Showing posts with label manuscripts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label manuscripts. Show all posts

December 25, 2016

How long does it take looted antiquities from the middle east to resurface? A heck of a long time.

When people query ARCA about why the world is not seeing more looted Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and  Libyan antiquities on the market, given the continued unrest and looting in these countries, I usually respond resolutely with "it's just too soon."  I underscore this because I know there is a lot at stake, and I know that governments and the media want to be able to draw clearer lines between the world's current terrorist groups, organised crime and heritage looting.

Art can disappear and not resurface for decades after it was stolen and most art crime scholars will agree that the most valuable pieces are kept off the licit market by savvy traffickers and generally don't resurface until the world's interest is diverted, sometimes decades later.  

Case in point, this gazelle-skinned Kuwaiti manuscript.  Time to market? 26 years. 


Acting upon accurate information received by Iraqi security forces concerning a dealer of ancient manuscripts believed to be plying his clandestine trade in the Babil Governorate (also known as the Babylon Province ), law enforcement authorities formed a crime-fighting task force in the region south of Baghdad, hoping to catch the art criminal in the act. 

Under the command of Colonel Adham al-Salihi, director of the anticrime team in Babylon and in coordination with the National Security Directorate and the region's Economic Crimes Department, authorities subsequently arrested three people this week, both buyers and sellers, at a cafe in the city of Hilla.  Each has been accused of furthering the smuggling of antiquities.  In their possession was a historic manuscript, complete with the National Museum of Kuwait's seal on its reverse side.  Kuwaiti news reports state the object was stolen by a former soldier in the Iraqi army during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, also known as the Iraq–Kuwait War.


Kuwaiti museum authorities are still looking for more than 450 objects looted during the conflict between Saddam Hussein’s Ba'athist government and the Emirate of Kuwait, objects that went missing during the seven-month-long Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Many of these antiquities are feared lost forever, most likely sold illicitly, like the one recovered this week, when sold to private individuals in post-Saddam Iraq and elsewhere in the nearby Arab world. 

Rarely, do pieces like these turn up early on the Western powerhouse art markets, though in 1996, a 16th century emerald, ruby and turquoise-encrusted Moghul dagger was spotted on the cover of a Sotheby's auction catalogue.  With supporting identification documents from the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI) at Kuwait National Museum (KNM), the country's museum authorities were able to stop the sale and the dagger was eventually reliquished to the museum's collection. 

Pending completion of the investigation, the parchment seized this week will remain with the Iraqi authorities for safekeeping and further identification before being eventually returned to the Kuwait museum.

By: Lynda Albertson

December 7, 2016

Seizure: Cairo International Airport - Islamic-era manuscripts and antiquarian books


On November 28, 2016 customs agents at Cairo International Airport foiled a plot to illegally export a shipment of antique Islamic-era books.  Suspicious of the 43-box shipping documentation on objects destined for Doha, Qatar, the items being exported were flagged for further controls.  Upon examination by customs officials, the shipment was found to contain a large quantity of antiquarian books and manuscripts.  Based on their initial findings, and the markings on some of the books, the shipment was frozen on suspicion that the objects may have been illegally acquired.  

Tawfiq Massad, Director General of Customs, authorized that the shipment be held, pending a comprehensive review.  His office in turn formally notified the antiquities authorities so that they could explore the collection's authenticity and its legal or illegal export status as it relates to Egyptian law. 

Working with Ahmed El-Rawi, head of the Recuperation Antiquities Section of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities it was decided that a portion of the books and volumes fell under the protection of Egypt's Laws for rare and ancient books, e.g.

To be the product of Egyptian civilization or the successive civilizations or the creation of art, sciences, literature, or religion that took place on the Egyptian lands since the pre-historic ages and during the successive historic ages till before 100 years ago. --Law No. 8 of 2009, as amended in 2014 on the protection of rare and ancient books and manuscripts, 

Sixty-six rare books and volumes were seized in total; some dating back to the early printing age.  The rare Islamic-era books, having been published during the period needed to be considered as a heritage asset, will be sent to the Egyptian National Library and Archives.  Forty-four volumes, that still bore the stamps of the Al-Azhar library, will be returned to the university's library collection.

November 7, 2016

Repatriation: 14th century illuminated manuscript


After reviewing photographic documentation provided by Italian authorities, the Cleveland Museum of Art has voluntarily transferred a 14th-century manuscript folio (leaf) from an Italian Antiphonary to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division for its eventual return to Tuscany. 

An antiphonary is a book intended for use by a liturgical choir.  This particular looted page was sliced out of a seven-page songbook that originally belonged to the Church of Saints Ippolito and Biagio of Castelfiorentino.  Its sister pages are preserved at the Museum of Santa Verdiana south west of Florence. The page is believed to have been removed from the antiphonary sometime between 1933 and 1952 when the work was purchased by the museum. 

The antifonary, measures 44.3 x 35.2 cm and is believed to have been created by an artist known as the Master of Dominican Effigies, an important illuminator whose exact name, until now, is unknown.  The illuminated parchment hymnal was produced sometime between 1335 and 1345.  The foglio page being returned has illustrations in ink and tempera and is embellished with gold leafing. 

According to the Cleveland Museum of Art, the foglio was attributed to another illustrator at the time of its purchase.  Curators at the museum became suspicious when a second attributable page from the same antiphonary came up for sale on the Swiss art market. US and Italian law enforcement authorities were notified and an investigation was initiated which has led to this eventual return. 

Collecting single leaves from Medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts while quite in vogue, are activities collectors should approach with a lot of caution and healthy doses of due diligence.  While there has been a historic tradition of biblioclasts, or book breakers — someone who breaks up books and manuscripts for the illustrations or illuminations, there are also way too many instances of more recent thefts commited by individuals with access to little used historic texts who have helped themselves to more than a page or two, creating collection histories to cover their tracks.  

Pier Luigi Cimma and Franca Gatto, two professors who participated in a 1990 inventory of Italian church archives were known to have cut pages from several manuscripts, most of which they sold to a bookseller in Turin, Italy. Thanks to the city of Monza's squad from the Nucleo dei Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, several of these were recovered from Sotheby’s in London. 

November 1, 2016

Recovery - Medieval Manuscript: "Matricula et Statuta paratici fabrorum ferrariorum"


Italian authorities announced last week that they have recovered a stolen Medieval manuscript, titled Pallastrelli 43 or Matricula et Statuta paratici fabrorum ferrariorum, a historical document related to the economic exchange and work of blacksmiths from the city of Piacenza. 

The calf-skin parchment, which dates from the fifteenth century and is made up of 34 finely-detailed vellum pages inscribed in neatly-written red and black ink, was carefully bound between two wooden manuscript boards that serve to form the front and back covers of the book. Spotted on an online auction website for €600, an honorary inspector in Lazio reported his identifications to the the city of Piacenza's archive authorities, who in turn contacted the Carabinieri that one of the library's manuscripts had been spotted.  

The stolen manuscript was one of 145 texts, dating from the 14th to the 17th century, that were stolen in 1985 from the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi in Piacenza during a period when the library had to be shuttered for restoration and renovation work.  The theft is believed to have occurred sometime during repair works on the roof of Palazzo San Pietro which had been damaged due to heavy snows over the winter. 

When the theft was discovered, each of the well-inventoried books were reconciled and a list compiled was given to the the Carabinieri where they were listed in the unit's stolen art Leonardo database system. Between 1986 and 2013 a total of 72 volumes were recovered due to the watchful eyes of investigators and those familiar with the collection. Some volumes were recovered in Germany, some in Switzerland and some in Italy.  A portion of the stolen manuscripts were traced to auction house catalogues in Europe which is why these are heavily monitored by the Italian authorities. 

Then alas, the trail apparently went cold, that is until October 2016.

The Biblioteca Passerini-Landi was created in 1791 to house the merger of the Royal Library, established by Ferdinand of Bourbon with books donated by the Jesuits, along with the collection of the Library Passerini. The Library contains a distinguished collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, any of which, still circulating in the illicit market would be highly prized by antiquarian collectors.  
Note:  Library identifiers have been removed
In addition to the Biblioteca Passerini-Landi, other important libraries, such as the Girolamini Library in Naples, the Library of the Abbey of Montecassino, the Biblioteca dei Servi di Milano, the National Library of Sweden, the Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris have each suffered thefts that serve to sustain the illicit market in stolen books and manuscripts.

During the city's press conference Captain Francesco Provenza of the Comando dei Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) of Monza reminded the audience that "the market for archival literary heritage might be a niche market but it is a flourishing one." He further stated that "some collectors are willing to pay huge sums for these works. Even the supply chain is well-established: the thief, if he doesn't list the work for sale on his own, already knows what channels are out there for finding potential customers." 

Italian authorities have charged three individuals living outside Milan for complicity, for helping or encouraging another individual to commit a crime in collection with this theft. It is hoped that their identification will open the door a bit wider on where the other half of the stolen Passerini-Landi books and manuscripts are. 

Since 1996, thousands of specialist antiquarian bookdealers worldwide have used the internet to offer rare art books online. Some antiquarian bookdealers are part of larger trade associations, like the Italian Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ILAI), the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) or the International Online Booksellers Association (IOBA). But there are also numerous independent booksellers who sell their books independently or who offer similar association services.

To combat the sale of illicit material, the ILAB maintains a stolen book database that contains a listing of stolen books, manuscripts and maps beginning with thefts that have occurred from June 15, 2010 onward.  With this database buyers can check (for free) to see if a book they have been offered has been reported as stolen.  Some data in their database is available for older thefts, but this data tends to be limited and less comprehensive. 

But even with these safeguards, dealing with members of bookseller-organizations or professional booksellers - rather than private individuals selling secondhand art books on eBay or elsewhere - does not guarantee quality of descriptions, fair trade, or clean provenance, despite the official wrappings of membership.  It merely means that there is an organizational structure where book dealers can be found, oftentimes honest, but sometimes dishonest.  

Rare book connoisseurs need to exercise caution when purchasing ancient manuscripts from dealers and individual sellers, especially when they see an appealing centuries-old book or manuscript that doesn't come with a clear collection history.  They should also raise their eyebrows to books and documents with strategic tears or missing portions of the book's pages as libraries often place stamps at the beginning or the end of a book or manuscript and these tell-tale signs of theft are often torn away so as to allow the seller the opportunity to plead ignorance as to the book's illicit origin. 

Speaking in relation to the Girolamini Library theft, Giovanni Melillo, the then Deputy Prosecutor of the Naples Tribunal, who lead the library theft's prosecution, said at a 2013 presentation I attended at the ISPAC meeting in Courmayeur “The rule ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is what governs the rare-book market.”

Buyer beware.

By Lynda Albertson   





September 8, 2015

Destroying and Protecting the World’s Shared Cultural Heritage: Iconoclasm and Psychological Warfare

By Dr. Joris D. Kila
Heritage Researcher,  Lt. Col. (retired), International Military Cultural Resources Working Group and Senior Researcher, Centre for Cultural Heritage Protection, University of Vienna
The Hague, Netherlands

The world’s shared cultural heritage is under threat. Substantial damage has already been inflicted during armed conflicts that have taken place or are still ongoing, especially in parts of Africa and the Middle East.  To protect the world's heritage, it is important to gain knowledge about key concepts and mechanisms that underpin heritage destruction and protection including new phenomena, stakeholders and concepts such as urbicide (a term which literally translates as "violence against the city."), the military roll in heritage destruction and or preservation and the psychological warfare of heritage destruction.

Libya Appolonia artifacts hidden during the revolution November 2011
(c) photo Joris Kila
‘Cultural property’ that is, the legal term used  to describe the world's cultural heritage, is currently not only threatened by time, nature, and man-made development, but increasingly by armed conflicts and upheavals. In this context we see the return of iconoclasm driven and legitimised as an excuse for eliminating perceptions of heresy as well as the ‘’recycling’’ of antique monuments originally built as defence works like the Crusader castle, Krak de Chevaliers, Palmyra’s Fakhr-al-Din al-Ma'ani Castle or the now destroyed Temple of Bel in Palmyra which the Burids transformed into a citadel in 1132.

But Iconoclasm is not only directed at immovable heritage, it also aimed at written heritage making manuscripts and books equally at risk. The majority of today's warring parties are guilty of abuse and destruction whether intentionally or by accident, disregarding that cultural property is ‘’protected’’ under (inter)national laws. To make matters worse there has been an increase in the looting and illicit traffic of artefacts, the revenues of which are used to finance, and thus extend conflicts.

A museum guard displays a manuscript burnt by fleeing occupation forces
 at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Mali.
Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters © The Guardian
There is a distinction between material and non-material heritage. Materials are, for instance, sculptures and paintings but also libraries, archives, monuments and archaeological sites. Immaterial, also referred to as intangible heritage, includes languages, national anthems, and historic traditions. All heritage is strongly connected with identities and therefore potentially politically and socially sensitive especially in connection with conflict and disputes.

Within this framework, written heritage has a dual status: libraries, archives and manuscripts are material cultural properties but simultaneously carriers of intangible heritage like ideas and by extension, identity. Dualism can be seen too in overlaps between cultural and natural heritage, such as cultural landscapes like Ayers Rock and in ivory that is often smuggled.

In general terms books and documents can be considered to be containers of identity. Simultaneously the material manifestation of a book or manuscript can be an artifact or a sacred and thus religiously sensitive object. Specifically, archives can contain cultural heritage for a national society or smaller community as well as information that makes them strategic targets for the warring parties e.g. working archives can hold tactical information about persons and political issues. Military experts connect this information with military intelligence.  Additionally, libraries and archives themselves can be historic monuments.

Apart from the fragile characteristics there are many more issues within the realms of heritage. They include shifting insights on conservation, restoration, authentication (forgeries) and developments concerning digitization, manipulation, political propaganda, illicit trafficking, and legislation. Current attacks on cultural heritage show elements of psychological warfare, cultural genocide and, as acknowledged by the United Nations, war crimes.

This makes Cultural Property Protection (CPP) a complicated multi-disciplinary topic with stakeholders that include the military, police, diplomats, legal specialists, auctioneers, antique dealers, and religious experts to name a few, all of which represent and defend their own interests. Transnational crime is also present, not to mention collateral damage inflicted during battle.

Considering the complexity and the seriousness of today’s heritage conditions it seems fair to acknowledge that safeguarding issues cannot be taken care of by only as small number of cultural experts or enthusiasts who are not afraid to be pro-active and often need to act as private individuals. The main concern is that there is presently no operational protection concept being implemented based on international cooperation and coordination. Legal obligations and sanctions are not sufficiently implemented and enforced – for instance,  some cultural war crimes could and should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

Although there are moral and legal obligations, funding is not in place for CPP training, education, research, and the deployment of ‘’new’’ stakeholders like the military who are equipped to operate in war zones.  Most contemporary asymmetric conflicts in which (written) heritage is endangered take place in the Muslim World. A lot of the world’s heritage from antiquity is located there but it is also critical to pay special attention to protection and restoration of Islamic heritage before the cultural and historical memory rooted in these regions is erased from the world’s common consciousness and lost to future generations.

To meet some of these challenges, the Islamic Manuscript Association in partnership with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has organised a course this coming October entitled Manuscript Collections in Conflict Zones: Safeguarding Written Heritage. This multidisciplinary course will also gives a general introduction about Cultural Property Protection and destruction in the event of conflict. The course will take place October 5th, 6th, and 7th at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, London.

Confirmed speakers include:

Colonel Matthew Bogdanos,
Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan

Mr. Marco Di Bella,
Freelance Book and Manuscript Conservator and UNESCO Consultant

Mr. Karl von Habsburg-Lothringen,
President of the Association of National Committees of the Blue Shield

Dr. Joris Kila, Chairman,
International Military Cultural Resources Working Group

Professor Roger O’Keefe,
Chair of Public International Law, University College London

Mr András Riedlmayer,
Bibliographer in Islamic Art and Architecture, Harvard University

Professor Franck Salameh,
Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Boston College

Dr Christos Tsirogiannis,
Research Assistant, Trafficking Culture Team, University of Glasgow

Dr Hafed Walda,
(Pending) Deputy Ambassador to the permanent Libyan delegation at UNESCO

Dr James Zeidler,
Associate Director for Cultural Resources, Colorado State University

For information about course lecturers and how to register to attend, please contact the Islamic Manuscript Association linked here

November 21, 2014

Artnet news highlights report in Le Point about France's anti-fraud brigade raid on the Musée de Lettres et Manuscrits on Nov. 18

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Artnet.com's headline yesterday: "€500 Million Ponzi Scheme Suspected at Paris Museum pointed to an "exclusive" article in LePoint.fr reported by Mélanie DeLattre, Christophe Labbé, and Laure Rougevin-Baville: "Descente de police au musée de Lettres et Manuscrits" (originally published Nov. 18 and updated Nov. 20):
The cosily niche books and manuscripts market may be about to be hit by one its biggest scandals in recent years. And Paris's Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits, as well as its sister organization the Institut des Lettres et Manuscrits, is in the eye of the storm. 
Le Point reported that on November 18, France's anti-fraud brigade raided the museum and the various branches of Aristophil, a company owned by the museum's founder, Gérard Lhéritier. 
The company is suspected by the tax authorities and Tracfin—a public body fighting money laundering and terrorism financing—of “deceptive marketing practices," and “gang fraud." At time of writing, the Aristophil website as well as the websites for the museum and the institute appear to have been taken offline.
The Musée de Lettres et Manuscrits is a small building located at 222 Boulevard Saint-Germain (near Rue du Bac) in the 7th arrondisemont. I have often passed it walking from Cafe de Flore to Musée d'Orsay but in the last 20 years the closest I have come to entering the museum was to grab a pamphlet last January. The entrance itself is off of the street so I always thought the institution was a bit exclusive although according to the brochure, for less than 10 euros you could visit the collection from 10h - 19h every day with the exception of Mondays and three national holidays (Christmas, New Year's Day, and the first of May).