Showing posts with label cultural property returned. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cultural property returned. Show all posts

January 27, 2013

Recapping the Villa Giulia Symposium - Italy’s Archaeological Looting, Then and Now

By Lynda Albertson,  ARCA 's  CEO

Waking this morning and checking the news bureaus I came across the January 26th New York Times editorial piece The Great Giveback by Hugh Eakin.

Before proceeding further, let me state that despite the almost 2,000 words of commentary by the senior editor of the New York Review of Books of his personal opinion as to what the motives are in countries like Italy in seeking restitution of their looted art, Eakin doesn’t seem to be talking thoughtfully with anyone in Rome at the present time.   If he is, he certainly isn’t attentive to what people closely involved in these cases are saying.

Having just spent last Thursday, January 24th at the round table symposium at the Villa Giulia hosted by Alfonsina Russo, Superintendent Archaeologist for Southern Etruria, in reviewing the work conducted in these contentious cases over the last 15+ years I can assure you that extortion is not, nor has it ever been, a nefarious motive in seeking the return of Italy’s looted antiquities.

Italy’s motive, if it can be summed-up in a simple statement, is to preserve and protect the country’s antiquities for all its generations and in doing so, by recording objects in their discovered contexts, expanding upon our knowledge of the ancient world.

While not as intimately informed about the impetuses for reinstatement of looted art in Greece or Turkey, I think I can speak fairly knowledgeably that like Italy, their objectives are not to strip foreign museums bare of their collections but to protect what is legally defined as theirs.  While at times it can seem prosecutorial, these countries, like Italy, seek to right past wrongs, intentionally malicious or not, and to uphold current international law.  Ancillary to that is to examine preventative measures so that the illicit trade in antiquities doesn’t merely shift to alternate buying markets.

Last Thursday’s meeting in Rome was a chance for people directly involved in the Italian looting cases of which Mr. Eakin speaks to see how far their country has come in working for the return of works of art stolen or exported illegally.  Knowing that as recently as 3 weeks ago a tomborolo in Vulci,  Alberto Sorbera, from Montalto di Castro, suffocated while looting an Etruscan tomb, they are faced with daily evidence which starkly highlights that the country has a long way to go in eliminating its looting problem.

The Villa Giulia meeting was a solemn one.  Thursday’s talks started with an introduction by the Director General for Antiquities Luigi Malnati, who spoke of the continuing difficulties Italy has in terms of manpower and financial potency in securing cultural heritage sites, especially those in remote areas. His exact words were “Senza il controllo del territorio, non si fa nulla”.

Italy’s law enforcement also spoke.  I listened to the thoughtful words of retired General Roberto Conforti, former Commander of the Carabinieri TPC (Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale) who spoke  about the early days of the TPC.  He explained how Italy’s Ministry of Culture trained officers on the intricacies of the art world and how, during his tenure, the collaborative efforts of judges, consultants and museum personnel culminated in much of what we know today of the illegal trade dealings of the principal suppliers involved in these US and foreign museum related cases.

Major Massimiliano Quagliarella, Head of Operations Carabinieri Cultural Heritage Protection and Major Massimo Rossi, Commander of the Cultural Heritage Protection Group of the Guardia di Finanza each spoke about current and ongoing investigations involving recent incidents of plundered art.  Their statistics emphasized that despite growing public awareness, international focus from the archeaological world and cooperation between nations and museums in requesting the return of pillaged objects, the number of looting sites throughout Italian territories are still significant.  Their statistics and images of recent looting served to highlight that the problem with trafficking is ongoing, even if current buyers do not appear to be museum heads.

Maurizio Fiorilli, Attorney General of the State; Guglielmo Muntoni, President of the Court of Review of Rome; and Paolo Giorgio Ferri, former magistrate for the Getty and Met cases and now a judicial advisor to the Directorate General for Antiquities, also spoke of the complexity of Italy’s antiquities trafficking problem.  Fiorilli voiced his opinion that it is necessary for Italy to apply not just judicial pressure, but political pressure as well if Italy is to uphold seizure orders such as the one for The Getty Bronze.  This statue known in Italy as l’Atleta di Fano, the signature piece of The Getty's embattled antiquities collection, was, according to Italian court records, illegally exported before the museum purchased it for $4 million in 1976.

Muntoni spoke about the horror investigators felt when viewing the hundreds of polaroid photos Tomboroli took of Italy’s looted artwork, seen broken and stuffed into the trunks of cars with dirt still clinging to them. He also mentioned his personal disappointment that professional archaeologists and museum curators used U.S. tax laws to inflate the value of donated objects in a rush to have wealthy patrons collude with them to add to their collections.

Paolo Girogio Ferri listened to me thoughtfully as I talked about the continued need to find compromises that neither destroy US museum reputations nor allow them to indefinitely delay the return of objects they know should be returned.  We discussed the lock system of illicit trafficking, and how at the end of the day antiquities should be perceived not just as cultural heritage but as merchandise, and that as long as there are buyers and unprotected territories with objects the buyer wants, looting will continue to represent a problem for safeguarding Italy’s cultural patrimony.

Italian journalists Fabio Isman and Cecilia Todeschini spoke first-hand about current looting cases and the tireless archaeologists in small regional museums who try their best, despite limited funding, to protect what they can.  Daily though, these front-line soldiers take photos of their battle scarred regions as evidence that Italy’s battle against the theft of antiquities has not been won.

Isman highlighted the facts surrounding a very recent article he published in Il Messagero, I predatori dell'arte perduta:due leoni alla corte del Getty, where he brought Italy’s attention to two 1912 archive photographs from the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) taken of the front of the Palazzo Spaventa in Pretùro near Aquila. The photos show two lions, originating from the ancient Sabine city of Amiternum, which flank an entrance to the building as sentinels.  The fact that they are there is not surprising.   This area of the Abruzzo and surrounding territory are known to have been an important zone where Roman funerary lions were carved. What is puzzling is when they were removed and how and when they were trafficked out of Italy.

What we do know though is where they are at present.  Acquired by The Getty in 1958 through some of the same trafficking channels made famous by the more public cases Mr. Eakin has written about, the two statues languish in the museum’s storage.  Not even on display, the Getty's records attribute the lions' provenance to an old Parisian collection and place their origins as Asia Minor.

The topics of these speakers at Thursday’s symposium are just a selection of some of the vocal Italian voices heard at the Villa Giulia this past week.  Their focus is not strong-arm tactic or hostile threat but an honest effort on the part of those involved and who have spent thousands of hours pouring over more than 70,000 pages of evidence to locate the currently-known 1500 trafficked pieces at 40 identified museums.

Trophy hunting?  I think not.  I think Italy is trying to find the head of the snake when so far it had only just started to uncover its tail.

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].

July 9, 2012

"Princeton and Recently Surfaced Antiquities" in David Gill's column "Context Matters" for Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

In the column "Context Matters", David Gill writes on "Princeton and Recently Surfaced Antiquities" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
In 1983 the USA ratified the 1970 Unesco Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Paris, 14 November 1970). Article 7 includes the statement,
To take the necessary measures, consistent with national legislation, to prevent museums and similar institutions within their territories from acquiring cultural property originating in another State Party which has been illegally exported after entry into force of this Convention, in the States concerned.
In 2002 the Princeton University Art Museum agreed to return the fragmentary pediment of a Roman funerary relief that it had acquired in 1985 from New York dealer Peter Sharrer with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Leon Levy (inv. 85-34: Princeton University Art Museum 1986, 38, 39 [ill.]; Padgett 2001b, 47-51, no. 11). It turned out that the fragment had been discovered in 1981-82 at Colle Tasso near Tivoli and had been published by Zaccaria Mari. Michael Padgett, the then curator at Princeton and who was preparing a catalogue of the Roman sculptures, notified the museum’s acting director who in turn contacted the Italian authorities (Anon. 2002). Susan M. Taylor, the museum’s newly appointed director, was quoted in the press release about the return: “We are proud to be an active partner in the ongoing international effort to resolve ownership claims for stolen objects and in discouraging the illegal trade of art and cultural artifacts.” 
This was not to be the end of the museum’s return of antiquities.
Dr. Gill is Head of the Division of Humanities and Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus Suffolk, at Ipswich, Suffolk, England. He is the author of 2011 book, "Sifting the soil of Greece: the early years of the British School at Athens (1886-1919)".

January 12, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012 - No comments

Italian Journal Reports Etruscan Artifacts Returned to Italy for Permanent Display

Etruscan jewelry to be returned to Italy
Etruscan Jewelry will be added to Museo archeologico "G.Allevi". collection in Offida

Reported by Claudia Palmira,
Editor-in-Chief, Italian Journal

This blog's customary content has to do with crime, theft and fraud, but this is a case with a happy ending that took place recently at the Consulate of Italy in New York.

Some years ago, artist Edward Giobbi, also a cook book author and resident of Westchester County, New York, came upon what appeared to be jewelry and other artifacts that were brought to America from the region of Le Marche, the town of Offida in particular, by his father in the 1950s when he travelled to the US to take up residence. Giobbi kept the priceless artifacts, preserved in a box in his sculpture studio in the converted barn where he works and stores his paintings and sculpture, in Katonah.

Giobbi sustained a friendship for 35 plus years with Steve Acunto, a classical scholar and publisher, who was appointed Hon. Vice Consul for Italy in New York State in 2003. On one of their many dinners together, the artist alluded to the artifacts and artwork and expressed his interest in having them returned to their rightful location to be displayed and prized in the very point where they were excavated. Acunto went right to work and pulled together his contacts in the Italian Government and was able, with the help of Vice Consul Lucia Pasqualini to set the way for a return of these artifacts to their home on December 27th 2011.

The result will be a permanent display at the museum in Offida.

During the ceremony held at the Italian Consulate on Park Avenue, the consignment was formalized by Mr. Giobbi together with family members, the Consul General of Italy in New York, Natalia Quintavalle, Vice Consul, Lucia Pasqualini, Hon. Vice Consul Stefano Acunto and members of the Carabinieri and the Ministry of Beni Culturale.

This was called a great act of generosity and an example for the community, according to Consul General Quintavalle who noted the priceless value of the ancient artifacts.

Mr. Acunto, who facilitated the arrangement, thanked Vice Consul Pasqualini for her assistance in the matter and stated: “Mr. Giobbi is a renowned artist who respects our shared heritage so greatly that he returned these artifacts brought here by his relatives some years ago to its rightful historic home as part of Italy’s archaeological patrimony and legacy. The artifacts are priceless in value and priceless inasmuch as they reflect an important part of the local heritage in the Marches where they were originally discovered. It is rare that excavations today turn up such a treasure trove of fine art including these Etruscan era necklaces, pins and clasps in extraordinarily good condition, from approximately 2,800 years ago. It is a great joy for us all to see these returned in such an honorable manner.”

June 15, 2011

Government of Canada Returns Its Largest Ever Seizure of Cultural Property to the Republic of Bulgaria

Press Release from the Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

GATINEAU, June 10, 2011 – The Government of Canada today returned to the Republic of Bulgaria 21,000 coins, pieces of jewellery, and other objects that were illegally imported to Canada and seized by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The cultural artifacts were returned today at a ceremony at the Canadian Museum of Civilization by Royal Galipeau, Member of Parliament (Ottawa–Orléans), on behalf of the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages.

"Today marks Canada's largest ever return of illegally imported cultural property, and we are pleased to return these 21,000 precious artifacts to the Republic of Bulgaria," said Minister Moore. "This return of items to their country of origin demonstrates Canada's commitment to stopping the trafficking in cultural property and recover illegally imported goods."

"The Government of Canada is taking action to prevent the illicit traffic of cultural property," said Mr. Galipeau "I would like to commend the work of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canada Border Services Agency, whose efforts led to the successful seizure and return of these rare antiquities."

"The RCMP is pleased with this successful outcome. Our team in Montréal has worked long hours to investigate, locate, and retrieve these Bulgarian artifacts," said Bob Paulson, RCMP Deputy Commissioner. "Together, with our government and law enforcement partners, we monitor and identify any illegal smuggling of valuable cultural objects and ensure their safe return to the rightful owners."

In 2007, Canada Border Services Agency officials detained two imports of cultural property sent by mail from Bulgaria. These imports were referred to Canadian Heritage for further assessment, and the RCMP was asked to investigate. As a result of its investigation, the RCMP seized about 21,000 ancient coins, pieces of jewellery, and other objects in November 2008. In January 2011, the importer formally abandoned the cultural property, clearing the way for the Court of Quebec to rule under the Criminal Code for the return of the seized antiquities to the Republic of Bulgaria.

These objects, many of which were illegally excavated, cover more than 2600 years of the history of Bulgaria. This collection includes more than 18,000 coins, as well as a number of artifacts including bronze eagles, rings, pendants, belt buckles, arrows and spearheads, and bone sewing needles. They represent a mix of Hellenistic, Roman, Macedonian, Byzantine, Bulgarian, and Ottoman cultural heritage.

His Excellency Mr. Vezhdi Rashidov, Minister of Culture of the Republic of Bulgaria, was present to accept the artifacts from the Government of Canada at today's ceremony. Madame Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, was also present.

"I would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Department of Canadian Heritage and personally to Minister James Moore, to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to the investigative departments, as well as to all Canadian institutions who contributed to the resolution of this case," said Mr. Rashidov.

Canada and Bulgaria are signatories to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property, under which participating states agree to assist each other in the recovery of illegally exported and stolen cultural property. In Canada, the Convention is implemented through the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The Department works closely with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canada Border Services Agency to enforce and administer the Act and combat the illicit traffic of cultural property.

You may find this press release on the website of Canadian Heritage here.