Showing posts with label Villa Giulia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Villa Giulia. Show all posts

April 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

By: Lynda Albertson














April 6, 2013

Saturday, April 06, 2013 - ,, No comments

Easter Theft at the Villa Giulia: Reports from online publications in Italian

Almost one week after thieves robbed the Villa Giulia in Rome and stolen jewelry, this is what information has been published online in Italian (indirectly quoted from translated material):


Il Giornale dell'Arte.com reported that at least ten gold necklaces with emeralds, pearls, and rubies from the 19th century Castellani Collection were stolen on Easter weekend when thieves smashed the display cases on the floor above the entrance to the museum. Police are investigating if there could have been inside help as the 112 alarm (Italy's version of 911) didn't go off immediately. 
The pieces may have been selected as a "theft by commission" or because it might be easier to remove the precious stones and resell these piece on the market as the Etruscan one's are well documented and these less so.
For now investigators are focusing on the the entry point downstairs, an assessment of the 50 or so staff associated with the museum's surveillance, and with reviewing tapes CCTV tapes both during the theft and in the days preceding the assault in the hopes that perhaps the assailants cased the museum in the days preceding the event passing themselves off as visitors.
Corriere della Sera reported that the Carabinieri are still waiting for a formal inventory of the stolen pieces and that other objects were damaged when the casing was smashed.
Given the execution of the event, law enforcement is placing a higher focus on the statements of the various staff responsible for the museums security watch to look for irregularities or contradictions of their recollection of the events as they occurred during the theft.
There is also speculation as to if the smoke was used to possible create a diversionary fire, create a smokescreen to hide the thieves movements or to perhaps signal their pick-up at the completion of the theft.
Law enforcement are also investigating other thefts of local residences in the area to look for similarities.
Libero Quotidiano reported that the Regional Association of Roman Goldsmiths, in cooperation with the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, has been working on a project that to document the complexity of the Castellani Collection in relation to historic archaeological finds in jewelry making and 19th century recreations and creativity. Part of the project involved preparations for a traveling exhibition that highlighted the School Castellani Goldsmiths in relation to previous Roman and Etruscan jewelry, with an emphasis on how these original styles were/are being utilized in contemporary jewelry. 


As first reported in La Repubblica on March 31, Easter Sunday:
The thieves arrived from the back of the museum. At 11.30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, thieves locked the guards in the gatehouse, went upstairs to the Hall of Gold, smashed three display cases, and stole jewelry collected by the Castellani family in the 19th century. The thieves used a smoke bomb to obscure images on the surveillance camera.
Neither the police nor the museum have identified which items were taken although one government official says that the items were not from the valuable archaeological collection of the National Etruscan Museum. The extent of the theft was limited by the appearance of the police who were alerted by the guards. Officials are reviewing footage from the CCTV cameras.

Daniele Particelli writing for Crimeblog.it on March 31:
Thieves launched tear gas to obscure the surveillance cameras as they entered the museum.
An alarm system was triggered when the first display case was smashed in the Hall of Gold; two guards had alerted the police whose arrival reduced the thieves time to grab objects.
Roma Daily News published on April 2:
Police investigators are reviewing hours of surveillance tape, looking for suspects who may have visited the Etruscan museum in the days leading up to the theft. The number of thieves is identified as three. The thieves used plastic ties to obstruct access to the gates surrounding the museum grounds.

April 5, 2013

Friday, April 05, 2013 - , No comments

Easter Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Roundup of information published in English

Almost one week after the Easter theft of unidentified pieces from the Castellani jewellery collection at the Villa Giulia, what details have been published in English?

Gazzetta del Sud.online reported on April 2 the criticism the Italian government is facing over the museum theft in Rome:
A robbery over the Easter weekend at Rome's Villa Giulia Etruscan museum led to calls Tuesday for improved measures to secure Italy's culture ministry. "It took a multimillion (euro) theft to point attention to one of the longstanding problems that weigh on the management, protection and safety" of Italy's cultural sites, said Giuseppe Urbino, the national secretary of the Confsal Unsa Beni Culturali union.
Late Saturday, robbers stole dozens of rare items, including ancient jewelry. "Thefts have become routine, but never has any minister - at least in the last 20 years - tried to carry out a healthy safety policy". The union leader pointed the finger at spending cuts, following outgoing Premier Mario Monti's "spending review", which have left few resources for training, security upgrades and personnel, with many museum guards performing double shifts. "The management class at the culture ministry has demonstrated incompetence, and it is also for this reason that something must change in order to help culture in our 'bel paese' rise again," Urbino said.
Wanted in Rome.com reports:
The thieves gained entry after forcing open one of the entrance doors. They smashed two cabinets on the upper floor containing items from the important Castellani collection comprising more than 6,000 whole and fragmented artefacts including ancient and modern gold, and amber pendants dating from the early 7th century BC. 

However this activated the alarm system and before fleeing the thieves only stole some 19th-century jewelry, not among the museum's most valuable items.

Investigators believe that the thieves visited the museum before the robbery, possibly posing as tourists.

April 2, 2013

Theft at the Villa Giulia, Rome: Background on the The Jewellery in the Augusto Castellani Collection

The Castellani Collection is located on the site
plan in the dark green (one half circle and
 another rectangle) above the entrance.
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The Short Guide to The Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum (second reprint 2008) includes a description of the jewellery in the Augusto Castellani Collection.

The article dated March 31 in La Repubblica reporting the theft at the Villa Giulia last Saturday night did not identify the items stolen.

The Collection Castellani is described as being in Room 19 (half circle) and Room 20 (smaller rectangle) on the upper floor above the entrance to the Villa Giulia. The Short Guide places the jewellery in Room 20.

The Castellani jewellery collection at the Villa Giulia includes 'ancient articles in gold along with the "modern" pieces produced over the years by the Castellani goldsmiths."

The collection was assembled in the latter half of the 19th century - a time when intensive and indeed fruitful excavations were being carried out on the great sites of Etruria and Latium - thanks to the enthusiastic initiative of the family progenitor, Fortunato Pio. This friend and disciple of Michelangelo Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, began to collect antiquities "to replace in our city of Rome what the Pope sold to France in 1860".
The archaeological gold objects include a 'splendid pectoral in gold and amber' and 'three finely-wrought figured pendants in amber' from the early 7th century BC Galeassi tomb discovered in Palestrina in 1861. A necklace with miniature amphora pendants (Castellani reconstruction from two necklaces of similar typology, style and chronology) is from Tarquinia in the 4th century BC.

March 31, 2013

Theft at Villa Giulia, Rome: Another European Museum Hit by Thieves


by Lynda Albertson, CEO, Association of Research into Crimes against Art

ROME - In the last thirteen months several museums in Europe have been hit with dramatic thefts.

In February 2012, two men stormed the Archeological Museum of Olympia in the early morning and tied up a female guard. Wielding hammers, the robbers proceeded to smash five reinforced glass display cases, stuffing 68 pottery and bronze artifacts into their bags before making a hasty escape. 

In a less violent robbery, thieves walked into the Kunsthal in Rotterdam at 3 am on October 16, 2012 and stole seven paintings from the Triton Foundation, a private foundation of the family of the late Willem Cordia. Inside the museum for less than two minutes, the thieves cherry-picked valuable art works by Picasso, Monet, Gauguin, Matisse and Lucian Freud, packing them into rucksacks before exiting the same way they came in. 

In January goal-oriented burglars struck an art museum in Bergen, Norway for the second time in less than three years. Using high-beam headlights and crowbars, two thieves smashed display cases and stole 23 rare Chinese artifacts in just over ninety seconds.

This past weekend, over the Easter holidays, Rome’s Villa Giulia joined the list. 

Arriving around midnight, the thieves announced their presence by dramatically launching a smoke grenade. This effectively occupied the attention of the night watchmen and bought the thieves the precious seconds needed to climb a garden wall and break into the museum.  It also provided them with a thick cover to obscure their movements on the museum’s close-circuit cameras. 

While the guards investigated the smoke and notified the police of the evening's irregularity, the criminals began making their way through the museum.  Bypassing many of Villa Giulia’s costlier masterpieces, the robbers climbed the stairs to the first floor rooms that house the objects that make up the vast 6000-piece Castellani collection.

Stopping in Room 20, the Sala degli Ori, the thieves smashed two of the four double collection display cabinets, setting off the museum’s alarm and grabbing an as yet, unnamed number of jewelry pieces before making their escape unseen.

If their selection was random or purposeful has not been indicated by the Italian investigators.  What has been said is that the shattered display cases housed 19th century Castellani jewelry reproductions based on Etruscan designs while the collection cases facing and alongside those hit containing original Etruscan pieces were left untouched.

Anyone familiar with ancient jewelry making techniques knows that the loss of these antique reproductions is likely to be quite significant. In December of 2006 Sotheby's sold a Castellani Egyptian-revival gold, scarab and micromosaic necklace with matching brooch to a private collector for $475,200. Nine other Castellani pieces sold in that same sale for six figures a piece.

To create his Etruscan replicas, Alessandro Castellani studied original Etruscan artifacts in great detail to try to unravel their method of fabrication. Experimenting with various granulation techniques, he hand-applied minute gold grain onto high-karat gold surfaces producing labor intensive and intricate gold baubles that were as exquisite as their ancient counterparts.

The finest examples of jewelry in this style were produced between the eighth and second centuries, B.C.E. Even with modern tools and knowledge, few goldsmiths today have sufficient skill to compete with either the Castellani jewelers or the original Etruscan masters of the craft.  The jewelry pieces in the Villa Giulia collection were created in a time when human hands were more abundant that the precious metals needed to produce an item and many of the collection’s signature pieces required hundreds of hours of painstaking workmanship.

As back history to the stolen pieces, Fortunato Castellani, opened his family’s jewelry business on the Via del Corso in Rome in 1814 growing the family enterprise into a goldsmith dynasty. Alongside its founder, three generations of Castellani family members and jewelry artisans based their reputations on creating what they called “Italian archaeological jewelry,” inspired by the precious Etruscan, Roman, Greek, and Byzantine antiquities being excavated at the time. 

Characterised by its thoughtfully worked gold, many Castellani revival pieces utilise labor-intensive micro mosaic insets, or were ornately paved with cameos or semi-precious stones.  The costliest pieces were purchased by well-heeled clientele, some of whom included Napoleon III; Prince Albert; Queen Victoria's daughter, Empress Frederick of Prussia; Queen Maria Pia of Savoy; and Robert and Elizabeth Browning, who even wrote a poem about one of their rings.

For now, the authorities at the Villa Giulia and the Carabinieri TPC are remaining mum publicly as to which 19th century pieces were taken, their value and what, if anything, the museum’s closed circuit surveillance tapes have revealed in terms of clues.

What we do know is that this not the first time that a burglar has made use of a cinema-worthy smokescreen to foil security cameras or to carry out a brazen museum theft on a holiday. 

In 1999 Cezanne’s View of Auvers-sur-Oise was stolen from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England during New Year celebrations.  The bandit broke through a skylight, rappelled down a rope ladder into a gallery and blinded security cameras with a smoke bomb before making off with the £3m painting.

A smoke bomb was also detonated inside the Ukraine's Lvov Picture Gallery in 1992 during a noon-day heist.   In this violent robbery, two bandits stole three 19th century paintings and shot two museum employees - one a manager and the other a section manager - who tried to prevent their escape.

What will become of the pieces stolen from the Villa Giulia collection is subject to speculation, as is the rationale behind most modern museum thefts.  Some here in Rome think that the recent UK and European robberies highlight that austerity measures and the recession have created a financial climate that on surface value makes museum collections appealing targets.

What happens after, when the high profile goods are difficult to sell, remains to be seen.

October 1, 2012

"Art Predators and The Rediscovered Heritage ... the story of recovery" at the National Etruscan Museum in Rome's Villa Giulia shows archaeological fruits of 20 year investigation


Here's a link to a video showing an exhibit, "Art Predators and The Rediscovered Heritage .. the story of recovery",  at the National Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome (September 29 through December 15, 2012) of recovered stolen antiquity objects recovered by Italy's Carabinieri Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale), the Justice Department, and archaeologists in an investigation lasting more than two decades.

The Villa Giulia-Museo Nazionale Etrusco is located north of the Piazza del Popolo in the western outskirts of the Villa Borghese (a really long walk from the Galleria Borghese as I once found out).

These hundreds of works of art were stolen by grave robbers in clandestine excavations in Etruria, Puglia, Sicily and Calabria (Google Translation of article by Irene Buscemi, "Predatori d'arte e patrimonio ritrovato in mostra a Roma", September 30, 2012, Il Fatto Quotidiano).  These amphora, kylix (pottery drinking cups) and bronzes were illegally sold in the 1970s and 1980s by merchants and traffickers to famous foreign museums (Getty Museum in Los Angeles, The Metropolitan in New York, and institutions in Australia and Japan).  Two archaeologists, Daniela Rizzo and Maurizio Pellegrini, assisted in the project and curated the exhibit.  Many of these objects were seized from a warehouse in the Free Port of Geneva in 1995 (for more information you may refer to "The Medici Conspiracy" (Public Affairs, 2006) by historian Peter Watson and Italian journalist Cecilia Todeschini).  The Carabinieri used polaroid photographs, charts, and documents found in this investigation to recreate the illicit trade that funneled objects through art collectors and auctions houses such as Sotheby's in London.

Here's a link to the exhibit at the Villa Giulia.  The exhibitors explain here that for the first time the National Etruscan Museum of the Villa Giulia is presenting some archaeological materials chosen from among 3,000 artifacts seized in 1995 by the Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Projection from the Free Port of Geneva and returned to Italy after a long legal battle based upon documents found in the raid that allowed the Carabinieri and prosecutors to reconstruct the trafficking routes and illegal excavations.  In this illegal operation, objects were illegal dug up out of the ground, moved from Italy to Switzerland, cleaned and then provided paperwork to market the objects to international museums:
The exhibition aims to raise awareness of the general public the hard work done in recent years by the Judiciary, flanked by Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection, with the Guardia di Finanza and the archaeologists of the Superintendent [Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici dell'Etruria meridionale], which has led to some important results, perceived not only through a high number of artifacts recovered, by especially in the significant drop in illegal excavations at the archaeological sites of Cerveteri, Vulci, and Tarquinia, once the subject of real raids [translated with the help of Google].