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February 16, 2020

Christies Auction Identification and Restitution: A Roman Marble Sarcophagus Fragment of Sidmara Type

Christie's, London, 4 December 2019
Catalog Cover and Lot 481 – Description
Note:  This blog post has been revised with further information on 17 February 2019.

While I was focused on the provenance of an Etruscan antefix in Christie's antiquities auction last December, more on that outcome in another article at a later date, the Turkish authorities were interested in another ancient object which was on consignment in the same auction. In the auction house’s catalog, the marble artefact was listed as: a Roman Marble Sarcophagus Fragment of Sidamara Type, Circa 2nd-3rd Century B.C.

Christie's had listed the provenance for Lot 481 in the December 4, 2019 sale as follows:

German private collection. The Property of a German private collector; Antiquities, Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989, lot 112. with Atelier Amphora, Lugano, acquired at the above sale. 

They also gave a lengthy description to illustrate how a Sidamara sarcophagus might have ended up with an Italian ancient art dealer in Lugano, Italy.

Their description read:

Sidamara type sarcophagi were decorated in high relief on all four sides and usually placed in the centre of a tomb in an open burial ground so they could be viewed in the round. The decoration featured complex architectural designs with figures placed in arched niches separated by fluted columns. Despite their monumental dimensions and weight, they were exported all over Asia Minor and even to Greece and Italy, with several examples found on the coast at Izmir, which was probably the shipping point to the West. A Sidamara-type sarcophagus, similar to the present example, while no doubt sculpted in Asia Minor, was excavated near the town of Rapolla in Southern Italy, and is now in the Museo Nazionale del Melfese, in the Castle of Melfi. The type was also copied in the West, probably being produced by Asiatic sculptors who migrated to Italy.

While a review of the earlier Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989 description for Lot 112 is pretty much the same in terms of origin, the sale entry had no provenance details listed whatsoever.


Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989
Lot 112 - Description
And the Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989 auction has other similar fragments including:

Lot 83
Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989
Lot 83 - Image and Description

Lot 84
Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989
Lot 84 - Image

Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989
Lot 84 - Description
Lot 111
Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989
Lot 111 - Image
Sotheby's, London, 11 December 1989
Lot 84 - Description
But let's take a closer look at who the dealer was who operated Atelier Amphora

The owner of Atelier Amphora was Mario Bruno, a prominent intermediary dealer, known to have handled illicit antiquities covering a swath of Italy in the 1980s and 1990s.  Before his death, in 1993, his name could be found, front and center, on many antiquities ancient art transactions from that period.  Several other objects with Atelier Amphora were also up for auction in the same December Christie's sale.

Bruno's first initial and last name also featured in the now famous Medici organigram.  Listed mid-way down the page on the left, the creator of the org chart listed the territories Bruno covered: Lugano, Cerveteri, Torino, North Italy, Rome, Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Sardinia, and Sicily.

In an article in the Journal of Art Crime (Spring 2013) Christos Tsirogiannis writes of Bruno's history saying: 


"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. "

Bruno also is known to have played a role in the fencing of one of Italy's most important recoveries, the Capitoline Triad, a representation of the central pediment of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.  This marble sculpture is known to have been illegally excavated in 1992 by a well-known tombarolo from the town of Anguillara Sabazia named Pietro Casasantawho brokered a deal with Mario Bruno to sell the Triad, with the Lugano dealer as the primary middleman between the looter and a Swiss buyer.

Documents and imagery also attest that Bruno handled a substantial Etruscan terracotta sarcophagus, the lid of which depicted a sculpted couple lying on the triclinium, similar to only two others, artifacts now held in the Louvre Museum in Paris and in the Villa Giulia in Rome. (Isman 2009)  That looted Etruscan antiquity has unfortunately never resurfaced.

All this to say that the fact that something stolen or looted, or something as big and heavy as portions of an illicit sarcophagus, having passed through this Bruno's hands is not at all surprising. What is provocative is that we again have an contemporary example of a major auction house, who prides itself on the legitimacy of their offerings, organizing the sale of a poorly vetted ancient object which dates to the Roman period, with no other provenance recording its presence on the licit market before its December 1989 sale, on consignment by a long-dead suspect dealer.

Fast forward to 2019 

Staff working with Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism identified the sarcophagus fragment while cross-checking the catalog Christie's had prepared for their December 4, 2019 auction in London. (T.C. Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı 2020) By now the Turkish authorities were aware of the 1989 Sotheby's sale in the UK and were alert for this and another fragment’s reappearance in the London market.  Having identified their artifact the Ministry of Culture contacted their INTERPOL National Central Bureau (NCB) and Europol affiliates through established law enforcement procedures and began voicing their concerns with the Metropolitan Police in London. The Turkish authorities then provided their British counterparts with documentation which substantiated their claim that sarcophagus fragment was the property of Turkey and Scotland Yard officers spoke with the auction firm.  Christie's in turn agreed to have the object withdrawn from the sale, pending an investigation. 

But where did the sarcophagus come from? 

The sarcophagus was first identified and documented as having been discovered, broken into five fragments, by the Isparta Göksöğüt Municipality in the 1980s.  At some point later, the pieces were moved from their original find spot to the Municipality where they were then photographed in 1987 by Mehmet Özsait.  In 1988 the finds were transferred to the Isparta Museum Directorate but were recorded as consisting of only three large marble fragments along with a few smaller pieces. How the object was moved out of Turkey is not known or has not been disclosed.
However, two years after the photo was taken, the two missing fragments had already made their way to London and were published in a Sotheby's catalog.  The object fragments were then sold at auction on December 11, 1989, to two different buyers.

It wasn't until 2015 when German classical archaeologist Volker Michael Strocka, researching a specific sub-genus of Asian sarcophagus, referred to as columnar sarcophagi, helped to reconcile that two of the fragments represented in the archival photographic record were unaccounted for.  Given sufficient evidence that the marble sculpture had been illegally smuggled out of Turkey and into the U.K., all parties involved worked together to successfully mediate the object's return through discreet negotiations with the consignor.  This is the same methodology used by London’s Metropolitan Police for the restitution of the a Post-Gupta, seated Buddha in the Bhumisparsha Mudra pose identified in 2018 which was stolen in 1961, appeared for sale at TEFAF in 2018, and upon identification, was voluntarily relinquished by the consignor back to the source country. 

Columnar sarcophagi in the Roman Empire came from Docimium, an ancient city in Phrygia, in the west central part of Anatolia, or what is now known as Asian Turkey.  Known for their famous marble quarries, Sidamara type sarcophagi were also shipped to other areas of the Roman Empire, including Italy, just as Christie's stated.  But in the case of this particular object, the artefact returning home to Turkey seems to be a very close match to other Phrygia fragments still in Turkey that I was able to find quite easily with only a few hours research.

One set of fragments I found photographs of are a part of the Isparta Museum's collection though I am not yet sure if these come from the same sarcophagus Volker Michael Strocka matched the missing pieces to.  Interestingly, as recently as 2018, another group of 100 kilo pieces were seized by the gendarmerie when smugglers were caught trying to sell them showing that the climate for looting costly ancient artifacts similar to this restituted piece has not changed much between 1987 and 2018. Yet how the objects came to be in Bruno's hands, and who he was working with in Turkey, is worth exploring in the future. As are any other items which come up for sale with this dealer's thumbprint.

Similar fragments from Sidamara type sarcophagi found at Sarkikaraagac in the district of Isparta and now located at the Isparta Archaeological Museum
Image Credit: by Roberto Piperno https://www.romeartlover.it/Isparta.html

For now, the fragment has made its way home, arriving on the 15th of February 2020 along with another identified stolen antiquity via special arrangements with Turkish Airlines. The sculpture will now be presented to the press at a formal ceremony at the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara, along with the other recently recovered object, which will be attended by Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, Turkey's Culture and Tourism.

By: Lynda Albertson

January 21, 2020

Marc Masurovsky returns to Amelia this summer to teach "Provenance Research, Theory and Practice” at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection



By Edgar Tijhuis 

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 29 till August 12 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s professors will be interviewed. In this one, I am speaking with Marc Masurovsky, co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project. 

Can you tell us something about your background and work? 

I was born and raised in Paris, France, of American artists, one figurative, the other abstract. I took an early interest in history and especially in the politics and economics of fascism and national socialism. My interest further increased as I was able to work at the Office of Special Investigations in Washington, DC, investigating the past of suspected Axis war criminals who acquired US citizenship. Then I was hooked. My independent research focused on the economics of genocide and the recycling of all kinds of assets looted from Jewish victims and the near-absence of postwar justice against those who executed, abetted and profited from those crimes against humanity. I eventually found myself involved with class action lawsuits against Swiss banks which led, inevitably, to the looted art issue with which I have been associated for the past two decades. I am a co-founder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project and have taught a number of workshops focused exclusively on provenance research as it applies to Nazi/Fascist-era dislocations of Jewish-owned property.

What do you feel is the most relevant aspect of your course?

I teach one course, provenance research. I view it more as a training than as an academic exercise.

What do you hope participants will get out of the course?

I hope that those who take the provenance research workshop, (that’s really what it is), never look at an artistic, cultural, or ritual object, again with the same eyes as they had before they took the course. I want them to become skeptical of everything that they read about the history of those objects and to develop an insatiable curiosity for understanding where those objects come from and the what/where/when/why/how of their pasts by whom and with what.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

Every day is different but a main component of the workshop is to ask questions, remain inquisitive and be able to think outside of the proverbial box.

While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your courses, is there anything you learn from them in class?

Each participant comes from a very different background and he/she has his/her own unique relationship towards art objects, culture and history. The gift they bring me is their story, and the way they apprehend the topics that we tackle each hour of every day and, hopefully, be part of the transformation that they go through when confronted with evidence, inquiry, and research.

In anticipation of your courses, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to participants? 

There is no real way to get ready but it would help if participants were a bit savvy about the history of modern Europe, the basic dates, times, and places of major events that provoked these displacements of property. Lynn Nicholas, Hector Feliciano, Jonathan Petropoulos, are some of the authors who produced significant monographs on Nazi plunder, but there are also special investigative reports produced in the early 21st century in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Italy, on Nazi looting. HARP's own Plundered Art blog will provide a more argumentative and polemical approach to the issues of plunder and restitution, while suggesting how research can be conducted on objects with dubious pasts.

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why?

I enjoyed sitting in on Dick Drent’s course because it humbled me on my ignorance of security issues in museums. Perhaps Christos Tsirogiannis’ course would interest me because of his fierce approach towards the art market and his ability to ferret out looted antiquities. But, seriously, I don’t have any favorites out of fairness to the other professors.

Is there anything you can recommend for future participants to do in Amelia or Umbria?

They should leave their prejudices and assumptions at home and come prepared to be challenged in a small town in central Italy. The structure of the workshop allows them to grow. But they can only grow if they allow themselves to be vulnerable, to listen and to question. The questioning is only credible if it is anchored in evidence. As you know, it’s too easy to say: Why? You need to justify your questions and to challenge based on your own research and be prepared to hear that perhaps you are wrong and be prepared to realize that perhaps you are right. That is part of learning and growing...

-----

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about the 2020 postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org 

In addition to the postgraduate program, the provenance course is also offered as stand-alone course. ARCA and the US-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project (HARP) have teamed up to offer its 4th annual stand-alone provenance course which tackles the complex issues of cultural plunder. More information can be found here on our website.

Edgar Tijhuis is Academic Director at ARCA and visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Since 2009, Edgar Tijhuis has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

January 20, 2020

Conference: Violated National Heritage: Theft, Trafficking and Restitution

The Society for the History of Collecting together with the V & A Museum present the following event. 

Event:  Violated National Heritage: Theft, Trafficking and Restitution
Location: Victoria and Albert Museum
Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre
Cromwell Road
London SW7 2RL
United Kingdom
Date: 17 March 2020
Time: 16:00 – 20:30 GMT
Ticketing:  £0.00 for Students, £13.52 for professionals



Have you ever wondered how ancient art from countries such as Egypt, Greece and Rome came to fill European and American museums? And how did national Pacific collections come into being? This conference, with a dynamic list of international speakers, will address how collecting has developed since the 16th century, and how, over the centuries, it has been regulated, even circumvented in various ways. It will also look beyond the boundaries of legal trade of art and artefacts to consider how the criminal orbit operates, how heritage-rich countries confront the trafficking of their patrimony and how museums are involved in such debates.

This conference will not tackle the Parthenon marbles debate nor war booty, but it will raise issues around patrimony laws, looting, trafficking, faking provenance and money laundering. Presentations on particular historical contexts will be followed by talks focusing on the contemporary situation, including the policing and voluntary restitution versus surrender of objects as the result of investigative evidence. Trafficking takes many forms and may include forgeries in order to satisfy demand. Both source and receiving countries have sharpened their laws, policing and prosecutions.

This conference is aimed not only at students but also art world and museum professionals, indeed at anyone interested to hear the latest information, much of which is unpublished, and to learn more about the realities behind these key issues.

Programme:

Vernon Rapley (Director of Cultural Heritage Protection and Security) & Laura Jones (Cultural Heritage Preservation Lead): The V&A’s Culture in Crisis Programme;

Barbara Furlotti (The Courtauld), on the Roman Antiquities Market during the Renaissance;

Hilke Thode Arora, Keeper Oceanic collections (Museum Fünf Kontinente, Munich), on Pacific ‘gifts’;

Eleni Vassilika, Former museum director (Hildesheim and Turin), on the operations of placing illicit Egyptian antiquities in museums;

Christos Tsirogiannis, Assoc. Prof. and AIAS-COFUND Research Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Aarhus, formerly at the Archaeological Unit at Cambridge, as well as the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Greek Police Art Squad, on recent restitutions to Greece;

Omniya Abdel Barr, V&A researcher and project director for the documentation of Mamluk patrimony in Cairo, on the theft of elements from mosques (minbar);

Ian Richardson, Registrar for Treasure Trove (The British Museum), on how the TTAct functions;

Roland Foord, Senior Partner, Stephenson Harwood LLP, on procedures for restitution.

The day will end with a Drinks Reception.

Registration Link:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/violated-national-heritage-theft-trafficking-and-restitution-tickets-89083947485?aff=affiliate1

January 17, 2020

Marc Balcells comes to Amelia this summer to teach on the criminology of art crimes at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection


By Edgar Tijhuis

This year, the ARCA Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection will be held from May 28 through August 12, 2020 in the beautiful heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy.

In the months leading up to the start of the program, this year’s lecturers will be interviewed. This week I meet professor Marc Balcells, one of the world’s leading scholars on art crime.

Can you tell us something about your background and work?

I am a professor at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and an associate professor at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). I teach criminology and criminal law. I hold degrees in Criminology, Law and Human Sciences, as well as a Masters in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. I also hold a PhD in Criminal Justice. My research focuses mostly around transnational and organized crime, mostly related to cultural heritage crime, among other topics in criminology that I am researching as we speak, such as sexual abuse in the church and cybercrime.

What do you feel is most relevant about your course? 

The course changed drastically last edition. Before, it was all about criminological theory applied to cultural heritage crime. But I felt a responsibility with my students regarding teaching them how to design and conduct good research in this field, always within a criminological angle.  That is, instead of piling up information on any given art crime that will probably be collected from books and newspapers, the course gives participants tools to conduct serious quantitative or qualitative research and learn how to design a research project within the field of cultural heritage crime. Challenging participants to see what serious research they are able to conduct in order to improve our knowledge on this field is essential! And of course, in the meantime participants not only learn about cultural heritage crime but also about criminology and criminological theory, using other crimes as examples of crime in general, as it is one of our everyday realities that we must live with. Last edition we worked with seminal articles and books that explored cultural heritage crime: in 2020 we have more new articles and academic books exploring forgeries, art theft or looting (to name a few) which are important as they can be used by students to see how research is being conducted in this field.

The 2019 class with Marc Balcells..
What do you hope participants will get out of the courses? 

A fascination for a criminological point of view when analyzing cultural heritage crime, as well as an enchantment with the field of criminology and a fascination for the craft of research. Again, it is very important to have a knowledge not only about the existing literature but also on how to produce more research like the one that is being disseminated in conferences and academic journals and books. I do hope to train more and more serious and disciplined researchers in this fascinating field.

What would a typical day be like in your classroom?

A dialogue between myself and the students. I do ask a lot of questions in order to prompt debate: getting to know what participants think about on different topics is very enriching. But I also like to challenge them and to see how they research art theft, or looting, to name two crimes, by giving them research examples and seeing how they would improve them or simply do things differently. Gathering data on cultural heritage crime is not always easy (on the contrary!) and we researchers struggle finding them: the opinion of the students is always valuable.
The Palgrave Handbook on Art Crime..
While each year participants are very enthusiastic about your course, is there anything that you learn from them in class?

So many things! Go figure: as I said, over the years I gather brilliant insights from students that are original and intelligent. Participants must know that before I became a professor in this degree, I was a student in it: I have sat on both sides of the classroom and, therefore, I do know what is to be a student and what I wanted from a professor when I was studying. I am not only a professor on the ARCA Program but I am a graduate of it! 

I am inquisitive by nature, but much more in class. I love to ask questions and see their points of view. Also, I do love to meet with the participants after classes and enjoy a tea with them while chatting about art crime in general or helping them with their projects.

In anticipation of your course, what book, article, or movie would you recommend to the participants? 

In my case, I would recommend that they read academic research produced by scholars in whichever field of cultural heritage crime they are interested in. I can assure you that they are as fascinating as any other art crime book that is being written by journalists, for example. Therefore, I would recommend they read everything that interests them, but mainly within academia. Right now I am reading the Trafficking Culture’s book Trafficking Culture: New Directions in Researching the Global Market in Illicit  Antiquities, and Hufnagel and Chappell’s The Palgrave Handbook on Art Crime, both new additions to academic literature published in 2019.

Field trips..
What makes the annual ARCA program so unique?

Let’s say it like this: it is the intensity. Where else can you learn so much, working with top experts in this field? It is intensive and complete and, at the same time, it immerses you in the local culture of Amelia! Field trips organized by the program gives participants the in-depth experience needed to grasp most of the subjects discussed in the courses. It is the perfect setting!

Which other course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

So many. Since I was once an ARCA participant myself, new courses have developed, and I would love, especially, to attend Professor Christos Tsirogiannis’ course on the hidden market of illicit antiquities. I admire his work and he is a great colleague. He was a great help with my earlier research and I could not be more grateful. He is widely acknowledged as an expert in the field and his media attention and the scope of his work is simply amazing! Again, it is the living proof of what I mentioned in my previous answer. Learning all about antiquities trafficking with Professor Tsirogiannis in Italy is an opportunity not to be missed!

Amelia...
Is there anything you can recommend to future participants of things to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

Come with an open and ready mind. Learn the culture of the place in which you will be living during your summer there. And be ready to learn a lot: work hard and there can be fantastic rewards afterwards. It is a fantastic field and it requires more and more trained minds to work in it!

Are there any funny or interesting things you experienced in Italy, outside class? 

Indeed! We are still good friends after all these years, with my colleagues. We have so many good memories with the locals, the professors, etc: after all, it is a summer-long experience. The food, the setting, the people... everything counts!

What is your experience with the annual ARCA conference in June? 

Sadly, I am always immersed teaching courses at that time and I cannot attend as much as I would like to, but I hope to change this in the near future. I have presented and attended years ago, and it is overwhelming being able to meet colleagues in this field and getting to know their research and the latest advances. These are very intense days: it is not only the conference, but the networking involved, in every single meeting. And of course, some fun to be had too, as the dinners and lunches are always fantastic!

Anything last thoughts? 

I would like to end this interview by saying that I am looking forward, as every year, to meeting our new cohort. I always come back to Amelia and ARCA with a fluttering heart, knowing I will get to meet and get to know new participants, see again some old friends, and spend days teaching and talking about cultural heritage crime.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org



Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana. He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

July 2, 2019

Auction Alert - Bonhams Auction House - An il(licit) Apulian red-figure janiform kantharos?

Screenshot of Bonham's website captured 01 July 2019
On July 01, 2019 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 at its flagship London saleroom on New Bond Street on July 3, 2019.  This ancient Greek drinking vessel, has two faces looking in opposite directions, one of a satyr and one of a woman and has been identified as traceable to a document and photo within the confiscated Becchina archive and to two showroom photos found within the Symes-Michaelides archives.  

Since 2007 Dr. Tsirogiannis, a UK-based Greek forensic archaeologist and lecturer with ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection, has worked to identify antiquities of illicit origin in museums, collections, galleries and auction houses that can be traced to the archives of individuals known to be involved in the illicit trade of antiquities. Tsirogiannis is also the incoming Associate Professor and an AIAS-COFUND Junior Research Fellow (2019-2022) at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Aarhus.
  

Screenshot of Bonham's website captured 01 July 2019
Vases made by the Iliupersis Painter's workshop were the forerunners to the later Apulian polychrome head vases that were produced throughout the second half of the fourth century before Christ in what is now Italy.  Yet a screenshot of the provenance/collection history listed by Bonham's is scarce and tells nothing about the vessel's discovery or its passage out of Italy.  In fact the auction house's collection history only goes back to 1991 when it appeared as Lot 161 in a Sotheby's New York auction via an anonymous seller on the 18th of June.  This and the mention of Merrin Gallery and an unnamed private collector are all the potential buyer has to go on.   No information is listed on the auction house's website regarding the ancient object's exportation from its country of origin or any checks possibly made with the Italian Carabinieri to ensure this object is not part of the Italian's known databases of suspect objects. 

Becchina Archive Image
According to records reviewed by Tsirogiannis, a handwritten note in the Becchina archive, possibly written by Gianfranco Becchina himself, makes mention of a ‘janiform’ purchase along with other antiquities acquired via middleman Raffaele Monticelli.  The purchase price listed is 60,000 Italian lire and the sale appears to have occurred on March 5, 1988.  All the antiquities listed in this purchase acquisition from Monticelli total 290,000 Italian lire, with the kantharos being the most expensive ancient object in the transaction.

Raffaele Monticelli's role in the illicit antiquities trade is concretised in the now famous illicit trafficking organogram which mentions key individuals associated with Italy's largest known trafficking group.  He was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to four years imprisonment at the Foggia Tribunal for conspiracy related to the trafficking of antiquities  His conviction occurred a little more than a decade after the kantharos appears to have surfaced in the US market in 1991.  

A retired elementary teacher, who gave up teaching for the more lucrative roll of middleman dealer, Raffaele Monticelli is a name well known to the Italian Carabinieri of the Cultural Heritage Protection Command of the Cosenza and Bari nuclei.  His most recent arrest occurred in 2017 in connection with clandestine excavations of archaeological sites in the Crotone area. At the time of the more recent 2014-2017 investigation, Monticelli's residence was searched and illicitly excavated objects were seized, including some ancient terracotta figurines and a biansata kylix of Greek origin. This new event shows that the trafficker continued to violate Italian law despite prior arrests and convictions well into his golden years.

But returning to the past and to the Bonhams kantharos currently set for sale later this week.

On the trafficking organogram Monticelli is listed just above the territories where he plied his trade: the regions of Puglia, Calabria, Campania, and Sicilia.  This illustrates that he was active in the region where this kantharos was likely produced.  The organogram also specifies that Monticelli was an important part of the Southern Italy cordata which lead upwards to Robert (Bob) Hecht via Gianfranco Becchina and downward to Aldo Belleza.

This connection is further confirmed by testimony given by Frédérique Marie Nussberger-Tchacos, after her arrest in Cyprus in 2002. Tchacos, who also goes by the name Frieda Nussberger-Tchacos, as well as by Frida Tchacos Nussberger, once oversaw the now liquidated Galerie Nefer AG and was once a member of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA).  Speaking to Italian Prosecutor Paolo Giorgo Ferri, who issued the international arrest warrant for Tchacos and initiated the legal process for her extradition to Italy, Tchacos is quoted as having said:

Becchina Archive Photo.
“a precise triangle” referring to Bob Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina, and Raffaele Monticelli.  She further stated that Monticelli supplied “everything that could be found in the south of Italy; I think Apulian [vases], I think terracottas, I think bronzes. . . .” all of which turned out to be factually true.  Becchina's wife Ursula also affirmed that her husband obtained material from Monticelli.

Monticelli's relationship with Gianfranco Becchina was a lengthy and profitable one.   

Among the 140 folders seized in 2001 from Gianfranco Becchina, there were many suppliers, some of whom were middleman and traffickers in direct contact with those who excavated clandestinely, as well as some tombaroli who communicated directly with the Sicilian dealer.  Becchina's confiscated records contain four folders cataloging his transactions with Monticelli, many of which contain long lists of objects as well as some Polaroids such as the one depicted to the right, from which Tsirogiannis made his matching identification.

This photo depicts the kantharos unrestored, with a large chip in the rim and still covered with incrustations.  It appears to be standing on a wooden shelf in front of a barren concrete wall, possibly at Becchina's warehouse in Basel, or perhaps in a restorer's laboratory and in its entirety also depicts additional objects which have yet to be identified and may be in circulation on the market.

At some period after the object's restoration two photos of the kantharos are taken.  These are found in the Symes-Michaelides archive.  The photos showing the front and back of the object post restoration, and in keeping with the state of conservation found in the Bonhams auction photos as illustrated below.

Top Left & Bottom Left: Bonhams Photos
Top Right & Bottom Right: Symes-Michaelides archive Photos 
As is often the case with objects originating from these known dealers and middlemen one is curious as to the extent of the documentation, if any, was used by Bonhams to evaluate whether or not this particular ancient object had legitimacy on the ancient art market.

During past criminal proceedings then prosecutor Ferri spoke of the Becchina-Merrin relationship believing their involvement could possibly be part of a broader conspiracy to traffic in artifacts that involved the Americans then on trial.  As evidence lending credibility to his statement, a 1993 fax within the Becchina dossier from the Merrin Gallery to Becchina requests that photos of artifacts sent by the disgraced dealer to the Manhattan firm, used to show to potential customers, not be marked with "BEC."  In addition to that other artifacts which have been repatriated to Italy after being tied to Becchina also on occasion passed through the hands via this Manhattan gallery.  Some, later deemed illicit, were sold to various U.S. museums, including the J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles.

Shouldn't the lack of any known provenance before 1991, coupled with the name Merrin Galleries drawn some amount of cautious attention?  Curiosity?  Additional due diligence?

In my own curious searches in completion of this blog post, I asked Tsirogiannis at 07:52 this morning to look for the following object sold by Christie's auction house on June 4, 2008 in the confiscated archives.



This Apulian red-figure Lekanis, drew my attention for its equally spartan collection history but more importantly for the fact that it appears to be by the same workshop, that of the Iliupersis Painter and was aparently sold during a very active period with this particular trafficking band.

By 11:37 Tsirogiannis had found and I have confirmed, what appears to be a second matching object within the Becchina dossier, albeit the Christie's photo shows some overpainting. My impression that the red-figure Lekanis didn't pass the sniff test proved accurate.  According to Tsirogiannis' review, this antiquity comes from the same group of objects that Becchina bought from Monticelli on, you guessed it March 5, 1988!

Could this come from the same find spot?  Could Merrin have bought more of these objects from Becchina?


Let's hope that both auction houses will look into the records of the dealers consignors and purchasers affiliated with these objects.  While the Lekanis has long since been sold, it should be traceable to the current purchaser.  The second should be withdrawn from the London auction to allow the Italian and British authorities sufficient time to conduct a thorough investigation.

NB:  All Identifications have been submitted to the appropriate legal authorities.

By:  Lynda Albertson


May 19, 2019

Soft diplomacy, righting past wrongs and the Toledo Museum of Art


Over the past 12 years, in a differing tactic from the "Getty Bronze" protracted court battle for restitution, Italy's Avvocatura dello Stato has sometimes negotiated for the return of its stolen archaeological past utilizing soft diplomacy as an alternative to the more time consuming pressure of courtroom trials and appeals.  Geared toward stimulating mutual cooperation and in the vein of resolving cultural patrimony conflicts when illicit antiquities traceable to the country are identified in museum collections, Italian authorities have opened dialog with museum management at involved institutions in the effort to find mutually acceptable resolutions that sidestep the need for oppositional court battles.   

In a tradition finessed by Francesco Rutelli, Italy's former Ministro dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali, the country's Avvocatura dello Stato, which represents and protects all economic and non economic interests of the State, works with museums to develop mutually-attractive accords which seek to remedy claims for looted antiquities.  These negotiations diplomatically address the sensitive issue of stolen, looted, and illegally exported acquisitions without subjecting museums to reputation damaging litigation and allow the State to achieve the return of cultural property while avoiding the uncertain outcome of a litigation on their ownership before a foreign court.

These collaborative negotiations are designed, not to strip a museum bare of its contested objects, but to undertake a careful collaborative approach to restitution in furtherance of “goodwill relationships” between source countries and foreign museums found to be holding illicit material. Equitable solutions, when agreed upon, have served to mediate past acquisition errors and have been carried out with important US museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston, the Princeton University Art Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art and serve to strengthen the relationship between Italy and foreign museums in relation to future cooperative activities.

When consensus can be achieved, as was the case in 2006 when the Metropolitan Museum of Art signed an agreement in Rome to formalize the transfer of title to six important antiquities to Italy, long term loans can then be negotiated in the spirit of just collaboration.   Sometimes these agreements allow a contested object or objects to remain on display at the identified museum for a given period of time or provide for the loan of alternative objects "of equivalent beauty and importance to the objects being returned" so as not to decimate the museum's collection in return for an agreement of voluntary forfeiture and restitution of the looted antiquity in question.

This week, the thanks to just such an accord, the Toledo Museum of Art has announced that it has reached an agreement with the Italian authorities regarding a graceful 30 centimeter slip-decorated earthenware object, called a skyphos, or drinking vessel, which has been on view at the museum almost continuously since its purchase in 1982.  Etched in red against the a black background, this sophisticated antiquity was purchased for $90,000 with funds from the Edward Drummond Libbey Endowment and is decorated with the mythological story of the return of Hephaestus to Olympus riding a donkey and led by Dionysus.  The object dates to ca. 420 BCE  and is attributed to the Kleophon Painter.

Per the recent agreement with the Italian authorities, signed by Lorenzo D'Ascia, head of the legislative office of Italy's Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, and state lawyer in service with the State Attorney General, who presides over Italy's Committee for the Return of Cultural Assets, this skyphos will remain on loan with the Toledo Museum of Art for a period of four yearsAfter four years the museum's management may request a renewal of the loan or request the loan of an alternative object from the Italian authorities as part of a rotational cultural exchange which is spelled out in the terms of their mutual agreement.

In its published announcement the museum acknowledged that the provenance of the object was called into question publically in 2017 by Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist affiliated with ARCA, on suspicion that the object had been looted and at some point illegally exported from the country of origin in contravention of Italy’s cultural heritage law (No 364/1909) "after which the Museum began an internal investigation and contacted the Italian authorities".

As mentioned in Tsirogiannis' academic article in ARCA's Journal of Art Crime "Nekyia: Museum ethics and the Toledo Museum of Art" the researcher recognized the Kleophon Painter skyphos from five images found within the dossier of photographs seized from Italian antiquities dealer Giacomo Medici.  At the time of Tsirogiannis' identification, the museum's published provenance history indicated only that the object had once been part of a "private Swiss collection". 

Two images of the skyphos from the confiscated Medici archive.
Courtesy of the Journal Of Art Crime
Following several enquiries to the museum made by Tsirogiannis between March and April 2017, Dr. Adam Levine, Associate Director and Associate Curator for Ancient Art directed the researcher to the following limited collection history information for the skyphos:

Private Swiss Collection, n.d;
(Nicholas Koutoilakis, n.d.-1982);
Toledo Museum of Art (purchased from the above), 1982- 

The now dead collector/dealer Koutoulakis is a name that immediately raises suspicions to those who research antiquities trafficking as his name is well documented in connection with the purchase and sale of other works of ancient art which have been determined to have illicit origins.   In an alternate spelling, as Nicholas Goutoulakis, this individual was implicated on the handwritten organigram seized by the Italian Carabinieri in September 1995.  This document outlined key players in the illicit antiquities trade in Italy during the 1990s.

Koutoulakis activities have also been mentioned on this blog in connected with the provenance history of another illegally-traded antiquity and is referred to 15 times throughout “The Medici Conspiracy,” a 2007 book by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini which explores the roles of some of the most notorious bad actors in the world of ancient art.  One striking passage states that disgraced antiquities dealer Robin Symes confirmed that Koutoulakis was supplied by Giacomo Medici “since at Koutoulakis’ he had seen objects he’d previously seen at Medici’s.” (Page 198 : The Medici Conspiracy)

In this weeks announcement for the accord, the Toledo Museum of Art emphasized:


While this, two years in the making, cultural agreement should (rightly) be applauded as a positive step in the right direction in resolving Italy's ownership claim and in generating a positive stream of collaboration in a situation originating in controversy, it is just the first of many needed steps.  It is my hope that the administration at the Toledo Museum of Art will fully embrace and exercise its institutional responsibility to responsible acquisition, past and present, in the spirit of this cultural cooperation whether their acquisitions be by purchase, gift, bequest, or exchange.  

Doing the right thing starts with museums acknowledging the need to return contested objects directly identified by researchers which match irrefutable photographic evidence of looting. But this is just a small part of establishing and/or enforcing an ethical collection management policy.  Not all suspect antiquities found within this or other museums come with disparaging confiscated photographic evidence in the form of archival records of former traffickers.  Some objects, equally attributable to some of the same trafficking networks come simply with a list of unprovable claims of provenance and scant documentation substantiating prior ownership or licit exportation.  

It is these objects, the ones that do not pass the smell test, that must be rigorously and openly examined, to ensure their acquisition and accessioning is merit worthy, informed and defensible.  By addressing these "tween" objects, Toledo can truly earn international recognition by acting humanely, honourably and courageously in righting the wrongs of their past, and in doing so demonstrate a genuine commitment to their intention to preserve and safeguard material culture and addressing how museums have contributed to the phenomenon of the plunder. 

By Lynda Albertson

April 6, 2019

Interview with Aubrey Catrone, ARCA's 2018 Program Assistant

By Edgar Tijhuis

In 2019, the ARCA program will be held from May 31 through August 15, 2019 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months up to the start of the program, a number of this years professors is as well as other staff of ARCA will interviewed. This time I speak with Aubrey Catrone, who served as ARCA's program assistant for the 2018 program.

Can you tell us something about your background?

Can you tell us something about your background? Growing up in Boston, in the shadow of the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist, I have always had a strong passion for the intersection of art, history, and crime. It is this enduring multidisciplinary approach to the art world that has helped shape my career and development as a provenance researcher. From an academic standpoint, I predominantly focused on the history of the Second World War, the French language, art crime, and art history. When I first attended the ARCA Postgraduate Program, it helped broaden my knowledge of the art market. It also further piqued my interest regarding the restitution of art looted in France during the Second World War. My MA in History of Art from University College London enabled me to explore my relationship with the history of art objects. In between what has undoubtedly been thousands of trips to the library, I have worked in art galleries and with art advisories, private collectors, non-profits, and academics. 

You have been ARCA's program assistant in the 2018. Can you tell us about your experiences in this role in Amelia?

Having stayed in Amelia as a participant and an alumna prior to this summer, working as the Program Assistant was definitely quite a shift in my experience with ARCA and Amelia in general. Serving as a critical point of contact for visitors, professors and students meant that I became far more acquainted with the city than I had been before. I can tell you the perfect route to take to get to where you need to go on festival days. I know which bar has the best WiFi. And, I’ve learned enough Italian to confidently travel throughout the countryside on my own. 

In anticipation of a summer in Italy, what do you recommend for participants to prepare for a summer of study in a small town? 

Patience. Amelia is an old city that enchants with its many charms but also infuriates you. Don’t panic when the internet cuts out and a project is due. In the fast-paced, electronically dominated society that we live in, remember to take a breath, smell the sunflowers, and enjoy the opportunity to unplug for a bit. Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO, also reminds participants that their largest retrievable databases are their professors as well as their fellow program participants. These sources can be accessed without the need for gigabyte data plans or modern technological accoutrements.

What makes the yearly ARCA PG Cert program unique? 

It is one of the only places in the world where postgraduate students of all ages can come to learn from and interact with world-renowned experts in the field of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Unlike programs in larger cities such as Rome, where teachers and students alike leave the classroom and go their separate ways, Amelia is small enough to bring everyone together on daily basis. Unlike large university settings, it’s a truly intimate environment where the experts are always accessible to share their knowledge and advice beyond the classroom, whether it's over coffee, dinner, or wine. It’s an enriching experience that endures beyond the summer months. 

Is it also possible to audit just one or two of the classes of the program? 

While each course can stand alone, the organisation of the summer program crescendos. For those looking for the full immersion experience, each course builds upon the next to create an in-depth understanding of art crime and cultural heritage protection. But, if someone has singular interests or goals, or less liberty to spend a full summer abroad, the opportunity to audit a single course can also provide unique benefits. 

While the participants always learn a lot in Amelia, what do you learn from them? 

With so many backgrounds and ages represented each year, everyone comes to Amelia with their own academic interests and cultural backgrounds. Over the summer months, Amelia becomes a melting pot for the sharing of ideas. I have heard stories ranging from archaeological digs in Syria, to the ofttimes unbelievable anecdotes of art detectives, to the way New Zealand smells in the summertime.

Which course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

I’m always torn by this question. Marc Masurovsky’s work with provenance and Holocaust-era assets is something I am continually fascinated by and constantly starved to absorb. However, my summer schedule has yet to align with Christos Tsirogiannis’s course on illicit antiquities, a fascinating subject, and one I would be incredibly interested to incorporate into my research capabilities. 

What is your experience with the ARCA conference in June? 

The breadth of subject-matter covered over a single weekend by an international group of academics and experts is unprecedented. Speakers hail from the world’s most prestigious cultural heritage institutions while also including accomplished independent researchers. But, there is also time to enjoy the Italian countryside with organised dinners and cocktails, offering the opportunity to converse with colleagues in a relaxed social environment set against an Umbrian vista. 

Is there anything you can recommend for future students to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

I would always suggest that participants take advantage of the immersive experience. Become an Amerini (the name for the locals of Amelia). Hike through blooming sunflowers. Decorate the streets during Corpus Domini. Try as many local delicacies as your palette allows (affordable truffles and freshly made cheese are not easily attainable luxuries outside of Italy). Go on excursions. And, above all, be curious while you have the chance.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org

Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana (Slovenia). He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.