Showing posts with label Becchina archive. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Becchina archive. Show all posts

October 1, 2015

Christie's Withdraws Suspect Antiquities from Auction.

Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities identified by Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, on September 29, 2015 that had previously been set for auction today at Christie’s in London.  

Each of the objects had been tied to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was 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. 

For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of these objects, please see ARCA's earlier report of his findings here. 

September 29, 2015

While the West Seeks Tighter Curbs on the Trade in Antiquities Looted by ISIS, Italian Suspect Antiquities Continue to Appear at Major Auction Houses

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another grouping of suspect antiquities set for auction October 1, 2015 at Christie’s in London.  Each of the objects appears to have ties to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was 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. Becchina was convicted of antiquities trafficking in 2011.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying the relevant government authorities when matches are discovered.  An expert on the illicit antiquities trade, Dr. Tsirogiannis teaches ARCA's illicit antiquities course.  He also serves as Research Assistant to the Trafficking Culture Project at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research located at the University of Glasgow.

Despite having apparently “clean” collection histories, each of the antiquities listed below (Lots 6, 8 and 16) — or strikingly similar ones — appear in photographic evidence confiscated by the Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during their investigation into the network of traffickers affiliated with Gianfranco Becchina.


The three antiquities on offer at the upcoming sale at Christie’s are said to come from Professor Heissmeyer’s antiquities collection; A fourth antiquity (lot 93) was temporarily confiscated by the Swiss authorities in 2008 from the Japanese illicit antiquities dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi and has now been put back into circulation within the antiquities market. 

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri Art Squad and Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit with the evidence for these new identifications.  

In detail, the suspect antiquities are:
Left - The oinochoe depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same oinochoe on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015


The oinochoe’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Germany, acquired prior to 1990.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from the above in 2005 (inv. no. 32).
Beazley Archive no. 9024860.

The same oenochoe seems to be depicted in a Polaroid image from the Becchina archive. In the archival photo the vase is covered with encrustations, lying on what appears to be a plastic tray, while a handwritten note, also in the archives, states that this antiquity was sent for restoration, among other antiquities, on 1 December 1989 to Sandro Cimicchi, Gianfranco Becchina’s usual restorer.

Left - The cup depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - The same cup on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The cup’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1995 (inv. no. 17).
Beazley Archive no. 9024849.

In the Becchina archive, what appears to be the same cup is depicted in a Polaroid image, upside down and partially covered with encrustations, among three other cups. The similarities can be identified from the position of the panthers painted on the lower portion of the cup's body. A handwritten note states that the cups were bought by the middleman Raffaele Monticelli on 4 March 1993. Another handwritten note on the Polaroid states: ‘V/ Hae CH’ [sold to Hae Swiss Francs]. In 2002 Monticelli was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities. (Isman 2011b: 50; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 292) and as recently as today had 22 million euros worth of his real estate assets confiscated by the state for his alleged involvement as an international antiquities trafficker.    

Left - The lekythos depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, United Kingdom, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1992 (inv. no. 23).
Beazley Archive no. 21590.

An object that appears to be the same lekythos is depicted in two professional images from the Becchina archive. A handwritten note states: ‘E Nov 78’.
Left - The lekythos depicted during its confiscation
in a photograph taken by the Italian authorities
 during the raid at Horiuchi’s warehouse in Geneva in 2008.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Anonymous sale; Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, 14 November 1986, lot 213.
Formerly private collection, Japan, acquired privately in 1997.


This lekythos was found and confiscated during the raid of the Swiss and Italian authorities at the warehouse of the Japanese dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi in the Geneva Freeport in 2008. The Italian authorities could not prove the illicit origin of this particular lekythos and
although Horiuchi did not supply any documentation to prove the licit origin of the lekythos, the vase was returned to Horiuchi. 

In total the Italian authorities confiscated 337 antiquities from Horiuchi depicted in the Becchina, Medici and Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives. Horiuchi's name also comes up in a 2014 repatriation case involving another Becchina linked antiquity, a 1,800-year-old sarcophagus lid depicting a sleeping Ariadne.  

It should also be noted that this same lekythos also appeared at one time on offer at ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery, owned by the Aboutaam brothers, one of whom was convicted in Egypt for antiquities smuggling and the other of whom pleaded guilty to the falsification of at least one customs document. 

In relationship to that listing  the lekythos appeared as ‘SOLD’ on the ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery website. In the October sale listing Christie’s fails to state the name of the consigner, although they do so in the case of the other three lots (Professor Heissmeyer).

In the three first cases, Christie’s ‘due diligence’ seems to have stopped short of tracing the collecting history back one step further, which would have opened the window on the Becchina transactions.  In the fourth case (lot 93), Christie’s record lists the 1986 and 1997 transaction dates in the lekythos’ collecting history, but completely avoids mentioning the authorities’ raid of Horiuchi’s warehouse in Switzerland or the subsequent passage or ownership of the vase by the convicted Aboutaam brothers, through their ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery in New York and Geneva.

In total, these are just four objects in a string of tainted auctions with fairly good documentation proving their likelihood that these objects were looted.  If the art market cannot hold itself to task on objects where there is a known and extensive photographic record of illicit activity how will the art market perform its due diligence on antiquities coming from conflict countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen where no confiscated smuggler dossiers exist?

Due diligence of looted antiquities, be they Italian or conflict-based, has to be meaningful and not merely plausible, in the furtherance of a sale's commission.  Partially-documented histories in an object's collection background, do not necessarily always point to fresh looting or illegal export but when the objects background looks murky, as is the case with these objects, the art market needs to step up its game and voluntarily refuse to participate in the laundering.

UPDATE - October 01, 2015 Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities prior to the auction scheduled today in London.  

Lynda Albertson






July 18, 2015

Columnist Christos Tsirogiannis looks at “Duplicates and the Antiquities Market” in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

In Christos Tsirogiannis' regular column "Nekyia", the Greek forensic archaeologist addresses “Duplicates and the Antiquities Market” in the Spring 2015 issue of The Journal of Art Crimeedited by Noah Charney (with Marc Balcells and Tsirogiannis) and published by ARCA:
For more than 60 years, academics, field archaeologists, journalists and state authorities have discussed the idea that countries of origin should offer "duplicate" antiquities or multiple copies to the market, for a variety of reasons. Some of the participants in the debate are echoing the desire of the market which general promotes the idea that antiquities certified by countries of origin should be made available for sale. 
Journalist Karl E. Meyer, in his 1973 book The Plundered Past, refers to the possible legal sale of antiquities which are the findings of state archaeological excavations and are classified as duplicates. Meyer suggests that the sale of these duplicates could take place in order to satisfy "at least the collecting appetites of those with a moderate income, with the money used to support excavations". Although Meyer implies that such proposals have been made several times before 1973 (without ever having been applied in practice) and refers (Meyer 1973: 186) to a relevant attempt in Mexico "a few years ago", the author does not support this information with specifics. As we will see, Kersel and Kletter (2006) uncover evidence that the Israeli state in principle enabled the sale of duplicates in the 1950s. I find it a strong possibility that this is what Meyer had in mind.
Christos Tsirogiannis is a Greek forensic archaeologist. He studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr. Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive. 

Here's a link to ARCA's website about access to The Journal of Art Crime.

May 28, 2015

Associated Press: Rome ceremony welcomes return of looted art recovered from museums and auction houses in the United States

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Nicole Winfield reported for The Associated Press on May 26th about the ceremony in Rome where American officials returned stolen art to Carabinieri officials (Rome: US returns 25 looted artifacts to Italy; Vases, frescoes):
The items returned Tuesday were either spontaneously turned over to U.S. authorities or seized by police after investigators noticed them in Christie's and Sotheby's auction catalogues, gallery listings, or as a result of customs searches, court cases or tips. One 17th-century Venetian cannon was seized by Boston border patrol agents as it was being smuggled from Egypt to the U.S. inside construction equipment, police said. 
U.S. Ambassador John Phillips joined Italy's carabinieri art police to show off the haul. It included Etruscan vases from the Toledo Museum of Art and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 17th-century botany books from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a manuscript from the 1500s stolen from the Turin archdiocese in 1990 that ended up listed in the University of South Florida's special collections. 
Winfield reported police assertions that many of the objects had allegedly reached the market through  "Italian dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, both convicted of trafficking in plundered Roman artifacts." You may read more about Medici's activities in the 2007 nonfiction book, The Medici Conspiracy by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini. (Watson spoke at ARCA's art crime conference in Amelia in 2011).

Here's a link to a 2012 ARCA Blog post by ARCA CEO Lynda Albertson on the 90 formerly looted objects displayed at the Villa Giulia in Rome that had also been returned (with an explanation about the history of the Etruscan black-figure kelps attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop).




Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2015/05/26/3809612_us-returns-25-looted-artifacts.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

April 11, 2015

Update: Christie's Withdraws Antiquities Lots from April 15, 2015 Sale

Christie's has pulled the following antiquities from its upcoming April 15th sale:



















SALE 10372 Lot 83 Property of a Gentlemen
Provenance: Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s.
Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16.
Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
Beazley archive no. 26090.

SALE 10372 Lot 102 Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner.  

SALE 10372 Lot 108 Property from a London Collection
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 December 1986, lot 183, when acquired by the present owner.

SALE 10372 Lot 113: Property from a Private Collection, Canada
Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998.

By clicking on each object's details readers will see under the Saleroom Notice section: "This Lot is Withdrawn" 

Sir, how much is that (2nd Century B.C.E.) Vase in the Window? Part III

Antiquities trafficking continues to make headlines in multiple countries in 2015.  In this last of a three part series, ARCA explores one final art trafficking network that underscores that the ownership and commodification of the past continues long after the traffickers have been identified.

August 31, 1995
Europa Paestan red-figure Asteas signed calyx-krater
In a fluke summer accident, Pasquale Camera, a former captain of the Guardia di Finanza turned middle-man art dealer, 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 a major law enforcement breakthrough that disrupted one of Italy’s largest antiquities trafficking networks.

While the fatal traffic accident fell under the jurisdiction of Italy’s Polizia Stradale, the Commander of the Carabinieri in Cassino was also called to the scene.  The investigating officers had found numerous photographs in Camera's vehicle which substantiated what investigators had already suspected, that the objects depicted in the photos had been illegally-excavated and that Camera had been actively dealing in looted antiquities.
Tombarolo holding Asteas signed calyx-krater

The images in the car were of a hodgepodge of ancient art.  Two that stood out in particular were of a statue in the image of Artemis against the backdrop of home furnishings and a Paestan red-figure calyx-krater, signed by Asteas in what looked to be someone's garage.  

Having been previously assigned to the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the  Commander from Cassino called the TPC’s Division General, Roberto Conforti, who requested a warrant be issued to search the premises of Camera’s apartment in Rome, near Piazza Bologna.

Investigators who carried out the search of Pasquale Camera's personal possessions discovered hundreds of photographs, fake and genuine antiquities,  reams of documentation and the now famous Medici organagram.  This org chart revealed Giacomo Medici’s central position in the organization of the antiquities trade out of Italy.  Interestingly, the wallpaper in Cameria's apartment also matched the background of the photo of the Artemide Marciante found in Camera's vehicle. 

Subsistance Looter to Middle Man

Another photo, of Antimo Cacciapuoti, showed the tombarolo holding the freshly-looted Asteas-signed Europa krater.  A copy of this photo was provided by journalist Fabio Isman for the purpose of this article.  Isman confirmed that this image was one of the Polaroids found in Camera's Renault and went on to add that during later negotiations Cacciapuoti would confess to having been paid 1 million lire plus "a suckling pig" for his work in supplying the krater.

One of the links in Italy's largest known trafficking chain had begun to crack.

Medici Organagram
As the investigation progressed authorities went on to raid Giacomo Medici’s warehouse at the Geneva Freeport in September 1995 and recovered 3,800 objects and another 4,000 photographs of ancient art that had, at one time or another, passed through Medici’s network.

1998  Identifications

Matching seized photos to looted works of art is a laborious process.  Three years after the start of the investigation Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini from the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria meridionale at the Villa Giulia, working with the Procura della Repubblica (the state prosecutor's office) and the Court of Rome on this case, identified the Artemide Marciante from the photo found at the scene of Camera's fatal auto accident.  The photo of the statue matched another found in a June 1998 issue of House and Garden Magazine and another photo seized from Giacomo Medici which showed the object unrestored and with dirt still on it.  This statue was ultimately recovered from Frieda Tchacos.

Rizzo and Pellegrini also identified the location of the Paestan red-figure calyx krater, painted and signed by Asteas.  It had been sold by the dealer Gianfranco Becchina to the John Paul Getty Museum in 1981.
2001-2005 More Seizures

In the early years of the new century law enforcement authorities investigating this trafficking cell widened their attention on Gianfranco Becchina, whose name was listed on  the organagram, placing him as head of a cordata and as a primary supplier to Robert Hecht.  This important lead convinced investigators to explore Becchina's suspected involvement in this trafficking cell. 

As the investigation continued authorities seized 140 binders containing 13,000 more documents, 8,000 additional photographs of suspect objects and 6,315 artworks from Becchina's storage facilities and gallery.

But the purpose of this article is not to rehash a 19-year old story already detailed in “The Medici Conspiracy” by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini.    It is now fairly common knowledge that an estimated 1.5 million items have been looted from Italy's myriad archaeological sites during the past four decades and a surprising number of these illicit objects have ended up in some of the world's most prestigious museums via ancient art dealers passing through the hands of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Emanuel Hecht Jr., and Robin Symes.

Instead, this article focuses on what is happening in the present and serves to demonstrate that despite the nearly two decades that have past since Pasquale Camera's car veered off Italy's A-1 autostrada, suspect illicit antiquities, traceable to this network, continue to be sold, often openly, on the lucrative licit art market.

To underscore the conundrum of looted to legitimate Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis a Research Assistant with the Trafficking Culture Project, housed in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow has highlighted four objects for sale at Christie’s upcoming antiquities auction in London, on Wednesday, 15 April 2015.  For the last eight years (2007-present), Tsirogiannis has been identifying looted and ‘toxic’ antiquities as they come up for sale from photographic evidence he was given by authorities from the three primary dossiers of photographs derived from the property seizures in these cases.

Each of these four objects listed below have been identified by Tsirogiannis as having corresponding photos in these archives, something potential purchasers may want to consider when bidding on antiquities that, at face value, are reported to have legitimate collection histories.

SALE 10372 Lot 83 Property of a Gentlemen
Provenance: Private collection, Japan, acquired prior to 1980s.
Anonymous sale; Christies, New York, 12 December 2002, lot 16.
Private collection, New York, acquired at the above sale with Charles Ede Ltd, London, from whom acquired by the present owner in 2006.
Beazley archive no. 26090. 

SALE 10372 Lot 102 Property from a London Collection
Provenance:   Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 9 December 1985, lot 273, when acquired by the present owner.  

SALE 10372 Lot 108 Property from a London Collection
Provenance: Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 December 1986, lot 183, when acquired by the present owner.

SALE 10372 Lot 113: Property from a Private Collection, Canada
Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998.

At first blush, review of Christie's sales notes on these objects seems to demonstrate a modicum of collecting history pedigree which normally would serve to comfort potential buyers.  None of the auction lot however go on to reveal where these objects were found, or whether their excavation and exportation from their country of origin were legal.  

This should be the first alarm bell to any informed collector considering a purchase on the licit antiquities market.  ARCA reminds its readers and buyers of art works that lack of this information in an object's collection history should be a strong signal that the object may be suspect and that it is better to walk away from a beautiful antiquity than purchase an object that quite possibly may have been looted or illegally exported.

Extracts from Notes by Dr. Tsirogiannis on the Christie's Auction Lots

Regarding Lot 83
Christie's catalogue does not include any collecting history of this Greek amphora before its appearance in Japan in the 1980's. Documentation in the Becchina archive links Becchina to three German professors regarding the examination of the amphora in the 1970's.

Regarding Lot 102 
From Watson's and Todeschini's book, we know that in the 1980's Medici used to consign antiquities to Sotheby's in London, through various companies and individuals.  Why does the Christies auction not include any collecting history before the 1985 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 108

Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue does not include any collecting history of this antiquity before the 1986 Sotheby's auction.

Regarding Lot 113
Again, Christie's advertise their due diligence, but the catalogue is not precise about the collecting history of this antiquity prior to 1998.

Are these Notifications Helpful?

In the past, when Dr. Tsirogiannis or Dr. David Gill have pointed out objects with tainted collection histories, dealer association members and private collectors have countered by screaming foul. They have asked,
Others have criticized this practice saying that by outing sellers and auction houses on their tainted inventory, the objects simply get pulled from auction and proceed underground.  Detractors believe that this leaves dealers to trade illicit objects in more discreet circles, where screenshots and image capture are less accessible to investigators and researchers and where the change of hands from one collector to another adds a future layer of authenticity, especially where private collections in remote location buyers are less likely to be questioned.

I would counter these concerns by saying that researchers working on this case diligently work to not impede ongoing investigations by the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale and Italy's Procura della Repubblica and to notify the appropriate legal authorities in the countries where these auctions take place.   In the case of these four antiquities INTERPOL, the Metropolitan Police and the Italian Carabinieri have been notified.

But police officers and dedicated researchers only have so many sets of eyes and the prosecution of art crime requires dedicated investigators and court hours not often available to the degree to which this complex problem warrants.   To mitigate that, it is time that we dedicate more time educating the opposite end of the looting food chain; the buyer.

The academic community needs to learn to apply persuasive, not adversarial, pressure on the end customer; the buyers and custodians of objects from our collective past.  By helping buyers become better-informed and conscientious collectors we can encourage them to demand that the pieces they collect have thorough collection histories or will not be purchased.  As discerning buyers become more selective, dealers will need to change their intentionally blind-eye practice of passing off suspect antiquities with one or two lines of legitimate buyers attached to them.  

Buyers would also be wise to apply the same pressure to auction houses that they apply to dealers, persuading them to adopt more stringent policies on accepting consignments.  Auction houses in turn should inform consignors that before accepting items for consignment that have limited collection histories they will be voluntarily checking with authorities to see if these objects appear in these suspect photo dossiers.  In this way the legitimate art market would avoid the circular drama of having their auctions blemished with reports of trafficked items going up for sale to unsuspecting buyers or to having gaps in their auction schedule when auction houses are forced to withdraw items on the eve of an upcoming sale.

In April 2014 James Ede, owner of a leading London-based gallery in the field of Ancient Art and board member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art wrote an article in defense of the antiquities trade in Apollo Magazine where he stated:

The IADAA's Code of Ethics states: "The members of IADAA undertake not to purchase or sell objects until they have established to the best of their ability that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property."

In the past Mr. Ede has stated that small dealers couldn't afford to use private stolen art databases such as those at the Art Loss Register.  I would ask Mr. Ede in the alternative how many London dealers registered with the IADAA have ever picked up the phone and asked Scotland Yard's art squad to check with INTERPOL or their Italian law enforcement colleagues when accepting a consignment where the collecting histories of an object deserved a little more scrutiny? 

Or better still, should the more than 14,000 photos of objects from these dossiers ever be released, to private stolen art databases or to a wider public audience, how would the IADAA ensure that its membership actually cross-examine the entire archival record before signing off that the object is not tainted? Mr. Ede has also indicated previously that the IADAA only requires its members to do checks on objects worth more than £2000.  Items of lessor value would take too much time or prove too costly to the dealers.

In 2015 is it correct for dealers to remain this passive and wait for law enforcement to tell them something is afoot?  Would the general public accept such an attitude from used car sellers regarding stolen cars?

Given that Mr. Ede is the former chairman and board member since the founding of the IADAA, an adviser of the British Government, a valuer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and a member of the council of the British Art Market Federation his thoughts on this matter carry considerable weight in the UK.  As such he is scheduled to speak on April 14, 2015 at the Victoria and Albert Museum on "The Plunder: Getting a global audience involved in the story of stolen antiquities from Iraq and Syria."

I am curious how Professor Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General Art and Museums, Syria  who is also speaking at this event would feel about low valued items being excluded from the IADAA's "clean or tainted" cross checks or if Mr. Ede has any workable suggestions that would actually begin to address this problem in an active, rather than passive way among the art dealing community.  

Will blood antiquities be held to a higher standard of evaluation given the public's interest while it remains business as usual for objects looted from source countries not involved in civil war or conflict?

By Lynda Albertson


References Used in This Article

Antoniutti, A., and C. Spada. "Fabio Isman, I predatori dell'arte perduta. Il saccheggio dell'archeologia in Italia." Economia della Cultura 19.2 (2009): 301-301.
Gill, David,   "Almagià: "It’s ridiculous Princeton didn’t do anything to fight that" Looting Matters (August 2010)

Felch, Jason, and Ralph Frammolino. "Chasing Aphrodite. The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum." (2001).

Isman, Fabio "Un milione di oggetti clandestini" Il Giornale di Arte, (May 2011)

Marconi, Clemente, ed. Greek Vases: Images, Contexts and Controversies; Proceedings of the Conference Sponsored by The Center for the Ancient Mediterranean at Columbia University, 23-24 March 2002. Vol. 25. Brill, 2004.
Watson, Peter, and Cecilia Todeschini. "The Medici Conspiracy: Organized Crime, Looted Antiquities, Rogue Museums." (2006).







January 21, 2015

Once Upon a Time in Five Secure Vaults in Switzerland

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

ARCA’s blog readers have followed the cases of Italian antiquities trafficking for practically as long as there has been an ARCA blog.  Antiquities dealers, suspected of art crimes with names like Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, Robert Hecht, Christo Michaelides, and Gianfranco Becchina are names you can search on and who each have pages of blog posts dedicated to them.

For those that want to delve further, books like The Medici Conspiracy and Chasing Aphrodite give English language accounts of the cases and investigations surrounding these dealers and for those who read Italian, Fabio Isman’s multi-year investigation I predatori dell’arte perduta explains why Italy has fought so hard to have its stolen antiquities returned home.

But in the background of all this, were the artworks themselves; artwork large and small, artworks looted and sold, and artworks looted and almost sold, had it not been for the quick thinking of investigators who diligently worked, in some cases for years, to put the pieces of this one puzzle together.

Those who have worked on these cases know how hard it is to identify suspect antiquities, especially when snapped on crumpled Polaroids.  Matching smashed pot fragments in photos taken in a darkened basement or the boot of a car with professional-quality photos of finally restored masterpieces on sale in auction catalogs takes a sharp eye.  More than that, it takes a considerable amount of patience, cooperation and collaboration with legal and law enforcement authorities to bring these articles home.

How did these objects get from an unknown archaeological site to a middleman? Who were the individual tombaroli?  Who were the intermediaries who physically transported these objects to dealer warehouses in Switzerland?  Why were museums and art collectors so quick to turn a blind eye to these objects' lack of collection history?  All of these are questions we may never be able to fully answer, but which have been speculated on in minute detail.

What maybe hasn’t been examined, or at least not in such a visually dramatic way is the amount of work behind this laborious investigation.  The work of the Carabinieri TPC, the work of Italy’s state prosecutors and expert consultants, and the work of Italy’s Ministry of Culture.   But instead of trying to tell their story in this blog post, perhaps its best to let photos of what they have recovered speak for themselves.

The imagery you see here comes from one singular organized crime investigation presented  today at the National Roman Museum at The Baths of Diocletian (Museo Nazionale Romano alle Terme di Diocleziano). 

5,361 archaeological objects, each ripped from their context, giving us no known site of origin to tell us about the place where they were taken from.  The objects date from the eighth century BC to the third century AD., all looted, all displayed together in one place.

Each piece represents an artwork stolen from  Campania, Lazio, Calabria, Puglia, Sicily or Sardinia.

One trafficking enterprise.  How many more are there?  
 

 























Note:  The accompanying photographs and video in this blog post represent approximately half of the 5,361 antiquities confiscated in Basel, Switzerland in 2001 as part of Operation Teseo.  Italy’s court reached its final and lasting verdict of confiscation via the Italian Supreme Court in 2013, which was then validated and confirmed by Switzerland.  These objects have been in Italy since 2004 and do not represent a “new” seizure as has been indicated by some journalists not familiar with the cases history.  The antiquities on display during the press conference are objects well known to researchers in the field of Italian antiquities looting and have been held as part of the ongoing investigation in Rome so that researchers and investigators had access to them as part of the investigation and for cataloging purposes.

The collection may gone on temporary display in Italy as a group but will then be disbursed to museums in the regional areas where the objects were likely looted.










December 28, 2014

Columnist David Gill writes in Context Matters on "Learning from the Herm: The Need for more Rigorous Due Diligence Searches" in the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
   ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

In the Fall 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, columnist David Gill writes in Context Matters on "Learning from the Herm: The Need for more Rigorous Due Diligence Searches":
The antiquities department of Bonhams planned to offer a Roman herm for auction on October 2, 2014 (lot 41). The herm was estimated to be sold for £10,000 to £15,000. It seems to be a Roman copy of the Hermes Propylaios set up next to the late 5th century BC monumental gateway, the Propylaia, at the entrance to the Athenian acropolis. The statue was observed there by the second century AD travel-writer Pausanias (I.22.8). The herm is known from a copy found at Pergamon in November 1903 (CS 1904) and now in Istanbul (Boardman 1985: 212, fi g. 189). The inscription on the stela reads in Greek: “You will recognise the fine state statue by Alkamenes, the Hermes before the Gates. Pergamios gave it. Know thyself” (trans. Boardman).
The display of such a statue in this royal city was unsurprising given the deliberate allusions to the city of Athens, and in particular to the Athenian acropolis, by the Attalids in the design. Andrew Stewart has suggested that a second type of herm is represented by an inscribed copy found in the Gymnasium of Vedius at Ephesus (Stewart 2003a; 003b). 
On 2 October 2014, the day of the Bonhams sale, Dr Christos Tsirogiannis was able to identify the Bonhams herm from the photographs and paperwork seized from the Italian dealer Gianfranco Becchina in Basle, Switzerland in May 2002 (Gill 2009, 78-79). The images were found in a fi le relating to Becchina’s associations with a Greek individual by the name of Zenebisis. The envelope containing the images were sent by Georgios Papadakis from Herakleion in Crete; the envelope is franked with the date 29 May 1987. The letter arrived in Basel (and was franked) on 1 June 1987. Someone has written on the envelope the name of Costas Gaitanis. Is Georgios Papadakis a genuine or a cover name? Why should Gaitanis be sending images to Becchina? Did Gaitanis have the herm in Greece? The evidence from the Becchina dossier suggests that the herm was being offered on the market in May 1987. 
Yet there is a problem. The herm offered at Bonhams was given a precise collecting history: “Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva, acquired circa 1965, thence by descent”. This placed the herm in the period prior to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. But how could the herm apparently be on the Greek market in 1987, but at the same time have already been acquired by Koutoulakis in 1965 and then passed down as part of his collection by descent?
David Gill is Professor of Archaeological Heritage and Head of the Division of Humanities at University Campus Suffolk. He was a Rome Scholar at the British School of rome and a Sir James Knott Fellow at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was subsequently part of the Department of Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, and Reader in Mediterranean Archaeology at Swansea University, Wales, UK. He has published widely on archaeological ethics with Christopher Chippindale. He has recently completed a history of British archaeological work in Greece prior to the First World War.


The complete column is published in the current issue of The Journal of Art Crime.  Subscriptions to The Journal of Art Crime or individual copies of eEditions or printed issues may be obtained through ARCA's website here.

October 3, 2014

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis provides three images from Becchina archive of Roman marble head of Hermes Propylaios recently pulled from Bonhams auction in London


Hermes Image #1
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

As pointed out in David Gill’s blog “LootingMatters”, journalist Euthimis Tsiliopoulos reported that a Roman marble head of Hermes Propylaios listed on an electronic Bonhams London auction catalogue was withdrawn from the sale at the request of Greece’s Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property of the Ministry of Culture and Sport (“Hermes head withdrawn from auction”, Times of Change, October 1, 2014):

"Since the head is displayed in seized photographs, which show a possible origin and illegal export from Greece, the Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Property immediately proceeded in contacting the auction house asking for more details on the origin of object. After further investigation and documentation, the Directorate called for the immediate withdrawal of the object subject to any statutory right of the Greek government. Finally, the auction house had to remove the head from the auction for the first time and referred the Greek government to get in direct contact with the alleged owner."

Hermes Image #2
Bonham’s published in its catalogue that the marble Hermes had been in the "Nicolas Koutoulakis Collection, Geneva” five years prior to the 1970 UNESCOConvention designed to stop the profitable trade of recently looted antiquities. As documented in the 2007 book “The Medici Conspiracy” by Watson andTodeschini, Nikola Koutoulakis was an illicit antiquities dealer who has been involved in the trade of several antiquities looted from Greece, Italy and Egypt after the 1970 Convention, some of which were recently repatriated to the countries of their origin.

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a Research Assistant with Trafficking Culture Project,University of Glasgow, provided three images of this object to the ARCA blog as it appeared in the “Becchina archives”, the set of Polaroids and business documents confiscated by Italian and Swiss authorities in 2002 and 2005 from the Basel premises of Italian antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina (convicted in Italy in 2011 of illegally dealing in antiquities, http://traffickingculture.org/encyclopedia/case-studies/gianfranco-becchina/). For more information, here's an interview Dr. Tsirogiannis gave last summer.

As Tsirogiannis wrote to Gill:

I also identified the object in the Becchina archive. The origin of the head is Greece, because it is a Greek looter named Costas Gaitanis (from Herakleion, Krete) who sent to Becchina on May 29th, 1987 the Polaroids depicting the head. The envelope containing the Polaroids arrived in Switzerland (Basel, at Becchina's gallery) on June 1st, 1987. The envelope is included in a larger file that Becchina kept regarding dealings he had with a Greek middleman named Zenebisis. The same file includes the image of the gold wreath that the Greek state repatriated from the Getty Museum.

Hermes Image #3
Dr. Tsirogiannis identified the images published here as:

Hermes #1: Five Polaroid images depicting the marble head (photographed from different angles) on a brown blanket and on a cement floor with a cigarette butt nearby. The page, where the Polaroids are attached, is bearing the name of the Greek middleman ‘Zene[bisis]’. An image of a vase, not related to the marble head, is attached (upper right corner of the page).

Hermes #2: Two more Polaroid images of the marble head and the back of the envelope that contained them. The stamp reads: ‘BASEL 1-6-87’.

Hermes #3:  The same two Polaroid images of the marble head and the front of the envelope that contained them. The stamp reads: ‘ATHENS 29-V-87’.

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.