Showing posts with label Robert Hecht. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert Hecht. Show all posts

July 5, 2016

Mediation over Litigation: Looted antiquities to come back to Italy from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Like the world's ambassadors who serve as official envoys, promoting good relations between countries, cooperation between archaeologists, state attorneys, cultural ministries and museums, in furtherance of the return of plundered antiquities, sometimes serve as strange bedfellows in strengthening reciprocal relationships through acts of of cultural diplomacy. 

Over the last eight years the Italian government has successfully brokered repatriations with American museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Boston Museum of Fine Art, and the Cleveland Museum for the return of looted antiquities.  But up until yesterday, finding a way to achieve the same results with the internationally acclaimed Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum in Denmark's capital of Copenhagen, had proven anything but fruitful. 

At the heart of the Italian's case, started in 2008, is a calesse, an ornate parade wagon and other funerary objects that date back to the early seventh century B.C.E.,  The funerary objects, long on display at the Glyptotek, came from the looted tomb of a Sabine prince, laid to rest within the Colle del Forno necropolis.  

The Glyptotek purchased the funerary objects in 1970 via Swiss dealer, Robert Hecht, just before the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property entered into force. As can be seen from the letter between the museum's then management and the tainted dealer, its easy to see that those who agreed to the antiquities' purchase had more than a vague idea of the illicit nature of the material being purchased during the transaction. 
A letter from Robert E. Hecht to former Glyptotek director Mogens Gjødesen
dated 1970.  In the letter, Hecht speaks in code using the word 'children' to
describe the archaeological finds from the prince's tomb he plans
to send to Copenhagen. 
In 1970 Hecht worked closely with Giacomo Medici, the now well known Italian antiquities smuggler and art dealer who was convicted in 2004 of dealing in stolen ancient artifacts.  Medici and Hecht laundered Italian cultural property through museums all over the world.

Glyptotek ledger from the late 1970s
show deals with Giacomo Medici
and Robert E. Hecht. 
But after protracted negotiations, some civil, some bitter, the objects that make up the princely tomb from Sabina will now be returned to Italy starting in December of this year and concluding by the end of 2017.  In exchange, the Italian authorities have agreed to provide the Copenhagen museum with long term loans "of significant tomb discoveries from Italy which on a continuous, rotating basis will be featured in the Glyptotek’s forthcoming, large-scale, new exhibition of the whole museum’s collection of antiquities."

The complete joint statement of the agreement between the Italian Authorities and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek can be read in English here and in Italian here. 

The first loaned objects will arrive in Copenhagen in November 2018. The grouping will be composed of artifacts from the ’Tomb of the silver hands' from the Vulci Museum as well as additional votive objects from the necropolis of Capena, Crustumerium and Fidene.

At the time of the announcement, ARCA spoke with Stefano Alessandrini, a consultant to Italy’s public prosecutor’s office who has been working intensively on this case and other Medici and Hecht identification and repatriation cases throughout his career.  Overjoyed with the accord,  he said "finally, after years of work, negotiations, disappointments and hopes rekindled, a great success has been accomplished in the name of Italy's ‘cultural diplomacy.’ I am proud to have been part of this team".  

Alessandrini went on to add that after eight years of sometimes stormy negotiations, the cities of Sabina, Cerveteri and Pyrgi can now, at last rejoice. Speaking of the difficulty in finding an accord that satisfied all sides, Alessandrini praised the work of Italy's antiquities prosecutor, Maurizio Fiorilli, Jeanette Papadopoulos of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and State Prosecutor Lorenzo D’Ascia for their work during the mediation process with the Copenhagen museum.

Alessandrini also praised the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale who, under General Conforti, uncovered the extent of the Medici - Hecht network which ultimately led Italy to successfully bringing these objects home. 

But even as the Glyptotek has agreed to return the funerary artifacts from the tomb at Colle del Forno,  the calesse remains woefully incomplete. 

Paolo Santoro, the archaeologist who led the original licit excavations at Colle del Forno in the 1970s reminds the world, 

"There are other elements missing, who knows who bought them?"

By: Lynda Albertson

July 4, 2016

Christie's withdraws Lot 52 an Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora, attributed to the Bucci painter, suspected of being looted

Ahead of Christie’s London July 6th sale, an Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora, attributed to the Bucci painter, has been withdrawn from the firm's antiquities auction after forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis notified ARCA, trafficking scholars and the requisite police authorities (DS Hutcheon, Head of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit, the Greek police Art Squad, and INTERPOL) of a positive match.

Lot 52 pictured here is believed to date to Circa 540-530 B.C.E. and was apparently being sold  by a private unnamed collector, according to the auction house’s publication. While the auction house’s records list the provenance as having been acquired Los Angeles art market, prior to 1996 and to having come from a private collection in the UK, Tsirogiannis uncovered a potentially problematic past reported Saturday in an earlier blog post on the association's pages. 

Since 2003, it has been a criminal offence to deal in "tainted cultural objects", punishable by up to seven years in prison.  This is the fourth object in Christie's portfolio that Dr. Tsirogiannis has identified as likely being plundered in 2016. Two items identified in the April 12, 2016 sale were withdrawn.  A fourth item, a Roman stone mosaic panel with an estimated sale price of $200,000 - $300,000 was not withdrawn and sold for $545,000. 

July 2, 2016

Once Upon a Time, a (possibly looted) bearded warrior wearing a short white tunic

Forensic Image I
On January 31, 2007 Christos Tsirogiannis participated as a forensic archaeologist in a raid by the Greek police's Art Squad on a house in Karavomylos, a picturesque beach village in the Fthiotida region, between Boiotia and Thessaly. The house was registered in the names of two brothers, both of whom were the nephews of the former Zürich-based Greek antiquities dealer Frieda Tchakos.  Tchakos, who also goes by the name Frédérique Marie Nussberger-Tchacos, as well as by Frida Tchacos Nussberger, once oversaw the now liquidated Galerie Nefer AG and was once a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA).

Earlier, in 2002, Italian prosecutor Paolo Giorgio Ferri had put out an international arrest warrant for Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger  in connection with antiquities laundering.  She was later arrested in Cyprus in connection with a seperate unrelated antiquities theft.

An overview of several of the cases of looted antiquities that have been repatriated to Italy involving the Tchakos network have been discussed in the Medici Conspiracy (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195, 227) and in “From Boston to Rome: Reflections on Returning Antiquities”, International Journal of Cultural Property 13. As part of a deal between Tchacos and the Italian authorities, Frieda Tchacos was given a light sentence.

Looking closer at what was siezed.

During the Greek 2007 raid not only were numerous ancient Greek and Egyptian objects found and confiscated in accordance with Greek Law 3028/2002 on the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in General but also photographic images, some of which depicted antiquities not found in the local raid and likely of similar, dubious origin.

Given the brother's familial ties to the former operator of Galerie Nefer, known to have handled tainted illicit antiquities from Greece and Italy and for its having been associated with names like Robert Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina, Robin Symes, Christo Michaelidis and Raffaele Monticelli, the photographs provided investigators with evidentiary support that there were additional, potentially-laundered ancient artifacts already in circulation elsewhere within the world's thriving antiquities art market. 

Forensic Image II
Two of the images seized during the raid and provided to ARCA by Dr. Tsirogiannis depict an Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora, a lidded vessel used for the storing wine and other commodities.  Forensic Image I, pictured in the blog post above, is likely a professional dealer's inventory photo.  It has been shot on an aesthetically pleasing neutral background in order to clearly emphsaize the side of the amphora which depicts a bearded warrior and his facing attendant.

The second photograph, Forensic Image II, has been cropped for confidentiality, but shows the forehead of one of the two brother's who owned the property connected to the Karavomylos raid.  In the background, the same Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora, is pictured sitting high on a white display shelf behind the man's head.

Fast Forward to 2016

Tsirogiannis has notified ARCA and the requisite police authorities (DS Hutcheon, Head of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit, the Greek police Art Squad, and Interpol) that he has made a positive match of the photographed amphora to Lot 52 in the forthcoming antiquities auction by Christie's London office.  The amphora is scheduled to come up for bidding on July 6, 2016. 

The Auction houses website describes the object as being an "Attic Black-figured Neck-Amphora attributed to the Bucci painter, Circa 540-530 B.C." and gives a detailed description of the vase's imagery and dimensions along with an extremely modest suggested sale price for a vase of this age. 

Under provenance, the auction house lists the following information:
  • Los Angeles art market, prior to 1996. 
  • Private collection, UK.

It is interesting to note that there is no mention of the object being connected to any of the members of the Tchakos family, neither Zürich-based Greek antiquities dealer Frieda Tchakos or either of her two nephews who at the time of the 2007 seizure in their Greek home, were reportedly living in London.

Shouldn't the galleries and collectors which likely held the work on consignment be listed?

Does the current vase's owner have potential liability if the provenance provided to the auction house or to the future buyer turns out to show that key passages in the vase's history were omitted by someone connected to the sales process?

The collection history (sometimes referred to as provenance) of an object is an important factor in determining its authenticity, but equally important, as is the case with antiquities, it is an important indicator of the licit or illicit nature of the object's discovery and acquisition.  

Conscientious and ethical antiquities collectors should be able to rely on the information provided by sellers.  But as this auction clearly demonstrates, an object's reported collection history doesn't always accurately reflect whose hands an antiquity has past through. 

When details of an objects past are omitted, by an owner, by an antiquities dealer or by an auction house, either intentionally or accidentally, we continue to churn trafficked antiquities through the legitimate marketplace allowing collectors to buy and sell pretty things, conveniently claiming ignorance and clinging to the negligent “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach of the past. 

By Lynda Albertson

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.