Showing posts with label Auction Alert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Auction Alert. Show all posts

April 29, 2017

Auction Alert: Christie's New York and the Guennol Stargazer

Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism,  Nabi Avcı 
Jussi Pylkkänen, global president of the auction house Christie's has indicated that at the behest of a request by the Turkish authorities and following the interim judgement of the United States District Court, his firm will apply precautionary measures regarding the sale of the 9-inch, 5,000-year-old female sculptor the "Guennol Stargazer."  Turkey's Culture Minister Nabi Avcı told the press that the auction house will abide by the Court's recommendation for a temporary 60-day hold on the antiquity while an investigation into the object’s provenance is conducted. During that time period, the purchaser’s hammer price + buyer's premium bid of $14,471,500 USD is confirmed but not collected. 

As spoken about in Dr. Sam Hardy's blog, the Guennol Stargazer is a rare 3rd millennium BCE idol, likely from the Akhisar district of Manisa province in Anatolia.  The object first kicked up a fuss when Özgen Acar wrote of his concerns about the object's origins in Hurriyet Daily News.


An investigative journalist, Acar has crusaded for the return of Turkey's cultural patrimony for decades.  He is probably most famous for his dogged quest for the repatriation of the Metropolitan Museum's Karun Treasure, alternatively known as the Lydian Hoard, a name given to 363 Lydian artifacts that once belonged to a courtier of King Croesus of Lydia dating back to the 7th century B.C.E., originating from the Uşak Province in western Turkey.  In the case of the Guennol Stargazer, Acar openly questions the licit or illicit origin of the idol and its legitimacy in the New York auction house's April sale, in light of stringent Turkish antiquity laws.

This 60 day status will allow the Turkish government the opportunity to put forward evidence to convince the consignor to voluntarily forfeit the ancient idol, or if necessary, facilitate a court order of restitution.

Not a great start to Christie's Classic Week

In advance of the auction, Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism,  Nabi Avcı learned of the upcoming sale of the Anatolian Kilia sculpture and contacted the country's cultural representatives through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Turkish embassy in Washington DC and the country's New York consulate. The Turkish authorities wanted to ensure that any potential buyer was completely aware that the idol was likely looted from Turkey. 

In a battle for hearts and minds - whose outcome will affect ancient art connoisseurs worldwide, the ministry also took out a full-page advertisement depicting the idol in the New York Times discouraging the collecting community from purchasing items that irretrievably damage a tangible link to the past.


In that open letter, pictured above, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey stated: 

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey extends its appreciation to the institutions and individuals that have helped to repatriate lost artefacts to the Anatolian origins.  

We thank the Dallas Museum of Art for returning the 194 A.D. “Orpheus Mosaic” to promote an international cultural exchange of art and ideas in 2012.  

We thank the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston which in 2011 returned part of the 1,800-year-old sculpture “Weary Herakles” that was excavated from the Turkish site of Perge. 

And we thank all the private collectors, auction houses and universities for returning 4272 pieces of cultural heritage, including marble pieces, ancient coins, marble inscriptions, amphoras, statues, and a Roma-era bronze horse harness piece.  

The good faith shown in each instance is an example of how countries and cultural communities can work together to preserve the archaeological record. 

The trade and sale of cultural assets are governed by international conventions and domestic legislations, like UNESCO’s global “Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export,and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” in 1970, as well as Turkey’s national Asar-1 Atika Regulation of 1884 that prohibits the export of any newly-found or yet-unearthed artwork.  

In the spirit of cultural cooperation, we embrace continued collaboration with the arts community to discover the archaeological context of such historic works, and have good faith that any current or future custodians of Anatolian relics will likewise work with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism to return such pieces to their ancestral homes. 

The Business of Ancient Art for the Modern Collector

Christie's biannual auctions in London and New York offer some of the world's finest ancient art, but as the stakes for the art market go higher with each sales cycle, one has to question why auction houses prefer the potentially customer embarrassing "identified as illicit" by an academic, country or journalist approach rather than simply conducting more intensive research into an ancient object's background before accepting a piece for an upcoming auction.

Bidding for bidders and it's about the money.

With plenty of money earmarked for Christie's April 28, 2017 ancient art sale coming from the best name purchasers, it's not a mystery why auction houses and antiquities dealers spend inadequate time worrying about a smudge-free pedigree when sourcing eye-poppingly priced antiquities for collectors. 


When an antiquities collector is willing to fork out $14 million for a purchase, you follow them around like a puppy, catering to their desires because you know in the end the auction house is going to make some decent money out of the sale. To achieve those "record prices" specialists spend significantly more time getting to know their collectors, listening to what they are interested in buying and what they already own, than they do researching where an ancient object came from and whose clean or dirty hands it passed through before arriving to its current consignor.

In the high-stakes art world with high commissions at stake, auction houses focus on wooing and wowing their customers in advance of potential purchases, not pointing out the holes in their consigned object's collection history. The market's focus is on the next bang of the auctioneer's gavel.  It's not on highlighting the murky backwaters an object may have passed through on its way to the auction block.

An auction house's competitive advantage in the marketplace rests as much on their knowledge of their big ticket buyers and sellers as it does on knowing where to source the objects these collectors want.  When someone is willing to offer $14 million for tiny object, an auction house or antiquities dealer will bend over backwards to get one for them.  

Given all of that, we shouldn’t wonder that the auction houses and antiquities dealers behave the way they do.  The bigger question haunting the ancient art market is how do we change the paradigm of "I don't care where it came from, it's pretty and I want it" to "I want something pretty, but I absolutely do care" and I won't buy anything without an ironclad well-documented provenance.

We do it by changing the minds of the collector. 

Collecting ancient art can be an extension of a personal passion, a status symbol or a piece of cultural currency but it also serves as a defacto calling card for the current-day purchaser's own collecting ethics. Deep-pocketed collectors can and should demand that their source dealer or auction house examine and not hide the provenance of the trophy works they are interested in acquiring.  They should also not discount the unacceptable buying and selling habits of the fading old guard of the art market.

If buyers behave conscientiously, the market will be forced to change its practices to keep up with their connoisseur clientele's ethically motivated demands. If only because it is the auction house’s job to know and to cultivate the sale of objects which their customers crave. That demand is what pushes the selling price past the guarantee.

If the antiquities art market really wants to clean itself up, it may be forced to accept in the not too distant future, that the priciest bombshells from the final “hammer price” tabulations may not simply be the rarest and most compelling, historically significant work of art, but also and equally importantly the one that hasn’t funded a war, or destroyed the archaeological record in a source country.

By:  Lynda Albertson

March 16, 2017

Repatriation: Attic Red-Figure Nolan Amphora by the Harrow Painter

Image Credit: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
Left - Min. Plen. Francesco Genuardi, Consul General of Italy in New York
Right -  Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
On February 25, 2017 ARCA announced a second antiquities seizure at Royal-Athena Galleries, a well known New York City-based gallery operated by Jerome Eisenberg, following object identifications made by forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis.  The item seized was an Attic Red-Figure Nolan amphora painted by the Harrow Painter, a vase painter known to have decorated column craters, oinochoai, and neck amphorae from approximately 480 until 460 B.C.E. 

A week earlier, Tsirogiannis had informed both ARCA and the Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, Matthew Bogdanos, that he had matched the ancient object to three images from the archive of disgraced Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina, convicted in 2011 for his role in the illegal antiquities trade. The dealer's accumulation of business records, seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002, consists of some 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents related to antiquities, bought and sold, which at one point or another are known to have passed through Becchina's network of illicit suppliers. 


Presented with irrefutable evidence of the object's illicit past, the neck amphora, valued at $250,000, was quickly forfeited by the New York dealer. 

Today, in New York City, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. formally handed over the amphora to the Italian authorities during a repatriation ceremony attended by Minister Plenipotentiary Francesco Genuardi, the Consul General of Italy in New York, and the Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) New York, Debra Parker.

According to the New York County District Attorney website, the Neck Amphora will be exhibited at the Consulate General of Italy in New York for a few months in celebration of its return before ultimately going back to Italy.  Once home, the object will be placed on permanent display in one of Italy's museums which are part of the regional Polo Museale del Lazio,’ a grouping of museums in the territory near Rome, some of which are in the immediate vicinity of where the object was likely looted. 

The DA's website also mentioned that the amphora will be displayed in Italy with "a special mention of the decisive contribution of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for its repatriation."

Here is hoping there is also room on the museum's brass ID plate for the name "Tsirogiannis." It was through this diligent researcher's identification, and the earlier work of Maurizio Pelligrini from Rome's Villa Giulia, which ultimately tied this Neck Amphora to the specific group of identified traffickers, middlemen and dealers who had working relationships with Becchina.   It is his analysis of the dealer's archival records, which proved to be the critical component of the evidentiary material which ultimately paved the way for the New York DA's office through the request of attorney Matthew Bogdanos, to request that this object be seized.  This request for seizure in turn leading to the eventual "voluntary" forfeiture of the amphora.  

As a general rule, antiquities dealers do not voluntarily give up ancient works of art worth six figures unless they have to.   They do so, only when the evidence presented makes a compelling legal case which persuades them that it would probably be in their best interest to do so. 

By: Lynda Albertson

February 25, 2017

Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Second seizure at Royal-Athena Galleries, New York


On February 17, 2017 forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis alerted Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos in Manhattan that he had identified another antiquity, likely of illicit origin, apparently being laundered via the US art market.  The object in question had been listed for sale via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery which is operated by Jerome Eisenberg.   Royal-Athena Galleries is the same New York gallery which relinquished an illicitly trafficked sarcophagus fragment to the country of Greece a few weeks ago. 


Attic Red-Figure Nolan Amphora
By the Harrow Painter
Ex C.H. collection, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Exhibited: Yale University Art Museum, 2003-2015.
Price: P.O.R.  (Price on Request)

As per Tsirogiannis, this same vase appears in three images from the Gianfranco Becchina archive pictured below.


The Becchina Archive is an accumulation of records seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during raids conducted on Becchina’s gallery, Palladion Antique Kunst, as well as two storage facilities inside the Basel Freeport, and another elsewhere in Switzerland.  This archive consists of some 140 binders which contain more than 13,000 documents related to the antiquities dealer's business.  

Becchina's records include shipping manifests, dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of the images are not slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, crude point and shoot polaroids taken by looters and middlemen depicting recently looted antiquities. Some of these polaroids show objects immediately after their looting and show objects which often still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade. While he later appealed this conviction, antiquities like this vase, traced to this network of antiquities traffickers, continue to surface years after their original looting.  Objects like this one, have resurfaced in private collections, museums and some of the world's most well know and ostentatious galleries and auction houses specializing in ancient art so it is important for collectors to remain on alert to the history of the objects they consider for purchase. 

When discussing his identifications with ARCA Tsirogiannis andicated that the photograph below, of a handwritten note by Gianfranco Becchina himself, documents that the Italian dealer had knowledge of the looted Neck Amphora's existence at least as far back as 28 February 1994.  Documents in the archive which represent the dealer's own meticulous record-keeping, shows that Becchina acquired the vase on the 15th of March 1994 and paid for the object on the 11th of April of that same year.


It is important to note that this red-figure attic vase is one of the most important styles of figural Greek vase painting.  In the Italian dealer's records, the object appears in photographs together with another object, an amphora.  This second object has been redacted from the image presented for the purposes of this blog post as the object is still in circulation.  Both antiquities seem to have come from a single Italian looter or middleman trafficker identified only as 'Robertino'. Given this information, it is plausible that the second identified piece of Attic pottery was looted at or near the same period of time, and may likely come from the same Etruscan tomb. 

It is Dr. Tsirogiannis' opinion that the two object photo ties the vase definitively to the country of Italy and that therefore, the vase should be repatriated to the Italian authorities.  

Other examples of illicit material which have passed through this New York dealer's art and antiquities firm include:



Eight antiquities stolen from museums and archaeological sites worth US$ 510,000.

And most recently, on February 10, 2017, a sarcophagus fragment depicting a battle between Greeks and Trojans looted from Greece and relinquished to the Greek Authorities.

Speaking with Dr. Tsirogiannis about this most recent identification he stated "As in the recent case of the sarcophagus fragment that has been repatriated to Greece, so in this case the identification and the evidence are sending back to Italy a valuable Greek vase. This result was achieved with the cooperation of assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos in New York who handled the seizure and the archaeologist of the Villa Giulia museum in Rome Mr. Maurizio Pellegrini who provided crucial information about the identity of the looter involved."

Given the fact that it often takes sound identifications, such as those conducted by researchers actively working on the Becchina dossier, forfeiture by art market dealers should not be misconstrued as spontaneous acts of good well. In many of such cases, the antiquities are relinquished either to avoid lengthy litigation or as a gesture by the suspect holder of the object to remove themselves from any negative publicity caused by having their name associated with having handled or purchased trafficked art.

By Lynda Albertson

February 21, 2017

Auction Alert: Timeline Auctions. February 21, 2017, London, UK

On February 20, 2017 ARCA contacted Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Timeline auction scheduled to start the following day in London, UK at 10:00am GMT.

TimeLine Auctions holds regular auction sales of antiquities from around the world.  Bidding can be done in person, or electronically through their own or associated websites. The firm is a prominent middle-range British dealer in portable antiquities.

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has collaborated with ARCA to draw attention to and identify antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Dr. Tsirogiannis in turn consulted TimeLine Auction's current online sale catalog and reviewed the objects for possible matches.  Contacting us shortly thereafter, he informed us that he had matched not one, but three antiquities traceable to known traffickers of illicit antiquities.

Each of the three ancient objects match conclusively with photos that are found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive (lot 49 and lot 79) and the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive (lot 183).

The items Dr. Tsirogiannis identified as being of possible concern are: 

A Scythian Rhyton with Animal Head: Lot 0049

Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive
NB This photo has been reversed horizontally for matching purposes. 

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has unfortunately been sold for £3,100 including buyer's premium. 

Scythian Moose Inset with Cabochons: Lot 0079


Left: Screen Capture of Timeline Auction Photo 02/21/17
Right: Photo from Robin Symes Archive 

Top: Screen Capture
TimelineAuction 02/21/17
Middle and Bottom:
Photos from
Giacomo Medici Archive
The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 
"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

This antiquity has also unfortunately been sold for £2,790 including buyer's premium.

Roman Head of a Youth: Lot 0183

The provenance listed by the auction house for this object is as follows: 

"Property of a London gentleman; acquired from a major Mayfair gallery; acquired on the London art market before 2000."

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency with which potentially illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, collectors will be encouraged to do their own due diligence, before acquiring objects for their collections.  In this way new buyers will not be duped into the laundering of objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

While it is likely too late to save the new owners of Lot 0049 and Lot 0079 the headache of having just purchased potentially laundered illicit antiquities, ARCA hopes that Timeline will willingly withdraw the third object, to allow more time for due diligence, now that these identifications have been made.  In this way, the auction firm can avoid passing along another tainted antiquity to an unsuspecting collector.

It also would be nice, if in turn, Timeline shared the consignor/s contact information with the authorities, or encouraged the current owner to contact the authorities so that they could determine if any other suspicious items had been purchased in the past, which may have passed through Symes and Medici's hands.

As always, Tsirogiannis has sent the documentation of his informed suspicions on to law enforcement authorities at INTERPOL.

By Lynda Albertson

February 10, 2017

Repatriation: Stolen Greek sarcophagus fragment heading home

Image Credits: ARCA
Sarcophagus fragment depicting battle between Greeks and Trojans
Just one month after an illicit sarcophagus fragment was reported to Matthew Bogdanos, Assistant District Attorney for New York in Manhattan, the object is heading back to its rightful home in Greece.  

Pictured in the four photographs above, the fragment of this sarcophagus was laundered through the licit art market, making its way to New York via Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina and ultimately to the gallery windows of Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery operated by Jerome Eisenberg which specialises in ancient Greek, Etruscan, Roman and Egyptian art.

Details on the supporting documentation which reflects the object's looting and laundering gathered together and presented to authorities by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis can be found in an earlier ARCA blog post here

Gianfranco Becchina is a name well known to those who follow the trade of illicit antiquities.  His role in the trafficking of looted objects first drew Italian prosecutors interest following the death of Pasquale Camera, a former captain of the Guardia di Finanza turned middle-man trafficker, who lost control of his car on Italy’s Autostrada del Sole, Italy's north-south motorway, as he approached the exit for Cassino, a small town an hour and a half south of Rome.  Smashing into a guardrail and flipping his Renault on its roof, Camera’s automobile accident not only ended his life but set into motion a chain reaction that resulted in the identification of one of the world's most well known antiquities trafficking networks. one responsible for the systematic spoliation of the artistic heritage of Southern Italy and Greece. 

The Greek sarcophagus fragment was handed over by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Assistant District Attorney to Dr. Constantine Koutras, the Consul General of Greece in a formal ceremony in New York today.

During the event District Attorney Vance stated:

“Trafficked antiquities often acquire a veneer of legitimacy after the passage of time or changes in ownership.....Galleries, auction houses, and art collectors, however, should be on alert that my office and our partners in law enforcement are closely following the listing and sale of items of suspicious or dubious provenance. As looting becomes more common, collectors must exercise greater scrutiny when it comes to evaluating whether an item may have been unlawfully acquired. To do otherwise is to implicitly endorse an unacceptable practice through willful ignorance. I thank our partners for their commitment to ending the trade of stolen antiquities, and today, I am gratified to return another treasured artifact to its rightful owner, the Hellenic Republic and people of Greece.”

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told reporters at the repatriation ceremony that as the owner of the gallery, unnamed during the press conference, had forfeited the sarcophagus voluntarily when presented with the evidence of its provenance, and nobody from the gallery will face prosecution.

This is not the first time that Royal Athena Galleries has been made to forfeit looted antiquities as can be noted here, here, and here.

ARCA would like to extend its heartfelt appreciation to Dr. Tsirogiannis.  His identification of this fragment made its repatriation possible.  

January 14, 2017

Auction Alert and Antiquities Seizure: Royal-Athena Galleries, New York

On January 8, 2017 forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis alerted Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos in Manhattan and ARCA that he had identified another illicit antiquity, apparently being laundered via the US art market.  The object in question had been listed for sale via Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery which is operated by Jerome Eisenberg

Screen Capture - Royal-Athena Galleries 1
According to Tsirogiannis the object identified was a 64.8 x 90.8 cm. sarcophagus fragment which matches four polaroid images and three handwritten notes found in the Becchina archive. 

This accumulation of records was seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during raids conducted on Gianfranco Becchina’s gallery, Palladion Antique Kunst, as well as two storage facilities inside the Basel Freeport, and another elsewhere in Switzerland.  The Becchina Archive consists of some 140 binders which contain more than 13,000 documents related to the antiquities dealer's business.  

These records include shipping manifests, dealer notes, invoices, pricing documents, and thousands of photographic images.  Many of the images are not slick art gallery salesroom photos, but rather, are point and shoot polaroids taken by looters and middlemen which depict recently looted antiquities, some of which still bear soil and salt encrustations. 

In 2011 Becchina was convicted in Italy for his role in the illegal antiquities trade and while he later appealed this conviction, looted antiquities traced to his trafficking network, like this sarcophagus fragment, continue to surface in private collections, museums and some of the world's most well know auction firms specializing in ancient art.  

In releasing his identifications to ARCA Tsirogiannis said:

"Regarding the sarcophagus fragment, each of the four Polaroid images depicting the fragment is included in a different file of the Becchina archive:

I discovered the first image (attachment no. 1) in a file that Becchina created to archive the antiquities he was receiving from a Greek trafficker termed in the archive ‘ZE’ or ‘ZENE’ (the beginning of his surname) or ‘Giorgio’ (Giorgos, his first name in Greek). This trafficker, now deceased, was well-known to the Greek police art squad.

attachment no. 1

In a separate handwritten note (attachment no. 2), Becchina records that he received the antiquity (‘1 Frto. [meaning ‘Fragment’] di sarcofago’) for 60.000 Swiss Francs on 25 May 1988. 

attachment no. 2
This antiquity is recorded as the 9th object included in the 34th group of antiquities that ‘Zene’ sent to Becchina (see attachment no. 3).

attachment no. 3
Another note (attachment no. 4), a handwritten page, lists a group of antiquities that Becchina bought from ‘Zene’, from November 1986 until October 1988, for more than $250,000, including the sarcophagus’ fragment (no. 9).

attachment no. 4
The fifth attachment is a photocopy of a Polaroid image, depicting the same antiquity; this image was attached to a blank A4 page, together with other Polaroid images depicting other antiquities that ‘Zene’ smuggled from Greece to Becchina, under the title ‘in PF’, meaning that all these antiquities were stored at the time at the P[ort] [F]ranc (the Free Port) of Basel. 

attachment no. 5
In Becchina’s list of antiquities stored in his warehouses in the Free Port of Basel, the sarcophagus fragment was number 21 (see sixth attachment, another Polaroid image).

attachment no. 6
Finally, I am sending you another handwritten note (attachment no. 7), in which Becchina is asking one of the restorers he was using, Andre Lorenceau, to clean (‘reinigen’) the fragment and to add a base (‘sockeln’), as a support (by drilling into the antiquity). I discovered this note in the Becchina file dedicated to his cooperation with the restorer Andre Lorenceau."

attachment no. 7
According to the Royal-Athena Galleries website, the sarcophagus fragment has been attributed by Dr. Guntram Koch, an academic with an expertise in Roman sarcophagoi. 

Screen Capture - Royal-Athena Galleries 2

In addition to notifying the New York authorities, Tsirogiannis informed INTERPOL and the Greek police art squad. 

The object in question was seized by US authorities at approximately January 14 2:00 pm EST.

Nearly ten years ago in November 2007 Eisenberg returned eight antiquities stolen from museums and archaeological sites worth US$ 510,000 to Italy. Given the fact that it often takes sound identifications, such as those conducted by researchers such as Tsirogiannis, restitutions by art market dealers should not be misconstrued as spontaneous. In most cases pieces are relinquished merely to avoid lengthy litigation or in order for suspect dealers to remove themselves from the negative publicity caused by being subject to criminal charges.

By: Lynda Albertson





December 13, 2016

Gorny & Mosch Withdraws Suspect Antiquities from Auction

Gorny & Mosch has withdrawn the four suspect antiquities identified by Greek forensic archaeologist and ARCA lecturer Christos Tsirogiannis on November 30, 2016. The objects, pictured below, had each been set for auction on tomorrow, December 14, 2016 via the auctioneer's office in Munich (München).


The objects had been traced to the confiscated Robin Symes and Gianfranco Becchina archives, antiquities dealers long accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe.

The withdrawal comes After the information on the identifications was forwarded via INTERPOL to the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Germany's federal criminal police, which in turn, forwarded the information on to the Bavarian prosecution office for further analysis. 

For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of this objects' looted past, please see ARCA's earlier report in English here or in German here

December 11, 2016

Auction Alert: Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktion, München, Deutschland

ARCA kindly thanks archaeologist and academic translator Folkert Tiarks of Toptransarchaeo for his assistance in translating this blog report from English into German for ARCA's German-speaking readership.

Am 29. November 2016 wurde ARCA durch Christos Tsirogiannis darüber informiert dass er vier antike, potentiell illegale Objekte identifiziert habe, die  am 14. Dezember 2016 bei Gorny & Mosch in München versteigert werden sollen.  Jedes dieser vier Objekte  lässt sich auf Fotos aus den beschlagnahmten Archiven von Gianfranco  Becchina und Robin Symes nachweisen.

Los 19 Etruskische Bronzestatue eines Jünglings, Mitte 5. Jahrhundert vor Christus

Abbildung 1 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 19 

Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben:  
"Ex Sammlung R.G., Deutschland. Bei Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, 43. Ex Sotheby´s Catalogue of Antiquities 13. Juli 1981, 341."

Jerome Eisenberg, Herausgeber der Zeitschrift Minerva und Eigentümer der Royal Athena Galleries in New York City, ist ein Name, der in der Vergangenheit als Käufer oder Verkäufer von Antiken umstrittener Herkunft  zur Sprache gekommen ist. Für weitere Informationen zu einigen der  in letzter Zeit von der Gallery erworbenen Objekte klicken sie bitte hierhier, hier und hier


Abbildung 2 - Symes Archiv Foto
Kürzlich erkannte Tsirogiannis Los 19 (Bild 1) im Symes Archiv (Bild 2), während dieses Loss noch  im Oktober 2010, zusammen mit einigen anderen Antiken, deren Bilder in den Archiven von Medici und Becchina auftauchten  von der Royal Athena Galleries angeboten wurde. Im Januar 2011 wurden diese Identifizierungen von Professor David Gill in seinem Blog "Looting Matters" vorgestellt und in der italienischen Presse durch den auf Kunst und Korruption spezialisierten Journalisten Fabio Isman im "Giornalle dell’arte" publik gemacht. Zusammen mit jeder dieser Bekanntmachungen wurde ein aus dem Symes Archiv stammendes Foto der etruskischen Bronzefigur veröffentlicht.

Die Tatsache, dass dieses Objekt jetzt, fünf Jahre nach der ersten Identifizierung, wieder zum Verkauf angeboten wird, bedeutet entweder dass die italienischen Behörden bei diesem einzelnen Objekt nicht tätig wurden oder dass der damalige Besitzer der Antike ausreichende Beweise vorlegen konnte die eine Einstufung als illegal gehandelte Antike verhinderten. Diese Information (sofern es sie gibt) wurde durch das Auktionshaus nicht in die Sammlungs-geschichte aufgenommen.

Los 87 Eine apulische rotfigurige Situla des Lykurgos-Malers. 360-350 v. Chr.

Abbildung 3 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 87

Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben: 

"Aus der James Stirt Collection, Vevey in der Schweiz, erworben 1997 bei Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich."

Abbildung 4 Gegenteil von Los 87 (links)
 Becchina Archivfoto einer Situla (rechts)
Das von Tsirogiannis zur Verfügung gestellte Foto aus dem Archiv Symes zeigt die Vase mit schweren Ablagerungen von Erde und Salz. Aus einer dem Archivfoto beigefügten hand-schriftlichen Notiz geht hervor, dass die Bilder am 18. März 1988 von Raffaele Montichelli an Gianfranco Becchina geschickt wurden.

Montichelli ist ein verurteilter Antikenhändler aus Tarent der über viele Jahre eine Partnerschaft mit Gianfranco Becchina unterhielt. Als Montichellis seriöser Beruf wird Grundschullehrer im Ruhestand erwähnt, dennoch scheint er aus den unrechtmäßigen Einnahmen mit illegal gehandelter Kunst genug l Geld verdient zu haben, dass er in einigen von Italiens exklusiveren Gegenden von Florenz und Rom lukrative Immobilien kaufen konnte. Diese wurden später durch die italienischen Behörden beschlagnahmt.

Es ist bemerkenswert, dass in der Sammlungsgeschichte dieses Lots der Abschnitt über Becchina vor der im Verkaufskatalog von Gorny & Mosch erwähnten Herkunft aus einem Auktionshaus datiert. Hat Vollmöller, als sie das Objekt in Kommission nahm, die Kaufgeschichte, von wem die Situla erworben wurde, weggelassen oder haben Gorny & Mosch sie absichtlich ausgelassen?

Lot 88 An Apulian red-figure bell-krater of the Dechter Painter. 350 - 340 B.C.E. 

Abbildung 4 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 88
Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben: 

Ex Galerie Palladion, Basel; ex Privatsammlung von Frau Borowzova, Binnigen in der Schweiz, erworben 1976 von Elie Borowski, Basel.

Abbildung 6 - Becchina Archiv foto
dieses Kraters
Palladion Antike Kunst (man beachte den leicht korrigierten Namen der Galerie) wurde von Gianfranco Becchina aus Basel, Schweiz, geleitet obwohl als offizielle Besitzerin der Schweizer Galerie Ursula “Rosie“ Juraschek, Becchinas Ehefrau geführt wurde.

Tsirogiannis stellte ein aus dem Becchina Archiv stammendes, auf den 4. April 1989 datiertes Foto dieses Kraters (Abb.6 ) zur Verfügung. Wieder sehen wir ein mit Erd-und Salzablagerungen bedecktes Objekt mit einigen Fehlstellen. Man beachte dass die Datierung des  unrestaurierten Objektes in das Jahr 1989 nicht mit dem Datum übereinstimmt, an dem das Objekt in die Sammlung Elie Borowski aufgenommen wurde.

Elie Borowski, dessen umfangreiche Sammlung von Gegenstanden aus dem Mittleren Osten später den Großteil des Bible Land Museums bildete, starb im Jahr 2003. Vertraut mit den Schattenseiten des Antikenhandels, teilte die ehemalige Kurator der Antiken-Abteilung des Getty Museums, Marion True, den italienischen Behörden mit, dass auch Borowski, ein in Basel/Schweiz, ansässiger Antiken-händler, ein Kunde Gianfranco Becchinas sei.

Interessanterweise unternahm Borowski eine diskrete Reise nach Gubbio um sich dort die erst kurz zuvor aus dem Meer geborgene Bronze anzusehen, bevor diese ihren endgültigen Weg nach Malibu antrat. Aber Borowskis Eintauchen in eine mögliche Betrügerei war hier noch nicht zu Ende. Sein Name erscheint in einem inzwischen zu Berühmtheit gelangtem Organigramm von Händlern, einem handgeschriebenen Schaubild des illegalen Handels, das von den italienischen Behörden im wohnung von Danilo Zicchi beschlagnahmt wurde. Sein Name wurde auch in Verbindung gebracht mit Raubantiken aus der Türkei.

Los 127 Gedrungenes Alabastron der Gnathia-Ware mit dem Bildnis einer geflügelten Frau mit Sakkos. Dem Maler der weißen Hauben zugeschrieben. Apulien, 320-310 v. Chr.


Abbildung 7 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 127 
Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben:

Ex Christie´s London, 15.04.2015, ex 113; aus der Privatsammlung von Hans Humbel, Schweiz, erworben bei der Galerie Arete, Zürich in den frühen 1990er Jahren.

Abbildung 8 - Becchina Archiv foto
dieses alabastron
Zusammen mit anderen  im Hintergrund sichtbaren Antiken, ist dieses Objekt auch auf einem von Tsirogiannis zur Verfügung gestellten Foto aus dem Becchina Archiv zu sehen. Das Foto datiert vom 24. September 1988 und wurde ebenfalls vom verurteilten Händler Raffaele Montichelli an Gianfranco Becchina geschickt.

Wie bei den vorausgegangenen Losen, datiert das Datum auf dem Foto vor die von Gorny & Mosch angegebene Sammlungsgeschichte. Dies lässt mich vermuten, dass die Sammlungsgeschichten aller vier Objekte in Details nur sehr spärlich angegeben wurden.

Wie Los 19 dieser Identifizierung, ist dieses das zweite Mal, dass dieses bestimmte Objekt vor einer bevorstehenden Auktion identifiziert wurde.

Aber die Spur wird noch interessanter.

Am 11. April 2015 veröffentlichte ARCA Tsirogiannis originale Identifizierung des Alabastrons mit folgender, von Christies zur Verfügung gestellter Provenien-zangabe.

"Durch den gegenwärtigen Eigentümer im Jahr 1998 vom Petit Musee, Montreal, erworben".

Das Objekt war ein Teil des aus zwei Vasen bestehenden Loses 113, das am 15. April 2016 in der Antiken-Auktion von Christie’s in London versteigert wurde. Ein von ARCA aufgenommener screenshot (Bild 9) der bei der urprünglichen Identifizierung vom April 2015 verwendet wurde, wird unten nochmals abgebildet.

Abbildung 9 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 11. April 2015 
Am 15. April 2015 wurde das Alabastron mit folgender Bekanntmachung im Auktionssaal von der Auktion zurückgezogen: "Das Los wurde zurückgezogen".

Wenn man heute Christie‘ s URL anklickt, die immer noch mit der letztjährigen Auktion verlinkt,  sieht man, dass das Foto gelöscht und durch ein anderes (Bild 10) ersetzt wurde, das nur die birnenförmige Flasche aus  Los 113 zeigt.

Abbildung 10 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 30. November 2016

Darüber hinaus wurde die Bekanntmachung der Rücknahme durch diese ersetzt (Abb. 11).

Abbildung 11 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 30. November 2016
Seltsamerweise führen Gorny & Mosch als Provenienz "Ex Christie’s London, 15.April 2015".

Hat Christie’s den Verkauf im April 2015 durchgesetzt anstatt ihn zurückzunehmen? Oderhaben Gorny & Mosch die unbeendete Auktion aufgeführt um ihrer eigenen Auflistung mehr Glaubwürdigkeit zu verleihen, jetzt, da sich der Besitzer des Stückes sich entschlossen hat, das Stück in Deutschland zu…Wer hat aus welchem Grund das Bild des Alabastrons gegen das der birnenförmigen Flasche ausgetauscht?

Und was ist mit Christie’s früherer Provenienzangabe, die das „Petit Musee, Motreal“ nannte, von dem der jetzige Besitzer das Stück im Jahr 1988 erwarb?  War diese Sammlungsgeschichte eine Fiktion, die später unbequem für den Besitzer und das aktuelle Auktionshaus wurde?

ARCA hofft, dass durch die kontinuierliche Bekanntgabe der Häufigkeit mit der illegale Antiken die Unregelmäßigkeiten in ihrer Provenienz  aufweisen wie dies bei  diesen Identifizierungen der Fall ist,  auf den legalen Kunstmarkt gelangen, Auktionshäuser und Sammler gezwungen werden ,die genauen und strengen Anforderungen bei der Angabe der Sammlungsgeschichte ihrer Objekt  einzuhalten, so dass neue Käufer nicht weiter Objekte waschen, um den Handel mit illegalen Antiken zu unterstützen.

Abschließend sei gesagt, dass sich Tsirogiannis, ein in Cambridge ansässiger forensischer Archäologe und Dozent beim Aufbaustudiengang der ARCA "Kriminalität gegen die Kunst und Kulturgüter-schutz", seit 2007 darum bemüht, Antiken illegaler Herkunft zu identifizieren, die sich in denjenigen Museen, Sammlungen, Galerien und Auktionshäusern befinden, die durch die beschlagnahmten Archive von Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, Christos Michaelides und Gianfranco Becchina zurückverfolgt werden können.

Tsirogiannis hat Interpol über seine Identifizierungen informiert verbunden mit der Bitte, sowohl die italienschen als auch die deutschen Behörden ebenfalls formell darüber zu informieren. Hoffen wir, dass Gorny & Mosch das Objekt zurückziehen und künftig ihrer Sorgfaltspflicht bei der Prüfung der Einlieferer von Objekten besser nachkommen.

Von Lynda Albertson

November 30, 2016

Auction Alert II: Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction, Munich

On November 29, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified four potentially-tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Gorny & Mosch in Munich, Germany on December 14, 2016.  Each of the four ancient objects are traceable to photos in the confiscated Gianfranco Becchina and Robin Symes archives.

The antiquities identified by Tsirogiannis are:

Lot 19 An Etruscan bronze figure of a youth. Mid 5th century B.C.E.

Image 1 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 19 

The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
"Ex collection RG, Germany. At Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010 43. Ex Sotheby Catalogue of Antiquities 13 July 1981 341."

Jerome Eisenberg, editor of the Minerva journal and proprietor of Royal Athena Galleries in New York City is a name that has come up in the past as the purchasor or seller of antiquities with contriversial backgrounds.  Please see the following links for more information on a few of the gallery's previous aquisitions herehere, here and here


Image 2 - Symes Archive Photo
Tsirogiannis previously identified Lot 19 (Image 1) in the Symes archive (Image 2), while on offer through the Royal Athena Galleries in October 2010 along with several other antiquities whose images appeared in the Medici and the Becchina archives.  In January 2011 these identifications were presented by Professor David Gill through his 'Looting Matters' blog and publicized in the Italian press by art and curruption journalist Fabio Isman through the art publication Il Giornale dell'Arte. Each notification published a copy of the Syme's archive photo of the Etruscan figurine.

The fact that this bronze figure reappears for sale now, five years after the first identification, may mean that the Italian authorities chose not to act on this particular object or that the holder of the antiquity at that time, was able to produce sufficient evidence to eliminate it as a potentially trafficked antiquity. That information (if it exists) was not made part of the auction house collection history. 

Lot 87 An Apulian red-figure situla of the Lycurgus Painter. 360 - 350 B.C.E.

Image 3 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 87

The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
"From James Stirt Collection, Vevey, Switzerland, acquired in 1997 Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich"

Image 4 - Reverse side of Lot 87 (left)
Becchina Archive photo of a Situla (right)
The photo provided by Tsirogiannis from the Becchina archive (Image 4) shows the vase badly encrusted with soil and salt deposits). A handwritten note included with the archive photograph indicates that the images were sent from Raffaele Montichelli to Gianfranco Becchina on 18 March 1988.

Montichelli is a convicted antiquities trafficker from Taranto who had a long-standing relationship with Gianfranco Becchina.  Montichelli's legitimate occupation was listed as a retired elementary school teacher, yet it seems he made enough money from the illicit proceeds of trafficked art, to purchase lucritive property (later seized by the Italian authorities) in some of Italy's more exclusive areas of Florence and Rome.

It is interesting to note that the passage via Becchina in this lot's collection history, pre-dates the auction house provenance written in the sale catalog by Gorny & Mosch.  Did Vollmöller leave out the purchasing history of who the situla was purchased from when placing the object on consignment or did Gorny & Mosch omit it intentionally?

Lot 88 An Apulian red-figure bell-krater of the Dechter Painter. 350 - 340 B.C.E. 

Image 5 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 88
The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
Ex Gallery Palladion, Basel; . ex private collection of Mrs. Borowzova, Binnigen in Switzerland, acquired in 1976 by Elie Borowski, Basel

Image 6 - Becchina Archive photo
of a Bell Crater 
Palladion Antike Kunst (notice the slightly corrected name of the gallery) was managed by Gianfranco Becchina in Basel, Switzerland though the Swiss gallery was officially listed as belonging to Ursula ''Rosie'' Juraschek, Becchina's wife.

Tsirogiannis provided a photo of this krater (Image 6) from the Becchina archive which was dated APR 4 '89' (4/4/1989).  Again we see a "raw" object covered with soil and salt encrustations and missing various fragments. Note that the 1989 date on the unrestored object photo doesn't match up to the date of the object's inclusion in the Elie Borowski collection.

Elie Borowski, whose vast collection of Mideast artifacts later formed bulk of Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, died in 2003. No stranger to the antiquities underbelly, former Getty antiquities curator Marion True told Italian authorities that Borowski, a Basel, Switzerland, antiquities dealer was also a client of Gianfranco Becchina.

Interestingly, Borowski once made a discreet trip to Gubbio to view the recently-fished Getty Bronze before it made its eventual way to Malibu, but Borowski's dip into possible skulduggery didn't stop there.  His name appears in the now famous trafficker's organigram, the handwritten organization chart of the illicit trade seized by Italian authorities from the apartment of Danilo Zicchi.  His name has also been linked to possibly looted antiquities from Turkey as well.

Lot 127 A squat alabastron of the Gnathia-ware with the bust of a winged woman with sakkos. Said to be from the White Sakkos Painter. Apulia, 320 - 310 B.C.E.


Image 7 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 127
The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
Ex Christie's London, 15/04/2015, ex 113; from the private collection of Hans Humbel, Switzerland, acquired at the Galerie Arete, Zurich in the early 1990s.

Image 8 - Becchina archive alabastron
This alabastron is also depicted in a Becchina archive photo supplied by Tsirogiannis (Image 8), alongside other antiquities in the background.  The photo's image is dated 24/9/1988 and was again sent to Gianfranco Becchina from convicted trafficker Raffaele Montichelli.

As with the previous lots, the date on the image pre-dates the collecting history listed by Gorny & Mosch leading me to hypothesize that the collection histories of all four objects have been intentionally spartan on details.

Like Lot 19 in these identifications, this is the second time Tsirogiannis has identified this particular antiquity in an upcoming auction.

But here the trail gets more interesting. 

On April 11, 2015 ARCA published Tsirogianni's original identification of the alabastron with the following provenance provided by Christies.

"Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998."

The object was one of two vases comprising Lot 113, in Christie's April 15, 2016 antiquities auction in London and a screenshot (Image 9) taken by ARCA and used in the original April 11, 2015 identification post is reposted below.

Image 9 - Christie's website screenshot April 11, 2015
On April 15, 2015 the alabastron was withdrawn from the auction with a Saleroom Notice that read: "This Lot is withdrawn"

Clicking on the Christie's URL today, which still links to last year's sale, shows that the alabastron photo has been deleted and replaced with an alternative one (Image 10), that shows only Lot 113's piriform bottle.

Image 10 - Christie's website screenshot
November 30, 2016

Additionally, the "withdrawn" notice has been replaced with this one (Image 11)

Image 11 - Christie's website screenshot
November 30, 2016
Strangely, the Gorny & Mosch provenance lists "Ex Christie's London, 15/04/2015".

Did Christie's follow through with the April 2015 sale instead of withdrawing it?Or has Gorny & Mosch listed the unfulfilled auction to add credibility to its own listing now that the owner of the piece has decided to shop the antiquity in Germany.   Who changed out the image of the alabastron for the piriform bottle and for what motive?

And what about the object's prior Christie's provenance which listed "the Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998"?  Was that collecting history a work of fiction that later became inconvenient for the owner and current auction house?

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, will force auction houses and collectors to adhere to accurate and stringent reporting requirements on their object collection histories so that new buyers do not continually launder objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

In closing,  since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has sought to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Tsirogiannis has notified INTERPOL of his identifications asking them to formally notify both the German and the Italian authorities.  Let's hope Gorny & Mosch withdraw the object and conduct a more thorough due diligence with the object's consignor/s.

By Lynda Albertson