Why you should go see the exhibition "L’Arma per l’Arte e la Legalità" if you are in Rome between now and October 30, 2016.
First there is a 1919 sketch by Amedeo Modigliani, Jeune femme attablée au café stolen from the tony Parisian residence of a private collector in 1995. It was recovered in Rome this past summer thanks to the watchful eyes of investigative officers of the Ufficio Comando – Sezione Elaborazione who work with the Carabinieri's specialized art crime database, Leonardo. Reviewing upcoming auctions, the team spotted the artist's drawing blatantly up for sale with a hefty €500,000 starting bid.
Then there are four of the 17 recovered artworks stolen November 19, 2015 from the Verona Civic Museum of Castelvecchio in northern Italy as well as some of the more impressive antiquities from Operation ‘Antiche Dimore’ conducted in 2016. This seizure recovered 45 shipping crates of ancient art worth an estimated € 9 million intended for the English market, Japanese and American antiquities markets. The objects date from the seventh century BCE through to the second century CE and originate from clandestine excavations conducted over the past thirty years in Southern Etruria.
But if you think big time tomb raider busts only involve the much talked about powerhouse dealers like Robin Symes and Giacomo Medici, think again. This exhibition also has a kylix attributed to the Greek painter of Andokides, an ancient Athenian vase painter who was active from 530 to approximately 515 BCE. This gorgeous drinking vessel was recovered in Munich of this year as part of an extensive police investigation involving 27 suspects who worked in an organised network forming all the links in the illicit looting chain from grave robbers to fences to middlemen transporters stretching from Southern Etruria all the way up to Germany.
The exhibit also showcases the tools of the Tombarolo. Grave robbers of the third millennium merge modern grave robbing technology, using metal detectors, battery-operated headlamps and headphones with still functional old fashioned ones like the spillone and badile (a long flexible metal rod and shovel). With these weapons they plow antiquities-rich fields searching, and all too often finding, lost treasures hidden for centuries.
The metal rod hasn't changed much over the years. It is a simple pole used to probe the ground. When the rod is hammered or twisted into the ground and comes in contact with an air pocket or something solid, looters dig a test hole knowing that below there is likely to be an environment created by man such as a chamber tomb. Ancient tombs are known to possibly contain sarcophagi, vessels of all kinds, jewelery, and coins make them attractive for looting. Undocumented, the freshly dug illicit antiquities then flow into the licit market, and through laundering often become the "property of a Swiss gentlemen".
As the largest exhibition of stolen art in the world, the 200+ objects in this Rome exhibition are impressive. The fact that we can see them is thanks to the unprecedented collaboration between MiBACT, the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture and Tourism, the National Gallery of Ancient Art of Rome - Palazzo Barberini, the University of Roma Tre (Department of Humanities) and the hardworking Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale.
To bring art crimes to the public's attention the collaborators have enriched the exhibition space with educational panels, made by the University of Roma Tre to help visitors gain a better understanding of the damage caused by the illicit trafficking. These panels also explain in detail the process of investigations and recoveries, as well as the importance of protecting art in advance of it going missing.
If you ever wanted irrefutable proof that a large, well trained police force can have an impact on art crimes, this exhibition both visually and emotionally hands you that evidence wrapped in a painfully vivid, artistic bow.
Want to whet your appetite to what you will see on display? Take a look at this video taken at the exhibition's opening and see if you spot other works that you know.
This free exhibition runs through 30 October 2016 in Rome at:
Gallerie Nazionali di Arte Antica di Roma
Via delle Quattro Fontane 13 – Roma
Opening hours 10-18
(Closed on Mondays)