Showing posts with label Metropolitan Museum of Art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Metropolitan Museum of Art. Show all posts

February 2, 2020

Supreme Court Asked to Consider Legal Status of Famous Picasso Painting

A petition for writ of certiorari has been filed asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling dismissing a case against New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for the return of a Pablo Picasso masterwork, “The Actor,” created around 1904-05.

Jewish refugee Paul Leffmann sold the painting under duress in 1938, because of Nazi and Fascist persecution, when he and his wife Alice, having already escaped Germany, sought to flee a fast-Nazifying Italy. The purchasers were art dealer Hugo Perls and Pablo Picasso’s own dealer Paul Rosenberg, a French art dealer who represented Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse.

Not satisfied with an appellate court decision affirming the dismissal of the family’s claim to the painting as having been filed too late, Laurel Zuckerman, Paul Leffmann's great grand-niece, through her attorneys, has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case.  The Supreme Court grants around 100 of the 7,000+ petitions it gets each year, focusing on cases of national significance,or  those which might harmonize conflicting decisions in the federal Circuit courts. 

According to Zuckerman’s petition, her case raises an issue of nationwide importance concerning the HEAR Act: whether, “despite the introduction of a nationwide statute of limitations designed to revive Holocaust-era restitution claims,” the Act still allows the laws of each of the 50 states to declare a claim untimely, and to thereby put up additional roadblocks to the very Holocaust era claims Congress encouraged under the HEAR Act. 

Zuckerman, representing the estate of Alice Leffmann, had sued the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2016, asserting in court papers that the museum does not hold good title to the painting because the businessman was forced to sell this artwork at a low price, under pressure, in order to finance their flight from Italy given the actions of the Nazi-allied Mussolini-led government and anti-jewish climate at the time in Western Europe.  The Nazis had already stripped the Leffmans of their home and business. Having lost in the district court, the case was then brought up on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The appellate court agreed that the case was properly dismissed. 

The appellate court's ruling noted that the federal Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery Act of 2016 (known as the HEAR Act), designed to help facilitate the recovery of art and other prized possessions unlawfully lost because of Nazi persecution, needs to provide “some measure of justice, even if incomplete,” to the victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs.  However, the court sided with the New York museum stating that it would be unfair for the Metropolitan to relinquish the Picasso, given the "unreasonable" delay in demanding its return.  The appellate court noted: "This is not a case where the identity of the buyer was unknown to the seller or the lost property was difficult to locate." 

The cert petition to the U.S. Supreme Court raises two challenges to the appellate court ruling. First, “whether the nonstatutory defense of laches may bar an action to recover artwork lost because of Nazi persecution, where that action has been brought within the statute of limitations prescribed by Congress” in the HEAR Act. And second, whether a case can be dismissed so early without a factual exploration of the laches defense urging undue delay raised by the Museum. 

Zuckerman is represented by Mary- Christine SUNGAILA, Will Feldman, and Marco Pulido at Haynes and Boone, LLP, in the case before the Supreme Court.  Zuckerman was represented in the trial court and continues to be represented on appeal by Lawrence Kaye, Howard Spiegler, Ross Hirsch, and Yael Weitz of Herrick, Feinstein LLP.

October 8, 2019

Unpacking the investigation into Egypt's 2100 year old looted gold coffin

Shaaban Abdel-Gawad - Head of the Egyptian Department of Repatriation
Image Credit: Egyptian Department of Repatriation,
Ministry of Antiquities-Arab Republic of Egypt
Last week the controversially purchased, ancient gold mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, was formally restituted to the Arab Republic of Egypt.  The plundered late Ptolemaic era antiquity had been purchased by New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art for €3.5m in 2017, following protracted negotiations with Paris-based art dealer Christophe Kunicki, and his partner Richard Semper.  The restitution was made after it came to light that the sellers had purportedly supplied their buyers with fabricated ownership records and falsified export documents attesting to the object's legitimacy.  Documents, it should be said, which the museum's buyers accepted, despite marked incongruencies and factual errors.

Last winter, with sufficient tangible evidence that the delicate cartonnage coffin had been smuggled out of Egypt recently, HSI New York and the D.A.’s Office sought, obtained, and executed a search warrant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they seized the antiquity pending the outcome of their completed investigation.  The New York warrant was issued on the basis that under the State's criminal law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations, or application of the laches doctrine, the Metropolitan Museum of Art could not have obtained clear title unless the present-day possessor's title could be traced to someone with whom the original owner, in this case Egypt, had voluntarily entrusted the art.

The seizure was executed at The Met on February 15, 2019, and concluded one chapter in a lengthy and ongoing investigation, conducted jointly with law enforcement and heritage partners in the United States, Egypt, Germany, and France.  On the US side, the investigation was coordinated via the New York District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., and overseen by New York Assistant D.A. Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel and Chief of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit.  Working on the case for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (HSI) were Special Agents Brent Easter and Robert Mancene.  The Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt for its part, provided evidence in the case and petitioned for the antiquity's return.

Left: U.S. Homeland Security Investigations special-agent-in-charge Peter Fitzhugh. Center Left: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Shoukry. Center: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Center Right: Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos. Right: Antiquities Trafficking Analyst, Apsara Iyer. Image Credit NYDA's Office
While the seizure of a prestigious golden coffin, purchased by the largest art museum in the United States, may have shocked the general public, it is not the first time that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has run afoul in its purchase of high-value tainted objects for their collection that were later determined to have been stolen or looted.  Presented with credible and demonstrable evidence that the Egyptian coffin had been recently smuggled out of Egypt, in contravention of the country's cultural heritage laws, the museum quickly moved to cooperate with law enforcement, cutting short its successful exhibition of the Egyptian mummiform coffin and relinquishing their centerpiece artifact to the authorities for restitution.  Daniel Weiss, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, apologized to Egypt and indicated the museum had been the victim of fraud and an unwitting participant in the illegal trade of antiquities.

At the hand-over ceremony, New York District Attorney Cyrus Roberts Vance Jr., issued a statement indicating that the gilded antiquity is "just one of of hundreds of antiquities stolen by the same multi-national trafficking ring."  As of now, prosecutors have not announced charges against any of the actors they have identified in the smuggling case and the investigation is still ongoing.

Yet the story of this grand jury investigation into antiquities traffickers began long before the prestigious golden coffin found its way into the Egyptian Collection at the largest art museum in the United States. 

Information now cleared for disclosure through officials at New York's DA's office demonstrates that their office's Antiquities Trafficking U\nit began conducting an exhaustive international investigation into an illicit trafficking ring as early as 2013, following up on leads tied to individuals known to be working in the Middle East and Europe.  The focus of the investigation in New York centered on the movement of stolen and looted artifacts which transited into or through its jurisdiction, i.e., specifically New York County.

Material seized or relinquished voluntarily to the authorities during the course of this operation came from a variety of known and undisclosed sources. As a result of this evidence and investigation the New York DA's office has been able to successfully illustrate critical connections to, and between several suspects who, it is alleged, willingly facilitated the smuggling of antiquities, from Middle Eastern source countries for a share of the illegal profits.  It should be noted that while antiquities are looted from archaeological sites across the world, incidences of theft in areas of armed conflict are frequently more prevalent due to the lack of security, as was the case with this antiquity in Egypt.

Evidence related to this investigation included digital records of email correspondence which served to establish connections between suspected looters trading freely with middlemen smugglers and corrupt art dealers transacting in illicit material.  As part of the cache of evidence the DA's office also obtained financial transaction records and export documents along with photographs and videos, some of which show dirty and damaged antiquities, shortly after their immediate discovery.

Some of these photographs depict antiquities scattered on the ground. Other showed objects wrapped in newspapers, or lying on the floor in dimly lit rooms or hiding places.  Six of these images, attached to emails exchanged between suspects involved in the smuggling conspiracy, would prove integral to the coffin's restitution and were already evidence in the case long before the mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh arrived at the Met.

These photos were exchanged directly or indirectly between an initial looting suspect, a suspect in Germany and the Paris dealer the gilded coffin was shopped to.  Four of the images showed the priceless object in a newly looted state, still dirt-encrusted and laid out on top of a blanket.

Why do looters take incriminating photographs of freshly looted antiquities? 

In the underbelly of the illicit art market, authenticity brings a higher premium  than legitimacy.   Antiquities dating back a thousand years, broken into pieces, or still encrusted in soil, demonstrating the tell-tale signs of having been freshly unearthed, can be golden to a looter and enticing to the would-be unscrupulous buyer.  Antiquities depicted in such a sullied state demonstrate graphically that the object being flogged won't (usually) have an incriminating photo elsewhere, tucked away in some national ministry or museum archive.

Nor will a photo of a freshly looted antiquity raise any eyebrows during the standard sale vetting procedures which require stolen property checks with art loss databases which will have no record of the previously unknown object.  This allows those who trade in illicit antiquities to fabricate a back story that an object has been tucked away for decades in a private collection, effectively whitening the object's collection history so that it can more easily be sold on the ancient art market, at least in countries with less restrictive laws regarding the timeline of the and the rights of the unknowing good faith purchaser.

Most importantly photographic imagery of looted objects serves as visual proof to the buyer that what the seller is trying to peddle is likely to be (but not always) authentic.   And in the age of data plans and cell phones, looters are now known to snap videos of objects, even while they still rest in situ.  Passing recordings between one another, videos such as the one ARCA has archived below, serve as a record of the early stages of a looter's discovery.  Images such as these can demonstrate an  antiquity's authenticity and first steps of passage, even before it is extracted from a find site.


Start dirty but end clean (at least in appearance)...

In reconstructing the events surrounding the illegal exportation of the Egyptian mummiform coffin, researchers first had to try and trace a likely find spot for the object.  The elaborately decorated surface of the mummiform coffin depicts scenes and inscriptions, painted in thick gesso relief, to guide Nedjemankh on his journey from death to eternal life as a transfigured spirit.  Nedjemankh, was a high-ranking priest of an ancient ram-god Heryshaf, or Hershef, (Egyptian Ḥry-š=f) whose ancient cult was centered in Herakleopolis Magna, now Ihnasiyyah al-Madinah.  This location sits on the west bank of the Nile near Beni Suef, approximately 115 km south of Cairo and 120 km north of the Minya region.

In accordance with Egyptian funerary tradition of the period, the gold coffin and its now lost mummified occupant would have likely been placed in a sealed tomb, either within a burial niche or an outer sarcophagus.  Burial places for the elite that served Herakleopolis Magna during the period from the Old to Middle Kingdoms tended to be large rock-cut tombs created in the distant east bank sites of Sheikh Said and Deir el-Bersha, in the Minya Governorate in Upper Egypt.

Both of these areas have been subject to antiquities plunder, sometimes even by violent means.  As late as 2016 two guards, A'srāwy Kāmel Jād and Ali Khalaf Shāker, patrolling the tombs of Deir el-Bersha were killed when unknown assailants opened fire at them while at the site to loot archaeological material.  But in the case of the mummiform coffin, the looting seems to have taken place earlier, likely during the Arab Spring of 2011, in the midst of Egypt's political upheaval and the revolutionary period which toppled former president Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak.

Analysis of digital evidence: an increasingly important tool for solving crimes and preparing court cases

Looking to solidifying the object's illicit origin,s and the time frame for its theft, investigators worked to reconstruct the initial passage of the object's timeline with evidence obtained from the suspects' correspondence. Using the six photographs taken of the mummiform coffin and later shared between the suspected tomb pillagers, middlemen and dealers, forensic analysis of the image files allowed the DA's office to establish a timetable for when each of the photos were taken, purportedly by the freelance graverobbers or their associates.  That research concluded that each of the six photographs were snapped in either October or November 2011.  That same photo analysis geolocated where the the photographs were taken, inside Egypt. 

This evidence serves to contradict the manufactured export documentation produced by the coffin's launderers.  Works of fiction in their own right, and with striking inaccuracies and contradictions that should have been identified during the museum's due diligence process, the white-washed export documents fraudulently claimed that the sarcophagus once belonged to the Cairo merchant Habib Tawadros who purportedly sold the gilded coffin to a "Mme. Chatz" in Switzerland.

After passing from Egypt the investigation revealed that the coffin spent some time under the control of a known middleman operating in the United Arab Emirates, where the coffin was shipped after leaving Egypt and spent some time before moving on to Germany.  The coffin was then shipped from the UAE to Germany where it underwent restoration before ultimately passing on to Paris where it was viewed in person on December 2016 for consideration by Diana Craig Patch, the Lila Acheson Wallace Curator in Charge of the Department of Egyptian Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image Credit: Ministry of Antiquities-Arab Republic of Egypt
Despite a thorough paper trail which details precisely whose hands the object passed through, there is little information, that can been revealed to the public at this time, which identifies the specific shipment methodology the smugglers used to enable the object's the illegal transboundary movements and to circumvent the objects identification when crossing various borders on its journey from the source country of Egypt through to its final European 'destination, the upscale ancient art market of Paris.

The UAE-based suspect alleged to have been involved in this transaction was already well known to illicit trafficking researchers, as the gilded coffin was not the first plundered antiquity with fraudulent documentation the middleman dealer has been connected with.  In 2008 the Iranian trader, based in Sharjah, exported a limestone head of the Assyrian king Sargon II, declaring that the object was originally from Turkey. In 2010, US Customs inspected a package transiting through Newark International Airport which the dealer had shipped sent via FedEx. That package contained five ancient Egyptian objects dating from 343 B.C., or the Late Period, to 2081 B.C., during the Middle Kingdom on route to Holyland Numismatics in the US.   Again, in this case, the dealer had listed the country of manufacture as Turkey.  In 2011, 1\\\he also exported a statue thought to represent either the goddess Demeter or her daughter Persephone, of the type only produced in Cyrenaica, ancient Libya. As with each of the previous cases, each time the dealer fraudulently issued misdeclarations, he listed the country of origin as Turkey, for objects originating from war torn countries in the Middle East though it remains unclear as to why he chose to do.

This Sharjah suspect in turn shipped the coffin on to two suspects in Germany who facilitated details of the transaction with Paris-based art dealer Christophe Kunicki, and his partner Richard Semper while the object underwent cleaning and restoration.

Thoughts on the museum's level of due diligence

In examining the provenance of the coffin, it is discouraging to note that the export documentation alone, should have given everyone who handled the object and its subsequent purchase pause, that is if they were acting in good faith and are innocent of any level of collusion.  At no point did anyone, the Sharjah dealer, the Germany-based conservator and intermediaries, Christophe Kunicki, Richard Semper, Curator Diana Patch or anyone else in the administration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art seriously question why the variously supplied export certificates, and their French and German translations, listed the issuing authority as "the Arab Republic of Egypt" and not as the "United Arab Republic".

From February 21, 1958 until the September 28, 1961 coup d’état, Egypt and Syria were a sovereign, if short lived, union known officially as the "United Arab Republic". All license applications, shipper's export declarations or export permissions would have referred to the country during this time period as the United Arab Republic (the U.A.R.) and would likely also have specified the regional territory referred to, ergo, the United Arab Republic, (Egypt Region) or the United Arab Republic (Syria Region), whichever would have been applicable to the article being shipped.  Furthermore Egypt retained the name "United Arab Republic" even after Syria's departure from the union, using it as its official name through 1971.

While I don't fault the museum's staff for their innate lack of knowledge of geography and Middle Eastern political alliances, I do fault them for not having even tried to inform themselves given the enormous price tag of this purchase, let alone the possibility that they might (again) be facilitating looting by accepting fabricated documents so readily.  A simple, proactive cross check of history books, at any point during their due diligence process, would have alerted any of the non-colluding parties that something might be afoul with the coffin's exportation documents.  That one single cross-check could have prompted appropriate law enforcement authorities to act more quickly, and would have saved the Met considerable embarrassment, as well as acquisition cash. 

Likewise, as a member of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD), one of the museum world’s most influential professional organizations, the Met is required to abide by AAMD acquisition guidelines.  These guidelines set standards by which member museums should go about conducting due diligence when acquiring archaeological material and ancient art.

Section III A of these guidelines specifically state:

A. Member museums should thoroughly research the ownership history of a Work prior to its acquisition, including making a rigorous effort to obtain accurate written documentation with respect to its history, including import and export documents. 


Left: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Center: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry. Right: U.S. Homeland Security Investigations special-agent-in-charge Peter Fitzhugh. Image Credit NYDA's Office
Lessons learned and food for future purchasing thought

A statement from the ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods states:

“It is important that museums, libraries, archives and art dealers continue to be able to develop their collections. Nevertheless, they should ensure that their collections are built up in accordance with universally recognised moral principles. They must take precautions to ensure that they acquire or borrow only ethically acceptable items and reject items that might have been looted or illegally exported.”

Failure to have engaged in serious due diligence of this artifact caused the Metropolitan Museum of Art to suffer by their own hands.  Likewise, the eye-popping prices the museum continues to pay for suspect artifacts exacerbates the difficulties already faced by customs and law enforcement agencies in deterring the illegal trade of ancient art.

Going forward, it might be worthwhile for the Met to consider enforcing a standard which requires its staff to sign off on a document testifying that they have strongly adhered to the AAMD guidelines and ICOM's suggestions before signing any million dollar checks for acquisitions.  Failing to carry out their required duties, the museum would then have sufficient recourse for termination.

This lack of sympathy was echoed by Peter C. Fitzhugh, Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York during the coffin's restitution ceremony, who said: 

“The high profit business of smuggling and trafficking antiquities has been around for centuries....but it is the responsibility of a buyer to confirm the proper provenance of a piece of art or antiquity."

In conclusion, prosecutors have not (yet) announced charges against any antiquities traffickers. After seven years of investigation the coffin is at last on public display at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (NMEC) in the suburbs of Cairo until it shifts to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), which is expected to open in 2020.  When it does, the GEM will be the largest museum dedicated to a single civilization.  I can't think of a better place for Egyptians to learn about Nedjemankh, his life in ancient Egypt.

By:  Lynda Albertson

July 3, 2019

Questions for Christie's with regards to its upcoming sale of the Quartzite head of the young pharaoh portrayed as the ancient god Amun

Unpacking some miscellaneous thoughts on the upcoming Christie's sale.

@ChristiesInc does the name Heinz Herzer sound any alarms?  

What valid paperwork does the auction house in their possession which would substantiates that the quartzite head of the young pharaoh portrayed as the ancient god Amun, left Egypt legally?

Has anyone provided the auction house with shipping, storage, customs, or insurance records of any kind documenting when and how the quartzite head left Egypt, or when and how it arrived in Munich or elsewhere during its travels?


Looking over your Resandro Head Fact Sheet the first thing that draws my eyes was not the head's innate beauty but rather it once being in the possession of a specific Munich dealer, Heinz Herzer.  As a firm champion of Italy's right to the return of  the statue known as The Victorious Youth, also known as The Getty Bronze or Atleta di Fano I am all to familiar with the fact that the very illegal, proven illicitly exported statue was acquired by Heinz Herzer in 1971.  Herzer even created a publicly traded fund called Artemis S.A., specializing in art works just to sell the bronze to either Thomas Hoving, the former Director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.or John Paul Getty for his California Museum.  


But before the statue’s sale to the J. Paul Getty Museum, Herzer’s Munich firm removed the corrosion and incrustations covering the bronze statue, meaning Herzer had knowledge of the statue’s existence during the earliest periods of its clandestine movements. 

Image Credit:  Jiri Fril
Evidence presented by the Italian state at the Tribunal in Pesaro, Italy and later at the Appellate and Supreme Court demonstrate that Artemis was created ad hoc, with the specific purpose of managing the exportation and subsequent purchase of this valuable, but illicitly smuggled statue.  As most will remember, Italy's Appellate Court, followed by its Supreme Court, ultimately affirmed that this statue was clandestinely removed from Italian territory and has issued an order for restitution of their bronze. 


But back to the Quartzite head.  Christie's documentation state that Prince William of Thurn and Taxis owned the sculpture in the 1960s and sold it to Josef Messina, the owner of Galeria Kokorian & Co., Vienna, between 1973 and 1974.  


Best I can see Galerie Kokorian & Co KG, located at Spiegelgasse 19, 1010 Wien, Austria seems to be a discretely modest paintings gallery.  An unusual place to have an Egyptian statue of this significance to say the least. 


Let's also talk about the prince for a minute.  His full name was Wilhelm Alexander Lamoral Erich Maria Josef Ignatius Von Loyola Franciscus Von Assisi Benedictus Cyrillus Quirinus.  He lived from  1919-2004.  

As a general rule, as Live Science journalist Owen Jarus stated, the prince often went by the name "Willy".  Digging through records you can find some things listed in this diminutive name which includes some generalized information about his life including his debutante ball work but nothing at all on his collecting Egyptian antiquities.  Closest he ever appears to have gotten to Italy was a brif stay in Morocco after the second World War.

There is even a strange mention of some former actress who swears that she was secretly married to him.  Her name is Ilona Medveczky.   Yet I find absolutely no mention of an art collection containing Egyptian artifacts. 

Even his grave seems to me to be a modest one....so again, I would question if he was wealthy enough to have had an important, yet for all intents and purposes, unknown, ancient art collection.  

His neice, Daria Maria Gabriele Prinzessin von Thurn und Taxis was born on 6 March 1962. She is the daughter of Franz von Assisi Prinz von Thurn und Taxis (the prince's brother) and Mafalda Theresia Franziska Josepha Maria Prinzessin von Thurn und Taxis.  She told the Live Science journalist she didn't recall her uncle having such a piece in their collection. 

Interestingly though, I find nothing linking no official sons or daughters to the prince within official peerage documents.   I did find a "Viktor" is, who is referred to in the Live Science article as Willie's son.  He lives in Vienna and goes by the simplified name of Viktor Thurn Und Taxis and manages a Vienna film company called  VTT Film Service.   Who is mother was and why he is not listed on the noble roster is a mystery to be untangled though. 

Further digging I see that the three branches of the von Thurn und Taxis family: the German, Czech and the Austrian have little or no love lost for one another.  The German branch seems to be the very very wealthy one and extremely put out by the Czech branch of the tree going so far as to file at least one lawsuit against its relatives across the border. 


But let's not stray too far from the activities of Heinz Herzer and other dealers of interesting repute in the recent past that make me speculate about the legitimacy of this stone head.   Herzer's appears to have been associated with French dealer Christophe Kunicki, who was involved in the questionable acquisition of the looted Egyptian B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.  

Herzer's name is also connected with Serop Simonian, an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt and a resident in Germany.  Simonian's involvement in the Nedgemankh case makes for some interesting court document reading, as does the notoriety he gained with the controversy over the disputed fake/authentic Artemidorus papyrus, which sold for €2.75 million to the Compagnia San Paolo Art Foundation in Italy in 2004. 


Herzer and Serop's names both come up alongside the French dealer Christophe Kunicki via Pierre Bergé & Associés in the provenance of a 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes, which Kunicki sold to the Metropolitan Museum in 2014. This object's provenance also connects with the same Egyptian middleman, and was purportedly purchased Feb 1969 by Uwe Schnell from Heinz Herzer Gallery in Munich.


Which brings us back to Hertzer’s name in Christies Auction of a quartzite head of the young pharaoh, which portrays him as the ancient god Amun.  Lot 110, is set to be auctioned in London tomorrow in Sale 17042 on 4 July 2019.


Yet despite statements made by noble family members that they have no recollection of the object, the potential purchaser (as well as Egyptian authorities apparently) are supposed to accept the auction house’s word that due diligence has been properly and sufficiently conducted without being privy to any of the documentation Christie's used to made their determination that this stone head is fit for sale. 


Where is the paperwork provided to the auction house which fully and clearly confirms that this antiquity left Egypt legally and was once truly part of a collection of Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis?
Image Credit of Egyptian Law
Courtesy of ICOM Red List for Egypt.
If this antiquity was removed legally from its country of origin, before the effective date of Egypt’s applicable patrimony law, the seller of the object should be able to provide something tangible to substantiate that export date.


In its statements to the Press, officials from Christie's have stated "It is hugely important to establish recent ownership and legal right to sell which we have clearly done. We would not offer for sale any object where there was concern over ownership or export."

In the interest of transparency, and good faith, and with Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities making diplomatic demarches to INTERPOL, UNESCO, ICOM, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as asking Christie’s directly to provide any concrete information on the object's validity for sale on the London market, shouldn't tomorrow's pending auction be postponed until such time as the Egyptian authorities have been given the opportunity to satisfactorily review any and all related documentation that Christie's had at its disposal when making its claim that this object is licit and not illicit?   

By:  Lynda Albertson

June 12, 2019

A look at art crime through the eyes of some of ARCA's 2019 postgraduate participants

By Alexander Taylor, ARCA 2019 Participant 

Alexandra is a paintings conservator and a George Alexander Foundation Fellow which supports a range of fellowship opportunities for secondary, vocational students and post-graduates through leading national organisations. Her blog, ‘The Art of Value’, seeks to track her personal trajectory through the arena of art crime and cultural heritage protection.


The Road to Salvation

The XVI canto of Homer’s Iliad describes a touching episode of the Trojan War: the death of Sarpedon, son of Zeus and the king of the Lycians. This epic scene majestically drapes the surface of the infamous Euphronios krater, stolen in the ‘70s from one of Cerveteri’s necropolis’ and reappearing years later on the squeaky-clean shelf of a New York museum. Here marks the moment when the vase first set foot on the road to salvation.

The story began with the illegal excavation of an Etruscan tomb in the area of ​​Greppe Sant'Angelo in the municipality of Cerveteri. When the tombaroli (tomb robbers) pulled the vase out of the ground they must have known they’d struck gold. The krater, large enough to hold seven galleons of liquid, was “thrown” by the potter Euxitheos and then decorated exquisitely by the painter Euphronios. Let me digress: Euphronios is one of two or three of the greatest masters in Greek vase painting. ‘His works are so rare that the last important piece before this one had been unearthed as long ago as 1840’[1]. Todeschini and Watson quote art historian Hovers in the following grandiloquent statement, ‘To call [the vase] an artifact is like referring to the Sistine Ceiling as a painting.’ 

A significant find? Uh, yes.

Having done the deed the tombaroli then got in touch with an important American merchant, the result of their exchange being 125 million lire – no questions asked [2]. The monstrous trail of fictitious provenance documentation grew tenfold as the Euphronios krater journeyed from Cerveteri to America via an extensive array of dealers and restorers to mega-rich middlemen and some say red-handed museum officials. Here it underwent a number of unsuccessful sales before a scholar, who proposed himself as an intermediary for selling to the New York museum, generously took care of “the problem”. The vase sold for an extravagant US$1 million, the first time such a price was paid for an antiquity.[3] It was only when one of the tombaroli caught wind of the sale, realised he’d been slighted, and turned whistleblower by alerting the appropriate authorities that the subsequent Carabinieri investigation gained momentum.

If anyone is interested in this story and has not yet read The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, I suggest you get online and purchase a copy now. Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini have compiled a narrative that analyses the art market and its main players in all their multi-faceted, devastating glory. Each chapter reads like a journalistic article, thoroughly well researched and compelling, and together they interlock to present a tightly composed chain of events that unravel the workings of a well-oiled art crime machine. It is deliciously composed – I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in the underground antiquities market.

At this point you may be wondering how the “underground antiquities market” functions within Australia, or indeed how Australian legislation handles offences relating to art crime when compared to the Italians and their Carabinieri. Art crime covers ‘forgery and fraud, theft and extortion, money laundering, and document and identity fraud’ and yet Australia has no specialist art and cultural property investigation unit that deals with this rather expansive and complex “grey-area” in law [4]. Imagine coming across an otherwise reputable art dealer who is in the process of selling an ancient rock art tool that you know has come out of the Kimberley’s illegally. You can’t get in touch with an Australian “art fraud squad” because there isn’t one. So whom do you turn to?

To handle cases of art looting, loss and theft, Australians have to operate through one of nine different authorities, for example the Federal and State Police Services, the Interpol National Bureau, Austac & etc. These authorities are responsible for the investigation of crime, in its entirety, and thus operate with a combination of statute and common law. Traditional modes for investigation, such as interviewing the witnesses or obtaining statements, become ‘ineffective’ in cases of art crime because the investigatory trail ‘tends to lack documentary evidence, which conventional fraud inquiries rely upon’[5]. Hopefully I haven’t bored you with the details, but I believe it’s important that you know where we stand.

Let’s conclude today’s post with a round-trip back to the Euphronios krater. On Wednesday the 5th of June, we took a class excursion into Rome for the L’Arte Di Salvare L’Arte exhibition at the Quirinal Palace. We were told the krater was on display here, amongst a number of other salvaged Italian heirlooms. Not quite comprehending the wonders promised, I felt my jaw drop rather comically upon entering the first room. We’d just walked into a trove of repatriated treasures. Stumbling past the only complete Capitoline Triad, stolen from the Tenuta dell’Inviolata in 1992; and the Il giardiniere by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen in 1998 from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome; I came face to face with the pair of fourth century marble griffins, stolen from the tomb of Ascoli Satriano in 1976. The last time I saw this artefact was in a Polaroid photograph taken by the tombaroli, a shot that evidently showed the griffins stuffed haphazardly into the boot of a car – still encrusted with the residue of their recent earthy bed.

Alexander Taylor listening to Fabrizio Rossi on the illicit excavation of
La Triade Capitolina
And, wide-eyed, we rounded the corner and arrived at the Euphronios krater standing stoically to the left in a room full of salvaged Etruscan relics.


The moment has been rather difficult to translate into words, so instead I’ll post a couple of pictures that best represent my impression of the matter. The image below depicts the “big fish”; the man who orchestrated the whole dirty, shameful transaction – from tombaroli to middlemen to the museum in New York – whilst plying his trade comfortably in Corridor 17 at the Geneva Freeport. Here he stands triumphantly in front of an airtight American enclosure that houses the Euphronios krater in a land far, far away from the tomb it was looted from. The second has me standing with an even bigger grin on my face, a grin that comes from knowing full well that whatever this “big fish” instigated back in the 70s the krater eventually made its way back home, leaving behind a shattered reputation and an open, gaping hole in the criminal art market.

To read more of Alex's musings on the art world, please visit her blog, The Art of Value

______________________________

[1] Watson P., Todeschini C. (2006), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, Public Affairs, United States, p. ix.

[2] Ministry per i Beni e le Attività Culturali (2019), L’Arte di Salvare L’Arte. Frammenti di Storia d’Italia, museum pamphlet, Palazzo del Quirinale, Roma.

[3] Watson P., Todeschini C. (2006), The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums, Public Affairs, United States, p. ix.

[4] James M (2000), ‘Art Crime’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, Australia, p. 1.

[5] James M 2000, ‘Art Crime’ in Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra, Australia, p. 4.

May 5, 2019

Highlights from "The Art of Saving Art: Fragments of Italian History"


In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Carabinieri Command for Cultural Heritage on May 3, 1969, the Palazzo del Quirinale will play host to a unique exhibition, "The Art of Saving Art: Fragments of Italian History" from today through July 14, 2019.   

This exhibition serves to highlight the work of the Carabinieri Corps in protecting and restituting works of art, as well as to emphasize the foresight of Italian authorities in their establishment of the world's first cultural heritage crime-fighting unit, one year prior to the establishment of the famous 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transport of Ownership of Cultural Property.  


As the most active cultural heritage law enforcement division in the world, the Carabinieri TPC unit has grown from an initial team of 16 officers to approximately 270 officers today, working in fifteen field offices located in Ancona, Bari, Bologna, Cagliari, Cosenza , Florence, Genoa, Monza, Naples, Palermo, Perugia, Rome, Turin, Udine, Venice, plus a subsection in Siracusa.  Divided into three working units the “Archaeological Section”, the “Antiquities Section”, and the “Contemporary Art and Anti-Counterfeiting Section” each of the triad are tasked with preventing criminal actions involving works of art.  

The exhibit, curated by Francesco Buranelli, is open every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 until 16:00.  On display are some of the most important and story-worthy recoveries made by the squad during the last half century including: 

The Madonna of Senigallia, a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Piero della Francesca which was stolen in February 1975 from the Ducal Palace in Urbino when thieves scaled the Palazzo's walls with the help of scaffolding and broke in through a window.   This artwork was later recovered after a year-long multi-country investigation which eventually lead the Carabinieri officers from Urbino to Rome and lastly to a hotel in Locarno, Switzerland.  As a result of their investigation four individuals from Italy, Germany and Switzerland were arrested and ultimately charged.

The Euphronios krater - This attic pottery masterpiece was trafficked out of Cerveteri and sold by Giacomo Medici and Robert Hecht Jr. to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for one million dollars in 1972.  Once defined by Thomas Hoving as “one of the ten greatest creations of the Western civilizations.” This  Greek vessel, which dates back to 515 B.C.E, was repatriated to Italy following a landmark agreement in February 2006 between the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Two years after the agreement was penned, the krater finally came home to Italy on January 15, 2008.

A Fourth-century BC sculptural group of two griffins attacking a fallen doe Pictured at left in a seized Polaroid photograph recovered by law enforcement authorities in a Geneva raid, this photograph depicts the now disgraced antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici standing alongside this important antiquity.   Plundered from a tomb near Ascoli Satriano, in Foggia, and photographed, freshly plundered, in the boot of a tomborolo's car, the sculpture was purchased by Giacomo Medici.  He in turn sold the griffins on to fellow antiquities dealers known to launder illicit art Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.  Symes and Michaelides then sold the artwork on to one of their many US clients, Maurice Tempelsman, who eventually negotiated a sale with the John P. Getty Museum.

Le Jardinier by Vincent Van Gogh, stolen on May 19, 1998 from Rome's prestigious Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna during an armed robbery just after the 10 pm closing time. This painting was recovered several months later, on July 5, 1998 at an apartment in the periphery of Rome.   Eight individuals were eventually charged and sentenced for their involvement in the museum's theft.

The Capitoline Triad, pictured at the top of this article, is a group of three deities who were worshipped in ancient Roman religion.  This famous triad was found by a well known tombarolo from Anguillara Sabazia named Pietro Casasanta who heavily worked, along with a squad of paid subordinates, (paying off locals to keep quiet) in the area of L'Inviolata from 1970 onward. 

Through informants, who were involved in the clandestine excavation, it was later determined that the Capitoline Triad was excavated in 1992 by Casasanta and two other accomplices, Moreno De Angelis and Carlo Alberto Chiozzi.  The trio had been digging in a pit near L'Inviolata alongside an ancient Roman wall belonging to either a temple or a patrician villa.  Casasanta then tried to shop the object to Edoardo Almagià, who passed on its purchase. 

Casasanta then brokered a deal via the now deceased Lugano dealer Mario Bruno who was to then act as the intermediary dealer to a then unnamed buyer who would eventually sell the object onward.  The piece was subsequently shipped to Switzerland in an anonymous van transported by two smugglers on Casasanta's payroll, Ermenegildo Foroni and Sergio Rossi.  Prior to that it had been hidden away in a warehouse for a furniture moving company called "Speedy International Transport".

Moreno De Angelis, unhappy with his cut, went to the Carabinieri of Castel di Guido and told the Station Commander about the find which is where Carabinieri Officer Roberto Lai's investigation got its starting point.  Moreno was later stopped near L'Inviolata with fragments in his car, that were matched the triad.  The carabinieri kept these details hidden during their investigation as they were concerned that the intermediaries might try and file down the sections of the triad if they knew there were known matching pieces of the triad which could tie them into the criminal conspiracy.

This video records a series of self serving interviews given by Casasanta where he actually points out the location of the find spot.


This exhibition includes many other other works of art not highlighted in this blog post for sake of brevity, each with their own fabulous story to tell.  They include works of art stolen from churches, museums, archaeological areas, libraries and archives.  So if you are in Rome this summer be sure to make some time to stop in.

By:  Lynda Albertson

February 17, 2019

The Metropolitan Museum, Christophe Kunicki and a Luxor dealer names Tawadros: More questions than answers on recent Egyptian acquisitions

In researching details related to the acquisition and current restitution of the 1st century Egyptian B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, I came across two other objects which show Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  

One of those objects is:

A Monumental Stela of Kemes , ca. 1750–1720 BCE



The provenance currently listed on the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes states:


A check of open source records using the names Ewe Schnell, Heinz Herzer and Pierre Bergé & Associés combined only turns up one other antiquity,  a panel painting of a woman in a blue mantle, which is also an acquisition within the Metropolitan Museum's collection. 


Serop Simonian is an art dealer of Armenian origin, born in Egypt and a resident in Germany.  He's interesting in that he has stirred up quite a bit of controversy regarding his involvement with the disputed Artemidorus papyrus, which he managed to sell in 2004 for €2.75 million to the Compagnia San Paolo Art Foundation notwithstanding that some experts have ascertained that it is a fake.  As the statute of limitations on that piece ran out, Simonian was never charged. 

On April 25, 2016 the Metropolitan's website for the Monumental Stela of Kemes stated the provenance as something quite different:


This earlier collection history mentions a "Todrous Collection" of which there is nothing documented in open source records anywhere on the web for any other ancient objects.  A late antique textile fragment of a tunic with the inventory number T 34, from "the Tamerit collection" is on record at the at the Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek at the Austrian National Library though not much else.

Note this Metropolitan Museum record spells the name Todrous, while the recently restituted mummy spells the name Tawadrus, and trade journals spell the name Tawadros.  Later in this post you will also see the name spelled Tadross

Christophe Kunicki's own dealer website listed the provenance as:

Ancient european private collection, 1969.
With Tadross, Luxor, 1960’s

Stepping back even farther, outside of the museum's website, the Monumental Stela of Kemes was published in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology.

This trade magazine listed the provenance as follows:

A rare Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes, superior of musicians (3), from the 13th Dynasty, circa 1770 BC (H. 73cm), in the form of a quadrangular naos resting upon a base carved with façades, was purchased from the Luxor dealer Tawadros during the 1960s. The cover-piece of the sale, it was estimated at €300,000-€400,000, but brought in a hammer price of just €200,00 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The expert for both sales was Christophe Kunicki.

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Notice that the involvement of the French dealer Christophe Kunicki via Pierre Bergé & Associés in furthering this acquisition transaction does not appear in any of the Metropolitan Museum's provenance records for the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes.  It only appears in the bimonthly trade rag for antiquities dealers.  Purchased on 21 May 2014 the Met's record also leaves out the "Luxor dealer Tawadros" connection on this object.  The name of that person is also the name associated on the  now restituted 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh.

Note: Kunicki's website lists another egyptian object with the name "Habib Tawadros" giving us a another artefact linked to this mysterious Luxor dealer.

ARCA has notified the Egyptian authorities that this piece too may require closer examination. 

By Lynda Albertson

February 16, 2019

Restitution: Met Museum agrees to return its 1st century B.C.E mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of Nedjemankh, to Egypt

The Metropolitan Museum has agreed to return its 1st century B.C.E gold-sheathed mummiform coffin, inscribed in the name of the high-ranking priest Nedjemankh.  The late Ptolemaic (or Hellenistic) antiquity was purchased via art dealer Christophe Kunicki, who lists himself on his website as a member of the Syndicat Français des Experts Professionnels en Oeuvres d’Art and the Chambre Européenne des Experts d’Art.  

Purchased for €3.5m in 2017, Nedjemankh’s coffin had reportedly been on consignment with the Paris dealer via an unidentified private collector.  Created out of cartonnage in the last century of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, a material used in Ancient Egyptian funerary objects from the First Intermediate Period to the Roman era, the object is made up of layers of linen stiffened with animal glue and layers of gesso. Evidence presented to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and confirmed by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture indicate that the antiquity may have been looted from Egypt in 2011 and exported utilizing fraudulent documents.

Note that the timeframe of the possible plunder, listed by the New York Times, and the Egyptian authorities coincides with the fall of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, Egypt's former military and political leader, who served as president of Egypt from 1981 to 2011.  After the so called Arab Spring, Egyptian authorities reported a significant uptick in heritage looting, exacerbated in part by the country's revolution and subsequent political upheaval.

The spartan collecting history information listed for the artifact on the Metropolitan Museum's website states that the antiquity was "officially exported from Egypt in 1971, the coffin has since resided in a private collection."  A second page on the museum's website, which has since been removed, listed the artifact's provenance as follows:

"The coffin was exported in 1971 from Egypt with an export license granted by the Antiquities Organization / Egyptian Museum, Cairo. It belonged to the stock of Habib Tawadrus, a dealer active since at least 1936, with a shop Habib & Company in Cairo opposite Shepheard’s Hotel, and was exported by the representative of the Tawadrus’ heirs to Switzerland. An official translation of the export license was provided by the German embassy in Cairo in February 1977 for the use of the representative and now owner in Europe. The coffin has remained in the family of that owner until its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum in 2017."

This spartan amount of information, on an ancient object of this significance, drew the attention of blogger Paul Barford in September 2017 shortly after the purchase was announced.


Christophe Kunicki's relationship as an advisor of ancient art purchases to the Metropolitan Museum in New York goes back at least as far as September/October 2014, when his involvement in two purchases was highlighted in Volume 25 Number 5 of the journal Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology as having advised the museum on two other purchases. 

Screen Shot: Volume 25 Number 5, Page 53
Minerva: The International Review of Ancient Art & Archaeology
Those objects, memorialized in the screenshot above, were a 26th Dynasty granodiorite head of the Pharaoh Apries, purportedly from the collection of Olivier Cacoub and the 13th Dynasty Egyptian limestone chapel-stele of Kemes in the form of a quadrangular naos resting on a base carved with façades.  The later of these was purportedly from the same "Luxor dealer Tawadros," in the 1960s, whose name is attached to the golden mummiform coffin that has just been repatriated.  It is not known at present if these objects are being given closer examination.

The Met’s management has formally apologized to Dr. Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister of antiquities.

In it's press release the museum added:

 "All of the Museum’s acquisitions of ancient art undergo a rigorous vetting process in recognition of the 1970 UNESCO treaty, in adherence to the Association of Art Museum Director’s Guidelines on the Acquisition of Ancient Art and Archaeological Materials, and in compliance with federal and state laws."

Given that the Met developed a substantial exhibition around this golden-sheathed coffin, one would think that the museum's "rigorous vetting process" would have also included a close analysis of export documentation to check for fabrication and forgery.

A video from the Met Presents series featuring Curator Janice Kamrin and Conservator Anna Serotta talking about the coffin of Nedjemankh can be viewed here.

Upon the artefact's return to Egypt, it has been decided that the repatriated burial coffin will be displayed in the Egyptian Museum of Liberation until the Grand Egyptian Museum opens in 2020.

Notation:  Note this Metropolitan Museum record the name of the Luxor dealer as Tawadrus, while elsewhere in its records it records other objects using the name Todrous.  The trade journal above spelled the name Tawadros.  Another dealer spells the name as Tadross.




By:  Lynda Albertson








August 7, 2018