Showing posts with label Peter Watson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Peter Watson. Show all posts

July 3, 2015

Further Information about Palermo's stolen Caravaggio Nativity painting

Caravaggio, "Nativity with Saint Lawrence
and Saint Francis"
For further reading on the ARCA Blog about Caravaggio's "Nativity with Saint Lawrence and Saint Francis" stolen from a church in Palermo in 1969:

Judith Harris, "Breaking News on the Stolen Caravaggio Nativity", December 18, 2009;

Catherine Schofield Sezgin, "More confirmation of old news? Pietro Grasso, head of the anti-Mafia crime unit, confirms in May that Caravaggio's Nativity of Palermo eaten by pigs", May 10, 2012;

Sezgin, "Revisiting books: Peter Watson on the Palermo Nativity in the 1984 book The Caravaggio Conspiracy", May 14, 2012;

Sezgin, "Revisiting books: Watson's The Caravaggio Conspiracy and the motive for stealing the Palermo Nativity",  May 16, 2012;

Sezgin, "Revisiting books: An Earthquake Shatters Expectations in The Caravaggio Conspiracy", May 18, 2012;

Laura Fandino, "ARCA 2013 Conference: James Moore on the stolen Palermo Nativity by Caravaggio ...", August 25, 2013;

In regards to a theft of another Caravaggio painting:

Sezgin, "Rev. Dr. Marius Zerafa Spoke on "The Theft and Ransom of Caravaggio's "St. Jerome Writing", Co-Cathedral of St. John" at ARCA's Sixth Annual Interdisciplinary Art Crime Conference" July 10, 2014;

Sezgin, "Father Zerafa's recommended reading on Caravaggio's Stolen Palermo Nativity -- and his memory of visiting the painting in the S Lorenzo Chapel",  July 17, 2014.

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

July 12, 2014

Daniel Silva's new fictional book "The Heist" begins with a promise to reveal the fate of Caravaggio's "The Nativity" stolen in 1969 from a church in Palermo

Caravaggio's Nativity (Palermo)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Daniel Silva, author of 14 books featuring the art restorer-Israeili assassin Gabriel Alon, features the theft of Caravaggio's Nativity in his new book, The Heist, to be published July 15. The book begins with:
On October 18, 1969, Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence vanished from the Oratorio di San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. The Nativity, as it is commonly known, is one of Caravaggio’s last great masterworks, painted in 1609 while he was a fugitive from justice, wanted by papal authorities in Rome for killing a man during a swordfight. For more than four decades, the altarpiece has been the most sought-after stolen painting in the world, and yet its exact whereabouts, even its fate, have remained a mystery. Until now…
In 2009, Judith Harris wrote for the ARCABlog about "breaking news" on the stolen Caravaggio Palmero Nativity that the mafia, who allegedly had stolen the painting, had destroyed the painting through neglect. Another source in 2012 also claimed that the painting had been eaten by pigs.

British author Peter Watson wrote in The Caravaggio Conspiracy that if it weren't for an earthquake he might have been able to recover Caravaggio's Nativity in 1980. Here's a link to Watson's description of Italy's famous art investigator, Rodolfo Siviero.

James Moore, a retired trial lawyer and a student of art history, presented on the theft of Caravaggio's The Nativity from Palermo at the 2013 ARCA Conference in Amelia.

Daniel Silva's 2009 book, The Defector, featured a bakery in Amelia (the Umbrian town north of Rome which hosts ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Preservation).

Tanya Lervik, an ARCA Alum, listened to Daniel Silva speak in Washington D.C. last year on his last Gabriel Allon book, The English Girl.

April 2, 2014

Christie's and Bonhams withdraw two objects of antiquity linked to Medici and Becchina archives

Image appears to be draft of 1987 invoice
 on sale of antiquities
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Both Christie's and Bonhams withdrew two objects -- a 2,000 year old Greek glass wine jug (called an oinochoe) and another ancient vessel (known as a pyxis)-- from their antiquities auctions this week that forensic archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis linked to the Medici and Becchina archives.

In an email to ARCA's blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote: "I am also sending you the documents related to the pyxis, which prove that Becchina sold the object to Ariadne Galleries, something that Bonhams failed to mention in the "provenance" section of their catalogue regarding this object." 

The documents, represented by the images here to the right in a bluish tinge and below in a pinkish tinge, appear to be the draft and final copy of an invoice. The pink image is a photograph of an invoice dated November 12, 1987 from U. R. Becchina to Mr. Torkom Demirjian at Ariadne Galleries Inc. at 970 Madison Avenue in New York City “(For definitive sale/no return) no return) for 23 items — 14 terracotta statuettes + 1 Pyxis, 2 Gnathian vessels, 2 Canosan Pyxides, and 4 Corinthian vessels — at a price in U.S. dollars of $21,800 plus a restoration fee of $3,700 for a total of $25,500. The invoice included: "GUARANTEE These items are of the period of the 6th to the 3rd cent. B.C. The authenticity is unconditionally guaranteed."

This is the image of the pink invoice
from Becchina to Ariadne Galleries
regarding the sale of antiquities
Peter Watson, co-author with Cecilia Todeschini of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museums (Public Affairs, 2007), wrote in The Times ("Auction houses 'handling stolen goods'", April 2):
Christos Tsirogiannis, of the Division of Archaeology at Cambridge University, and formerly a member of the Greek Task Force that oversaw the return of smuggled objects, said that the auction houses should have realised that they were handling illegal objects. “They themselves do not release all the information they have about how these objects reach the market,” he said. “These objects have no real provenance.” 
The objects are believed to be part of hauls gathered during the 1980s and 1990s by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, two notorious Italian dealers. Both men have been convicted of trafficking in illicit antiquities. Medici’s archive was seized in 1995 in Geneva, and Becchina’s was seized in Basle in 2002. Between them, the men supplied thousands of illegally excavated and smuggled antiquities, many of which were dug up by mechanical digger, and sold at Sotheby’s throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Some of them were priceless and many still had soil on them. They passed in their thousands through London salesrooms until the traffic was exposed, partly by The Times in 1997. Sotheby’s was forced to discontinue its sales in London. 
[...] 
Mr Tsirogiannis, who has just been awarded his PhD for a thesis on the illicit international antiquities trade, has access to two Polaroid archives of the hauls that were seized by the Italian carabinieri in Switzerland. He noticed that the two objects coming up for sale at Bonhams and Christie’s were identical to two shown in the photographs of the seized archives, in one case dirty and broken before restoration. Invoices and sales receipts also appear to confirm that the objects are illicit. He said: “The object at Christie’s was sold at Sotheby’s in 1988, and that’s all — as anyone knows in this field, that almost certainly means it came from Medici. “The Bonhams object also first surfaced in 1987 and has no provenance outside the trade. There again, that should be a warning sign that the piece was illegally excavated and smuggled. Over the past few years, I have spotted dozens of objects like this being drip-fed on to the market, testing whether the Medici scandal has been forgotten. Each time, I have informed the Italian authorities, who tell me they always contact the auction houses, asking them to withdraw the pieces. They almost never do. I think they have only acted this time because The Times is watching. At this rate, London risks regaining its unenviable position as the home of the ‘dirty’ antiquities market.”
Watson reported that Christie's said that the company would contact Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Unit to investigate the piece and would return it to Italy if the object was the same as the one identified in the polaroid archive confiscated from Medici.

In an email to the ARCA blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote:
A spokeswoman for Christie's said, regarding Christie's ownership of the oinochoe: 
The work you are referring to was sold through another auction house in 1988. It was then sold last year by Christie’s as part of the the Saeed Motamed collection. Christie’s became the owner after the sale of the work was then cancelled due to accidental damage sustained by the work during storage. 
My comment on this would be: Christie's should have been extra careful when they were exercising their 'due diligence' before the most recent sale, since they are the consigners in their own auction: as it turns out, this is a piece which comes originally from Medici. Christie's did not mention in the 'provenance' section of their catalogue which collection this object came from only last year, nor that the object was damaged during storage. All this exposes their practices even more.
Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote in an email to ARCA:
To echo Lord Renfrew in 2010, when four other antiquities I identified were withdrawn by Bonhams (http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/apr/27/bonhams-stolen-roman-sculptures-auction), "London risks regaining its unenviable position as the home of the 'dirty' antiquities market".
Here's a link to the article in BBC News "'Looted' artifacts removed from auction" (2 April 2014).

Here's a link to Dr. Tsirogiannis' post "Auction houses should do more to rooted out looted antiquities" on the website for Apollo Magazine.

May 18, 2012

REVISITING BOOKS: An Earthquake Shatters Expectations in The Caravaggio Conspiracy

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA blog editor

Peter Watson writes in The Caravaggio Conspiracy that in 1980 when he was trying to negotiate the purchase of Caravaggio's Palermo Nativity that going to southern Italy with a 'briefcase full of cash' was considered dangerous. Watson wrote:
This was the time in Italy when kidnapping was increasing alarmingly.  In fact the risk of kidnap was so great that even going to Naples simply as a businessman was not without danger.  The proportion of foreign visitors to the city had slumped from 50 percent of hotel business to less than 10 percent.  Furthermore, a report had shown that murders by the Mafia at that time accounted for 29 percent of all killings, as opposed to 13 percent a decade before.
Watson was offered the painting in London by a member of the gang art detective Rodolfo Siviero had suspected of stealing the Palermo Nativity.  Watson received a phone call from Italy that he could have the Caravaggio painting for 150 million Italian lire or $150,000 American dollars.  The journalist booked three nights at the Excelsior in Naples to conduct the transaction.

In nearby Laviano, Watson was presented with two photographs of the painting:
It looked terrible.  It was very dark, darker than I had imagined it could look.  Bits appeared to have flaked off near the heads of the onlookers on the right of the painting and there was a patch, of damp or oil or whatever, in the right foreground covering the ankle and hand of St. Lawrence.  Worst of all there was a ragged crack, about a third of the way up, bisecting the Virgin's hands and penetrating St. Lawrence's shoulder.  That seemed consonant with the canvas having been rolled for some time, possibly immediately after it had been stolen.
Watson is told that the painting is in Sicily but that it can be brought to Naples in a few days.  Then a deadly and destructive earthquake leveled Laviano. Watson was unable to contact with his negotiators and any hope of purchasing the stolen painting vanished.

May 16, 2012

REVISITING BOOKS: Watson's "The Caravaggio Conspiracy" and the motive for stealing the Palermo Nativity

Agrigento Ephebe
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA blog editor

Part two of three

In the 1984 book, The Caravaggio Conspiracy, published by British journalist Peter Watson, Rodolfo Siviero is described as a the leading detective of stolen art in Italy.

Before Caravaggio's Nativity was stolen in 1969, Siviero had been working to recover art misplaced since World War II.  Siviero was 'an undercover agent in German-occupied Italy', Watson reported, and was 'head of the Italian Secret Service attached to the Allied Command.'  Part of his job was to oversee the protection of works of art, Watson explained.  When Siviero became the first Italian ambassador to Germany after the war, he used wartime records to look for paintings looted by the Nazis from the Uffizi, Watson wrote, and listed works Siviero helped to recover: Bronzino's Deposition of Christ, Antonio Pollaiuolo's Labors of Hercules; Domenico Feti's Parable of the Vine; a self-portrait by Lorenzo di Credi, a Nativity by a pupil of Correggio; Botticelli's Primavera and Paolo Uccello's The Battle of San Remo.

When Siviero returned to Italy, he was put in charge of the Delegation for the Recovery of Missing Works of Art (Watson).  He recovered works of art not related to war looting.  Watson wrote that Siviero recovered a fifth century B.C. bronze statue known of a boy known as the Ephebus from the Mafia in a sting operation.  Siviero posed as the "nephew" of a Florentine art gallery that would purchase objects without asking questions about ownership.  The bronze was recovered, Watson wrote, and six men arrested shortly before Caravaggio's Nativity was stolen.  "It was the Mafia's way of exacting revenge.  And this time, it was whispered, Siviero would not see the stolen work of art again.  Ever." (Watson)

This article concludes on May 18.

May 14, 2012

REVISITING BOOKS: Peter Watson on the Palermo Nativity in the 1984 book "The Caravaggio Conspiracy"

The Palermo Nativity
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Part one of three

Repeated rumors of the destruction of Caravaggio's painting, Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco, reminded me of Peter Watson's telling of how an earthquake in southern Italy interupted his attempts to recover the painting ten years after it was stolen from a chapel in Sicily.

Watson's 1984 book, The Caravaggio Conspiracy (Doubleday), documents the journalist's cooperation with 'Italy's greatest art detective', Rodolfo Sievero, to recover The Nativity in 1979.  Watson, a British journalist, and Sievero, who at the time was 'an Italian diplomat' who headed 'a small section of the Italian Foreign Office exclusively concerned with the recovery of stolen art', concocted a plan to get one of Siviero's suspects in the theft of The Nativity to offer the Caravaggio or another stolen painting to Watson.

In the eighth chapter of the book, Watson sympathetically describes Michaelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio as a maverick painter whose erratic behavior and subsequent criminal record may have been the result of an illness contracted in his early years in Rome.  "Caravaggio's approach to his art -- conveying miraculous biblical episodes through vividly real but otherwise ordinary people, revolutionized painting," Watson wrote.

As an aside, I point out that in his summary of Caravaggio's career, Watson highlights the contribution after 1590 of one of the painter's supporters who originated from Amelia, home to ARCA's summer program and its International Art Conference:
A certain Monsignor Petrignani provided him with a room -- it was hardly a studio -- and Caravaggio began to turn out many pictures.  The younger painter enjoyed this work more, but though he was prolific he was not successful.  The arrangement eventually bore fruit, however, through the good offices of an art dealer named Valentino who had exhibited paintings by Caravaggio and finally succeeded in selling several of them to Cardinal del Monte.
The 16th century Palazzo Petrignani hosted the 2010 International Art Crime Conference in Amelia.

In 1609, running from knights and friends of a man who died by the painter's sword, Caravaggio painted what Watson describes as the "Adoration of the Child with St. Francis and St. Lawrence" (also  known as the "Palermo Nativity") in the church of the Oratorio of San Lorenzo in Palermo. Watson wrote:
It is an unusual painting for Caravaggio: it almost seems that the events of the preceding months were beginning to catch up with him.  It is still a Caravaggio but it is as if he had begun to doubt his own vision.  The peasants watching the event are in the old, familiar style.  They are ordinary, balding, tired rather shabby people lost in wonder.  But Mary particularly is a more stylized figure: her features are regular, smooth, her skin is like marble.  There is even an angel descending from on high.  Some sort of change appeared to be coming over Caravaggio.... Whoever had stolen it had taken more than an object; he had deprived the world of a sign of change in the mind -- the somewhat unstable mind -- of a great man.
Caravaggio's eight foot by seven foot painting of the Nativity served as the altarpiece for the Baroque chapel of the Oratory of San Lorenzo for 359 years until it had been "hacked" "out of its splendid frame with a razor blade," Watson wrote.

A few weeks after the theft, Siviero, Watson wrote, had received a message that the theft had been revenge for what Siviero had done 'to the Mafia over the Ephebus in Foligno."

Part two continued on May 16.

September 26, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2011: Noah Charney's Q&A with Peter Watson

Peter Watson, the critically-acclaimed author, answered questions posed by Noah Charney for the Q&A column for the fifth issue of The Journal of Art Crime.

Mr. Watson has been a senior editor at the London Sunday Times, the New York correspondent of the daily Times, and a columnist for the Observer. He has also written regularly for the New York Times and the Spectator. He is the author of several books of cultural and intellectual history, including Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention and, most recently The German Genius. His work on the art world and art crime includes The Caravaggio Conspiracy; Sotheby's: the Inside Story; and The Medici Conspiracy. From 1997 to 2007 he was a research associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.

Charney asks Watson about writing, his first interest in the dark side of the art world, and his theory about the fate of the Caravaggio Nativity, and his opinion as to the best way to curb art crime in the future.

You may subscribe to The Journal of Art Crime through the ARCA website or purchase individual issues through Amazon.com.


July 30, 2011

Author and Historian Peter Watson Discussed What He Called “Some Unpublished and Un-pulishable Details about Recent Art Crimes”

Peter Watson (Photo by Urska Charney)
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Peter Watson, author of numerous books including “The Medici Conspiracy” and “Sotheby’s the Inside Story”, leaned back in his chair in front of the audience and like an practiced storyteller, said that he would talk about “some unpublished and unpublishable” details about recent art crimes.

He asked the audience to question about how much they knew about the truth of art theft. “Museums lie about provenance and experts are not experts,” he said.

Watson spoke about the stories in his books, of how the priest with the Vatican’s mission trafficked in stolen paintings, pleaded for mercy on the court, and after the judge suspended his sentence, went on to trafficking in drugs.

John Drew, the forger, was once suspected of burning down a house that killed a Hungarian lodger and two months ago was sentenced for defrauding a widow.

When Robin Symes partner Kristos died, Symes went to jail. The judge changed the case from a civil to a criminal case. Symes was sentenced to two years in jail and only served 10 months. He made enemies with Kristo’s family. A month after Robin came out of jail, a BMW was deliberately set on fire and a yacht went up in flames. “Nothing was ever proved, but this is underlining the idea that we are not dealing with nice people,” Watson said.

In regards to the Sevso silver, a strange murder in the late 1970s in a wine cellar showed three sets of footprints going into the wine cellar, and two going away. People accused of these crimes are “too dangerous”, Watson said. His friend Charley Hill, who recovered one of the Munch paintings while working for Scotland Yard, said that his children were threatened in a case.

“This is a very unpleasant world so watch where you’re going,” Watson told the audience.