February 1, 2019

Christos Tsirogiannis returns to Amelia to this summer to teach "Unravelling the Hidden Market of Illicit Antiquities: Lessons from Greece and Italy” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection

By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 30 through August 14 2019, in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Christos Tsirogiannis, one of the world’s few forensic archaeologists.

Can you tell us something about your background and work?

 I studied Archaeology and History of Art at the University of Athens, then worked for several years at the Greek Ministry of Culture in various sectors including excavations as well as in the repatriations of stolen antiquities from US museums and private collections. I also worked for several years on a voluntary basis with the Greek police art squad. In late 2008 I was invited to Cambridge University to start my PhD on the international illicit antiquities network, which I completed in 2013. Since then, I have developed and broadened my research on antiquities trafficking networks through a postdoc position at the University of Glasgow, an honorary position at Suffolk, and most recently as visiting Associate Professor at the University of Aarhus.

My specialism is best described as a new form of 'forensic archaeology'; rather than excavating and analysing (e.g.) human remains, I carry out forensic-level analyses of archaeological objects and of photographic and documentary archives (from antiquities dealers) of modern trades in archaeological material to determine their true provenance.  From these I am able to reconstruct objects' collecting histories also from traces found e.g. online and in publication records. 

In carrying out this work I assist police and judicial authorities in many countries around the world regarding cases of antiquities trafficking.   Often in these I find a certain hypocrisy in the art market - which claims 'client confidentiality' - as the motive for not revealing the names of sellers and buyers, but which in many cases also serves as a cover up, off the names of convicted traffickers whose hands objects an object may have passed through, omitting problematic aspects of the collecting history in presenting objects for sale, all the while claiming to have done 'due diligence'.

What do you feel is the most relevant of your courses?

I introducee ARCA participants to a range of issues in the international illicit antiquities market, highlighting due diligence, legal aspects and challenges in provenance research. The course has profound ethical and practical implications for anyone dealing with the art market in any capacity.

What do you hope participants will get out of the courses?

Primarily, inspiration. To work in the cultural heritage sector, but, with that, an understanding of the hypocrisy within the art market, academia and state authorities in dealing with the trafficking of our heritage, and (consequently) a sense of ethical responsibility when entering this field.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

Each teaching day contains two interactive lectures in which, through case studies, I focus on a particular area of the international illicit antiquities market. There are plenty of visuals and opportunities for participant research and participation (in fact this is a part of their final grade).

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class?

Every professor needs the fresh view of younger minds who come with straightforward questions which often highlight an aspect or a sector that has not previously been thoroughly examined in the scholarship. Several times, those ARCA participants have gone on to produce valuable academic contributions to this emerging interdisciplinary field. My course also attracts people who have prior professional experience in the antiquities market, as well as lawyers, policemen, artists and museum professionals.


In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to students? 

Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini (2007, 2nd edition) The Medici Conspiracy -the 'bible of the field'.


What makes the yearly ARCA program so unique?

It is the only postgraduate residential course that covers all aspects of art crimes with courses taught by experts in their field. Amelia is a very special setting - I myself look forward every year to the ten days I spend there,

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

Fake terracotta shabti-mould.
Image Credit: British Museum
I would have to prioritize the course taught by ARCA's founder, Noah Charney, because one aspect of my own research is forgeries in the antiquities market and in collections.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria?

I have greatly enjoyed trips to the amazing setting of Civita di Bagnoregio and to the Etruscan cemetery of Orvieto, from where I have identified stolen antiquities... but Amelia itself has many hidden ancient and medieval gems as well as amazing pizza places (and ice-cream, says my wife)!

Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside of class 

In my first teaching year we accompanied the students on the excursion to Banditaccia, the Etruscan Necropolis in Cerveteri, and every year we spend time in Rome each side of my ARCA course. Rome is a museum in itself and I have dear friends and colleagues there - Maurizio Pellegrini, Daniela Rizzo, Paolo Georgio Ferri and Cecilia Todeschini, who are all my heroes in my research area and now feel like family.

What is your experience with the yearly ARCA conference in June

I attended it first in 2013 as I was awarded ARCA's prize for Art Protection and Security. Since then the conference has doubled in size and become a world-leading innovator in facilitating important discussions between academics and practitioners in the protection of cultural heritage. Both the courses and the conference owe their current impact and unique international reach to the amazing work of Lynda Albertson (ARCA CEO).

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at: 

education@artcrimeresearch.org

Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

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