Showing posts with label Robin Symes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robin Symes. Show all posts

June 29, 2020

Object Alert: An Illicit antiquity breezes through the windy city

Hindman Auction Catalogue - 16 June 2020
Lot 157
Most of the time, when one thinks of illicit antiquities one imagines them transiting their way through lofty auction showrooms in London, New York, or more recently, as was in the news last week, Paris.  One doesn't usually suspect a homegrown auction house, from the windy city of Chicago, as a place to spot hot art that once passed through the hands of one of Italy's most notorious bad boys, art dealer Giacomo Medici.  But the market for looted or unprovenanced cultural property in America is still going strong and plundered artefacts have the tendency to scatter farther than you think.  Sometimes, when they do, they turn up in places that we don't expect, well, at least until we do.

An art dealer who post-sentence resides in an expansive seaside villa west of Rome, Giacomo Medici was convicted 13 December 2004 of participation in an organized criminal group as its principal promoter and organizer.  Men in his network plundered large swaths of Italy's territory, with the network's loot making its way into some of the world's most prestigious museums and lining the shelves of extravagant private collections.  But despite the sixteen years that have past since his conviction, Medici's ill-gotten wares continue to bubble to the surface, not unlike Italian gnocchi, one object at a time, in slow dribs and drabs and usually not even mentioning his name as was the case with this recent artefact.

This time, in late June, an investigation lead by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in collaboration with the New York District Attorney's Office and the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage turned up another one of Giacomino's antiquities, this time at Chicago's very own, Hindman Auctioneers, a firm which merged in 2019 with Ohio-based Cowan's and shortened its name from Leslie Hindman to just plain Hindman

Photographed on pages 116 and 117 of Hindman's 16 June 2020 Antiquities and Islamic Art catalogue, Lot 15, A Roman Marble Torso of a Faun with a Goose lists the artefact's provenance succinctly: 

Private Collection. London, acquired in New York in the early 1990s 
Oliver Forge & Brendan Lynch. London, 2013

What was provided to back up this claim, or what import, export, or shipping documents were submitted to demonstrate that this Italian antiquity's passages into the United States previously, then back across the sea to the UK, then back into Chicago were legitimate, leaves me curious. 

With no difficulty, and without auction consignment profits to incentivise (or disincentivise) my due diligence, I was quickly, and without too much trouble, able to find and cross-reference the 2013 sale via the Forge & Lynch Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) catalogue.   This sales PDF documented the previous sale of the mythological half-human, half-goat, creature with a discreet tail in a two-page spread.

Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd.,
Antiquities - Including the Collection of Ernst Langlotz (1895-1978) Catalogue - 2013

Joint proprietors of the art dealership Oliver Forge and Brendan Lynch Ltd., Forge and Lynch left Sotheby’s in London in 1997 when the auction house began winding down its London antiquities sales, and continued working together for their own ancient art gallery formed in UK in July 2000.  Both art dealers are familiar with the problem children antiquities dealers of yesteryear from their Sotheby's days, and both have continued to get their reputations scorched brokering suspect art via more recent problematic dealers like Subhash Kapoor. 

So even without Medici's name clearly printed on anything provenance-y provided by the Faun's consignor to Hindman, one has to question first where Forge & Lynch themselves got the piece, and secondly, their own provenance entry for the earlier sale of this artefact, which reads: 

Probably acquired in New York, early 1990s  
Private collection, London, early 1990s-2013

This entry leads me to ask why Hindman changed the "probably acquired in New York" to definitely acquired in New York.  It is also curious why Hindman left off the non-specific "Private collection" in London which at first shakes, might appear less problematic than Robin Symes, whose name appears elsewhere in the June catalogue for LOT 83 from this sale. 

Did someone at Hindman find paperwork that changed the Faun's purported New York acquisition from probable into definite?  And what about that private collection in London from the 1990s until 2013.  Wasn't that one line, even vaguely written, not naming names worth mentioning on the big empty space of the full-page advertisement for the sculpture?  So why did Hindman elect to omit this detail?  

My hunch is that Hindman, who voluntarily relinquished the sculpture of the Faun to the authorities once evidence was presented by law enforcement, operates under the assumption that the occasional confiscation of a found-to-be-looted antiquity identified in their sales catalogues is a reasonable cost of doing business in the murky world of ancient art.  

Risks Hindman has already proved willing to take in the past and that illicit antiquities researcher Christos Tsirogiannis, cooperating with HSI-ICE, pointed out in an earlier Hindman auction, published in the auction house's Worldly Pursuits: An Adventurer’s Collection. The Estate of Steve and Peggy Fossett cataloug. In that sale Tsirogiannis identified three antiquities which matched archival photos in the Medici and Symes archives which proved that the objects had once passed through, or been shared with the networks of Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, and Christo Michaelides.

But let's go back to this month's Hindman, June 16th auction catalogue.  In this summer's sale 127 objects out of 273 are listed without any provenance dates whatsoever.  Of the 146 remaining objects included in the catalogue which do list some date references:

15 show collection history dates which predate the UNESCO 1970s convention;
12 show collection history dates only to the 1970s;
85 show collection history dates only to the 1980s;
32 show collection history dates only to the 1990s;
and 2 only go back as far as the 2000s.

Knowing that illicit trafficking eyes cannot monitor every single sale, or inquire about every single object consigned to every auction house around the world, leaving out provenance details creates an environment conducive for a game of risk, with dealers more than willing to play, chalking up any losses from the occasional identified object after it has been illegally exported, as inventory shrinkage.

By limiting the details of what is written in provenance descriptions for objects being sold, dealers and auction houses create intentional impediments to those who try to research an object's legitimacy, making it more difficult to discern when an antiquity has passed through the hands of suspect dealers and when a legitimate object has simply been badly documented by a previous owner careless with their receipts.  And that's just speaking to those interested enough, and with the time to dedicate to actually monitor the previous sales of ancient artefacts.

According to a new report published to the LiveAuctioneers website, this inaugural Hindman ancient art auction brought in nearly $1M in sales, proving once again, that despite all the academics screaming about the necessity for clean provenance, buyers of ancient art, for the most part, are not unduly curious about the collection histories of their potential ancient art purchases.  Likewise, more collectors continue to be oblivious or disengaged as to whether or not the antiquities market is problematic and whether or not their lack of curiosity, and lack of due diligence before buying, acts as a catalyst for the destruction of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean world.

Should Hindman have known better with this artefact and should they have been more forthcoming with all of the collection histories listed for this $1M sale's catalogue? Yes and yes.

Hindman Auctioneers was founded by Leslie Hindman in Chicago in 1982.  The firm was not born yesterday, therefore they should be aware of the problems of illicit material infiltrating the ancient art market.  Thomas Galbraith who took over from Leslie Hindman as CEO of the company she founded, (she remains on the board) previously worked as Artnet’s director of global strategy and as interim CEO for Google Venture's start-up Twyla, an online sales platform for art, meaning they both are experienced in art world sales. Given the people at Hindman's helm, and the company's sales presence on the Live Auctioneers sales portal, it also stands to reason that the Chicago auction house has employees with sufficient technical abilities and talent to Google the legitimacy of the objects they accept on consignment and the names of dealers which are problematic.  Given that neither Galbraith nor Hindman are new to the problems of the world, one can assume that their lack of transparency when it comes to collection publishing collection histories for the objects they auction is a conscious choice.

But despite all this, the windy city seems to be gaining ground in the art market. Phillips and Bonhams, both based in London, having opened there, alongside already existing Christie's, and Sotheby's, to keep Hindman company. And browsing through the names of important London and New York ancient art dealers like Charles Ede Ltd., and Royal Athena Galleries whose's pieces were selling in this June's Hindman catalogue, it seems apropos to remind collectors of ancient art (once again) of the need to open their eyes and ask for proof of legitimacy, before simply forking over cash for what might turn out to be tomorrow's new seizure. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

June 10, 2020

A Greek Horse in the US Courts

Image Credit: ARCA
Screenshot taken 02 May 2018

A little more than two years ago, on 01 May 2018 ARCA was informed by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist at Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark that a suspect bronze Greek figure of a horse was on consignment as part of an upcoming Sotheby's auction scheduled for 14 May 2018 titled "The Shape of the Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet." The illicit trafficking researcher had matched the 8th century BCE statuette to three photos found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive. 

Three, (3) photos from the Symes -Michaelides archive
provided by Christos Tsirogiannis
This was the second of two objects in the Barnet collection which have been discovered to have passed through the hands of dealers known for having worked with looters and middlemen.  The first, according to antiquities scholar Professor David Gill, was a 550 BCE Black-Figure Kylix attributed to the Hunt Painter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which the Barnet family donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1999 and which was relinquished by the museum via a transfer in title in a negotiation completed with the Italian Ministry of Culture on February 21, 2006.

Given the multijurisdictional nature of the identification, Tsirogiannis had already sent his findings to INTERPOL given that the source country could be Italy or Greece and the object was presently up for sale in a New York auction house.  

After receiving a letter of concern from the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic on 11 May 2018, who asserted that a circa-8th century BCE bronze horse was the property of Greece, Sotheby’s withdrew the Lot from auction in order to allow the interested parties time to discuss their findings.  Unable to find a mutually satisfactory solution, the estate of Howard and Saretta Barnet and Sotheby’s together filed a lawsuit, Barnet et al v. Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic, in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York on 5 June 2018 seeking a declaratory judgment that the bronze horse had been "acquired lawfully and in good faith" by Howard and Saretta Barnet who purchased the Bronze Horse on or about 16 November 1973, for £15,000 and was, therefore, the family's property to dispose of.  The lawsuit, the first of its kind involving an auction house, aimed in some part, to hold the country of Greece responsible for the financial losses Sotheby’s and the family incurred as a result of what the litigating parties believe was an unjustified claim by the Ministry.

On 5 November 2018 Greece filed a motion to dismiss, asserting immunity from litigation, and moved to dismiss Barnet et al's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) arguing that the U.S. District Court didn't have the jurisdiction to hear a case involving a foreign nation, per the terms of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a 1976 US law codified at Title 28, §§ 1330, 1332, 1391(f), 1441(d), and 1602–1611 of the United States Code, that establishes the limitations as to whether a foreign sovereign nation (or its political subdivisions, agencies, or instrumentalities) may be sued in U.S. courts.

On 21 June 2019 U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla rejected Greece’s motion to dismiss citing a small technicality in the current legal framework ruling that the formal inquiry letter from the Greek Ministry of Culture to Sotheby's, requesting that the auction house withdraw the lot until its provenance and exit from Greece could be researched, fell under the commercial activity exception, something which, if affirmed on appeal, might have ended the Greek's claim right then and there. 

By mid-July 2019 the Greek Ministry through their attorney, Leila Amineddoleh, had filed a Notice of Interlocutory Appeal and a Motion to stay litigation in the case, which Judge Failla quickly granted pending appeal. 

Yesterday the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the District Court's ruling stating in their opinion that Greece's act of sending its letter to the auction house was not in connection with a commercial activity outside of the United States and was the country's enactment and enforcement of patrimony laws which are by their very nature, archetypal sovereign activities.  The Appeals Court concluded that the District Court had erred in concluding that it had jurisdiction and the case was remanded with instructions to dismiss the action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

There are many challenges posed by how the courts, and judges, interpret the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and its "commercial" and "expropriation" exceptions.  This case though had a happy ending for Greece. 

November 3, 2019

Dear Christie's: What's the story on your provenance on this antefix?


An interesting antefix has been published with Christie's as part of their December 4, 2019 sales event which deserves a closer examination regarding its legitimacy on the ancient art market.  For those who do not know, an anteflix is an upright ornament, used by ancient builders along the eaves of a tiled roof to conceal tile joints.

The provenance for the antiflix is listed as follows:

Provenance

While not specified in Christie's very brief collection history, Ingrid McAlpine was the wife of Bruce McAlpine, husband and wife proprietors of McAlpine Ancient Art Limited in the UK. 

While not completely identical, the soon to be auctioned anteflix on consignment with Christie's, closely resembles another ancient Etruscan antefix in the form of a maenad and Silenus.  This one once graced the cover of the exhibition catalog "A Passion for Antiquities: Ancient Art from the Collection of Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman."   That South Etruscan, 500-475 BCE, terracotta and pigment antiflix was purchased by the J. Paul Getty Museum from the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman collection via Robin Symes for a tidy sum of  $396,000 and exhibited at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1995.  Later, in 2007, that antiquity would be relinquished to Italy by the J. Paul Getty Museum after the antefix was matched to a Polaroid photo recovered during a 1995 police raid on warehouse space rented by Giacomo Medici at Ports Francs & Entrepôts in Geneva. 

The Christie's auction antefix also closely resembles another pair of suspect terracotta and pigment antefixes depicting a maenad and Silenus.  This grouping was once on display at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek museum.  Like with the J. Paul Getty purchase, an image of the Copenhagen antefix showing a fragmentary antefix were matched with photos in the seized Medici dossier.  As with the Getty terracotta, this object too was eventually restituted to Italy. 

Bruce McAlpine's name also comes up with other illicit objects later identified as having been laundered through the licit art market which were later assessioned into a collection at a prestigious museum.  An Attic black-figured hydria (no.3), once on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston came through McAlpine via Palladion Antike Kunst, a gallery operated by Ursula Becchina, the wife of Gianfranco Becchina.  In addition, the Italian authorities working on these restitutions seized a copy of a letter, written by the staff of Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine Ancient Art Gallery dated 8 July 1986 which tied them to at least one transaction with Giacomo Medici via companies the disgraced dealer operated through third parties, fronts or pseudonyms. 

One final illustration of the triangulation in the world of illicit transactions


The names of Bruce and Ingrid McAlpine appear alongside Robin Symes AND Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman for the donation of an Apulian bell-krater to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. This vase too was restituted to Italy in October 2006.

All of which leads to several questions

Why was Bruce Alpine's name and the name of his ancient art firm omitted from the provenance record published by Christie's ahead of the December 4th auction?   

Was this omission an accidental oversight on Christie's part or an elective decision, perhaps as a way to reduce the possibility of the object's previous owners drawing unnecessary attention?    

What collection history does the auction house have, if any, that predates the 1994 McAlpine acquisition date?

and lastly,

What steps, if any, did Christie's take to contact the Italian authorities , in order to crosscheck whether or not this object might or might not be acceptable for sale? 
By:  Lynda Albertson

July 2, 2019

Auction Alert - Bonhams Auction House - An il(licit) Apulian red-figure janiform kantharos?

Screenshot of Bonham's website captured 01 July 2019
On July 01, 2019 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified a new potentially tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Bonhams auction house in London at its flagship London saleroom on New Bond Street on July 3, 2019.  This ancient Greek drinking vessel, has two faces looking in opposite directions, one of a satyr and one of a woman and has been identified as traceable to a document and photo within the confiscated Becchina archive and to two showroom photos found within the Symes-Michaelides archives.  

Since 2007 Dr. Tsirogiannis, a UK-based Greek forensic archaeologist and lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has worked to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the archives of individuals known to be involved in the illicit trade of antiquities. Tsirogiannis is also the incoming Associate Professor and an AIAS-COFUND Junior Research Fellow (2019-2022) at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Aarhus.
  

Screenshot of Bonham's website captured 01 July 2019
Vases made by the Iliupersis Painter's workshop were the forerunners to the later Apulian polychrome head vases that were produced throughout the second half of the fourth century before Christ in what is now Italy.  Yet a screenshot of the provenance/collection history listed by Bonham's is scarce and tells nothing about the vessel's discovery or its passage out of Italy.  In fact the auction house's collection history only goes back to 1991 when it appeared as Lot 161 in a Sotheby's New York auction via an anonymous seller on the 18th of June.  This and the mention of Merrin Gallery and an unnamed private collector are all the potential buyer has to go on.   No information is listed on the auction house's website regarding the ancient object's exportation from its country of origin or any checks possibly made with the Italian Carabinieri to ensure this object is not part of the Italian's known databases of suspect objects. 

Becchina Archive Image
According to records reviewed by Tsirogiannis, a handwritten note in the Becchina archive, possibly written by Gianfranco Becchina himself, makes mention of a ‘janiform’ purchase along with other antiquities acquired via middleman Raffaele Monticelli.  The purchase price listed is 60,000 Italian lire and the sale appears to have occurred on March 5, 1988.  All the antiquities listed in this purchase acquisition from Monticelli total 290,000 Italian lire, with the kantharos being the most expensive ancient object in the transaction.

Raffaele Monticelli's role in the illicit antiquities trade is concretised in the now famous illicit trafficking organogram which mentions key individuals associated with Italy's largest known trafficking group.  He was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to four years imprisonment at the Foggia Tribunal for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities  His conviction occurred a little more than a decade after the kantharos appears to have surfaced in the US market in 1991.  

A retired elementary teacher, who gave up teaching for the more lucrative roll of middleman dealer, Raffaele Monticelli is a name well known to the Italian Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Command of the Cosenza and Bari nuclei.  His most recent arrest occurred in 2017 in connection with clandestine excavations of archaeological sites in the Crotone area. At the time of the more recent 2014-2017 investigation, Monticelli's residence was searched and illicitly excavated objects were seized, including some ancient terracotta figurines and a biansata kylix of Greek origin. This new event shows that the trafficker continued to violate Italian law despite prior arrests and convictions well into his golden years.

But returning to the past and to the Bonhams kantharos currently set for sale later this week.

On the trafficking organogram Monticelli is listed just above the territories where he plied his trade: the regions of Puglia, Calabria, Campania, and Sicilia.  This illustrates that he was active in the region where this kantharos was likely produced.  The organogram also specifies that Monticelli was an important part of the Southern Italy cordata which lead upwards to Robert (Bob) Hecht via Gianfranco Becchina and downward to Aldo Belleza.

This connection is further confirmed by testimony given by Frédérique Marie Nussberger-Tchacos, after her arrest in Cyprus in 2002. Tchacos, who also goes by the name Frieda 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).  Speaking to Italian Prosecutor Paolo Giorgo Ferri, who issued the international arrest warrant for Tchacos and initiated the legal process for her extradition to Italy, Tchacos is quoted as having said:

Becchina Archive Photo.
“a precise triangle” referring to Bob Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina, and Raffaele Monticelli.  She further stated that Monticelli supplied “everything that could be found in the south of Italy; I think Apulian [vases], I think terracottas, I think bronzes. . . .” all of which turned out to be factually true.  Becchina's wife Ursula also affirmed that her husband obtained material from Monticelli.

Monticelli's relationship with Gianfranco Becchina was a lengthy and profitable one.   

Among the 140 folders seized in 2001 from Gianfranco Becchina, there were many suppliers, some of whom were middleman and traffickers in direct contact with those who excavated clandestinely, as well as some tombaroli who communicated directly with the Sicilian dealer.  Becchina's confiscated records contain four folders cataloging his transactions with Monticelli, many of which contain long lists of objects as well as some Polaroids such as the one depicted to the right, from which Tsirogiannis made his matching identification.

This photo depicts the kantharos unrestored, with a large chip in the rim and still covered with incrustations.  It appears to be standing on a wooden shelf in front of a barren concrete wall, possibly at Becchina's warehouse in Basel, or perhaps in a restorer's laboratory and in its entirety also depicts additional objects which have yet to be identified and may be in circulation on the market.

At some period after the object's restoration two photos of the kantharos are taken.  These are found in the Symes-Michaelides archive.  The photos showing the front and back of the object post restoration, and in keeping with the state of conservation found in the Bonhams auction photos as illustrated below.

Top Left & Bottom Left: Bonhams Photos
Top Right & Bottom Right: Symes-Michaelides archive Photos 
As is often the case with objects originating from these known dealers and middlemen one is curious as to the extent of the documentation, if any, was used by Bonhams to evaluate whether or not this particular ancient object had legitimacy on the ancient art market.

During past criminal proceedings then prosecutor Ferri spoke of the Becchina-Merrin relationship believing their involvement could possibly be part of a broader conspiracy to traffic in artifacts that involved the Americans then on trial.  As evidence lending credibility to his statement, a 1993 fax within the Becchina dossier from the Merrin Gallery to Becchina requests that photos of artifacts sent by the disgraced dealer to the Manhattan firm, used to show to potential customers, not be marked with "BEC."  In addition to that other artifacts which have been repatriated to Italy after being tied to Becchina also on occasion passed through the hands via this Manhattan gallery.  Some, later deemed illicit, were sold to various U.S. museums, including the J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles.

Shouldn't the lack of any known provenance before 1991, coupled with the name Merrin Galleries drawn some amount of cautious attention?  Curiosity?  Additional due diligence?

In my own curious searches in completion of this blog post, I asked Tsirogiannis at 07:52 this morning to look for the following object sold by Christie's auction house on June 4, 2008 in the confiscated archives.



This Apulian red-figure Lekanis, drew my attention for its equally spartan collection history but more importantly for the fact that it appears to be by the same workshop, that of the Iliupersis Painter and was aparently sold during a very active period with this particular trafficking band.

By 11:37 Tsirogiannis had found and I have confirmed, what appears to be a second matching object within the Becchina dossier, albeit the Christie's photo shows some overpainting. My impression that the red-figure Lekanis didn't pass the sniff test proved accurate.  According to Tsirogiannis' review, this antiquity comes from the same group of objects that Becchina bought from Monticelli on, you guessed it March 5, 1988!

Could this come from the same find spot?  Could Merrin have bought more of these objects from Becchina?


Let's hope that both auction houses will look into the records of the dealers consignors and purchasers affiliated with these objects.  While the Lekanis has long since been sold, it should be traceable to the current purchaser.  The second should be withdrawn from the London auction to allow the Italian and British authorities sufficient time to conduct a thorough investigation.

NB:  All Identifications have been submitted to the appropriate legal authorities.

By:  Lynda Albertson


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 tombarolo'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. De Angelis was later stopped near L'Inviolata with fragments in his car, that were matched with 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 works of art not highlighted in this blog post for the 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 take some time to stop in.

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 3, 2018

Decision from the Greek Court on the Schinoussa and Psychiko seizure case

Antiquities and copies of antiquities from the 2006 Greek Seizures
In a court ruling coming in at the end of July, first reported by the blog of the Committee on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA), the E (5th) 3 member Appeal Penal Court of Athens, Greece, hearing the case in first instance, has handed down their decision on members of the well-known shipping family Papadimitriou, originally accused on 22 November 2006 of illegally possessing and receiving illicit antiquities.

According to the contents of an email, apparently recieved by the State Legal Adviser's Office to the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic, relating the outcome of the 26 July 2018 hearing on the case (translated from the original Greek):

"The Court by majority found guilty Despina and Dimitri Papadimitriou for the act of embezzlement of monuments and convicted each one of them to suspended imprisonment of 4 years. It also ratified the seizure and ordered the confiscation of the seized items."
According to Greek Law No. 3028/02, “On the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in General” (article 56), destruction, damage or alteration of a monument, as well as theft or embezzlement of monuments, (articles 53 and 54 respectively) are punishable acts in Greece.

The objects which led to this reported conviction were confiscated twelve years ago from the family's villa on the Aegean island of Schinoussa as well as at a second family residence in the suburb of Psychiko, in northern Athens.

The Saint Basil area of the Island of Schinoussa.
The private peninsula owned by the Papadimitriou/Michaelides family.
Image Credit:  ARCA 2018 Google Maps screen capture
The antiquities connected to these charges were held on that occasion in accordance with Greek Law 3028/2002 on the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in General along with a significant number of photographic images, many of which represent additional antiquities, not recovered on the properties during the aforementioned Greek raids. The objects portrayed in the photos are related to the commercial transactions of antiquities dealers Christo Michaelides and Robin Symes who sold ancient art through Robin Symes Limited.

According to the book "The Medici Conspiracy" the 17 albums of photographic documentation seized, often referred to as the "Schinoussa archive" depict 995 artifacts in 2,191 photos.   The bulk of the images, shot by professional photographers.  The binders are said to be derived from the most important antiquities which are known to have passed through Symes and Michaelides' hands at some point during their business dealings from the 1980s through the 1990s.

While photographs from the Schinoussa archive do not, in and of themselves, prove that a specifically photographed antiquity is illicit in origin, the images photographed can raise disturbing questions about which middleman hands unprovenanced antiquities have passed through.  What we do know is that the Symes - Michaelides duo sold objects tied to other traffickers in completion of transactions to wealthy collectors and some of the most prestigious museums in the world.

An example of this is the recently repatriated calyx-krater mixing vessel attributed to Python, as painter which was returned to Italy. This object was purchased by Speed Art Museum through Robin Symes Limited, on the basis that the krater came from a private collector in Paris.  Instead the object was found to match photos from the Giacomo Medici archive, where the antiquity is depicted in an unrestored, and obviously looted, state.  This means the French provenance applied to the object and relayed to the museum was a fabrication.  It is for this reason, that objects represented in the Schinoussa archive and/or sold via Robin Symes Limited, in circulation within the world's thriving antiquities art market deserve careful scrutiny as they may represent antiquities derived from illegal sources.  

At the time of the Schinoussa and Psychiko villa searches, in April of 2006, the resulting haul of undocumented antiquities was considered to be the largest antiquities seizure by law enforcement in recent Greek history.  In total, some 152 undocumented ancient artworks were inventoried by investigating authorities.  Later, evaluations by two committees of experts were held in order  to determine which objects were authentic and therefore subject to seizure under existing Greek law.  The committee also looked at what might merely be fakes or reproductions.

Some of the notable objects identified on the Papadimitriou properties included two large Egyptian sphinxes made of pink granite, nine rare Coptic weavings from the fourth-to-sixth centuries C.E., multiple marble busts, Corinthian capitals, and Byzantine architectural elements.  There was even a fake statue that was once displayed at the Getty Museum.  One of the more unusual finds was the remains of an entire 17th century building which had been dismantled, perhaps to be reconstructed elsewhere at some later date.

Officers also found shipment boxes from Christie's auction house which included market transactions from 2001 through 2005.  Notably, many of the objects found during the executed search warrants were still wrapped, either having never been unwrapped, or perhaps having been rewrapped, awaiting transport elsewhere.

At the end of the committee evaluations a total 69 objects were confiscated by the authorities.  Their total estimated value:  a little more than €982,000 euros.


The largest find during the raid in Schinoussa.
A modern construction chapel dedicated to Saint Basil made up of architectural elements originating from other Byzantine temples. Photo Credit: C. Tsirogiannis
Those who follow illicit trafficking will already be familiar with the name of deceased antiquities dealer Christo Michaelides, who, prior to his death was the former partner of Robin Symes. Michaelidis lived with Symes from the 1970s until his death on 5 July 1999 as a result of a fatal fall which occurred during a dinner party in a villa in Terni, Italy hosted by the now famous American antiquities collectors, Leon Levy and Shelby White.

Michaelides descended from a Greek shipping family, run by his father, Alexander Votsi Michaelides.  His sister is Despina Papadimitriou, is one of the four original defendants charged by Greek prosecutor Eleni Raikou seven months after the Schinoussa and Psychiko seizures.  The other individuals named in this case are Despina's three adult children, Dimitri, Alexis, and Angeliki, though it appears that the court has ruled negatively on solely Despina and Dimitri.

According to the Greek indictment, the defendants unlawfully appropriated 
"ancient monuments, cultural goods dating back to prehistoric, ancient, Byzantine and post-Byzantine times until 1830." 
(Greek «ιδιοποιήθηκαν παράνομα αρχαία μνημεία, πολιτιστικά αγαθά που ανάγονται στους προϊστορικούς, αρχαίους, βυζαντινούς και μεταβυζαντινούς χρόνους έως και το 1830»)

And as stated in the hearing that referred them to the audience of the Triennial Court of Appeal of Athens: 
"There is an aim of income generation and a constant propensity to commit the crime, which is directed against the State, the embezzlement of monuments as an element of their personality."(Greek «Προκύπτει σκοπός για πορισμό εισοδήματος και σταθερή ροπή προς τη διάπραξη του εγκλήματος, που στρέφεται κατά του Δημοσίου, της υπεξαίρεσης μνημείων ως στοιχείο της προσωπικότητάς τους».)
During the proceedings the defendants disputed Greece's charges arguing that the seized property was owned by their husband/father, Alexander Michaelides, or by their brother/uncle, Christo Michaelides.  Prior to his death, Christo Michaelides spent a significant amount of time on the family estate in Schinoussa, socializing with individuals known to purchase ancient art, some with fabricated provenances, including Marion True, the former Curator of Antiquities at the J.Paul Getty Museum.

 Former Getty Curator Marion True, with
Christo Michaelides, in Greece, 1998
Image Credit:  The Medici Conspiracy


This statement is perplexing given her brother's longterm ties to his partner, Robin Symes, and the pair's business dealings with well-publicised dealers of ancient art who were already known to be involved in the handling and selling of tainted illicit antiquities.

As this court decision moves forward to the second judicial phase it is interesting to note that London lawyers on behalf of all four members of the Papadimitriou family named in this court case have sent a lengthy letter, written one day after the Court's decision, to one of the Greek state's witnesses who testified on behalf of the government during their trial. The contents of this four-page letter, written to Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, might be interpreted as witness intimidation. 

The letter, written by attorney's representing the Papadimitriou family, including its sharply worded final sentence,  can be read in its entirety in the EAA blog of the Committee on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material.

Commentary regarding the allegations made in the text of this letter to Tsirogiannis can be found on the blog of antiquities trafficking researcher Dr. Samuel Hardy here.


By:  Lynda Albertson





May 2, 2018

Auction Alert - Sotheby’s New York - a bronze Greek figure of a horse

On May 01, 2018 ARCA was contacted by Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Sotheby's auction titled 'The Shape of the Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet' scheduled for 10:00 AM EST on May 14, 2018 in New York City. The antiquities researcher had also notified law enforcement authorities in New York and at INTERPOL. 

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist has drawn attention to and identified antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.  Tsirogiannis teaches as a lecturer on illicit trafficking with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

Image Credit: ARCA
Screenshot taken 02 May 2018
Dr. Tsirogiannis noted that Lot 4 of the sale, a bronze Greek figure of a horse, lists the object's collecting history as:
Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, May 6, 1967, lot 2
Robin Symes, London, very probably acquired at the above auction
Howard and Saretta Barnet, New York, acquired from the above on November 16, 1973 .

For its literature, the auction house mentions the following text: Zimmermann, Les chevaux de bronze dans l'art géométrique grec, Mainz and Geneva, 1989, p. 178.

Through my own explorations I found that Scholar Paul Cartledge, in The Classical Review 41 (1):173-175 (1991), stated:

"Like Archaic Greek bronze hoplite-figurines (CR 38 [1988], 342), Greek Geometric bronze horse-figurines are eminently marketable (and forgeable) artefacts for which private collectors, chiefly in New York, London, Geneva and Basel, are prepared to part with a great deal of hard currency. Their (al)lure is undeniable; I have myself trekked halfway across Europe in pursuit of their elusive charm."

As if to underscore their allure, both past and present, Tsirogiannis sent along three photos of the object on auction which he conclusively matched to photos found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive. 

Three, (3) photos from the Symes -Michaelides Archive
provided by Christos Tsirogiannis

Saretta Barnet died in March of 2017.  Her husband had passed away in 1992. Collecting for more than 4 decades, the couple's collection included everything from pen and brown ink landscapes by Fra Bartolommeo, works by Goya, François Boucher, Lucien Freud, tribal art and a noteworthy collection of antiquities.  

In a December 01, 2017 article in the Financial Times, discussing this upcoming sale, their son, Peter Barnet, indicated that “his late parents bought carefully and took their time to make decisions. For that reason, they preferred not to buy at auction but from dealers.”  Apparently though, not all of those purchases were carefully vetted. 

Screenshot:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bulletin 3269091
In 1999 the family of Howard J. Barnet donated a Black-Figure Kylix, ca. 550-525 B.C.E attributed to the Hunt Painter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That object according to an article by Dr. David Gill, was relinquished by the museum via a transfer in title in a negotiation completed with the Italian Ministry of Culture on February 21, 2006 and returned to Italy in one of the first repatriation agreements between Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

While the Barnet's may have been selective in the quality of the pieces they purchased for their collection, their relationships with dealers known to have dealt in plundered antiquities such as Symes, as well as collecting transactions with private collectors such as George Ortiz, who is also known to have purchased tainted objects, leaves one to question how carefully the Barnet's vetted the objects they acquired.

Given that the bronze Greek figure of a horse appears in photographs found in the Symes archive and the fact that at least one other object donated by the Barnet's was tied to illicit trafficking and was repatriated to its country of origin, this statue deserves a closer look.  With further research, the object and its past collecting history might lead to a link in the trafficking chain that has not yet been fully explored or considered. 

Take the provenance listed in this sales event for example.  If the object's listing of a sale at Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel in May 6, 1967 is not a fabrication, then exploring this sale in Switzerland, determining who the consignor was, might give us another name name in the looting/trafficking/laundering chain which could help us determine the country of origin and be worthwhile for law enforcement in Switzerland and New York to explore. 

At the very least, this upcoming auction notice seems to indicate that the auction house did not contact Greek or Italian source country authorities before accepting the object on consignment.  This despite the object's passage through the hands of a British antiquities dealer long-known to have been a key player in an international criminal network that traded in looted antiquities. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 11, 2018

Auction Alert - Christie's Auction House - an Etruscan 'Pontic' black-figured neck-amphora and a Roman bronze boar

ARCA has been informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified two potentially tainted antiquities, scheduled to be auctioned by Christie's auction house in New York on 18 April 2018.  The antiquities researcher had notified law enforcement authorities in late March.

On April 11th, 2018 one of these objects is now listed as withdrawn from the auction.

Lot 26, an Etruscan 'Pontic' black-figured neck-amphora attributed to the Paris Painter, Circa 530 BCE. was listed in the auction documentation, before its withdrawal with an estimated sale price of $30,000-50,000 USD.


The provenance published with this object is: 
"with Galerie Günter Puhze, Freiburg.
Acquired by the current owner from the above, 1993."

The second item, Lot 48, is a Roman Bronze Boar, Circa 1st-2nd Century CE., is currently still listed with an estimate sale price of $10,000-15,000 USD.


The provenance published with this object is: 
"with Mathias Komor, New York, 1974. Christos G. Bastis (1904-1999), New York. The Christos G. Bastis Collection; Sotheby’s, New York, 9 December 1999, lot 159."

Photo from the Gianfranco Becchina archive
Exhibited: 
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Antiquities from the Collection of Christos G. Bastis, 20 November 1987-10 January 1988."

Tsirogiannis matched the black-figured neck-amphora with two Polaroid images found pasted onto a 22 June 1993 document located within the confiscated archive of Sicilian antiquity dealer Gianfranco Becchina. The white piece of paper describes the scene depicted on the object, while the two photos pasted to the document show the same antiquity prior to its restoration.  In this image, the vase is still broken into many fragments and is seen with soil and salt encrustations.   The dealers handwritten notes on the page include numeric notations and refer to an individual named "Sandro."

Becchina's archive, an accumulation of business records, seized by Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002, consists of some 140 binders containing more than 13,000 documents related to antiquities, bought and sold, which at one point or another are known to have passed through Becchina's network of illicit suppliers.

As those who are familiar with Peter Watson's and Cecilia Todeschini's book, The Medici Conspiracy may recall, numerous handwritten notes and lists of antiquities, invoices, and etc., found in the Becchina archive refer to Sandro Cimicchi, an artifact restorer based in Basel, Switzerland.

This is interesting in that one of the supply chain elements in Becchina's enterprise frequently foresaw a first phase of restoration on the plundered artwork, then the subsequent creation of false attestations on the antiquity's origin, made possible also through the artificial attribution of ownership to associated companies.

Cimicchi's name also appears on a comprehensive hand-written organisational chart written by dealer/trafficker Pasquale Camera which was recovered by the Italian authorities in September 1995 during a Carabinieri raid.  This ‘organigram’ has been useful to Italian investigators and cultural researchers in piecing together members of this well known trafficking TOC group.  Starting from the bottom and working your way up, this document references everyone from tombaroli, to intermediaries, to restorers, to mid-level Italian dealers (Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici), and lastly, to wealthy international dealers Robert E. Hecht and Robin Symes.

Cimicchi name has consistently been connected with illicit antiquities dealers and had been noted to have been Gianfranco Becchina's usual restorer. 

Becchina was convicted in 2011 for his role in the illegal antiquities trade yet, this antiquity's passage, through or between Becchina and Cimicchi, has not been listed in the provenance details which were published by the Christie's auction house for its upcoming sale.

Tsirogiannis informed me that the second object, the Roman bronze boar, is depicted in two separate professional images in the business archive records of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides,  two other high-profile art dealers we have written about in detail. 


The Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives were presented publicly by the Italian judicial and police authorities during the trials of Giacomo Medici, Gianfranco Becchina, Robert Hecht, and dozens of Italian tombaroli in Rome from 2000-2011. Like the Becchina archive, this Greek file features a stash of images seized during a raid on the Greek island of Schinousa, that once formed the stock of Robin Symes and Christo Michaelides.

Unfortunately, neither Symes nor Michaelides appear in the provenance documentation published by Christie's for the upcoming sale on the Roman bronze boar.

With regularity, objects such as these, connected to tainted antiquities dealers, known to have profited from the trafficking of illicit antiquities, appear on the licit market.  Since 2006 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist, affiliated researcher and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has, with some regularity, identified antiquities of suspect origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses, liking passages in their collection histories to Giacomo Medici, Fritz Bürki, Gianfranco Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides. 

As part of a rigorous due diligence process, auction houses are encouraged to check with the Italian or Greek authorities to ensure that the antiquities going up for auction are clean, so as not to pass tainted objects on to new owners.  Yet dealers in the art market sometimes forgo this due diligence step, as talking with the  law enforcement authorities, means they would likely be required to provide the name of the consignor, should the archive control, come up with a matching incriminating photo.  

As this poses problems of confidentiality for dealers, this step, is too frequently omitted, leaving the only way for matches to be made being when pieces like this  ancient vase, or bronze boar, or marble statue, or Roman glass bottle, eventually comes up for sale during a public auction. Given that TEFAF's newly released report states that there are more than 28,000 auction houses trading world-wide, the task of monitoring them all becomes gargantuan. 

In UNESCO's recent “Engaging the European Art Market in the Fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property”  I suggested to personnel of the art market on hand for the meeting that the legal conundrum of client confidentiality could be circumvented by auction houses and dealers implementing a policy whereby the consignor themselves contacts the Italian and Greek authorities for a check of the the Medici, Bürki, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives before the auction house agrees to list these topologies of antiquities up for auction when the provenance the client has is short on clarity. This would eliminate the auction house's liability for disclosing a confidential client. 

While it might slow down the proposed sales cycle, or be an uncomfortable proactive step for good faith purchases who may have unfortunately purchased a suspect antiquity in good faith in the past, it would be the market's ethical step towards not furthering the laundering by selective omission and it would begin to help collectors understand that their purchases and eventual sales now need to be ethical ones given the onus for ethical behavior being placed on them. 

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as these seen in these two identifications, will encourage auction houses or collectors themselves to adhere to more accurate and stringent reporting requirements when listing their object's collection histories.  It is only in this way that new buyers do not continue to launder objects with their future purchases, further prolonging the damages caused by the the illicit antiquities trade.