December 24, 2019

Journalist Karl E. Meyer has died at 91.

Third-generation journalist Karl E. Meyer has died at the age of 91. Long before the general public became aware of the chicanery in the art world, Meyer, a longtime foreign correspondent and editorial writer at The Washington Post and The New York Times and the Editor of the World Policy Journal, was calling them to task.  

In 1974 his book The Plundered Past: The Story of the Illegal International Traffic in Works of Art was one of the earliest accounts of the rapacious plundering of antiquities brought about by the insatious appetites of dealers collectors and museums.  In his book he criticised many in the art world, including those in prominent positions at important museums and institutions for their acquisitive over ethical tendencies, calling to task the professed patrons and protectors of the art world. 

His old-fashioned, shoe-leather reporting, combined with scholarly sensibilities and reportorial enthusiasm made all of his books about heritage accessible.

Speaking about the importance of the past Meyer wrote: 


Meyer is survived by his third wife, whom he married in 1989, and by three children from his second marriage, Ernest, Heather and Jonathan Meyer, three granddaughters and his sister, Susan L. Meyer.

December 21, 2019

Mysterious Museum Theft Recovery. The long-missing shield gifted to Italy's General Garibaldi has been recovered in Rome.


This week, officers from the operational department of Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale and the Rome Gianicolense Station have recovered an important ornamental bronze shield.  The object,  gifted as a sign of gratitude to Giuseppe Garibaldi by the citizens of Sicily in May 1878 was donated to Rome by Garibaldi and first kept in the Capitoline Museum.  Later it was transferred to the National Museum of the Risorgimento located inside the Palazzo del Vittoriano (the Victor Emmanuel II National Monument) complex, where at some point, it disappeared from the collection approximately twenty years ago. 

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Spanning some 118 centimeters in diameter, the shield was no small thing for a thief or disgruntled employee to have walked off with undetected.  Crafted by Antonio Ximenes, the shield weighs in at close to 50 kilograms.  Intricately decorated, it  illustrates eight engraved allegorical groups which bear the coat of arms of Italy's most important cities.  At the shield's center, the easily recognizable shield boss, or umbo, depicts a likeness of Garibaldi himself. Even more identifiable, the entire shield was etched with a laurel wreath where the names of all 1089 "Mille di Marsala" were engraved.

Given how recognizable this Italian patriot and soldier of the Risorgimento was, and how well published the shield is, having been the subject  of engravings and detailed in various exhibition documents, fencing the historic object after its theft
from the museum would have likely drawn considerable attention.  Instead, the shield simply vanished without a trace, only to resurface in the news as having been located in the private residence of a yet unnamed "Rome architect".  

Given that the squad is usually quick to name individuals involved in theft or in receiving stolen goods when it comes to thefts of Italy's cultural patrimony, it will be interesting to see if the public prosecutors name who this Rome architect is.   Moreover it is really very difficult to believe that whoever "owned" the object, they were not aware of its illegal origin.  




December 20, 2019

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seizes a female funerary statue previously on sale on the online website Live Auctioneers


Tuesday, December 17, 2019 agents with the United States Department of Homeland Security - HSI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized a female funerary statue previously listed for sale last April for an estimated Estimation 500.000-800.000 USD on the online website Live Auctioneers.  The statue, advertised at: https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/70314848_an-important-life-size-greek-marble-figure-of-a-female  was listed as Lot 0032.  In its description, the dealers had stated that the statue was "an impressive Greek marble three quarter life-size figure of a veiled woman, likely among a handful  [of] available Greek figures for sale."  

While the auction page for this antiquity has since been removed, the heavy 400 pound statue of a Greek funerary deity from the Hellenistic period, has been identified as having come from Cyrenaica, in present-day Libya, a source nation not mentioned in the description given by the sellers.  This area of the North African country has been the subject of accelerating pillage for more than a decade, sometimes in support of financing criminal groups.  Frequently this plunder destroys irreplaceable archaeological data. 

For years the Security Directorate of Shahhat, in Libya's eastern coastal region, has tried to foil the attempts of individuals threatening to tamper with, loot, or destroy antiquities from the ruins of the ancient Greek and Roman city, Cyrene.  But given rampant urban encroachment and the lack of uniform security within Libya's complicated political terrain following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Cyrenaica's rich archaeological heritage remains vastly underprotected, a fact often overlooked by the media amid its focus of ISIS looting and iconoclasm in Syria and Iraq. 

Veiled marble sculptures such as the one seized in New York City are not found in Greece.  They are only found in the ancient Greek cemeteries of the ancient cities of Cyrenaica, the area along the eastern coastal region of what is today modern Libya. These uniquely stylized funerary decorations are easily identifiable as their distinctive styling is not found in any other part of the Classical world.  The alone makes it off concern that the dealers elected to refer to the piece as solely "Greek". 

Following the statues identification, concern over the object's pending sale on the ancient art market was widely publicized by the Archaeology Information Network (ArchaeologyIN) through their Archaeology in Libya social media network.  Drawing the public's attention to the fact that plundered Libyan artifacts are regularly appearing on the licit market, the grass roots activist group included a link to the dealer's auction which identified the sellers as Aphrodite Gallery, an online branch of Aphrodite Ancient Art.  Both of these ancient art enterprises are owned and/or operated by Jamal and Jad Rifai.

The object's provenance on the online sales site was listed as:

"Ex. Swiss private collection, from the 1980's, with import document and Art Loss Register certificate."   But the export license? 


A 2008 cached version of the Aphrodite Ancient Art website (now taken down) stated: 




Previous notes on Facebook, also now removed, once indicated that the brick and mortar gallery of Aphrodite Ancient Art opened in Manhattan in May 2012 after operating virtually as far back as 2007.  This date coincides with data captured by the Wayback Machine which maintains archives of some of the company's web pages dating as far back as 2008.  In contrast, the LinkedIn profile of one of the company's principles states that he has been part of the ancient art market in New York operating as Aphrodite Ancient Art since 1999. 

The seizure of this funerary statue was taken into consideration based on initial research conducted by individuals working with the Federation of Archaeological Missions in Libya, including Vincent Michel and Morgan Belzic (French Mission), Oliva Menozzi (Italian missions), Susan Kane (US Missions), as well as other unnamed colleagues.  Formal requests for assistance from the Libyan authorities came from Dr. Ahmed H. Abdalkariem, Chairmen of the Department of Antiquities (DOA) in Libya, in coordination with the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Libyan embassy who worked jointly with the US Federal and local law enforcement authorities.  

According Morgan Belzic, at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art and Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, illicit funerary sculptures from the Cyrenaica region of Libya have passed through the ancient art market with increasing frequency since the start of political unrest in the region. This uptick in sales volume for Greek artifacts plundered from Libya coincides with the suspension, or reduction, of many state services within the country, including those for heritage protection and management,  without which there has been an increase in criminal activity as well as sometimes aggressive pillaging of archaeological sites.  Belzic's conflict antiquities research has centered on the proceeds from the illicit trafficking of objects from the Cyrenaica region which benefit directly the criminal groups who organize the smuggling of looted antiquities out of Libya, selling on to intermediaries and art merchants in both the US and Europe. 

But could the dealer have known that the statue was illicit? 

Given its distinct style, it seems unlikely that the sellers of this important artifact would not have been able to identify that this statue came from the areas surrounding the ancient Greek cemeteries of the ancient cities of Cyrenaica.  Knowing that, the purported "Ex. Swiss private collection, from the 1980's" and the lack of export documentation of Libya fails to hold water. 

The cultural heritage of Libya is protected by both its national laws as well as by multilateral agreements and international instruments.  The 1951 Constitution grants the government control of the country’s antiquities, archaeological sites, and museums. Law Number 11 on Antiquities, Archaeological Sites, and Museums (1953) further obligates the state to protect cultural heritage in peace and wartime and prohibits damage to and illegal trade of cultural property, including exports. Law Number 2 of 1983 and Law Number 3 of 1994 have similar provisions. The latter names the Department of Antiquities (DOA) as the expert authority responsible for management, organization, care and protection of antiquities, museums, manuscripts, ancient cities, and historic localities and buildings.

The current governing document is the Constitutional Declaration, adopted by the National Transitional Council on August 3, 2011, which reinforces that Libya’s legal framework for cultural preservation has remained largely unchanged to date. International agreements to which Libya is a State Party also remain in effect such as the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Nature and Extent of Art Market for Archaeological and Ethnological Material from Libya

On June 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of State published notification in the Federal Register of the receipt of a request from the Government of Libya to the Government of the United States of America requesting import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Libya representing its prehistoric through Ottoman Era heritage.

In their request it was outlined that the United States is a major market, perhaps the single largest market, for sales of archaeological material from Libya. and that between approximately 2007 and 2014, nearly fifteen sculptures based on stylistic composition and other criteria identified as coming from Libya, and known to have come from Cyrene (some documented from the excavation storerooms; others undocumented) have been sold through the ancient art market in the United States or by US based companies operating virtually.

On December 5, 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection placed import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Libya to assist in combating the illicit trafficking from the region.  

December 12, 2019

The mysteries of the mysteriously appearing Klimt


Painted by the Austrian secessionist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the only known “double” artwork created by the artist, "Portrait of a Lady," was discovered missing from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi, on February 22, 1997.  The painting's disappearance was strange, the frame for the artwork was found on the roof of the building, along with a potential fingerprint from one of the culprits, and yet, the Carabinieri estimated that the artwork was too large to have been pushed or pulled through the gallery roof skylight, so why was it found there?

Despite many leads, and talks with a local art thief who claimed he had stolen the original painting while it still hung in the gallery, replacing it with a duplicate,  the painting remained missing for almost 23 years. That is until it was found on the same grounds from which it disappeared.  

During routine gardening, the artwork was found nestled inside a small metal cubby, attached the side of the gallery, in a location previously covered with ivy.  The fact that the painting appears to be in good condition, despite the humid environment makes in unlikely that it remained stashed in this hidden location for the duration the artwork has been missing. 



Once part of a large collection of artworks, amassed and donated to the city of Piacenza by a local noble, and art aficionado Giuseppe Ricci Oddi (1868-1937) in the early 20th century, the Klimt had been on display at the former Convent of San Siro in Piacenza and was in preparation for a temporary move to a new location near Piacenza’s City Hall while its home gallery underwent renovations.  It was during this period of movement that the original, or if the purported thief is to be believed, his copy of the artwork went missing.  

Adding possible credibility to the informant's statements regarding a faked version of the artwork, on 1 April 1997, border police working on the Italian/French border at Ventimiglia intercepted a package addressed to the former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi which contained a high quality forgery of the artwork. Why someone would be sending the disgraced former PM, a fugitive since 1994 in Tunisia, protected by Ben Ali's government was unclear. 

Prior to its removal from the Galleria d'arte moderna Ricci Oddi the artwork had drawn considerable attention thanks to the sharp eyes of a young Italian woman named Claudia Maga.  She was the first to notice that the Piacenza artwork bore a close similarity to a second known Klimt artwork depicting an almost identical woman glancing over her left shoulder. That matching painting had not been seen since 1912 and the similarity of the two subjects portrayed, led scholars to consider whether or not "Portrait of a Young Lady" and "Portrait of a Lady" might in fact be one and the same.  

Yet, the Piacenza painting has some marked differences. The missing 1912 portrait depicted the woman with a hat and scarf, while the Italian-based portrait did not.  Proffering that perhaps the artist had reworked the first in favor of the latter, analytical studies were made using x-radiography at a local hospital which made it possible to examine the layers beneath the surface and to reveal more information about the composition beneath the portrait. These tests proved Maga's hunch was correct, yet why Klimt chose to rework the painting remained subject to speculation. 

For now, the recovered artwork will undergo authentication, to determine of the painting found in the outer walls of the gallery is the missing artwork stolen more than two decades ago.  If it is, the next question will be where and with whom it really was for the bulk of the almost twenty-three years it was missing. 

December 11, 2019

Wednesday, December 11, 2019 - , No comments

2nd Brazilian Conference on Law & Art


Date:  20-22 May 2020
Event: The Second Brazilian Conference on Law & Art 
Location:  João Pessoa, Brazil 

In its second edition, the biennial (#2cbda) conference will gather the legal community that intervenes in the Brazilian art and cultural heritage sectors in order to debate with important international specialists. 

The general theme of the 2020 edition will be “50th Anniversary of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and 25th Anniversary of the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention”.

This event will cover topics such as copyright; legal iconography; due diligence; concept of artist and artwork; protection of archaeological and underwater cultural heritages; museum law; cooperation, restitution and repatriation of cultural property; climate change, sea level rise and cultural heritage; international arbitration; police cooperation; the role of trusts and freeports in cultural heritage law; protection of the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples; digital art, its definition and preservation; restitution of holocaust-era assets; looted art in times of War; succession of states and cultural heritage; organised crime, terrorism and cultural heritage; anti-money laundering (AML) measures in the art market; circulation of cultural property; forgery, international tax & customs law; auction houses law; monuments and memorials as reparations of human rights violations and monument-toppling.

For further information please contact the event organizers by email  at: 
Email: mfilho@tce.pb.gov.br 
Whatsapp: +55 83 99954 0086.