Showing posts with label Bar Leonardi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bar Leonardi. Show all posts

July 16, 2014

Talking Looted Antiquities and Becchina archive over espresso with Christos Tsirogiannis, ARCA's 2014 Writer-in-Residence, at Amelia's Bar Leonardi

The patio of Bar Leonardi in Amelia
By Catherine Schofield Sezgin, 
 ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

One of the benefits of holding the ARCA program each summer in the Umbrian town of Amelia is Bar Leonardi, an establishment that offers drinks on a patio fit for either sun or shade, a great view of the Porta Romana, and a view of everyone entering or leaving town. It has comfortable tables where ARCA's 2014 Writer-in-Residence Christos Tsirogiannis and I parked ourselves one morning after the ARCA Conference to discuss the context and scope of the work he does in identifying suspected looted antiquities that have re-surfaced in galleries, sales catalogues, and museum exhibits after 1970 (This post is an edited summary of our discussion).

Christos is the Greek forensic archaeologist that investigative reporter Nikolas Zirganos mentions in the 2007 version of The Medici Conspiracy (Peter Watson & Cecilia Todeschini); he accompanied Greek police on the raids of the home of Marion True on the island of Paros in March 2006 and the home of Robin Symes on the island of Schinousa in April 2006 (“Operation Eclipse”). Greek police found Polaroid photos, professional photographs and documents that have led investigators in Greece and Italy to recover hundreds of objects from American museums and auction houses. This was achieved by tracing the objects from the inventory of dealers suspected of selling ancient objects illegally dug out of Etruscan, Greek and Roman tombs and archaeological sites, as defined by UNESCO’s 1970 convention signed by almost 200 countries agreeing that such activity should not be condoned by legitimate art dealers or museums.

The Becchina archive was confiscated by the Italian and Swiss authorities in Basel in 2000 and 2002, Although you do not have a digital copy of the archives, you are given access to them by journalists who have the digital copies, whenever you want to search. Why have you not published these images so that anyone in the world with access to the database can join in the recovery efforts to return looted antiquities?

Christos Tsirogiannis: One thing that is important to understand is that these three archives (Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides) containing Polaroids, photographs and receipts, were obtained by the Greek and Italian states. Therefore, this material belongs to those countries and aids them in prosecuting these cases and in recovering objects from museums and auction houses. They are not my property and, thus, it is not my right to publish them.

Secondly, it is possible that if these archives (Medici, Becchina, Symes) were published online, then those people who have the objects – either in their homes or in the basements of museums – may want to avoid being accused of purchasing stolen antiquities and would either sell those items to collectors who do not care about their collecting history – or possibly destroy those objects to avoid confiscation or arrests.

The photographic evidence shows dirty or broken objects dug out of the ground. We do not know where most of these objects are. I have matched, so far, about 850 objects depicted in about 1,800 images, of objects thought to have been illegally sold, and thousands more have yet to be located. These photographs are the starting point of the research. When the objects show up in an exhibition or a sale, we can collect any information published with that object and try to describe how these networks of illicit antiquities operated on the market. But if the people who have the objects today realize that their objects have been identified as stolen, they may hide those objects and we will have no further information.

The most important objective is to tell the story of how these pieces were looted and entered into private collections and museums who must have known or suspected they were looted, smuggled or stolen.

How did people become aware that even after UNESCO’s 1970 Convention for the protection of cultural property, antiquities continued to be illicitly sold?

CT: Chippindale and Gill wrote in 1993 an important paper that pointed out that 90% of the known Cycladic figures in collections around the world had no recorded history prior to 1970 and thus one could infer that they had been freshly dug out of the ground or were fakes. Then in 2000, Chippindale and Gill demonstrated that most ancient objects in the most well-known private collections had no collecting history prior to 1970. A few years later, Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini published The Medici Conspiracy, which told how Italian and Greek police had uncovered a criminal network involved in digging up ancient objects from Italy and Greece, laundering them in Switzerland and through auction houses, mainly in London, and then selling them to collectors and museums throughout the world. The Medici Conspiracy was followed by Sharon Waxman’s Loot, Vernon Silver’s The Lost Chalice, and Felch and Frammolino’s Chasing Aphrodite, which showed a pattern of purchasing ancient objects that had weak or nonexistent collecting histories – a cover up for looted antiquities.

Despite the publication of these books, is it common knowledge that criminals extract ancient objects from tombs and archaeological sites and then sell those same objects through the art market to collectors and museums? Three decades ago the Getty Villa displayed Greek and Roman objects without explaining how such objects got to Malibu, California. And today many museums display objects that have appeared in their collections after 1970 or are on loan anonymously in the last year or two but provide no other information as to how these objects made it to the museums in Pasadena or Chicago or New York. Is this part of your work, to create a consciousness in viewers to ask such questions while they are admiring the pottery of the Greeks or the bronze figurines of the Etruscans?

CT: It is everyone’s responsibility to inform the people about the wrongdoings that are still on-going in the antiquities market and, subsequently in the antiquities collections of the most well-known private and state museums. Then, an informed visitor will have the ability to understand why an institution fails to provide basic information on the collecting history of the antiquities on exhibition.

Christos, what has happened in the pursuit of criminal charges against antiquities dealers Robin Symes and Giacomo Medici?

CT: Medici has been convicted of conspiring to sell looted antiquities and ordered to pay 10 million- Euro fine – although he was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment, according to the Italian law he will serve no time in jail in Italy because he is over 70 years old.

As for Robin Symes, the Greek government has issued an international warrant for his arrest, but the British authorities have not been able to locate Symes. The Italian government is also preparing a case against Symes.

February 13, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: An Introduction to Its History

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Amelia, the oldest town in Umbria, is about 60 miles north of Rome. You can get there by car in about an hour. You could get there by train to the station at Orte, in either one or two hours from either Termini Station in Rome or from the airports, depending on whether or not your train stops at every town. Orte, a another small medieval town, is about nine miles from Amelia through beautiful green hills with cypress trees. If you don't have a car, you can take a bus, unless you arrive on a Sunday in July or August, or later than 10 o'clock at night, then you will have to call for a driver. Outside the doors of the train station, a sign indicates a phone number for a taxi company. But the taxi company, or just a sole driver, I've never figured out which, does not always answer the phone or send a car. So it's helpful to have the name and number of a private service that will agree to meet you upon your arrival for the cost of 25 or 30 euros.

As I've discussed before, most visitors stop at Bar Leonardi for refreshments or to make arrangements to reach their lodgings. From the patio of Bar Leonardi, you can sit at a table and view the walls of the medieval town and the main gate which is known as the Porta Romana. This entrance deserves a photo and a blog of it's own so we'll just say for now that if you're not waiting on the patio of Bar Leonardi, you're waiting on a low wall that extends outside of the Porta Romana. And I have a photo which I will also show in another blog of some local men that agreed to have their photo taken. They, or someone like them, sat on that wall most morning and evenings. However, the sitting wall is typically available during the afternoon siesta so I recommend that when you want to feel like a local and check out all the cars and pedestrians going in and out of the historic center, that you first sit on the wall during a hot afternoon when no one else is around. Because you'll want to make sure you have the right detached pose ready as you inspect everyone and everything going in and out of that town.

People may have lived on this hilltop for three thousand years, allegedly beginning with the Umbrian King Ameroe more than 300 years earlier than the settlement of Rome. The Umbrians traded with Greeks and Etruscans and produced pottery. Pliny the Elder, historian and military commander, wrote that the Umbrians were the oldest people in Italy -- that the Greeks called them 'Ombrici' because they were believed to have survived the great flood Zeus unleashed to cleanse the countryside at the end of the Bronze Age to express his anger with the corruption of the Pelasgians. This history is relevant when you're in Amelia because you can feel the sense of pride and tradition in the town's clean streets and well-preserved buildings.

Between the 6th and 4th centuries B. C., the Etruscans protected Amelia by stacking limestone blocks, one on top of the other, fitting them together without mortar. These walls, 8 meters high and 3.5 meters wide, extend around the town for more than 700 meters. One legend claims that these walls thwarted an attack by Emperor Federico Barbarossa. A 30-meter segment of this wall collapsed in 2006 and is still under repair as the town awaits for government funding and tries to figure out how to duplicate the original construction. In May 2008, another gate opening from the third of fourth century B.C. was rediscovered.

January 11, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: Punto di Vino's hospitality

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

While Bar Leonardi is the prime meeting place in Amelia, Punto Di Vino, a wine shop and cafe operated by Luciano Rossi and his extended family within the medieval wall of Amelia, fed me, connected me wirelessly to friends and family, and fed my chocolate addiction with double chocolate biscotti.

My first day in Amelia in 2009, as one of the students in ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime Studies, fell on June 2, a national holiday to mark the end of the monarchy in 1946 and the beginning of the new republic. I lived in a new apartment above Bar Leonardi but when I stepped out of my door mid-morning into a rainy and windy day the piazza was empty. I would later learn that few people venture out into the rain. If you want privacy in Amelia, pick a Thursday afternoon (when the shops close each week) during a thunderstorm in the summertime when fewer people are out than at 3 a.m.

After drinking just one caffe latte at Bar Leonardi, I walked south and found a warm shop, Pizza & Company, with rotisserie chickens and platters of grilled and lightly fried vegetables and sheets of pizza which looks like what we call foccacia in the States. Still jet-lagged and fairly oblivious to what a national holiday meant in Italy, I purchased some grilled eggplant drizzled with olive oil and chives and a serving of roasted potatoes, thinking that I'd return to the shop in the afternoon (which did not reopen because it was also Tuesday).

I walked for hours through the town. It is not that big, but it is beautiful and I kept stopping to take pictures such as the one of the view through one of the gates of the town. After a visit to the duomo, viewing the cathedral's beautiful art and listening to the wind howl, I toured the Cisterne Romane where the Romans had stored the town's water, and then stood outside the doors of the closed archaeological museum until retreating into what seemed like the only open establishment in town -- Punto di Vino.

Luciano's son, Alessio, was likely working as he spoke English and oriented myself and the other students who wandered in that evening and throughout the night.

Although we would gradually discover other great eating establishments in Amelia, the hospitality of Punto di Vino was extended to us for lunch, during the afternoon siesta, and for dinner. Other restaurants may close once or twice a week in Amelia, but Punto di Vino stays open all the time during the summer. It is located on Via della Repubblica inside of the historical town so it's opened doors allowed visibility to everyone who came in and out of the city. In addition, Luciano, his son Alessio, and his daughter Francesca answered endless questions about the town, its customs, and provided fresh food such as salami and cheeses, risotto with fungi, and insalata di pomodore (a "divine" tomato salad with olive oil, vinegar and lemon).

After a day of grey clouds and cold, the warmth of Punto di Vino on that first day was the best of Italian hospitality which has never paled. The next day, a Wednesday, I was startled when I stepped out of my apartment onto the piazza to sunshine and hundreds of people milling around Bar Leonardi.

Tomorrow I'll write about how it took us three weeks to discover one of the best restaurants in town that was just across the road from Bar Leonardi.

Photo: Luciano and Alessio Rossio (standing) pictured with Robin Munro Tyner, Julia Brennan, and Colette Loll Marvin (2009 ARCA students).

January 10, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: Everyone gathers at Bar Leonardi

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies will be held for the third year in Amelia, Umbria, in 2011. The deadline for student applications has been extended to January 21, 2011.

Amelia is a beautiful walled medieval town about an hour drive north of Rome. It can also be reached from Rome by taking a train to Orte, then taking either a bus or a taxi to Amelia. Most visitors directed to Amelia are instructed to meet their host where all roads leading to the old town converge: Bar Leonardi, an establishment across from the main entrance to the old town, the Porta Romana, and on a piazza adjacent to a park.

Bar Leonardi opens very early in the morning and stays open late and, most importantly, in Italy, it stays open all day. In the morning, customers typically pick up espressos and cornettos, read newspapers, and greet friends and business partners. In the afternoon, during siesta, the bar can be quiet except for customers dashing in to play the lottery or to pick up cigarettes. After siesta, people emerge and gather again, drinking prosecco and more coffee. Of course, only the Americans order lattes and cappucinos so late in the day and although the server may admit to a wry smile, he will bring the milk-based drinks that cease for Europeans by 11 a.m.

I have just a bit of advice for a regular customer at Bar Leonardi: be consistent. Espresso drinks are inexpensive and plentiful; however, the cashier, who is often the ever-present owner, prides himself upon greeting you by remembering your order and the whole charm of buon giorno will be marred if you have to correct him with your whim of the day.

If you like a cappucino, then a latte, and maybe an espresso later on, I recommend that you order a cappucino from Bar Leonardi, another from Massimo's Pattisserie across the street, then cross the piazza to the smaller bar run by the red-headed Amelia to order a latte, and when you're ready for your fourth drink, maybe another latte or cappucino in the afternoon, you can visit Caffe Grande inside the walls and their staff will prepare you anything and include an artificial sweetner if you prefer.

Decaffeinated espresso is always available in Amelia's coffee bars. My bartenders well remember me for my order of 'decaffinato doppio cappuccino, per favore' which was a unique request in Italy although not in California where I normally reside. In Amelia, the cappucino is one euro or less; in Los Angeles, it's $4 so you can understand my free-for-all on the decaffeinated drinks.

Another reason people go to Bar Leonardi: everyone in town eventually goes to or passes Bar Leonardi so you can just sit at an outside table and wait. If your friend doesn't walk by, someone who knows your friend will walk by, and you can inquire, have you seen so and so, and that friend will be able to say, yes, I just saw them in Punto di Vino or at the Biblioteca because it only takes about 15 minutes and a pair of strong legs to cover the commercial area of Amelia which offers a few grocery stores, a couple of great eating establishments, many takeout places, and boutique clothing stores.

Later we'll talk about procuring food in Amelia -- when restaurants are open and closed requires knowledge of the weekly schedule.