July 5, 2016

Mediation over Litigation: Looted antiquities to come back to Italy from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Like the world's ambassadors who serve as official envoys, promoting good relations between countries, cooperation between archaeologists, state attorneys, cultural ministries and museums, in furtherance of the return of plundered antiquities, sometimes serve as strange bedfellows in strengthening reciprocal relationships through acts of of cultural diplomacy. 

Over the last eight years the Italian government has successfully brokered repatriations with American museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and the Cleveland Museum for the return of looted antiquities.  But up until yesterday, finding a way to achieve the same results with the internationally acclaimed Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum in Denmark's capital of Copenhagen, had proven anything but fruitful. 

At the heart of the Italian's case, started in 2008, is a calesse, an ornate parade wagon and other funerary objects that date back to the early seventh century B.C.E.,  The funerary objects, long on display at the Glyptotek, came from the looted tomb of a Sabine prince, laid to rest within the Colle del Forno necropolis.  

The Glyptotek purchased the funerary objects in 1970 via Swiss dealer, Robert Hecht, just before the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property entered into force. As can be seen from the letter between the museum's then management and the tainted dealer, its easy to see that those who agreed to the antiquities' purchase had more than a vague idea of the illicit nature of the material being purchased during the transaction. 
A letter from Robert E. Hecht to former Glyptotek director Mogens Gjødesen
dated 1970.  In the letter, Hecht speaks in code using the word 'children' to
describe the archaeological finds from the prince's tomb he plans
to send to Copenhagen. 
In 1970 Hecht worked closely with Giacomo Medici, the now well known Italian antiquities smuggler and art dealer who was convicted in 2004 of dealing in stolen ancient artifacts.  Medici and Hecht laundered Italian cultural property through museums all over the world.

Glyptotek ledger from the late 1970s
show deals with Giacomo Medici
and Robert E. Hecht. 
But after protracted negotiations, some civil, some bitter, the objects that make up the princely tomb from Sabina will now be returned to Italy starting in December of this year and concluding by the end of 2017.  In exchange, the Italian authorities have agreed to provide the Copenhagen museum with long term loans "of significant tomb discoveries from Italy which on a continuous, rotating basis will be featured in the Glyptotek’s forthcoming, large-scale, new exhibition of the whole museum’s collection of antiquities."

The complete joint statement of the agreement between the Italian Authorities and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek can be read in English here and in Italian here. 

The first loaned objects will arrive in Copenhagen in November 2018. The grouping will be composed of artifacts from the ’Tomb of the silver hands' from the Vulci Museum as well as additional votive objects from the necropolis of Capena, Crustumerium and Fidene.

At the time of the announcement, ARCA spoke with Stefano Alessandrini, a consultant to Italy’s public prosecutor’s office who has been working intensively on this case and other Medici and Hecht identification and repatriation cases throughout his career.  Overjoyed with the accord,  he said "finally, after years of work, negotiations, disappointments and hopes rekindled, a great success has been accomplished in the name of Italy's ‘cultural diplomacy.’ I am proud to have been part of this team".  

Alessandrini went on to add that after eight years of sometimes stormy negotiations, the cities of Sabina, Cerveteri and Pyrgi can now, at last rejoice. Speaking of the difficulty in finding an accord that satisfied all sides, Alessandrini praised the work of Italy's antiquities prosecutor, Maurizio Fiorilli, Jeanette Papadopoulos of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and State Prosecutor Lorenzo D’Ascia for their work during the mediation process with the Copenhagen museum.

Alessandrini also praised the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale who, under General Conforti, uncovered the extent of the Medici - Hecht network which ultimately led Italy to successfully bringing these objects home. 

But even as the Glyptotek has agreed to return the funerary artifacts from the tomb at Colle del Forno,  the calesse remains woefully incomplete. 

Paolo Santoro, the archaeologist who led the original licit excavations at Colle del Forno in the 1970s reminds the world, 

"There are other elements missing, who knows who bought them?"

By: Lynda Albertson


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