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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query christos tsirogiannis. Sort by date Show all posts

December 13, 2013

Sotheby's sells Symes marble matched by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis in the Schinousa archives for more than $4.6 million today; Sotheby's withdraws The Medici Pan; and Christie's in NY aims to sell Symes Pan tomorrow

Looting Matters: Hermes-Thoth
Image: Schinousa Archive
Today Sotheby's auction house in New York sold an ancient marble head for more than $4.6 million even after Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis pointed out that the piece, owned by Robin Symes, matched an image in the Schinousa archives. 

On December 5, Professor David Gills wrote on his blog "Looting Matters" under the post Symes and Hermes-Thoth about a 2,000 year old marble head for sale at a New York auction house today:
I am grateful to my Cambridge colleague Dr Christos Tsirogiannis for pointing out that the head of Hermes-Thoth due to be auctioned at Sotheby's New York next week had once passed through the hands of Robin Symes (December 12, 2013, lot 39). The estimate is $2.5-3.5 million.... Colour images of the head feature in the Schinousa archive where they were identified by Tsirogiannis.


In 2006, Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini published The Medici Conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities, from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums, an expose about the network of tombaroli and art dealers who funneled looted antiquities into private and public collections from the 1960s through the 1990s. Peter Watson wrote Mr. Symes legal problems in "The fall of Robin Symes" in 2005. On Trafficking Culture, archaeologist Neil Brodie summarizes the illegal activities of Giacomo Medici, convicted in 2005 of receiving stolen goods, illegal export of goods, and conspiracy to traffic. Here's how Symes is believed to have been involved:
By the late 1980s, Medici had developed commercial relations with other major antiquities dealers including Robin Symes, Frieda Tchacos, Nikolas Koutoulakis, Robert Hecht, and the brothers Ali and Hischam Aboutaam (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 73-4). He was the ultimate source of artefacts that would subsequently be sold through dealers or auction houses to private collectors, including Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman, Maurice Tempelsman, Shelby White and Leon Levy, the Hunt brothers, George Ortiz, and José Luis Várez Fisa (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 112-34; Isman 2010), and to museums including the J. Paul Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Sotheby's Hermes-Thoth
Neil Brodie explained in September 2012:
Investigative reporter Nikolas Zirganos took a special interest in the activities of British antiquities dealer Robin Symes, and was present in April 2006 when Greek police raided a villa on the island of Schinoussa belonging to Symes and his deceased partner Christos Michaelides. Zirganos described how the villa on Schinoussa was used for what he described as the ‘preparation and closing of deals’ (Zirganos 2007: 318). The villa was in effect a social and commercial hub, where Symes and Michaelides would entertain archaeologists, museum curators, conservators and wealthy collectors to gossip about the market and what was available for purchase, and to arrange sales. Thus, it was possible for a customer to purchase an illicit artefact on Schinoussa without actually coming into contact with it. The artefact would be smuggled separately to Switzerland, where the customer could take possession of it.
Jason Felch, author of Chasing Aphrodite and an investigative journalist for The Los Angeles Times, wrote of Symes in January 2013:
Last year, the Getty quietly returned 150 marble fragments in the collection (88.AA.140 - 88.AA.144) to Italy after evidence emerged that they joined objects found in the same looted tombs of Ascoli Satriano that produced the Getty's Griffins and statue of Apollo, which were returned to Italy in 2007. The objects and fragments were acquired in the 1980s from London dealer Robin Symes.
Dr. Gill described the Schinousa archive last June on "Looting Matters":
This photographic archive records the material that passed through the hands of a London-based dealer. If material from this archive resurfaces on the market, it would be reasonable to see the full collecting history indicated. But such information would no doubt be provided by rigorous due diligence searches.
December 12, 20013, Sotheby's sold the late Hellenistic marble head of Hermes-Toth for $4,645,000 (Hammer's Price with Buyer's Premium)."

The Medici Pan withdrawn from sale at Sotheby's New York

Professor Gill also noted in "Looting Matters" that Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis identified "The Medici Pan" that was later withdrawn from the sale:
Sotheby's New York are due to auction a giallo antico marble bust of Pan next week (December 12, 2013, lot 51). The estimate is $10,000-$15,000. Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has pointed out to me that a polaroid image of the sculpture was found on the Geneva Freeport premises of Giacomo Medici.
The Symes Pan for sale Dec. 13 at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza

Again, on the blog "Looting Matters", Dr. Gill writes about another item for sale that caught the eye of forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis:
Tsirogiannis has now identified a terracotta Pan from the Schinousa archive that is due to be auctioned at Christie's Rockefeller Plaza (December 13, 2013, lot 114, estimate $8000 - $12000). Christie's have offered the following collecting history:
with Edward H. Merrin Gallery, New York, 1968.
Private Collection, New York, 1968-2011.
So when was the Pan in the possession of Robin Symes? What is the identity of the private collection? Is the collecting history presented by Christie's robust? What authenticated documentation was supplied to Christie's?
The Edward H. Merrin Gallery has been linked to the bronze Zeus returned to Italy, material in the collection of Dr Elie Borowski, as well as the marble Castor and Pollux on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Artemagazine

The Italian Artemagazine  in "Pezzi di Medici e Symes all'asta: fino a quando?" (authored by Fabio Isman and his team) asks why illegally excavated antiquities from Italy are being offered for sale in New York City after Cambridge's Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has identified the items to archives collected in police raids.

December 14, 2013

Christie's New York Auction of "Antiquities" withdraws "Symes Pan" from sale: Christos Tsirogiannis says that in due course more information will be found about The Medici Pan, the Hermes-Thoth, and the Symes Pan

"Hermes-Thoth" marble once passed
through the hands of Robin Symes
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCAblog Editor-in-Chief

As reported by Professor David Gill on his blog Looting Matters, Christie's New York auction house withdrew the "Symes Pan" identified by Cambridge's Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis from the Schinousa archive. Dr. Gill wrote in an email to the ARCAblog after conclusion of the three-hour "Antiquities" sale at Rockefeller Plaza today:
Buyers of antiquities are rightly concerned about buying objects that can be identified from the seized photographic archives such as the Medici Dossier and the Schinousa images that related to Robin Symes. Institutional reputation is also a factor and auction houses are wanting to distance themselves from any perception of endorsement of the illicit trade in antiquities.
The ARCAblog asked Dr. Tsirogiannis for his perspective on Sotheby's withdrawal of The Medici Pan; the sale of the Symes/Schinousa Hermes-Thoth marble by Sotheby's yesterday; and Christie's decision to not auction the Symes Pan):
The Medici Pan withdrawn by Sotheby's
The Medici Pan in Sotheby's seems to be a totally different case; it appears to lack any collecting history before 1975 and Sotheby's may have to explain when this antiquity passed through the hands of Medici and why Sotheby's did not refer to Medici as part of the collecting history of the object. I am sure that soon we will find out more interesting things about the case of The Medici Pan. 
Although the Hermes-Thoth head was sold with a collecting history before 1970, it is yet to be proved if it is still protected by any bilateral agreements between the US and other countries or breaks any national legislation. One question that Sotheby's may have to answer is when did the object pass through the hands of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides.
Symes Pan withdrawn by Christie's
Regarding the Christie's Pan (lot 114), Christie's may have to answer why they withdrew the antiquity if it has a documented collecting history before 1970 (at least since 1968)? 
I am sure that in due course, more information will be found and will become available regarding these three cases.
The ARCAblog asked the opinion of Fabio Isman -- an Italian investigative journalist who has covered the illegal antiquities market for decades -- of how antiquities are sold in New York City with so little information about where they came from and how they got to the auction houses:
As usual, the auction houses don't quite care about the past. Important, for them, is only money. I think they are not very ethical. And, at the end, after Christos Tsirogiannis pointed out a few objects he recognized, they decided to withdraw two main objects: which was the minimum they could do.
Signore Isman, the author of "Pezzi di Medici e Symes: all'asta: fino a quando?" in the Italian Artemagazine, writes of "The Great Raid" in Italy since 1970 of the illegal excavation of 'at least one a half million artifacts' (Princeton University) that have been sold on the lucrative international market. Isman points out that of the 85 archaeological finds scheduled to be sold at Sotheby's in New York on December 12, that Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek archaeologist working in England at Cambridge University, has identified two lots 'that are not new for anyone who has dealt with the Great Raid in Italy, from 1970 onwards.' 

Isman writes that Tsirogiannis identified a marble "Hermes-Thoth" from a photograph in the Schinousa archive, a group of photographs recovered by Greek police of objects Robin Symes and his partner Christos Michaelides sold through their gallery headquartered in London. Isman writes that according to Tsirogiannis Sotheby's acknowledges the connection to Symes but points to a private English collection as the source. Tsirogiannis also identified the Greek terracotta pan, withdrawn today from auction by Christies, from the Symes' photographic archives from the Greek island of Schiousa from where Symes and Michaelides conducted business away from the office. Christies listed the Merrin Gallery and a private New York collector as "provenance". Isman writes that Italian investigators have suspected the Merrin Gallery of conducting business with Gianfranco Becchina and Robert Hecht, art dealers allegedly transacting with Medici.  

Isman writes that the third object recognized by Tsirogiannis from one of the polaroids found in Medici's Geneva freeport warehouse is associated with the "Hydra Galerie", opened in Geneva by Medici, under a false name, in 1983.

At the end of this article, Fabio Isman laments the absence of Paolo Giorgio Ferri from the Cultural Heritage Ministry where he served two years before he returned to the Ministry of Justice -- in the past Ferri would have been the one protesting on behalf of the Italian government against the auction of these suspected artifacts.

  

August 4, 2013

Christos Tsirogiannis on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Greek (Late Hellenistic Period)
(2nd century BC - 1st century AD)
Statue of a Young Boy
Virginia Museum of Fine Art
Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis writes on "A Marble Statue of a Boy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime:
Since 2006, about 200 antiquities of exceptional quality, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives, have been identified by the Italian authorities as looted, and have been repatriated from North American museums, private collectors, antiquities dealers, galleries and auction houses (for the latest update of the list see Tsirogiannis 2013). Most of these antiquities have been already published and exhibited, with an acknowledgement of their looted past (e.g. Godart & De Caro 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2007: Godart, De Caro & Gavili 2008; ICE 2012; ICE 2013). While details of the acquisitions regarding these looted antiquities were first being published (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2006 and 2007; Gill & Chippindale 2006, Isman 2009), demonstrating that many of these objects had been sold with fabricated collecting histories (e.g. the famous Euphronios krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, now in Rome), new cases started to emerge. This article attempts to trace the true journey of another antiquity, reveals new evidence regarding its collecting history, researches the implications arising and exposes, once again, the way the international illicit antiquities network has been operating in recent years.
Christos Tsirogiannis
Christos Tsirogiannis studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He will shortly receive his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Mr. Tsirogiannis introduces his article with 'Facts and Evidence':
According to the Becchina archive (CD 1, pagina 5, foto 1375), Mario Bruno -- who was known as a "receiver of stolen goods" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:86) and "a major grave-robber" (Isman 2008:30) sold 12 antiquities to Gianfranco Becchina, on 22 August 1987. Among these antiquities was a marble statue of a boy. This is depicted in a cut-in-half Polaroid image, covered with soil, with its head cut and lying on (what appears to be) a white cloth. A bunch of keys and a corkscrew are depicted beside the statue, at the lower left corner of the image, to provide an idea of the statue's scale. A large "X," added later with a blue marker to the image, indicates that the statue was sold by Becchina at some point after 22 August 1987. the image is struck on a notebook page prominently entitled "da Mario 22/8/1987" (from Mario 22/8/1987"). A handwritten entry, referring to this statue, notes:
Statua marmo con testa forse ritratto di figlio di imperatore. pag. cash 45' CH
"Marble statue with head, perhaps portrait of the son of an Emperor. Paid cash 45 [000?] CH [Swiss Francs]." 
At the right side of the image there is a note, in the same blue marker with which the "X" was made: "=V Fried" (but the "V" was written with a thin black pen). The use of the blue marker by Becchina to write "=[V] Fried" suggests that the statue was sold by Becchina a substantial amount of time after it was bought from Bruno (see below). Indeed, all the entries for all 12 antiquities were written with the thin black pen at the time of their acquisition from Bruno; the same blue marker annotates 5 of these objects, indicating that they were sold by Becchina in a later period (there are no further notes on the page regarding a later sale of the remaining 7 antiquities). In the abbreviated code, used by Italian members of the international illicit antiquities network, "V" stands for venduto, "sold" (the same code was used by Medici, see Felch & Frammolino 2011:174). Thus, Becchina's handwritten note means "sold to Frieda."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger was the owner of the antiquities gallery Nefer in Zurich, and maintained strong bonds with Becchina and Symes-Michaelides. Indeed, the same statue of a boy that passed from Bruno to Becchina in August 1987 appeared in the Nefer gallery antiquities catalogue in 1989 (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1989:26, no. 28). As the statue was not included even in the 1988 Nefer antiquities catalogue (Galerie Nefer Ancient Art 1988), it was probably sold to Becchina to Tchacos about a year later, a gap also suggested by the change of pen to mark the image now in the Becchina archive. In the 1989 Nefer catalogue, the statue is presented clean of soil and with its head attached to its neck. The statue's price (in Swiss Francs) was higher than the highest price mentioned for any other antiquity in the catalogue (no. 38 for 28,000), since it was only available "on request." The entry notes:
"Portrait statue of a young boy. The boy has short hair except for a braid fasted at the back of his head. This hairstyle was considered a good-luck charm for Egyptian youngsters. The boy's youthful features are well-rendered in a round, full face. His head is turned to the right. His childish body is rendered with great skill under the thick himation. The head was broken off in antiquity and reassembled. Marble with yellow brown encrustation on the right side. Flavian, 2nd quarter of the 1st century B.C. [sic]. 86 cm (34 in.)."
Frieda Tchacos-Nussberger, an Egyptian-born Greek dealer, was involved in several cases of looted antiquities (e.g. Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195, 227) that have been repatriated to Italy (Gill & Chippindale 2006:312). As part of a deal between Tchacos and the Italian authorities, Frieda Tchacos was given a light sentence: "[...] on September 17, 2002, she was convicted of handling stolen and smuggled goods, and of failing to notify the authorities of the antiquities that came her way. She was given one year and six months' imprisonment, suspended, and fined 1,000 euros" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:194-195). This led to Tchacos' full cooperation. 
The absence of collection history and find-spot, regarding the statue from the Nefer gallery catalogue, combined with the hairstyle and date information, leave unclear whether the statue arrived in Zurich from Egypt, Greece, Italy or anywhere else within the borders of the Roman Empire. However, it is known that Mario Bruno was "a dealer who operated in Etruria and Puglia, where everybody worked, and he would sell the archaeological material abroad" (Watson & Todeschini 2007:154). Moreover, given the condition of the statue as depicted in the Becchina Polaroid image, it seems more likely that the statue was found in Italy, even if it had been transported there in antiquity. 
The same statue of a boy was acquired in 1989 by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, USA and was assigned the accession number 89.24.
This article is continued in the ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA -- available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.

June 1, 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Python bell-krater acquired in 1989 matches object documented in confiscated Medici archive, according to forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis: "The evidence suggests that the vase has most likely been unlawfully removed from Italian soil"

Medici polaroid of Python's bell-krater 
The Classic Greek mixing-bowl attributed to the artist Python (active ca. 350 – 325 BC) of Poseidonia (Paestan) on display in Gallery 161 of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City should be returned to Italy because it has no collecting history before 1989 and has been matched with photographs in the possession of a convicted art dealer, according to the work of looted antiquities researcher Christos Tsirogiannis. (You can see The Met’s description of the object online here ). 

This terracotta bell-krater, described in detail in Dr. Tsirogiannis’ column "Nekyia" in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, appears with soil/salt encrustations in five photographs from the confiscated Medici archive – including one Polaroid image. Then, “The object was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York in June 1989 and the same year appeared as part of The Met’s antiquities collection,” Dr. Tsirogiannis reports.

Medici photograph of Python bell-krater
Art dealer Giacomo Medici was convicted in 2005 of participating in the sale of looted antiquities. The story of how illicit antiquities were sold to art galleries and museums in Europe and North America was detailed in the 2006 book by Peter Watson & Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities, from Italy’s tomb raiders to the world’s greatest museums (Public Affairs). The Medici archives (or the “Medici Dossier”)  were described as “thirty albums of Polaroids, fifteen envelopes with photographs, and twelve envelopes with rolls of film … [along with] 100 full rolls of exposed film … [for] a total of 3,600 images” found in Medici’s warehouse of antiquities in Geneva in 1995.

Christos Tsirogiannis and archaeologist David Gill have both written in The Journal of Art Crime (and elsewhere) about ancient objects for sale at auction houses with dubious collecting histories, focusing on information from this “Medici Dossier”. In 2009, Gill wrote in his column “Context Matters” that the raid on Medici’s warehouse drew attention to the scale of looting of archaeological sites in Italy.

Medici close up of Python's bell-krater on display at The Met
In this current case of identification, photographs of The Met’s Python bell-krater in the archive of the convicted art dealer Giacomo Medici suggest – as pointed out in The Medici Conspiracy – along with the lack of earlier documented collecting history that this vase was very likely illegally excavated after 1970 (the date of the UNESCO Convention against illicit trade antiquities), Dr. Tsirogiannis writes in “A South Italian Bell-Krater by Python in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” (Spring 2014, The Journal of Art Crime). He explains:
The bell-krater is photographed using Polaroid technology not commercially available until after 1972; the krater is situated not in its archaeological context with a measuring tool, but with soil encrustations, on an armchair; in the regular photographs, the vase appears against a background whose brick-red colour seems clumsily matched with the dark red velvet surface, the same surface on which Medici photographed several other antiquities which later proved to be illicit and were repatriated to Italy (e.g. the 20 red-figure plates attributed to the Bryn Mawr Painter, once offered to the Getty Museum; see Watson & Todeschini 2007:95-98, 205; Silver 2010:138-139, 143). It is profoundly clear that the bell-krater was not in a professional environment or treated in a professional way.
Fourth photo of Medici's bell-krater
Dr. Tsirogiannis, a Greek forensic archaeologist, studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, he has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying Italy's public prosecutor Dr. Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

In this case of The Met's Python bell-krater, Dr. Tsirogiannis questions how the ancient mixing bowl reached Sotheby’s in 1989 (Sotheby’s has a policy of not disclosing the name of the consigners or the buyers of objects). Dr. Tsirogiannis writes:
The Met has a long history of acquiring looted and smuggled antiquities after the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The two most prominent cases were the Euphronios krater acquired in 1972 from the notorious dealer Robert Hecht during the directorship of Thomas Hoving, and the Morgantina treasure acquired in 1981, again from Hecht, during the directorship of Philippe de Montebello. On February 21, 2006, de Montebello signed an agreement in Rome to return both krater and treasure to Italy among 21 antiquities in total (Provoledo 2006). In January 2012, Italy announced the repatriation of c. 40 vase fragments from The Met; Fabio Isman revealed that the fragments matched vases already repatriated to Italy from North American museums, and noted that these fragments previously belonged to the private collection, kept in The Met, of the museum’s antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothmer (Italian Ministry of Culture 2012; Isman 2012).
Fifth Medici photo of Python bell-krater
Dietrich van Bothmer, who had a 60-year career at The Met as a curator and an expert in ancient Greek vases, died in 2009 (here's his obituary in The New York Times).

Dr. Tsirogiannis points out in his column the need for further academic research on the Python bell-krater acquired in 1989:
The identification of the vase in the Medici archive, with the handwritten note below the Polaroid image, not only suggests that the vase has most likely been unlawfully removed from Italian soil, but also highlights discrepancies between published interpretations of the main scene depicted on the vase.
In conclusion, Dr. Tsirogiannis writes in his column:
The Met has several questions to answer. What is the ‘Bothmer Purchase Fund’? It has been proved that Dietrich von Bothmer played a crucial role in the acquisition of archaeological material, looted and smuggled after 1970, both on behalf of The Met and for his personal collection formed during the same period (Gill 2012:64; this obvious conflict of interest was overlooked by the museum; see Felch 2012, Tsirogiannis & Gill forthcoming 2014). My email to The Met (February 7, 2014) querying this point and requesting the full collecting history of the krater, remains unanswered, although it was sent to three different offices. No contact details for the Department of Greek and Roman Art are available on the museum website. In a wider perspective, the Python bell-krater at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of many similar cases. North American museums, recently found to have acquired illicit antiquities, and forced to return those objects, still have in their possession many more. The very museums which advertise their case for transparency, in practice continue to conceal the full collecting history of tainted objects they own, and wait for them to be discovered. In this regard, the story of the Python bell-krater case is obviously typical.
In an email to the ARCA blog, Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote that American and Italian authorities have been informed about this identification, and added:
It seems that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, after the identification of the Bothmer kylix fragments and their repatriation to Italy last year, has to do much more work to present all the antiquities that lack a pre-1970 collecting history in its collection, rather than waiting to be confronted with more cases in the future. This will be honest due diligence, not just meaningless words in official statements.
You may read Dr. Tsirogiannis’ column in the Spring 2014 issue of The Journal of Art Crime by subscribing via the ARCA website or ordering the issue through Amazon.com.

Included in this post are the five photographs of the Python bell-krater in the Medici archive.

The Met owns another terracotta bell-krater (mixing bowl) attributed to Python that it purchased in 1976 and has on view in Gallery 171.

Here's a link to a video showing the three Greek temples at Paestum in Southern Italy and another link to a video showing how ancient Greek vases were made out of refined baked clay.

July 31, 2013

Christos Tsirogiannis on "Something is Confidential in the State of Christie's" (The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2013)

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis writes "Something is Confidential in the State of Christie's" in the Spring 2013 issue of The Journal of Art Crime.
This article is a report on the appearance of "toxic" antiquities, offered by Christie's at auctions in London and New York during 2012, which have now been identified in the confiscated archives of the convicted dealers Giacomo Medici and Robin Symes. The research aims to reconstruct the true modern story and full collecting history of seven antiquities: a bronze board, a terracotta ship, a pair of kraters, a terracotta statue of a boy, a kylix, and a marble head. New evidence in each case presents a different version of the collecting history from that offered by Christie's. This paper, going in order through the Christie's 2012 antiquities auctions, demonstrates that in many instances the market uses the term "confidentiality" to conceal the identities of its disgraced members, and to put an end to academic or other research for the truth. It also reveals that most of the dealers, galleries, collectors and auction houses listed by Christie's as previous owners have been involved in several other cases of illicit antiquities.
Christos Tsirogiannis
Christos Tsirogiannis studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens, then worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008) and was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He will shortly receive his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Mr. Tsirogiannis writes in the introduction to his article:
In 1995, the Italian and Swiss authorities confiscated the Giacomo Medici archive in the Free Port of Geneva (Watson & Todeschini 2007:20). Later, in 2002, the same authorities confiscated the Gianfranco Becchina archive in Basel (Watson & Todeschini 2007:292). In 2006, during a raid at a villa complex maintained by the Papadimitriou family (descendants of the antiquities dealer the late Christos Michaelides), the Greek authorities confiscated the archive of the top antiquities dealers of modern times, Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides (Zirganos 2006b:44, Zirganos in Watson and Todeschini 2007:316-317). These three archives -- and, especially, the combined information they include (almost exclusively after 1972) -- provide an unprecedented insight into the international antiquities market. Research in the archives uncovers the ways in which thousands of looted antiquities, from all over the world, were smuggled by middlemen and "laundered" by auction houses and dealers, before being acquired by museums and private collectors, in contravention of the guidelines of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1970 ICOM statement on Ethics of Acquisitions.
Since 2005, the Italian authorities, based on evidence from these three archives, have repatriated about 200 antiquities, from the University of Virginia (Ford 2008; Isman 2008:25, Isman 2009:87-88), Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Gill & Chippindale 2006; silver 2010:263-264), J. Paul Getty Museum (in three different occasions, for the first see Gill & Chippindale 2007; Gill:2010:105-106; Silver 2010:268; for the second and third see Gill 2012b and Ng & Felch 2013, respectively), Metropolitan Museum of Art (in two different occasions, for the first see Silver 2010:252-253; Gill 2010:106; for the second see Gill 2012a:64), Princeton University Museum of Art (in 2 different occasions, for the first see Gill and Chippindale 2007:224-225; Gill 2009a; Gill 2010:106-107; for the second see Gill 2012: Felch 2012a), Cleveland Museum of Art (Gill 2010:105), the Shelby White/Leon Levy private collection (Gill 2010:108; Silver 2010:272), Royal-Athena Galleries (dealer Jerome Eisenberg, see Gill 2010:107-108; Isman in Godart, De Caro & Gavrili 2008:24), the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Padgett 1983-86 [1991]; Padgett 1984; Gill 2009b:85; Gill & Tsirogiannis 2011:32; Boehm 2011) and the Dietrich Von Bothmer private collection of vase fragments in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Gill 2012a:64). Recently, Toledo Museum of Art agreed to return an Etruscan Hydria to Italy (The United States Attorney's Office 2012), while Dallas Museum of Art announced the return of 5 antiquities to Italy and 1 antiquity to Turkey (Richter 2012; Gill 2013b). From the numerous antiquities depicted in the three confiscated archives, the Greek authorities have managed to repatriate only 2 so far, both from the Getty Museum in 2007 (Gill & Chippindale 2007:205, 208; Felch & Frammolino 2011:290).
Following their repatriation, these antiquities were published and exhibited with acknowledgement of their looted past (Godart & De Caro 2007; Godart, De Caro & Gavrili 2008), revealing the true nature of most antiquities in the confiscated archives. So incriminating is the evidence in the three archives presented by the authorities during the negotiations for each object that in no case has any museum, private collection or dealer tried to defend their acquisitions in court. The reason is that the photographic evidence presents, in most cases, the oldest part of the object's modern collecting history ("provenance," its first appearance after being looted; smashed and covered with soil, or recently restored, without any previously documented legal collecting history. An attempt to defend their illicit acquisitions during a court case would have brought (apart from the inevitable surrender of the object(s)) a long-lasting negative publicity for the museums, private collectors and dealers involved, additional embarrassment, an extra financial loss and the possibility that their and others' involvement in more cases of looted antiquities would be revealed. The subsequent returns in 2012 and 2013 from the Getty Museum to Italy and from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Italy in 2012 prove that point. 
Although each repatriation case attracted massive media attention (Miles, 2008:357; Felch & Frammolino 2011:284) and non-specialists around the world began to be informed about the true nature of the modern international antiquities market, the market itself reacted badly. Having missed the 1970 UNESCO opportunity to reform, the market is now losing a second chance to change its attitude, since it is continuing to offer antiquities depicted in the three confiscated archives (Gill & Tsirogiannis 2011).
The ninth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, edited by Noah Charney and published by ARCA, is available electronically (pdf) and in print via subscription and Amazon.com. The Associate Editor is Marc Balcells (ARCA '11), Graduate Teaching Fellow, Department of Political Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice -- The City University of New York.

June 8, 2014

ARCA's 2014 Writer in Residence: Forensic Archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis writing about the Symes-Michaelides archive

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis
Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis will be ARCA's 2014 Writer in Residence in Amelia, Italy from June 27th through August 9, 2014.

Each year, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art honors distinguished and emerging writers, specializing in art crime and cultural heritage preservation, by inviting them to spend a portion of their summer with us working on a book or manuscript project. Designed to promote critical and reflective writing, the Amelia Writer in Residence Program reflects ARCA’s belief that the basis for any critical and comprehensive writing involves the opportunity for contemplation, research, collaboration and support.

Christos Tsirogiannis, a Greek forensic archaeologist, studied archaeology and history of art in the University of Athens. He worked for the Greek Ministry of Culture from 1994 to 2008, excavating throughout Greece and recording antiquities in private hands. He voluntarily cooperated with the Greek police Art Squad on a daily basis (August 2004 – December 2008). He was a member of the Greek Task Force Team that repatriated looted, smuggled and stolen antiquities from the Getty Museum, the Shelby White/Leon Levy collection, the Jean-David Cahn AG galleries, and others. Since 2007, Tsirogiannis has been identifying antiquities in museums, galleries, auction houses, private collections and museums, depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying public prosecutor Dr. Paolo Giorgio Ferri and the Greek authorities. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, on the international illicit antiquities network viewed through the Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides archive.

Dr. Tsirogiannis explained his work, Unravelling the hidden market of illicit antiquities: The Robin Symes–Christos Michaelides network and its international implications:
This study is the first academic approach to an immense and incriminating body of material: the confiscated photographic archive of Robin Symes and Christos Michaelides, the top antiquities dealers in the world until 1999. I show how this archive interacts with the archives previously confiscated from the dealers Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina. Forensic research by Italian and Greek police authorities on those archives first proved that - from at least 1972 until 2006 - the antiquities market was based largely on looted and smuggled objects, controlled by an international network of looters, middlemen, dealers, auction houses, conservators, academics, museums and private collectors. During the last seven years, this situation has worsened, despite the convictions of Symes, Medici, Becchina and multiple repatriations of their looted and smuggled antiquities from North American museums, collectors and dealers to Italy. My PhD tackled this most recent period. 
The project of demonstrating the involvement of reputable institutions, companies and individuals in the illicit antiquities trade, as well as the corruption of the art market, is by its nature interdisciplinary; its results are important for the fields of archaeology, art history, criminology, politics and law. I brought to the PhD a unique combination of an academic background in archaeology and extensive work experience in the field. Following my undergraduate degree, I was employed for several years by the Greek ministry of Culture as an archaeologist before receiving an invitation to work on the exposure of the international illicit antiquities network with the Greek Police Art Squad. My specific interest in Symes-Michaelides comes from the fact that I participated in the police raid on their home on Schinousa, from where the archive was seized, and I was later the sole investigator of the contents, working as forensic archaeologist at the Greek Ministry of Justice. 
The PhD began with a historical review, and then surveyed the main members of the international illicit antiquities network (ch. 1). I systematically catalogued the contents of the Symes-Michaelides archive (ch. 2) and then outlined, with examples, the ways in which Symes traded with Medici and Becchina (ch. 3). The central chapter documents ways in which academics from reputable institutions were involved in ‘laundering’ this illicit material, via publications then used by museums and auction houses (ch. 4). In the last main chapter, I presented and analyzed a series of hitherto undiscovered cases of illicit antiquities in the antiquities market, mainly in auction houses since 2007. My conclusion drew out the wider picture (implications) from the network’s activities and suggested solutions towards different attitudes in antiquities trading, as well as fighting the antiquities trafficking. 
The project I would be concerned with as Writer-in-Residence this summer, therefore, is the transformation of the completed PhD into a book. As well as editing the text, I need to update the story of some individual case studies, and my description of the ways in which protagonists are selling artifacts. The PhD was about 77,000 words, plus three appendices of transcripts etc. and bibliography; I expect that the book would be c.100,000 words all told. I am currently putting together a book proposal to send to publishers in the next month; I hope that by July I would have a sense of what the publisher requires by way of editing and expansion. 
The ARCA Writer-in-Residence also offers me a rare opportunity to check the publications of auction houses, galleries, museums and private collections kept in libraries in Rome. These publications have proved valuable to forensic archaeologists Maurizio Pellegrini and Daniela Rizzo in the identification of dozens of antiquities from the same archives (Medici, Becchina, Symes) for the Italian state during the period 1995-2008. No library in Europe has a complete series of auction house -- and gallery -- publications, but I expect to add to my own catalogue from a systematic check in Rome, due to the recent successful repatriation claims of the Italian state.
 Dr. Tsirogiannis will also teach "Unravelling the Hidden Market of Illicit Antiquities: Lessons from Greece and Italy".

September 6, 2013

Christos Tsirogiannis, 2013 winner for ARCA's Award for Art Protection and Security, speaks out against metal detecting in treasure hunting

Christos Tsirogiannis (Photo by DW, J. Di Marino)
Christos Tsirogiannis, winner of the 2013 ARCA Award for Art Protection and Security, weighs in on the subject of metal detecting enthusiasts in "UK treasure hunters make archaeologists see red" for Deutsche Welle (DW):
It's estimated that there are now more than 10,000 metal detector users in England and Wales alone. They've been making an impact. In 2011, close to a million artifacts were found by hobbyists. Nearly 1,000 of those could be classed as treasure - precious metals discovered by metal detector users. 
No harm done? 
But not everyone is pleased. Archaeologist and illicit antiquities researcher at Cambridge University, Christos Tsirogiannis, is one of those concerned. He says the amateur archeologists are damaging important sites. 
"Every object has an amazing historical value, especially when it's found in its actual and original archeological context," Christos Tsirogiannis explains. "If something is extracted violently and by an uneducated, non-specialist person from its original context, this cannot be reconstructed."
Mr. Tsirogiannis is quoted by DW as recommending the banning of all metal detectors:
"I'm sure that there are several people who are operating metal detectors and they do it just for excitement," he says. "But even in a legal way, the destruction that they generate is really big, and it is an unfortunate phenomenon that it is still legal."

November 8, 2016

Auction Alert - Bonhams Auction House - An il(licit) Etruscan Terracotta Antefix

On November 7, 2016 ARCA was informed by Christos Tsirogiannis that he had identified a new potentially tainted antiquity scheduled to be auctioned by Bonhams auction house in London on November 30, 2016 traceable to the confiscated Giacomo Medici archive.



A screenshot of the provenance/collection history details are added here:


Etruscan buildings were often decorated with polychrome terracotta elements. Antefixes, such as this one on auction, were placed at the end of the rows of roofing tiles located along the eaves of the roof. Usually made in molds, many took the form of male or female mythological characters. 

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

Each of these dealer's archives provide insight inside a network of illicit trade in antiquities and, when combined, include thousands of ancient objects from all over the world which have passed through the hands of smugglers, middlemen, and antiquities dealers who "laundered” illicit objects through the licit market.

Two images from image from the confiscated
Medici archive alongside the Bonham Auction Object Lot.


An expert on terracotta figurines, James Chesterman collected avidly and was the author of Classical Terracotta Figures published by Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1974.  In 1984 the Fitzwilliam Museum purchased more than 100 Greek and Roman terracotta figurines from Chesterman's collection, in what is likely to be, in the museum's own words, the last major private collection to enter the Museum.

Who were some of James Chesterman's sources for antiquities?

Conducting a quick search (meaning far from comprehensive) of objects from the Chesterman's collection that have come up on auction tells us a little about some of his sources. 






Medici Archive image provided by
Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis
After the closing of his Rome Gallery, Giacomo Medici entered into partnership with Geneva resident Christian Boursaud and opened Hydra Gallery in Geneva in 1983 (Silver 2009: 139). 

This Swiss gallery then began consigning material supplied by Medici for sale on the London market, predominantly through Sotheby's.  (Silver 2009: 121-2, 139; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 27). Watson and Todeschini estimated that during the period of the 1980's Medici was the source of more consignments to Sotheby’s London than any other vendor (Watson and Todeschini 2007: 27).

If the collection history on the Bonhams Lot is accurate, then Medici's pieces were also appearing on the Paris antiquities market during that same period. If it isn't, then this object is missing a passage from its London history.

Dr. David Gill also has analyzed this new sighting, adding his own research in this Looting Matters blog post. 
Many have argued that Dr. Tsirogiannis tactics of naming potentially looted objects from the archives via ARCA's blog, David Gill's Looting Matters and on occasion Neil Brodie's Market of Mass Destruction, places auction houses at a disadvantage and should be construed as unfair given the market does not have direct access to the photos in these archives.  A valid point, but given the frequency illicit antiquities continue to penetrate the legitimate art market, we hope this will lead auction houses to consider more stringent reporting requirements of their consignors to insure that they do not inadvertently support the illicit antiquities trade. 

In closing,  given the proven lucrative nature of unprovenanced antiquities on the open market, Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol who in turn will notify the Italian authorities of his new identifications. Here's hoping that his continued spotlight, however awkward it is for everyone, will serve as a recurring reminder that we still have a long way to go before the licit art market is cleaned up.

By: Lynda Albertson
----------------------
Bibliography: 

Lindros Wohl Birgitta, Three female Head antefixes from Etruria,
in The Getty Museum Journal, 12, 1984, pp. 114-116.

Pallottino Massimo, Giuseppe Foti, Antonio Frova, Franco Panvini Rosati (sous la dir. de) Art et civilisation des Étrusques, octobre-décembre 1955, cat. adapté et traduit par Jean Charbonneaux et Marie-Françoise Briguet, Paris

Silver Vernon The lost chalice: the real-life chase for one of the world's rarest masterpieces: a priceless 2,500-year-old artifact depicting the fall of Troy
Harper - 2010

Watson Peter and Todeschini Cecilia The Medici conspiracy: the illicit journey of looted antiquities from Italy's tomb raiders to the world's greatest museums
PublicAffairs - 2007




March 26, 2013

Cambridge Researcher Christos Tsirogiannis Wins ARCA's 2013 Award for Art Protection and Security

Christos Tsirogiannis, a researcher at Cambridge University and formerly an archaeologist with the Greek ministries of Culture, Justice and Home Office, has won ARCA's 2013 Award for Art Protection and Security. Tsirogiannis provided evidence that a marble statue and three limestone busts had been trafficked by the antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici and Robin Symes, respectively, before appearing at an auction in Bonhams (London) in April 2010. All four antiquities were withdrawn from the auction due to this evidence.

This award usually goes to a security director or policy-maker. Past winners: Francesco Rutelli (2009); Dick Drent (2010); Lord Colin Renfrew (2011); and Karl von Habsburg and Dr. Joris Kila, Jointly (2012).

Tsirogiannis is completing his Ph.D thesis on the International Illicit Antiquities Network (“Unravelling the International Illicit Antiquities Network through the Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides archive and its international implications”). His thesis is a result of his extensive experience as a forensic archaeologist at the Greek Ministry of Culture (1998-2002 and 2004-2008), the Greek Ministry of Justice (2006-2007) and as the only forensic archaeologist at the Greek police Art Squad (Home Office, 2004-2008, having participated in more than 173 investigations cases and raids). His participation in a 6-member core of the Greek Task Force contributed to the successful claim of looted and stolen antiquities from institutions and individuals, such as the Getty Museum (2007), as well as the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection and the Cahn Gallery in Switzerland (2008). Among many cases, he considers most memorable the raids at the summer residence of Dr Marion True (former curator of antiquities at the Getty Museum) and at the premises of the top illicit antiquities dealers in the world, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides, in the Cyclades, where the famous archive was discovered.

Over the last five years (2007-present), Tsirogiannis has been identifying looted and ‘toxic’ antiquities at the most prominent auction houses (e.g., Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams) and galleries (e.g., “Royal-Athena Galleries”), as part of a project with the renowned academics Professor David Gill (University Campus Suffolk) and Dr. Christopher Chippindale (University of Cambridge). Some of the results of his research have been already demonstrated in The Journal of Art Crime (“Polaroids from the Medici Dossier: Continued Sightings on the Market”, 2011:27-33, with Professor David Gill). This part of his research has contributed to the withdrawal of antiquities (e.g., Bonhams case, April 2010) and to the disclosure of many scandals in the field (e.g., Christie’s June 2010, April 2011, December 2011). Tsirogiannis’ primary aim is to notify governments to retrieve their stolen cultural property and to raise public awareness regarding antiquities trafficking, through media coverage of these cases.

March 27, 2014

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis matches two objects up for auction in London with objects identified in the Medici and Becchina archives

Medici oinochoe (Medici)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Editor-in-Chief

University of Cambridge researcher Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has reviewed the catalogues for three upcoming London auctions and identified two objects to photos in the archives of two art dealers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, confiscated by Italian and Greek police who have used them to identify objects looted and smuggled from at least 1972 until 2006.

The three auctions of antiquities will be held at Bonhams on April 1; at Christie's on April 2; and again at Bonhams on April 3 

The first object is Lot 173 in Christie's Sale 1548 described as a Greek Core-Formed Glass Oinochoe from the Eastern Mediterranean, circa 2nd-1st century B.C., with an estimated bid at £4,000 - 6,000 (US $6,604 - $9,906). Christie's "Provenance" -- or what Dr. Tsirogiannis described in his email as the collecting history -- is described as:
"Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 11 July 1988, lot 198".
"However, I identified the object from a Polaroid image from the Medici archive," Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "We know that Medici consigned hundreds of antiquities to Sotheby's (Watson & Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy, 2007)."

The second object is Lot 22 in Bonhams April 3 sale (#21926) described as a Canosan polychrome painted lidded pottery pyxis, circa 3rd century B.C., with an estimated bid at £3,000 - 5,000 (US $5,000 - $8,300).  Bonhams' "Provenance" -- or collecting history -- of the oinochoe is:
"American private collection, New York, acquired from Ariadne Galleries, New York City in the late 1980s."
"However, I identified the pyxis in two Polaroid images from the Becchina archive (both attached, in the first the object is depicted broken and unclean, in the second the pyxis appears conserved and ready for sale)," Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "I have also found documents which prove that the depicted broken pyxis IS THE SAME as the one put on sale by Bonhams. Also, the same documents prove that Becchina sold the object to Ariadne Galleries, who were involved in other cases of "unprovenanced" antiquities (e.g., see Gill 2013 http://lootingmatters.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/icklingham-bronzes-looking-back.html), Tsirogiannis 2013:10 http://art-crime.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-journal-of-art-crime-spring-2013.html)."

"Why do Christie's and Bonhams still fail to supply the full and correct collecting history of the objects, especially when they advertise their due diligence before the auctions?" Dr. Tsirogiannis wrote. "Why are these objects depicted in the Medici and the Becchina archives?"

Becchina pyxis in pieces
Becchina pyxis conserved

September 29, 2015

While the West Seeks Tighter Curbs on the Trade in Antiquities Looted by ISIS, Italian Suspect Antiquities Continue to Appear at Major Auction Houses

Greek forensic archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis, has identified another grouping of suspect antiquities set for auction October 1, 2015 at Christie’s in London.  Each of the objects appears to have ties to former Basel-based art dealer, Gianfranco Becchina, who was accused by Italian prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved tombaroli (tomb raiders) in southern Italy and suspect antiquities dealers and buyers around the globe. Becchina was convicted of antiquities trafficking in 2011.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities depicted in the confiscated Medici, Becchina and Symes-Michaelides archives, notifying the relevant government authorities when matches are discovered.  An expert on the illicit antiquities trade, Dr. Tsirogiannis teaches ARCA's illicit antiquities course.  He also serves as Research Assistant to the Trafficking Culture Project at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research located at the University of Glasgow.

Despite having apparently “clean” collection histories, each of the antiquities listed below (Lots 6, 8 and 16) — or strikingly similar ones — appear in photographic evidence confiscated by the Swiss and Italian authorities in 2002 during their investigation into the network of traffickers affiliated with Gianfranco Becchina.


The three antiquities on offer at the upcoming sale at Christie’s are said to come from Professor Heissmeyer’s antiquities collection; A fourth antiquity (lot 93) was temporarily confiscated by the Swiss authorities in 2008 from the Japanese illicit antiquities dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi and has now been put back into circulation within the antiquities market. 

Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis has notified Interpol, the Carabinieri Art Squad and Scotland Yard’s Art & Antiques Unit with the evidence for these new identifications.  

In detail, the suspect antiquities are:
Left - The oinochoe depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same oinochoe on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015


The oinochoe’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Germany, acquired prior to 1990.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from the above in 2005 (inv. no. 32).
Beazley Archive no. 9024860.

The same oenochoe seems to be depicted in a Polaroid image from the Becchina archive. In the archival photo the vase is covered with encrustations, lying on what appears to be a plastic tray, while a handwritten note, also in the archives, states that this antiquity was sent for restoration, among other antiquities, on 1 December 1989 to Sandro Cimicchi, Gianfranco Becchina’s usual restorer.

Left - The cup depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - The same cup on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The cup’s collecting history (Provenance), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, Switzerland, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1995 (inv. no. 17).
Beazley Archive no. 9024849.

In the Becchina archive, what appears to be the same cup is depicted in a Polaroid image, upside down and partially covered with encrustations, among three other cups. The similarities can be identified from the position of the panthers painted on the lower portion of the cup's body. A handwritten note states that the cups were bought by the middleman Raffaele Monticelli on 4 March 1993. Another handwritten note on the Polaroid states: ‘V/ Hae CH’ [sold to Hae Swiss Francs]. In 2002 Monticelli was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities. (Isman 2011b: 50; Watson and Todeschini 2007: 292) and as recently as today had 22 million euros worth of his real estate assets confiscated by the state for his alleged involvement as an international antiquities trafficker.    

Left - The lekythos depicted in the Becchina archive.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015
The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Private collection, United Kingdom, acquired prior to 1980.
with Galerie am Museum Jürgen Haering, Freiburg.
Prof. H.-H. Heissmeyer collection, Schwäbisch Hall, acquired from
the above in 1992 (inv. no. 23).
Beazley Archive no. 21590.

An object that appears to be the same lekythos is depicted in two professional images from the Becchina archive. A handwritten note states: ‘E Nov 78’.
Left - The lekythos depicted during its confiscation
in a photograph taken by the Italian authorities
 during the raid at Horiuchi’s warehouse in Geneva in 2008.
Right - the same lekythos on exhibition in Christie’s, London,
Image Credit C. Tsirogiannis Saturday 26 September 2015

The lekythos’ collecting history (‘Provenance’), as it appears in the Christie’s catalogue, is:
Anonymous sale; Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, 14 November 1986, lot 213.
Formerly private collection, Japan, acquired privately in 1997.


This lekythos was found and confiscated during the raid of the Swiss and Italian authorities at the warehouse of the Japanese dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi in the Geneva Freeport in 2008. The Italian authorities could not prove the illicit origin of this particular lekythos and
although Horiuchi did not supply any documentation to prove the licit origin of the lekythos, the vase was returned to Horiuchi. 

In total the Italian authorities confiscated 337 antiquities from Horiuchi depicted in the Becchina, Medici and Symes-Michaelides confiscated archives. Horiuchi's name also comes up in a 2014 repatriation case involving another Becchina linked antiquity, a 1,800-year-old sarcophagus lid depicting a sleeping Ariadne.  

It should also be noted that this same lekythos also appeared at one time on offer at ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery, owned by the Aboutaam brothers, one of whom was convicted in Egypt for antiquities smuggling and the other of whom pleaded guilty to the falsification of at least one customs document. 

In relationship to that listing  the lekythos appeared as ‘SOLD’ on the ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery website. In the October sale listing Christie’s fails to state the name of the consigner, although they do so in the case of the other three lots (Professor Heissmeyer).

In the three first cases, Christie’s ‘due diligence’ seems to have stopped short of tracing the collecting history back one step further, which would have opened the window on the Becchina transactions.  In the fourth case (lot 93), Christie’s record lists the 1986 and 1997 transaction dates in the lekythos’ collecting history, but completely avoids mentioning the authorities’ raid of Horiuchi’s warehouse in Switzerland or the subsequent passage or ownership of the vase by the convicted Aboutaam brothers, through their ‘Phoenix Ancient Art’ gallery in New York and Geneva.

In total, these are just four objects in a string of tainted auctions with fairly good documentation proving their likelihood that these objects were looted.  If the art market cannot hold itself to task on objects where there is a known and extensive photographic record of illicit activity how will the art market perform its due diligence on antiquities coming from conflict countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen where no confiscated smuggler dossiers exist?

Due diligence of looted antiquities, be they Italian or conflict-based, has to be meaningful and not merely plausible, in the furtherance of a sale's commission.  Partially-documented histories in an object's collection background, do not necessarily always point to fresh looting or illegal export but when the objects background looks murky, as is the case with these objects, the art market needs to step up its game and voluntarily refuse to participate in the laundering.

UPDATE - October 01, 2015 Christie's has withdrawn the suspect antiquities prior to the auction scheduled today in London.  

Lynda Albertson