Showing posts with label Antiquities; Looting; Smuggling; Collecting; Collections; Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Antiquities; Looting; Smuggling; Collecting; Collections; Italy. Show all posts

November 20, 2018

How long does it take to achieve restitution of a looted antiquity? In some cases 25 years or more.


PURCHASED           ACQ NUMBER          DESCRIPTION
29 February 1992          292.AA.10                  Statue of Zeus Enthroned

On October 27, 2018 a first century BCE, marble statue of Zeus, seated on his throne, finally moved to its permanent home, the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegrean Fields in the Castello Aragonese di Baia.  

Like its own lost version of Atlantis, the Campi Flegrei, as the area is known to Italians, is a large, highly active volcanic region, nestled in the northern portion of the Gulf of Naples.  Declared a regional park in 2003, and lying mostly underwater, the archaeological site of Baia, named aptly for its thermal waters, guards treasures from Rome's ancient past, some of which have been transferred to the Archaeological Museum for land lovers to see and appreciate.

A site of profound and priceless beauty, the submerged archaeological park preserves an astounding collection of Roman statues, frozen in liquid time. along with ancient villas, public baths, private grottos and even entire city streets. All of which serve as testimony to the charm of the now submerged city where many of Rome's elite and influential patricians once spent their time relaxing. 

But back to the statue of Zeus and its purchase

Guided by its then antiquities curator, Dr. Marion True, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles purchased the 75-cm-high "Zeus Enthroned" from Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman in 1992.  The Fleischman's in turn had purchased the statue of the Greek god five years earlier in 1987 from British antiquities dealer Robin Symes

Prominent philanthropists of the Metropolitan and other noteworthy American museums, True met the Fleischmans in the late eighties.  At the time, the couple were actively being courted by museums who hoped to purchase all or parts of their substantial personal collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan antiquities.  As wealthy collectors, they couple had purchased antiquities from both Robin Symes and Giacomo Medici, art dealers readers of this blog should be familiar with.

But the Fleischman's relationship with True mixed business with pleasure and the Getty curator was known to have visited the couple in their East Side New York duplex, which was filled with classical art purchased through these now-disgraced antiquities dealers.  By 1996, True's relationship with the philanthropists was such that Lawrence Fleischman provided a loan towards True's vacation home on the Greek island of Paros.  Conveniently, the loan was arranged days after the Fleischmans finalized their acquisition agreement with the Getty Museum.  In total the museum purchased more than three hundred objects from the couple's collection.  Valued at sixty million dollars, the Getty paid the Fleischmans twenty million and the philanthropists made a tax-deductible donation worth another 40 million, to conclude the deal.

In 2005, Italian Public Prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri brought formal criminal charges against True. The gist of the Italian claims were that the curator  “conspired with Hecht and Medici to supply the Getty with artifacts that had been illegally unearthed and exported from Italy, and that she used the Fleischmans’ collection to ‘launder’ antiquities, giving them a clean bill of provenience before bringing them to the museum”. As the Italian court case got into full swing, True resigned over the Paros home loan and shortly after, in 2006, Barbara Fleischman resigned as a trustee of the Getty Trust.

Over the years numerous Fleischman antiquities, tied to illlicit trafficking have been returned to Italy and coupled with the fact that the enthroned Zeus statue had no documentation of licit export, it became the work of the Italian authorities to prove where the object had come from and to tie the object's origins to Italian territory in order to make a viable claim for its restitution. 

According to a recently published book by Stefano Alessandrini, "Italian cultural diplomacy for the return of assets in exile," the statue's return to Italy in the summer of 2017 was thanks to a combined effort; the joint work of historic researchers, illicit trafficking investigators, judicial magistrates and cultural diplomacy advisors with Italy's cultural ministry.  

Alessandrini states that the request for restitution of a cultural property illicitly removed from the patrimony of a State doesn't constitute a hostile act towards the State to which the work is requested. In fact, Italy seeks to enforce not just the law concerning property, but the right of culture, regulated by numerous international conventions.


Zeus and his relationship with the Phlegrean Fields

Image Credit:
The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal
Volume 21, 1993
Italian researchers believed that the marble Zeus was once part of a collection of cult statues, likely displayed in a lararium, a sacred space designed to hold the images of guardian deities, believed in ancient times, to be the protectors of a villa and the family residing in it. 

From its overall condition, scholars were able to deduce that the object had likely spent a large portion of its lifetime, partially submerged on the seabed, laying on its side, as only half of the object seemed to have been marred by marine encrustations.

But to prove to the J. Paul Getty Museum that their Zeus came from Baia took a bit of random luck.

In December 2012 Italy's Guardia di Finanza stumbled upon a mable fragment from a clandestine excavation during an investigation in Bacoli (Naples).  In examining the piece, hoping to determine its original context, the Italians began to consider whether or not the piece of marble might have once been attached to the corner of the arm of the throne upon which Zeus was resting his laurels. Using open source photos, from the Getty Museum's own website, researchers were able to superimpose their looter fragment onto the edge of the photographed chair.

The result proved to be a compatible match. 

To solidify their visual hypothesis, scientific verification tests were performed in California on 6 March 2014 which determined that the marine encrustations present on the Italian fragment matched those also adhering to the Getty's statue in California. 

Image Credit:
ARCA Screenshot 
Getty Website
accessed 20 November 2018. 
From that point, it took another three years of cultural diplomacy before an agreement for restitution could be solidified between the Italian state and the US museum.  On June 13, 2017 Getty Museum Director Timothy Potts is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying:

"The fragment gave every indication that it was a part of the sculpture we had...It came from the general region of Naples, so it meant this object had come from there."

As a result of museum to State negotiations, the J. Paul Getty Museum formally turned over the Zeus statue to the Italian Consul General for Los Angeles, Antonio Verde, on 14 June 2017 in a restitution ceremony at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

25 years and sometimes longer

Not long ago, the world's museum directors spent their days and careers primarily focused on the custodianship of their institution's art objects.  But to truly attone for the sins of the father, todays directors need to become more proactive global citizens and accept their global (and ethical) responsibilities for the errors of their predecessors.  

While museum and museum associations are becoming more aware of the importance of object provenance, to step up to the plate, their management must become more politically engaged, globally connected and skilled in the arts of arbitration and mediation as it applies to suspect objects like this one. Equally importantly, they must also stop the foot dragging when it comes to acknowledging and correcting the errors of past acquisition judgement, as an entrenched means of delaying the inevitable.

Image Credit: ANSA
Given the known problems with the numerous objects in the Getty collection which were accessioned through the Fleischman acquisition, the tug and pull for ownership of the Zeus statue, eventually settled through mutual (and lengthy) negotiation, should not have taken years to hammer out.

But if you want to see Zeus the next time you are in the Bay of Naples area, to celebrate this one success, he'll be waiting for you, on display at the castle, as part of the exhibition "The visible, the invisible and the sea".   His trip home was a long and complicated one, but at least he is not hurling lightening bolts for how long it took.


By:  Lynda Albertson

June 29, 2018

Seizure: An Etruscan Hare Aryballos circa 580-560 B.C.E.


At the request of the Manhattan district attorney's office, the Hon. Ellen N. Biben, Administrative Judge of New York County Supreme Court, issued a seizure warrant for an ancient Etruscan terracotta vessel, in the shape of a reclined rabbit.  Listed as a Hare Aryballos, circa 580-560 B.C.E., the unguentarium was seized by New York authorities at Fortuna Fine Arts Ltd., a firm which specializes in antiquities and numismatics, located at 3 East 69th Street in New York City. 

Earlier, on 30 June 2018, this same aryballos sold for £950 in London via Rome-based Bertolami Fine Arts through ACR Auctions, an online auction firm used by the Italian auction house. 

PROVENANCE: From an European private collection.

The New York gallery where the seizure warrant was executed is managed by Selim Dere, Founder and Erdal Dere (son of Aysel Dere and Selim Dere), President of Fortuna Fine Arts.   There is no information available at this time as to whether or not Mr. Dere had valid import and export documentation. 

Prior to moving to New York, Selim Dere was reportedly arrested by Turkish police, along with cousin Aziz Dere and art dealer Faraç Üzülmez for their roles in the smuggling a marble sarcophagus depicting the twelve labours of Heracles from Perge, Turkey.  Purportedly sliced into pieces for transport, part of this sarcophogus was repatriated by the John Paul Getty Museum to Turkey in 1983 while others were located in Kessel, West Germany.

This fragment of sarcophagus was smuggled abroad after illicit
excavations in Perge and given back by Paul Getty Museum of USA in 1983.
Perge, 2nd Cent. AD
Inv. 1.11.81 - 1.3.99 - 2.3.99
Antalya Archaeological Museum
Image Credit:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/130870_040871/16937604198/in/photostream/
Later, in 1993, acting on an international letters rogatory from the Turkish Government, FBI agents from the New York field office went to the Fortuna Fine Arts gallery, then located on Madison Avenue, and seized a marble statue of a young man and fragment of garland taken from Aphrodisias, an ancient Greek Hellenistic city in the historic Caria cultural region of western Anatolia, Turkey. 


Later, in June 2009, the owner of Fortuna Fine Arts was stopped upon arrival at John F Kennedy International Airport following a flight originating in Munich, Germany where he had stated on his entry documentation that he had nothing to declare. Despite that affirmation, a physical examination of his person and luggage uncovered three artifacts: a red intaglio stone, a Byzantine gold pendant, and a terracotta pottery fragment. All three objects were seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on the basis of 18 U.S.C. § 545 (1982) and19 U.S.C. § 149 (authorizing penalties for failure to declare articles upon entry into the United States) and authorizing Customs agents to search and seize property imported contrary to U.S. laws).

In March 2013, the intaglio and pottery fragment were examined by the Archaeological Director of the Special Superintendent, MiBACT in Rome, Italy, who determined that both objects were of Italian origin and had likely been illegally looted from an archaeological site somewhere in Italy.

**NOTE:  This article was updated 01 July 2018 to reflect repatriation details of partial sarcophagus to Turkey in 1983. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

Italy Returns Trafficked Artifacts to the Archaeological Departments of the Ministry of Antiquities of the Republic of Egypt


In a ceremony held in Rome on June 27, 2018 at the headquarters of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Salerno, Dr. Corrado Lembo and the Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, returned 23,000 ancient bronze and silver coins and 195 archaeological finds, including funerary masks decorated in gold, a sarcophagus, a "Boat of the Dead" with 40 oarsmen, amphorae, pectoral paintings, wooden sculptures, bronzes, and oshabti statuettes, to the Ministry of Antiquities for the Republic of Egypt.  The objects, dating from the Predynastic to the Ptolemaic period, were believed to have been excavated during clandestine excavations in the south of Egypt.

On hand for the ceremony were Egyptian Ambassador, HE Hesham Badr, Professor Mohamed Ezzat, Senior Coordinator at the International Cooperation Administration of the General Prosecutor's Office, and Professor Moustafa Waziry, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. 

The pieces were discovered during a seizure which took place in May 2017, at the customs area of ​​the port of Salerno, by the Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Center of Naples, in collaboration with the officials of the Customs Agency and the local Superintendency.  The stop, was part of a customs inspection of a container which was marked as being for the transport of only household goods.









October 22, 2017

Recovered - 200 undocumented ancient objects in Grosseto, Italy

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

Four antiquities collectors in Grosseto stand accused of illicit detention and possession of property belonging to the state after officers from Italy's Guardia di Finanza seized more than 200 undocumented ancient objects uncovered during asset controls in the garden of a villa.  The search and seizure warrant was issued by the Public Prosecutor of Rome.  

Some of the pieces recovered date back to the Roman imperial age and depict various inscriptions and scenes of Mithraism. 

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

In addition to these, law enforcement officers seized marble heads and busts, including the one of Jupiter pictured in the header of this article, and another of Faustina Maggiore.

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

Also seized was an ancient sarcophagus, unfortunately converted into a utilitarian planter, a full-body statue of a female, attic pottery, columns, and pedestals. Many are in poor condition, perhaps due to exposure to the elements. 

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

As part of this investigation, Italy's finance police raided 22 residences in three regions: Lazio, Sicily, and Tuscany. Eleven suspects have been placed under investigation.  

Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza
Image Credit:  Guardia di Finanza

August 31, 2017

UK Art dealer arrested in Los Palacios, Spain for stealing antiques and on an order of extradition to Italy

Objects seized.  Image Credit: Guardia Civil / DGGC
Identified during a routine inspection of guest lists for lodgings in Los Palacios y Villafranca, a city located in the province of Seville, Spain's Guardia Civil, has detained a British citizen on August 16, 2017 on an arrest and extradition warrant from Italy for the alleged theft of antiquities and cultural heritage objects.

Reported Tuesday, August 29, 2017 in a published statement by the Civil Guard, the detainee, was listed simply with his initials, W.T.V.  At the time he was detained, he was found to be in the possession of 140 objects, including ancient oil lamps, ancient Roman and Arab origin coins, rings, clay tiles and five burner phones. Despite the large quantity of artefacts in his possession, authorities have stated the arrestee was unable to show proof of legal ownership.  

While the full name of the individual was not stated in the press release, the arrestee's initials belong to an expatriate Hungarian coin dealer named William Veres who once managed a company named Stedron based in Zurich, Switzerland.  Veres is known to have worked out of both the UK and Spain and has had his name attached to various illicit activities. 

If Vere's name sounds familiar it is because we mentioned him on this blog one week ago.  He is one of two individuals prosecuted for his earlier role in the illicit sale of a $1.2 million fourth century BCE gold phiale forfeited to Italy by Michael Steinhardt following a lengthy court case and appeals in the United States. 

Working with the Carabinieri in Italy it will be interesting to see what Spain's Guardia Civil will be able to determine regarding the provenance of the objects found in this dealer's possession.  

Now in custody, he will likely be sent back to Italy via the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) system, applied throughout the EU to replace Europe's old lengthy extradition procedures within the territorial jurisdiction.  Through the EAW crime suspects are extradited at the request of foreign countries without the evidence against them being examined in the court of the country where they are detained. 

An EAW may be issued by a national judicial authority if:
  • the person whose return is sought is accused of an offence for which the maximum period of the penalty is at least one year in prison;
  • he or she has been sentenced to a prison term of at least four months.
Having appeared before a judge at a closed hearing in Madrid, it is not yet clear if Veres has agreed to being extradited or whether he will fight the attempt to return him to Italy to face prosecution.

August 10, 2016

Reverse Smuggling - Archaeological Remains and Paintings Imported to Italy Without Proper Authority Seized

Three containers, searched by Italy's customs authorities have been seized by the Guardia di Finanza at the Port of La Spezia having been found to contain numerous smuggled works of art.  

The shipping crates, reported to be the property of a wealthy US businessman, are said to contain more than 100 objects, including several Roman era archaeological finds dating from the IV-III century BCE, 1 century CE Carrara marble statues, two large French-origin oil paintings dating back to the eighteenth century and various other antiquities and pieces of furniture. 

During the search, it was found that all the shipped items were imported without adequate proof of ownership or provenance.   

The objects, arriving from Miami, Florida, appear to have been smuggled into Italy in part, to furnish a home in the Florentine hills.  Local Italian authorities have filed a complaint against the US businessman for conduct punishable by the Italian Code of Cultural Heritage, the Italian Criminal Code and the Italian Customs Code.  

It has been estimates that the undeclared items, should proper provenance actually be established, would have an estimated import fee totalling approximately 23 thousand euros.