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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.

  

October 23, 2017

Further information on the flagged lekythoi identified at London's Frieze Masters art fair

Image Left:  Christos Tsirogiannis, Frieze Masters 2017
Image Right: Gianfranco Becchina Archive
On October 22, 2017, the Guardian newspaper reported on two ancient Greek marble lekythoi identified as having once passed through the hands of convicted antiquities dealer Gianfranco Becchina.   The identifications were made via forensic archaeologist Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis with the help of photographs obtained by a concerned individual in London.  Tsirogiannis notified the authorities of his findings on October 16, 2017.

Since 2007, Dr. Tsirogiannis has actively identified illicit antiquities as they have come up for sale on the art market, matching corresponding objects to material found in the confiscated Medici, Becchina, and Symes-Michaelides archives.

During this research, Tsirogiannis informed ARCA that he had found two photocopied images and two Polaroid images of a lekythos which depicts an image of a dead warrior with his relatives, which also has an inscription.  Reviewing copies of the images he sent in confirmation, the photographs of the lekythos show the object in pre-sale condition in two different spaces in storage depots. 

Tsirogiannis also identified a single photograph in the Becchina archive of the second lekythos mentioned in the Guardian article.  This photograph, unlike the others, was a professional black and white image and may have been used by the dealer for sale catalogue purposes.

ARCA has joined two of the archive photographs with their Frieze Masters counterpart to show that Tsirogiannis' identifications match perfectly.

Image Left:  Christos Tsirogiannis, Frieze Masters 2017
Image Right: Gianfranco Becchina Archive
In addition to the photographic evidence, the Becchina archive also contained written documentation from 1988 and 1990 which showed Becchina and George Ortiz as co-owners of the lekythos, with the image and inscription. One of those documents also referenced the object in an earlier 1977 Becchina list of antiquities.

The two lekythoi were brought to London this Autumn on consignment – price “upon request” by the Basel-based art firm Jean-David Cahn AG, a gallery which specializes in ancient Greek and Roman art. 

They were exhibited in Regent's Park during Frieze Masters, a Frieze London spin-off art fair that features hundreds of leading modern and historical galleries from around the world, many with pricey, museum quality objects.  Both objects did not sell. 

According to Guardian journalist, Howard Swains, the consignor of the two lekythoi is the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt.  Each canton in Switzerland has its own constitution, legislature, government, and courts and in this case it appears that the Basel-Stadt judiciary had greenlighted the brokering of the objects through the Swiss intermediary as part of their liquidation of Becchina's remaining unclaimed art assets from his business dealings in Basel.

Sixteen years earlier, Italian authorities had requested assistance from Swiss law enforcement in their longstanding investigation into Gianfranco Becchina's operations.  As a result of the joint Italian-Swiss operation, an international illicit trafficking ring was dismantled and 5,800 objects were seized from three Becchina warehouses under suspicion of having been plundered.

The largest portion of these ancient objects were repatriated to Italy after a lengthy identification process.  Unfortunately, hundreds of orphaned objects, whose countries of origin were not verified, remained in limbo, under the jurisdiction of the Swiss authorities.

It is important to note that in agreeing to broker the sale of the lekythoi in London, Jean-David Cahn AG elected to omit the Becchina and Ortiz passages in the object documentation published for the Frieze Masters event.  That literature can be seen in the photos below.  While each carries a lengthy description of the object, there is only spartan mention of their provenance, stating only “Formerly Swiss art market, October 1977.”



As Dr. David Gill points out, "These two items are objects that were created in Attica for display in Attic cemeteries. They are from Greek, not Italian, soil."

While it remains unclear if the Greek authorities know about these two particular antiquities, and if they somehow failed to file a claim at the time of their seizure,  the absence of any documentable provenance is a strong indicator that both artifacts, orphaned or not, were acquired through individuals connected with Becchina's trafficking network.

The fact that antiquities dealers continue to market antiquities, selectively omitting problematic passages in an object's provenance is a longstanding issue.  In cases like these, it also underscores why many heritage protection experts — who monitor the antiquities trade and antiquities trafficking — believe the art market is unwilling or incapable of policing itself, especially if the seller believes that sharing the object's complete history might diminish its chances of finding a buyer.

Also worthy of note:

In 2006, Jean-David Cahn voluntarily returned a marble male head from its stock which had been stolen from the Temple of Eshmun in Lebanon.

Excerpt from the State of New York Application for Turnover - Bulls-Head-Case
In 2007, Jean-David Cahn returned a marble statue of the Lykeios Apollo that had been stolen from the archaeological site of Gortyna in Crete in 1991. 


Then in 2008, after a series of negotiations, Jean-David Cahn returned a different Attic marble funerary lekythos, also identified by Christos Tsirogiannis, to Greece as part of an out-of-court settlement.  That object had been pinpointed during the TEFAF Maastrict art fair in March 2007.

  
While the heritage community continues to advocate strongly for responsible collecting and informed due diligence from collectors before they make purchases as a means of curbing the trade in looted artifacts, one has to also ask what the ethical responsibility of dealers and governments is, who knowingly place questionable origin objects up for sale, intentionally misleading potential buyers by not giving them all the collecting history information at their disposal.

Hypothetically Speaking...

What if a buyer had been interested in purchasing either of these antiquities?

Somewhere down the road, said buyer might find themselves in the awkward position of not being able to donate, or sell, or recoup their previous investment because the potentially illicit origin of the object was not made clear to them at the time of purchase.

Food for thought.

By: Lynda Albertson

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.

May 2, 2018

Auction Alert - Sotheby’s New York - a bronze Greek figure of a horse

On May 01, 2018 ARCA was contacted by Christos Tsirogiannis about a possible ancient object of concern in an upcoming Sotheby's auction titled 'The Shape of the Beauty: Sculpture from the Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet' scheduled for 10:00 AM EST on May 14, 2018 in New York City. The antiquities researcher had also notified law enforcement authorities in New York and at INTERPOL. 

Since 2007 Tsirogiannis, a Cambridge-based Greek forensic archaeologist has drawn attention to and identified antiquities of potentially illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries auction houses, and private collections that can be traced to the confiscated Giacomo Medici, Robin Symes-Christos Michaelides and Gianfranco Becchina archives.  Tsirogiannis teaches as a lecturer on illicit trafficking with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection.

Image Credit: ARCA
Screenshot taken 02 May 2018
Dr. Tsirogiannis noted that Lot 4 of the sale, a bronze Greek figure of a horse, lists the object's collecting history as:
Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel, May 6, 1967, lot 2
Robin Symes, London, very probably acquired at the above auction
Howard and Saretta Barnet, New York, acquired from the above on November 16, 1973 .

For its literature, the auction house mentions the following text: Zimmermann, Les chevaux de bronze dans l'art géométrique grec, Mainz and Geneva, 1989, p. 178.

Through my own explorations I found that Scholar Paul Cartledge, in The Classical Review 41 (1):173-175 (1991), stated:

"Like Archaic Greek bronze hoplite-figurines (CR 38 [1988], 342), Greek Geometric bronze horse-figurines are eminently marketable (and forgeable) artefacts for which private collectors, chiefly in New York, London, Geneva and Basel, are prepared to part with a great deal of hard currency. Their (al)lure is undeniable; I have myself trekked halfway across Europe in pursuit of their elusive charm."

As if to underscore their allure, both past and present, Tsirogiannis sent along three photos of the object on auction which he conclusively matched to photos found in the confiscated Robin Symes archive. 

Three, (3) photos from the Symes -Michaelides Archive
provided by Christos Tsirogiannis

Saretta Barnet died in March of 2017.  Her husband had passed away in 1992. Collecting for more than 4 decades, the couple's collection included everything from pen and brown ink landscapes by Fra Bartolommeo, works by Goya, François Boucher, Lucien Freud, tribal art and a noteworthy collection of antiquities.  

In a December 01, 2017 article in the Financial Times, discussing this upcoming sale, their son, Peter Barnet, indicated that “his late parents bought carefully and took their time to make decisions. For that reason, they preferred not to buy at auction but from dealers.”  Apparently though, not all of those purchases were carefully vetted. 

Screenshot:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bulletin 3269091
In 1999 the family of Howard J. Barnet donated a Black-Figure Kylix, ca. 550-525 B.C.E attributed to the Hunt Painter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That object according to an article by Dr. David Gill, was relinquished by the museum via a transfer in title in a negotiation completed with the Italian Ministry of Culture on February 21, 2006 and returned to Italy in one of the first repatriation agreements between Italy and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

While the Barnet's may have been selective in the quality of the pieces they purchased for their collection, their relationships with dealers known to have dealt in plundered antiquities such as Symes, as well as collecting transactions with private collectors such as George Ortiz, who is also known to have purchased tainted objects, leaves one to question how carefully the Barnet's vetted the objects they acquired.

Given that the bronze Greek figure of a horse appears in photographs found in the Symes archive and the fact that at least one other object donated by the Barnet's was tied to illicit trafficking and was repatriated to its country of origin, this statue deserves a closer look.  With further research, the object and its past collecting history might lead to a link in the trafficking chain that has not yet been fully explored or considered. 

Take the provenance listed in this sales event for example.  If the object's listing of a sale at Münzen und Medaillen AG, Basel in May 6, 1967 is not a fabrication, then exploring this sale in Switzerland, determining who the consignor was, might give us another name name in the looting/trafficking/laundering chain which could help us determine the country of origin and be worthwhile for law enforcement in Switzerland and New York to explore. 

At the very least, this upcoming auction notice seems to indicate that the auction house did not contact Greek or Italian source country authorities before accepting the object on consignment.  This despite the object's passage through the hands of a British antiquities dealer long-known to have been a key player in an international criminal network that traded in looted antiquities. 

By:  Lynda Albertson