that was later withdrawn from the sale:
Sotheby's New York are due to auction a giallo antico marble bust of Pan next week (December 12, 2013, lot 51). The estimate is $10,000-$15,000. Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has pointed out to me that a polaroid image of the sculpture was found on the Geneva Freeport premises of Giacomo Medici.The Symes Pan for sale Dec. 13 at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza
Again, on the blog "Looting Matters", Dr. Gill writes about another item for sale that caught the eye of forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis:
Tsirogiannis has now identified a terracotta Pan from the Schinousa archive that is due to be auctioned at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza (December 13, 2013, lot 114, estimate $8000 - $12000). Christie's have offered the following collecting history:
with Edward H. Merrin Gallery, New York, 1968.
Private Collection, New York, 1968-2011.
So when was the Pan in the possession of Robin Symes? What is the identity of the private collection? Is the collecting history presented by Christie's robust? What authenticated documentation was supplied to Christie's?
The Edward H. Merrin Gallery has been linked to the bronze Zeus returned to Italy, material in the collection of Dr Elie Borowski, as well as the marble Castor and Pollux on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.Artemagazine
The Italian Artemagazine in "Pezzi di Medici e Symes all'asta: fino a quando?" (authored by Fabio Isman and his team) asks why illegally excavated antiquities from Italy are being offered for sale in New York City after Cambridge's Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has identified the items to archives collected in police raids.