April 28, 2016

Who stole and where are the (still) missing Führerbau paintings

By: Marc Masurovsky
Holocaust Art Restitution Project

On this day, 71 years ago, while the US 3rd Army met light to moderate resistance as it overran Munich, unknown individuals made off with more than 700 paintings, mostly Old Masters, from the Führerbau - translated as "the Führer's building, Adolf Hitler's administrative building on Arcisstraße in Munich.

Photo Clipping, Life Magazine, 

During the period of American military occupation, the Munich Central Collecting Point transformed the Führerbau into a central clearinghouse for assessing the origin of thousands of art objects looted across Europe.
To date, the theft has not been resolved.

The Zentral Institut fur Kunstgeschichte, housed in the old Führerbau building, has been working to reconstruct this historic theft, under the guidance of Prof. Christian Fuhrmeister and Dr. Stephan Klingen, director of the Fototek at the ZI, with Dr. Meike Hopp, a formidable art historian and provenance expert regarding the fate of art looted in Germany.


April 27, 2016

Russian Federal Security Service is investigating several officials and businessmen over missing funds for state-sponsored heritage restoration projects.

On March 15, 2016 Russian state media reported that the country's Deputy Culture Minister Grigory Pirumov had been detained on embezzlement charges.  

Earlier that day, the Federal Security Service - the main KGB successor agency known under its Russian acronym FSB - announced that several high-ranking culture ministry officials and businessmen were under investigation for allegedly “embezzling state funds allocated for restoration work on cultural heritage sites”.  It is alleged that millions of rubles, earmarked for the restoration of famed cultural heritage sites, are missing.

The detained officials, in addition to Deputy Minister Pirumov, include Boris Mazo, the head of the Russian Ministry of Culture's department of property management and investment policy, as well as several heads of construction companies involved in restoration projects commissioned by the ministry. 

The FSB accused Pirumov of organizing a criminal scheme in which the suspects inflated the costs of restoration works to steal public funds.  Pirumov, who was appointed to the post of Deputy Minister of Culture in March 2013, coordinates and controls work of three departments of the ministry: department of property and investment policy, state protection of cultural heritage and the legal department.  He also oversees activity of the State Agency for management and operation of the historical and cultural monuments of the Ministry of Culture of Russia (FGBUK AUIPIK).

Novodevichy Convent, Moscow - Image Credit: Wikipedia
A source at the culture ministry said that the criminal case was linked to a number of cultural heritage sites, including the State Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow.  The convent, in southwestern Moscow, built in the 16th and 17th centuries in the so-called Moscow Baroque style, was part of a chain of monastic ensembles that were integrated into the defence system of the city. The convent was directly associated with the political, cultural and religious history of Russia, and closely linked to the Moscow Kremlin. Women of the Tsar’s family and the aristocracy used it, and members of the Tsar’s family and entourage were also buried in its cemetery.  The convent provides an example of the highest accomplishments of Russian architecture with rich interiors and an important collection of paintings and artifacts.   Restoration works there began last year, completion expected in 2019. Media reports said 800 million rubles ($11.2 million USD at current exchange rate) were allocated for this aim.

Investigators are also looking into financing of the restoration works carried out at the Ivanovsky Convent in Moscow, a theater in the ancient city of Pskov, in northwest Russia, and the Izborsk Fortress.  Preservationists had raised concerns in the past over work done on the fourteenth-century fortress, located in near the Estonian border and restored in 2012 to mark the 1150th anniversary of Russian statehood.  A 2013 audit by the government’s accounting chamber found that 60 million rubles, or about $2 million USD, in funding for Izborsk went unaccounted for. 

All this happens only two months after President Vladimir Putin publicly reprimanded the culture ministry for failing to preserve state monuments.  In December 2015, at the meeting of presidential Council for Culture and Art in Kremlin, Putin chastised officials about decrepit state of the country’s rich architectural heritage.  Galina Malanicheva, Chair of the central council of the All-Russian Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments (VOOPiK), reported at that meeting that the loss of historic sites far exceeded the average annual loss of 10 to 15 officially registered monuments, since due to a complicated listing process just over 10% of Russia’s monuments are officially registered.  The Russian media blamed the subsequent reported resignation of Mikhail Bryzgalov, the culture ministry’s top cultural heritage official, on Putin’s dressing-down. Vladimir Tolstoy, Putin’s chief cultural adviser, denied that Bryzgalov’s departure had anything to do with Putin’s reprimand.  

Aside from the allegation of individuals siphoning off public funds, complaints have been made that the Ministry of Culture is responsible for hiring unqualified companies whose poor quality renovations have irreparably damaged Russia's cultural legacy. 

Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is in contact with the FSB on these issues. He described to the RIA Novosti news service Pirumov’s detainment as “ a real shock for all of us.” The ministry stressed that in recent years restoration initiatives led by Deputy Minister Grigory Pirumov had "achieved significant success." The Culture Ministry’s press service added that the internal audit announced by Minister Vladimir Medinsky has been underway since March 18 and is expected to take several months

Rumors about Medinsky’s possible resignation have been swirling since the March 16th arrest of Pirumov. On March 28, 2016 Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refuted these allegations.  Medinsky chairs Russia’s Military History Society, which has a powerful influence over the interpretation of Russia’s cultural affairs.   He has also reportedly told UNESCO that Russia is ready to participate in both evaluation of Palmyra's condition and its restoration. 

Izborsk fortress immediately after restoration  © Hope Chenin
Palmyra Aftae Da’esh © Joseph Eid/AFP

In early April, Deputy Minister of Culture - theologian Alexander Zhuravsky was appointed to replace Mr. Pirumov.


The FSB said it hasn't been able yet to track down the missing funds.

By: Olla Birman 

US Government sends H.R. 1493 to the US President’s desk for signature.

Late in the day, April 26, 2016 and with final House passage, the US government has approved its final amended version of H.R. 1493, "The Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act" agreed to in the Senate by Unanimous Consent. The proposed law will now head to the US President’s desk for signature.

H.R. 1493 was drafted to deny ISIS Funding and to save Syria’s antiquities through the trafficking of its material culture.

The bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on March 19, 2015 during the 114th Congress, First Session by Representative Eliot L. Engel, [D-NY-16] via the House - Armed Services; Foreign Affairs; Judiciary; Ways and Means Committee and also referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The bill calls for the protection and preservation of international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, and for other purposes.  

Since that time the House and Senate have debated the bill separately and offered amendments (ultimately approved as amended by the Senate on April 18, 2016, before the bill went on to all of the US Congress for a full vote. The amended version includes a stronger "safe harbour" measure for Syrian antiquities and deleted a the proposed State Department "Cultural Property Czar."  

As both the Senate and the House have now voted approving the finalized amended version of the bill, it will now go forward to Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, for his signatory approval.


ISIS earns tens of millions annually from looting and trafficking antiquities to fund terror.  A UN Security Council resolution passed in February calls on all nations to help defund ISIS by preventing trade in Syrian antiquities. 
America’s allies have already imposed import restrictions on trafficked Syrian and Iraqi artifacts.  Congress established similar restrictions for Iraqi artifacts in 2004 but has yet to act for Syria, leaving Syrian artifacts open to looting and trafficking by ISIS.
H.R. 1493
  • Imposes import restrictions on illicit Syrian artifacts to undercut looting and trafficking.
  • Provides for antiquities to be temporarily protected by U.S. institutions until they can be safely returned to their rightful owners.
  • Expresses congressional support for establishing an interagency coordinating committee to better protect historical sites and artifacts at risk worldwide. 
  • Improves congressional oversight of efforts to save cultural property.
This bill has been publicly endorsed and supported by the American Alliance of Museums, the American Anthropological Association, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works, the Archaeological Institute of America, Preservation Action, the Society for American Archaeology, the Society for Historical Archaeology, the United States Committee of the Blue Shield, and the U.S. National Committee of the International Council of Museums.

Once signed by President Obama and by imposing import restrictions on Syrian material culture, the U.S. will be joining the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the European Union in taking steps to protect trafficked antiquities from Syria.

A complete copy of the approved amended Bill is located here

Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs welcomed the Senate passage of his legislation. 

On the House floor Chairman Royce spoke about combating ISIS’s destruction and looting of artifacts from the birthplace of civilisation.  Below is a video that includes Chairman Royce’s remarks.  A written transcript of his remarks can be found here




April 21, 2016

The Carabinieri TPC Sequester Stash of Archaeological Finds For Sale on the Internet

Italy's Syracuse branch of its specialised art squad, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, has seized a cache of antiquities including rings, fibulas (brooches) earrings, pottery, oil lamps and more than 100 silver and bronze coins dating to the Greek and Roman period. 
Photo Credit - Carabinieri TPC - Ragusa Division

Tracking cCommerce online collector auctions, the Carabinieri's data researching officers notified authorities in Sicily and a search warrant was executed at the home of a 48 year old restaurant worker in Ragusa.  At the residence, in addition to the illegally excavated antiquities, officers found a small amount of hashish and marijuana, a metal detector and tools used for illegal clandestine excavations. Law enforcement authorities are now trying to determine which archaeological sites in Sicily may have been the likely find spots for the objects.

While it is not illegal to purchase a metal detector in Italy, there are strict rules on where and what you can metal detect.  There are also many historical and protected archaeological areas where metal detecting is forbidden altogether.  These include the antiquities rich zones of Calabria, Lazio, Tuscany, Val D'Aosta and not surprisingly, Sicily.  

It should be noted that Italian Law 1939:1089 on the Custody of Artistic and Historic Objects published in the Official Gazette no. 184 on August 8, 1939 affords protection to all objects of historical or archaeological value, including coins. All objects discovered by excavation or fortuitously are the property of the Italian state.  They also must be reported to the heritage superintendency immediately.  Rewards may be offered by the state but only within a certain limited percentage of the finds' combined worth.  

The destruction of archaeological layers and the removal of objects by Nighthawkers, those who illegally search and remove artefacts using a metal detector, affects everyone.  Reckless treasuring hunting,  destroys our archaeological and historic understanding of a site, which in turn destroys the information and knowledge of our shared heritage, which should be available to all.

By.  Lynda Albertson

April 20, 2016

Highlights from the US Hearing Entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS”

On April 19, 2016 the US House Financial Services Committee Task Force on Terrorism Financing held a one panel, two hour and fifteen minute long hearing entitled “Preventing Cultural Genocide: Countering the Plunder and Sale of Priceless Cultural Antiquities by ISIS” in the Rayburn House Office Building.

A 16 page introductory memorandum and witness biography can be found on the US House of Representatives Financial Services website here. 

During this hearing, testimony was given by: (in alphabetical, not speaking order)

• Dr. Amr Al-Azm, PhD, Associate Professor, Shawnee State University
• Mr. Robert M. Edsel, Chairman of the Board, Monuments Men Foundation
• Mr. Yaya J. Fanusie, Director of Analysis, Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance,
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
• Dr. Patty Gerstenblith, PhD, Distinguished Professor, DePaul University College of
Law
• Mr. Lawrence Shindell, Chairman, ARIS Title Insurance Corporation

A video recording of the entire hearing can be viewed below.



During the hearing witnesses described the unabated and systematic process of cultural heritage destruction in Iraq and Syria and antiquities looting in the region which has grown steadily given the regions' instability.  

Secretary of U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, Patty Gerstenblith, speaking in a personal capacity and for the Blue Shield organisation she represents, testified before the Financial Services Committee’s Task Force saying, in part

“Unfortunately the looting of archaeological sites is big business, often carried out on an organised industrialised scale and in response to market demand.  And many of these sites are unknown before they are looted.  

As cultural objects move from source, transit and destination countries different legal systems create obstacles to interdiction of objects and prosecution of crimes and they allow the laundering of title to these artefacts.  

The United States is the single largest market for art in the world, with forty-three percent of market share.  Because of the availability of the charitable tax deduction, the ability to import works of art and artefacts without payment of tariffs and because of artistic preference, the United States is the largest ultimate market for antiquities, particularly those from the Mediterranean and the Middle East."

A transcript of Dr. Gerstenblith's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

Key imagery from Dr. Amr Al-Azm's testimony can be viewed here.

A transcript of Mr. Robert Edsel's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Mr. Yaya Fanusie's testimony can be read in its entirety here.

A transcript of Dr. Lawrence Shindell's testimony can be read in its entirety here.


While key takeaways from this hearing conversations are distilled here ARCA strongly encourages its blog readership to take the time to listen to the entire hearing and examine the legal instruments evidence Dr. Gerstenblith underscores as being necessary.  

She reminds us that looting of archaeological sites imposes incalculable costs on society by destroying the original contexts of archaeological artifacts thereby impairing our ability to reconstruct and understand the historical record.  Her testimony reminds us that looters loot because they are motivated by profit and that the looting and illicit trafficking phenomenon we are seeing in Iraq, Syria and Libya are responses to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.   

The statements of all of the speakers remind us that while the market in antiquities has existed for centuries, its role in facilitating criminal enterprise on the scale that we are seeing in the Middle East is a terrifying one.  

Maamoun Abdelkarim of Syria’s DGAM inspecting the condition of delivered
artefacts transported from various parts of Syria to Damascus on Sept. 21, 2015.

Antiquities collectors must be educated to understand that the purchase of objects emerging on the open market without legitimate collection histories (i.e. provenance) are the likely product of conflict-based looting of archaeological sites, and contribute significantly to the destruction of the world's cultural heritage.  Buyers need to be made to realise that their buying power and their, until now, unharnessed demand for archaeological material, absent transparent ethical acquisition documentation, incentivises those facing economic hardship to participate in, or tacitly condone,  the looting that we are observing in countries of conflict.  

If collectors in market nations such as the United States and London refuse to buy undocumented artifacts, then the incentives for looting historic sites, which by proxy funds criminal enterprise and terrorism, diminish. 

Armed conflicts have long been called the “perfect storm” within which large-scale looting can take place, but not without collectors willing to look the other way. 

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO


April 18, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016 - , No comments

Three Italian Renaissance Paintings Stolen by the Nazis in 1944 Have Been Recovered


By:  Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

Three 15th century Italian Renaissance paintings, seized from a villa of the then Prince of Luxembourg by Nazi forces operating in Camaiore, Italy in 1944, have been recovered by Italy's art crime police, the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale.  Presented in an exhibition in Brera announcing their recovery, the paintings had been siezed by German forces after Italy entered World War II, when Luxembourg had been declared an enemy state and allowed for property seizure under wartime law.

In a press conference held today in the Sala della Passione in the paintings gallery of the Academy of Brera, Riccardo Targetti, the public prosecutor of Milan, and Alberto Deregibus, the deputy commander of the Carabinieri TPC unit, presented the three stolen works of art which have been missing since World War II and which had been recovered during a lengthy investigation dating back to December 2014, when the first painting was identified by law enforcement authorities in the Monza home of a Milan-based family.

The paintings recovered are:

a tempera on wood panel painting depicting the Trinity (60x38,5 cm) attributed to Alesso Baldovinetti (1425-1499), an Italian early Renaissance painter

an oil painting on canvas depicting a Madonna and Child (65x51 cm) attributed to Cima da Conegliano, birth name: Giovanni Battista Cima  (1460-1518), a Venetian Renaissance painter

an oil painting on canvas depicting depicting Christ's Circumcision and Presentation at the Temple (83x101 cm)  by Girolamo Dai Libri (1474-1555) a Verona-based an Italian illuminator of manuscripts and painter of altarpieces who worked in the early-Renaissance style.

Archive photo of the family of Prince Felix
and Luxembourg's Grand Duchess Charlotte 
While the press conference did not specify which members of the Luxembourg noble family were heirs to the three missing paintings, a trace of the Records Concerning the Central Collecting Points ("Ardelia Hall Collection"): Selected Microfilm Reproductions and Related Records, 1945-1949, Restitution Files Of MFAA Section - Berlin, 1956 › Claims-Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway give us a clue.

As the attached photos clarify the stolen paintings were most part of the collection owned by Prince Felix of Luxembourg who requested formal assistance from the allied forces in recovering 18 art treasures belonging to the Prince Consort of Luxembourg Royal Household stolen by German troops in 1944 during the allied offensive.  The paintings were removed from the Chateau de Pianore, at Capezzano di Camaiore new Viareggio, Province of Lucca, Italy.












April 16, 2016

Hidden Ownership - the Panama Papers

By;  A.M.C. Knutsson

In recent days numerous articles have been released outlining the role of art in the Panama Papers. (For an outline of the nature of the Panama Papers click here.) Based on these leaked files, journalists have mapped how art has figured within a system of tax avoidance and ownership concealment. Both for the money and for the art, the purpose of these ventures can be described as a superficial repudiation of ownership, in order to fortify the same and to protect the assets from various types of intrusions.  The usage of shell-companies can thus safeguard the real owners from challenges to their ownership as they officially are not the named owners.

One example of this is the case of Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, the Russian billionaire collector, who according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) used the infamous law firm Mossack Fonseca to protect his ownership of his $2 billion art collection during his divorce proceedings.[1]  The divorce proceedings started in December 2008 and according to Swiss law, which the couple resided under, the two spouses were entitled to equal parts of their wealth. However, Mossack Fonesca had been instrumental in transferring ownership of the collection, which included, among others, paintings by Picasso, Van Gogh, Modigliani and Rothko, to the company Xitrans Finance Ltd in the British Virgin Islands. This meant that they could no longer be found nor considered part of their shared wealth in the divorce proceedings. [2] On April 6 Rybolovlev's family lawyer made a statement claiming that the "description and references to the divorce proceedings of Mr Dmitriy Rybolovlev are misleading", as it "fails to state that the ex-spouses Rybolovlev amicably settled their matrimonial dispute and announced in a joint statement dated 20th October 2015".[3]  He further points to the fact that Xitrans Finance had been established in 2002, several years before the divorce proceedings and that its use "as a holding entity to constitute a remarkable art collection has been publicly disclosed in numerous publications worldwide and is perfectly legitimate.”[4]

Nevertheless, according to the Panama Papers Mossack Fonseca has for decades been helping spouses to shield assets from their better halves. Martin Kenney, an asset recovery specialist based in the British Virgin Islands has been helping wives from numerous countries including the UK, USA and Russia to recover hidden possessions. According to him, “These offshore companies and foundations . . . are instruments in a game of hide and concealment.”[5]

Another type of ownership obscurity can be seen in the case of the Seated Man with a Cane, a Modigliani painting bought in 1996 by the International Art Centre (IAC) and valued at $18-25 million.[6] According to a restitution claim filed by Philippe Maestacci on October 28, 2011, this painting had been looted by the Nazis from his grandfather, the art dealer Oscar Stettiner. Stettiner's inventory had been sold by Marcel Philippon a Nazi-appointed administrator after Stettiner fled from Paris in 1939. The Modigliani had been sold in 1944 and as early as 1946 Stettiner tried to retrieve the work but died two years later without resolving the claim. [7] In 2011 Maestracci picked up the struggle and sued the art dealing Nahmad family, often associated with the IAC, seeking the return of the painting. However, the suit was withdrawn when the Nahmads claimed that the IAC owned the painting and rather than themselves.[8] Indeed the ICIJ has reported that “The Nahmads have insisted in federal and state court in New York that the family does not possess the Modigliani.”[9] The Panama papers have now revealed that the International Art Centre has been owned by the Nahmad family for 20 years and since 2014 the patriarch David Nahmad has been the sole owner.[10] Confronted by the ICIJ David Nahmad's lawyer, Richard Golub, insisted that "Whoever owns the IAC is irrelevant", and the main issue is that Maestracci has no evidence that his grandfather, Stettiner, was the painting's original owner.[11] This standpoint seems not to be commonly shared and on April 8 the Geneva Prosecutor's Office searched the facilities in the Geneva Ports looking for the lost painting.[12] It was later revealed that the painting had been confiscated by the prosecutors during the raid.[13] While the restitution claim remains to be settled the reappearance of the painting and the confirmation of David Nahmad's ownership finally makes it possible for Philippon to proceed with his restitution claim.

According to Anders Rydell who has studied Nazi looted art, this case is not unique but he has found several other cases of Nazi confiscations figuring in the leaked files, which have also been hidden away through shell-companies and thus been beyond the reach of restitution claims. With the release of the Panama Papers he observes that "Maybe the right full owners may get their art back."[14]

In addition to these ownership battles, ample works of art are believed to be hidden away from sight as well as tax through shell-companies in the Free Ports. [15] The story of hidden art has just started to unfold and has still a long way to go. What the new discoveries in the Panama papers reveal is not all that surprising, but rather a sad prediction revealed to be true. The art market has long been known to involve shady deals and international crime syndicates. The revelation that art is hidden away should not be news to any of us, but perhaps the emergence of the Panama Papers actually offers a rare opportunity to resolve some of the long standing mysteries which has troubled the art market. Perhaps this will allow restitution claimants fresh material which can enable them to proceed with their cases. Perhaps long lost paintings will be rediscovered from the bowls of the world's Free Ports. Perhaps not. We will wait and we will see.  

___________________________

[1]  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, access 15 April 2016
[2] http://theartnewspaper.com/news/news/panama-papers-russian-billionaire-dmitry-rybolovlev-used-offshore-company-to-hide-art-from-wife-leak/, access 15 April 2016
[3]   Ibid
[4]   Ibid
[5] https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160403-divorce-offshore-intrigue.html
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, access 15 April 2016
[7] http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/news/artnetnews/nahmad-gallery-sued-for-allegedly-looted-modigliani.asp, access 15 April 2016
[8]  http://theartnewspaper.com/news/museums/panama-papers-expose-art-world-s-offshore-secrets-/, access 15 April 2016
[9]  Ibid
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/arts/design/what-the-panama-papers-reveal-about-the-art-market.html?_r=0, Access 15 April 2016
[11]  Ibid
[12] http://www.artmarketmonitor.com/2016/04/09/swiss-prosecutors-raid-freeport-looking-for-modigliani/, Access 15 April 2016
[13]  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-11/modigliani-painting-sparks-criminal-probe-and-geneva-art-search, Access 15 April 2016
[14]  http://www.jp.se/article/anders-rydell-om-gomd-nazikonst/, Access 15 April 2016
[15] http://www.dn.se/kultur-noje/konst-form/konstvarlden-kopplas-till-panama/, Access 15 April 2016

April 15, 2016

Friday, April 15, 2016 - , 1 comment

Belgian Federal Police Eliminating its Art Crime Police Squad Due to Reported Budgetary Constraints


The Belgian Federal police have decided to eliminate its specialised art and antiques police unit, the Service vols organisés, Art et Antiquités, au sein de la Direction de la lutte contre la criminalité contre les biens (DJB) which has been dedicated to the fight against illicit trafficking in cultural property. 

The Brussels Judicial Police established its art crime unit, “the Bureau of Art and Antiques in 1988. After a reorganisation  in 2001 the team was integrated into the Federal Judicial Police at the national level under the name “Section ART”  At that time seven officers were assigned.  

In 2006 the specialised squad consisted of five active Belgian federal police inspectors.  In 2016 only two officers remained, one of whom is responsible for maintaining the Belgium’s ARTIST database which includes works of art stolen in Belgium.  At last count, this database contained some 20,000 object records. 

According to the Belgian Radio and Television of the French Community Service the specialised unit is being dismantled due to budgetary constraints.    Given that Belgium's International Trade in Works of art  topped €104.3 million in Imports and €63.1 million in exports in 2010 this decision is a blow to a major EU art market shareholder in their country's fight against illegal trafficking.



April 14, 2016

Theft to Order, a Shady Antiquarian, a Drug Dealer and a Russian with a Penchant for Historic Baubles

Theft to order, a shady antiquarian, a drug dealer and a Russian with a penchant for gold.  This is the apparent recipe for the dramatic 2013 Easter weekend jewelry heist at Rome's Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia.

In a press conference in Rome today, officers from Italy's art police squad, the Nucleo Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, and Giancarlo Capaldo and Tiziana Cugini attorney's with the Procura della Repubblica di Roma who oversee crimes against the country's cultural heritage, announced the recovery of 23 of the 27 works of gold stolen from the Rome museum's Castellani collection between March 30 and April 1, 2013.   

Castellani was the first 19th-century Rome goldsmith to create jewelry pieces closely modelled closely on the Etruscan, classical Italian and Greek prototypes. While many outside of Italy are not familiar with the jewelry magnate, the family's finest works are displayed in many museums around the world including at the British Museum, the Musée du Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Musée des Arts. 

At the time of the 2013 theft, Italian investigators were criticised for remaining tight-lipped about what had been stolen.  Unlike in other museums thefts, the jewelry's value was never publicly disclosed and no photos from the Villa Giulia's inventory collection system were circulated to the public.  Even the museum’s CCTV footage remained a close door secret.  

When the theft was made public, many speculated that in Italy's economic recession, the laborously hand-creafted jewelry would likely be dismantled, its accompanying precious and semi-precious stones resold and the gold then melted down and reused.

Recovered Castellani brooch
All this conjecture was disproved during today's press conference.

Arriving around midnight, the thieves had announced their presence by dramatically launching a smoke grenade into the museum's courtyard, temporarily diverting the attention of the night watchman.  This bought the thieves the precious seconds needed to enter the museum and disable the guards. 

Bypassing many of Villa Giulia’s costlier masterpieces, the robbers then climbed the stairs to the first floor rooms, an area of the museum which houses the objects that make up the vast 6000-piece Castellani collection.

Stopping in Room 20, the Sala degli Ori, the thieves smashed two of four double collection display cabinets with an axe, which unintentionally engaged a museum security alarm cutting short the criminal's jewelry shopping.  Even with such limited time, the thieves still managed to bag what has now been confirmed to be three million euros worth of exquisite pendants, earrings, and brooches enriched with precious and semi precious stones, coins or other ancient historic elements.  

While the museum getaway went off without a hitch for the thieves, the days following it did not. 

Initial investigations revealed that a wealthy Russian citizen, with a passion for Rome’s Castellani-styled jewellery had expressed her interest to a local antiquarian who had shown her reproductions. But the buyer wasn’t interested.  She wanted original items, not next-generation replicas.  This antiquarian is believed to be the main receiver of the jewelry stolen from the museum. 

Shortly thereafter the Russian woman was identified in Fiumicino before boarding a flight back to San Petersburg.  Travelling with her was the daughter of the antiquarian. Inside her bag, authorities found a catalog for the Castellani collection and images taken using a smart phone camera showing the Villa Giulia's galleries and surveillance equipment mounted on the gallery's ceiling. 

Having lost their chance to sell to the Russian, the gang were forced to begin looking for local buyers.  


Three years of patient investigations, coupled with hundreds of wiretaps and dozens of searches, led the Italian authorities to a band of six individuals, several from the Pontine Marches, an area south east of Rome near Sabaudia.  Without their rich foreign jewelry lover, the group had begun searching for local buyers and a date had been set to sell some of the pieces.

The location for a forthcoming clandestine sale was a remote bar in Rome's periphery on via Portense. It is here that law enforcement swooped in to make arrests.   As offices attempted to question the pair of fences, the two bolted from the scene in an automobile,  attempting to pitch the envelope containing 7 pieces of the Castallani jewelry out the auto's window while in route.  Caught almost immediately, the two fences and another four individuals have been implicated, two of whom have also been charged with illegal possession of a 357 magnum and drug distribution. 

In one singular museum theft case, we have organised crime, drug dealing, dirty dealers and a Russian Mrs. Dr. No.  Sometimes you can't make this stuff up. 

By: Lynda Albertson














April 13, 2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - ,,, No comments

The Road to Recovery - DGAM in Syria Issues Initial Statement Regarding its Plans for Palmyra

This evening the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Syria issued a statement about their intent and vision for Palmyra and sent a copy to ARCA for dissemination.  This document can be read in its entirety here.

Before undertaking any substantial rehabilitation project on the ancient city it is reassuring to know that the country’s heritage management authorities are carrying out a comprehensive damage assessment in order to document the nature and scale of all the damage before deciding on a measured and scientifically valid strategy for conservation and preservation.

As with any good heritage management plan, if there is any sense of urgency it will be to carry out any needed emergency repairs to stabilise the historic site and to minimise or prevent further damage while a long term comprehensive recovery plan is being considered and developed.

When reflecting on calls to restore Palmyra to its former glory, the internet has been abuzz with people arguing that it is too early to begin to think about heritage.  While it is true that this conflict is sadly far from concluding, a peoples need to rebuild, to find normalcy where it is anything but, is not something that is date-stamped to begin solely once peace has been achieved.

Heritage damage in wartime is often symbolic of what has been lost.  Likewise the yearning to restore emblematic monuments to their former glory can be symbolic of a citizenry's own desire to pick up the pieces of their own lives and put them back together.

In 1940 the German Luftwaffe attacked Coventry in the English Midlands and the city decided to rebuild its mediaeval cathedral the morning after its destruction.  The Second World War also saw 85% of Warsaw's historic centre destroyed by Nazi troops and in 1946 the city initiated a 5 year campaign, (not without its detractors) carried out by its citizens, that resulted in a meticulous restoration of the city's Old Town, complete with recreated churches, palaces and marketplace.

For the Polish citizens of Warsaw who had lived through the horrors of war, the memory of how things were mattered more than authenticity.

Sometimes, the need to restore culture has does not even wait for reconstruction.   In 1993 Zubin Mehta conducted the Sarajevo Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Mozart's Requiem inside the crumbling ruins of Sarajevo's National Library, its music reminding us that sometimes food and shelter from the bombardment and strive are not the only things that heal woulds and knit a community back together.

Whatever course of action is ultimately approved by the DGAM for Palmyra, it is my hope that the dedication of the department's team of professionals is not brushed to the wayside during the debate on what should be done and when and by whom.  Syria's heritage staff deserve encouragement and support, not magnifying glass criticism before conservation projects have even get under way.  The staff working for the DGAM are the people who know Syria's heritage needs better than anyone and certainly a lot better than those criticising their work safely miles away from the the day to day suffering during a protracted and bloody war.

If I could wish for anything, I would hope that local people, where appropriate, can be integrated into the rebuilding initiative as a means of healing for the fragmented community of Tadmur.  Being part of restoring heritage together could help the citizens of the modern city begin their own recovery and would also mitigate the "history is more important than humanity" rhetoric that often comes with these types of heritage undertakings.

Director General of the DGAM has affirmed that the
hypogeum of the Three Brothers, which dates back to 160 AD,in Palmyra stayed intact.

Regardless of what projects are ultimately selected and acted upon, it is important that the conservation or reconstruction work be “de-politicised.  Technical experts and conservators need to be able to get on with their work without pressure from political or other interest groups and so that they can focus on being sure that the heritage aid is integrated into a broader humanitarian recovery programme. In this way, and if handled delicately, reconstruction can be the first emotional bricks cementing a post-conflict reconciliation.

The people of Syria’s ability to recover from this conflict will owe much to their own cultural resilience, to people letting people get on with life on their own terms, and to not imposing our ideas onto their social and economic realities.  By remembering that cultural heritage can be a positive tool for reconciliation and social reconstruction, whatever gets decided will assuredly take into consideration the sensitivities of the Syrian people and their need to reestablish the familiar as symbolic symbols of things returning to normal.

The ancient city of Palmyra as a monument is not merely a reflection of the ancient past.  In a single desert location, Palmyra simultaneously tell us something about the country, the people who have for centuries populated the area, the city in all its former glory, and its many battles.  Battles fought in wars long ago and battles fought which are still rawly fresh and indelibly carved into our collective psyche.

Palmyra is as much a reflection of society's ability to survive as it is a message of hope for Syria's future.

Op Ed - Lynda Albertson

April 12, 2016

Christie's Withdraws Suspect Lots 36 and 70 from April 12 Antiquities Auction. Lot 9 sold.

ARCA has been informed that Christie's New York has withdrawn Lot 36: a Greek black-glazed hydria, with an estimate of $8,000 - $12,000 


as well as Lot 70: a Roman marble janiform Herm head, with an estimate of $40,000 - $60,000  from today's antiquities auction in New York.  


The two potentially looted pieces had previously been identified by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis and was elaborated upon in ARCA's blog here. 

Photographs of the specific objects were found among the confiscated archival records of two antiquities dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina both of whom have been implicated for illicitly trafficking in Italian antiquities. 

A third identified item, Lot 9: A Roman stone mosaic panel, with an estimate of $200,000 - $300,000  remained up for auction bidding and sold today for $545,000. 

Given its less than complete collection history, it proves yet again that antiquities buyers are not yet prepared to ask auction houses tough questions prior to purchasing, forcing the art market to treat sourced antiquities like diamond buyers do blood diamonds.  Questions like does the auction house guarantee that this object was sourced ethically and does the auction house know every step of the object's journey from initial discovery through to final auction.




April 11, 2016

Suspect Auction Items in Christie's Upcoming Antiquities Auction in New York

On March 30, 2016 in Paris, France UNESCO held a large multidisciplinary symposium examining the movement of cultural property in 2016.  As listed on the UNESCO website this event was facilitated to

bring together for the first time market stakeholders, including representatives of auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialized intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations as well as Member States, to take stock on the situation of the illicit trade in cultural heritage and identify areas to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation to successfully overcome this worldwide issue.

Present were a long list of heritage trafficking experts, members of national delegations and law enforcement divisions concerned about illicit trafficking as well as professionals representing the licit antiquities art market. 

Catherine Chadelat, the president of the Conseil des Ventes Volontaires (CVV), the regulatory authority for voluntary sales operators of chattels by public auction in France, stressed the importance of cooperation and communication between those working for the art market and allied professionals dealing with illicit trafficking issues.  During her opening address, she stated that the CVV  "strongly encourages market actors to not only comply with applicable regulations but to go further and take on a personal ethical responsibility."

Cecilia Fletcher, Senior Director, Compliance and Business Integrity Counsel for Sotheby’s European operations underscored her auction house's ethical standards and due diligence obligations to conduct its business with the highest level of integrity and transparency.  She expressed Sotheby's willingness to work closely with law enforcement agencies and ministries of culture to resolve issues when suspect antiquities come up for auction.  Martin Wilson, co-head of legal for Christie’s International, echoed his colleague, Ms. Fletcher's, words underscoring Christie's own efforts in ensure due diligence where antiquities are concerned.

Vincent Geerling, chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) told the audience, as he had previously in Berlin in 2014, that many art dealers and sellers have good knowledge of where their stock originates from, but acknowledged that consignors haven't always kept good paperwork to prove it.  Asking for a show of hands from the audience, Greeling asked if any of the UNESCO invitees had ever inherited an antique from a relative that came without its original collecting documentation.

When discussing collection histories as they relate to the current situation in the Middle East, Geerling added, complete with an accompanying powerpoint slide, that "during the past two years, IADAA has checked with every member to ask if anything from the troubled areas had been offered and they reported back not a single dodgy Syrian or Iraqi object had been offered to any of our members"  While this is encouraging, IADAA only accounts for 34 art market dealers so his sampling is restricted to a limited number of high profile dealers. 

Throughout the day these and other art market's panelists contended that their respective organisations are doing their best, and that no-one, as yet, has seen illicit material coming through their firms or associations as a result of the current conflicts in the Middle East.  Absent from their presentations were what procedures, if any, the art market leaders had in place to notify law enforcement authorities should they be approached by a dealer or collector with a suspect antiquity originating from any source country. This despite the fact that unprovenanced, looted, illicitly trafficked antiquities regularly turn up in legitimate auctions, having passed through the hands of well known suspect dealers and galleries.


Despite that, Christos Tsirogiannis and others working with Italy's state prosecutors routinely identify objects looted from Italy decades ago,  matching the pieces through law enforcement archive photos and documentation held by the Italian authorities in relation to cases involving known tombaroli and corrupt dealers.

Three of these identified suspect pieces are currently scheduled to go on the auction block tomorrow through Christie's New York City division.

The suspect objects in the April 12, 2016 auction are: 



Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Private Collection, U.S.
An American Private Collector; Antiquities, Sotheby's, New York, 17 December 1998, lot 182.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 2000.

Pre-Lot Text
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT EUROPEAN COLLECTION'

From all the previous owners, only the Royal Athena Galleries has been publicly listed in the lot's details.  Royal Athena Galleries has previously acquired stolen antiquities from the Corinth Museum in Greece and antiquities stolen from Italian excavation warehouses.  These details and the fact that these earlier objects, identified as stolen, were later repatriated to Greece and Italy should have triggered some sort of increased diligence as to this current mosaic's journey from discovery to the art market. 

In the Gianfranco Becchina archive Tsirogiannis identified a matching image of the mosaic via a leaflet created by Ariadne Galleries in New York.  The photocopied document presents the front window of the antiquities gallery, through which the same mosaic can be seen displayed on a wall. 

If Christie's has a commitment to transparency and due diligence in its antiquities auctions, as indicated in the UNESCO symposium, then why is it that they omitted the Ariadne Galleries connection in the offered lot's 'provenance' section?  

And why, if Royal Athena and Ariadne Galleries both have already been identified by Tsirogiannis in the past as having had tainted stock that at one time or another had passed through Becchina's network, weren't these two galleries a red flag to perhaps conduct a closer examination of the offered mosaic's origins?  

Tsirogiannis believes that this mosaic is likely from a country in northern Africa or the Near East. Christie's themselves mentions in their lot notes that there is a similar mosaic from Tunisia with the same subject in the permanent collection of the Bardo Museum.



Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 10 December 1987, lot 243.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1988.

Pre-Lot Text
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF CHARLES BRICKBAUER, BALTIMORE

Royal Athena Galleries in New York are again mentioned in this lot's details. From the research of Watson and Todeschini, Tsirogiannis reminds us that Giacomo Medici was consigning and laundering illicit antiquities via Sotheby's auctions in London during the 1980s. Tsirogiannis has identified the same hydria in a print photograph from the Medici photo archive.  Curiously though, the dealer Medici is also excluded from the 'provenance' section of this lot's details.    


Listed Collection History (Provenance)
Private Collection, New York, Boston & Texas, acquired prior to 1995; thence by descent to the current owner.

Pre-Lot Text
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY'

Tsirogiannis has identified the same Roman janiform marble head from two images in the archive of the dealer Gianfranco Becchina.  Becchina, like Giacomo Medici, has not been included in the lot's 'provenance' section for tomorrow's auction.

Given that this is not the first suspect Roman janiform head smuggled out of Italy into the United States via Switzerland and identified from images in the Becchina archive, one would think that the auction house would consider this object in need of closer consideration before accepting it for consignment.

Which brings me back to UNESCO's meeting statement again and a lot of unanswered questions.

To bring together for the first time market stakeholders, including representatives of auction houses and online platforms, museum representatives, cultural heritage experts, specialized intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations as well as Member States, to take stock on the situation of the illicit trade in cultural heritage and identify areas to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation to successfully overcome this worldwide issue.

Did Christie's contact/cooperate with the Carabinieri TPC on any of these objects in order to improve synergies and strengthen international cooperation?

What is Christie's criteria for accepting or rejecting an antiquity for consignment and do they have a policy in place for notifying authorities when illicit material is suspected?

And what is the auction house's operational policy and criteria for green-lighting an antiquity for auction when said object has previously passed through known dealer/gallery sources already identified as having handled illicit antiquities in the past?

and

Where is the cooperation and communication Catherine Chadelat spoke of between illicit antiquities researchers and the art market?

Where is the commitment to transparency mentioned by Cecilia Fletcher when only a partial listing of the collection history of an object is mentioned?

Who are the academic experts working with Christie’s that Martin Wilson mentioned in January? What recommendation do these researchers have for ensuring that illegally excavated objects,  i.e. those without a "findable" trace in any art crime database, are truly clean and not simply laundered through several buyers in a ruse to create a plausible collection history.

In closing, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri, and the American authorities of his identifications. Here's hoping that the continued spotlight, however painful, will serve as a reminder that despite the presentations in Paris and the lack of suspect Syrian and Iraqi antiquities showing up in top-tier auctions, we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By:  Lynda Albertson