Showing posts with label repatriation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label repatriation. Show all posts

August 15, 2018

Repatriation: The Case of the Stolen TEFAF Buddha

Screen Shot of ID Matching Buddha stolen 57 years ago.
Image Credit:  ARCA with permission from ASI Archives in India
In a tale that began as a follow up to a funding initiative, I was scheduled to be in the Netherlands this past March to meet with folks at Maastricht University who ARCA was collaborating with on an EU funded Horizon 2020 grant proposal designed to address the critical issues involved the illicit trafficking of antiquities (which, by the way, we were later not awarded).  "The European Fine Arts Fair," or more simply by its art market acronym, TEFAF.  Part of the impetus for meeting in the Netherlands was that I was already in Maastricht, as each year, since 1988, the city has played host to an annual art, antiques, and design fair at the MECC which is organized by The European Fine Art Foundation called

I was at TEFAF to keep an eye open for looted antiquities which might be on sale with fabricated provenances — artworks from the ancient past which have no legitimate pedigree as they have been looted directly from the ground.  Illicit antiquities like these have a propensity for eventually bubbling up into auction house and trade fair sales as their illicit excavation from archaeologically rich sites means that they will not appear in any for-fee stolen art database searches as there is no way to report a previously unknown object as missing.  Once a looted object gains a plausible fabricated provenance, it only takes a few purchases and a publication in one or two glossy exhibition catalogs, to give a looted object a superficial patina of legitimacy.

I was not expecting to find an object stolen from a museum as these types of thefts are routinely registered with police, as well as with art market theft databases.  Searching services, conducted by Art Loss Register, are also incorporated into the vetting of objects for sale at TEFAF in both their New York and Maastricht sales events and are designed to reduce or resolve art-related ownership disputes.

But on Thursday, 15 March 2018 around lunchtime, I pressed the send button on my smartphone application and passed a high resolution photo of a suspicious object I had seen at the stand of one of the international art dealers.  The photo sent was of a Post-Gupta, seated Buddha in the Bhumisparsha Mudra pose, a delicate bronze with his right hand as a pendant over the right knee and with the palm of his left hand facing upward.  The person I sent the photo to was Vijay Kumar, the cofounder of India Pride Project.  

IPP has been responsible for identifying countless Indian treasures stolen and smuggled overseas, some of which have been found in prestigious museums around the globe.  Less than 2 hours later, and with careful comparison with  images obtained through a retired ASI employee, Dr. Sachindra S Biswas, Kumar and I were fairly confident we had a match.  

Image Credit:  Left - ARCA Photo from TEFAF Maastricht 2018
Right - ISA Archive photo
The following morning, Friday, 16 March 2018 and after multiple cross checks, between the photos of the object I took and those of the ASI, I contacted Martin Finkelnberg, Head of the Art and Antiques Crime Unit of the Netherlands National Police Force, INTERPOL, UNESCO and the Indian authorities and presented everyone with the supporting evidence of our identification.   In our opinion, as well as the opinion of two external experts, we felt confident, to the best of our abilities, that the object for sale at TEFAF in March 2018 was an exact match to one of 14 objects stolen from the Nalanda Archaeological Museum of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in Nalanda, Bihar, India on August 22, 1961.

Despite its theft, the stolen Buddha was pictured in Ulrich Von Schroeder's book "Into-Tibetan Bronzes," a book published in Hong Kong in 1981.  By that time the object had already been satisfactorily laundered into the licit market and was  listed as part of a private collection in London.  

Pages from Ulrich Von Schroeder's book "Into-Tibetan Bronzes,"
illustrating the stolen Buddha
Based on the preponderance of evidence we presented, the Dutch police force acted immediately and sent officers to pay a visit to the dealer's representative on site at TEFAF for the last day of the Dutch fair.  The manager of the stand reported to the Dutch police that the firm was holding the object for a consignor who resided outside of the Netherlands.  

Working cooperatively with law enforcement, the dealer agreed to be in touch with the Buddha's current owner as well as New Scotland Yard, London's Metropolitan Police upon their return to London where an investigation could be taken up by the UK authorities.  ARCA and India Pride Project, in turn, passed all the evidence we had obtained on to Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of New Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit. 

Once in London, Constable Hayes began her own necessary due diligence in order to ensure that our impressions were correct.  After reviewing the documentation we had provided to the London police, Hayes contacted France Desmarais of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).  

Desmarais arranged for a neutral external expert opinion on the Buddha currently held in the UK by the antiquities dealer for the consignor.  This evaluation was conducted for evidence of authenticity as well as in comparison to the evidence provided by ARCA and India Pride Project related to the theft in Nalanda, Bihar 57 years ago. 

ICOM's expert found the bronze in question to be an authentic, and a match to one of the 14 objects stolen in 1961.

To understand how experts authenticate ancient art of this type it is important to understand that bronzes produced in the later medieval period (circa 12th century) in eastern India were made using the “lost wax” method.  This is a process where a wax model is made which can be used only once, as the wax melts away when the molten bronze is poured into the mould. For this reason, each bronze Buddha made using the lost wax method is unique, and while other Buddhas may have a similar appearances or poses, no two will be exactly alike as each object has to be made from its own individual wax mold. 

Completing this confirmation check took some time, as the number of post-Gupta era experts is limited and authentication is not something experts working in the museum community perform without careful consideration and thoughtful examination.  I'd like to personally thank both the anonymized expert and Ms. Desmarais for their time and expert assistance regarding the origins of this bronze. 

With ICOM's confirmation in hand, the Met's Art and Antiquities Squad worked to convince the current owner of the Buddha, who, along with the dealer had been cooperative throughout the investigation, to voluntarily relinquish the object back to its home country.   Today, it was handed over to Indian High Commissioner to the UK, YK Sinha during a ceremony this morning at the Gandhi Hall, India House, Aldwych in London, timed to coincide with India’s Independence Day.

Sanjeev Sanyal,  Principal Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India at the Buddha repatriation Ceremony in London.
Imag credit:  IPP
Speaking with Vijay this morning hee stated "this is a great demonstration of inter governmental and activist groups and also the need for proper documentation. We hope this is just the beginning in finding closure to this case as we are still after the rest of the stolen artifacts. Hope the museums in America are looking at this with interest. "

While I, like Vijay am overjoyed that this stolen Buddha is finally going home, another similar to it, identified in February and stolen during the same theft, still sits at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in Los Angeles, California.  The question remains, if the US-based museum will be as forthcoming as this collector and UK dealer.  Both of whom did the right thing by cooperating during the investigation and eventually returning the stolen object back to India voluntarily.  

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 7, 2018

July 24, 2018

Request for Return: A marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God

Image Credit: Safani Gallery TEFAF Maastricht advertisement

On Monday, 23 July 2018 Matthew Bogdanos, Senior Trial Counsel in the Office of New York County District through Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., submitted an Application for Turnover in support of an order pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law §450.10 (Consol. 2017) and N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law §690.55 (Consol. 2017) authorising the transfer of a circa-1st-century CE marble head of Alexander the Great as Helios, the Sun God, seized pursuant to a previously executed search warrant, from the custody of the court, to the custody of Italy.

Under order of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, the antiquity had been seized at Safani Gallery on February 22, 2018 and was taken into evidence as part of a state investigation seeking to demonstrate the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree.  This seizure was based on suspicions that the object had been stolen and at some point illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909).

Since February 22nd the object had been retained as evidence by the New York authorities pending confirmation of a formal request from Italy formally requesting intervention and while the legal case advanced through the New York legal system.

In terms of its history, court documents set out that the head was discovered during excavations of the Basilica Aemilia, located on the Via Sacra.  This is the ancient road between the Capitoline Hill and the Colosseum located within the Roman Forum in Rome. While little remains of the Basilica Aemilia today, it was considered by Rome historian Pliny the Elder to be one of the three most beautiful elements of the Roman Forum, this alongside the Forum of Augustus and the Temple of Peace. 

Looking across the remains of the Basilica Aemilia
towards the Severan Arch,
the Tabularium, and the Modern Senate House
Image Credit: B. Dolan
The head was discovered at some point during Italian research excavations carried out by Drs. Professors Giacomo Boni and later by Professor Alfonso Bartoli which were carried  out on the Palatine Hill between 1899 and 1939.  Documentation from the excavations suggest that the head belongs to one of the “Statues of Parthian Barbarians” which once adorned the Basilica.

After 20 BCE Roman art often portrayed the people of the Empire and during its restoration in 14 BCE, Augustus chose to line the Basilica with a series of Parthian figurines, perhaps in humiliation of Rome's ancient foreign enemy.  Representing individuals from the Parthian Empire (also known as the Arsacid Empire), these likenesses depicted the conquered Parthians as representatives of the Orbis Alter, subjects of Rome not considered to be part of the “civilised” world.  Stylistically, they differ from representations we have from the same period of people from the Orbis Romanus. 

According to court documents, the Italian Soprintendenza alle Antichità Palatino e Foro Romano began keeping archival photographic documentation of the objects discovered during the lengthy excavation starting in 1908.  Based on these records, the head of Alexander the Great, seized from the New York gallery, is believed to have been discovered during the second phase of excavations.  These began after 1909. This dating is derived as the Italian authorities have no written, descriptive entries or photographic archival documentation of any marble head finds from the Roman forum of the Barbarian statues prior to 1909.   It was also not until September 1909 that Dr. Professor Bartoli's team began their explorations in the zone of the Basilica Aemilia.  As a result of this and other evidence described in the Court's Application for Turnover it seems most likely that the marble head was likely found sometime around 1910.

Bear in mind 1909 is a critical date as it is this year that Italy's Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage (No 364/1909) was made into law.  According to this law, there is a presumption of the State's ownership for all archaeological objects discovered after 1909, unless the cultural Ministry acknowledges that the object does not have a cultural interest, something it would never do for objects located in the Roman Forum.

Italy's archival records from the Forum excavation document an image of the head of Alexander, taken after it was excavated, resting separately on a table at the Museo Forense cloister as well as other photos where the ovject is pictured with additional finds.  While the date of the actual theft of this head and another second missing object, which was also stolen, is undetermined the incident is believed to have occurred sometime before 1959.

What we can define with certainty, on the basis of the dating of the archival photograph, along with the excavation records of the start date of the Basilica site excavation, and documentation of the dates the Museo Forense cloister would have been available to be used as a evidentiary photographic venue, is that this object indisputably originated from Italy.  Predicated on the foregoing evidence, it can be proven that the marble head of Alexander was removed from Italian territory after the 1909 law was enacted.

It is on this basis that the object has been defined as stolen property by the State of New York, as its removal from the custody of the Italian authorities was in contravention of the 1909 Italian law.  Also, according to New York law, a thief can never acquire good title.  It should be noted that the removal of the head of Alexander from the Republic of Italy without an export license from the Italian governmental authorities authorising its removal from the territory is also a further violation of Italian law.

Interestingly though, like many stolen works of art illicitly obtained, antiquities remain fairly easy to launder, being sold over and over again through a lack of adequate due diligence in some of the finest, legitimate marketplaces and to and through some of the richest collectors in the world.  In this instance, the Alexander head has sold in the United States and in the United Kingdom on multiple occasions.

But where was the object bought and sold? 

While the documentation of this object's collection history is spartan, we know that on 22 November 1974 the head of Alexander sold for a mere $650, having been consigned by the Hagop Kevorkian fund to Sotheby Parke Bernet. Sotheby’s Auction House acquired Parke Bernet Galleries in 1964 and adopted the name Sotheby Parke Bernet throughout the 1970s.  Today, that auction house is known simply as Sotheby’s.  The buyer at the time was listed only as "Altertum Ltd."

Sometime after that date the object was then purportedly purchased by Professor Oikonomides who indicated to others that he purchased the object while vacationing in Cairo, Egypt sometime between 1984 and 1986.  The object was then bequeathed to Dr. Miller by Oikonomides when he passed away in 1988.

Sotheby's Website Screen Capture
taken 24 July 2018
On 08 December 2011 the object sold at Sotheby's for a second time during Sotheby’s Egyptian, Classical and Western Asiatic Antiquities sale .

At the time of this auction, the purported provenance for the object was listed as:

Hagop Kevorkian (1872-1962), New York, most likely acquired prior to World War II
The Hagop Kevorkian Fund (Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, November 22nd, 1974, no. 317, illus.)
A.N. Oikonomides, Chicago

But with very little in the way of documentation to confirm this narrative.

The object ultimately sold to an unidentified buyer for $92,500 USD.

In May 2017, the head of Alexander surfaced across the Atlantic.  This time the ancient marble head went up for sale in the United Kingdom, having once been in the possession of former Qatari culture minister and cousin of the current ruler of the oil-rich Arab country, Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Ali Al-Thani.  Before his death in 2014 Sheikh Saud Al-Thani was believed to have been the world's richest art collector.

Through Classical Galleries Limited, UK the Sheikh’s foundation sold the head of Alexander on to Alan Safani of Safani Gallery for $152,625 on June 20, 2017.

Object Identified

Safani Gallery Booth - TEFAF 2018
Image Credit: L. Albertson
By an amazing bit of serendipity, on 19 February 2018 Dr. Patrizia Fortini, Director and Coordinator of the Archaeological Site of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill chanced upon an advertisement which featured a photo of the stolen head in a publication for the upcoming 2018 Fine Arts Expo known as TEFAF.  In the dealer's documentation, a photograph of the head had been included highlighting Safani Gallery's offerings for the upcoming Maastricht sale due to be held in the Netherlands, March 10-18, 2018.

The photo in the advertisement and the old archival documentation photo of the head in the Museo Forense’s cloister were one and the same object and as a result, Italy moved forward in requesting the object's seizure.

Statute of Limitations and Clear Title

Under New York law, barring the expiration of the statute of limitations or application of the laches doctrine, one cannot obtain title from a thief unless the present-day possessor's title can be traced to someone with whom the original owner voluntarily entrusted the art.  As clear title is not possible in the case of Italy's marble head of Alexander, it will be up to Safani and his counsel to see if they will base their case on the laches defense or voluntarily relinquish the object.  What is clear is that the plaintiff, in this case Italy, has not unreasonably delayed in initiating their action.

The purpose of the doctrine of laches is to safeguard the interests of good faith purchasers, in this case of lost/stolen art, by weighing in the balance of competing interest, the owner's diligence in pursuing their claim.   

While delay in pursuing a claim for the head could be considered in the context of laches under New York law given that the theft occurred at an unknown time so many years ago, it has long been the law of this state that a property owner, having discovered the location of its lost property, cannot unreasonably delay in making their demand upon the person in possession of that property.  As Italy acted quickly as soon as the ID was confirmed, this course of legal action doesn't seem to be a viable route for retaining the objet in question.

To view the New York Application for Turnover in its entirety, please see here.
To view the New York February 22, 2018 Seizure Order, please see here.

By:  Lynda Albertson

March 2, 2018

Repatriations - a 17th century Italianate landscape and a first century CE marble sculpture depicting Aphrodite

Two months into the new year brings with it two significant repatriations for objects stolen in Italy and illegally transferred for sale on foreign art markets.  Both artworks, an oil painting and a marble statue, were discovered during auction sales, despite having been stolen in Italy. 

This week a 17th century Italianate landscape, attributed to either Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765) or Andrea Locatelli (1695-1741), has made its way home to Italy.  

Donated in 1892 by the Italian noble Torlonia family, the oil painting was stolen on January 1, 1994.  In November 2017 the artwork was identified by the Italian authorities when it came up for sale at a London auction house. Its starting bid: 40.000 GBP.

At some point the painting appears to have passed through the hands of the Roman branch of the London auction house, before being transferred to London for sale.  Under Italy’s Cultural Heritage Code any artwork created more than fifty years ago (i.e. before 1947 in this case) by a deceased artist requires an export licence in order to be exported.  No information has been released by the Italian authorities as to if the consigner provided the auction house with such a document and if so, if that document was valid or fabricated.  

After this week's press conference, the painting will be returned to the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism and reintegrated into the collection of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica where it will go on display at either the the Palazzo Barberini or the Palazzo Corsini. 


One month earlier, on January 30, 2018 the Carabinieri reported that a first century CE marble sculpture depicting the torso of the goddess Aphrodite had also been repatriated to Italy.  This marble statue, with an estimated value of €300.000 had been stolen in 2011 from the University of Foggia and was identified by Italy's Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale for sale in Munich Germany in 2013. 

In the scope of a lengthy investigation, Italian and German authorities identified identified an organized smuggling ring, operating between Italy and Germany, where looted antiquities plundarded from Italy passed from the hands of a looter, through a  middleman, who carried out the deliveries abroad, on to the individual in Germany who sold objects to collectors interested in antiquities in Germany. 

In 2016, when those involved in this trafficking operation were taken into custody, more than 2,500 objects were seized which had not yet made their way to Germany.   The statue of Aphrodite, was returned to Italy via international letters rogatory and with cooperation from the German authorities as well as the Public Prosecutor's Office of Rome. 


October 13, 2017

Seizure - archaic marble torso of a calf bearer from the collection of Michael Steinhardt

In further identifications connected to the recent seizure and pending repatriation of a Lebanese marble bull's head, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos through the New York authorities has issued another warrant on October 10, 2017 requesting the seizure of a second antiquity also believed to have been plundered from Lebanon during its civil war.

This object, an archaic marble torso of a calf bearer, was also acquired by William and Lynda Beierwaltes and then sold to New York collector Michael H. Steinhardt, in 2015. 

Steinhardt's collecting has come under scrutiny in the past.

The seizure warrant states that the described property constitutes evidence, and tends to demonstrate the crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree.  

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in Second Degree – NY Penal Law 165.52

A person is found guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof, and when the value of the property exceeds fifty thousand dollars.

Criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree is a class C non violent felony in New York.  

The warrant document further authorises law enforcement personnel to videotape and photograph the interior of Michael H. Steinhardt's 5th avenue apartment as well as grants them permission to review stored electronic communications, data, information, and images contained in computer disks, CD Roms, and hard drives. 

A copies of the public domain record filed with New York County on this case can be found in the case review files on ARCA's website here



Lynda and William Beierwaltes against Directorate General of Antiquities of the Lebanese Republic and the District Attorney of New York County - Notice of Voluntary Dismissal


Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 
the case involving plaintiffs William and Lynda Beierwaltes and a Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) filed with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York has been voluntarily dismissed with prejudice.

Copies of the public domain records on this case, including this Notice of Voluntary Dismissal written on October 11, 2017, can be found in the case review files on ARCA's website here. 


October 12, 2017

Pending Repatriation: The Illicit Passages of a Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE)


Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE),
 (image courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
On Wednesday, through lawyer, William G. Pearlstein, collectors William and Lynda Beierwaltes released a formal statement on the Marble Head of a Bull (ca 500-460 BCE) seized by the New York District Attorney’s office on July 06, 2017 while on loan at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over suspicions that the antiquity had been pillaged from Lebanon during that country's civil war.   The bull's head sculpture was acquired by the couple on November 27, 1996 for US$1.2 million from one of the (now) most notorious dealers in the antiquities world, Robin Symes.

Through their attorney, the statement read:

“After having been presented with incontrovertible evidence that the bull’s head was stolen from Lebanon, the Beierwaltes believed it was in everyone’s best interest to withdraw their claim to the bull’s head and allow its repatriation to Lebanon.”

This decision was taken after the State of New York's 68-page Application for Turnover went into painstaking detail on how this plundered antiquity made its way illicitly to the United States.  That document can be read here.

In a letter to the Honorable Daniel P. FitzGerald with the Supreme Court of New York County, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos writes that the Beierwaltes have signed a stipulation consenting to the Court’s release of the Bull’s Head to the Lebanese Republic pursuant to N.Y. Penal Law §450.10 on the disposal of stolen property and the N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law §690.55 on search warrants and the disposition of seized property.

A copy of this letter can be read here. 

This voluntary forfeiture paves the way for a formal ceremony of repatriation, in which the Bull's Head will be handed to a representative to be designated by the Lebanese Ministry of Culture within 15 days.

According to a New York Times article, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos and researchers which have supported his case spotted another potentially looted antiquity, also from Lebanon.  This object, a marble torso of a calf bearer, was identified in a photograph taken inside the Beierwalteses’ home for the June 1998 special issue of of House & Garden magazine.

The photos for this magazine are included in publicly filed documents with the New York District Attorney case and can be read here.

According to an article by Colin Moynihan for the New York Times, Attorney Bogdanos has stated that this object too may have been plundered from Lebanon prior to it being acquired by William and Lynda Beierwaltes.  The article goes on to specify that the Beierwalteses then sold this object on to New York collector Michael H. Steinhardt, in 2015.

The DA's office has stated it has obtained a warrant to seize this object from Mr. Steinhardt.

September 12, 2017

Repatriation: United States will return Iraqi Jewish Archive to Iraq in 2018.

Books and documents from the Iraqi Jewish Archive prior to conservation

On May 6, 2003, in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat headquarters, American soldiers from MET (Mobile Exploitation Team) Alpha, led by now-retired Chief Warrant Officer Richard “Monty” Gonzales, found thousands of Jewish communal and religious books in Arabic and Hebrew that appeared to record the life of Iraq's Jewish community  which flourished for over 2,500 years in the region of Babylonia. Unfortunately, the cache of historic items was discovered floating in hip-deep wastewater in the recently-liberated, bomb-damaged headquarters.

Former Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales in waist-deep
sewage water in the basement of Saddam Hussein’s
Mukhabarat headquarters in Baghdad. Image Credit: Richard Gonzales

For emergency assistance in preserving the trove of books, manuscripts and documents, some dating from the mid-sixteenth to late twentieth century, Doris Hamburg, then Director of Preservation Programs at the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) preservation program was contacted by the Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad.



Hamburg and Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Chief of the Document Conservation Laboratory, in cooperation with the Iraqi officials, recommended freezing the documents as soon as possible as heat and humidity would produce a conservator's worst enemy: mold.  Freezing as a short-term solution is a common method which can quickly stabilize mold infestations until such time as an appropriate treatment to dry out materials can be undertaken.  The ability to freeze documents buys conservators time, allowing fragile material to be preserved until the documents can be sorted with care and worked on in a priority-centric  and carefully informed pace. 

Heeding NARA's advice, those on the ground moved the waterlogged damaged, and by now moldy documents into 27 large steel trunks.  In turn, these 2,700 books and thousands of Jewish paper documents were placed in a requisitioned freezer truck for storage until August 17, 2003 when a deal was struck between NARA and Iraq’s interim government.    

Citing Iraq's Antiquities Law No. 55, Dr Jaber Khalil Ibrahim, Chairman of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage at the Iraqi Ministry of Culture agreed to send the documents to the United States on a temporary basis, to allow NARA to undertake emergency conservation, on the condition that the material would be returned to Iraq within two years.

As their part of the agreement, NARA agreed to cover overhead costs for administrative functions, lab use, storage and utilities.  The US Military provided the security and transport of the archive from Baghdad to the United States where conservation treatment would occur. 

The trunks were brought to BMS Catastrophe (BMS CAT), a freeze drying company in Ft. Worth Texas utilized by NARA which deals with catastrophic damage and where salvage operations on the documents would start in earnest. Cleaning the documents of mold would be a complicated process, as those working with the materials would be required to wear protective suits for their own health and safety. 

Successful recovery of water-damaged archival materials is usually done in one of two ways: evaporation or sublimation, depending on the state of the water before it passes to vapor and escapes from the materials being conserved.  Water in the wet state can evaporate via air drying but this is not always the optimal method of choice. When freeze dried in controlled atmospheric conditions, water in its solid state, ice, will sublimate and can then be removed from the materials while still in its gaseous phase, without passing through the liquid phase. 

Freeze drying in a vacuum chamber was the conservation method of choice for the Iraqi Jewish Archive given the large numbers of waterlogged and damaged books, some of which had water-sensitive inks and coated paper.  It also limited the problems of bleeding and tidelines on the materials and helps to minimize document shrinkage and brittleness. Ultimately, vacuum freeze drying the texts allowed mold, mud, dirt, and dust to be vacuumed from the surface of the material in a controlled manner, so that conservators could focus their attention on reparations of the archive's contents, prioritizing which objects needed treatment first.  

A lengthy process, the archive's preservation at times has been hampered by funding concerns. As the Iraqi Jewish Archive is not a U.S. govern­ment collection, the United States National Archives and Records Administration funds could not be used for the conservation project.  Outside funding, provided by private donors, foundations or indirectly via other government agencies with authority was needed.

Many philanthropic Jewish organizations balked at funding the conservation and cataloguing initiative knowing that it was highly likely that the collection would ultimately be returned to Baghdad and not remain in the United States or Israel. 

In late 2005, $98,000 was allocated via the National Endowment to the the Center for Jewish History who facilitated the second phase of the preservation project.  To establish preservation priorities for Phase II Susan Duhl and conservation technician were contracted to work under the direction of the National Archives to assess and document the condition of the collection. 

Focusing on proper storage, the pair inventoried the material and took digital photographs used to establish a preliminary digital archive and catalogue, which, with language expertise, could then help set priorities as to what documents were in the collection as well as what actually should be preserved first. 

Experts knowledgeable in Levant and Jewish history met in May 2010 and offered recommendations regarding priorities for preservation, access, and to discuss the potential of an online digital archive and exhi­bitions.

In 2011 the US Department of State allocated an additional 2.97 million for was was to be the final phase of the preservation project.  This funding specified that the project was to be completed in 2014, with the objects to be repatriated June 2014. 

On May 14, 2014, Lukman Faily, the Iraqi ambassador to the US, announced that the Iraqi government had authorized an extension period in which the archive could remain in the United States for a while longer, with key pieces displayed on exhibition.

The four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. is set to expire in September 2018. 

Call it cultural preservation, cultural imperialism, or call it stealing. 

Since the initial transfer of the Iraqi Jewish Archive to the United States, the question of its eventual repatriation to Iraq has been a source of continual contention.  Some argue that Iraq viciously persecuted its Jews and given their displacement, the archive should never be repatriated, belonging instead to the country's displaced jews. 

Others argue that the US is ethically bound to repatriate as they singularly promised the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Author­ity in Baghdad they would do so. 

Speaking to some individuals in Iraq, some feel strongly that the US government intervened solely because of the Jewish nature of the damaged objects.  They resent the special attention this archive received while other important archival documents and rare books belonging to the Iraq National Library and Archive, also impacted by the same type of wastewater flooding, were neglected. [NB the archival materials removed from the INLA were far more extensive than the Jewish documents held by the Mukhabarat and didn't fair as well with regards to preservation]. 

Marc Masurovsky of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project has said that while it appears that the US government is now of a mind to finally return these artifacts to Iraq in 2018, there will be others in clear opposition to that repatriation. 

He writes: 


Sigal Samuel, a self described Iraqi Jew, argues that the archive should go home. 

In a 2014 article in favor of the their return she stated:


On the argument of accessibility by Jewish readers when the artifacts go home Samuel argued:

"I understand that returning the archive to Iraq would make it difficult or impossible for most Jews — particularly Israelis — to safely access it. But even though I myself am saddled with an Israeli name and citizenship, I still don’t think this is an argument for keeping the archive in the U.S. I think it’s an argument for digitization — a process that’s already underway. Or it’s an argument for setting up loans, which would allow the exhibit to be housed permanently in Iraq but travel every few years to this or that Jewish population center.

In digital-age America, we take it for granted that everything we love should be at our fingertips. But relinquishing that luxury sometimes comes with distinct advantages. When it comes to returning this trove to Iraq, the advantages are clear: There, it will serve a vital educational purpose, both for world Jewry and for non-Jewish Iraq."

In a statement to the Jewish Telegraph Service this week, State Department spokesman Pablo Rodriguez said the four-year extension to keep the Iraqi Jewish Archive in the U.S. will expire in September 2018, as will funding for maintaining and transporting the contents of the archive. Outside of a new agreement being drawn up and signed between the Government of Iraq and a temporary host institution or government it looks like the archive is finally going to be repatriated.

Portions of the archive, featuring 23 recovered items and a “behind the scenes” video of the painstaking preservation process will be on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland from October 15, 2017 until January 15, 2018.

Highlights include:

For more details please see:
https://www.ija.archives.gov/
https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2013/fall-winter/ija.pdf

April 20, 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017 - , No comments

Repatriation: The Cleveland Museum of Art returns WWII looted bust of Drusus Minor to Italy

Sometimes the repatriation of a looted object is a long time coming. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 the Cleveland Museum of Art and Italy's Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo - MiBACT announced with great public fanfare and press releases that an agreement had finally been reached for the transfer of a marble portrait head representing Drusus Minor (Drusus Julius Caesar, 13 B.C.E.-C.E. 23) back to its country of origin.

The object was part of a group of sculptures excavated in the 1920s that had been displayed in the Civic Museum of Sessa Aurunca from 1926 until it went missing some 70+ years ago at the end of the Second World War.  It is speculated that the object was taken by military personnel, perhaps in search of war mementos.

When the museum first announced the object's acquisition in 2012 they made no mention of who the marble head was purchased from, nor what the purchase price was.  

Seeking to establish an exception to the AAMD's Guidelines on the Acquisition of Archaeological Material and Ancient Art the cached version of the now removed AAMD website object information page listed the object's details and collection history as follows:

Object Title:  Head of Drusus Minor (13 B.C. – A.D. 23)Measurements:  H. 35 cmCreation Date:  probably after A.D. 23 and likely before A.D. 37Credit Line:  Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. FundMuseum Name:  The Cleveland Museum of ArtCulture:  RomanCountry of Origin:  AlgeriaObject Type:  SculpturesMaterials / Techniques: MarbleProvenance Information: Fernand Sintes before 1960; sold at auction at Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu Paris on September 29, 2004, lot. no. 340, unknown purchaser; Phoenix Ancient Art, S.A.(2004); sold to the Cleveland Museum of Art by Phoenix Ancient Art in 2012.Exhibition Information:  No DataPublication Information:  Piasa, Paris, Hôtel Drouot-Richelieu, Archéologie, 28–29 Septembre (Paris 2004) 74, lot. no. 340. Phoenix Ancient Art, Imago, Four Centuries of Roman Portraiture, (New York 2007) cover, III.

Section of the AAMD Guidelines relied upon for the exception to 1970: 

Cumulative facts and circumstances - Explain why the object fits the exception set forth above: The Cleveland Museum of Art has provenance information for this work back to the 1960’s, but has been unable to obtain documentary confirmation of portions of the provenance as described below. The work was sold at public auction in 2004 when it first appeared on the art market. The work was initially identified and published as Tiberius, but was later (after 2007) recognized as a likeness of his son, Drusus Minor. A certificate of origin was issued dated the day after the auction by Jean-Philippe Mariaud de Serres (deceased 2007), who assisted the prior owner and consigner, Fernand Sintes. The certificate stated the sculpture came from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Sintes of Marseilles; that the sculpture had been in Mr. Sintes’s family for many generations; that the family’s name was Bacri; and that they had lived in Algeria since 1860. The museum contacted Mrs. Sintes who confirmed on behalf of herself and Mr. Sintes that Mr. Sintes’ grandfather, Mr. Bacri, had owned the sculpture; that Mr. Sintes inherited the sculpture from his grandfather; that Mr. Sintes brought it from Algeria to Marseilles in 1960; that he had inherited it from his grandfather prior to bringing it to Marseilles; that the sculpture was sold at the Hôtel Drouot in 2004; and that they had worked with Mr. de Serres. The portrait, monumental in scale and of great historical importance, belongs to a major category of Roman imperial portraiture not otherwise represented in the collections of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Drafted by the the Association of Art Museum Directors and adopted by the AAMD member institutions in the US, Canada and Mexico, the AAMD guidelines, set standards by which member museums should conduct due diligence when acquiring archaeological material and ancient art.  These guidelines serve to discourage member museums from purchasing antiquities unless solid collection histories prove that the object was outside its country of probable modern discovery before 1970, or was legally exported from its probable country of modern discovery after 1970.

Filling in the gaps on one repatriated object's collection history 

Through the dedicated work of multiple researchers, archaeologists, and lawyers in Italy, France, the UK, the US and Poland, we know the following:

The French auction house's website recorded that the sculpture was sold as lot. 340 to an anonymous buyer at a Hôtel Drouot auction in Paris on September 29, 2004 for €324,000. 

The Cleveland Museum of Art acquired the ancient Roman portrait of the son of Emperor Tiberius 8 years later, from Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealer with galleries in Geneva and New York, whose has been discussed with recurring frequency on the Association's blog.

An image of the Drusus Minor bust graces the cover of the 2007 edition of the Phoenix Ancient Art catalog Imago, dedicated to four hundred years of Roman portraiture.  This cover photo can be seen in the screenshot taken from the dealer's eTiquities website below. 


It is unclear if the bust remained in the Aboutaam brothers' inventory from its 2004 purchase until its eventual purchase by the museum in 2012.

The museum's 2012 purchase was made possible from a credit line tapping the Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund.  Iron, coal, and shipping magnate Leonard C. Hanna Jr. was an avid art collector, theatergoer, and patron of the arts. At his death, Hanna left a bequest of $34 million USD to the Cleveland Museum of Art making it the best-endowed art museum in the United States.  Income from the Hanna endowment fund is restricted to the purchase of art.

Sessa Aurunca, Remains of the theatre (scavi 1925–1926)
Image Credit: Soprintendenza Archeologia della Campania
In the October-December 2014 Bollettino D’Arte, produced by Italy’s Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, author Giuseppe Scarpati deduced that documentation stored in the Neapolitan archives of the Superintendence Archeologia della Campania, included previously unpublished photos which catagorically confirm that the object was originally discovered between 1925-1926 in Italy when Amedeo Maiuri was excavating the Gagliardella district of Sessa Aurunca, near the site's theater.

The black and white photos found in the Naples archives were taken in 1926. Contact find records of the documented measurements for the ancient marble head, also match records from the Cleveland museum's ancient art collection. 

Image Credit Top Left and Bottom, Soprintendenza Archeologia della Campania, 1926
Image Credit Top Right: ARCA
In a still earlier Italian article, published before the museum's purchase, by the Italian Societá Nazionale di Scienze Lettere ed Arti Napoli, Volume LXXV 2008-2011,  Scarpati had already documented the find images, as well as site diagrams by Sergio Cascella whose documentation reconstructs the zone of the the excavation find spot, the theatre at Sessa Aurunca.

With all this documentation, transfer of the object by the Cleveland Museum of Art back to Italy was clearly the only appropriate resolution.

But will the museum will be reimbursed by Phoenix Ancient Art?

At the time of this article, William Griswold, the museum's director at the Cleveland Museum of Art declined to comment on whether his museum would be reimbursed by the Aboutaams. 

And if the museum is not reimbursed? 

According to a 2014 US government, there are upwards of 35,000 museums in America.  But how many museums employ dedicated provenance researchers to conduct research, to trace an object's history of ownership, and to clarify the circumstances surrounding the potential costly acquisition of an artwork or an antiquity with illicit or looted origins?

In 2016 Cleveland Museum of Art was named the second best museum in the U.S. by Business Insider magazine, just one step behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Perhaps given the diplomatically touchy nature of repatriating looted objects, which necessitates both parties drafting tedious carefully-agreed upon press releases about how wonderful one another is, museums might be wiser to invest in more personnel with solid provenance researching backgrounds to vet objects before their purchase.

In the long run, provenance researchers are cheaper than having to forfeit a pricey accessioned treasure, not to mention,  museum directors aren't subjected to those cheesy photo opportunities with cultural attachés wearing diplomatically-pasted-on grins.

Food for future purchasing thought

A statement from the ICOM International Observatory on Illicit Traffic in Cultural Goods states: 

Might be worthwhile to re-read this suggestion before signing a check for that new must-have acquisition.  Failure to engage in due diligence causes institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art  to suffer at their own hands.

By:  Lynda Albertson


References accessed and interviews used for this article


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ARCA internal research data

Avvocatura dello Stato and the Procuratore Aggiunto dello Stato, Italy

Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo

Stefano Alessandrini, consultant to Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo and the L'Avvocatura dello Stato - Italy. 

Paul Barford, http://paul-barford.blogspot.it/search?q=drusus+cleveland&max-results=20&by-date=true

Sergio Cascella - https://www.academia.edu/2199517/Un_ritratto_di_Tiberio_da_Sessa_Aurunca_ritrovato_RAAN_LXXV_2008-2011_pp._345-368

David Gill, http://lootingmatters.blogspot.it/search?q=drusus+cleveland&max-results=20&by-date=true

Giuseppe Scarpati - https://www.academia.edu/24236780/IL_RITRATTO_DI_DRUSO_MINORE_DAL_CICLO_STATUARIO_GIULIO_CLAUDIO_DI_SESSA_AURUNCA


Rick St. Hilaire - http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.it/2017/04/drusus-head-revisited.html

December 23, 2016

Visiting Florence and want to see an exhibition dedicated to art crime? The beauty of art and its appreciation can heal the wounds inflicted.

Visiting Florence between now and February 14, 2017?  

Then you should try and make time to see "La Tutela Tricolore," an exhibition dedicated to the “Custodians of Italy’s cultural identity” at the La Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze.



The exhibition opened December 19, 2016, and is made up of eight themed sections, some of which are highlighted here.  Focusing on art crimes in general and highlighting many of the exceptional recoveries that are a result of Italy's unique investment in cultural heritage protection through its  unique-in-the-world Comando Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale dei Carabinieri, the exhibition demonstrates just how diverse "crimes against art" really are.

The event inaugurates the newly opened Aula Magliabechiana, part of a 18 million euro restoration project to overhaul two floors beneath the Biblioteca Magliabechiana.  These renovations not only provide a connection with Vasari’s original building on Piazza Castellani, but create a permanent exhibition space on the ground floor which will be dedicated to temporary exhibits such as this one.


"La Tutela Tricolore's" first section highlights art crimes by terrorism and pays homage to the city of Florence and the Uffizi's recovery from the May 27, 1993 bombing on the museum and the Accademia dei Georgofili.

Long before there was an ISIS, domestic terrorists affiliated with the Italian organised crime group Cosa Nostra placed 280 kilograms of Pentrite and T4 explosives mixed with a small quantity of TNT in a Fiat and left it parked on Via dei Georgofili, just behind the historic Uffizi Gallery's main entrance.  The resulting early morning explosion, caused when the car bomb detonated, created a ten foot wide and six foot deep crater that claimed the lives of five people, including one small, seven-week old, girl. Thirty-three people were treated in local hospitals for their injuries and the scar on the heart of the Renaissance city remains palpable in Florence's architecture and the city's collections.

Serving as a defiant symbol of "defeat through reconstruction," the opening of this Uffizi exhibition space commemorates this mournful occurrence and Florence's determination to overcome its devastating effects.  It serves as a reminder that through solidarity and hope, the beauty of art, and its appreciation and preservation, has the ability to heal wounds, even those inflicted long ago.

Section two of the exhibition highlights Florentine works of art stolen during World War II.  Some of the highlights on display include Labors of Hercules by Antonio Pollaiolo, the Madonna and Child (also called the Tickling Madonna or the Madonna Casini) by Masaccio, and Galatea by Bronzino.

Another section highlights works of art repatriated to Italy from other countries.

Some of the more recent repatriations on display are:

Photo Credit: Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara
The Torlonia Peplophoros, a first-century BC sculpture depicting the body of a young goddess.  The statue is one of 15 stolen from the Villa Torlonia in Rome in 1983 which was just returned to Italy on December 7, 2016 from the United States.


An ornate parade wagon dating back to the early seventh century B.C.E., looted from the tomb of a Sabine prince laid to rest within the Colle del Forno necropolis. This wagon and other funerary objects were repatriated July 2016 following extremely difficult and protracted multi-year negotiations with the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum in Denmark's capital of Copenhagen.


A second century CE marble head, belonging to a statue of Julia Domna, the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus, the founder of the Severan dynasty.  This bust was stolen from the Museo del Canopo at Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli in 2012 and was also returned to Italy earlier this month.


This 510 B.C. E Etruscan black-figure kalpis, attributed to the Micali painter or his workshop, was looted by Tombaroli passed through the now well known trafficking network of Gianfranco Becchina before being sold to the Toledo Museum of Art with only a photocopy of two paragraphs typed in German on hotel stationery by the Swiss hotel's owner, stating he had owned it since 1935 as provenance.  As the result of an incriminating polaroid and a Federal Verified Complaint in Forfeiture, the museum was eventually encouraged to return the antiquity to Italy in 2012.

The sixth section highlights the globalization of criminal networks with pieces recovered from the Castellani Goldsmith collection, stolen during a dramatic 2013 Easter weekend jewelry heist the Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia in Rome. As reported on earlier, this museum theft turned out to be a theft-to-order, involving a shady antiquarian, a drug dealer and a Russian with a penchant for gold.


Some of the last objects in the exhibit are the most poignant, and highlight art crimes in war, and the risk to the countries irreplaceable works of art which have been subject to natural disasters like Italy's recent earthquakes that continuously endanger its historic buildings and collections.  These objects remind us that fighting to protect art, against the elements and against the theft and exportation of works of art is a matter of civilisation and is a battle which warrants our full investment and engagement.

This exhibition is free of charge and runs through 14 February 2017 in Florence at:
La Galleria degli Uffizi a Firenze
Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze, Italy
Phone:+39 055 23885
Tues. – Sun. 10 am to 7 pm
(Closed on Mondays)
Entrance from door 2,
guided visits can be requested at: firenzemusei@operalaboratori.com.

December 21, 2016

Repatriation: Museo Civico di Castelvecchio - 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015


Following the convictions of many of the accomplices arrested in connection with the theft of 17 paintings stolen on November 19, 2015 from the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio, the paintings are finally cleared to return to Italy today.

In a ceremony held earlier this morning, broadcast live from the Khanenko museum in Kiev at 11:45 GMT+1, the stolen works of art were formally released in the presence of the President of the Ukraine, Petro Porošenko to the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism, Dario Franceschini and an Italian delegation made up of:

Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona
Gen. Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale
Dr. Gennaro Ottaviano, the Deputy Prosecutor of Verona
Dr. Vincenzo Nicolì, Director of the Central Operational Service (SCO)
Roberto Benedetto, the head of the mobile police squad of Verona,
Antonio Coppola, Commander of the Operational department of the Comando Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale
Dr. Ettore Napione, Curator of the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio


This afternoon, at 17.30 GMT+1 the 17 works of art will be presented back to the Verona public at the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio where a ceremony will be held welcoming the paintings back home.

All 17 artworks were recovered May 6, 2016 in the Ukrainian region of Odessa during a raid carried out by the special Ukrainian police forces.  The museum pieces were found wrapped in plastic bags and hidden in a willow forest, located on Turunciuk island, a parcel of land that sits on the left branch of the Dniester River that flows along the border between Moldova and the Ukraine.

Ricciardi Pasquale Silvestri, the point of connection between the Italians and the Moldavians criminals involved in the theft, was sentenced December 5, 2015 to 10 years and eight months for his role in the armed robbery and kidnapping.  His brother, Francesco Silvestri, the contracted security guard at the Castelvecchio museum on the night of the robbery, also involved in the plot, was sentenced to 10 years for his key role in illustrating the vulnerabilities of the museum. 

Pasquale's Moldovan girlfriend, Svetlana Tkachuk received a six-year prison sentence, for her role and translator between the members of the transnational organized crime group.  Another co-conspirator, also from Moldova, Victor Potinga, was sentenced to five years. Potinga transported the stolen artworks in his van from Verona to Brescia the evening of the theft. 

Two other defendants, Anatolie Burlac Jr. and Denis Damaschin each entered guilty pleas earlier in the year for their own roles in the crime.  Damaschin was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months incarceration for receiving stolen goods, having stored the paintings in his home in Brescia, in Northern Italy before they were disguised in television boxes and transported to the Ukraine. 

Arrested in Romania and extradited to Italy after some initial confusion over his identity, his father is Anatolie Burlac Sr., who is also wanted for questioning in the crime, Burlac Jr. received the lightest of the sentences handed down in connection with the crime, only one year eight months.   This was most likely due to the critical statements he made while being interrogated by the Italian authorities, which contributed to the convictions handed down in the case. Other accomplices, arrested last March, are still to be tried in Moldova.


Testimony presented in the case against the six in Italy indicated that the theft was originally planned for the 18th of November. It was then postponed to the next evening as the accomplices arrived at the museum on the 18th only to find additional cars in the parking lot indicating their was too much activity in the area to proceed.

According to defence attorneys, the original plan was to rob the museum of one painting only, a theft to order, with only the guard-accomplice present who was to pretend to authorities that he had been subdued during the robbery. Unfortunately, the accomplices arrived prematurely while the museum's cashier was still in the building. By tying her up and gagging her along with their accomplice-cohort, the thieves transformed the museum theft from a simple robbery to armed robbery and kidnapping. 

Ukrainian law enforcement believes that the works were shipped out of Moldova and into the Ukraine after arrests were made in the case in mid-March.  If the shift was made to hide the evidence or to send the works onwards to buyers in either somewhere in the Ukraine or Russia has never been established with certainty, however Italian police and Ukrainian media reports have suggested that the final buyer was rumored to be a wealthy collector in Chechnya.  According to the Russian news agency TASS, the paintings were sent from Moldova to the Ukraine via the postal service and at the time of their discovery, were awaiting transfer back to Moldova.