Showing posts with label Musei Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Musei Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia. Show all posts

April 14, 2016

Theft to Order, a Shady Antiquarian, a Drug Dealer and a Russian with a Penchant for Historic Baubles

Theft to order, a shady antiquarian, a drug dealer and a Russian with a penchant for gold.  This is the apparent recipe for the dramatic 2013 Easter weekend jewelry heist at Rome's Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia.

In a press conference in Rome today, officers from Italy's art police squad, the Nucleo Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini, and Giancarlo Capaldo and Tiziana Cugini attorney's with the Procura della Repubblica di Roma who oversee crimes against the country's cultural heritage, announced the recovery of 23 of the 27 works of gold stolen from the Rome museum's Castellani collection between March 30 and April 1, 2013.   

Castellani was the first 19th-century Rome goldsmith to create jewelry pieces closely modelled closely on the Etruscan, classical Italian and Greek prototypes. While many outside of Italy are not familiar with the jewelry magnate, the family's finest works are displayed in many museums around the world including at the British Museum, the Musée du Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Musée des Arts. 

At the time of the 2013 theft, Italian investigators were criticised for remaining tight-lipped about what had been stolen.  Unlike in other museums thefts, the jewelry's value was never publicly disclosed and no photos from the Villa Giulia's inventory collection system were circulated to the public.  Even the museum’s CCTV footage remained a close door secret.  

When the theft was made public, many speculated that in Italy's economic recession, the laborously hand-creafted jewelry would likely be dismantled, its accompanying precious and semi-precious stones resold and the gold then melted down and reused.

Recovered Castellani brooch
All this conjecture was disproved during today's press conference.

Arriving around midnight, the thieves had announced their presence by dramatically launching a smoke grenade into the museum's courtyard, temporarily diverting the attention of the night watchman.  This bought the thieves the precious seconds needed to enter the museum and disable the guards. 

Bypassing many of Villa Giulia’s costlier masterpieces, the robbers then climbed the stairs to the first floor rooms, an area of the museum which houses the objects that make up the vast 6000-piece Castellani collection.

Stopping in Room 20, the Sala degli Ori, the thieves smashed two of four double collection display cabinets with an axe, which unintentionally engaged a museum security alarm cutting short the criminal's jewelry shopping.  Even with such limited time, the thieves still managed to bag what has now been confirmed to be three million euros worth of exquisite pendants, earrings, and brooches enriched with precious and semi precious stones, coins or other ancient historic elements.  

While the museum getaway went off without a hitch for the thieves, the days following it did not. 

Initial investigations revealed that a wealthy Russian citizen, with a passion for Rome’s Castellani-styled jewellery had expressed her interest to a local antiquarian who had shown her reproductions. But the buyer wasn’t interested.  She wanted original items, not next-generation replicas.  This antiquarian is believed to be the main receiver of the jewelry stolen from the museum. 

Shortly thereafter the Russian woman was identified in Fiumicino before boarding a flight back to San Petersburg.  Travelling with her was the daughter of the antiquarian. Inside her bag, authorities found a catalog for the Castellani collection and images taken using a smart phone camera showing the Villa Giulia's galleries and surveillance equipment mounted on the gallery's ceiling. 

Having lost their chance to sell to the Russian, the gang were forced to begin looking for local buyers.  


Three years of patient investigations, coupled with hundreds of wiretaps and dozens of searches, led the Italian authorities to a band of six individuals, several from the Pontine Marches, an area south east of Rome near Sabaudia.  Without their rich foreign jewelry lover, the group had begun searching for local buyers and a date had been set to sell some of the pieces.

The location for a forthcoming clandestine sale was a remote bar in Rome's periphery on via Portense. It is here that law enforcement swooped in to make arrests.   As offices attempted to question the pair of fences, the two bolted from the scene in an automobile,  attempting to pitch the envelope containing 7 pieces of the Castallani jewelry out the auto's window while in route.  Caught almost immediately, the two fences and another four individuals have been implicated, two of whom have also been charged with illegal possession of a 357 magnum and drug distribution. 

In one singular museum theft case, we have organised crime, drug dealing, dirty dealers and a Russian Mrs. Dr. No.  Sometimes you can't make this stuff up. 

By: Lynda Albertson














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

October 3, 2012

One Step up the Looting Pyramid

by Lynda Albertson, Chief Executive Officer, ARCA

To some individuals, the scandal surrounding the Met’s 1972 purchase of the Euphronios krater and similarly shady procurements by some US and European museums seems like old news.  For others, like Italy’s Soprintendente per I Beni Archaelogici dell’Etruria meridionale, Alfosina Russo Tegliente and the Villa Giulia’s scientific experts Daniela Rizzo and Marizio Pelligrini, the watershed accord signed in February 2006 between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Italian government, which returned this spectacular vase to Italy, was just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Returned to Rome in 2008 after a protracted return-plus-loans agreement, the Euphronios krater, with its delicate images of the dying Lycian king, Sarpedon, leader of the Trojans' allies and offspring of the god Zeus and the mortal Laodamia, has become the poster-child example of bad museum acquisition practices.


I visited the Musei Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia on the opening day of their new exhibition, I Preditori dell’Arte e Il Patrimonio Ritrovato…le Storia del Recupero (The Predators of Art and Rediscovered Heritage - The History of Recovery), running in Rome from September 29th through December 15, 2012.

I didn’t come to see the Euphronios krater.   Near perfect in its restoration, it is housed in a discreetly simple glass case, approachable on four sides, located on the second floor of the villa in a section reserved geographically for artifacts from Cerveteri.

I didn’t come to see the Fifth-century BC Attic red-figure kylix, a cup also signed by Euphronios as potter and painted by Onesimos with scenes of the Trojan War.  This fragmented cup sits in its own glass case, alongside the krater.  It too was surrendered by a US museum -- the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1999.

I came to see the new exhibit, one that follows the “long and silent journey” to use the words of the curators, of not just these two objects but approximately ninety others on exhibition at the museum, which have been returned to Italy, due in a large part to the doggedly difficult work of Daniela Rizzo and Marizio Pelligrini, Villa Giulia’s scientific experts.  Their work and the work of the staff of the Soprintendente per I Beni Archaelogici dell’Etruria meridionale, Italy’s public prosecutors, and the Italian Carabinieri along with collaboration from the Swiss judiciary helped reconstruct the chain that created a buyer’s market for looting of archaeological sites, in Italy and elsewhere. This exhibition is the fruit of their labor and underscores the material and intellectual consequences of contemporary collecting.

Tracing the collection life of these objects, from tomborolo to trafficante (tomb raider to trafficker) the exhibit shows not only the route these objects took before arriving in some of the world’s finest museums but also examines some of the methods used by traffickers to launder looted antiquities through the world’s most important auction houses.   


Included in the exhibition is an Etruscan antefix in the form of a Maenad and Silenos dancing.  An anteflix is an upright ornament used by builders along the eaves of a tiled roof to conceal tile joints. This particular anteflex, pictured on a now famous Medici polaroid, was acquired by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman through Robin Symes and then acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1996.

Once it even graced the cover of an exhibition catalog highlighting the Fleischman’s collection.  The presence of the anteflix in The Villa Giulia exhibit serves to illustrate how museums, private collectors and auction houses have allowed themselves to be links in the looting chain.

To many of the exhibit attendees in Rome, seeing this simple household decoration as part of this exhibition is equal parts joyous victory and painful reminder.  As I mentioned in the start of this article, having these objects come home is just the tip of the iceburg, or to use Daniela Rizzo’s words who spoke with the visitors about her work, “the first step of the Pyramid”.

When the Italian Carabinieri raided Giacomo Medici’s warehouse in the Geneva Freeport they recovered 3,800 objects and more than 4,000 photographs of objects that had previously passed through Medici’s hands. (Watson and Todeschini 2007, 19-24, 48-79, 363-83).  The recovered items in this exhibition represent only a small fraction of the objects looted by just one organization of traffickers.  Imagine how many more are out there.

Some museums, through cooperative agreements with Italy and or law enforcement organizations in their own countries, readily relinquish artifacts whose origins can be traced back to the looters through the documentation of the Medici and Becchina dossiers.  Others take more insistent prodding.

It wasn’t until June 20th of this year that the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio issued a press release stating that an agreement had finally been made with the Toledo Museum of Art in conjunction with a Federal Verified Complaint in Forfeiture to return a 510 B.C. Etruscan black-figure kalpis attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop.  This despite being presented with a copy of an incriminating polaroid, seized from Medici during the 1995 raid showing the still mud-encrusted pot and another polaroid from a separate raid in Basel 2002 proving that  the kalpis had also passed through the hands of Gianfranco Becchina.

One more step up the pyramid.  One more long and necessary step.


Photos contributed by Soprintendente per I Beni Archaelogici dell’Etruria meridionale, Musei Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia