Showing posts with label Royal Athena Galleries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Royal Athena Galleries. Show all posts

June 24, 2020

Another looted conflict antiquity from the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon, Lebanon seized. This time at Royal Athena Galleries in New York

Left Image provided by the NYDA's Office and HSI-ICE
Right Image from Royal-Athena Galleries catalog
When speaking of the effects of conflict antiquities, the market's most vocal proponents, the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) and the Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Œuvres d’Art (CINOA) often reflect on the limited number of objects seen in market circulation derived from the recent Middle East conflicts.  Members in positions of power are invited to speak at UNESCO, stand at podiums at trade events, and write articles lamenting that collectors and the trade in an age-old tradition, are under attack by heavy-handed regulators.

They never seem to quite get around to discussing in detail any of the illicit artefacts that  HAVE made it into the ancient art market, sometimes not identified for decades, and long after their respective civil wars are resolved.  They also don't monetize their own profits from this slow trickle of conflict antiquities, which transfuse the ancient art market with financial blood, years after the human bodies that once fought around them stop bleeding.

The dealer associations don't like to talk about the painful scars of plunder from earlier wars, like the museum-quality Khmer-era statues that came to market following the civil disturbances in Cambodia.  Some of the finest examples of Cambodian art produced during the Angkorian period (circa 800-1400 CE) were extracted from that country and readily snapped up by art institutions and private collectors, despite the fact that they were pillaged and illegally exported.

Looted from Cambodia’s ancient temples, during the Cambodian civil war, which raged from 1970 to 1998, conflict antiquities from that non-middle east war did not begin to flow back to their country of origin until 2014.  Likewise, antiquities dealers known to be involved in the trade, like Nancy Wiener and Douglas Latchford, a/k/a “Pakpong Kriangsak”, weren't charged until 2016 and 2019 respectively, almost twenty years after the war concluded.

In the US charging document for Latchford, correspondence evidence by the collector-dealer brazenly admits to his informed role.  Speaking by email to a colluding market colleague, discussing a recently plundered bronze head, Latchford writes:

“was recently found around the site of the Angkor Borei group in the N E of Cambodia, in the Preah Vihar area. They are looking for the body, no luck so far, all they have found last week were two land mines !! What price would you be interested in buying it at? let me know as I will have to bargain for it.”

Latchford also sent this same dealer another email that included a photograph of a standing Buddha still covered in dirt.  In this email he exclaimed:

“Hold on to your hat, just been offered this 56 cm Angkor Borei Buddha, just excavated, which looks fantastic. It’s still across the border, but WOW.”

Interestingly, source-country export licenses never accompanied any of these pieces, known to be in movement after the invention of email, and long after Cambodia's laws for the protection of their culture were implemented. 

The dealer groups also never seem to mention that OTHER civil war in the Middle East. You know, the multifaceted civil war in Lebanon, Al-Ḥarb al-Ahliyyah al-Libnāniyyah, which lasted from 1975 to 1990 that was also responsible for 120,000 deaths and created one million refugees.

The Lebanese civil war was one of the most devastating conflicts of the late 20th century.  During that war, and from the Temple of Eshmun alone, excavated in 1967 under the oversight of French archaeologist Maurice Dunand, numerous artefacts were stolen in 1981 when a storage depot the Jubayl/Byblos Citadel fell to armed members of al-Katd'ib (the Phalangist Party).  Of those only twelve have been painstakingly identified and restituted back to Lebanon from various collectors and dealers.

Those artifacts included:

 one male head and three male torsos identified in a 1991 catalogue for Numismatic & Ancient Art Gallery, managed by Azzedine El-Aaji and  Burton Yost Berry in Zurich; 

 one male torso and one sarcophagus fragment offered for sale by Sotheby's London in its 8 December 1994 auction; 

 a marble male torso located with the Dorotheum Auction House in Vienna in 2000; 

 a marble male head identified by Jean-David Cahn in Basel and self reported for return in 2006; 

 a marble male torso identified with Galerie Gunter Puhze in Freiberg, Germany in 2017; 

 a marble bull's head, a torso of an athlete, and a torso of a calf bearer identified with purchases by collectors, George Lufti, Michael Steinhardt, and Lynda and William Beierwaltes in 2017. 

That was all, until this year. 

Last week marked the latest action in an effort by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., to seize looted antiquities discovered in New York City in order to return them to their countries of origin.

One of those seizures turns out to be an ancient object, once described as a 130 CE Roman Marble Life-Size Portrait Head of an Athlete, also previously excavated at the Temple of Eshmun in Sidon and also stolen in 1981. 


This marble head was seized at Royal-Athena Galleries, a New York City-based gallery that is operated by Jerome Eisenberg.  According to authorities, once Royal Athena became aware of the evidence, they completely cooperated with the Manhattan DA’s Office and consented to the head’s return to Lebanon.

In Royal-Athena Galleries - Art of the Ancient World, Volume XXVIII - 2017, featuring 176 Greek, Etruscan, Roman, Byzantine, Egyptian, & Near Eastern antiquities, Eisenberg had described the seized artefact as follows:

Roman Marble Life-Size Portrait Head of an Athlete, possibly a pankratist. His closely cropped beard and thin moustache are suggestive of the styles favored by the athletes of the period. Sensitively carved of marble from the area near Saliari on the Greek island of Thasos, his strong countenance has alert deepset eyes and a  determined expression upon his parted lips.  Ca. 130 AD H 10 in. (26.7 cm) Ex French collection; W.H. collection, Westport, Connecticut, acquired from Royal-Athena Galleries in 1988.  Published J. Eisenberg, Art of the Ancient World, vol XVI, 2005, no 12.  

Even if scientific analysis of the statue-grade block of marble used for this magnificent sculpture were to reveal that the slab came from the Saliari marble quarries on Thasos, the movement of raw materials between the Phoenicians of Lebanon and the Greeks was common in antiquity.  But while the stone used for this sculpture could confuse dealers and collectors to the country of origin, its accompanying paperwork should not have.

Who were the owners Eisenberg codified as the "Ex-French collection" and "W.H. collection, Westport, Connecticut" and what export documentation was provided, if any, to justify this sculpture's legitimacy in the ancient art market?  These finer case details have not yet been made public by the New York authorities, and like the previous twelve recovered antiquities from the Temple of Eshmun, may further clarify which other ancient art dealers handled objects stolen during the Lebanese civil war,  and with whom or where they purchased them.

This new seizure in New York illustrates the difficulty faced by source countries in identifying historic conflict antiquities simply by trolling through every catalog, for every auction ever created, by any dealer, in any language in any country around the world; especially when the material used to create the artefact traveled, and might intentionally or unintentionally result in the object being mislabeled as coming from another country altogether.

In closing, I would like to underscore something as it relates to the difficulty in identifying conflict antiquities, and the seemingly impossible task faced by scholars, law enforcement, and source country ministries in bridging the gap between locating their plundered artefacts after the fact, years after these antiquities have infiltrated the ancient art market. I would also like to comment on how determining all the culpable hands these objects have passed through on their way to fine gallery showrooms in New York and other cities is a slow and tedious process which is not always a straight line to a restitution victory.

As this single incidence of plunder illustrates, the Lebanese Republic could not have reported this 1981 civil war-era theft to the Art Loss Register because the ALR had not yet been founded.  Even in 1991, after the ALR came into existence and began the never-ending task of archiving stolen objects around the globe, the archival photos for this theft, useful in cross-matching the stolen Temple of Eshmun objects, were only in the hands of a single foreign scholar, and not the Lebanese authorities.  This left the Ministry of Culture in Lebanon at a marked disadvantage for being able to prove irrefutably what objects in circulation absolutely belonged to them, and were in fact stolen from the Byblos Citadel antiquities depot during their civil war.

It wasn't until Professor Rolf Stucky, the former Head of the Department of Classical Archaeology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, and a colleague of archaeologist Maurice Dunand, published two books in 2005 that the Lebanese authorities got a much-needed lead which helped in the recovering of their antiquities.  Stucky's books contained critical photos that he had taken while working in Lebanon between 1973 and 1974 which matched with written excavation records for objects known to have been excavated at the Temple of Eshmun.  With these photos, the Lebanese authorities could start to sort out which artifacts had been stolen from the Byblos Citadel antiquities depot and already recovered and which objects were now known to still be missing.

Even with identifiable photos as to what belonged to whom, there are simply not enough eyes monitoring the ancient art market and too many mediums by which antiquities are sold, often misidentified, for source countries to recover all of their losses before the statute of limitations in various market countries makes investigations futile. In 2017, in seeking the seizure of the Temple of Ishmun Bull's head, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos spoke to the cases he had worked on stating that his efforts had resulted in "multiple convictions, the seizures of thousands of antiquities totaling more than $150 million, and the repatriation of recovered antiquities to half-a-dozen countries".  And that's just the illicit antiquities in circulation that one State authority, with a dedicated prosecutor and a trained group of researchers, has managed to successfully detect.

What about the countries and cities where we don't have enough provenance eyes or a vigilant public prosecutor?  

So when the market responds that they satisfactorily self-monitor, or that the problem is with only a few bad eggs, or that the sector doesn't see a wide-spread problem with blood antiquities circulating which requires legislative oversight...

I beg to differ. 

By:  Lynda Albertson


May 25, 2019

The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage wants the Getty Museum to verify the origins of four more works of art which they have identified as being stolen or exported from Italy without an export license.

On Monday, December 3, 2018 Italy’s Court of Cassation rejected the J. Paul Getty Museum's appeal against the lower court ruling in Pesaro, issued by Magistrate Giacomo Gasparini.  That earlier ruling, issued on June 08, 2018, was in favour of the prosecution’s request for seizure of the bronze statue, commonly known as the Statue of a Victorious Youth or colloquially as the Getty Bronze, il Lisippo or l'Atleta di Fano.  

This week, on May 22, 2019 the Comitato per il recupero e la restituzione dei beni culturali, the Italian Committee for the Recovery and Return of Cultural Assets, chaired by the Minister Alberto Bonisoli, met at the Collegio Romano and requested a meeting, as soon as possible, with the administration of the J. Paul Getty museum for a discussion on the return of the bronze statue to Italy, as sanctioned by a sentence of the Italian Court of Cassation as well as to discuss the status of an additional four works of art which the Italian authorities have identified as being stolen or exported from the territory of Italy without an export license.

Those four objects are:

An 1880 oil on canvas painting by Italian artist Camillo Miola known as the Oracle.


Miola was a scholar of classical antiquity and as a result almost all of his paintings represent subjects of Greek or Roman history known for his art criticism as much as his painting, writing under the pseudonym of Biacca. Miola was also an honorary professor of the Academy of Fine Arts of Naples. The artwork in question, depicts the Pythia sitting upon the sacred tripod in representation of the Delphic oracle. To the left is the Omphalos of Delphi, an ancient marble monument found at the archaeological site of Delphi which the ancient Greeks believed marked the city as the navel of the world.

The Oracle of Delphi was exhibited at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts: Turin in 1880 and later purchased by the Province of Naples in 1879.  In 1943, due to persistent bombing in the area of Naples during World War II, the Provincial Administration of Naples issued orders to remove works of art it owned from the city offices and to have 186 paintings sequestered at the Istituto San Lorenzo in Aversa, just north of Naples in a zone heavily contested by opposing military forces. Shortly after this mandate, sometime between 1943 and 1946 the artwork was documented as stolen.

Two 1st Century BCE - 1 Century CE Roman-era funerary lions

Photo Credit: Bottom - Instituto Germanico - Roma
Top Left & Top Right- Roman Funerary Sculpture Catalogue of the Collections by Guntram Koch, 1988
According to the Bulletin of the J. Paul Getty Museum of Art (Malibu: 1959), pp. 20 and 22, these pieces represent grave lions executed in the second century CE in Asia Minor.  The provenance listed from the museum's website indicates that they were acquired from Nicolas Koutoulakis for $9,000 in 1958.

Photographic evidence from February 5, 1912, recorded in the archive of the Germanic Archaeological Institute of Rome, documents that these two lions once stood in front of Palazzo Spaventa di Casale di Scoppito in a small village six kilometers from L'Aquila, which was once part of the ancient Sabine city of Amiternum.

The now dead collector/dealer Koutoulakis is a name already mentioned in this blog as someone who raises suspicions to those who research antiquities trafficking as his name is well documented in connection with the purchase and sale of other works of ancient art which have been determined to have illicit origins.   In an alternate spelling, as Nicholas Goutoulakis, this individual was implicated on the handwritten organigram seized by the Italian Carabinieri in September 1995.  This document outlines key players in the illicit antiquities trade in Italy during the 1990s.

The Italian authorities contend these objects were exported from Italy without permission.

A Roman floor mosaic depicting the head of Medusa, 115 CE - 150 CE


Getty records show that this mosaic floor was purchased from Jerome Eisenberg via Royal-Athena Galleries) for $15,000 in 1978, though the Italians state now identifies it as stolen from Italy.  Royal Athena Galleries has also previously acquired stolen antiquities, both from the Corinth Museum in Greece and antiquities stolen from Italian excavation warehouses.  These details and the fact that these earlier identified objects were later repatriated to Greece and Italy should have triggered some sort of increased diligence as to this mosaic's journey from discovery to the dealer's showroom.

Replying to an email inquiry on these objects initiated by Jason Felch, Lisa Lapin, Vice President of Communications for the J. Paul Getty Trust responded as follows:

"I understand you are inquiring about the latest activity related to the Getty bronze. Italy has asked for information and discussions about four objects acquired by J. Paul Getty in the 1950s and early 1970s.  We are thoroughly researching these objects and will discuss our findings in good faith with the Culture Ministry.  As always, we take these claims seriously.  As we have in the past, if any of these objects were stolen or illegally excavated, they will be returned to Italy.  

The Getty has deep, strong ties with individuals and institutions throughout Italy that have produced many mutual benefits, and the Getty is determined not to allow a difference of opinion about ownership of the Bronze impede our warm and productive relationships. 

In accordance with our 2007 agreement with the Culture Ministry, and consistent with our fiduciary obligations as stewards of the Getty collections, we are defending our ownership of the Bronze through the legal process, which is still ongoing.  We will take all available steps to assert our legal right to the statue, including potentially through the European Court of Human Rights. 

Regards, 
Lisa"

The J. Paul Getty Museum has six months from the date of the final decision at the domestic level (generally speaking, the judgment of the highest court) to lodge its application regarding the Getty Bronze with the European Court of Human Rights should it decide to do so. After that period their application cannot be accepted by the Court.  To file they will have to allege that the court authority of Italy, which is bound by the Convention, in their opinion, has/have, through one or more acts or omissions directly affecting them, violated specific articles related to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Given that the Italian Court of Cassation issued its ruling on December 3, 2018, the museum would need to file its application on or by June 3, 2019.   In 2018 the ECHR ruled inadmissible or struck out 2256 applications involving Italy. It ruled on 27 applications alleging violations by Article/by State.

By:  Lynda Albertson
 




December 13, 2016

Gorny & Mosch Withdraws Suspect Antiquities from Auction

Gorny & Mosch has withdrawn the four suspect antiquities identified by Greek forensic archaeologist and ARCA lecturer Christos Tsirogiannis on November 30, 2016. The objects, pictured below, had each been set for auction on tomorrow, December 14, 2016 via the auctioneer's office in Munich (München).


The objects had been traced to the confiscated Robin Symes and Gianfranco Becchina archives, antiquities dealers long accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe.

The withdrawal comes After the information on the identifications was forwarded via INTERPOL to the Bundeskriminalamt (BKA), Germany's federal criminal police, which in turn, forwarded the information on to the Bavarian prosecution office for further analysis. 

For details on Dr. Tsirogiannis' assessment of this objects' looted past, please see ARCA's earlier report in English here or in German here

December 11, 2016

Auction Alert: Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktion, München, Deutschland

ARCA kindly thanks archaeologist and academic translator Folkert Tiarks of Toptransarchaeo for his assistance in translating this blog report from English into German for ARCA's German-speaking readership.

Am 29. November 2016 wurde ARCA durch Christos Tsirogiannis darüber informiert dass er vier antike, potentiell illegale Objekte identifiziert habe, die  am 14. Dezember 2016 bei Gorny & Mosch in München versteigert werden sollen.  Jedes dieser vier Objekte  lässt sich auf Fotos aus den beschlagnahmten Archiven von Gianfranco  Becchina und Robin Symes nachweisen.

Los 19 Etruskische Bronzestatue eines Jünglings, Mitte 5. Jahrhundert vor Christus

Abbildung 1 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 19 

Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben:  
"Ex Sammlung R.G., Deutschland. Bei Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010, 43. Ex Sotheby´s Catalogue of Antiquities 13. Juli 1981, 341."

Jerome Eisenberg, Herausgeber der Zeitschrift Minerva und Eigentümer der Royal Athena Galleries in New York City, ist ein Name, der in der Vergangenheit als Käufer oder Verkäufer von Antiken umstrittener Herkunft  zur Sprache gekommen ist. Für weitere Informationen zu einigen der  in letzter Zeit von der Gallery erworbenen Objekte klicken sie bitte hierhier, hier und hier


Abbildung 2 - Symes Archiv Foto
Kürzlich erkannte Tsirogiannis Los 19 (Bild 1) im Symes Archiv (Bild 2), während dieses Loss noch  im Oktober 2010, zusammen mit einigen anderen Antiken, deren Bilder in den Archiven von Medici und Becchina auftauchten  von der Royal Athena Galleries angeboten wurde. Im Januar 2011 wurden diese Identifizierungen von Professor David Gill in seinem Blog "Looting Matters" vorgestellt und in der italienischen Presse durch den auf Kunst und Korruption spezialisierten Journalisten Fabio Isman im "Giornalle dell’arte" publik gemacht. Zusammen mit jeder dieser Bekanntmachungen wurde ein aus dem Symes Archiv stammendes Foto der etruskischen Bronzefigur veröffentlicht.

Die Tatsache, dass dieses Objekt jetzt, fünf Jahre nach der ersten Identifizierung, wieder zum Verkauf angeboten wird, bedeutet entweder dass die italienischen Behörden bei diesem einzelnen Objekt nicht tätig wurden oder dass der damalige Besitzer der Antike ausreichende Beweise vorlegen konnte die eine Einstufung als illegal gehandelte Antike verhinderten. Diese Information (sofern es sie gibt) wurde durch das Auktionshaus nicht in die Sammlungs-geschichte aufgenommen.

Los 87 Eine apulische rotfigurige Situla des Lykurgos-Malers. 360-350 v. Chr.

Abbildung 3 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 87

Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben: 

"Aus der James Stirt Collection, Vevey in der Schweiz, erworben 1997 bei Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich."

Abbildung 4 Gegenteil von Los 87 (links)
 Becchina Archivfoto einer Situla (rechts)
Das von Tsirogiannis zur Verfügung gestellte Foto aus dem Archiv Symes zeigt die Vase mit schweren Ablagerungen von Erde und Salz. Aus einer dem Archivfoto beigefügten hand-schriftlichen Notiz geht hervor, dass die Bilder am 18. März 1988 von Raffaele Montichelli an Gianfranco Becchina geschickt wurden.

Montichelli ist ein verurteilter Antikenhändler aus Tarent der über viele Jahre eine Partnerschaft mit Gianfranco Becchina unterhielt. Als Montichellis seriöser Beruf wird Grundschullehrer im Ruhestand erwähnt, dennoch scheint er aus den unrechtmäßigen Einnahmen mit illegal gehandelter Kunst genug l Geld verdient zu haben, dass er in einigen von Italiens exklusiveren Gegenden von Florenz und Rom lukrative Immobilien kaufen konnte. Diese wurden später durch die italienischen Behörden beschlagnahmt.

Es ist bemerkenswert, dass in der Sammlungsgeschichte dieses Lots der Abschnitt über Becchina vor der im Verkaufskatalog von Gorny & Mosch erwähnten Herkunft aus einem Auktionshaus datiert. Hat Vollmöller, als sie das Objekt in Kommission nahm, die Kaufgeschichte, von wem die Situla erworben wurde, weggelassen oder haben Gorny & Mosch sie absichtlich ausgelassen?

Lot 88 An Apulian red-figure bell-krater of the Dechter Painter. 350 - 340 B.C.E. 

Abbildung 4 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 88
Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben: 

Ex Galerie Palladion, Basel; ex Privatsammlung von Frau Borowzova, Binnigen in der Schweiz, erworben 1976 von Elie Borowski, Basel.

Abbildung 6 - Becchina Archiv foto
dieses Kraters
Palladion Antike Kunst (man beachte den leicht korrigierten Namen der Galerie) wurde von Gianfranco Becchina aus Basel, Schweiz, geleitet obwohl als offizielle Besitzerin der Schweizer Galerie Ursula “Rosie“ Juraschek, Becchinas Ehefrau geführt wurde.

Tsirogiannis stellte ein aus dem Becchina Archiv stammendes, auf den 4. April 1989 datiertes Foto dieses Kraters (Abb.6 ) zur Verfügung. Wieder sehen wir ein mit Erd-und Salzablagerungen bedecktes Objekt mit einigen Fehlstellen. Man beachte dass die Datierung des  unrestaurierten Objektes in das Jahr 1989 nicht mit dem Datum übereinstimmt, an dem das Objekt in die Sammlung Elie Borowski aufgenommen wurde.

Elie Borowski, dessen umfangreiche Sammlung von Gegenstanden aus dem Mittleren Osten später den Großteil des Bible Land Museums bildete, starb im Jahr 2003. Vertraut mit den Schattenseiten des Antikenhandels, teilte die ehemalige Kurator der Antiken-Abteilung des Getty Museums, Marion True, den italienischen Behörden mit, dass auch Borowski, ein in Basel/Schweiz, ansässiger Antiken-händler, ein Kunde Gianfranco Becchinas sei.

Interessanterweise unternahm Borowski eine diskrete Reise nach Gubbio um sich dort die erst kurz zuvor aus dem Meer geborgene Bronze anzusehen, bevor diese ihren endgültigen Weg nach Malibu antrat. Aber Borowskis Eintauchen in eine mögliche Betrügerei war hier noch nicht zu Ende. Sein Name erscheint in einem inzwischen zu Berühmtheit gelangtem Organigramm von Händlern, einem handgeschriebenen Schaubild des illegalen Handels, das von den italienischen Behörden im wohnung von Danilo Zicchi beschlagnahmt wurde. Sein Name wurde auch in Verbindung gebracht mit Raubantiken aus der Türkei.

Los 127 Gedrungenes Alabastron der Gnathia-Ware mit dem Bildnis einer geflügelten Frau mit Sakkos. Dem Maler der weißen Hauben zugeschrieben. Apulien, 320-310 v. Chr.


Abbildung 7 - Gorny & Mosch 14. Dezember 2016 Auktions-Los 127 
Die Sammlungsgeschichte wird wie folgt angegeben:

Ex Christie´s London, 15.04.2015, ex 113; aus der Privatsammlung von Hans Humbel, Schweiz, erworben bei der Galerie Arete, Zürich in den frühen 1990er Jahren.

Abbildung 8 - Becchina Archiv foto
dieses alabastron
Zusammen mit anderen  im Hintergrund sichtbaren Antiken, ist dieses Objekt auch auf einem von Tsirogiannis zur Verfügung gestellten Foto aus dem Becchina Archiv zu sehen. Das Foto datiert vom 24. September 1988 und wurde ebenfalls vom verurteilten Händler Raffaele Montichelli an Gianfranco Becchina geschickt.

Wie bei den vorausgegangenen Losen, datiert das Datum auf dem Foto vor die von Gorny & Mosch angegebene Sammlungsgeschichte. Dies lässt mich vermuten, dass die Sammlungsgeschichten aller vier Objekte in Details nur sehr spärlich angegeben wurden.

Wie Los 19 dieser Identifizierung, ist dieses das zweite Mal, dass dieses bestimmte Objekt vor einer bevorstehenden Auktion identifiziert wurde.

Aber die Spur wird noch interessanter.

Am 11. April 2015 veröffentlichte ARCA Tsirogiannis originale Identifizierung des Alabastrons mit folgender, von Christies zur Verfügung gestellter Provenien-zangabe.

"Durch den gegenwärtigen Eigentümer im Jahr 1998 vom Petit Musee, Montreal, erworben".

Das Objekt war ein Teil des aus zwei Vasen bestehenden Loses 113, das am 15. April 2016 in der Antiken-Auktion von Christie’s in London versteigert wurde. Ein von ARCA aufgenommener screenshot (Bild 9) der bei der urprünglichen Identifizierung vom April 2015 verwendet wurde, wird unten nochmals abgebildet.

Abbildung 9 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 11. April 2015 
Am 15. April 2015 wurde das Alabastron mit folgender Bekanntmachung im Auktionssaal von der Auktion zurückgezogen: "Das Los wurde zurückgezogen".

Wenn man heute Christie‘ s URL anklickt, die immer noch mit der letztjährigen Auktion verlinkt,  sieht man, dass das Foto gelöscht und durch ein anderes (Bild 10) ersetzt wurde, das nur die birnenförmige Flasche aus  Los 113 zeigt.

Abbildung 10 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 30. November 2016

Darüber hinaus wurde die Bekanntmachung der Rücknahme durch diese ersetzt (Abb. 11).

Abbildung 11 - Screenshot der Website von Christie 30. November 2016
Seltsamerweise führen Gorny & Mosch als Provenienz "Ex Christie’s London, 15.April 2015".

Hat Christie’s den Verkauf im April 2015 durchgesetzt anstatt ihn zurückzunehmen? Oderhaben Gorny & Mosch die unbeendete Auktion aufgeführt um ihrer eigenen Auflistung mehr Glaubwürdigkeit zu verleihen, jetzt, da sich der Besitzer des Stückes sich entschlossen hat, das Stück in Deutschland zu…Wer hat aus welchem Grund das Bild des Alabastrons gegen das der birnenförmigen Flasche ausgetauscht?

Und was ist mit Christie’s früherer Provenienzangabe, die das „Petit Musee, Motreal“ nannte, von dem der jetzige Besitzer das Stück im Jahr 1988 erwarb?  War diese Sammlungsgeschichte eine Fiktion, die später unbequem für den Besitzer und das aktuelle Auktionshaus wurde?

ARCA hofft, dass durch die kontinuierliche Bekanntgabe der Häufigkeit mit der illegale Antiken die Unregelmäßigkeiten in ihrer Provenienz  aufweisen wie dies bei  diesen Identifizierungen der Fall ist,  auf den legalen Kunstmarkt gelangen, Auktionshäuser und Sammler gezwungen werden ,die genauen und strengen Anforderungen bei der Angabe der Sammlungsgeschichte ihrer Objekt  einzuhalten, so dass neue Käufer nicht weiter Objekte waschen, um den Handel mit illegalen Antiken zu unterstützen.

Abschließend sei gesagt, dass sich Tsirogiannis, ein in Cambridge ansässiger forensischer Archäologe und Dozent beim Aufbaustudiengang der ARCA "Kriminalität gegen die Kunst und Kulturgüter-schutz", seit 2007 darum bemüht, Antiken illegaler Herkunft zu identifizieren, die sich in denjenigen Museen, Sammlungen, Galerien und Auktionshäusern befinden, die durch die beschlagnahmten Archive von Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes, Christos Michaelides und Gianfranco Becchina zurückverfolgt werden können.

Tsirogiannis hat Interpol über seine Identifizierungen informiert verbunden mit der Bitte, sowohl die italienschen als auch die deutschen Behörden ebenfalls formell darüber zu informieren. Hoffen wir, dass Gorny & Mosch das Objekt zurückziehen und künftig ihrer Sorgfaltspflicht bei der Prüfung der Einlieferer von Objekten besser nachkommen.

Von Lynda Albertson

November 30, 2016

Auction Alert II: Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction, Munich

On November 29, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified four potentially-tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Gorny & Mosch in Munich, Germany on December 14, 2016.  Each of the four ancient objects are traceable to photos in the confiscated Gianfranco Becchina and Robin Symes archives.

The antiquities identified by Tsirogiannis are:

Lot 19 An Etruscan bronze figure of a youth. Mid 5th century B.C.E.

Image 1 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 19 

The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
"Ex collection RG, Germany. At Royal Athena Galleries, New York, Catalogue XXI, 2010 43. Ex Sotheby Catalogue of Antiquities 13 July 1981 341."

Jerome Eisenberg, editor of the Minerva journal and proprietor of Royal Athena Galleries in New York City is a name that has come up in the past as the purchasor or seller of antiquities with contriversial backgrounds.  Please see the following links for more information on a few of the gallery's previous aquisitions herehere, here and here


Image 2 - Symes Archive Photo
Tsirogiannis previously identified Lot 19 (Image 1) in the Symes archive (Image 2), while on offer through the Royal Athena Galleries in October 2010 along with several other antiquities whose images appeared in the Medici and the Becchina archives.  In January 2011 these identifications were presented by Professor David Gill through his 'Looting Matters' blog and publicized in the Italian press by art and curruption journalist Fabio Isman through the art publication Il Giornale dell'Arte. Each notification published a copy of the Syme's archive photo of the Etruscan figurine.

The fact that this bronze figure reappears for sale now, five years after the first identification, may mean that the Italian authorities chose not to act on this particular object or that the holder of the antiquity at that time, was able to produce sufficient evidence to eliminate it as a potentially trafficked antiquity. That information (if it exists) was not made part of the auction house collection history. 

Lot 87 An Apulian red-figure situla of the Lycurgus Painter. 360 - 350 B.C.E.

Image 3 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 87

The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
"From James Stirt Collection, Vevey, Switzerland, acquired in 1997 Heidi Vollmöller, Zürich"

Image 4 - Reverse side of Lot 87 (left)
Becchina Archive photo of a Situla (right)
The photo provided by Tsirogiannis from the Becchina archive (Image 4) shows the vase badly encrusted with soil and salt deposits). A handwritten note included with the archive photograph indicates that the images were sent from Raffaele Montichelli to Gianfranco Becchina on 18 March 1988.

Montichelli is a convicted antiquities trafficker from Taranto who had a long-standing relationship with Gianfranco Becchina.  Montichelli's legitimate occupation was listed as a retired elementary school teacher, yet it seems he made enough money from the illicit proceeds of trafficked art, to purchase lucritive property (later seized by the Italian authorities) in some of Italy's more exclusive areas of Florence and Rome.

It is interesting to note that the passage via Becchina in this lot's collection history, pre-dates the auction house provenance written in the sale catalog by Gorny & Mosch.  Did Vollmöller leave out the purchasing history of who the situla was purchased from when placing the object on consignment or did Gorny & Mosch omit it intentionally?

Lot 88 An Apulian red-figure bell-krater of the Dechter Painter. 350 - 340 B.C.E. 

Image 5 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 88
The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
Ex Gallery Palladion, Basel; . ex private collection of Mrs. Borowzova, Binnigen in Switzerland, acquired in 1976 by Elie Borowski, Basel

Image 6 - Becchina Archive photo
of a Bell Crater 
Palladion Antike Kunst (notice the slightly corrected name of the gallery) was managed by Gianfranco Becchina in Basel, Switzerland though the Swiss gallery was officially listed as belonging to Ursula ''Rosie'' Juraschek, Becchina's wife.

Tsirogiannis provided a photo of this krater (Image 6) from the Becchina archive which was dated APR 4 '89' (4/4/1989).  Again we see a "raw" object covered with soil and salt encrustations and missing various fragments. Note that the 1989 date on the unrestored object photo doesn't match up to the date of the object's inclusion in the Elie Borowski collection.

Elie Borowski, whose vast collection of Mideast artifacts later formed bulk of Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, died in 2003. No stranger to the antiquities underbelly, former Getty antiquities curator Marion True told Italian authorities that Borowski, a Basel, Switzerland, antiquities dealer was also a client of Gianfranco Becchina.

Interestingly, Borowski once made a discreet trip to Gubbio to view the recently-fished Getty Bronze before it made its eventual way to Malibu, but Borowski's dip into possible skulduggery didn't stop there.  His name appears in the now famous trafficker's organigram, the handwritten organization chart of the illicit trade seized by Italian authorities from the apartment of Danilo Zicchi.  His name has also been linked to possibly looted antiquities from Turkey as well.

Lot 127 A squat alabastron of the Gnathia-ware with the bust of a winged woman with sakkos. Said to be from the White Sakkos Painter. Apulia, 320 - 310 B.C.E.


Image 7 - Gorny & Mosch December 14, 2016 Auction Lot 127
The collecting history listed with this item is stated as: 
Ex Christie's London, 15/04/2015, ex 113; from the private collection of Hans Humbel, Switzerland, acquired at the Galerie Arete, Zurich in the early 1990s.

Image 8 - Becchina archive alabastron
This alabastron is also depicted in a Becchina archive photo supplied by Tsirogiannis (Image 8), alongside other antiquities in the background.  The photo's image is dated 24/9/1988 and was again sent to Gianfranco Becchina from convicted trafficker Raffaele Montichelli.

As with the previous lots, the date on the image pre-dates the collecting history listed by Gorny & Mosch leading me to hypothesize that the collection histories of all four objects have been intentionally spartan on details.

Like Lot 19 in these identifications, this is the second time Tsirogiannis has identified this particular antiquity in an upcoming auction.

But here the trail gets more interesting. 

On April 11, 2015 ARCA published Tsirogianni's original identification of the alabastron with the following provenance provided by Christies.

"Provenance with Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998."

The object was one of two vases comprising Lot 113, in Christie's April 15, 2016 antiquities auction in London and a screenshot (Image 9) taken by ARCA and used in the original April 11, 2015 identification post is reposted below.

Image 9 - Christie's website screenshot April 11, 2015
On April 15, 2015 the alabastron was withdrawn from the auction with a Saleroom Notice that read: "This Lot is withdrawn"

Clicking on the Christie's URL today, which still links to last year's sale, shows that the alabastron photo has been deleted and replaced with an alternative one (Image 10), that shows only Lot 113's piriform bottle.

Image 10 - Christie's website screenshot
November 30, 2016

Additionally, the "withdrawn" notice has been replaced with this one (Image 11)

Image 11 - Christie's website screenshot
November 30, 2016
Strangely, the Gorny & Mosch provenance lists "Ex Christie's London, 15/04/2015".

Did Christie's follow through with the April 2015 sale instead of withdrawing it?Or has Gorny & Mosch listed the unfulfilled auction to add credibility to its own listing now that the owner of the piece has decided to shop the antiquity in Germany.   Who changed out the image of the alabastron for the piriform bottle and for what motive?

And what about the object's prior Christie's provenance which listed "the Petit Musée, Montreal, from whom acquired by the present owner in 1998"?  Was that collecting history a work of fiction that later became inconvenient for the owner and current auction house?

ARCA hopes that by continuing to publicize the frequency illicit antiquities penetrate the legitimate art market, with provenance irregularities such as those seen in these identifications, will force auction houses and collectors to adhere to accurate and stringent reporting requirements on their object collection histories so that new buyers do not continually launder objects in support the illicit antiquities trade.

In closing,  since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist and summer lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has sought to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.

Tsirogiannis has notified INTERPOL of his identifications asking them to formally notify both the German and the Italian authorities.  Let's hope Gorny & Mosch withdraw the object and conduct a more thorough due diligence with the object's consignor/s.

By Lynda Albertson